Islam and Hilaire Belloc
The following is taken from a speech that was delivered in East Croydon on May 25th, 2013
IN the late-twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, few issues have provoked as much controversy as the Islamic faith. Safely ensconced in his Sussex home, Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) had warned his readers about the dangers of Islam long before it had become such a contentious actor on the world-stage. I intend to examine Belloc’s thoughts on the historical, militaristic and theocratic nature of Islam and decide whether his pronouncements about this religion can actually be justified.
Belloc first mentions Islam in his 1920 work, Europe and the Faith, although he examines the subject from a purely historical perspective. His remarks, which deal only with the Crusades and the Islamic conquest of North Africa and Spain, do not address the nature of the religion itself. In fact the closest Belloc comes to hinting at the dangers of Islam appear in his suggestion that
Asia, for so long at high-tide flooding a beleaguered Europe, might be slowly repelled.
This comment, however, was made in connection with the advancement of European technology and not with the perceived superiority of Christianity. Even if the basic premise of his book is that the ‘Faith is Europe and Europe is the Faith’.
In 1922, Chatto and Windus published Hilaire Belloc’s The Mercy of Allah. This novel, set in the heart of Baghdad and recounting the amusing and adventurous tale of a wise Levantine merchant known as Mahmoud is, given the author’s own Catholic predilections, both tolerant and respectful towards the tenets of the Islamic faith. The story even presents the religion in a fair and uncritical manner:
For Allah, in his inscrutable choice, frowns on some and smiles on others. The first he condemns to contempt, anxiety, duns, bills, Courts of law, sudden changes of residence and even dungeons; the second he gratifies with luxurious vehicles, delicious sherbet and enormous houses, such as mine. His will be done.
The fact that the word ‘his’ is not capitalised in the first sentence probably indicates that Belloc was only prepared to go so far and that, in his opinion, “Allah” is clearly not worthy to appear on an equal footing with the God of Christianity. Nevertheless, as this passage demonstrates, Belloc was certainly happy to present Islam accurately and without seeking to either colour or flavour the religion with his own moral and spiritual values. Each chapter-heading appears in Arabic, too, alongside the corresponding translation in English, and Belloc concludes his novel in the same non-judgemental vein:
He summoned scribes to his bed, dictated in a firm voice his Will, wherein (after reciting provision already made – under heavy pressure – for his wife) he left to the youngest nephew the whole of his wealth, saying with his last breath, “Allah! Creator and Lord! Lest the Talent should fall into unworthy hands!”
Just seven years later, however, in 1929, it was clear that Belloc had revised his position somewhat and he now began to regard Islam as a potential threat. In Survivals and New Arrivals, published by Sheed and Ward, Belloc pulled few punches in his defence of Catholic tradition from the ravages of Jewish communism, Protestantism, anti-clericalism, liberalism, materialism, nationalism and scientific negation. But it is in his frank and uncompromising discussion of neo-paganism that Islam first makes an appearance:
There remains, apart from the old Paganism of Asia and Africa, another indirect supporter of Neo-Paganism: a supporter which indeed hates all Paganism but hates the Catholic Church much more: a factor of whose now increasing importance the masses of Europe are not as yet aware: I mean the Mahommedan religion: Islam.
Belloc was convinced that Islam presented far more of a serious and long-term challenge than any of the other perceived threats to the Catholic faith. Islam, he contends, which first arose in the seventh century, was not a ‘new’ phenomenon at all but was simply a heretical branch which grew out of the main trunk of Catholicism itself. Whilst the Arabs themselves were pagan, Belloc tells us, Catholicism was beginning to exert a powerful influence throughout the Middle East and Muhammad was fully cognizant of the fact:
Now what Mahomet did was this. He took over the principal doctrines of the Catholic Church – one personal God, Creator of all things; the immortality of the soul; an eternity of misery or blessedness – and no small part of Christian morals as well.
Muhammad, on the other hand, simplified Catholic doctrine by turning Jesus Christ into a mere prophet, rejecting the Eucharist and discarding most of the events and symbolism connected with the Resurrection. The priesthood – i.e. mediation between Man and God – was also abandoned. As a result, Islam began to spread and those who felt troubled
by the mysteries of Catholicism tended to join them; so did every slave or debtor who was oppressed by the complexity of a higher civilisation.
Belloc notes that Islam soon left its Arabian borders and swept across half of the Mediterranean, taking up arms against the Catholic world. The conflict, according to Belloc, raged for several hundred years, until Catholicism finally managed to gain the ascendency in the late-seventeenth century. Thankfully, at least from the European perspective, this tenacious and persistent upstart from the East then went through a period of arrested development and consequent regression:
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Mahommedan world fell under a kind of palsy. It could not catch up with our rapidly advancing physical science. Its shipping and armament and all means of communication and administration went backwards while ours advanced. At last, by the end of the nineteenth century, more than nine-tenths of the Mahommedan population of the world, from India and the Pacific to the Atlantic, had fallen under the government of nominally Christian nations, especially of England and France.
For most Europeans, therefore, the decline of the Muslim religion meant that Islam was no longer a threat. Belloc, however, believed that it would be a mistake to underestimate Islam because, unlike other religions and heresies, it remained completely unaffected by external circumstances and its followers managed to retain the core spiritual values that had once threatened to engulf the entire world. Christian missionaries also found it very difficult to evangelise among the Muslims and it became a formidable and impenetrable bastion in which Catholicism was unable to gain a significant foothold. Furthermore, Belloc argues,
what is true of the spiritual side of Islam is true of the geographical. Mahommedan rulers have had to give up Christian provinces formerly under their control: especially in the Balkans. But the area of Mahommedan practice has not shrunk.
In 1929, of course, it would have seemed fairly illogical to suggest that Islam presented a danger to Europe and its people. Belloc, on the other hand, was fully convinced that Islam – in the decades ahead – would begin to compete with Catholicism and that the secret of any potential success, as suggested earlier, perhaps lay in its comparative simplicity and verisimilitude. Not in terms of the number of Christians that Islam is able to convert to its theological cause, which would have to be achieved through strength of numbers, but as a result of its more practical implications. For Belloc, that includes having the ability to appeal to the anti-Christian forces within our own civilisation. He also notes that the
effect may ultimately be enhanced in the near future by political change.
Belloc was writing, of course, some time before the West became subject to mass immigration, but his statement certainly remains very prophetic. We shall return to the question of immigration later on.
The next book in which Belloc tackles Islam, albeit very briefly, is The Battle Ground: Syria and Palestine, The Seedplot of Religion, which was published in 1936 by J. B. Lippincott. This work, as the title suggests, is primarily focused on the history of the Abrahamic religions in the Middle East, most notably those of Judaism and Christianity. However, in the opening chapter we get a taste of Belloc’s thoughts on the politics of the region in his own time. The reader should bear in mind that Belloc was writing prior to the betrayal of the Palestinians and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948:
Today there has risen before us in that same land a new menace, a triple riddle to be answered under pain of death. In Syria, artificially divided, Islam is at issue with French power in the north; in the south, in Palestine, England has taken it for a task to re-establish in the teeth of Islam what will shortly be an imperilled Jewish state – and all around either Western power are the watchful millions of Islam, of the desert, and of Asia beyond.
Belloc, who died in 1953, just five years after the Zionists had seized control of Palestine, may well have had a different view towards this “imperilled” Jewish entity had he known how cruel and vicious it would be towards its Arab neighbours. Many of them, of course, being followers of Christianity and therefore not Muslims at all.
Towards the end of The Battle Ground, after Belloc had outlined his summary of the earliest Jewish communities, their Arab neighbours, the Crucifixion of Jesus and the gradual ascendency of Christianity in general, a chapter entitled “The Return of the Desert” notes the sudden rise of Islam:
Numerically it was very small at first, and never grew in itself to be very great in mere numbers: some four thousand of the lean Arabian spearmen, crouched on their short stirrups, were the vanguard of the thing. Many followed, and as they conquered they recruited; but it was never by numbers that they achieved their new, astonishing, and complete domination.
He then turns his attention to Muhammad, repeating the assertion that the Prophet did not start a new religion, but, in effect, called for the reformation of Catholicism. What follows, is a rather hurried account of the loss of Syria, the conversion of the Mongols, the decline of Byzantium and the onset of the Christian Crusades. Syria, Belloc insists, was always the key to the supremacy of the Catholic religion:
To hold Syria permanently, with sufficient recruitment and armament, is to cut the bridge between Asia, including the men of the desert, and North Africa. Syria strongly held makes the enemy hold over Egypt impossible, for Syria strongly held is the holding also of the neck between North Africa and the Levant.
The following year, Belloc wrote two further books in which he made reference to Islam, each published by Cassell and Company. The first of these, The Crusade: The World’s Debate, immediately set out to portray the imperial excursions of medieval Christianity as
a continuous struggle between our civilisation and the hostile world of Islam, which all but overwhelmed Europe.
The work is incredibly one-sided and sectarian, as one might expect from a committed Catholic, and Belloc creates a stark juxtaposition between the two opposing sides that took part in the bitterly-fought conflicts of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Most notably, he contrasts
the strength and weaknesses of the Gallic temperament [with] the permanence, the exaltation, and the vices of Islam.
Indeed, whilst the book is essentially an historical text, it inevitably deals with the perplexing matter of religious theology and Belloc is unable to resist becoming embroiled in the finer details. Although many of our contemporary commentators often fail to make a distinction between those Muslims who are Sunni and those who are Shi’a, the author is well aware of the important differences that have existed between the two parties ever since the controversy surrounding the death of the Prophet Muhammad and the question of his successor. As Belloc himself explains,
there was the main cleavage between the two religious divisions of the Mohammedan world, with what one may call the Orthodox centred on Baghdad, and the Dissidents, the Fatimites, centred in Cairo.
However, Belloc is careful not to be seen to acknowledge that either side was actually “Orthodox”, lest it imply that Islam has any kind of religious validity whatsoever:
It is perhaps somewhat misleading to use the terms “Orthodox” and “Heretical” of this prime (and still enduring) division in the Moslem world. The quarrel was rather as to dynastic claims – as to who should be the spiritual and therefore military head of Islam. But though neither as bitter nor of the same texture as the later Christian quarrel of the Sixteenth Century, the quarrel between Cairo and Baghdad helped to paralyse still further the Moslem forces already so gravely weakened by the lack of political unity.
Indeed, when the Crusaders were attacking the Syrian city of Damascus, in 1124, the Islamic schism was to prove fortuitous and Belloc credits the eventual success of the Christian armies to the
violent religious division between the two factions of its Mohammedan population.
Belloc returns to the subject of the Islamic rift later in his book, mentioning
the sharp antagonism between Egypt with its Fatimite, that is, heretic, Caliphate at Cairo, and the orthodox Caliphate of all that lay to the east of Jordan and Orontes, centred spiritually in Baghdad.
The removal of the capital letter in the word “orthodox” appears to have overcome the difficulties that Belloc was experiencing with this troublesome terminology earlier in the book, therefore easing his conscience.
Discussing the events of 1174, when Saladin captured Damascus and thus heralded the beginning of the end for Christian power in the region, Belloc remarks that
Moslem Syria and Moslem Egypt became one state under one control. The efforts of Christian Jerusalem and its feudatories to prevent such a coalescence failed, and when it had failed the end was clearly in sight.
There is nothing particularly controversial about this statement, it is an incontrovertible fact, but Belloc’s use of the word “Christian” – as well as his efforts to portray this episode as a tragedy of vast and incalculable proportions – implies that, naturally, he has a deep and personal interest in the outcome.
Towards the end of The Crusade, Belloc highlights one of the great inconsistencies of the Islamic religion and its ever-fragile relationship with the political realm:
Islam did, indeed, know monarchy in fits and starts. Zengi had been an example of that, and now Saladin was already another. When Islam thus produced an ephemeral local dynasty it enjoyed single command, but it never conceived the political idea of political continuity. Just as its religion was all-pervading, so its lay controls were personal and passing. Leaders in Islam, warriors whom others would follow, rose like a wave of the sea, and they or their descendants sank again as do waves.
Catholicism, then, is perceived as a civilising force, whilst Islam represents the domain of the primitive and the barbarian. By way of an epilogue, Belloc ends his work by explaining that the technological supremacy of the West is outweighed by the fact that, unlike a triumphant and strutting Christianity, an embittered and brooding Islam has consistently retained its spiritual fervour:
Islam has not suffered this spiritual decline; and in the contrast between the religious certitudes still strong throughout the Mohammedan world, as lively in India as in Morocco, active throughout North Africa and Egypt, even inflamed through contrast and the feeling of repression in Syria – more particularly in Palestine – lies our peril.
Belloc’s second 1937 work was The Crisis of Civilisation, a book which attributes the sudden decline and fall of Catholic values to the events of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. The present writer would tend to agree that, in the British Isles especially, the Reformation has an awful lot to answer for and Belloc is essentially correct to blame Calvinism for the rise of organised usury, an unwarranted attack on the successful guild system and the violent dissolution of the Catholic monasteries. What concerns us most, however, is the author’s remarks about the events prior to the consolidation of Catholicism itself.
After discussing the foundations of Christianity and the triumph of the Church over its Pagan adversaries, Belloc contends that between 500 and 1000 CE, the Catholic religion found itself almost constantly under siege. The assault that took place on the south-eastern fringes of the Holy Roman Empire
was the Mohammedan attack, not pagan as was the other to the north, not savage, but, from the beginning, incorporating in its conquest all the elements of civilisation, developing a high literature of its own, and turning at last from a heresy, which it was in its beginnings, to what was virtually a new religion and a new type of society – Islam.
Up to now, Belloc had always dismissed Islam as a heresy, but he now seemed prepared to accept that it had developed into a religion of its own. At least, as he suggests, in a purely virtual regard.
Returning to the capture of Damascus during the Crusades, Belloc tells us that Muslims used economic incentives to facilitate the spread of Islam. This was achieved by
offering freedom to the slaves and the debtors, and relief to the taxpayer whenever these would accept the religion of Mohammed. And the simplicity of that religion powerfully aided their effort. Men desiring freedom from thraldom and from debt and from the weight of their imposts, joined them everywhere in great numbers.
He accepts, on the other hand, that Muslims allowed the Catholics to continue with their own religious observances, although, following their defeat, its adherents had been completely stripped of their power.
One year later, in 1938, Belloc’s most notorious and damning indictment of Islam appeared in the form of a forty-page article, entitled “The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammad”. The essay, written in the weeks and months leading up to the Second World War and published by Sheed and Ward of London, appeared as part of a larger work entitled The Great Heresies. It was one of several chapters dealing with the most flagrant, audacious and defiant controversies – among them Arianism, Protestantism and Albigensianism – which had dared to undermine the prevailing beliefs and customs of the Catholic Church.
Islam, he explains, overwhelmed Syria and Egypt, swept across North Africa and Asia Minor, and flooded into Spain and France. All within the space of one hundred years. “The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammad” deals with both the nature of Islam and the causes for its sudden growth and expansion. Once again, he claims that it is a heresy and not a religion:
It was not a pagan contrast with the Church; it was not an alien enemy. It was a perversion of Christian doctrine. Its vitality and endurance soon gave it the appearance of a new religion, but those who were contemporary with its rise saw it for what it was – not a denial, but an adaptation and a misuse, of the Christian thing. It differed from most (not from all) heresies in this, that it did not arise within the boundaries of the Christian Church.
Indeed, unlike many perceived heretics, Muhammad did not come from a Catholic background and his roots were pagan. It was not his familiarity with the latter, however, which inspired the gradual development of the Islamic creed, but his knowledge of Christianity:
He took over very few of those old pagan ideas which might have been native to him from his descent. On the contrary, he preached and insisted upon a whole group of ideas which were peculiar to the Catholic Church and distinguished it from the paganism which it had conquered in the Greek and Roman civilisation.
Muhammad, according to Belloc, appropriated the existing Catholic doctrine relating to the unity and omnipotence of God. In fact Islam’s attitude towards creation, good and evil, the rebellion of the angels, the immortality of the soul, personal responsibility and heavenly reward were all derived from Christianity. In many respects,
Mohammad would almost seem in this aspect to be a sort of missionary, preaching and spreading by the energy of his character the chief and fundamental doctrines of the Catholic Church among those who had hitherto been degraded pagans of the desert.
The point at which Muslims diverge from Christianity, of course, involves their dismissal of the Incarnation. Christ, in other words, is presented as a mere Prophet and not as the Son of God. This led, in turn, to the Islamic rejection of the Trinity, the Eucharist and the Holy Mass. Muhammad never even developed his own theology and, as we have already seen, was happy to accept most of the Christian teachings on face value.
Belloc reiterates the fact that Muslims used both warfare and economic incentives in order to propagate their beliefs, freeing many slaves and recruiting them to the cause of Islam. Belloc seems to forget, however, that Christianity itself has been described as a slave-religion (most notably by Friedrich Nietzsche in both Antichrist and The Genealogy of Morals) and that it also relied upon the support of the most oppressed and downtrodden sections of society.
Insofar as as Belloc is prepared to address the issue of Muslim culture, he is comparatively more generous in his estimations:
Islam preserved the Greek philosophers, the Greek mathematicians and their works, the physical science of the Greek and Roman earlier writers. Islam was also far more lettered than was Christendom. In the mass of the West most men had become illiterate. Even in Constantinople, reading and writing were not as common as they were in the world governed by the Caliph.
After providing his readers with a summary of what Islam actually is, he then turns to the question of why it has managed to take over half of Christendom. By marrying an older woman in possession of considerable wealth, he argues, Muhammad the simple camel driver was able to find time to develop his ideas. There is also another important factor to take into consideration, the nature of the Muslim conquest itself:
It did not, as has been so frequently repeated, destroy at once what it came across; it did not exterminate all those who would not accept Islam. It was just the other way. It was remarkable among the powers which have ruled those lands throughout history for what has wrongly been called its “tolerance.”
Islam, Belloc suggests, is far from tolerant and its true nature is ruthless and bloodthirsty. So whilst Muslims did not force everyone to convert to the precepts of their emerging spiritual doctrine, the Islamic leaders – who, from a purely numerical perspective, were fairly thin on the ground – nonetheless relied on the indigenous populations of those recently-subjugated nations to continue to govern themselves. The Muslims were also very disorganised and this is the reason they were allowed to persist with their traditional religious practices.
Another reason Islam spread so rapidly outside of its Arabian borders, is due to the increasing wealth of the Muslim Caliphate and its implementation of the tribute system. This led to the abolition of usury and enabled the Islamic leadership to extract wealth from their neighbours without having to waste any of the newly-generated revenue on bureaucracy, as their tax-collecting predecessors had done. What this meant, over time, was that Islam had managed to create
a revolt against civilisation which did not destroy civilisation; a consuming heresy which did not destroy the Christian religion against which it was directed.
Belloc then discusses why Islam has managed to survive until the present day, warning that – at least in his own time – people in the West had forgotten about Islam because they never come into direct contact with it:
They take for granted that it is decaying, and that, anyway, it is just a foreign religion which will not concern them. It is, as a fact, the most formidable and persistent enemy which our civilisation has had, and may at any moment become as large a menace in the future as it has been in the past.
For Belloc, most heresies pass through three main stages: (i) An initial process of vigor and expansion, (ii) a decline lasting, on average, five or six generations and, finally,(iii) although the doctrinal features of the heresy may have declined, it still manages to endure as a social and moral force.
In the case of Islam, however, none but the first stage – that of propagation and growth – applies. This means that Muslims have gradually managed to conquer more and more territory, making additional converts and creating a new and alternative form of civilisation. It is also, Belloc contends, virtually impossible for Christian missionaries to even begin to make conversions among the Muslims:
We have in some places driven the Mohammedan master out and freed his Christian subjects from Mohammedan control, but we have hardly had any effect in converting individual Mohammedans save perhaps to some small amount in Southern Spain 500 years ago; and even so, that was rather an example of political than of religious change.
Belloc readily accepts that many Europeans, some of whom he knew personally, have also been seduced by the faith of Muhammad and thus converted to Islam. However, he tells us that it has less to do with the beliefs themselves than with the perceived simplicity and justice of Islam as it operates within the purely moral and social sphere:
It proclaims and practices human equality. It loves justice and forbids usury. It produces a society in which men are happier and feel their own dignity more than in any other. That is its strength and that is why it still converts people and endures and will perhaps return to power in the near future.
There are two further reasons, according to Belloc, why Islam has outlived the other perceived heresies. The first is that, rather than lead people out of the church like Calvin or Arius, Muhammad came from outside the realms of Catholicism and therefore none of the Muslim leaders – all of whom had been pagan – were able to return to the Catholic fold. Secondly, Islam was able to rely upon a constant stream of pagan recruits from both Africa and Asia who, themselves, had been seduced by the message of Muhammad and became warriors in the struggle against Christianity. From the fifth century onwards, the Muslims even managed to recruit the Mongol hordes to their expanding theocratic banner.
Belloc’s essay continues with a summary of the Crusades, a period he had already covered at greater length the previous year. In this respect, none of his remarks significantly diverge from those expressed in The Crusades, and “The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammad” takes us through another historical account of the events that took place at Damascus between Saladin and his Christian adversaries. He does, however, explain how Islam consequently managed to expand their territories into the Barbary state regions of Tunis, Algiers and Morocco. At the same time, the Muslims lost ground in Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, Malta and the Balearics, due to their lack of effective sea power. The huge Muslim armada at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth was also defeated by the Christian fleet at Lepanto, something which was immortalised in The Battle of Lepanto, an epic 1911 poem written by Belloc’s great friend, G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936).
His essay may deal with the events of the distant past, but lest we become complacent Belloc is keen to warn his readers that Islam, as a militaristic force to be reckoned with, remains far from irrelevant:
Today we are accustomed to think of the Mohammedan world as something backward and stagnant, in all material affairs at least. We cannot imagine a great Mohammedan fleet made up of great ironclads and submarines, or a great modern Mohammedan army fully equipped with modern artillery, flying power and the rest. But not so very long ago, less than a hundred years before the Declaration of Independence, the Mohammedan government centred at Constantinople had better artillery and better army equipment of every kind than we had we Christians in the West.
Islam, according to Belloc, may not have threatened English shores, but it remained a serious militaristic challenge right up until to the time of Charles II, James II and William III; all of whom ruled in the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries. It was not, he argues, until 1697 and the capture of Belgrade that Prince Eugene finally began to halt the advance of the Muslims in Europe.
Before long, the technological gulf began to widen between the two combatants and Islam found itself unable to compete. European imperialists captured parts of North Africa and both Greece and the Balkans were also freed from Muslim domination. Even Syria, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, Belloc explains, lost their earlier vigor and ceased bothering their long-suffering neighbours. Syria and Palestine, of course, eventually fell into English and French hands, with the latter being handed over to the Zionists in 1948. Nevertheless, apart from at Constantinople (Istanbul), where they continued to maintain their grip on that great Christian city, the Muslims had been completely purged from European soul:
To what was due this collapse? I have never seen an answer to that question. There was no moral disintegration from within, there was no intellectual breakdown; you will find the Egyptian or Syrian student today, if you talk to him if you talk to him on any philosophical or scientific subject which he has studied, to be the equal of any European. If Islam has no physical science now applied to any of its problems, in arms and communications, it has apparently ceased to be part of our world and fallen definitely below it. Of every dozen Mohammedans in the world today, eleven are actually or virtually subjects of an Occidental power. It would seem, I repeat, as though the great duel was now ended.
Belloc, however, remained extremely doubtful about the regression of Islam and believed that it would return in the future and present another serious challenge to European civilisation. The author re-states his opinion that the semi-Christian qualities of Islam have created the false impression that what began as a heresy has since evolved into something resembling a religion in and of itself. Furthermore, he suggests, Islam is not opposed to science and technology and may well use them in the future. He contrasts the unique Muslim ability to combine their religion with new socio-cultural forms with the fact that Europe’s increasingly outdated patriotism was under attack from the Jewish communism that, at the time, was still emanating from Moscow. Islam is adaptable, in other words, whilst Europe is promoting the new at the expense of the old.
Language is changing, too, Belloc argues, with many Arabic words creeping into the European vocabulary:
We find it in a host of words, including such very familiar ones as “algebra,” “alcohol,” “admiral,” etc. We find it in the terms of heraldry, and we find it abundantly in place names. Indeed, it is remarkable to see how place names of Roman and Greek origin have been replaced by totally different Semitic terms. Half the rivers of Spain, especially in the southern part of the country, include the term “wadi,” and it is curious to note how far in the Western Hemisphere “Guadeloupe” preserves an Arabic form drawn from Estremadura.
Belloc points out that, due to the rapid spread of these linguistic impositions, there is now a serious breach between race and language. Many place-names, for example, do not reflect the ethnicity of those who occupy a given area, something Belloc compares with the use of the term “Anglo-Saxon” for the English and the fact that the indigenous Celts were not simply wiped off the face of the map. Similarly, in the case of the Berbers of North Africa, the Islamic conquest meant that their original place-names now survive among none but a mere handful of scattered tribes.
To conclude, if, like Belloc, one is an orthodox Catholic, then Islam may be perceived as a relative newcomer clothed in heretical garb. Conversely, for a Muslim, it is Christianity itself and not Islam which represents an erroneous manifestation of the spirit. However, if one is neither a Catholic nor a Muslim, then we must judge each religion on its merits and surely there is some value in both? Traditionalists, of course, as well as those with an interest in comparative religion, including the present writer, would suggest that both Christianity and Islam represent a gross distortion of a primordial current that has become obscured by the swirling mists of time and the concomitant spread of human error. In that respect, the esoteric core of each religion surely outweighs the doctrinal prejudices and political ambitions that set them at one another’s throats? Furthermore, given the fact that Islam and Christianity are each monotheistic and universalist, it is hardly surprising that they have so often clashed in their struggle for world domination.
For those of us who, in the last few decades, have seen Islam rise to the fore once again, Belloc’s concerns about Islam have perhaps been echoed by the political scientist, Samuel Huntingdon, in his Clash of Civilizations (1992). Huntingdon’s geopolitical thesis, which claims that both the West and Islam are on an inevitable collision course, has been used by the powerful Zionist lobby to dictate British and American foreign policy. This aggressive stance, driven by imperialist greed, has indeed led to clashes between the West and various Muslim countries, but it has been artificially engineered and is therefore not a fulfillment of Belloc’s prophecy because Islam itself has been on the receiving end. In addition, whilst African and Asian immigration into Europe has led to the growth of Islam in our towns and cities, it has less to do with spiritual conquest than with the devastating consequences of capitalist economic policy. Without those policies, Islam would not even have a presence in Europe and the growth of the angry and embittered Wahabbist movement would never have got off the ground.
Finally, despite Zionist hysteria about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, Iran and a number of other places, Muslims have yet to attain the levels of technology required to challenge the military might of the West in any capacity. Ironically, it is Zionism itself which has become a threat for Christians and Muslims alike. This thoroughly secular and materialist ideology, founded by an atheist, also presents a threat to ordinary Jews, for it has appropriated the Jewish religion for its own ends. Belloc, were he alive today, therefore, would not be surprised at the increasing relevance of Islam in the contemporary world, but he may well have to revise his theories about how and why it now features in our daily European discourse.
1. Hilaire Belloc; Europe and the Faith (Universe Books, 1962), p.150.
2. Ibid., p.192.
3. Hilaire Belloc, The Mercy of Allah (Chatto and Windus, 1932), p.5.
4. Ibid., pp.312-3.
5. Hilaire Belloc; Survivals and New Arrivals (Unicorn Books, 1939), p.248.
6. Ibid., p.249.
7. Ibid., pp.250-1.
8. Ibid., p.251.
9. Ibid., p.253.
10. Ibid., p.256.
11. Hilaire Belloc; The Battle Ground: Syria and Palestine, The Seedplot of Religion (Ignatius Press, 2008), p.15.
12. Ibid., p.238.
13. Ibid., p.254.
14. Hilaire Belloc; The Crusade: The World’s Debate (Cassell and Company, 1937), preface.
16. Ibid., p.174.
18. Ibid., p.194.
19. Ibid., p.233.
20. Ibid., p.259.
21. Ibid., pp.278-9.
22. Ibid., p.306.
23. Hilaire Belloc; The Crisis of Civilisation: Being the Matter of a Course of Lectures Delivered at Fordham University, 1937 (Tan Books, 1992), p.46.
24. Ibid., p.54.
25. Hilaire Belloc; “The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammad” in The Great Heresies (Tan Books, 1991), p.42.
26. Ibid., p.43.
28. Ibid., p.49.
29. Ibid., p.50.
30. Ibid., p.51.
31. Ibid., p.52.
32. Ibid., p.54.
33. Ibid., p.55.
34. Ibid., p.70.
35. Ibid., pp.72-3.
36. Ibid., p.80.
Belloc, Hilaire; The Crusade: The World’s Debate (Cassell and Company, 1937).
Belloc, Hilaire; Survivals and New Arrivals (Unicorn Books, 1939).
Belloc, Hilaire; Europe and the Faith (Universe Books, 1962).
Belloc, Hilaire; The Great Heresies (Tan Books, 1991).
Belloc, Hilaire; The Crisis of Civilisation: Being the Matter of a Course of Lectures Delivered at Fordham University, 1937 (Tan Books, 1992).
Belloc, Hilaire; The Battle Ground: Syria and Palestine, The Seedplot of Religion (Ignatius Press, 2008).
Pearce, Joseph; Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc (HarperCollins, 2002).
Southgate, Troy (Ed.); Belloc: Thoughts & Perspectives, Volume Twelve (Black Front Press, 2013).
Thal (Ed.), Herbert van; Belloc: A Biographical Anthology (George Allen & Unwin, 1970).
Wilhelmsen, Frederick; Hilaire Belloc: No Alienated Man, A Study in Christian Integration (Sheed and Ward, 1954).
Wilson, A. N.; Hilaire Belloc (Penguin Books, 1986).