[…] FP: Why is the West, aside from some few and brave thinkers, so blind in confronting the Islamist crisis?Reilly: Self-delusion is one problem and ignorance is another. Many in the secular West find it hard to believe that anyone takes religion seriously anymore. Since they have lost their faith, they don’t have the ability to comprehend the terms of faith in anyone else’s life. In fact, their incomprehension, their obliviousness to the sacred, is one of the things that inflames Islam against the West. We are essentially facing a theological problem and a profound spiritual disorder. People ignorant of theology are unable to recognize the nature of the problem. They want to create another economic development program in the Middle East, as if that will solve it. This is delusional and a total waste. The problem needs to be addressed at the level at which it exists, not by sociologists or psychiatrists.
FP: What hope is there that some kind of “moderate” Islam can ever emerge?
Reilly: […] At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century there was far more intellectual ferment for reconciling Islam and modern science, for finding ways to adopt the best of the West to the Muslim world. These efforts largely failed. Things are now likely to get worse, not better.
The intellectual impetus in the Muslim world is not with those who see the need to reopen the foreclosed questions from the ninth century as to who God is and what his relationship to reason is. (There are such Muslim thinkers but they get no support from us.) It is with those who wish to return to the seventh century and replicate the feats of the Companions of the Prophet in creating the greatest empire the world had seen up to that point. The worse things get in the Muslim world, the more support these jihadists receive because they provide an explanation and a program that can be easily understood by those who deeply feel the grievances and humiliation of their situation.
It is not inevitable that the Islamists should succeed, except in the absence of any strategy to counter them. Muslim leaders like the former president of Indonesia, the late Abdurrahman Wahid, the spiritual head of the largest Muslim organization in the world, Nahdlatul Ulama, have called for a counter-strategy that would include offering “a compelling alternative vision of Islam, one that banishes the fanatical ideology of hatred to the darkness from which it emerged.” Wahid advocated a partnership with the non-Muslim world in a massively resourced effort to uphold human dignity, freedom of conscience, religious freedom, and the benefits of modernity before the juggernaut of Islamist ideology swamps the Muslim world. It was a compelling summons. It has yet to be answered.
There is another way to state this at its heart. The Arab Muslim world reached its apogee when it was at its most Hellenized, i.e. under the influence of Greek philosophy. It then underwent a process of dehellenization, a divorce from reason and the extirpation of philosophy. Its path to recovery must be in these same terms – a rehellenization, a restoration of the status or reason and a return to philosophy. Is that possible? As a twentieth century Moroccan Muslim thinker put it, either the future of Islam will be Aristotelian, or it will not be.