In the year 1651, near the end of the English Civil War which saw the establishment of parliament’s authority and the English Commonwealth, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes published his great work the Leviathan. In this seminal work, comparable in statesmanship to Machiavelli’s The Prince, Hobbes introduced the concept of a safeguarding state that enables its citizens to live in liberty, a million miles away from the natural, anarchic state of man.
With an overarching Leviathan serving both as welfare benefactor and arbiter, men no longer had the need or authority to live in a lawless, paranoid, violent state. If my neighbor steals from me I don’t butcher him and his family; instead I take him to court where he will be proportionately punished. Without such a Leviathan, the civilizing process that culminates in our day and age in the West would not have been possible.
This proven, effective idea necessarily debunks the myth of the Noble Savage. The notion that man, in his natural, hunter-gatherer state is a free, peaceful, proto-hippy type animal. Statistics show that murder rates are three times higher in extant hunter-gatherer tribes than even the most violent of state societies. These tribes and their predecessors had a low threshold for tolerance, gender equality, and most of all, justice: they lived in a state of lawlessness and the results are unsurprising. Anarchy has a snowball effect. Of course crime and murder still takes place in Western state societies, and the justice system is far from being pure. But the alternative is unthinkable.
As to the question is man by nature a violent or peacable species we can answer equally fairly in the affirmative and negative. Violence and empathy are both in great abundance in our species. Yet, anyone who studies the history of mankind from the Medieval period all the way back to the Upper Paleolithic, will notice a great preponderance of wars, genocides, witch-hunts, persecutions and torture. This is perhaps unsurprising seeing as we are half a chromosome away from chimpanzees: the most violent of the great apes. A species that is known to torture and butcher rivals and outsiders.
The evolution, slow, arduous and painful, of civilization, is anything but a natural process. Civilization’s evolutionary process has come against the grain. A combination of literacy, secularism, Enlightenment, and greater prosperity, moved us from the darkness of the Dark Ages to the brightness of the post-Enlightenment era. Ours is a culture that is the direct heir of other rational pioneers that came before us: ancient Greece, 18th century Europe, and 19th century Britain. Because of our heterogeneous nature, from Americans to Greeks, we find it difficult to find universal icons and identities of our Western culture. But look back at our glory days and we will find symbols that unite us all. From the science of Democritus, the philosophy of Epicurus, the Great Library of Alexandria, Renaissance Florence, 20th century Paris, the Louvre, the Parthenon, the sonnets of Shakespeare. And not only that.
Our civilization is a compendium of pacifying ideas. From the proto-democracy of Greece, the Republic of Rome, the art of the Renaissance, the science of Darwin and Newton, the political freedoms that we owe to Enlightenment thinkers like Hobbes, Locke, and Kant, the ethics of Stuart Mills, Bantham and the separation of church and state as exemplified by the French and American revolutions. These are as ingrained and deep-rooted in our civilization as are the pyramids for Egypt or the pagodas of China. And, I would kindly suggest, if you are reading this and are not familiar with the names and ideas just mentioned: Google them. These are, the foundations of our civilization, yet, alas, who is teaching these concepts and ideas to our children? Our children are growing up oblivious to the source of the freedom they take for granted. Children without identity.
And now, as on numerous occasions in history, our civilization – all civilization, indeed – is under threat. The barbarians are at the gate. No, let’s rephrase that: the barbarians are behind the gates, sleeping cheek by jowl with us. This has happened before. The Roman Empire, at the end of its tenure as superpower, in a bid to assuage the Germanic barbarians outside its territories, accepted them into Rome, gave them land and citizenship, in a bid to appease their ravenous lust for destruction? The result of this was the tearing apart of the Roman Empire, and the sacking of Rome by Alaric’s Visigoths in 410 AD.
What happened in Paris on the 13th November is the symbolic heir of the sack of Rome by the barbaric Goths.
Paris, the City of Lights, great beacon of art, philosophy and secularism, has been attacked by barbarians we have let slip behind the gates. Before I get accused of Islamophobia, let me make it clear, I am not referring to Muslims. I am referring to that modern-day death cult that calls itself many names but can be united under the term Islamic fundamentalism. This beast is itself a hydra. Cut off the head of the Taliban and Islamic State and al-Shabaab takes its place.
Nor can I be accused of being blinded by the Western lights. The greatest, most gross-suffering victims of Islamic fundamentalism are Muslims themselves. This is a civil war within Islam between extreme Sunnis and Shias, all other moderate Muslims, and those who are seen as apostates. And even before September the 11th or the Charlie Hebdo attacks, I argue it would have been ethical and humane to intervene in countries where fundamentalism was on the rise to cut off the budding heads before they grow too large. The Arab Spring should have been backed up by the West to keep it from being hijacked by the pro-Al-Qaeda factions that would later evolve into IS. The West has not only let down its secular allies in the Arab world, such as the Kurds and the free-thinkers forced underground in Iran and Saudi Arabia, but it has also let itself down. Now we find ourselves facing an enemy that has shrugged off the Leviathan and embraced anarchy, reverting back to a primitive state that exalts only one thing: violence.
The Islamic State that has arisen in Iraq and Syria is nothing more than a rallying call for psychopaths and degenerate outcasts. Just as National Socialism served as a magnet for power-hungry, sadistic men and women, who could not care less about Aryanism, but merely lusted for the power that a gun and a Swastika gave them. Islamic State followers are only superficially motivated by Islam. They are motivated by oppression, rape, torture, human ownership and sheer power. This, friends, brothers, is not an Islamic State: it is a Torture State.
Not to absolve, in anyway, the innately violent tenants of Islam. “Indeed those who are opposing Allah and His Messenger are bound to be humiliated. The Almighty has ordained: ‘‘I and My Messengers shall always prevail’’. Indeed Allah is Mighty and Powerful.” Quran 58:20. Islam was founded in the warlike Bedouin deserts at the birth of the Dark Ages. As we discussed before, in the Medieval times violence, war, torture and rape was an ethical norm. And our enemy the Islamic State and all its fundamentalist brethren want to turn back the time on civilization and take us back to the time of darkness were the sword reigned. The long process to civilization was too hard-fought and too enlightening to abandon in favour of an anarchic, sadistic regime.
We have resisted Nazism and Stalinism, and we will resist fundamentalism.
A little aside now about all those people that are tweeting to pray for Paris, let us not forget, that, Islamic or not, the mindset required for prayer, is the kind of hotbed required for fundamentalist violence. Faith, be it Christian, Mayan, Islamic or Hindu, requires a suppression of our thinking faculties, open minds and tolerance. All the things we need to combat the violent impulse. All of the progress made by our civilization has come at the expense of religion. Let’s be proud of our secularism, the roots of our blossoming culture. And let’s push back all the barbarians (whatever side of the gates they might be) who try to undermine our secularism. Because, let’s make no mistakes, fundamentalists – from Islamists to far-right Christians – hate secularism and freedom. Why else would they target Charlie Hebdo? Or the Danish cartoons? Because: if we stop thinking, joking, criticising, then we fall instantly into Medievalist dogma.
How those people caught in the act must have prayed. How the Romans being slaughtered by the Visigoths must have prayed to their new Christian God. How the likes of Yazidis and Kurds must pray to Allah as IS enslave and decapitate them. And what answer have they got? What miracles have saved them? Nothing. Silence. So let’s do our dignity a favour and stop praying. Let us do something more practical. (Don’t we feel good ‘praying’, how it assuages our guilt, and make us feel powerful in situations beyond our control. What a joke.)
Before I try to answer the obvious question that must arise: what can we do?: we must ask ourselves, why should we do anything? The pessimistic amongst us might claim a political check-point. Whatever we do we will make things worse. As Newton discovered: every force produces an equal and opposite reaction. Let me again use history to extract an allegorical example. When Rome in 146 B.C. sacked the city of Carthage, massacring its population, committing the first Holocaust in history, the Carthaginians had believed, three years earlier, that the Romans would not attack them again. So they abandoned militarization. By the time the Roman legions arrived to sack the city the Carthaginians were wiped out off the face of history. (Incidentally the Roman general Scipio that led the sack of Carthage prophesied that Rome itself would one day be sacked. He wasn’t wrong.) So can we afford to be so pacifist in the face of an enemy so obsessed by destruction and conquest?
There will be no appeasing of fundamentalists. They are beyond reason. Beyond diplomacy and rationale. They tried it with Hitler. Appeasement, as most A’ Level historians will know, was one of the causes of WWII. And the analogy continues: the Allies were willing to appease Germany because they thought Germany had been treated badly by the Versailles treaty so their plight is ‘our fault’. You will often hear that said now. That Islamic fundamentalism is a product of Western intervention in the Gulf War, Afghanistan and others. So, these cowards will argue, what did you expect? That’s how they know how to fight. Well, that is a worrying symptom my friends. It shows you that the enemy is well and truly inside the gates. These are people who have no confidence whatsoever in their civilization and have a true sympathy for the devil.
The enemies we are fighting need no excuse for war. War is their life’s blood. They use Islam and its violent texts as a pretext to sacred blood-letting. You can tell IS: take Iraq and Syria, take Libya and Egypt and we’ll be friends. Or tell the Taliban have Pakistan. You think for a moment the slaughter and massacre will stop? These barbarians won’t stop until the Caliphate of sadomasochism has left no stone unturned. These are modern day Genghis Khans, conquering more and more land to find more and more women to abduct, rape and more men to enslave and mutilate.
And so: what can we do? We need to defend our civilization. All of us who hold dear the civilization passed down to us by the Greeks, the rationalism of Spinoza, the tolerance of the Enlightenment, the art of Rome and Paris and the free-wheeling hedonistic life-loving; we must all take up arms. We must appeal to our leaders to attack the enemy, to free the populaces they took hostage, to spread civilization to the parts to our silenced Arab and Persian compatriots, and to end the reign of pugilistic tyranny. It’s not as easy as all that. But remember what happened when Rome fell to the Visigoths. The enlightened Classical Age ended and the Dark Ages began. We must not allow the darkness to seep in again. I was very touched to hear, when listening to the news, of a Swedish man who voluntarily signed up with the Kurdish Peshmerga army to fight ISIS in Iraq. A wonderfully brave man whom we must salute.
Of course, we must never, never fall ourselves into barbarism. The news that Jihadi John had been struck down by American planes should not be celebrated. As the families of his victims have stated, martyrdom is exactly what these lunatics crave. They yearn for death, so let us instead inflict justice upon them. Let us be the better men. And those of us, I count myself in these ranks, who do not have the skill or heart for war, there are other, equally salient battles to be fought.
We must not allow ourselves to fall into the sticky web of xenophobia, appeasement or revisionism. We must ensure that any burgeoning fundamentalists in our midst know that their creeds will not be tolerated. Crimes like child marriage, genital mutilation, hitting children, and slavery will not be tolerated. And to those who are fleeing the barbarians in their homeland to make a new life in our backyards, we must not only greet them with open arms, but we must show them what it is that can free them from their oppression. All these refugee children that are coming into Europe, teach them the ideals of rationalism, Enlightenment, literature, philosophy, art. Teach them how to embrace the artistry and refinement of their own culture. Let us ourselves learn from their civilization, for that is true tolerance and all Golden Ages require cosmopolitanism. This is how you can defend our civilization.
And I am sure this is what the people of Paris will continue to do. They must not be alone. We must fight the good fight and we are all soldiers. Our weapons may be the pen, the kind hand, the book, but it can also be the plane and the gun, if needs be. Islamic fundamentalism speaks only one language. For now we shall speak to them on their terms. Once they are subdued they will speak our language. The language of culture and pacifism.
Cheers to you, Paris. Salud!
(As a follow-up to this blog I shall be posting a compendium of quotes that ought to make us proud of our heritage: from Ancient Greece to Paris of today.)