A River in Egypt: Denying the Undeniable

Mark Twain would have understood the protest of Yogi Berra: “Most of the things I said I didn’t say.” To Twain, with no evidence, is attributed: “Denial is not just a river in Egypt.” The source of the quotation is debated as is the source of the Nile, but the meaning is as valid as the river is wet. Denial is the typical first stage of learning that one is dying, and that applies to our culture. It certainly is so of Christian culture in many places, sometimes the result of lassitude as in Europe and harshly so in places of outright persecution, as in the Middle East. While the Christian population has been in steady decline for well over a decade, particular countries like Syria and Iraq have experienced a more rapid exodus due to terrorism and war.

Western commentators who find this inconvenient for their narrative, deny this not by outright refutation but simply by blithe ignorance. In recent weeks, little publicity was given to the burning alive of nineteen kidnapped Yazidi girls in metal cages. Or, of relevance to us at this moment, the throwing from a cliff of a man after gouging out his eyes and skinning him alive by the Taliban, Afghan militants at war with the U.S. who enjoy the support of Omar Mateen’s father. Mr. Seddique Mateen, a Sunni Pashtun who also promotes himself for the presidency of Afghanistan, denies that his son is a practicing homosexual. But these facts also frustrate the popular media who have portrayed the slaughter in Orlando as an argument for compromising the Second Amendment and proof that Christianity has created an environment hostile to sexual ambiguity.

In Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad wrote: “…no man ever understands quite his own artful dodges to escape from the grim shadow of self-knowledge.” Artful denial is a common disposition of those who will not compromise their ideology with reality, lest they be discomfited by the fact of evil. The Turkish government persists in denying the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923. Japan still denies the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Chinese in 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Not until 1994 did Russia accept full responsibility for the slaughter of 21,857 Polish army officers, clergy, and academics in the Katyn forest. In that same year, President Roosevelt brushed aside Jan Karski’s microfilmed evidence of Nazi concentration camps as did Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter: “I did not say that (Karski) was lying. I said that I could not believe him. There is a difference.” George Orwell called the obliteration of conscience in the face of malice “doublethink.” The psychological term is dissociation.

In the instance of the Orlando massacre, our nation’s Commander in Chief denied that radical Islam is the dedicated enemy of our civil peace. The denial seems to be an affliction even in the seat of truth, which is Holy Church. A conflicted bishop in Florida said, “Sadly it is religion, including our own, that targets, mostly verbally, and often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence….” Pope Francis issued an appeal to “identify the causes” of such terror, when the answer plainly is the pretension of the false prophet Mohammed and various elements of Sharia law, including torture and amputations and beheadings for sexual perversion, which the Holy Father’s apostolic heart would find insensitive. His recently appointed archbishop of Chicago prayed for his “gay and lesbian brothers and sisters” while seeming oblivious to the fact that some of the brothers think of themselves as sisters and vice versa.

Such prayers have become more complicated recently in New York City where the Commission on Human Rights has declared thirty-one official kinds of sexual identity, mandating the use of the “non-binary” pronoun “zie” instead of “he” and she” and threatening fines of up to $250,000 for not adopting this grammar. Both the pope, in remarks to representatives of the United Nations World Food Program, and the archbishop of Chicago perhaps indulged a bit of mauvais goût by using the Florida massacre to promote their views on gun control, in an elliptical denial of the fact that the louche den in Orlando, like the Bataclan theatre in Paris, was a “gun free zone.” In the duress of these days, it would be indelicate to ask why no one tried to stop the gunman, at least as he was reloading. Certainly, if anyone present had been armed, he would have been able to challenge the self-styled ISIS martyr.

In August of 1219 Saint Francis of Assisi went to Egypt and confronted the Muslim caliph at Damietta along the banks of the Nile, which is that river in Egypt. Contrary to some revisionist accounts, he thoroughly supported the Fifth Crusade, five thousand of whose crusaders had been slain by Muslims just four days before, and he boldly urged the Muslims to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. While it is true that he returned to Italy laden with some gifts from the intrigued, or bemused, caliph, he did so only after having been beaten, chained, and imprisoned. In the next year, five of his friars were beheaded in Morocco, and when their bodies, ransomed by the king of Portugal, were brought to Coimbra, the young Augustinian canon Anthony (later of Padua) became a Franciscan and headed for Morocco himself. Released after a severe illness, he spent his life, only thirty-six years altogether, animating the lapsed Catholics of Italy and challenging the Albigensian heretics of southern France who denigrated marriage and family life as they promoted abortion, sodomy and assisted suicide.

In that period, the limp Christology of the Arian Visigoths had softened up the Iberian peninsula for easy conquest by Moorish Muslims. The eclectic Moorish culture, admirable in some ways for its civil organization and appropriation of western philosophy and science, also commingled some Greek and Persian aesthetics with the crude sensuality of the Qur’an during the Umayyad period from 756 to 1031. At the end of that time, the remarkable polymath ibn Hazm (d.1064) paused among his philosophical scientific tract writing to compose the “Tawq al-Hammamah,” a love epic extolling some forms of eroticism that would have beguiled the New York City Commission on Human Rights. He died just seven years before the birth of William IX of Aquitaine, first of the northern Christian troubadours who romanticized love but scorned the Andalusian Muslims as degenerate.

The “Hammamah,” or “Ring” (of the Dove) tremulously summed up the amorous indulgences of Moorish culture, flaunted by the likes of the bi-sexual emir of Seville, al-Mu’tamid and the Aristotelian revivalist ibn Bajja whose main distraction from acute philosophical syllogisms was a male slave, “niger sed formosus.”  It would seem odd that this was part of the most effervescent and celebrated Islamic flowering of the Moorish golden age, since the Qu’ran condemns sodomy (4:16, 7:80-84) and the consequent Sharia Law imposes on it the severest penalties, which continue to this day. But, with women confined to ghetto existence, there was a divertissement among male youths and slaves, sexual congress with whom, unlike in Christian lands, was considered licet since they were infidels. But even the Qu’ran has some ambiguous references to male youths in Paradise among the rewards for Islamic martyrs: “And immortal boys will circulate among them, when you see them you will count them as scattered pearls” (7:19). Here, “pearl” is the same word used for a virgin (56:23).

When Moorish Spain retreated to Morocco and Tunisia and other African shores, this bifurcated culture went with it, and the severe censures of the Islamic code existed side by side with a homoerotic subculture whose sensuality and indulgence supported the outward frame of behavior with a dark infrastructure that released the tensions of its moral economy wrought of puritanism and prurience.

In view of this, it is not astonishing that a man in Orlando would kill many people while shouting praises to his Allah. Nor should public commentary be flummoxed by the fact that a follower of a false prophet be living a false life himself, and by that psychological ambiguity succumb to a form of violence antithetical to Christ as the Way and the Truth and the Life. The killer in Florida did not contradict a “Religion of Peace” since Islam, encompassing demagogues but also virtuous and worthy people imprisoned by a restricted vision of man, is a confection that demands submission to inherent contradictions. As there are “extreme Muslims,” there are also “moderate Muslims,” but the sober historian cannot deny that moderate Muslims tend to be Muslims who are less than half the population. One can only deny the portents of history for an anxious while. Ask Neville Chamberlain. Churchill’s panegyric of him in the House of Commons described a man who paid the price for an innocence which, while fatal to millions on battlefields and in concentration camps, was not the gross naiveté of flaccid presidents and pallid prelates. Incompetent leaders today do not understand history because they deny the counsels of the Lord of history.

Fr. George W. Rutler

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Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He is the author of many books including Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press) and Hints of Heaven (Sophia Institute Press). His latest book is He Spoke To Us (Ignatius, 2016).

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