Caldwell’s reflections, cont’d

After the murders in connection with the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Friday, I pulled down Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West. It’s a highly quotable book; I quoted a paragraph from chapter 4 (“Fear masquerading as tolerance”) here.

In chapter 5, the first in the section devoted to Islam, Caldwell notes that, up until the present generation, Europeans “have not seen Islamic civilization as particularly impressive. Typical was the French polymath Ernest Renan[.]” Here Caldwell quotes from Renan’s 1883 Sorbonne lecture on Islam:

Those liberals who defend Islam do not know Islam. Islam is the seamless union of the spiritual and the temporal, it is the reign of dogma, it is the heaviest chain mankind has ever borne. In the early Middle Ages, Islam tolerated philosophy, because it could not stop it. It could not stop it because it was as yet disorganized, and poorly armed for terror….But as soon as Islam had a mass of ardent believers at its disposal, it destroyed everything in its path. Religious terror and hypocrisy were the order of the day. Islam has been liberal when weak, and violent when strong. Let us not give it credit for what it was merely unable to suppress.

(An English translatino of Renan’s lecture has been posted in its entirety here. I believe the translation above is Caldwell’s.) Caldwell then comments, citing an earlier quotation from Hilaire Belloc in addition to the quote above from Renan:

Both Renan and Belloc complained of complacency among their contemporaries. This is nothing new. But neither of them lived at a time of mass Muslim immigration. It will surely puzzle future generations why Europeans did not worry more about the religion of those guest workers who began arriving from South Asia, North Africa, and Turkey in the 1950s and 1960s. Why, between World War II and September 11, 2001, did Europeans seem unanimously to embrace [the] tolerant (or Panglossian) view of Islam rather than Belloc and Renan’s intolerant (or bigoted) one?

I think we may have to return to Caldwell’s book another time or two.


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