Hilaire Belloc On Islam

Hilaire Belloc On Islam

August 6, 2017
By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK

They are among the central questions of our time: Is there a way to reach peaceful coexistence with militant Islamists? Can we have a realistic expectation that Muslims who immigrate to the United States will assimilate in the manner of other immigrant groups, or will they be a third column of sorts always seeking to undermine us? Why are Muslims a threat to us now, in the first quarter of the 21st century, when they were an easily ignored Third World people on the periphery of the world arena for much of our lives? What happened to change them?

I don’t know why I didn’t think to look for the answers to these questions in Hilaire Belloc’s essay on what he called “Mohammedans” in his book The Great Heresies. But, for some reason, I did not, until just recently. It was a curious oversight. I am a longtime admirer of Belloc’s work, if for no other reason than the account of his 1910 debate when running for Parliament in Great Britain.

The story goes that a heckler shouted out, demanding to know if he was a “papist.” Retrieving his rosary from his pocket Belloc responded, “Sir, so far as possible I hear Mass each day and I go to my knees and tell these beads each night. If that offends you, then I pray God may spare me the indignity of representing you in Parliament.” The crowd cheered and Belloc won the election. They don’t make ‘em like they used to.

Here’s what I came across in The Great Heresies: Belloc starts with the assertion that Islam began “as a heresy, not a new religion….Mohammed preached a whole group of ideas which were peculiar to the Catholic Church and distinguished it from paganism.” This means that the “very foundation of his teaching was the prime Catholic doctrine, the unity and omnipotence of God, God’s all-goodness, the timelessness, the providence of God, His creative power as the origin of all things, and HIs sustenance of all things by His power alone.”

Of course, Mohammed denied something of great consequence. He “denied the Incarnation and with that went the whole sacramental structure. He refused to know anything of the Eucharist, the Real Presence, the sacrifice of the Mass and the priesthood.”
This denial, as objectionable as it is to Christians, was central to Islam’s appeal in the Arab world, says Belloc: “Catholic doctrine was true (Mohammed seemed to say), but it had become complicated by needless man-made additions….All those corrupt accretions must be swept away.” What Mohammed gave to his followers, was a simple and fiery form of worship, containing many Catholic truths.

Why is this an important point to make? Because it means that Muslims are not some primitive animists practicing mumbo-jumbo taught to them by a tribal shaman with an array of magic charms. They are heretics but with an intense commitment to a simplified core of what Jesus taught.

This is why Muslims have been largely impervious to conversion by Catholic missionaries. It is why their armies were so committed to their cause, why they were able, writes Belloc, “to overrun Egypt and push further and further into the heart of Western civilization, establishing themselves all over northern Africa, cross the Straits of Gibraltar into Western Europe and flood Spain. They even got as far as the very heart of Northern France, between Poitiers and Tours, less than a hundred years after their first victories in Syria in AD 732.

“They spread mightily throughout Hither Asia, overwhelming the Persian realm. They were an increasing menace to Constantinople. A main part of the Roman world fell under the power of this new and strange force from the Desert.”
Belloc’s words are worth a reread. Granted, there were ugly elements to the Crusades, but, despite the contrary depiction given to us by the modern media and the academy, they were defensive wars undertaken by Europe’s Christians to roll back this menacing, encircling force.
In the centuries that followed, the Muslims conquered Constantinople, Greece, the Balkans and were pressing into Austria.

“Not so very long ago, less than a hundred years before the Declaration of Independence,” writes Belloc, “Vienna was almost taken and only saved by the Christian army under the command of the king of Poland on a date that ought to be among the most famous in history, September 11, 1683.”
Between “the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century, Europe was dominated by a vivid memory of a Mohammedan threat which had nearly made good and which apparently might in the near future be repeated. The Europeans of that time thought of Mohammedanism as 20th century European Christians thought of Bolshevism.” It was a clear and present danger.

What happened? Why did the Islamic world become part of the backwater of history by the late 19th century? Why did it lose so much power and territory in the years after World War I, with the British and the French dividing the Middle East?
Belloc insists that there was no “moral disintegration from within, no intellectual breakdown; you will find the Egyptian or Syrian student today, if you talk to him on any philosophical or scientific subject, to be the equal of any European.” Belloc holds that Muslims retain “a fixed loyalty and unquestioning adherence” to their beliefs.

History has proven him solidly correct on this last point. Our modern media is filled with terms such as “fanatics,” “extremists,” and “militants” when they discuss Islam.
Why then did the Islamic world fall from power and influence in the 19th and 20th centuries? Belloc’s answer is that it did not participate as early as Europe in the industrial revolution and the advances in technology, especially in the capacity to “manufacture and maintain the complicated instruments of modern war.” In other words, the world’s Muslims did not become more peace-loving, merely less capable of waging a modern war.

Belloc did not live to see how the West’s edge in modern warfare was diminished as a result of the invention of the computer and the cell phone and the advances in modern transportation and finance that make it possible for Muslims to infiltrate and wage a terrorist war against the West.

But Belloc foresaw the coming danger: “There is nothing inherent to Mohammedanism to make it incapable of modern science and modern war. Indeed, the matter is not worth discussing. It should be self-evident to anyone who has seen the Mohammedan culture at work. That culture happens to have fallen back in material applications…but there is no reason whatever why it should not learn its new lesson and become our equal in all those temporal things which now alone give us our superiority.” Think of the Iranian scientists hard at work on their nuclear reactors.

Belloc saw another thing of great importance on this topic: “Cultures spring from religions; ultimately the vital force which maintains any culture is its philosophy, its attitude toward the universe.” Belloc saw no withering away of the loyalty to Islam.

But he worried about us: “The decay of a religion involves the decay of the culture corresponding to what we see most clearly in the breakdown of Christendom today. The bad work begun at the Reformation is bearing its final fruit in the dissolution of our ancestral doctrines; the very structure of our society is dissolving.”
We can see what Belloc meant on the evening news. Muslims continue to pour into the once-Christian West, looking the other way on the terrorists in their midst and self-righteously demanding the right to promote Sharia law wherever they take up residence, while the leaders of the European nation-states, including the Vatican, struggle to find the words to justify a resistance to the hostile transformation taking place.

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