October 1, 2014

Syria: Nowhere Near Regime Change

Srdja Trifkovic offers trenchant analysis on world events for this reason: he is not bound to the liberal/neo-con vision of American foreign policy that justifies the invasion and domination of sovereign nations under the rubric that behind every dictator lies a nascent movement of political liberty waiting to emerge. This view is misguided idealism and naivete at best, cynical opportunism at worst, and it afflicts Democrats and Republicans alike. (It’s been the sum of liberal thinking since Viet Nam and maintained by neo-cons when moving over to the Republican side.)

The problem is that “regime change” affects in catastrophic ways the minorities in the countries where dictators are overthrown, including Orthodox Christian minorities in the Middle East who otherwise live in relative safety. Last month I heard William Krystol (a dean of the Washington neo-con establishment; Charles Krauthammer is another) urge American forces to enter Syria to topple the government. He had no idea what kind of government would replace it (not to mention that putting American lives as risk comes very easy to him) but anything is better than the present regime he argued.

Trifkovic explains below why that view is not only wrong-headed, but dangerous.

Source: Chronicles Magazine | Srdja Trifkovic

“Unrest in Syria has discomforted rather than shaken the regime of Bashir Al-Assad,” I wrote in the May issue of Chronicles (Cultural Revolutions, p. 6). “On current form it is an even bet that he will survive, which is preferable to any likely alternative.” The violence has become far worse since the editorial was written in mid-March and the regime looks somewhat shaken by now, but the overall conclusion still stands.

What was “last but not least” a month ago needs to be stated first now: the army and the internal security apparatus remain reliable in spite of several weeks of intense pressure. Contrary to the protesters’ claims of a split within army ranks, the soldiers are loyal to Bashir and to the regime—rather than to the Army as an institution (like in Egypt), or to whoever appears to be winning in the streets (like in Tunisia). The soldiers appear singularly unintimidated by mob violence, which is often instigated by the Islamists who treat “martyrdom” as an essential element of their destabilization strategy. The Syrian deaths are now in the low hundreds. This is well below the bimonthly score of our NATO “ally” Turkey during its clampdown on the Kurds in the 1980s, and less than the death toll of a single day of rioting in Saudi Arabia in 1987.

Less dependent on foreign countries than either Egypt or Tunisia, Bashir is virtually immune to U.S. pressure. Alarmed by the misuse of the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 by NATO as a quasi-legal tool of attempted regime change in Libya, China and Russia have successfully blocked an initiative by the U.S. and some of its European allies for the UNSC to condemn the Syrian government’s “attacks on peaceful protesters.” The regime in Damascus is certain there will be no Operation Libyan Freedom, and it is correct to make that assumption. It is also mindful of Qaddafy’s predicament when faced with Western demands and pressures.

Bashir is potentially sensitive to EU (especially French) sanctions, but he would rather risk such sanctions than agree to a string of unreciprocated concessions on the short road to self-annihilation. He can learn from the mistakes of Ben Ali and Mubarak. The first lesson is not to panic and not to appear weak. Bashir is making some concessions—such as the ending of the state of emergency and the promise of multi-party political system—but at the same time the authorities in Damascus are demonstrating “that they have the capacity for so much force” that they don’t have to use it all at once. We are nowhere near a genuine nationwide revolt yet, and the regime is nowhere near collapse.

Bashir’s major advantage is the absence of coherence and clarity among his opponents. He faces an enigmatic opposition movement, amorphous and apparently leaderless. It is conceivable that the opposition as a whole is more popular than the regime, but it is heterogeneous. There is the Muslim Brotherhood and several Ikwani splinters, as well as Saudi-supported Salafi groups, there are two armed communist factions and an array of other leftist secularists, there are Kurdish separatists, and other regional militias are beginning to emerge. Even if there were a free election, Bashir’s Ba’ath would likely remain the strongest single party.

In case of Bashir’s collapse the final outcome would be a fundamentalist Sunni regime controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. The standard chant of Bashir’s opponents, “Allah, Freedom, Syria,” indicates the order of their priorities. Far from being latter-day Jeffersonians, they demand “freedom” from a modernizing, secularist government that has successfully kept political Islam on a tight leash for some decades now. It is therefore self-defeating, but sadly not surprising, that the U.S. appears actively engaged in encouraging an eventual regime change.

The prospect of a fundamentalist victory strikes horror into the hearts of Alawites, Druze, Christians, and secularists of all hues, who provide the bulk of government cadres and a third of Syria’s population. Many of them would prefer civil war to a regime change. The growing middle class—which includes many prosperous Sunnis—is also loath to see their country become more akin to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The dislike of a common enemy can be a powerful bond, and Syria’s assorted heterodox Muslims, secularists, Sunni moderates and non-Muslim “infidels” know that they need to hang together with Bashir. Otherwise they are likely to hang separately and rapidly disappear, which is exactly what happened to Iraq’s previously stable and prosperous Christian community in the aftermath of the U.S.-led 2003 occupation.

The protesters capture the headlines but Bashir remains popular with a large segment of the population. This applies to the young, who account for more than a half of Syria’s 24 million people and many of whom have taken advantage of his economic liberalization over the past decade. They see the termination of the decades-long state of emergency as a key step on Bashir’s reformist path. “Syrians have two roads to choose from — both being calculated gambles,” the country’s leading author and commentator Sami Moubayed wrote a month ago. They either give Bashir the benefit of the doubt, or they entrust their future to a street movement that doesn’t have a clear command, vision, or agenda.

Some foreign proponents of Bashir’s downfall use the standard rhetoric of “democratic” regime change but do not give a hoot for what “the people” actually want, or what is optimal for the region’s long-term stability. It appears that they want to see him replaced by a hard-core Islamist regime in order to ensure that Syria becomes and remains weak and divided. Caroline Glick thus argued in The Jerusalem Post that Syria led by the Brotherhood would be no worse than that led by Assad. “What would a Muslim Brotherhood regime do that Assad isn’t already doing?” she asked. “At a minimum, a successor regime will be weaker than the current one. Consequently, even if Syria is taken over by jihadists, they will pose less of an immediate threat to the region than Assad. They will be much more vulnerable to domestic opposition and subversion.”

This is a remarkably short-sighted view. On current and recent form Bashir is not a threat to the region, “immediate” or otherwise. A Muslim Brotherhood regime would do all sorts of bad or unpleasant things that he isn’t doing. Bashir and his father have kept peace on the Golan Heights for almost forty years. An Islamist Syria would be unlikely to follow suit; its cue would come from the Hamas-ruled Gaza, Kassem rockets included. An Islamist Syria would become a stronger link in the Iran-Hizballah axis than Assad had ever been. If there is a Syrian civil war instead, it would spill over into Lebanon and Jordan immediately and into the Palestinian Authority soon thereafter. The region would become less stable than at any time since 1947.

None of these alternatives to Bashir are more desirable than his survival. His present connection with Iran is neither natural nor inevitable. He is a secularist with Alawite roots, whereas Ahmadinejad is a millenarian Shia visionary. Bashir may be ready for all kinds of deals—peace with Israel included—in return for Washington’s recognition of the legitimacy of his regime. He should be tested, because the road to Damascus cannot and should not lead through Mecca.

Comments

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    George Patsourakos says:

    The United States must not intervene in the current crisis in Syria, but should let the Syrians work out a solution to their problems.

    The United States should not serve as a worldwide police force to ensure that democracy prevails in every nation of the world. That role can be achieved by the United Nations whenever it deems it is necessary to implement it.

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      Michael Bauman says:

      The UN wouldn’t know a democracy if one bit them. Most of the members are happily un-democratic. No reason for anyone to intervene in Syria for any reason.

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    Scott Pennington says:

    At some point in the near future, it would be wise for those who consider themselves conservative Christians (in the sense of morality) to decide which loyalty is more important to them. The loyalty to Christ or the loyalty to Western democracy.

    The reason is the following: The end result of the liberal/neo-con project will be that all countries affected by this aspiration to democratize the world will fall into two and only two categories once the dust settles: a) those controlled by Islamists, or b) those controlled by governments dominated by Western ideals of liberal democratic values. The latter will implement policies designed to drastically curtail the role of the church/mosque in public morality, encourage family planning (including abortion), encourage gender equality which will destroy the institution of the family, and encourage liberalized standards of dress and sexual freedom, which will increase the rates of divorce, out of wedlock births and general promiscuity in the culture. This in turn leads to higher crime rates and increased poverty.

    In short, either way, Christians lose. We either get a radical Muslim government or one dedicated to the destruction of Christianity – – but I’m being redundant, aren’t I?

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    Michael Bauman says:

    The Cross either way.

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      Scott Pennington says:

      Michael,

      True, however we don’t have a duty to go out of our way to encourage policies which will result in our martyrdom.

      Christ has two great ideological enemies in this world: “Islamism” and Enlightenment Liberalism. The latter is more dangerous. Our problems with the Muslims could be easily resolved if we didn’t have the domestic enemies to combat as well. Really, it is more imperative to defeat Enlightenment Liberalism (which spans the breadth of the American political spectrum). The least offensive of these, IMHO, are the paleoconservatives like Buchanan. They would prefer an old fashion, non-interventionist republic. The fact that our populace does not want anything old fashioned does not dissuade them. They engage in profound wishful thinking as do all Christian democrats.

      I find myself in the unfortunate position of praying that my own form of government is destroyed or at least morphs into something less responsive to the people. Is there an alternative given that the entire range of options created by Western democracy all point to the destruction of Christianity?

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        Eliot Ryan says:

        It’s the same old story over and over again.
        With the rise of the Ottoman Empire, Orthodox Christian countries fought 10 to one against Arabs and survived (except the Albanians).
        The spirit of the French revolutionaries who resorted to a Reign of Terror was picked up by the Bolsheviks in 1917. They did not act any differently; the reign of Communist terror displayed same hatred against Christianity.
        The same hatred against Christianity exudes nowadays from those dressed in Western European papillon suits.

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    Michael Bauman says:

    Having tussled with this issue my self since my early 20’s I’ve come to the following very weak conclusions:

    1. Biblically, the form of government that gets any favor from God is most akin the period in our history under the Articles of Confederation in which both hiearchy and local response were present. Biblically it was under the law of God.

    2. God allows freedom which means that we sin. There are limits, but they are pretty far out, or so it seems to me.

    3. The Byzantine concept of state-Church synergy has done great harm to the Church. A harm which is a part of our current jurisdictional morass and the questionable belief in ‘national’ churches.

    4. Centralization in government curtails freedom leading to the one-size-fits-all the passions rule type of approach. Oligarchies become entrenched which always lead to out and out tryanny.

    5. The more ethnic and religious heterogeneity there is, the more centralization. In a more homogeneous culture, traditional wisdom and mores are the defacto law.

    6. The more centralized democracy breaks down traditional wisdom, mores and culture, the less govenable we become. The law is turned inside out.

    7. The end result of any attempt of fallen and sinful human beings to govern themselves is tryanny.

    8. Long experience with Christianity living under Islam is not good. The life of the spirit is gradually squezzed out of the Church as a whole to be replaced with legalism, corruption, nominalism and superstition.

    9. The pressures of atheism whether the temptress variety of the modern west or the voracious oppression of communism are actually much easier to resist, at least in the short run.

    10. The real Church is made up of local believers gathered, where possible around their bishop in prayer and thanksgiving. Both western and soviet atheism for the most part allowed that to a degree. I vote for avoiding Islam if we can.

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      George Michalopulos says:

      Michael, I like your thinking, particularly point #3. The vauted “symphony” between state and church has irrevocably crippled Orthodox here in America. The present imbroglios (GOA breakup, OCA mess, debillitated/terrified priests, overweening wealthy secularists, etc.) is a direct result of our inability to support our local churches, which we lost at least 800 years ago.

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      Scott Pennington says:

      Michael,

      Point by point:

      1. There was no period ever in Biblical Israel where the Israelites were governed in a democracy. At most, there was a decentralized rule of chieftans and this did not work too well. If you recall, the reason that Israel demanded a king was that Samuel’s sons so mismanaged the judgeships that the people were being terribly exploited. In fact, they went from decentralized tyranny under Samuel’s sons to centralized exploitation under Saul. David did a bit better.

      2. The limits are not so wide as you might think. You have the Old Testament witness which ought to tell you that there were firm limits to conduct. You could be executed for cursing your parents or eating shellfish. In the New Testament, frankly, the Church was not sovereign in the civil realm. However, excommunication was practiced against any number of behaviors we today would consider within the latitude given “free” persons.

      3. A system of church-state symphony is probably the one and only way that a society can be governed according to Christian morality over time. I absolutely defy you to name one democracy that has maintained Christian moral teaching as the basis for its moral legislation. You won’t because there is no such state.

      4. We simply disagree on this. The problem that centralized authoritarian regimes have is that you never know what type of leader you’re going to get. Historically, the institutionalization of monarchies and empires through custom and partnership with the church has sought to ameliorate the rougher edges of this type of rule. Democracies always lead to institutionalized liscentiousness, moral depravity, etc. It’s an infallible law of nature.

      5. I tend to agree with you on this but I’m not sure where it leaves us. The population is what it is unless you have in mind mass deportations.

      6. Perhaps, but you’re pining away for what might have been. A decentralized democracy where the federal government has the capacity to arrogate power to itself will turn into a centralized democracy. It is the nature of any discreet entity, organic or political, to draw as much power to itself as possible. Rule by our Supreme Court was inevitable because it is the only entity which can pronounce what the law is without any meaningful challenge.

      7. Tyranny is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s Sun King is another man’s tyrant. It’s that simple. If you mean the end result of all attempts at human governance is authoritarian rule, I agree. That’s because it is really the only natural form of government for human beings, all others being the consequence of wishful thinking or sick ideologies.

      8. If the choice is between living in a liberal democracy where Christianity becomes denatured into the type you see in the mainline churches, or else to become a Muslim, it is better to become a Muslim. Islam is a better system than liberal democracy. It’s moral vision is closer to that of traditional Christianity than that of liberal democracy.

      9. That is flat out not true at all. In Albania, for instance, there was no Christianity. They had destroyed all the churches, killed all the clergy and left nothing at all of the Church except memories. Communism was the most evil ideology ever to raise its head on the planet (Nazism not excepted) and if it was a choice between “being red and being dead”, we would all have been better off dead. We’ve lived with Islam for over 1400 years.

      You wrote:

      “10. The real Church is made up of local believers gathered, where possible around their bishop in prayer and thanksgiving. Both western and soviet atheism for the most part allowed that to a degree. I vote for avoiding Islam if we can.”

      10. Absent international pressure, the Soviets would have wiped out Christianity root and branch. Under Khruschev, there were only 500 functioning churches out of a pre-Revolutionary total of almost 60,000. I will take Islam over Communism any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

      My point though is this: Communism, Naziism, “Islamism” and Liberal Democracy are all evil ideologies, enemies of Christ, and in the end bent on the destruction of the Church. In our time, with the demise of Communism and the disappearance of Naziism, “Islamism” and Liberal Democracy are left. Liberal Democracy is worse because it hampers us from dealing more directly with Muslim extremism at the same time as it destroys Christianity from within.

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        Michael Bauman says:

        Islam is not so bad if you are a wealthy man–otherwise it pretty well sucks for everyone. The externals of some of the Islamic teaching are similar to Christianity because Islam was influenced by Christian heretics. Any of the choices: Militant atheism ala’ the soviets; softer atheism ala’ the western enlightenment; or Islam leaves us with false gods, false anthropology, false cosmology and therefore false morals which includes beheading one’s enemies, raping women with impunity, beating them. I have a woman lawyer friend who can lay out the Islamic law chapter and verse–its pretty devastating.

        Islam at least gives the chance for a relatively quick martrydom if one practices the Christian faith: preachs the Gospel etc. I wonder what would happen in an Islamic state if someone publically proclaimed Al’massiah Qam? Probably nothing good for the earthly life of the person making the proclamation. Militant oppression is generally better for the health of Christianity than the soft strangulation of western atheism or Islamic dhimmi. Might not be many Christians left, but evil is much more clear. Either way the path to salvation is essentially the same–a form of monasticism in which humility and forgiveness are the cardinal virtues. The founders of my parish had lived for generations side by side with their Islamic neighbors when all of a sudden they were attacked and driven from their homes. Their faith pretty much withstood that, but whether it has withstood the tempations of American life only time will tell. Maybe Islam is the better forlorn hope.

        In any case our only real hope is with God because all government is corrupt (even the government of the Church) and becomes increasingly corrupt over time. I don’t think that there is any way to stop that. Whatever the form of government we are still called to care for those around us to the best of our ability, repent of our sins, forgive one another and in all other ways proclaim the Gospel in word and deed. That is the only Christian morality that matters. Under any form of government that will, sooner or later, get you into trouble—just depends how quickly the trouble comes and how intensely the sword falls.

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          Scott Pennington says:

          “. . . which includes beheading one’s enemies, raping women with impunity, beating them”.

          Not a word of that is true except the last item – – some Sunni schools of law allow a husband to “beat” his wife is she engages in some major misbehavior. All say it must be light and some say it shouldn’t be done at all. That is no different at all from the morality that prevailed in Christian societies up until about the 1950’s.

          Most of what we in the West believe about Islamic law is simply false. Some of it is more aggressive than we imagine. Some of it is more merciful.

          “Militant oppression is generally better for the health of Christianity than the soft strangulation of western atheism or Islamic dhimmi.”

          That’s just not true at all if the militant oppression you’re referring to is at the hands of militant athiests. The numbers simply prove you wrong. Were it not for the free world, communism would certainly have wiped out Christianity totally. Earlier generations of the Church’s enemies simply did not have the power to exert that kind of meticulous control over broad areas. In this age, that is possible.

          “Islam at least gives the chance for a relatively quick martrydom if one practices the Christian faith: preachs the Gospel etc. I wonder what would happen in an Islamic state if someone publically proclaimed Al’massiah Qam?”

          Islamic law allows Christians and Jews to practice their faith in relative peace except that it restricts evangelization. The penalty for a Muslim who converts to Christianity is death.

          “In any case our only real hope is with God because all government is corrupt (even the government of the Church) and becomes increasingly corrupt over time.”

          Michael, you’re sidestepping and ignoring the most glaring difference between Western Liberalism and previous forms of government: Western Liberalism seeks to redefine the good to something directly at odds with Christianity. It is not a matter of corruption at all. You are right that all governments become corrupted over time (if they did not start out that way to begin with). The problem with our government is not corruption. The problem with our government – – or form of government – – is that it extolls evil as virtue, on principle. That is why it is inherently evil, not just another manifestation of the fallen state of man.

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            Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

            The corruption of cultures happens with all types of governments. Remember Rome? Your direct line between liberal democracy and cultural collapse is so absolute that you are unable to see the virtues that still exist — many of which you enjoy by the way and enable you to rail against them with such resolute certainty.

            The problem is that in citing all the corruption around us and then claiming that the corruption exists because of democratic values, makes any defense of democracy appear to excuse the corruption. You sound like Alinsky, constantly echoing the refrain of corruption so that any good that appears is only an anomaly and all confidence erodes.

            There really is no discussing this with you. Any objection is met with shrill claims (democracy is more murderous than Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot for example) so that no incremental developments can be valued as a positive good (such as abortions decreasing or three states working on no abortions after 24 weeks for example).

            For example, you write:

            8. If the choice is between living in a liberal democracy where Christianity becomes denatured into the type you see in the mainline churches, or else to become a Muslim, it is better to become a Muslim. Islam is a better system than liberal democracy. It’s moral vision is closer to that of traditional Christianity than that of liberal democracy.

            Better to become a Muslim? Really? How about living as a real Christian? Why the false choice? And wouldn’t the liberal values that would allow you to live as a real Christian in relative peace instead of living as a secularist or as a Muslim be worth at least something?

            And what does this mean?

            Democracies always lead to institutionalized liscentiousness, moral depravity, etc. It’s an infallible law of nature.

            Don’t you mean to say that the struggle against sin is universal to man? And why would moral corruption be restricted only to democracies? Seems to me its been a problem from the beginning.

            You seem to be arguing for Cromwell of Calvin’s Geneva. Nothing like enforcing some moral rectitude from the top! That was tried though. It didn’t work out too well.

            No one is arguing that the West is not in serious trouble. But your diagnosis of the problem, while accurate in some ways, allows no real room for critical discernment or even possible solutions, or if it ever comes to it, compromises. I know you hate democracy. But I see nothing prescriptive here at all.

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            Michael Bauman says:

            Scott, my info on Islam comes largely from two folks who have studied it in depth: Both are devout Orthodox. One is an American lawyer who has read (in English) not only the Koran but many of the Hadith that underlie Islamic law and the interpretations of the Hadith issued by the top Islamic schools of law. In addition, I have attendend and seen several lectures by a man who grew up in Egypt as first a Jew, then a Coptic Christian high in the Coptic Church. He became Orthodox in England. He knows not only Arabic, but Hebrew, Latin, Greek and a few other languages with great fluency. He has read the Koran in Arabic many times. He is adament that the understanding of Islam that most westerners have is far too soft and kind. He maintains simply that it is demonic. Certainly the ‘freedom’ to practice faith’s other than Islam is not all that it is cracked up to be. It is, at best, slow strangulation.

            The Constitution of the United States as it was written most certainly does not extoll evil as virtue–quite the contrary. It, if John Adams is to be believed, was founded on the premisis that citizens would approach their personal and corporate lives constrained by Christian virtue. A vain hope, but not one that extolls evil as virtue.

            You may argue that our Constitution allows for too much freedom as did De Toqueville at the time. You may argue that the failure of the Constitution is in accepting slavery (a common arguement); you may argue that the system that was created is flawed in other ways, but your argument that it extolls evil as virtue is far more wrong than you say that I am about Islam.

            The shape that the governement has taken since the Civil War is far different than the one intended. With the advent of industrialization, the centralization of the economy, government and labor and nilhist western political philosophies imposed on the Constitution and bred into our political system–you are more correct but they are not inherent in system. We have become, IMAO, fascist economically and politically, have abrogated the Constitution except as a weak idol and will descend even further.

            The historical course which our government has followed is quite common and only to be expected. It will end with the dissolution of this country as a discreet political entity or one that is only a rump of what it is even now. That happens to all states and all governments.

            What’s next I can’t really say. It will be more blatantly authoritarian–likely to be totalitarian and certainly more brutal to Christians. Biblically that is our lot–persecution. The brief period of civilization where that was not the case I’m thankful for.

            It could have lasted longer except that the Gospel was neither taught nor practiced by most.

            Islam is no friend to authentic Christian faith any more than communisim or the modern secular state–nor the empires of the past that were titularly Christian. Power is always the most important for governments. To me, I really don’t care what form the government takes, I still am responsible for submitting to Jesus Christ in my life. That is a task at which I fail miserably most of the time. Lord have mercy

            Christ is Risen!

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            Scott Pennington says:

            Fr. Johannes,

            I’m not railing against corruption. I think I made that clear in my earlier response to Michael. It is not corruption that is the problem with democracy, it is that it redefines evil as good on the basis of its only real moral reference – -the will of the people.

            It is not that I hate democracy. It is that I do not like the results it produces. I do see good things in democratic societies. However, the bad outweighs the good. That, of course, is a moral evaluation that will differ from person to person. However, it is very hard to argue that the number of abortions and the disappearance of the Christian concept of the family is symptomatic of a decent society. Democracy is remaking Christianity in its own image and unless Christians resist this temptation, their faith will no longer be Christian.

            As to Islam, my remarks were geared toward the possibility (which I trust will not materialize, but not absolutely) that liberal democracy could so corrupt the entire Church that it is no longer Christian in its essence (much like the Episcopal Church has become). In that contingency, it would be better to follow some other monotheistic faith than to continue as a mainline style Christian.

            In short, as usual, you’re remaking my argument into what you want me to have said so that it’s easier for you to critique.

            “And what does this mean?

            ‘Democracies always lead to institutionalized liscentiousness, moral depravity, etc. It’s an infallible law of nature.’

            Don’t you mean to say that the struggle against sin is universal to man?”

            No, of course not. What I meant to say is exactly what I did say. What I mean is that although it’s true that corruption is universal and common to all mankind, in a democracy sin is redefined as virtue because the only real moral reference is the voice of the people, or what they are willing to tolerate. In an authoritarian state tied to the Church, the Church is the moral reference upon which moral legislation is based, not the capriciousness of the people and their representatives.

            “You seem to be arguing for Cromwell of Calvin’s Geneva. Nothing like enforcing some moral rectitude from the top! That was tried though. It didn’t work out too well.”

            Again, another invention on your part that has little to do with what I wrote. The Byzantine Empire lasted over 1000 years. A number of empires have lasted longer that America has to date. And they all enforced morality from the top down.

            “But your diagnosis of the problem, while accurate in some ways, allows no real room for critical discernment or even possible solutions, or if it ever comes to it, compromises. I know you hate democracy. But I see nothing prescriptive here at all.”

            Actually, the one prescriptive thing that I have said fairly consistently is that the Church leadership should spend some time thinking about devising a better form of government, something for the powers to be to draw upon when the current system becomes unsustainable. I’m not arguing for any overthrow. That would be the only immediate prescriptive consistent with what I’ve written. I don’t believe that that is necessary since I’m quite confident that our present system is so fatally flawed that it will collapse of its own accord.

            However, what we definitely should not be doing is defending democracy given its atrocious results in light of Christian standards of morality. “Freedom” and “democracy” in the sense we use them in America are not Christian values. Orthodox tradition would be full with references to individual freedom and participatory democracy were that even remotely true. It’s just a fact that many Orthodox in this country have a hard time facing that democracy is really a foreign concept to the traditional Church.

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            Scott Pennington says:

            Michael,

            Truly He is Risen!,

            My views on Islam are based on considerable research of my own. There is a difference between the relationship between Muslims on the one hand and Jews and Christians on the other since the time of the founding of the State of Israel and, more emphatically, since the Islamic Revival of the late 70’s and forward. It is true that under shariah Christians are second class citizens. However, the real impetus for the current hostility to Christians in Muslim countries is at root political, based on the current political situation that Muslims find themselves in vis a vis Israel and American foreign policy. There were sizeable Christian communities in a number of Muslim countries for centuries which lived in relative peace. Many Christians have been driven out over the last few decades as a result of the rise of “Islamism”, a politicized, radicalized form of Islam.

            I have never argued that life for Christians is peachy keen under Islam. No doubt that is not true. I simply think that absent the radicalism that has taken hold in certain quarters of Islam, life for Christians would be better under Islam than under communism. I stand by that firmly.

            “The Constitution of the United States as it was written most certainly does not extoll evil as virtue–quite the contrary.”

            It is not that the Constitution redefines evil as good. It is that the people, to whom the Constitution gives the final say in terms of moral legislation, have redefined evil as good. The Constitution recognizes no higher god than the considered will of the people. That is its one and only moral reference. Now, it does set certain propositions up as being more difficult to change than others. But in the end, with a supermajority, anything can be established or undone.

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    Scott Pennington says:

    The natural consequence to all of the above is probably this:

    The “Northern Alliance” that Trifkovic has proposed in the past may very well be impossible to form. More than likely the Russians and other Slavs would go for it, but most Western European countries and the United States would probably not. Even if they did, the consequence would be the defeat of Muslim extremists at the cost of acquiescence to European style liberalism.

    Probably the better deal to be made is with the Muslims. Russia is actually engaging in this line of progress as we speak. From the perspective of a traditionalist living in America, the reasoning goes something like this:

    Who are our real enemies as Christians? Or put a bit differently, “Who are the enemies of Christian morality?” If you take a serious look at Muslim morality (i.e., what shariah actually says as opposed to what Muslims have entertained at certain times and places), you will find that Muslim morality is much closer to traditional Christian morality than is the value system of modern liberal democracies. To that end, we should make a deal with the Muslim leaders that we will leave them alone politically if they tamp down internally on extremism and cooperate with us to destroy the spread of Western democratic moral values. These values are equally loathesome to Islam and Christianity.

    Once upon a time in Russia, a certain Prince Alexander had to choose whether to ally with the Teutonic Knights or the Mongols. He could not fight off both. Because the Mongols would leave his people to practice their religion, he chose to ally with them. The Teutons would have imposed Latin Christianity.

    Liberal Democracy, if allowed to persist, will destroy Christianity from within. It has gone a very long way toward doing so already, even in Orthodoxy. Islam can be contained in this country and worldwide, but not while the ethos of Liberal Democracy prevails. It is suicidal. A strong Northern Civilization can hold of Islam and possibly subvert and evangelize it. But having a strong Northern Civilization is simply not possible until Christians resolve to destroy Liberal Democracy.

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    Eliot Ryan says:

    Michael: Truly He is Risen!
    Islam is indeed no friend to authentic Christian faith. What Scott probably meant is that democracies tend to promote and worship a new idol named “Goodness without God”. And so many are being deceived by it…

    One can be an authentic Christian, even a saint under Islam. We have as an example The Life of Our Father Among the Saints John the Russian

    The righteous John was born in a village in southern Russia, of pious Orthodox parents, for the blessed Russians have the same spiritual Mother as the Greeks-the Orthodox Church-and has given birth to many great saints. Saint John was born around 1690, during the reign of Peter the Great. When John was a brave lad he served as a soldier in the war which that daring Tsar was then waging against the Ottoman Empire in the year 1711. In this war, John was taken prisoner by Tartars along with thousands of other Russians. The Tartars sold him to a Muslim cavalry officer who lived in Prokopion in Asia Minor, near Caesarea of Cappadocia, and this Aga carried John to his village. At this time Turkey was filled with a multitude of Muscovite slaves who groaned under the harsh Muslim yoke. Sadly, the majority of these loathsome wretches, to lighten their burden, denied the Faith of Christ and embraced Islam.
    John, however, had been nurtured from childhood ” in the instruction and admonition of the Lord,” and he loved God and the religion of his fathers exceedingly. Indeed, he was one of those young men whom the knowledge of God makes wise.
    [...]
    To the Aga he said, “If you leave me free in my religion, I will be very eager to carry out your commands. But if you try to force me to change my faith, I will first surrender my head. I was born a Christian and a Christian I shall die.”

    Seeing John’s faith and hearing his confession, God at length softened the Turk’s hard heart so that at last the Aga relented. From then on John was left in peace without further threats from his Muslim lord who kept him in a stable to care for animals. In one comer of the stable John would lie his tired body down to rest. John thanked God for being deemed worthy to have as a bed a manger like the one in which our Lord Jesus Christ had likewise lain at his birth.

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      Michael Bauman says:

      I know what Scott is saying, I just don’t agree. One can be a saint under any form of government and in any type of culture.

      Modern secularism is nihilist (it has roots in both western Christian humanism and the revolutionary ‘enlightenment philosophe’s). We have saints.
      The essentially Platonic ideal of divine monarchy that it replaced is not inherently better and simply used Chrisitanity as a means to power and control of the populace. Saints were produced
      Communisim is nihilist. Saints were produced
      Islam is worship of what (some say the demonic). Saints were/are produced. But the idea that Islam’s moral teachings are closer to Christian ones is and therefore had something to do with the saints is, IMAO, crazy.

      In any case they all seek to destroy humanity’s communion with the Incarnate and Risen Lord, saint’s overcome that by God’s grace. I just don’t see a dime’s worth of difference.

      Years ago before the collapse of the overt soviet system, a friend of mine met with some Orthodox believers in Bulgaria. The Bulgarians were amazed that my friend could remain faithful in the west with all of the seduction, etc. My friend marveled at the Bulgarian’s ability to remain faithful under communism.

      We are called to be Christian wherever we are. We either respond to that call or we don’t, we either allow the grace of God to overcome the anti-Christian circumstance of our life and our own hearts or we don’t.

      Governments are always ‘of the world’ some are also ‘of the devil’. In either case, sooner or later they will come for Christians. Putting any faith in any form of government to pave the way for Christian life is futile.

      Our government was founded originally as a republic with roots in the Greek understanding of republic (similar to the monastic republic of Mt. Athos), Iroquois understanding of confederation and ‘enlightenment’ delusion of the goodness of man without God. Democracy was not intended to be a part. Our governement long ago abandoned any of those principals and opted instead for fascistic populism.

      Governing, especially self-governing is always a struggle and 99.9% of the time ends in abject failure. I see Scott’s solution as merely an attempt to move the Christian call to true self-governance on a personal and intimate level to external control. It won’t work.

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        Eliot Ryan says:

        Michael:

        But the idea that Islam’s moral teachings are closer to Christian ones is and therefore had something to do with the saints is, IMAO, crazy.

        Scott still has to explain the above. Islam copied a great deal from Christianity but it is uniquely at odds with Christianity in all its major dogmas. The “god of vengeance” of Islam has nothing in common with our God who is a Lover of Mankind. Islam followers are to make an never ending war on non-believers. The Christians are in a constant battle too; it is a never ending battle that we must fight until the return of Christ. We know that our wrestling is not against flesh and blood. It is against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world. Through Jesus Christ, we are the victorious ones. God is not constrained by time and space; He gave us in the book of Revelation in the Bible the prophecy about this world.

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          Scott Pennington says:

          Eliot,

          Actually, our God has a vengeful side as well. Moreover, almost every chapter of the Qur’an opens with, “In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful”.

          Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the founder of one of the schools of Sunni Islam (upon which Wahhabi Islam is based) was a very strict interpreter of shariah. When he died, his funeral was attended by countless thousands, many of whom were older women, widows, who were grateful that he protected their rights under Islamic law.

          Many of the 99 names of Allah describe a loving, caring god. The Lover, the Bestower, the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Protector, etc. He is also described as The Slayer and other names we might at first be taken aback by. But it is clear in the New as well as the Old Testament that our God sometimes imposes a stern judgment on His people as well as upon their enemies.

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        Scott Pennington says:

        “But the idea that Islam’s moral teachings are closer to Christian ones is and therefore had something to do with the saints is, IMAO, crazy.”

        The patriarchal concept of the family is common to both religions. Monotheism is common to both religions. Condemnation of theft, adultery, pre-marital sex, homosexual activity, prostitution, drug use, etc., etc., are common to both religions. Islam has its own version of Lent and Pascha called Ramadan and Eid ul-Adha. Morally it is very close to Christianity. Much closer than the morality that prevails in modern democracies. That’s an objective fact. Much of what Christians criticize in Islam was standard practice in Christianity up until the modern age.

        That’s not to say there aren’t differences. Islam allows polygamy, for instance. However, this is only widely practiced in the upper classes. Also, the Jews of the Old Testament were polygamous so we can’t really get too bent out of shape about that. Beyond that, there are un-Islamic things that have emerged as customs in various areas (“female circumcision”, honor killings, etc.). But these are no more Islamic than snake-handling or sacrificing chickens is Christian.

        There’s nothing at all crazy about what I wrote, rather it’s actually all objectively verifiable if you choose to look into it.

        The real problem is this: We have gotten so used to the ideological claims of modern democracy that we are blinded to our own history as Orthodox, or we try to twist our faith to accomodate the spirit of this age

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          Michael Bauman says:

          The patriarchal concept of the family is common to both religions. But the understanding of patriarchy is wholly different because the understanding of God and our interrelationship with God is wholly different. Christian patriarchy gives personhood to women and full equality in salvation if different in function. Islam is oppressive to women even in the best case.

          Monotheism is common to both religions. Not, really, since their idea of who God is an how He is one is diametrically opposed to the Chrisitan revelation.

          Condemnation of theft, adultery, pre-marital sex, homosexual activity, prostitution, drug use, etc., etc., are common to both religions. Again I go back to the why of condemnations and the consequences. They are similar but that alone is insufficient since the anthropology of the condemnations are quite different

          Islam has its own version of Lent and Pascha called Ramadan and Eid ul-Adha. Except there is no Incarnation, no death, no Risen Lord and therefore no real saving repentance–yea real close. Maybe we should sue them for copyright infringement?

          Morally it is very close to Christianity. Only if you view morality in a legalistic external manner which I am quite conviced you do. The morality of Islam while sharing a certain similacra in some points is not the same as Christianity because their root is not the same. Morals are cosmologically based rather than the other way round. Christianity’s morals are founded upon the sense of the sacred made present and real and at hand. Islam’s at best a forced acquiesence to a capricious divinity that has more in common with the slandered, the slayer and the destroyer than the lover of mankind.

          Much closer than the morality that prevails in modern democracies. At least there is some concept of morality based in a transcendent other with Islam. There are no morals except expediency in modern democracies . That’s an objective fact.

          Much of what Christians criticize in Islam was standard practice in Christianity up until the modern age. Modern Islam seems to be characterized by a desire to be enslaved and in its evangelical arm seeks to enslave and kill others. Christianity, even in its worst phases (until it became totally apostate) has always sought freedom in the love and grace of Jesus Christ. I think your view of Islam is romantic and archaic

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            Scott Pennington says:

            Look, Michael, all my points are perfectly valid. I never once claimed that their theology is the same. You have refuted nothing whatsoever that I asserted. No doubt you may consider it “insufficient” if you wish to keep digging and finding underlying differences. I could do the same thing.

            “‘Much of what Christians criticize in Islam was standard practice in Christianity up until the modern age.’ Modern Islam seems to be characterized by a desire to be enslaved and in its evangelical arm seeks to enslave and kill others. Christianity, even in its worst phases (until it became totally apostate) has always sought freedom in the love and grace of Jesus Christ. I think your view of Islam is romantic and archaic.”

            . . . or yours has been poisoned by modern polemics . . .

            In Western society women used to cover their heads and guard their modesty. In Western society, when a man and a woman married, they became one person and that person was the man. It was not until the 1880’s the married women had the right to own property. The Bible explicitly states that the wife has a duty of submission to her husband.

            The further you go back, setting polygamy aside, the more indistinguishable family life in Christian societies is from Islamic ones.

            If you think you get to define what monotheism is, then good luck to you. If you think that most common people throughout Christian and Islamic history were particularly concerned with the deeper theological foundations of the abundance of things the two religions have in common, you’re mistaken.

            To summarize: It is simply false that Islam is a religion of vengeance and Christianity is a religioin of love. The stark contrast some wish to find isn’t there. The god of Islam is also a loving god. The God of Christianity also takes vengeance.

            I have no romantic view of Islam. Nor do I have a romantic view of Christianity. My original point was that traditional Islam and traditional Christianity have much more in common than Christianity vis a vis communism or Christianity vis a vis modern liberal democracy. That point stands and nothing at all you’ve written detracts from it.

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    Michael Bauman says:

    Scott, my point is that is a distinction without a difference.

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      Scott Pennington says:

      Of course there is. If Islam is morally closer to Christianity than either communism or modern secular liberalism, that should affect our actions as Christians. We should not be spreading the “disease of democracy” throughout the world. We typically get only two results from that 1) a radical Muslim regime or 2) a decadent liberal regime. Neither is particularly palatable. Better to take common cause with those who are closer to us in terms of morality against those who would impose an anti-Christian moral regime on us of feminism, abortion, promiscuity, destruction of the family, etc.

      Islam can be contained and rolled back, but not by a liberal society. Better to join with conservative Catholics, conservative Protestants (at least those that aren’t neo-cons) and with mainstream Muslims to defeat secular liberalism which is the more serious enemy since it destroys us from within. Then we can more easily establish boundaries for Islam and work on conversion.

      The problem, as I alluded to above, is that modern Christians, even those who consider themselves fairly conservative, have bought into much of the American political evolution over the last century or so. It seems harsh to actually uphold what Christians did for the first 19 centuries or so. Essentially, they imagine that Christianity is more like modern liberalism than traditional societies. And they are right to the extent that what they call Christianity actually is closer to modern liberalism. It’s just that that’s not traditional Christianity.

      That’s the problem.

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