Monday, September 10, 2007

Osama bin Luther ...

Hilaire Belloc, bellwether historian and prolific author of the early 20th century, observed that moderns often assume wrongly that actors who took part in what we know commonly as the Reformation knew what they were doing and what the outcomes would be. Did the German peasants who picked up cudgels and mattocks -- and who had family (read: tribal) allegiances -- know what would come of their violence? Did Elizabeth of England know that by keeping her throne by allowing Lord Cecil and the new millionaires their new wealth and power from the looting of Church property, the Mass would disappear from Mary's Dowry within fifty years?

No. None of the petty actors in this play could see the outcome of the Reformation. It was merely a time of vast social and psychological upheaval. This isn't to say that the "leaders" of it were not pleased by what was happening, but none could see what has happened to present-day Europe, and -- I hope -- none would be pleased by it.

Likewise, many hope today for a "reformation" of Islam led by "moderate Muslims." I fear they are not looking closely enough at the facts of our present-day turmoil. The "reformation of Islam" is taking place now. And the "Luther" of it is Osama bin Laden. We do not see this as the Islamic Reformation, because it does not meet our paradigm for what we expect from it in terms of results. Like the people of 15th-16th century Europe (and England, though that was a false dichotomy at the time), we do not understand the ramifications of what this Muslim "Luther" is doing. We see the same kind of violence taking place, and do not understand what it will do to the structures of sanity and civility we take so much for granted.

Pity. The Catholic Church salvaged what it could of Europe with the Council of Trent, the heroic work of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and his Jesuits, and the martyrs like Saint Edmund Campion. Time and time only will tell what will happen as the outcome of this "Reformation".


Porthos said...

Though the tagging is kind of hard on ole Martin, I think this is essentially correct. The Wahabbis (sp?) are reformers (or Iconoclasts), with emphasis on "scripture only" and private interpretation (and trashing reverence to saints and holy sites and the like). Jonah Goldberg has made the same point for a long time over at NRO. Hammerton-Kelley (quoted at length by Aramis below) is also correct to see a wobbling and splintering taking place. A radicalized Islam can blow stuff up and scare people quite a lot, but it can't cohere for long as a unified belief system (or build anything, or create any basis for civil order). There may not be much hope for a moderating "reform" in the make-nice-modernist sense, but there may be hope internally for a "restoration" or "counter-reformation" that sooner or later (and hopefully sooner rather than too much later) comes to marginalize the extremism and violence. (I think Iraq is a lot more hopeful than Gaza in that respect. Iraqi Kurds have created a stable society in pretty short order, and the Southern Shia are not doing too bad, either. Sunni populations are coming out against AQ in a big way and running them out of town.) Perhaps the only thing the "West" can do to help make that internal development work--but it might be a lot--is oppose/fight the extremism on multiple fronts and make it as untenable as possible. (Indeed, I am not far from thinking that this is something of a moral imperative for the present day, though I can't see that opposing "Islam" as part of that imperative makes any practical or theoretical sense.) [Excuse my blah blah blah broken record!]

Or to put it another way, if heretical Islam is the main part of the problem, why should I have a beef with the ole time non-heretical versions?

Athos said...

Again, it is as though we are in the midst of the "blowing stuff up and scaring" people that people do who feel very righteous, as during the German peasant revolts. Luther initially sided with the peasants, even enflaming them against the nobles and princes in good imam form. But, he realized where a better ally was to be found (the nobles and princes - $$$) and reversed himself.

Any notion of a neat, orderly "Reformation" was not to be had in the rough and tumble of events, then or now.

Whoever is left standing in power will be the ones who name what is happening, if not "Reformation".