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.