HRS International

The Incompatibility of Islam and the West

Robert Redeker is a French philosopher and teacher who, on September 19, 2006, published an opinion piece critical of Islam in the newspaper Le Figaro. Death threat rained upon his head immediately, and since then he has lived in hiding under police protection. His situation, however, has not prevented him from continuing to speak out fearlessly and eloquently. In this essay, which appears here in English for the first time, he ponders the incompatibility of the narrow Koranic worldview and the message of the gospel that made possible the freedoms we now associate with the Enlightenment.

by Robert Redeker for HRSWhy are the relations between Western societies and Islam so perturbed? Of course, the terror involved in the discriminant charge of «Islamophobia,» as its originator, the Iranian regime, intended, to intimidate intelligent worldwide criticism, plays a role. But there is a deeper reason: paradoxically, our era of memorial inflation forgets history. This cult of memory is an interminable act of contrition centered on a politically correct self-righteousness that erases history. That history would reveal the length and bitterness of the conflict between Islam and the West. Naive Westerners refuse to recall that this story is violent and that, from the beginning, it has been more or less obvious that a kind of permanent war has been underway. They forget that it took a mighty struggle to contain and to roll back Islam. They forget that the Judeo-Islamo-Christian harmony in medieval Spain is a fairy tale, a utopian myth fabricated to obscure for contemporary Europeans the reality of Muslim oppression. In the face of this naïve myth, historians are recovering the truth, which was quite violent. Afflicted by a willful blindness, these naïfs refuse to acknowledge the clash between Islam and the West, history’s only age-old conflict. The context is the fundamental antagonism between the values of Christianity and its offshoot, the Enlightenment (concern for the individual, for the Other, for freedom etc.), and those of Islam.

If Muslim culture has been unable to take part in the great political progress of humankind, it is primarily because the Koran forbids it on principle. Political progress is the consequence of Christianity, its native soil, its humus. Born of Christianity, the Western world is an oasis in history, as precious as it is fragile: never have men and women been so free, so esteemed, so educated, so protected against violence and injustice, disease and death, arbitrary treatment and hunger – never have women and children known such respect – as in Western Europe and the modern Anglo-Saxon countries. Never has civilization reached such a zenith. Western civilization, the paradise that the West has constructed, was not invented in the Muslim world. It is no coincidence. The ideological universe shaped by the Koran is not fertile turf for the development of a free humanity striving for gentleness and justice for all. In a landmark book, Islam and the West, the philosopher Christian Delacampagne wrote: «No historian will manage to convince me that it is Islam, rather than the agnostic Europe of the Enlightenment, that gave the world the idea of tolerance.”

Open the Koran. Read. You will notice this: the Qur’an is from the outset a political book. Before offering the reader biography (in the form of the life and achievements of Muhammad), hagiography (the life told in the manner of a legend), and spirituality, the Koran presents itself as a political book. On the one hand, the Prophet’s life is indeed that of a party boss, a clan chieftain, a military leader who did not hesitate to shed blood and to engage in intrigues that unfold in the heat of battle and political conflict. On the other hand, the Koran is a collection of political laws describing precisely how society should be organized and governed. Hence this book, and the religion it established, Islam, is a matrix that has given rise to societies made in its own image. These are societies in which theology and politics have been intimately fused together, forming a jumble that makes it impossible to distinguish between that which is essentially political and that which is essentially religious. The Western world emerged from an antithetical set of ideas: Jesus called on us to distinguish between the commandments of politics and of theology, to «render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.» Unlike the gospel, the Koran, a jumble of politics and religion, makes impossible the two events that made possible the human political progress that has led to the West’s moral superiority: the separation of politics and religion and the emergence of a highly developed and differentiated civil society.Nothing is more obvious that the incompatibility between Islam and Western democratic societies. These societies are wary of Islam, and rightly so. They fear, not without good reason, the cultural transformations brought about by its development. Girls fear that new social norms, inspired by Sharia law, are becoming ingrained in, and beginning to govern, their daily lives.

Translated from the French by Bruce Bawer