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Beliefs & Perspectives Islam & Arab Judaism

Reflections: 2007

It has been reported that more people are converting to Islam than to any other religious creed. Of the various reasons which may explain this reported phenomenon, one is this: there are periods in human history when an “untrue” belief is more fervently held than a “true” one.

Recall how fervently Communism was held by intellectuals who had rejected, along with capitalism, lukewarm Christianity and milquetoast Judaism.

Like Islam, Communism is a totalitarian creed that readily appeals to the fanatical mind—those that cannot tolerate diversity. Both Islam and Communism reject an international community of sovereign nation-states. Both are imperialistic and regard international borders as artificial and temporary. War is their modus operandi.

Both Islam and Communism reject values intrinsic not only to liberal democracy, but also to Civilization, namely, the primacy of consent or persuasion in human affairs as opposed to the primacy of force or coercion. Both Islam and Communism therefore reject the civility associated with classical Greek philosophy (think of Plato’s dialogues). At the same time, both deny the Judeo-Christian concept of the sanctity of human life and of individual freedom.

As may be seen in the writings of such diverse thinkers as Kierkegaard, Flaubert, Nietzsche, Spengler, and Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, the Greco-Christian tradition has long been in process of decay. One of the most obvious causes of this decay since World War I has been the spreading influence of moral or cultural relativism.

Propagated by the social sciences and the humanities, relativism has eroded the political as well as the moral convictions of countless people in the democratic world. In fact, a document of the American Council of Learned Societies entitled “Speaking for the Humanities” maintains that democracy cannot be justified as a system of government inherently superior to totalitarianism; it is simply an “ideological commitment” that the West has chosen to make.

This disillusioning nihilism is rampant in post-Christian England and Europe. Given man’s need to believe in something, is it any wonder that many of the disillusioned have converted to Islam? They see in Islam countless believers whose fervor impresses vulnerable minds as indicative of the “truth” of that religion.

I am not referring to criminals whose conversion to Islam is a convenient means of justifying their violent impulses or ambitions once released from prison. The “will to believe” is a distinctively human trait. As a religious animal, however, man needs to believe in the absolute—any absolute, even if it entails the end of his freedom.

Although freedom is commonly associated with relativism, this university-bred doctrine actually provides no rational foundation for freedom, as indicated by the above mentioned document of the American Council of Learned Societies.

This is not the place to show how Judaism overcomes the dichotomy of absolutism and relativism. Here I only want to indicate that the reported influx of converts to Islam lends no credence whatever to that religion. It rather reveals the moral vacuum produced by the universities of the democratic world.

The fact that Muslims throughout history have glorified violence suggests that they are not very confident in the persuasiveness of their religion. On the other hand, that liberals refrain from using violence to preserve democracy against its Islamic enemies suggests that they are incapable of preserving civilization.

It is in this light that we need a deeper understanding of Judaism.

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