Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Iranian treatment of British captives

By now, you’ve all read stories like this one. Rod Dreher suggests that our treatment of detainees has licensed this sort of behavior by the Iranians:

What if the Iranians take 15 U.S. soldiers captive. On what moral ground will we stand in expecting that the Iranians treat them according to the Geneva Conventions?

It’s not like the Iranians have paid attention to international law in the past. Consider this, from an article by Mark Bowden:

The higher-level Americans—diplomats, CIA officers, and military-liaison personnel—were sequestered, and taken away one by one for interrogation. Some were beaten; the CIA officers were worked over with heavy rubber hoses under the supervision of al-Islam.

If there’s a reason to adhere to the Geneva Conventions, it’s not because of any reasonable expectation of reciprocity. And let’s not forget that the Third Geneva Convention applies most obviously to "lawful combatants," like the British sailors and marines, and to states, like Iran, that are signatories.

Let me note, lastly, that, by Dreher’s logic, the Iranians would have "no moral ground" on the basis of which to complain of torture, a complaint given some credence by Andrew Sullivan (of course). The Iranians and our other enemies will exploit our scruples without sharing them. And they will find commentators over here to echo their complaints.

Discussions - 21 Comments

This is what naturally occurs when you see diplomacy as some sort of passion play, some sort of stage, where the sole focus of the play is to try to portray yourself as more "moral" than the other.

I placed moral in quotation marks because of the sheer stupidity, {let’s be blunt, let’s not play parlour games here} in trying to relate Western values with those of islam. For islam, just like Marxism/Leninism, morality is DEFINED as that which advances its growth, its spread, its enlargement. It has no other criteria, no other barometer. That’s why beheading little girls is perfectly "moral" for them, because the spread of terror advances their religion, it brings closer that day where they will rule this planet. Beslan is "moral" to them, human sacrifice is moral to them, for that’s what suicide bombing is, the modern equivalent to child sacrifice.

Thus the complaint or the whine about what "ground" would we have to criticize them is ridiculous ab initio. It posits an equivalence that does not exist. Moreover, it harkens back to the days of the Cold War, where the West and the Warsaw Bloc tried to earn the allegiances of the 3d world bystander, who might lean either way by the particular "morality" of the two main powers. This isn’t about trying to "win over" the 3d world. This is about what it’s ALWAYS been about, ever since that heresy came roaring out of the deserts and the wastelands of the world. They intend to take over, it’s as their chief warlord said: "First Constantinople, then Rome." And they fully intend to make good on that. Since our norms are derived through the spousal relationship of Christianity and Greco-Roman Civilization, they are wholly REJECTED by islam. Our ENTIRE value system is rejected by organized islam. We are the world of arrogance, of blasphemy, of impudence, for we have refused their heretical call to "submit." Our VERY REFUSAL "to submit," means to them that we are de facto, de jure, "arrogant" and "infidel." What’s so difficult to understand about that. It has NOTHING to do with an international passion play; it has NOTHING to do with the acquisition of the moral "high-ground." We are the West, against islam, we couldn’t lose the moral "high-ground" even if we tried. That’s how bad islam is. Those of us captured are infidels. The Koran has very PRECISE rules about the treatment of infidel prisoners, especially infidel women. Those KORANIC injunctions are not open to human revision, for the Koran is UNCREATED, it’s the ETERNAL, EVERLASTING expression of their God. They very idea of opening that up to human review to them, is blasphemous. What’s so difficult to understand here. Those of us captured are infidel, they only cease to be infidel by conversion, voluntary or coerced.

The muslim will treat infidels like dirt, like they are, in one of their favourite phrases, "less than apes and pigs."

The idea that we don’t have "ground" to criticize islam is wholly fatuous. Islam is hostile to the mind of man. It’s obnoxious to reason and to revelation. It’s entirely obnoxious to Natural Law, to legitimate revealed religion, to objective theological inquiry. It’s a fraud.

And if that judgement on islam seems a bit harsh, actually it’s charitable. Recall, PEOPLE have rights, error has none. 1,300 hundred years worth of accumulated heresy, of accumulated error, doesn’t accord that heresy, that error any "right," other than to be thoroughly scrutinized and excoriated by rational man.

We need to start criticizing islam with the exact same fervour and intellectual ferocity that we reserved for Marxism. We need more INTELLECTUAL, CULTURAL AND MORAL FEROCITY displayed towards islam. Absolute ferocity. It’s a moral nightmare, what’s going on in the NWFP is a nightmare, what’s going on in Saudi Arabia is a nightmare. What’s being preached in the name of The Living God is a nightmare. And we need to start describing it so.

Two points:

  1. There would be little point in arguing for Geneva Convention treatment of any captured U.S. soldiers since the Iranians wouldn’t abide by the accords and wouldn’t care about any "international pressure" to abide by them. So Dreher’s comment is really thinly veiled wishful thinking ... "Gee, maybe if we had played nice ... maybe others would play nice with us." That’s just foolishness; the cry of a very naive man.
  2. Rod Dreher long ago crossed over into a different realm. Once upon a time he was just barely conservative. I don’t follow him much any more, but from what I do see of him it strikes me he’s embraced a kind of new age spiritualism, cloaked in a watery Catholicism.

Perhaps a better way to ask Dreher’s question is this: Since the Iranians long ago abandoned the Geneva Convention accords, on what moral basis are we obligated to abide by them?

Dreher has now moved from Catholicism to the Orthodox Church.

Dan,

You have expressed my thoughts exactly.

Islam is more akin to the Mafia than to any religion.

thedaddy

Joe, the second to last line in your initial post approaches poetry. A nice turn of phrase.

"This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."- W. Churchill

Good God....have we so soon forgotten?

Sir Winston must be shedding tears.

Dreher went from the Church free from doctrinal error to the one that produced the very heresies that gave rise to islam. It was the East that was constantly racked by the ferocious Christological disputes.

He went from the Church that stood firm against islam, and embraced the Church that folded fast, and embraced dhimmi status.

The Orthodox church gave rise to Islam? Pretty odd of them to then fight a seven hundred year war against it. Is there any historical evidence to back this up?

Sorry John, but it did. Regardless of the resistance they offered to islam in the centuries thereafter, which was lackluster at best. The Byzantines had the power to wipe the desert clean of islam, but they lacked the will to do so, and for that lack of will, for that lack of moral clarity, tens of millions have been killed by islam in the centuries that would follow. Islam was the austere response to the endlessly vain Christological disputes that racked the East. The endless variations of the Arian heresy, which the East flirted with for centuries, the ridiculous refusal to accept Roman authority, the vain protestation that Constantinople was a "second Rome," all of this was answered by the message from the wastelands, which is engraved in Al Aqsa Mosque, "There is no God but Allah, he does not beget, he is not begotten." It was the endless heresies rising, and they almost always rose from the East, that set the stage for the emergence of islam.

When islam exploded from the wastelands, Christianity needed to respond as one. But it couldn’t, because the East preferred to flirt with disaster than accept the legitimate authority of the Bishop of Rome. And that’s why the Eastern Church was devoured, and that’s why the Western, the Latin Church stood firm.

What were those words of the last Byzantine Emperor, do you recall them? Allow me to refresh your memory: "Better the turban of the sultan, than the Tiara of the Pope." And that foolish man lived to see his city sacked, his citizens slaughtered, the women raped, and what’s more, his own sons gang raped in front of his very eyes, which afterwards were put out, so that the last thing they should ever see would be his sons being used like women, before they too were slaughtered.

That’s what happened when the religion of peace descended like ghouls upon Constantinople.

And one thing more, the East couldn’t even be found on the walls of their city. In it’s final days, the city was defended by Spaniards, by Italians, by Venetians, by Genoese, by Austrians, in short, by Catholics, who volunteered their very lives preserving a city that the East wouldn’t rouse themselves to defend.

It’s very instructive for our own time. Very instructive.

Quite dismaying to see such a simplistic post by Dreher. Very uncharitable of him to go into this difficult subject without laying the groundwork more thoroughly, and to make the cheap association of our policy, or policies, with AG Gonzalez. Dreher knows better, and is better, than this.

Dan, I suggest you don’t pontificate about Eastern Orthodoxy until you’ve really done your homework, and have the simple decency to make the key points from the other side. You raise one or two interesting ideas, but they are in the service of a simplistic conception of the West and of how one properly argues for the claims of the Roman Catholic Church. Your dream of a Christendom that had the political unity, the geostrategic foresight, and the will to "wipe the desert clean of Islam" is (on all three scores) not a Christian dream, however attractive in retrospect it might seem to have militarily defeated Mohammed’s hosts early on.

And pray tell, just how relevant are such arguments to our assesment of Rod Dreher’s political ideas? Bah.

You are a funny guy, Dan.

Dan’s thesis leaves out many things, not the least of which was the war with Persia that exhausted both sides (the Persians even moreso than the Byzantines). Moreover, it wasn’t the Christological disputes themselves that left the East ripe for Muslim conquest, but rather the Empire’s policy of enforcing orthodoxy at the point of a sword. It’s little wonder that many Christian communities in Syria and Egypt preferred dhimmi status to official persecution by the Byzantines. Of course, persecution was the rule in the West as well, which makes it interesting to speculate how history might be different had Islam come out of Eastern Europe, and exploded upon the West, rather than Arabia.

Dan’s comments on the Orthodox lands and Byzantium demonstrate a bizarre conception of history as nothing more than a matter of willpower. Leaving aside his theological assertions, the idea that Byzantium was even remotely capable of crushing anyone is ludicrous, and this has far more to do with their political circumstances than with willpower or heresy. As John rightly pointed out, the Byzantines and the Persians bled themselves white in the century before the Islamic conquests. This is why the Persian Empire fell so easily to Arab Islamic armies.

After the failure of the Arab siege at Constantinople in 675, the Islamic high water mark before the Ottomans, the Byzantines faced the Rus, the Bulgars, continuing Slavic settlement and migration, and by the turn of the millennium, Turks and Normans. When Constantinople finally fell, Byzantium had been operating without Anatolia, its fiscal and agricultural heartland, for centuries. Dan repeats the Emperor’s quote about it being better to be ruled by the Turk than the Pope without mentioning 1204 - a date which will also live in infamy, when a Crusading Western army sacked Constantinople. This outrage was the culmination of a century of oath-breaking and bad faith by Western Crusaders. Dan might more charitably see the Orthodox lands as the back that bore the Islamic lash in Western Europe’s place. The Catholic lands did no better uniting against Islam, as the failure of the Crusades and the inability of Catholic Princes to co-operate consistently against the Ottomans amply demonstrates.

That’s right, wm. Those are a few of the "key points from the other side" I had in mind. And here’s a slight shift of subject for those of you bored by history, especially disputatious my-theology-is-better-than-yours history. While keeping JRR Tolkien’s own explicit warnings against allegorical interpretations of his work in mind, I think many aspects of his Gondor were meant to be evocative of Byzantium’s geographic/historical relation to the West and of it’s role taking the brunt of the attacks coming out of the Islamic East and the barbarian North-east.

I hope I haven’t let the allegorical Balrog out of the jar with that one--please, please, no posts about sending Frodo into the land of Mecca...

"My homework........?"

Good grief. Am I supposed to go upstairs, pull down my old textbooks, and start going over in detail the many heresies that ripped the East apart. In the East, it was not uncommon to see the equivalent of barroom brawls about the heresies then prevalent. Heresies that did not touch the Latin West. The Arians didn’t find much traction in the West, but in the East, which was already desirous of breaking out from under the Tiara of Rome, they sure found an audience.

It was in the period of Constantine himself that the seeds of the rift that became a full blown schism can be discerned. Constantine himself decried what he described as the "rabid and implacable hatreds of the obstinate bishops." Thus his convocation of the Nicene Council, which was wholly dominated by Eastern bishops, for whom the Arian controversy was a wild and raging tempest.

Which leads us to review, once more, the Arian heresy. {I can hardly believe I’m going back over all of this....}.

Who was Arius? He was a Libyan presbyter, and he created a fissure that would rend the Body of Christ like nothing else until the Protestant Reformation, more than a thousand years hence.

What exactly was his heresy? It was a Christological dispute, for it concerned the place of the Christ within the Trinity. Specifically, he taught what had been swirling around for several decades in the East, namely that Christ could not have been fully God, for there was only one Eternal God, and that had to be God the Father, the first person of the Trinity. Just about everything that flowed from this horrific heresy was injurious to the Body of Christ on earth. If Christ were not one in being with the Father, if he did not share in the same divine substance as the Father, then he was nothing more than a man, subject to sin, what’s more, subject to ORIGINAL SIN, thus subject to all the flaws and failings of the rest of humanity. Christ ceases to be Christ under Arianism, he becomes nothing more than a prophet, {now, who does that sound like? What religion does that sound like? Islam anybody...????}.

I’m going to split up this answer, so as to avoid running the risk of losing a portion of the response.

Contd.

The position of Arius was not without a veneer of logic. For how was it possible for a father not to preexist his son, or in other words, how was it possible for a son to not follow in time his father. To Arius, the Father was eternal, from everlasting to everlasting, he was, and would always be God. But the position of the Son HAD to be subordinate, simply in the nature of things. Arius seemed to imply that though he was not the Creator, he was something else. What was left? If one is not a Creator, then one ipso facto becomes a creature. But Arius seemed to shy of this logic, the logic he himself followed when discoursing upon his heresy. In addition, Arius was something of a compelling public speaker. He inspired others to take up his heresy. He packed Churches, he challenged the order of things through logic and scripture. His very appearance helped him in his efforts, for he had the look of a rigid ascetic. His hair hung in a tangled mass from his scalp. There was a wild look about him, which startled and gathered attention. He had the power to fascinate, when he broke out in his fierce excitements.

The Bishop of Alexandria tried to do his job, he tried to convince Arius of the error of his ways, and when that failed, he convened a regional council of North African Bishops who excommunicated him. But for Arius, that would prove insufficient.

He was a cause celebre, his doctrine had the attraction of apparent logic, he was iconoclastic. His error spread through the Empire. Ecclesiastical councils proved unavailing in their attempts to stop the heresy, for they would not all agree. There were synods that approved of Arianism, and some that properly denounced him. As usual, the only institution that stood firmly against the heresy was the Papacy.

It is beyond the purview of this brief response to fully follow the Arian drama to its end. But be it known that the embers of Arianism burned for another three centuries, even after the death of Arius, in the early 300s.

To be contd., for I’m off to watch the only show that I consistently watch of late, 24. Jack Bauer saving the country takes precedence over Arius and his brood of disputateous malcontents, who did so much to rip the East from the bosom of Christ.

I find myself having to explain both the military situation of the time as well as the theological lay of the land. And "the time" involves several centuries, easy.

Well so be it. I can’t help but recall the great line from St. Jerome: "The world groaned and was astonished to find itself Arian."

The Arian troubles yielded to the Nestorian heresy. Nestorius was a troublesome monk. Where was he from? Just had to be the East, he was from Antioch. He preached Christ was not God, but that God dwelt inside him, as in a temple. He thus taught that there were TWO PERSONS inside Christ, one divine, the other human. Now if this guy hadn’t held any prominent position, his message may have went nowhere. But did I relate that he was also a Bishop, or what the East had taken to terming, "Patriarch." And where exactly was this guy "Patriarch?" Only the "new Rome," Constantinople itself. And of course his novel theory was condemned, properly, legitimately, but being from the East, where there already existed a habit of blowing off legitimate admonishment, he refused to submit and encouraged his followers to emulate his resistance. After the Council of Ephesus properly condemned his teaching, reduced him in rank and exiled him to a place of retreat. He withdrew to a monastery in Antioch, and therein CONTINUED to maintain and spread his heresy. And where did this heresy travel? Only the lands that saw the rise of islam. Just another reason why islam has been accurately described as heresy in arms.

But let us pass from the Nestorian heresy to the Monophysite troubles, which were the reactionary heresy to the Nestorian. Whereas Nestorias said that Christ had two natures, Eutyches, Archabbot of a monastery in Constantinople said that he only had one, the divine. In his anti-Nestorian zeal he denied the humanity of Christ. Thus the term for the heresy, Mono, meaning One, physis, meaning nature. Thus the one-nature heresy. And of course this abbot from Constantinople was condemned, but like the rest, he refused to submit.

{Obstinacy is always a telltale of the heretic...}.

BUT of course it was only truly taken care of after what has been termed "THE ROBBER SYNOD" was convened. You ask, "Dan, what of this "Robber Synod," what are you railing about now?" Well you ask, well you ask. Allow me to unfold for you the events of "the Robber Synod." Dioscurus, successor to St. Cyril in Alexandria prevailed upon the Emperor Theodosius to summon a council, but Dioscurus was completely in league with Eutyches. Only 180 Bishops were able to be present when it was convened in 449. It was completely dominated by Dioscurus who acquitted Eutyches and reinstated him in office. The Bishops who had taken legitimate action against this new heresy were deposed, and all other opposition was overborne by violence and intimidation. The Patriarch of Constantinople ACTUALLY DIED on his way out of the synod. When Pope Leo the Great heard of what went on behind the scenes of the synod, he branded the whole thing a latrocinium, a "Robber Synod." That dude Dioscurus got himself promptly excommunicated. But of course the whole thing wasn’t settled until another council, this one was that of Chalcedon. BUT the controversy swirled in the East, {as usual} for just another hundred years. Just one more heresy thrown into melting pot of the East.

But let’s move on to the next, that’s one thing we can always count on, once one heresy was "settled" in the East, some other turbulent type conjured up a new one.

And this one would be ........................................................ the Monothelete heresy. And how did it get started pray tell? It got started by an effort to conciliate the previous heretics, the Monophysites. Action, reaction. It’s a theme of the East. Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople thought that by suggesting that there was only one WILL in Christ, the Syrians and the Egyptians would be satisfied, and give up their schism, {oh did I mention there was a schism... just another one of those themes we see in the East, schisms, and threats of schism... I’ve spared you the Acacian schism by the way, which only lasted a third of a century}. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem saw this as heresy, albeit well-intentioned heresy. Mono, one, thelma, will, hence Mono-theletism was branded nothing more than well disguised Monophysism. Anxious to prevent Rome interfering in this theological wrangle of the East, {another theme...}, Sergius MISREPRESENTED his own teaching and that of his opponent, Sophronius, {again, just another theme we would see constantly play itself out in the East...}. It took another council to properly blast it as heresy, this time in 680, in Constantinople. But as usual, the heresy continued to swirl, and it lived on in the Maronite fastnesses of Lebanon. Who only finally yielded to Rome on the issue when the Crusaders paid a little visit. The Maronites have been in union with Rome ever since. Besides being a hotbed for heretics, the East at this time took to emulating the errors of islam. How? By smashing icons. Just like the modern whacked out Wahabs. It happened in 726, when some Byzantine Emperor proclaimed the end of the veneration of icons. Leo III felt entitled to make this departure from centuries of tradition by declaring that he was, get this, "no less priest, than emperor." And where did he get that idea, Caesaro-Papism, just more nonsense from the East. Enforcing this stupidity required troops, troops better deployed along his frontier. And riots and blood resulted, for the people refused to be parted from their icons. The Patriarch of Constantinople was put to death for opposing this inroad of islam into the Church. Monasteries were put to the torch, along with shrines, relics and monks themselves. This was the type of stuff that CONSTANTLY was going on in the East, and weakened it spiritually before the greatest threat they would ever face, islam. The Pope watching all of this utter nonsense, immediately declared excommunicate anybody who tampered with an icon. His messengers were imprisoned by the Emperor. And the Emperor thereupon, now get this, SENT HIS WAR FLEET TO ITALY, to try to intimidate the Pope. Now he’s under pressure from islam, and this guy thinks this is a propitious time to try to take on his coreligionists in the West. This recalls to mind that Guinness commercial on television, where the one guy says all the time: "BRILLANT, BRILLANT!" This is the type of military idiocy that characterized much of the Byzantine response to islam. Of course the Pope destroyed this rogue fleet, and all of this simply confirmed for those sane people in the West that the East was a bizarre place of palace intrigue, theological disputation and insane people who confused friend for foe, and foe for neutral. This yielded to the Photian Schism, the details of which, filled with intrigue as they are, I won’t bore you with.

But this is the type of nonsense that rent the East. This left the people of the East weakened before what was to come.

Now that’s just the theological lay of the land, and there are many heresies that followed. The military situation I’ll have to deal with another time, for that’s far more challenging, for there is a great deal of truth in what JOHN M commented on.

Maybe tomorrow.

Wow. That’s the last time I ever use the "do your homework" line again. Impressive, Dan, seriously, (despite--major error--the chronologically impossible idea that the Arian heresy was inspired by Islam) although at the end of the day I’m not convinced regarding the main argument, and it still seems an all-too convenient-for-Rome account. I wouldn’t exactly want to be in a room listening to you and some of my old E. Orthodox friends (who still hold grudges against Charlemagne) go at it with one another, but I guess I’d learn a bit of history that I’d otherwise have to learn from the quietly mocking Gibbon.

Carl, if I implied that the Arian heresy led to islam, then I wrote it wrong. For the dates I know wouldn’t jive. Rather, my point was that heresy often builds on preexisting heresies. The Arian heresy attacked the second person of the Trinity, thus dragging into disrepute the very idea of the Trinity itself. Islam attacks the very notion of the Trinity. Islam morphs John the Baptist and Jesus into mere prophets of islam. The Arian heresy, as well as many another that followed, contributed to an overall theological exhaustion, which made those areas ripe for a muslim takeover. Islam ultimately took over precisely those areas that were receptive to the Arian heresy, even though the Arian heresy predated islam by about 300 hundred years.

The other point that I couldn’t really go into because of simple length was the INTRIGUE behind all of these heresies. Especially the Arian heresy. Bishops, or as the Eastern Orthodox took to calling themselves, "patriarchs," when challenged by Rome for doctrinal deviance immediately resorted to the Byzantine palace, to shield their pet theories from the review of Rome. Again and again, and again, Eastern Patriarchs would offer lip service to Rome, utter the right words of renunciation of their pet theological theories, and as soon as that was over, and Rome was satisfied, they would go out there and start preaching their theories as if Rome hadn’t spoken. The level of persistent resistance to Rome simply staggers the imagination.

I’ve no personal beef with Orthodox Christians however, it’s simply a matter of history for me. But if I bring a bill of indictment, I try to bring my "A Game." The Byzantines did not do all that could be done to safeguard themselves, to advance Christianity, to destroy islam. Particularly the latter. When the Crusades kicked off, the Byzantines didn’t send armies to accompany those from the West. The Crusades were very much a WESTERN effort. Just imagine what might have been accomplished had the Byzantines pitched in with everything they had. That is one of the great "what ifs" of history.

But it’s the military case which is much more interesting, and much less studied.

In retrospect, it’s surprising that the East and West did not devise a method to blend their military efforts into an effective coherent whole. Efforts were too isolated from one another. When THEY DID cooperate, such as when Pope John purged the muslim armies from the mainland of Italy, they were successful. For then the Western armies took care of business by land, and the Byzantine fleet cleared the coastlines. Thus combined military action, by land and sea, proved successful. That should have been the model.

To us, it’s simply bizarre that they didn’t cooperate fully with each other to safeguard themselves.

Mr. Knippenberg, your complaint strikes me as little more than the schoolyard excuse of "he started it!" You suggest, perhaps correctly, that we can’t expect reciprocity from the Iranians if we abide by the Geneva Conventions, but then you seem to be at a loss for any other possible reason for following them. "If there’s a reason to adhere to the Geneva Conventions..." Well, perhaps, that when a situation devolves into a continuous tit-for-tat, we can expect it to spiral out of control, regardless of who started it, and at the end both sides have sunk to the lowest common denominator of brutal, no-limits behavior? Then we become what we have looked down on in others, and no excuse-making can change that.

"The Iranians and our other enemies will exploit our scruples without sharing them." Here you seem oblivious to the fact that our scruples are not seen by the world as being what they once were. After learning, and seeing, about what happened at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the CIA’s various secret prisons in torture-friendly countries, much of the world is thinking that the America of today does not share the scruples of an earlier America. Did that America exist? I’d like to think it did. If the only difference is that they do videotaped beheadings (or just that they videotape theirs) and we do not, well, that’s not much to boast about!

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