A couple of days ago, Britain narrowly voted to leave the European Union. In the aftermath, the British pound fell to a 30-year low, and a shockwave surged through the global, economic “market,” with panicked investors suddenly turning to the Japanese Yen as a “safe haven.” Having recently written on the fluid nature of modernity, now seems a good time to look at what Europe, modernity, and — that more contentious and emotive issue — Islam.
Islam — or, more accurately, what British and Europeans think Islam is, undoubtedly played a small role in the vote to leave the EU, since the religion is generally identified as a foreign culture that cannot be absorbed into European or British culture, and equated with mass immigration.
Now, as politicians in Europe call for a referendum for their own countries, and the EU stands on the verge of collapse, we might ask what is Europe? Problematically for those currently in power, it is apparently not the EU — a modern, secular regime that seems to feel ashamed of European tradition, ancient European roots, and, more especially, the traditions of its member states. It appears to have believed that a society can be based on a kind of collective amnesia, that the future can be built by erasing the past. This has never worked before, of course, and, with the vote of Britain to leave the EU, seems increasingly likely to fail in Europe.
Fear of the Foreign:
One of the accusations against those of an anti-EU disposition is that they are “racist,” and that they are motivated to withdraw from it because of the mass immigration that the EU facilitates.
It is true that mass immigration is a factor — and that it is guaranteed to be a factor when that immigration is used against those not one hundred percent in line with the modernist agenda of open borders, importation of cheap labor, exporting of jobs, destruction of traditional values, the traditional family, and so on. But it is not the whole, or even the main story.
“Europe’s xenophobia… is being triggered by that liberalism… now being used as an inherently persecutory discourse… particularly in the way it marginalizes those whose dissent is outside the canons of forms…officially approved by the dominant culture,” Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad has remarked. “And it is [Julius] Evola [that is] is a point of reference for people who are seeking an alternative.”
Mass immigration — and perhaps Muslim immigration in particular — has been embraced by the “elites” of Europe, but only as a modernizing force. The more immigration there is, the more Europeans are told that they have to give up their traditions, which are denounced as “racist” and problematic for newcomers, despite the insistence of many Muslims and immigrants that that is not the case.
Yet, just as two people cannot meaningfully converse if one is steeped in culture and the other not, so one culture cannot dialogue with another, respect it, or live alongside it, if one of those “cultures” is completely without content or any kind of frame of reference for the other.
The EU and the political and media class have insisted that European countries abolish precisely what is needed to engage with Islam, which, we are reminded, in the form of al-Andalus, ruled most of Spain and Portugal during the medieval period.
To engage with Islam seriously would require acknowledging and even at least appreciating much of the Western tradition, especially its dominant religion over the last thousand years, Christianity (and I say this as a non-Christan). But Western, anti-cultural “elites” have decided that religion and traditional culture — which means traditional restrictions on behavior — are the past, and cannot exist in a culture that is essentially economic in nature and requires maximum fluidity in people, both in terms of what they will purchase and how much they will be prepared to work for.
Yes, the immediate target is the traditional culture of European countries. But Muslims, though “tolerated,” are, and will increasingly be, expected to conform to modernity.
The Right often points out the hypocrisy of the Left when it comes to Islam, i.e., that it shouts loudly about women’s rights and gay rights, though, with few exceptions, it excludes Islam and Muslims from its critique. And those exceptions are inevitably denounced as “conservative,” at best.
Yet the Right — the mainstream Right or the liberal Right, we might call it — does not notice it’s own hypocrisy. Leave aside its supports for gay rights and women’s right in the face of Islam, but not otherwise. “Conservatives” condemn the conservative aspects of Islam, so that, in effect, the former transforms itself into a movement in favor of more modernity, or into a kind of pre-1968 Left-wing.
Islam is not really the issue, though. Most who passionately defend or denounce the faith do not even know the most basic facts about the religion, e.g. the difference between Sunni and Shi’a Islam.
Islam, in regard to Western politics, is merely football to kick around, to score goals against the other team. If politics cannot help us, what can?
There are, of course, different interpretations of Traditionalism — the movement that begins with French metaphysician Rene Guenon, who converted (or “moved into”) Islam, taking the name Abd al-Wāḥid Yahya. Guenon himself was apolitical, and believed it was important for those spiritually inclined to avoid politics. Evola, though not a member of the party, was involved to some degree with the fascists of World War II Italy, and briefly lectured to the SS, although his views on race were found to be incompatible with national socialism, or Nazism.
Though one of the most well-known of the Traditionalists, Evola is not particularly typical of it. Many of the early scholars of Islam in Britain were Traditionalists, and there are other prominent Traditionalists within Islamic scholarship today. Prince Charles — who is generally denounced by Conservatives for being too Left-wing, and who has been criticized by the tabloids for his closeness to Islam — is also influenced by Guenon’s ideas.
Yet, as Left-wing ideas have come to be accepted by the mainstream as the “new normal,” Traditionalism has come to influence many of today’s dissidents, being drawn into the so-called European New Right, for whom race is often an important issue. While this focus mirrors the Left, and is at least partly a reaction to the Left’s obsession with racial categories, it is surprising for two reasons: One, because race was not a factor for the world’s traditions (of course, partly because the different ethnic groups tended to remain far more separate than today), which generally believed that the different peoples of the world were born of the same parents. And, two, because the New Right focus is generally that of the alleged IQ of different races — an entirely modern and anti-Traditional conception — rather than that of the whole man — spirituality, morals, character, intelligence, and physical excellence, etc. — that is the interest of People of Shambhala.
Considering, Traditionalism’s relationship to Islam (especially in Guenon), yet considering also Evola’s influence on the counterculture, can there be a bridge between Islam and the Traditionalist-influenced counterculture? Shaykh Murad comments that,
Evola… somebody who is in many ways inimical to an Islamic perspective… [is] nonetheless someone who has had a very significant role in triggering the counterculture — it’s not a Left-wing counterculture, it’s not a Right-wing counterculture, but it is a counterculture, which has continued to this day, and which, unfortunately… has moved in the direction of forms of xenophobia. But, nonetheless, his discourse and the discourse of that cloud of thinkers around him… represents a vision that can offer Muslims at least pause for thought.
He also remarks that the Traditionalist-inspired counterculture represents a “missed opportunity,” presumably to win its members over to a more sympathetic view of Islam, and toward a more spiritual and less IQ-focused worldview. Later Shaykh Murad comments that,
[A] lot of people in Europe are deeply uneasy because they don’t necessarily want to have only that [the meaningless of modernity]… We also feel it [the flatness of modernity]. We know that we’ve lost something, and we have this awkward, anxious sense that perhaps what we’ve lost is actually what is the most important thing, and that everything else is just a papering over of that increasingly vast crack.
So the […] present-day advocates of the Evola attempt to ‘ride the tiger’, [they want] to try [to] find forms whereby the world can be resacralized. [This] is something that underpins this new unease, this growing earthquake that was recently represented, for examples, in the German provincial elections with the frightening return of the far-Right… but it is only in part because they do not want to have more Syrians in the country. It is because they are deeply uneasy about what they are, where they are going, the political elite that’s leading them to more and more blandness, away from Tradition.
Whether we like it or not, we live in the post-9/11 era. London, Madrid, Paris, Sydney and many other cities have, like New York and Washington, been hit by Islamist — or Salafi, Takfiri Jihadist — terror attacks. We live, too, in an era where politically correct statements are reflexively made by politicians and celebrities after every such incident, keeping the “conversation” (if that’s what it is) at the surface level where there is no possibility of deep understanding. Ordinary people, of course, feel that they are being spoken to as children who cannot be trusted, and feel, moreover, that they are governed by mad people who have no idea about reality. Backed up by all kinds of smears and threats, it is the superficiality of politics, of course, that makes it so heated.
Though perhaps well meaning in some cases, defenses of “Islam,” and denials that “Islam” has “anything to do with terrorism,” after every Jihadist attack merely serve to keep the focus on the religion, and offer no possible alternative explanation. Of course, this is quite okay for both the Left and Right who, as I mentioned above, merely want to use Islam to attack each other.
Yet, behind all of this we discover Muslim thinkers such as Shaykh Murad who focus on Islam as a spirituality that can help its believers ride the tiger. Since “the surface is going to be so turbulent and crazy,” he says, referring to the volatility of modernity, “there has to be a certain inner withdrawal” into spirituality. Other important thinkers, such as Tariq Ramadan, have also urged Muslims to rediscover and to practice their spirituality.
We are currently stuck in the clash within Western civilization between Left and Right, with Islam used as a pawn in the conflict. We have to shake ourselves free of this clash of political sides and its mesmerizing power, which is the power of the Kali Yuga, drawing us away from spirituality and the Divine. Islam is, and is going to be, a part of the West. The Left has no possibility of understanding the religion, and perhaps unsurprisingly seems always to defend, or at the very least to turn a blind eye to, its most extreme and politicized advocates. On the other hand, we have the mainstream Right, who attacks Islam because it is not progressive enough, again treating it politically.
We need to detach from politics, and from seeing Islam as monolithic. There is a vast difference between intolerant, modernist and universalizing Takfiri Wahhabism or criminal “Asian gangs” (who were aided by the police, local government, and, of course, media and political silence) in the UK on the one hand and Sufism, Sunnism treated as spirituality, or esoteric Shi’ism on the other.
With the withdrawal of Britain from the EU, the political bloc looks set to collapse. Yet Europe, and European countries, do not really know who they are. Their traditional culture — ever increasingly pushed out by familiar high street brands that have spread across the globe — survives either in museums, or in annual traditions, and then often in terms of food and customs, etc., rather than as anything profoundly spiritual. It is true, of course, that neo-paganism is growing, and Christianity has grown slightly in Britain, though largely thanks to immigrant Christians. Yet, on a deep and profound level, the question remains about what Europe is — and, indeed, what the “West” is. Can we live in a civilization suffering selective amnesia? That remembers what “we” did wrong, but not the West’s spiritual, religious, intellectual, and artistic cultures.
If we are interested in Guenon, Traditionalism, or are serious about spirituality, we will find much in Islamic spiritual tradition to give us “pause for thought,” to use Shaykh Murad’s phrase. We should be able to, and, indeed, must, engage Islam on a serious and respectful level — respecting Islam’s spirituality even as we are aware of problems in the world, and allowing Islamic spirituality and gnosis to remind us of our own deep traditions and inner life. We must, in other words, choose a meeting and a dialogue of traditions over the clash of Left and Right.