Allow me to preface today’s thought with a short bibliography (two books). These works will not be assigned: I’ve scanned the one, and read a review of the other. I am nevertheless confident that I have the gist of both.
The first is, A World without Islam, by Graham E. Fuller. This is an author I’ve encountered before, and found shallow, to the point of irritating. Fuller belongs to the class of clever foreign-policy intellectuals whose careers take them back and forth between bureaucracy and academia; in this case through CIA, the U.S. State Department, the Rand Corporation—to Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, of all places.
Fuller attained his 15 minutes of fame a generation ago, when people in the Reagan administration cited something he wrote as an inspiration to embark upon the Iran-Contra affair. Fuller denied any responsibility; and needless to say, no liberal intellectual can be held accountable for anything.
The superficial premise of his recent book is a good one. What if there had been no Prophet Mohammad, thus no Koran, no Hadiths, and indeed, no Islam barging into world history in the 7th century A.D.? What might the world be like today?
And Fuller answers: pretty much the way it is. This is because the violent precepts of radical Islam can be replicated in any other faith tradition; and Fuller imagines the real triggers are “economic and political inequities,” which he further imagines would be the same regardless of whose religion was dominating the Middle East.
Expressed like that, the thesis goes limp—this is just historical materialism, with its attendant fatalism, 10 cents a loaf—though I am honour-bound to suggest that the skeptical reader consult the book itself, to see if it gets any better. My own habit is to skip forward to the last chapter, and if it hasn’t got any better yet, I move on. Recommendations on the dust jacket from some of the world’s glibbest academic apologists for Islam (John L. Esposito and the rest of that tribe) didn’t help my estimation, either.
Book 2 is, Buddhist Warfare, Jerryson and Juergensmeyer, editors—puffed from the cover of the current number of the Times Literary Supplement.
It is a collection of essays by learned specialists on the darker side of the Buddhist tradition, especially the Mahayana branch (from Bodh Gaya through the Himalayas, to China, Korea, and Japan; as opposed to the Theravada branch, from Bodh Gaya through Sri Lanka, to Burma and Siam).
Now, this one looks like the sort of book worth buying, if one is studying comparative religion. It promises to eviscerate a great deal of simple-minded pap, which was sold to the West through the hippie era, along with tie-dyed choli bags, hashish and marijuana. In particular, it promises to expound something that has long interested me: the somewhat poisonous intellectual fallout when Buddhist teachings syncretized with Taoist teachings in ancient China and, as it were, the wheels of “karma” began falling off the Buddhist chariot, and it began to float instead on the thin air of “self-less-ness.”
This is also, to my understanding, where Buddhism became compatible with a Zen-like atheism, and its prior moral and theological thrust—surprisingly compatible with Catholic Christianity—turned instead towards what I would describe as transcendental space travel. We get the potentially violent implication of “man with sword is not a man, sword is not a sword, and the ‘I’ it strikes is a spring breeze, split by a flash of lightning.”
That Buddhist armies have ruthlessly conquered, and Buddhist warriors committed terrible atrocities, can be documented—along with such beliefs among them as, the more you kill the higher you rise through the stations towards Buddhahood. Ideas with consequences can be traced.
Returning to the broad brush of Prof. Fuller: suppose Eastern Christendom had continued to occupy roughly the geographical territory that Islam conquered.
Could there not be found enough “crusading spirit,” from both sides, to animate a “clash of civilizations” within Christendom itself, as heated as the 14 centuries of contest between Western Christendom and the Dar al-Islam?
No space to explain why I’d say “no,” so we’ll leave that for another day.
Meanwhile, Western security forces are at present trying to prevent anticipated Mumbai-style “soft target” attacks on perhaps five European airports. Should such attacks proceed, we will blame lapses in the same security operations. We will, so far as we are politically correct, avoid talk about the motives for such attacks—which are drawn by the terrorists themselves from religious teachings, principally in the Koran.
Now, if these terrorists were only Buddhists, or Christians, or followers of any of the other religions of mankind, we could openly discuss the connections between ideas and consequences.