Friday, October 06, 2006

The Incomplete Spengler: Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg Address

A Declining, Non-Western Spengler
(Image Viewable at The Asia Times Online)

It's always bracing to read Spengler.

I don't mean that Spengler (bracing though he may be). I mean the other one, the nom-de-plume of a contributor to Asia Times Online.

This other Spengler is sometimes so bracing -- such as when he suggested inviting the Russian military into Fallujah to handle it as they handled Grozny -- that I have to stop reading him for a few months ... until some mysterious inner compulsion drives me back to see what he's written lately.

I felt that compulsion yesterday ... and found this:

There is no Grace in Islam, no miracle, no expiatory sacrifice, no expression of love for mankind such that each Muslim need not be a sacrifice. On the contrary, the concept of jihad, in which the congregation of Islam is also the army, states that every single Muslim must sacrifice himself personally. Jihad is the precise equivalent of the Lord's Supper in Christianity and the Jewish Sabbath, the defining expression of sacrifice that opens the prospect of eternity to the mortal believer. To ask Islam to become moderate, to reform, to become a peaceful religion of personal conscience is the precise equivalent of asking Catholics to abolish Mass.
These words come from Spengler's article of September 19th, "Jihad, the Lord's Supper, and eternal life," which opens with these similarly bracing words:

Jihad injures reason, for it honors a god who suffers no constraints on his caprice, unlike the Judeo-Christian god, who is limited by love. That is the nub of Pope Benedict XVI's September 12 address in Regensburg, Germany. It promises to be the Vatican's most controversial utterance in living memory.
Love? Well, to quote Tina Turner, "What's love got to do with it?" The Pope's discourse was about not love but reason!

Okay, there's also love, but that wasn't the Pope's main point in the Regensberg address.

Anyway, Spengler argues for jihad as Islam's sole sacrament, the one sacred action that can assure salvation for an individual Muslim. Spengler of course knows that officially, Islam has no sacraments and that jihad is not one of the five pillars of Islam -- though it's sometimes been suggested as a sixth pillar. He's arguing for its status as an unofficial but essential sacrament.

Here's the money quote:
Jihad also is a form of human sacrifice. He who serves Allah so faithfully as to die in the violent propagation of Islam goes straight to paradise, there to enjoy virgins or raisins, depending on the translation.
Even when Spengler's being serious, he's being facetious, but when he's being facetious, he's being his most serious. The raisins refers to the pseudonymous Christoph Luxenberg's suggestion that the heavenly huri, usually interpreted as wide-eyed virgins awaiting Muslim martyrs in Paradise (Qur'an 44:54, 52:20, 55:72, 56:22), actually refers to white grapes because the word is not Arabic but Syriac. Spengler's joke is thus quite serious.

Joking aside, if Spengler were talking about Islamism -- rather than Islam -- I'd readily agree that Islamist have made a sacrificial death cult out of Islam, placing the act of the self-sacrificing (and murderous) jihadist martyr at the sacramental core of its sacred violence.

Though he's one of the more idiosyncratic voices, Spengler's not the only one talking this way. In "Manual for a 'Raid'" (The New York Review of Books, Volume 49, Number 1, January 17, 2002), Hassan Mneimneh and Kanan Makiya wrote an analysis of a document left behind by the 9/11 hijackers that presented them as having enacted a ritual of sacred violence in their manner of killing 'infidels,' and more recently, Hans G. Kippenberg has written in Numen (Volume 52, Number 1, 2005, pp. 29-58) an article, "'Consider that it is a Raid on the Path of God': The Spiritual Manual of the Attackers of 9/11," analyzing the same document and drawing similar conclusions. Also worth looking at (and not just because it footnotes me) is Ivan Strenski's "Sacrifice, Gift and the Social Logic of Muslim 'Human Bombers'" (Terrorism and Political Violence, Volume 15, Number 3, October 2003, pp. 1-34), which interprets suicide bombing as "religious and social ... gifts, martyrdoms and sacrifices" in a reading that draws upon the French sociologists Émile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss.

But I fear that I'm getting a bit too esoteric now, and rather distant from Mr. Spengler, so I'll stop.



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