Religion and a Sickness in the West

A French scholar wonders whether the problem isn't Islam so much as a deeply damaged relationship between Westerners and religion itself. Is he right?

BY CounterJihad · @CounterjihadUS | October 20, 2016

He relates a story where a colleague saw a young nun, a beautiful young woman dressed in her habit walking through downtown Paris and how she drew stares. “How odd,” people thought. “And then someone explained she was a transgender person walking to an LGBT Pride parade and everyone was relieved.”

So ends an interview conducted by the with Weekly Standard with Oliver Roy, a professor at the European University who is famous for having a unique view of radical Islam.  The anecdote is intended to convey just how alienated Western society has become from religious faith.  The intensity of the honest religious experience is now itself seen as suspicious, not only in France but in many parts of Western Europe.  Even that long-time symbol of pious innocence, the nun, is now a little frightening.  How much it relaxes the people to learn that the young woman is really a young man, and that the habit is not a symbol of sincere belief but a mockery of it.  Mockery of faith is comfortable.  Mockery is familiar.  It is the ordinary thing.

Given that relationship between faith and Frenchmen, Roy suggests that the real issue is not Islam itself but the fact that the broader society outright rejects religious intensity.  The Islamic State (ISIS) just happens to offer the fullest flower of the intense, religious experience that so many youth are being denied in the West.

“Yes, the Islamic State coalesces around a number of different things, including a Muslim identity, and they’re fighting for a global movement, but what’s the goal? They’re not fighting for a just society. It’s a movement that is supposed to end in an apocalypse. It’s explicitly apocalyptic.”

That is to say, there is indeed a religious element, but it is less about Islam and more about young men (and increasingly women) searching for some sort of relationship to a larger world outside themselves. “Twenty-five percent of ISIS are converts,” says Roy. “Forty-five percent of the hundreds of Americans who have been caught trying to go to Syria are converts.”

The appeal isn’t Islam as such, but the way ISIS has packaged the total experience—a kind of Death Tourism that invariably ends in the pilgrim’s own death. “They flock to the new jihad playground in Syria and they all know they’re going to be used as suicide bombers,” says Roy.

There is half of a valid argument here.  It is true, as he says, that the West has developed a kind of spiritual sickness, almost an allergy to sincere religious faith.  Here in the United States, as many as seven in ten of the youngest generation feels alienated by religious groups, especially those that hold to their traditional moral theology on sexuality.  The danger of the nun is not that she might be a suicide bomber, but that she might be a virgin — or worse, that she might believe that there was some virtue to virginity, or celibacy, or other traditional values.  For those Muslim women who are able to choose freely to wear a veil out of a sense of religious modesty, as opposed to being forced to veil against their will, the case is the same.

But the issue is not as simple as the West’s alienation from its heart of faith.  As our own Islamic scholar has shown, ISIS is deeply Islamic in its ideology and practice.  Their complaints against us are not merely that we reject modesty or religion as such, but that we do not accept their vision of Islam. Nor is their vision especially ridiculous:  their practices are rooted in quite traditional understandings of Islamic law, and their business of engaging in takfiri claims is an essentially Muslim practice.

For that matter, ISIS has as its core not Westerners but Iraqis and Syrians.  They draw their resources from donations from rich Gulf states and illegal oil sales facilitated by other Muslims.  However serious the West’s spiritual problems may be, and they do seem quite serious, the fact is that our converts to their cause are only a side show for their movement.   It is not really about us, although some of us fall into it.

Roy’s answer is only half an answer because it does not see this character.  If the issue is religious alienation, where is the Catholic Caliphate?  France has more Catholics than Muslims, at least for now, and they must be at least as alienated from the broader society and its refusal to entertain religious purpose or connections.

Still, grant Roy his due.  Until we can admit both parts of this puzzle, it does not seem we will solve the problem in front of us.  We must tackle both his problem and the problems posed by a radical Islam in order to defeat this threat.



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