Islamism, Islamofascism or just plain Islam- however you feel the definition should be framed, is a problem but it can only be as big a problem as we allow it to be. Western civilization, like any other natural phenomenon, contains the seeds of its own destruction that exist as part and parcel of the properties that make it grow and thrive. People grow and learn only to become old, brittle and moribund. The object of the game in civilizations, as it is for living creatures, is to accentuate the healthy properties and minimize the effect of those defects as much as possible for as long as possible. The challenge is to survive, fight entropy and create a greater and more satisfying life in the process.
The west has been driven by an engine of dynamic change tempered by ethical benevolence greater than any other the world has ever known. It is not necessarily the case that the world-wide Jihad has been so damaging, it is just that it has found was of taking advantage of our vulnerabilities. It is these vulnerabilities that we have to address before we can stop the process by which the Jihad threat has accelerated the sapping of the moral courage of our entire civilization.
Dr Jacob Bronowski identified the key aspect of the problem back in the early 1970’s. It is crucial for us to understand that, as evil and immediate as Islamofascism is today, it has only been able to make the inroads in the west that it has because of the crucial flaws that Bronowski eloquently exposed in his brilliant BBC series, “The Ascent of Man”.
Islamofascism, of course, was not even on anyone’s radar screen at the time, and Bronowski’s concerns centered on the “popular”, non-rational intellectual fads of the day, but Bronowski’s words are prophetic. Long before Islam re-emerged as a threat he had a clear vision of the vulnerability to it that was, then, in its embryonic stage. His words echo across the decades with a warning and an exhortation.
“And I am infinitely saddened to find myself suddenly surrounded in the west by a sense of terrible loss of nerve, a retreat from knowledge into--into what? Into Zen Buddhism; into falsely profound questions about, are we not really just animals at bottom; into extra-sensory perception and mystery. They do not lie along the line of what we are now able to know if we devote ourselves to it: an understanding of man himself. We are nature's unique experiment to make the rational intelligence prove itself sounder than the reflex. Knowledge is our destiny. Self-knowledge, at last bringing together the experience of the arts and the explanations of science, waits ahead of us.
It sounds very pessimistic to talk about western civilization with a sense of retreat. I have been so optimistic about the ascent of man; am I going to give up at this moment? Of course not, the ascent of man will go on. But do not assume that it will go on carried by western civilization as we know it. We are being weighed in the balance at this moment. If we give up, the next step will be taken- but not by us.”
It is a striking passage. Leading up to this point, through twelve preceding episodes, Bronowski has dramatized the critical intellectual and scientific personalities and their discoveries that have brought western civilization to the pinnacle of human progress. He is neither apologetic nor tentative. Even in speaking of his reservations about the use of the atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki he never wavered from his full confidence that the intellectual honesty, tolerant respect for new ideas, adventurous thirst for discovery and rigorous insistence on testing in reality that are the strengths of western science will lead to continual advancement and higher evolution. Now he confesses a deep concern for the continuity of that evolution.
Although it is true that Bronowski was a Jew, his real faith was in science and rationality. Born in Poland and raised in England he mounted a passionate defense of science even as he cathected personal loss and anguish in another memorable scene. This one filmed in Poland, standing by the swampy shore of a pond.
“Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality--this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.
Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known; we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error, and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we *can* know although we are fallible. In the end, the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ: Think it possible you may be mistaken."
(Now, as he begins this next sentence, he seems to forget that he is wearing a suit and dress shoes and walks, as he is speaking into the water at the edge of the pond) We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. (Here he squats down over the shallow water and reaches down to pull up a hand full of muck) We have to touch people.”
How sickened he would be to see what is happening in the Country he loved, where political correctness and multiculturalism have allowed the world’s most irrational and repressive ideology to use the tolerance he so prized to allow intolerance to gain a foothold. Bronowski understood better than anyone that tolerance is a two-way street. I has to lead to real debate and genuine give and take. If you agree to tolerate, you must insist on being tolerated in return. If the west continues to grant unidirectional tolerance to Muslims who refuse to accept western values, persist in anti-western behavior (in which classification I put such activities as wife beating, plotting terror attacks, honor killing, advocating the institution of Shari a Law and advocating the overthrow of the government)
“I, whom England made, whom it taught its language and its tolerance and excitement in intellectual pursuits, I should feel it a grave sense of loss (as you would) if a hundred years from now Shakespeare and Newton are historical fossils in the ascent of man, in the way Homer and Euclid are.”
Unless we in the west find a way to restore our own faith in the values that have made our civilization the shining light of humanity, that day is coming- and soon.