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Elusive Unity: Accommodating The Other

March 17, 2015 Featured Today No Comments

By JUDE DOUGHERTY

While on a recent visit to Egypt, Vladimir Putin called upon and spoke to Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria in these words: “Your church is one of the most ancient Christian churches: It functions and your parishioners live here in a predominantly Muslim area. As you know, Russia is a multi-confessional country; the majority of our population are Christians of the same Eastern Orthodox faith as you and I.”
President Putin went on to say that a significant number of Russian citizens are Muslims, but they are not immigrants as they are in other counties; they have no other homeland but Russia.
Still addressing Patriarch Theodoros, Putin said, “As you know, relations between people of different faiths have been developing in our country for about a thousand years. These relations are characterized primarily by mutual respect and support and are based on our common moral values.”
Several things to note here. As the West confronts an influx of Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, in both Europe and the United States, the immigrant comes as an alien. Though he obviously seeks the freedoms and material benefits of his host country, he may have no intention of assimilating into the dominant culture. He may value above all his inherited tradition with its moral standards and seek to retain it among like-minded immigrants in a kind of self-created ghetto.
Questions loom: To what extent is the host country obliged to accommodate the alien? Amidst diversity as wide as that which exists among Christian, Muslim, and Jew, not to mention the Voltaires among us, are common moral standards possible? Is it possible within an inherited Christian culture, itself beset by divisions, to accept the alien into a fractious society and yet pursue a common good?
Remi Brague, in discussing the future of Europe, believes that its culture will survive only if it begins to understand its uniqueness, distinctive value, and accomplishments and then decides finally to defend them “in the face of internal and external barbarism.”
Professor Brague adds the thought: Europe, unworthy though it may be, has been the messenger and servant of the Gospel, a mission that has not been abrogated.
In her ever-relevant meditation on the future of Europe, The Good Pagan’s Failure, Rosalind Murray 75 years ago argued that an enlightened intellectual class suffers from the illusion that it is possible to conserve all the positive and constructive value of the Christian order while removing from it belief in God.
The enlightened agnostic, humanist, liberal or “Good Pagan,” as she calls him, suffers from another illusion, insofar as he transfers the principle of moral equality affirmed in the supernatural order to the temporal equality of all mankind. Without warrant, she would say, for in denying a natural aristocracy, the liberal flies in the face of all experience and rashly promotes democratic government worldwide.
The promotion of democracy in the name of equality is not conducive to enlightened rule, she is convinced. “Democracy,” Murray writes, “has a vaguely pleasant sound. It suggests fair play and good sense. But it entails in the political sphere that the overwhelming balance of power and decision lies with the crowd, the undifferentiated proletarian masses whose strength lies in quantity and quantity only, who are not in the nature of things fit to govern.”
Of the English political order of her day, she could say, “Our society is being ruined by the increasing influence of barbarism within it.”
From the vantage point of the 21st century, there is no turning back. The England into which Murray was born no longer exists. Europe’s uncontrolled immigration policy has changed not only England but the Continent’s cultural landscape as well. So what does the future hold? Pope Benedict XVI seemed to be the answer to Alasdair McIntyre’s prayer, but he has resigned.
The late, Egyptian-born, Jewish scholar Bat Ye’or feared that a declining birthrate in Europe and its repudiation of its Christian past may prefigure the coming of a universal caliphate in which Europeans would be reduced to dhimmitude (her word) under Islamic rule. In books translated as The Decline of Christianity Under Islam (1996), Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide (2001), Europe, Globalization, and the Coming of the Universal Caliphate (2011) she reminds Europeans that dhimmitude is the direct consequence of successful jihad. Dhimmitude is the condition of “the other” who is subjected to all the Islamic laws and customs, a subservient condition, which for more than a thousand years Muslims have imposed on the vanquished peoples.
She reminds us that for an overview of the Islamic perspective, for example, on “human rights,” one need only consult the 1990 Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam which contrasts sharply with views held in the West.
Bat Ye’or’s prophetic voice may not be taken seriously by current European leaders who in their weakness find it difficult to resist not only a militant Islam but even the foreign policy of the U.S. State Department. It is hard to believe that “Europe’s run is over” as some have proclaimed. The Catholic Church has historically functioned as a conservator of Greek and Roman culture in Europe. Absent effective leadership, perhaps some future Urban II will arise to confront the challenge.

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(Dr. Dougherty is dean emeritus of The School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America.)

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