Thursday, 19 February 2015

Three Restorations

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Ephesians, 6:12


ISIS, as we have seen with the horrific beheadings of twenty-one Egyptian Copts, have established a foothold in Libya. They are 300 miles from Italy and have vowed to conquer Rome. Should we be worried? In my opinion, yes. ISIS, as I see it, will attempt to 'sack' Rome for three symbolic reasons: (1) because it is the seat of the Pope and the home of Catholic Christianity), (2) because it is a Western capital, and (3) because it was the site and centre of Europe's mightiest historical empire.

ISIS have become frighteningly adept at waging war on multiple levels. We are all too familiar, from last year's successes in Iraq and Syria, with the military aspect of their campaign, along with its slick, digital-savvy, media accompaniment. There is nothing remotely modern or up-to-date, however, in ISIS' conception of Jihad. For them, the Islamic injunction to 'Holy War' (which by no means necessarily implies physical conflict) takes on a spectacularly messianic, millenarian tinge, and it is on this 'prophetic' level that it needs to be acknowledged, understood and resisted.

Graeme Wood, in this month's Atlantic magazine, has written what many judges are calling the definitive piece so far on the apocalyptic vision driving the group -

It is a long article, but that is because it needs to be. Wood's piece is essential reading for anyone hoping to get a handle on ISIS' dark genius.


Europe is behind the game with ISIS in all theatres at the moment, but especially on what might be called the imaginative or 'mythic' plane. We have no equivalent, it seems, of the deep-seated, archetypal force propelling the jihadis from one victory parade to another.

As a result, I suggest three symbolic, apparently outlandish, but - in the context of this particular struggle - sensible and appropriate symbolic actions Europe should (but won't) take if she is first to match, then face down ISIS' apocalyptic zeal. It is a matter of knowing your enemy, matching like with like (without the crucifixions, beheadings, etc) and choosing the correct ground to fight on. So, here goes:

(1) Restoration of the Latin Mass.

Non-Catholics and non-believers are entitled to groan and shake their heads. I might as well, but because ISIS take great care in advocating their Caliphate as an essentially religious realm, it is the religious level, in my view, that has to be addressed first.

Bringing back the Old Rite, therefore, would at least have the benefit of reconnecting Europe with the Ages of Faith. These - despite shortcomings pertaining to every civilisation - bestowed Dante's creative vision on the world, together with Aquinas' philosophy, Meister Eckhart's mysticism, and the great Cathedrals that give such numinous testimony to an era when Europe invested her faith in aprinciple higher and greater than herself.

The Latin Mass is a contemplative, reflective affair, perfect for our pell-mell, disorientated, million miles an hour world. It would not be long, I'm sure, before its calming, restorative, cleansing effects began to permeate all levels of society, enormously to the benefit of everyone, believer and non-believer alike.

More important, however, is the fact that we are at the start of an age of acute and continuing crisis and turmoil. Given the uncompromising nature of the enemy, what we need spiritually, more than anything else in my view, is an appreciation of the grandeur and majesty of God - His sovereignty over the vicissitudes of life and His mastery over the devils of Hell. We are involved in a death grapple - living in a time of urgency - a time for clarity, hierarchy, just authority in the service of good, 'ad orientam' unity, and one-pointed, focused devotion. The notion of the 'People of God' sat around the Communion table is beautiful indeed, but at this level of intensity it doesn't cut sufficient ice. More solid contact with the Real is required ...

(2) Restoration of the French Monarchy.

As the French Revolution shows, where France goes, Europe (and the world) follows. To restate Point 1 in different words: Europe today is crying out for leadership and direction. Too many vested interests have too much influence, while governments fail to see beyond their election cycles, thereby closing their eyes (wilfully sometimes) to wider fissures undermining society. 'Things fall apart,' in Yeat's famous words, 'the centre cannot hold.' The only way that government can become meaningful again - without capsizing into totalitarianism - is through the faith and love, and the individual and corporate dedication a monarchy inspires.

If the grim ideology inspiring ISIS is to be defeated, then we will have to access deeper parts of our collective psyche than we have hitherto mined. It isn't just a matter of de-radicalisation (worthy and essential though that is) or disputing passages in the Koran, as if we know anything about it when we don't. It's about matching depth with depth and being able to hold and posit an alternative vision. Parliamentary politics has been, and is, a fantastic servant to the West, and indeed to the whole world. It will be so again, but for the moment, as with some contemporary conceptions of the Mass, it seems out of its depth, too tainted for now with corruption and careerism to offer the motivating force we need to survive ...

(3) Restoration (on however symbolic and attenuated a level) of the Holy Roman Empire.

The European Union deserves much more credit than its detractors give. It has played an understated, but essential role in preserving peace since 1945, and, despite recent difficulties involving the Euro, has brought prosperity and well-being to many.

The EU's great problem though, at least as I perceive it, is that it engages mainly the head - sometimes, perhaps, the pocket - but never the heart. It is possible that in Central and Eastern Europe, where memories of Soviet rule remain fresh, the EU is seen through a prism of hope and aspiration, but speaking of the nations I am familiar with  - Britain and France - I can confidently, if sadly, assert that this is not the case. The EU is increasingly seen as abstract, distant, cold, unfriendly and hostile to local and national sentiment, hardly the qualities required to inspire, guide and direct in the fight to the death beginning to engulf us.

We are engaged, primarily, in a civilisational conflict, and it needs to be approached on that level. I am not necessarily advocating a 'clash of civilisations thesis' here. Civilisations don't have to clash, but sometimes they do, and this is one of those occasions. So, ancestral memories, pride in our Graeco-Roman-Judeo-Christian heritage, humble acknowledgement of Europe's failings and celebration of her achievements, can and will play a significant part in turning the tide. We need to feel good about ourselves once more - looking back with pride and forward with confidence. It is about rediscovering who we are. Because unless we have an idea of that, unless we have something to believe in and some standard to look up to, then we are not going to win. All the technology and all the money in the world (if Europe had any) will not be able to save us.

So, there you go, I told you they were outlandish. But please, think again. Don't rush to lock me up! Think twice. Think hard. Because that is exactly what ISIS do. ISIS are not afraid to think and fight 'outside the box'. They are not a conventional enemy. They are an exceptional enemy. Conventional means - military or economic - will not, in the long run, succeed. Only exceptional means will.

Montgomery, in the Second World War, had the right idea, pinning a picture of Rommel to his wall and meditating on it night and day.

Know your enemy. Know how they think. Know how they feel. Then do what they do. Only better.


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