DUNN LORING, VA —Robert R. Reilly’s The
Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the
Modern Islamist (ISI
Books, May 2010) will, I am sure, fascinate other readers as it did
me. I could hardly put it down until I’d read it twice.
Reilly (a dear friend of mine, by the way) contends that Islam suffers
from a flawed metaphysic that deforms its theology. It rejects reason
and exalts will. It has no room for natural law: Murder is not wrong
by definition but only because Allah chooses to forbid it. If he’d
decided to enjoin it, it would have become our duty.
Islam understands his omnipotence to mean that he is superior to reason
itself (thus, if he said that two and two make five, so it would be).
Allah’s will is the direct cause of everything; no need to look
for secondary causes. No wonder, given this primitive conception of
nature, Islam rejects Western science. Allah’s will accounts
for everything that happens. The world continues to exist because he
recreates it continuously from moment to moment. He could decide to
annihilate it at any time.
One noted atheist, the Marxist Christopher Hitchens, ridicules the
very conception of God as that of a “celestial dictator” —
a Stalin in the sky, as it were. But Christians address God as “Our
Father.” Far from being a cruel deity who inflicts suffering
on his creatures, he is a God who chooses to suffer himself. This is
why G.K. Chesterton remarked that Christianity is unique among religions
in ascribing courage to God. The Creator became a creature. Why would
the omnipotent, impassive Allah need courage? Nobody could nail HIM
to a cross. To Muslims, the Christian concept of a triune, incarnate
God, insulted, tortured, and murdered by his own creatures seems blasphemous.
The primal Muslim error about God’s nature has led, Reilly
argues, to a deep stultification of Arab culture for roughly the last
millennium. He cites Hilaire Belloc’s 1938 prediction that the
Muslim world would once more surpass Christendom, if only it adopted
Western technology. But Reilly’s own argument makes this hard
to believe: Islam’s long hostility to reason has turned it into
a virtual superstition, impenetrable to the practical and theoretical
science that the fulfillment of Belloc’s prophecy would require.
You can’t very well build modern weaponry if you don’t
believe in efficient causes. Islam seems doomed to remain backward
and futile, dissipating its energy in bursts of violence and hysteria.
I have another small bone to pick with this superb and stimulating
book. Reilly speaks of Islam as “totalitarian”; I agree
with him about its tyrannical potential, but I would reserve the word
for regimes (especially communist ones) in which the will of the ruler
may change suddenly and arbitrarily (think of Mao, Castro, and Kim
Jong-Il), whereas Islamic rulers are bound by the fixed text of the
On the whole, I find this book reassuring. It makes me more grateful
than ever to be a Christian and more doubtful than ever that Islam
can ever pose a serious threat to the West, any more than numerology
can threaten calculus, or Ptolemaic astronomy overthrow Copernican.
As Macbeth says, that will never be!
Islam may remain an irritation to the West for centuries yet, but
not a fundamental danger. The real danger is our own apostasy (as Belloc
rightly warned us), which has already done so much more harm than Islam
ever could. Islam, one might say, has lobotomized itself.
Will Durant once wrote that John Calvin had given us “the most
absurd and blasphemous concept of God in the long and honored history
of nonsense.” No; that distinction belongs to Muhammad.
In less than a month, Reilly’s small book has earned a place
near the top of the tiny library of books I regard as indispensable.
How did I live so many years without it?
Copyright © 2010 by Joe Sobran and the
Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.
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