Guillaume Faye’s Understanding Islam (Arktos 2016) will exercise a compelling power over many readers who, committing themselves to encompassing it, will plough through its nearly three hundred pages in a single sitting. Immensely insightful and quotable, Faye’s book will inform public debate about the place of Islam, if any, in the West, and it will influence the character of Western policy towards the Muslim world; other writers will cite it, and it bids fair to become a standard guide and reference for its topic. Understanding Islam ought to be made mandatory reading for State Department functionaries under the incoming Donald Trump administration – so effective is Faye’s prose in bulldozing through the utopian fantasies and politically correct clichés that encrust Western perception and comprehension of the Mohammedan cult. Best of all would be that Mr. Trump familiarized himself with Faye’s exposition, so as to clarify his good instincts and resolve him to swift action in defense of the North American chapter Western civilization, as he assumes his presidential obligations. But that would undoubtedly be asking for too much. In addition to explaining the desert cult in plain language to his readers, Faye relentlessly exposes Western liberal and multicultural collaboration with Islam, in both the ideological and practical-political domains. Finally, Understanding Islam realistically assesses the strengths and weaknesses of both the West and Dar al Islam in the present state of their fateful clash.
Faye takes as an important recurrent theme in his suite of chapters (six of them – plus a “conclusion”) what one might call the phenomenology of Islam; or, as best it can be reconstructed, Islam as understood from the inside out or from the believer’s point of view. From among the ways in which Islam so strongly differs from most if not all other religions, Faye singles out its relentless suppression of subjectivity hence also individuality and therefore any possibility of comprehending anything outside itself. Faye brings to bear on Islam the description of a “locked religion” rooted in the believer’s ceaseless incantatory repetition of scriptural formulas whose guiding rule prohibits their interpretation. Repeat, repeat – only repeat. Because Islam emerged in the cultural matrix of a largely oral society, that of the desert-wandering Bedouin of the Arabian Peninsula, its scriptural status requires qualification. The Muslim has historically and typically encountered the Koran – the supposed revelation of Allah to Mohammed via the medium of the Archangel Gabriel – in the form of recitation, which he then laboriously memorizes. In certain cases, outside the domain of the Arabic language, the Muslim never even understands the verses that he commits to heart, phoneme by phoneme, but learns of their content through instruction in a local vulgate. Although the literacy of the Muslim world has increased through the centuries, the habit and mentality of oral transmission by rote and repetition still inform the mental cast of that world. This fact has important phenomenological consequences.
Faye writes in Chapter I of Understanding Islam that, in the first place, Islam’s sacred book the Koran corresponds in its disorganization and randomness to no logical or even chronological order. The Koran thus stands in stark contrast to the exposition of Platonic theology in Plato’s Timaeus, the story of the Hebrews in the Old Testament, or the story of Christ in the New Testament. The Koran’s illogicality and arbitrariness reveal, however, the book’s essential character and purpose: To impose on the captive mind a set of dogmatic and totalizing demands that obliterate any nascent sense of individuality or selfhood. While Muslims declare the Koran a perfect text, they nevertheless require a large number of supplementary rules for explaining away its irresolvable contradictoriness. Faye offers as a primary example “the notion of ‘abrogating’ and ‘abrogated’ Suras.” Chronologically later verses of the Koran abrogate or nullify chronologically earlier verses, but difficulties beset the judgment which verse abrogates another and which stands abrogated because the Suras obey no consistent temporal precedence. The Koran arranges its Suras by their length. Moreover, the applicability of any Sura is situational. “Depending on the circumstances,” Faye writes, “some Suras apply whereas others do not,” a fact that in his observation “is completely incompatible with the supposed divine and absolute nature” of Islam’s holy book.
In Faye’s view, no active or independent mind could come to terms rationally with the Koran. Rather, acceptance of the Koran by a rational person would require his relinquishment of rationality; the Koran indeed functions as a bludgeon for the suppression of rationality in its nascent state before it can consolidate itself as one of the foundations of genuine subjectivity. The Koran in Faye’s characterization “targets uneducated and semi-educated populations,” over whom, because it “provides solutions to everything,” it exercises “great appeal.” In a remarkable phrase, Faye describes Koranic instruction as “the ingurgitation of dogmas, rules, rigid prohibitions and mental associations that extirpate every principle of free inquiry… and permeate the mind with the idea that Islam is a revealed and indisputable truth that must be embraced by all of mankind and whose destiny is to dominate the whole planet.” In suppressing rationality and subjectivity, Koranic instruction simultaneously assimilates the pupil to the view of himself as the bearer of a doctrine whose success Allah himself has foreordained. As he submits to Islam, the Muslim nourishes himself on a heady sense of rising in moral stature above the benighted portion of humanity, the Dar al Harb.
Faye’s Aristotelian concept of subjectivity (his English text renders it as subjectivism) takes its place in an opposition of two antithetical possibilities, that of “free subjects” and “docile subordinates.” Again in Chapter I, Faye notes that all forms of collectivism, the category to which he assigns Islam, despise the phenomenon of free subjectivity, the thoughtful person, the skeptic, the dissident, or the objector. Collectivists – not only Muslims, but also Communists and National Socialists, as Faye asserts – “claim that individualism is an egotistical attitude that rules out every prospect of solidarity.” This claim amounts, however, to “an absolute fallacy,” the opposite of which is the actual case. As Faye rightly reminds his readers, “The subjectivism of individuals, city-states and free nations is the cultural and philosophical foundation of our civilization.” Subjectivity should not be regarded as a condition in which the individual behaves whimsically, as though he were not beholden to an external reality. Subjectivity, whatever its germ might be in a general human nature, results from the individual’s education in the structure of reality and from his acculturation in a tradition that places a high value on skepticism, self-examination, and unfettered inquiry. Eric Voegelin once wrote that the Greek polis was akin to a subject, in that it consciously organized itself. He might have added that, when necessary, the polis-subject could also re-organize itself; it was adaptable and could respond to reality. Islam forbids in advance any re-organization of itself.
For Faye, not only the primary text, but also the invariant daily practice of Islam, prohibits skepticism, self-examination, and unfettered inquiry. Consider the matter of prayer. According to Faye, “Muslim prayer is a ritual act devoid of freedom.” In contrast to Jewish or Christian prayer, which is at once volitional and deeply personal, Muslim prayer, which is mandatory and entirely impersonal, “is restricted to a repetition of various Koranic verses while remaining in a proscribed posture and kneeling in submission, the head pressed to the ground and facing Mecca.” In the five-times-a-day obligatory prostration the Muslim exgurgitates what, from his childhood, he has ingurgitated, but there is no spiritual metabolism, no change or growth. In Judaism and Christianity, as in other religions, formulaic prayers exist, and individuals may avail themselves of them, but Western religion fosters spontaneous, improvisational, and interlocutory prayer in dialogue with the deity, qualities that presuppose a free and articulate person who can exercise his religiosity non-demonstratively. Faye effectively sums up his phenomenology of the Mohammedan mind in Chapter VI of Understanding Islam when he writes that “Islam’s persuasiveness and ability to fascinate relate to ignorance, meaning to the fact of replacing… the individual mind and subjectivism with dogmatic collectivism.”
Just as Muslims regard the Koran as the perfect book, the eternal and uncreated book, which obviates all other pretenders to the status of scriptural authority, so they regard the founder of their religion and its prophet Mohammed as the perfect man, seeking to imitate him in every aspect and detail of their daily lives. Faye ignores recent arguments about the historicity of Mohammed and about the possible non-Muslim origins of Islam in a melding of Arab Monophysite Christianity with aspects of Arabian Paganism. This maneuver finds its justification in the fact of Mohammed’s effective reality, whether he existed or not, and his central place as the conceptual icon of the hyper-iconoclastic creed. Concerning Mohammed’s role as prophet, Faye writes that, “in truth, it would be more becoming to speak of the oracle Mohammed, since he never actually ‘prophesied’ anything, restricting his role to the transmission of God’s words and laws (or so he claimed).” [Emphasis added] Faye’s summary of Mohammed’s curriculum vitae provides an essential picture of the founder’s character: He is an “illiterate camel driver who married his mistress”; his scripture is an amalgam of Jewish and Christian themes, to which he adds various self-serving and opportunistic codicils; he is a slaver; he takes sex-slaves and claims a girl-child for his wife; he “murders his opponents” whenever convenient and indeed massacres whole tribes and towns that oppose or offend him.
Faye, like his countrymen of the French New Right Alain de Benoist and the late Dominique Venner, identifies as a Pagan and he has in the past written in a dismissive, Nietzschean vein about Christianity. In Understanding Islam, however, Faye makes a number of concessions to Christianity and the New Testament. For one thing, he roundly dismisses the liberal equivalency-argument that charges Christendom with having been as violent as Islam. It is first of all factually not the case, but more than that, as Faye notes in Chapter VI, while incitement to theological aggression abounds in the Koran and its associated texts, “it would be impossible for us to find any actual texts in the New Testament that incite people to commit acts of open intolerance.” Faye even goes so far as to speculate that the aim of Islam “may not even be to wage war in order to achieve victory and peace”; but that “there may be, instead, a gratuitous thirst for confrontation, destruction and violence, a kind of hubris, which motivates the Islamic mentality.” Nor has the cultural condition fostered by Christianity impeded the development of natural science and technology by independent researchers and innovators or that of art and literature by artists and writers. On the contrary, the scientific, technical, and artistic efflorescence of the West is rooted in Christianity, which charges men to be the stewards of nature. Faye again goes so far, for a self-identifying Pagan, as to defend the tradition of placing a noticeable crèche in the public square at Christmas.
The advance of Islam into Europe understandably concerns Faye. He sees this advance as an active, conscious collaboration between the ruling elite of socialist bureaucrats and educrats acting on behalf of Islam itself and without public consultation. The nomenclatura extends the misnamed program of multiculturalism into every nook and corner of every society imposing “immigrants” not only on the neighborhoods of the large metropolises but also on small cities and towns. The status quo is, as Faye writes in Chapter II, “a situation unheard of in the entire history of the European continent and its peoples,” especially in France. Muslim colonization of Europe (Faye insists on the word colonization) has extended so far and so swiftly that “in some areas, Islam already represents the foremost, if not the sole culture,” such that “no region can escape its clutches.” The Islamic influx, with its intrinsic jihad or war on the so-called infidels, is qualitatively unlike any previous foreign incursion, such as the descent of the Celts into Italy during the period of the Roman Republic or the growth of Gothic hegemony in what remained of the Western Roman Empire beginning in the early Fourth Century. The Celts and the Goths turned out to be receptive to civilization, and soon enough assimilated to it. The Gothic kings of the Fifth and Sixth Centuries were in many respects more Roman than the effete emperors and officials whom they displaced.
Faye emphasizes that nothing in the history of Islam suggests its receptivity to Western civilization – or even, as he speculates, to civilization of any kind: “It is not merely a new and unknown religion that is establishing itself in Europe, but a culture and a lifestyle that are incompatible with European traditions.” Faye distinguishes three phases of “The Strategic Technique of Islamising and Conquering Europe.” In the first phase, Muslims as a small minority exercise the tactic of taqiya or justified misrepresentation of their creed and way of life to create an impression of themselves as “sympathetic, amiable, harmless and neutral.” In the second phase, currently relevant, Muslims, having nucleated in sufficient numbers, complain “of being victims of ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘stigmatisation,’” at which point they begin to demand privileges which amount to a cultural tax on the colonized people. In the third phase, in attaining a numerical relation to the autochthons that induces belligerent self-confidence, the Muslim community drops the mask of taqiya and the aggressive imposition of sharia commences. By a “leopard skin” strategy, Islam spreads from its colonial nuclei into the host society, destroying that society and forcing its people to submit, either to dhimmitude or preemptive conversion.
Faye represents the core of “deep-seated Islamic culture,” in distinction from its ideology, as having three essential attributes: An absolute misogyny; a linked insistence on polygamy and chattel-status for women; and a type of ultra-puritanical separation of men and women that betokens “a pathological attitude towards sexuality.” The increasing influence of Islam in any modern society is therefore tantamount to a real, rather than a fake, war on women, as the epidemic of rape in the European countries afflicted by Muslim immigration abundantly testifies. Given the extent of ideological feminism in Western societies, one would think that the Islamic relegation of women to the role of sexual chattels would horrify the advocates of “women’s rights,” but it manifestly does not. In fact, it is the people who identify with socialist leftwing politics, including feminists, who most vehemently defend Islamic colonization. Is this not a flabbergasting contradiction? Not for Faye, who knows the Left as well as he knows Islam. The Left, like Islam, thinks collectively and acts according to a totalitarian agenda. The Left, like Islam, has contempt and hatred for dissenters from its creed. The Left requires a proletariat whom it can accuse the middle class of hating, victimizing, and exploiting. Islam fills the Left’s requirement for that proletariat and provides proxy soldiers for the Left’s own program of de-civilization. But the Left will not control events.
Europe is today, as Faye sees it, a battlefield, but it is a battlefield on which the side under attack petulantly refuses to admit that a state of war exists and remains in a passive and vulnerable condition. In Chapter V, Faye argues that Muslims in Europe have begun to shift from the second to the third phase of their “leopard skin” strategy, a claim bolstered in its plausibility by events since Understanding Islam’s completion. “Dazed and distorted, the politicians who run the European Union and its member countries refuse to acknowledge this threat… They would rather focus on inconsistent phantasms, namely the demonization of Putin and Russophobia.” Faye holds the opinion that Europe will come to its senses only with the intensification of Muslim violence, which he fully expects. Faye offers a typology of likely developments in the very near future: An increase in more or less spontaneous or improvised single-perpetrator acts; an increase in “professional… highly premeditated attacks” against synagogues, churches, and police barracks; a new “colossal terrorist attack” designed to rival the North American 9/11 Al Qaeda operation; and “an eruption of simultaneous and violent riots and insurgencies.” The most likely place where these developments might occur is France.
Were the French therefore suddenly to grasp their situation and begin to react in their own defense, it would be a “paradigm shift.” The decision to effectuate the reconquest of its own territory would entail for the French nation the proper designation of the enemy and the swift arrangement of his containment. “This would obviously imply bringing immigration flows to an immediate halt,” Faye writes, as well as “triggering a movement of ‘demigration’” with the intent of “resolving the problem of Islamic presence in France once and for all.” The same shift would mean the abolition of the regime of political correctness and the restoration of the right of free speech. In another recent book, The Colonisation of Europe (2016), Faye has noted somberly that “tragedies are rarely peaceful, and colonisation never occurs without clashes”; he adds there that “we are living in a France that stands at the doorstep of an ethnic civil war.” Understanding Islam includes a set of appendices in which Faye reverts to the technique that he employed in Archeofuturism (2010), where he speculated in plausible fictions about the probable near future. Faye divulges what he considers to be the likelihood of each scenario, from the “paradigm shift” to the gradual descent of a dwindling European people into dhimmitude. Any of these possibilities, including the best one, is sobering and will be an ordeal for those whom it befalls to live through it.
Faye’s phenomenology of the Islamic psyche has at least one notable precursor in the non-fiction work of the Nobel Prize winning novelist and travel writer V. S. Naipaul. Two of Naipaul’s travel books – Among Believers (1981) and Beyond Belief (1998) – concern themselves with the Islamic world. Naipaul’s extensive discussions in the two books show many parallelisms with and anticipations of statements by Faye. In the chapter of Among Believers entitled “The Disorder of the Law,” for example, Naipaul describes the Muslim attitude towards the holy book. “The Koran,” Naipaul writes, “is not the statute book of a settled golden age; it is the mystical or oracular record of an extended upheaval widening out from the prophet to his tribe to Arabia.” [Emphasis added] As does Faye, Naipaul sees Islam as spiritually stultifying and as a retreat from the best of human possibilities into the impoverished tribalism of the desert. “In Islam, and especially in the Islam of the fundamentalists, precedent is all,” Naipaul concludes; “the principles of the Prophet – as divined from the Koran and the approved traditions – are for all time.” It follows that Islam is also suspended in time, the time of the prophet, and cannot budge from that suspension without annulling itself. Indeed, Naipaul believes Islam to be secretly haunted by a sense of Mohammed’s ever-diminishing aura: “The Prophet was reported to have said that the best Muslims were going to be his contemporaries, the second best the generation after, and so on, the decline continuing to the end of time.”
In 1981, Naipaul still distinguished a generic Islam from its supposed fundamentalist variety, a distinction that Faye would deny. Nevertheless, the reader may easily shift Naipaul’s conclusion about fundamentalist Islam to generic Islam. Recoiling from the passage of time and the historical development of other cultures whose achievements make those of the Islamic world, apart from savage conquest, look paltry, the Muslim’s dearest wish is to recreate the hermetic asylum of the original desert tribe, the true and original collective, than whose wholeness there is none greater. Naipaul writes, “The Islamic fundamentalist wish is to work back to such a whole, for them a God-given whole, but with the tool of faith alone – belief, religious practices and rituals.” The Muslim’s obsession with a utopian past resembles the Leftist’s obsession with a utopian future: “It is to seek to re-create something like a [tribe] or city-state that – except in theological fantasy – never was.” The perpetual crisis of Islam and the origin perhaps of the creed’s violence is that, as Naipaul so perceptively puts it, “in the fundamentalist scheme the world constantly decays and has constantly to be re-created.” Moreover – and here again Naipaul anticipates Faye – “the only function of intellect is to assist that re-creation,” such that “fundamentalism provides an internal intellectual thermostat, set low.” Islam appears in this light as the religious codification of a neurotic repetition-compulsion. Muslim behavior is as predictable as it is intolerant and violent.
In rejecting any outside principle and in immersing itself in the original limitations of the archaic desert worldview, Islam, according to Naipaul, condemns itself to eternal “parasitism,” as he calls it. “The West, or the universal civilization it leads, is emotionally rejected,” but at the same time, “it is needed, for its machines, goods, medicines, warplanes, the remittances from the emigrants, the hospitals that might have a cure for calcium deficiency, [and] the universities that will provide master’s degrees in mass media.” In Naipaul’s words, “parasitism is one of the unacknowledged fruits of fundamentalism.” Put another way, in order to survive, and because it remains uncreative and unproductive, Islam must taint itself through contact with that which it despises. In tainting itself, it also humiliates itself, a process that, aligning itself with the repetition-compulsion, produces schizophrenic results.
In the chapter of Beyond Belief entitled “A Sacred Place,” Naipaul, reporting on his visit to Indonesia, makes a theme of the way in which Islam, in obliterating minds, obliterates the past of the places where it takes hold. Naipaul points out that Islam came to Indonesia shortly before Europe came there; being at the geographical limit of the Islamic world, Indonesia also represents one of the most recent places to be Islamized. Before Islam, the civilization of the archipelago was Buddhist, with an important Hindu overlay, both of which melded with native traditions. Naipaul is surprised to learn how little even educated Indonesians know about the pre-Islamic past of their own nation. A lady academic knows that the rice-fields are two thousand years old, but she can pass along no details of what filled those two millennia. One factor in the absence of such knowledge is that the pre-Hindu culture was an oral culture, without writing, but the history after the introduction of writing is also lost – swept away by Islam, which takes no interest in it. “The cruelty of Islamic fundamentalism,” Naipaul asserts, “is that it only allows one people – the Arabs, the original people of the Prophet – a past, and sacred places, pilgrimages, and earth reverences.” Under Islam, “converted peoples have to strip themselves of their past; of converted peoples nothing is required but the purest faith (if such a thing can be arrived at), Islam, submission.” And with what does the new creed replace that which it destroys? It replaces it with nothing – only with paralysis of the mind and creative sterility. It blows up the stone Buddhas and feels a blood-rush in contemplation of the rubble.
In the chapter of Beyond Belief entitled “Cancer,” Naipaul, reporting on Iran under its Islamic Republic shortly after it was establishment, remarks the strangulation of freedom once sharia permeates the totality of the lifeworld: “There were rules; everything was controlled. It wasn’t only the chador and headdress for women; or boys and girls not walking together; or women not singing on the radio and television; or certain kinds of music not being played. There was a complete censorship, of magazines, newspapers, books, television.” If it reminds one of travel-descriptions of non-Islamic places like North Korea and Cuba, this would only affirm what Naipaul senses and what Faye makes explicit: Islam is a totalitarian system. An informant tells Naipaul, “They want to control your way of sitting here, and your way of talking.” Such total control is already explicit in the notion of the perfect man whose model compels imitation down to the details of bodily functions. Faye writes in Understanding Islam that “what Islam seeks is a return to the Mohammedan effort of the 7th and 8th centuries, whose goal involves the establishment of a universal community of believers revolving around ageless morals.” Islam is, in Faye’s single word, “immutable,” such that “any conception of evolution remains foreign to it.” Once again, Naipaul’s commentary noteworthily parallels Faye’s.
I would recommend to the serious student of Islam Naipaul’s two stylistically rich books. They make good companions to more theoretic studies by Faye, Emmett Scott, Robert Spencer, and others. While nowadays slightly dated, they represent the conclusions of a keen-eyed spectator of the human condition, who has qualified himself as a novelist to be ranked with the likes of Joseph Conrad. Naipaul, while highly critical of Islam, as the foregoing quotations will have indicated, remains intensely sympathetic to Muslims, who are the first victims of Islam. Islam is a topic in Naipaul’s India: A Wounded Civilization (1977), where the agent of the wound is, once again, Islam. Naipaul argues that Hindu civilization never recovered from the imposition of Islam. That thesis should lend even greater urgency to Faye’s discussion. On the one hand, all the nations afflicted by Gothic tribal movements and the later Viking raids soon recovered from these experiences; with the possible exception of Spain, on the other hand, history provides no record of a nation recovering from the imposition on it of Islam. A swath of non-Islamic kingdoms and societies once existed in Central Asia, which 1,500 years ago actually enjoyed what Leftists, using the term to mean the opposite of what they say, call cultural diversity. Today no one remembers the names of those kingdoms and societies for they have been swept into oblivion.
[This review previously appeared at The Gates of Vienna]