Monday, June 11, 2007

The Pepperdine Conference

The conference at Pepperdine was remarkable, but I have very little time to remark on it at the moment. I am now in Sonoma working with Randy and other members of our board of directors on the monthly series of Emmaus Road Initiative programs which will begin in the fall.

Let me say just a word about the Pepperdine conference, however. The title of the conference was "The Collapse of Europe," and the chief concerns were: what appears to be the inability of the European political classes to recognize how imperiled their societies are by internal loss of conviction -- what several of the presenters called Europe's "civilizational exhaustion" -- and the rise of militant Islam and its genius for exploiting the equivocation with which it is being confronted.

Mark Steyn gave the opening talk, and it was a characteristically scintillating one -- immensely well-informed, witty, and sobering. Steyn is one of the most knowledgeable commentators we have, and hands-down the best writer among today's journalists. In personal conversation one feels that there is considerable moral substance beneath the sometimes hilarious and often satirical writing style.

Ayann Hirsi Ali, the courageous woman about whom you may have read, immigrated to The Netherlands from her native Somalia and within a few years was elected to the Dutch parliament. She rejected the Islam in which she was raised and spoke openly of its cruelty and violence. The fatwas were not long in being issued. She was eloquent and charming, a woman of great moral authenticity.

My friend Greg Davis spoke eloquently as well. Greg is the author of Religion of Peace? and the co-producer, along with Bryan Daly, of the remarkable film, Islam: What the West Needs to Know. He understands how central to the European dilemma is the continent's renunciation of its Christian religious heritage.

Daniel Pipes is a public intellectual and journalist, the Director of the Middle East Forum. His presentation that left an impression precisely because it was delivered with such a sense of seriousness. Pipes has been tracking on the dangers to the rest of the world associated with the rise of radical Islam, and what impressed me was that he spoke of the gravity of situation with a degree of gravitas that seemed to be demanded by it. When the issues involved are as alarming as are those related to the rise of Islamic jihad, it is often difficult to gauge the maturity and reliability of those who sound the alarm. I was reassured to realize that Pipes is as levelheaded and as thoughtful as he is well-informed.

Since I will be traveling to Amsterdam for the annual conference of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion on the first of July, I was particularly attentive to what Ayann Hirsi Ali and the Dutch filmmaker Leon de Winter had to say about the situation in The Netherlands.

One of the speakers was Hugh Hewitt, whom I know slightly since he did an NPR interview with René Girard and me in Los Angeles several years ago. In his presentation, he mentioned what he perceived to be in the offing, not explicitly perhaps, but tacitly: namely an offer on the part of radical Islam containing more or less the following terms: Abandon Israel to Hamas and Hezbolla and the threat to Europe will subside. The West may not accept this tacit offer in any overt way, of course, for that would make the moral horror of it all too clear. But the logic on which this bargain is based is a staple of the European political imagination. It may well be possible to make that logic politically operative without it having to rise to the level of moral thought. If out of fear and timidity and the spirit of appeasement the Europeans make that trade-off they will have repeated in the 21st century the 20th century crime which lies at the root of their cultural self-loathing.

As you can imagine, there is a great deal more on this subject, but, as I said, attention is now turned to the Emmaus Road Initiative programs for the fall.

No comments: