Christian Anthropology, Buddhist Anthropology: Stumbling Blocks

In the West, Buddhism is usually presented as a philosophical system and not as a religion, which has the advantage of freeing it from all superstition and presenting it as an almost rational way of living a better life and eventually achieving a hypothetical awakening.

Every great civilization rests on a certain idea of man. If we understand anthropology as the major fundamental options on what man is, from which a certain way of living and also of dying, or of not living, will derive, then there is a “Buddhist” anthropology, if not of Buddhism. Its essential features are “atheism, a disdain for worship and tradition, the conception of an all-spiritual religion, contempt for finite existence, belief in transmigration and the need to escape it, a weak notion of man’s personality, the imperfect distinction or rather confusion of material attributes and intellectual functions, the affirmation of a morality having its sanction in itself”. (Auguste Barth, Les religions de l’Inde, 1879).

If we examine the great frameworks of religious thought, what do we see? The Christian religion is based on a Revelation in time, and the Buddhist religion is based on the somewhat enigmatic experience of a religious personality whose existence has not been established historically.

A number of stumbling blocks arise from this: the semantic area of law, “order” versus Buddhist “dharma;” the great constitutive springs of human nature: desire and reason; the question of rite, and therefore sacrifice, which Buddhism rejects, since there is no God or divinity to honor; conceptions of body and soul; and the respective founders and historical foundations or underpinnings of these two religious phenomena.

The fundamental features of “doctrinal” Buddhism come from the Vedic ground. The whole grandiose ritual apparatus of white and black magic could only have developed, concealed behind the screen of a set of doctrines whose origins are primarily Indian. Buddhism is in no way a “disembodied tradition dependent only on the mind.”

What are we talking about when we speak of man in Western paradigms, whether conscious or not? We are talking about two aspects that are often poorly distinguished: his human nature and the conditions of his existence.

There is a flaw at the heart of Buddhist doctrine. The idea of human nature does not exist; what exists is the human condition: an ocean of suffering from which the Buddha shows the way out. There is therefore the idea of a possible salvation, for which he shows the way, which he himself explored by entering a state of perfection given by a kind of transformative experience called “Enlightenment.”

There can be no clear distinction between nature and the human condition, because Buddhism has no idea what human nature is. As for the human condition, it is understood as radically bad.

Buddhist anthropology is therefore radically opposed to that of Christianity, and in essential respects: in the way it conceives of relationships between men, spirituality, morality, the status of the body, the idea of the soul, the human condition itself and consequently human nature, the idea of beauty, justice and even truth; in the way it apprehends the two fundamental human drives, desire and reason.

There is no cure for the human condition, because there is no cure for life: for its joys, its sorrows, for the bereavements that touch us, for a time only, inconsolable; for the failures, and therefore the risks taken; and then there is no cure for love and the desire to love, to learn, to know, to exchange and also to fight, and therefore for the need to take blows and, if need be, to return them. Because that is life, and life cannot be put at a distance: it can only be lived.

Buddhism is based on ancient Indian concepts, such as “karman” (karma), which is nothing other than the theory of causality transported into the moral world. Buddhism is the exaltation of karman. The logical framework of causality is implacable. How can we contradict what we all know: that every act has effective consequences, however deferred? Karman,” a self-sufficient substance-force, sums it all up: it is at once the act, the effect of past acts, the condition of future acts and the chain of events that follows or governs them, the law that presides over all this with the weight of a physical necessity, since it attaches itself to the soul in the form of joy or suffering, depending on whether it functions as a reward or punishment, which can be deferred. Karman can remain latent, and then one day come to fruition. Unless we condemn ourselves to inaction, it is inescapable, and in any case perceived as such.
It is absolute determinism: an Asian Ananke.

Buddhist wisdom is in no way comparable to Christian wisdom. Both the Brahman and Samana (or Sramana) states of Vedic India imply the idea of two possible paths to liberation: through knowledge or asceticism. The essential thing is to save man from suffering, illness and death. And the only possible way out of this ocean of misery is the all-too-common Victorian wisdom of an ascetic elevated to the dignity of icon and supreme guide.

The Semitic world of the Bible conveys the idea of a human nature in solidarity with Creation, in solidarity with a succession of divine operations (the days) that speak of Man. Christianity’s response is consistent with that of the revealed text, which formulates it under the concept of the “Fall;” in other words a metaphysical catastrophe that seriously damaged “human nature,” and consequently altered its very condition. Suffering, sickness and death were not part of the original program (which had become unimaginable, even if Augustine sometimes tried), but they entered the world, altering human nature and modifying the conditions of existence.

Where does man get the goodness and righteousness of his actions? Where does the drive to know and explore the unknown come from? Where does he get his strength, his rationality and his prudential perfection? What is the source of the singular dynamism that drives him to support, guide, care for, devote and even sacrifice himself to others? To integrate the idea that he is “his brother’s keeper.” By already being his own guardian. And that man is not a wolf to man, but a friend, even a brother.
Christianity puts all this in the One who supports, guides and sets free, the One who gives the Word, a Promise and a choice: between life and death, between blessing and curse.

For over three decades, Western Europe has lived under the reign of intellectual fashions, such as Freudism, Marxism and structuralism. These ideas turn human nature into a process of lying to hide the beast within man (repression): they have given new power to the old programming that makes force and violence (the right of the strongest) the essence of human relations.

The men and women who choose Buddhism are looking for new ways out of the spiritual prison in which these deleterious ideologies have imprisoned them. But we owe them the truth, because we are the guardians of our brothers and sisters: Buddhism is a swindle that has succeeded in making people believe that its marvelous meditation techniques lead to a state that puts the world, stress, anxiety and anguish—real and imaginary—at bay. These doctrines of appeasement are witchcraft. They throw Christian spirituality and the asceticism that goes with it into a deep pit of oblivion and ignorance. They anaesthetize the soul, plunging it into a deadly torpor.

How do you stop a butterfly from flying off into the deadly light?

A higher light must be lit.

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia. She is the founder of the Pteah Barang, in Cambodia.

Featured: Face of the Buddha, Gandhara, ca. 1st-2nd century AD.

The End of the Christian Caucasus?

The fact is little known outside a few specialists: a large part of the territory of today’s Azerbaijan corresponds to the borders of an ancient Christianized kingdom (probably as early as the 2nd century) known as Caucasian Albania (or Alwania). It disappeared in the 8th century, partly as a result of the Muslim conquest, and partly under pressure from its large Armenian neighbor.

The coveted Karabakh (known as Artsakh) is one of the regions of this small kingdom attested by Greco-Latin and Armenian historiographical sources.

The discovery of an Albanian lectionary in 1975 at the Sinai monastery suggests the early Christianization of Albania, with links to Jerusalem, where Albanian communities financed the construction of several churches. The discovery was not widely publicized, but is well recounted by Bernard Outtier.

While this vanished Christianity is of no interest to the Christian or Catholic world, the Turks are particularly well-informed about the history of the Albanians of the Caucasus (the Baku school of history), and they are today exploiting this knowledge admirably to support their claim to Nagorno-Karabakh and assert their legitimacy over this territory, which they regard as a “proto-Azerbaijan.”

In February 2022, AZERTAC (Azerbaijan’s State Information Agency) posted an article by Mr. Rahman Mustafayev, Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Holy See: ” Les racines chrétiennes du Caucase. L’histoire de l’Église d’Azerbaïdjan [“The Christian Roots of the Caucasus. The history of the Church of Azerbaijan”]. In it, the author begins by tracing the main lines of the history of this small kingdom, which was Christianized very early on, a Church that, if not apostolic, was at least closely linked to the chain of the first disciples. And what he traces is consistent not only with what academic research has elaborated, but also with extant traditions, often oral.

The problem lies in the Azeri account of recent history: “At the beginning of the 19th century, following the Russo-Persian and Russo-Turkish wars, won by the Russian Empire, the process of settlement of Armenians from the Ottoman and Persian Empires began on the territory of the Karabakh, Erivan and Nakhchivan Khanates of the Russian Empire.”

All these territories were Armenian long before the Muslim occupation. It is not a question of “appropriating” Muslim territories, but of reappropriating the land from which they have been dispossessed, and this of course involves major human problems on both sides.

Assuming that the Armenians had to familiarize themselves with an Albanian architectural heritage and that they restored and renovated the monuments by introducing elements of Armenian architecture “that are not characteristic of Albanian architecture,” why is this scandalous? The two architectures, while not twins, are very similar. To claim that the Armenian epigraphy on medieval Albanian monuments constitutes the beginning of a process of “Armenization” is quite absurd, because the “Albanian” community has practically disappeared today. What remains is a “Udi” church, and a few speakers of the Udi language, which researchers admit is the heir to the Albanian language. In April 1836, the Tsarist government had abolished the Autocephalous Church of Albania, which was then subordinate to the Armenian Gregorian Church, according to the ambassador, in order to strengthen the position of the Armenian population and clergy in the Muslim territories of Transcaucasia. This may well be the case, and it was undoubtedly a pity for the little Albanian church. But it was also a political act. Since 2003, this small Albanian church has once again become autocephalous.

The extravagance of Azerbaijan’s accusations is astounding. If we are to believe their allegations, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Armenian Gregorian Church—with the authorization of the Russian Holy Synod—destroyed all traces of the archives of the Albanian Church, as well as the library of the Patriarchs of Albania in Gandjasar, which contained the most precious historical documents, as well as the originals of Albanian literature. The destruction (or concealment) of archives would thus have enabled Armenian historians and archaeologists to deny the autocephalous nature of the Albanian Church, the Albanian ownership of the Christian temples (?), monasteries and churches located on the territory of today’s Karabagh region, and to claim that they are the cultural heritage of the Armenian people and the property of the Armenian Church.

Today’s Albanian heritage obviously belongs to the Church of Armenia, not to the Muslim Azeris. To believe that the Azeri state has set up the great dome of secularism to give all churches their place in the country is to be naive or totally ignorant.

It is true that in the 8th century, Chalcedonian Albania was pressured by its large and prestigious neighbor to submit to Armenia’s anti-Chalcedonian choice. And after the conquest of the Caucasus by the armies of Islam, while Georgia emerged as a regional power and Armenia survived as a Christian power, Albania disappeared, at least politically. This is a matter for historical research. It is delicate because Albanian history is known mainly through Armenian historiography, and since history shows that spiritual and theological divisions were reflected in relations between states and kingdoms, religious theological conflicts were unfavorable to the small Albanian kingdom.

When the ambassador to the Holy See rejoices at “the liberation of Karabakh after 30 years of occupation,” and asserts that a new stage is beginning, so that “the Christian churches are returning to their masters, to the Albanian-Sudinian Christian community of Azerbaijan,” he is mocking us. The Albanian-Azerbaijani community is a mere pittance located in three cities in Azerbaijan (not even Baku). Are they naive enough to believe that their heritage will be restored to them under a Muslim regime? We are not. We have been searching the web in vain for images of the Albanian community so highly praised by the Azeris.

The tourist guides tell us: the Artsakh Ministry of Culture has restored the conventual buildings of the Gandjasar monastery, a major center for the copying of illuminated manuscripts in the Middle Ages, and has set up a Matenadaran (Yerevan’s BNF, albeit on a more modest scale) with the same functions: to exhibit the manuscripts created on Artsakh soil, some 100 of which are housed in the Matenadaran.

Vatican News has relayed Pope Francis’ call to protect the spiritual and architectural heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh. Here is what it says, written by Delphine Allaire:

“Nagorno-Karabakh’s millennia-old spiritual heritage makes it the cradle of Armenia. This pivotal region contains hundreds of churches, monasteries and tombstones dating from the 11th to the 19th century. Being mountainous, it was not evangelized at the same time as Armenia. However, Christianity in Nagorno-Karabakh is mainly because of the action of King Vatchagan the Pious who came to the throne in 484. He spread the cult of saintly relics, and the region owes him the construction of Karabakh’s oldest religious monument, the mausoleum of Grigoris, grandson of Saint Gregory the Illuminator and Catholicos of Albania in the Caucasus. Today, this monument is the Amaras monastery in eastern Artsakh. The history of Armenia and Caucasian Albania has been linked since the Christianization of the two countries in the early 4th century.”

This calls for a few comments.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an ancient region of Caucasian Albania, and thus the cradle of the Christian Albanians. But of these Albanians, only a tiny community remains: the Udi, whose language is that of the ancient Albanians, but whose writing has been lost. Thus, there is nothing wrong about this, and it is no falsification to claim it as the historical cradle of medieval Armenia, once the Albanian kingdom had disappeared.

At the beginning of January 2022, journalist Anastasia Lavrina (in the pay of the Azerbaijani government) carried out a curious investigation in Karabakh into “how the Christian churches of Karabakh were destroyed by Armenian separatists,” which was published on the website of the Journal musulmans en France a few days later. An impressive video shows the alleged exactions of the Armenians, as well as the testimony of an Orthodox priest from Baku on the freedom of worship enjoyed by the churches and the repair of this fabulous ancient heritage of which they are so proud. The images only show a priest commenting on all this in front of a small pile of old stones.

The same Journal des musulmans de France plagiarized Ambassador Mustafayev’s text to proclaim the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh: “A new stage… in the history of Christian churches in Azerbaijan—a stage of restoration after destruction and historical falsifications, a stage of healing wounds, of rebirth to life in the name of peace and cooperation between all religions of Azerbaijan.”

Who can believe that Azerbaijan will finance the restoration of Armenian heritage once it has emptied the country of all Armenians? We know the devastating rage of Islam. Mosques will cover the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, erasing Christian memory and the religious roots of humanity, just as Turkey did in two bloody genocides.

But there is a lesson to be learned from all this propaganda, and it is an important one: Muslims have admitted the existence of a very old Albanian Christianity, old enough to confirm a very old, apostolic first evangelization, which Eastern tradition has maintained to the last.

Over and above this ancient history and the existence of a third Christianity in the Caucasus (totally ignored by the Caucasologists of our French media), most articles specializing in Caucasus affairs never cease to evoke “ethnic” or “racial” hatreds, and never mention “religious hatreds.” This ignores the Armenian genocide, which has been documented, even if not recognized by the nation historically responsible for it.

Almost all the articles available do not go beyond 1993, the supposed start of hostilities between Azeris and Armenians.

This silence is irresponsible, not to say guilty.

The question of Nagorno-Karabakh is an old one, whose seeds of death were sown by the British when they awarded Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan in 1919. Stalin merely ratified their decision.

At the end of 1918, Great Britain moved into the Caucasus. Through diplomacy, it made up for the few material resources it had in this “turbulent” region, as the experts put it. The cunning, deceitfulness, cynicism and well-understood self-interest of this England of the dying empire are well known. Her own, of course. The pretext invoked by the most imperialist circles in London to justify this presence in the Caucasus is that it was one of the roads into India. In reality, it is because of Baku’s oil. During British rule in 1919, Azerbaijan still had access to the oil that crossed Georgia to the port of Batumi (promised to Georgia, but occupied by the British). As for Armenia, it had been promised vast territories in Anatolia. But without the means to conquer or hold on to them. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of refugees were crammed into a tiny territory. Of what was then called “Turkish Armenia,” only one vilayet remained, that of Sivas, and only a handful of Armenians.

For Turkey, the Batumi treaties were nothing more than legal façades providing a pretext for invading the Caucasus. At the beginning of August 1918, Nuri Pacha demanded the annexation of Karabakh to Azerbaijan. The Armenian Republic refused. Once. Then a second time. The Turks then sent a Turkish-Azeri detachment against the capital, Shushi, which the Turks entered on October 8. The villages went into sedition, and the following month, taking advantage of their withdrawal, the Armenians regained control of the region.

In October 1918, Enver Pasha sent precise instructions to the Army of the Caucasus for the regions between the Transcaucasian republics and the line of retreat of the Turkish forces. Before withdrawing, the army was to arm the Kurdish and Turkish populations, leaving behind officers capable of organizing the region politically and militarily. The main objective was to prevent the repatriation of Armenians.

The commander-in-chief of British forces in the Caucasus, General William Montgomerie Thomson, was on the best of terms with the Azerbaijani government, which enabled Great Britain to obtain very large quantities of oil. On January 15, 1919, he authorized the appointment of an Azeri governor for the provinces of Karabakh (165,000 Armenians vs. 59,000 Azeris) and Zanguezur (101,000 Armenians vs. 120,000 Azeris).

In February 2019, the Azerbaijani administration entered Karabakh under British protection, while the Armenians held their fourth assembly in Shushi, which still refused to submit. Talks continued at the fifth assembly, held at the end of April with the participation of the Azeri governor and General Digby Shuttleworth, Thomson’s successor.

Armenian refusal persisted, and relations soured. On June 2, the Azeris attacked.

In August 1919, the Armenians accepted Azeri authority. Did they have any other choice?

On January 8, 1920, the Armenians signed an agreement with Major General George Forestier-Walker, commander of British forces in Batumi, for the establishment of an Armenian civil administration in Kars. When it arrived, escorted by the British, the Muslims refused to submit and, at the end of a large congress, proclaimed the provisional national government of the south-west Caucasus. General Thomson arrived in Kars and de facto recognized this government, while the Armenian administration turned back. With the Turks and Kurds making it impossible to repatriate Armenians to the west, the Armenians decided in January to attack Nakhichevan.

Thomson offered to help the Armenians take control of Kars and Nakhichevan, if they agreed to cede Karabakh and Zanguezur to the Azeris. Following an agreement in principle, Thomson occupied Kars on April 13 and dissolved the South-West Caucasus government. The British withdrew from Nakhichevan, leaving the administration to the Armenians. In July, the Muslims of Nakhichevan attacked the Armenians and forced them to evacuate the district.

When Colonel Alfred Rawlinson visited the Kars region in July, he found that, apart from the towns, the rest of the territory was held by the Kurds, from the Aras valley to Oltu and Ardahan.

What about the French? They knew, of course.

On December 10, 1918, Lieutenant-Colonel Pierre-Auguste Chardigny, commander of the French detachment in the Caucasus, sent a six-page letter to the Minister of War, in which he outlined the situation in the Caucasus and the proposed organization of the country.

He pointed out that “recent attempts at Russian colonization have produced a complete mixture of races and an incredible dispersion of populations,” and asked whether the organization of the Caucasus into four independent republics, “following the collapse of Russian power and the threat of Turkish invasion, is likely to provide the populations with the peace and prosperity to which they aspire?”

This is no rhetorical question. Here is the answer in extenso.

What is this organization?

1. It is none other than the realization of our enemies’ plan, which can be summed up as follows:

a) Constitution of a large Muslim state in the Caucasus, uniting under Turkish protectorate the highlanders of the North Caucasus and the Tatars of Azerbaijan. This concept, of purely pan-Islamic origin, would have brought the Crescent to the edge of the Caspian Sea in the event of victory for the allied powers. The Republic of Armenia, born of necessity and reduced to infinite proportions, would have been short-lived, the disappearance of what remained of the Armenian people being the direct and fatal consequence of the Turkish plan.

b) Creation of an independent Georgia, under the protectorate of Germany, which would itself be responsible for exploiting the natural wealth of the most favored region in the Caucasus.

2. That none of the four new republics had sufficient resources to create an independent life for themselves, ensuring the country’s future development. Two of them, that of Azerbaijan and that of the Montagnards, do not even have an educated class large enough to ensure the direction of affairs, the mass of the people having so far remained in a state of profound ignorance.

In a note, the lieutenant-colonel pointed out that while in Georgia all Russian civil servants had been replaced by Georgians, in Azerbaijan, given the absolute lack of educated Muslims, Russian civil servants had been retained.

…Georgians and Tatars (Azerbaijanis), supported by German and Turkish bayonets, incorporated parts of the Armenian regions into their respective territories.

Lieutenant-Colonel Chardigny concluded with a novel and intelligent proposal: that the Swiss model should be copied in the Caucasus and the region organized into “cantons.”

And he concluded, with a certain realism, that to save order in this country, a foreign master was needed, who could only be the Allies, acting in the name of Russia, until calm had been restored.

He concluded this intelligent letter with the fate of Russian Armenia (Caucasian Armenia) and that of Turkish Armenia, “a devastated and deserted country whose reconstitution would be a long-term task.”

The constitution of a large Muslim state in the Caucasus, uniting under Turkish protectorate the highlanders of the North Caucasus and the Tatars of Azerbaijan, is still on the agenda.

This is President Erdogan’s project.

The “fourth republic” of the North Caucasus did not last, but there is still Azerbaijan, a Turkish protectorate (or satellite) that takes the Crescent all the way to the Caspian.

The great Muslim state of the Caucasus, in a Turkish-speaking zone stretching from the Bosphorus to Central Asia: that is Turkey’s geopolitical vision.

Erdogan is moving forward, barely masked, with the same determination of his great predecessors, the gravediggers of the Christian Caucasus who did most of the work, with the duplicitous complicity of the Entente powers.

Today, France’s absurd support for Ukraine and the press’ aversion to Putin have foolishly deprived it of Russian gas. Today, it is turning to Azerbaijan (Baku) to obtain, in an unnatural alliance, what it could have continued to negotiate if it had chosen realism and common sense: to leave Zelenski to his destructive madness and demented plans; to turn away from a war decided and willed by NATO; to develop ties with Christian Russia prepared by three centuries of political, cultural and linguistic history.

Today, the gravediggers of the Christian Caucasus are still there, slyly preparing the ruin of the small Armenian state, an unfortunate landlocked state which today lies on the route of tomorrow’s oil pipelines.
And by the same token, irresponsibly organizing a future Muslim Caucasus.

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia. She is the founder of the Pteah Barang, in Cambodia.

Featured: Albanian Church in Kish, Shaki Rayon, Azerbaijan.

The Wars of Nagorno-Karabakh

Good books are rare, and clear, concise works are even rarer. Jean-Marie Lorgé’s Les guerres du Haut Karabakh (éditions Baudelaire, 2021) has both these qualities. It should be published in English.

To understand this tragic conflict, you need to know Erdogan’s vision of the international chessboard (or his geopolitical vision, if you prefer) as the author describes it. And we can trust him.

Erdogan anchors Turkey on two pillars: the “Blue Homeland” and “Pan-Turkism.” The “Blue Homeland” is a kind of bread-and-butter patriotism aimed at taking control of the southern and eastern Mediterranean Sea and its resources. This should put Europe on its guard. The counterpart to this “Blue Homeland” is the realization of Enver Pasha’s grand design: the coalition of Turkish-speaking regions from the Bosphorus to the Altai Mountains, under Turkish leadership. Azerbaijan, the Muslim-majority country ethnically, culturally and linguistically closest to Turkey, is the second link in this Pontic chain: from Turkey to Kirghizia, via Azerbaijan, Turkmenia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The first Nagorno-Karabakh war (1990) pitted it against Azerbaijan. The second war (2020) brought Turkey into the picture. Its unwavering support for Azerbaijan is in line with Ankara’s policy. Added to this, and no one dares say it, is Islam’s age-old hatred of Christians. And on this point, Turkey has shown throughout history that this hatred has gone as far as genocide, not only of Armenians but also of Aramaic-speaking Christian populations. The press calls it ethnic cleansing, but religious cleansing too.

In September-November 2020, the immediate aim of the Azerbaijani “steel fist” offensive was to break the Shushi lock, to block the Lachin corridor (10 km long) through which the only road linking Karabakh to Armenia passes, and to cut off the second road linking two Armenian towns. In other words, the aim was to suffocate Nagorno Karabakh. The defeat, both military and political, was total. Armenia was left with the choice of either toning down its desire for Westernization and accepting closer political and military relations with Russia, Iran and China, or accepting the path outlined by Erdogan on December 10, 2020 at the Victory Parade in Baku”: vassal status within a regional coalition dominated by a Turkey drunk with its Ottoman past. And we know all about the Ottoman past: from Islamic oppression to massacres and genocide.

There remained a third way: to start a desperate war all over again. That’s what we’ve seen recently. With a new debacle. The second war was part of Erdogan’s vision of a Bosphorus/Altai territorial continuum, of which the Turkey/Azerbaijan territorial continuity was the first step. To achieve this, the Nagorno Karabagh lock had to be broken.

And that’s now done. There’s still one more lock: Siunik, which has been Armenian for two millennia, and which the Azeris also claim, but taking the 19th and 20th centuries as their starting point; that is, when their state was born. Before that, there is no history of Azerbaijan comparable to the long and dramatic history of Armenia or Georgia. The Azeris can therefore make no claim before the last three centuries. The capture of central and southern Siunik by Turkey, through Azerbaijan, would see the realization of Pan-Turkism’s major political objective: a Turko-Azerbaijani mass (Muslim and hardline), with three maritime windows.

Once Turkey joined Europe, we can imagine the consequences. The third Nagorno-Karabakh war did indeed take place. But not the one we might have expected. Which may mean that it’s not over yet. On the territories recovered by Azerbaijan under the terms of the November 9, 2020 agreement, some 80 Christian religious buildings have been destroyed.

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia. She is the founder of the Pteah Barang, in Cambodia.

The Slave Trade: An Islamic Invention?

As Fernand Braudel wrote in his History of Civilizations, the large-scale commercial organization we call “the slave trade” is not a “diabolical invention of Europe,” but began in the 8th century AD with the Muslim conquest. Knowledge and appreciation of the subject is hampered by the clichés and stereotypes that surround it, as well as the lack of press coverage of even the most accessible academic works (such as Tidiane N’Diaye’s Le génocide voilé; or Jacques Heers’ Les négriers en terre d’islam. But it is also because the spirit of the times dictates that we should not upset our Muslim brothers by evoking the misdeeds of a religion that is presented to us as a hotbed of peace and tolerance. The thirteen centuries of the Eurasian slave trade resolutely belie this mythology.

The large-scale trade in men, women and children known as the “slave trade” was organized in and by the “chronological and geographical melting pot” that was Islam from the 8th to the 11th century. This traffic of shame was inaugurated in 652, when the Emir and general, Abd Allah ibn Sa’d, concluded an agreement with the Nubians, imposing the annual forced delivery of hundreds of slaves, the majority of whom were taken from the populations of Darfur.

The trade only ceased long after that: even when the caliphate disappeared and differentiated Islamic worlds emerge, not yet Muslim “nations,” if such things were even possible. It was only in the 20th century, some one hundred and fifty years after the Westerners (who took their time to put a stop to this infamy) that the Muslim world officially closed the great roads of blood, death, castration and humiliation.

In the Middle Ages, the economy of Muslim countries was based on the power demanded of slave muscles in the mines and plantations. And there was also domestic slavery: a whole middle class consumed this domesticity, which could be cut and chopped at will, as well as the women and eunuchs of the harem (tradition claims that the harem of the Caliph Abder-Rahman III in Cordoba included 3,600 women), servants, singers and musicians in the palaces of potentates and great personages.

The slave trade developed along two main axes: firstly, the trans-Saharan trade (or slave trade), which took captives from the Sudan to the Maghreb, across the Sahara; and secondly, the maritime trade, which took them from the east coast of Africa to the Orient via a variety of routes described by Maurice Lombard (L’islam dans sa première grandeur) with precise, well-documented cartography. The Oriental slave trade involved a large reservoir of people who came to be known as “the Slavs,” from which the word “slave” derives.

In France, work on the Muslim slave trade is only half a century old, and has met with much resistance. What first attracted the attention of French researchers and scholars was Sudanese gold, because all Arab authors referred to it as “the main product of black countries.” They conveniently forget the other traffic: that of human beings. Émile Félix Gautier, an ethnographer specializing in Algeria, the Sahara and Madagascar, set off the frenzy in 1935. He had sensed that the author of Hanno the Navigator’s journey (between the 5th century BC and the 1st century AD), a Carthaginian suffete, had undertaken his expedition to secure for Carthage the gold powder long known to the Lybio-Phoenicians. The introduction of the camel to the Sahara under the emperor Septimius-Severus (146-211), born in one of those Punic cities, anxious to preserve its links with Black Africa, had made it possible to conquer the desert and trade with this almost legendary Sudan. However, the Romans failed to understand the value of Carthaginian positions and trans-Saharan trade relations and traditions, which would have faded into oblivion had it not been for the fact that the Punic cities of Africa, encompassed within the orbis romanus, had maintained them through the intermediary of Berber caravan tribes.

Once Islamized, other human reservoirs would have to be found, as the Koran forbids the enslavement of Muslims (a precept that was hardly ever applied). These Berbers were to make use of the Saharan trails, restoring the ancient gold trade to its former glory and, above all, developing the trade in blacks from the Sudan and sub-Saharan Africa.

But they were not alone in the large-scale organization of this monstrous traffic. By the 8th century, the formation of the Muslim world had created an immense domain in relation to “a kind of common market” from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean, from the Sudan to the barbarian West and the region of the great Russian rivers. This ensemble was built on three previous domains: the Sassanid Empire, Byzantine Syria and Egypt, and the barbaric Western Mediterranean. This “common market” was characterized by an influx of gold, a large supply of slaves (Turks, Africans and Slavs), and a network of major trade routes stretching from China to Spain and from Black Africa to Central Asia. This network covered the whole of Eurasia, but was also subject to unstable junctions, linked in particular to conflicts between the great empire-states (such as Byzantium and Persia).

In the ancestral lands of ancient civilizations—Iran, Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt—there was no gap between the Byzantine-Sassanid period and the Muslim era in terms of urban occupation, workshops or arts and techniques, because the economic frameworks were already in place on the eve of the Muslim conquest. The East was home to all the driving forces and dispersal centers from which the various influences associated with the new conquerors would spread westwards: Islamization, Arabization, Semitization and, above all, Iranization. It was Persia, heir through Islam to the ancient Mesopotamian home, that provided the conquerors with the mental frameworks and techniques, as well as the repertoire of ideas and artistic forms, with which to assert themselves.

But throughout the Muslim world, big business was to fall to Jewish merchants.

The first exile under Nebuchadnezzar had created a scattering and chains of Jewish communities, settled along all the major trade routes, which corresponded with the lines of Judaization. From Sassanid Mesopotamia, these religious and commercial routes reached Armenia, the Caucasus and Caspian countries, the land of the Khazars (lower Volga and Ponto-Caspian steppes), Iran, Khorasan, Khwarazm and Transoxania, and finally the Persian Gulf and India (Malabar coast). It was with these communities that, very early on in history, a class of merchants and craftsmen emerged, faithful to the trading spirit and old technical and mercantile methods of the Semitic East. In some places, these communities were more numerous and more active. But these nuclei of Judaism were not always well connected, due to the split between the barbarian (then Christian) West, the Byzantine area and the Sassanid domain. Rabbinism, which became official within the Muslim domain, welded the nuclei of Judaism, from East to West: rabbinic centralization and commercial relations, deriving from the driving forces of Abbasid Mesopotamia, went hand in hand. These relationships continued beyond the confines of the Muslim world, through links with the distant communities of Eurasia.

Until the Muslim era, Christian Syrians (Syrians and Persians above all) had been the masters of East/West trade. Their trade was also based on a chain of Nestorian and Jacobin communities. Eliminated from the maritime domain, they retained their importance in continental relations in Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Iran, Armenia and Central Asia, with monasteries and places of pilgrimage playing an economic role.

At all frontiers of the Muslim world, a large part of trade was thus in the hands of the Jews and their trading houses, including the slave trade and all related activities: eunuch manufacture, slave instruction and education, currency trading and banking. The most beautiful women were channeled into the harems: abducted at a very young age, they received extensive training, particularly in music and psalmody, but not only. A few towns, including Verdun, specialized in the castration of male children and men. The fact that it was mainly carried out by Jews was due to their reputation for medical knowledge based on old Greek medicine, enriched by contributions from the Iranian and Indian schools. Nestorian “polymaths” (physicians and scholars) played a central role in the “translation sciendi” of ancient knowledge to the new Arabized world. Dual medical and philosophical knowledge (the works of Aristotle in particular) followed the same circuit. From Greece to Syria, it was translated into Syriac, Aramaic and Arabic, then transplanted to the major centers of Baghdad, Cairo and Cordoba, where Spanish Jews translated it into Latin. From there, they reached the centers of the Christian West, particularly Toledo.

The Arabian conquerors transformed this tribal Islam into a caliphal Islam: a political system of widespread domination and plunder. Not only did they seize the gold of the vanquished (treasures of the Sassanid rulers, Syrian and Egyptian churches, systematic excavations of the Pharaohs’ tombs), they also appropriated the knowledge of these ancient Aramaic-speaking sedentary civilizations, or what remained of them after the first devastating period of conquest. And it was at the junction of East and West, in the old land of Spain, that these “matrix” civilizations would cast their last fires.

Al-Andalus was not the brilliant civilization celebrated in today’s fifth-grade French history textbooks. It is the swan song of this great Christianized civilization which, having taken on Greek and Indian knowledge, transmitted it in the language of the conquerors before disappearing into the sands of the desert and history.

In the Islamized East, a few Christian communities still survive, heroically maintaining the oral structures through which faith and the Gospel have been passed down through the vicissitudes of the centuries and the continual persecutions of Islam.

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia. She is the founder of the Pteah Barang, in Cambodia.

Featured: Slaves in Zabid, Yemen, folio 105, Maqama 34, by Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti, Baghdad, ca. 1236-1237.

Islam and Psychiatry

In 1965, a book entitled, Sociologie des maladies mentales (Sociology of Mental Illnesses) by Georges Bastide was published. This book, densely written, was hailed, upon its publication, by the ethnopsychiatrist Georges Devereux, by the psychiatrist Robert Castel and even by the sociologist Alain Besançon, who was particularly laudatory: “Vast readings, patient clarification of entangled concepts, sharply critical of the results, confrontation with what is confrontable, bold conclusions as to the substance, modest in expression.”

What is True

But Georges Bastide’s project was anything but modest—he wanted to found the sociology of mental illness. He asked the question with a somewhat technical elegance: “Can we make room for social factors in the etiology of mental illnesses?” And of course, if so, which one?

To do this, he began by “establishing the register” of the disciplines involved in the question of mental illness. This is commendable. It is a question of avoiding confusion or even conflicts between researchers, and of guaranteeing the independence of the various human sciences and disciplines concerned: social psychiatry, which is concerned with the morbid social behavior of individuals suffering from mental disorders; the sociology of mental illness, which is interested in communities and groups—particularly those that form spontaneously or not in psychiatric hospitals; ethnopsychiatry, which establishes correlations between ethnic facts and types of illness.

We must add disciplines (“sciences” at the time, but that was “early days”) that were a bit specialized: “ecology,” which brings to sociology some of the most important aspects of the human condition, which brings to the sociology of mental illnesses the recognition of a particular spatial distribution of organic and functional psychoses (but which does not manage to grasp the causes). And industrial psychiatry, which, as its name indicates, is interested in psychopathologies linked to industrialization, and they are numerous, and sometimes serious.

The sociology of mental illness has a history whose conceptual evolution goes from Comte to Durkheim and from Freud to Sullivan and Parsons. Bastide clearly identified the two main types of theoretical approaches that divide the discipline: some that start from psychiatry and go towards sociology, others that go from sociology towards psychiatry. The sociologist reserves the right to re-establish the communication network between the three fields thus delimited, theoretically and practically.

Let us summarize the hypothesis: we cannot understand mental illness or the mentally ill if we do not take into account the society in which both are integrated. Or do not fit in. If madness can have organic causes—lesions, biochemical disorders, hereditary factors, etc.—it also has social causes, which need to be recognized and which is a matter of sociology: if an old man is vulnerable to madness, is it because he is old or because society rejects the old?

In other words, the influence of the environment must be recognized in the psychogenesis of mental illness, even its “organogenesis.” Today, this is obvious, and even a dogma. But it is still necessary to establish some foundations.

Why is this book, which is more than fifty years old, still of interest to us?

In addition to the fact that it constitutes one of the most accomplished, the densest, the most documented works of the time on questions that interest us—madness and mental health—it interests us because obviously our society presents some clinical signs of pathological features. Not to mention, of pure madness.

The Normal and the Pathological and the Family

All peoples distinguish several types of abnormality and all know what a mental disorder is.

It is society that designates the sick to be treated, and it is up to the psychiatrist to find the causes and the reasons for the illness. In order to distinguish the madman from the healthy man, it is necessary to rely on an external criterion, the consensus that the healthy man meets in terms of behaviors shared with the other members of the group (the normative character of health). Hence the theorization (or paradigm) in terms of deviant behaviors or conformity behaviors—those that make social life possible (and those that can also make it impossible).

But if we admit that society comes into play in the genesis of mental illness, the question that arises is that of the more or less pathogenic character of the societies in which men are called to be born, to grow up, to fight for most often, or sometimes to integrate into when they emigrate.

It is the ethnopsychiatrist Georges Devereux who put forward the idea that there are social neuroses.

Industrial society is one that eliminates waste. The unproductive is waste: it is for this reason that the madman is designated for the social “trash,” and that, in a world dedicated to rationalization and planning, he is the only one who can make a protest heard (like that of Nietzsche or Antonin Artaud). The misfortune is that this protest cannot be heard, because it is formulated in a way that is neither intelligible nor, above all, admissible. What remains is silence; in other words, superb isolation. The mental illness is in some way the translation of this marginalism of the values rejected and repressed by society.

As isolation, or if one prefers insularity, is a general feature of our civilization, and even a real ideology, (with, on the one hand, the wild competition for the improvement of one’s social status which pushes one to seek participation, and on the other hand the cultural norms which push one to withdraw), schizophrenia appears as a perfect model of sociological category offering to men the shell that they must secrete around them to be able to maintain, on the peripheries, the systems of “blocked” values. It is indeed the “norms” and the “values” which constitute a base of references from which a system of recognition (and exclusion) is built.

It is not difficult to admit that if the individual participates in a global society and in a culture of which he is one of the “cogs,” he is more deeply influenced by the groups of which he is a part, rather than by the larger community. And the most profound influence is obviously that of the family. We all know that it is within the family that insurmountable conflicts are set up, which generate psychopathology; overcome most of the time, but not always, unfortunately.

In this respect, the family is also a “group” which has its laws, its norms, its prohibitions, its taboos; in short, a system for defining what is allowed, what is tolerated, what is admissible or inadmissible.

But there are two ways of looking at the family. From the point of view of Durkheim and most French sociologists, it is a social institution, organized and controlled by the State through civil status—or by the Church—which considers the conjugal bond as irreducible. The rupture of the marriage contract is not free; it is surrounded by guarantees; it must be formalized to become valid. From the dominant point of view of North American sociology, it is a social-group structuring, according to certain cultural norms; a set of inter-individual relationships between husband and wife, between parents and children, between brothers and sisters, possibly between the three generations. European countries are increasingly tending to open up to this perspective, which, if not exclusive of the first, can enter into competition, then into conflict and contradiction. Until today, when the anthropologically normalized and normative family institution (one man and one woman), are eroded by recent laws.

There were thus two possible psychiatries of the family, depending on whether one considers it from the institutional or relational perspective.

No need to be a great expert to announce that pathologies will multiply and undoubtedly worsen.

Religion: An Integrative Force

Among the sociological variables of mental illness, we also find religion, or more exactly the religious group.

If this family is Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Hutterite, it will intervene in the constitution of a healthy psyche, but also in the structuring of psychopathologies, even neuroses or psychoses.

Bastide takes again the hypothesis of Durkheim, who conceived religion as an integrative force and who had established that suicides varied in inverse reason of the more or less integrating character of religion. But he rightly questioned the notion.

“Should we understand it as a simple statistical fact of belonging to a group whose faith one may not live, which simply marks the origin and the fact of being baptized? Or should we give this word its full meaning; that of the mystical experience lived in the depths of the soul?”

Only in the second case does religion retain an integrative function. It would have no effect on those who are not Christians and do not participate in the life of the churches. Bastide rightly points out that France has many atheists who behave in a Catholic way and who live according to the values of their ancestors: they have only secularized Christian ideals without changing their mentality.

Is it possible to establish some correlations between a certain type of mental illness and the various confessions?

Yes, answers the anthropologist, but without much theoretical significance. If the values and norms that constitute the religious culture of an ethnic group dominate in the etiology of mental illnesses, (the family factor being determined by the ethnic-religious cultural traditions, at least at the time), these variables are weighted by the “social class” variable.

Moreover, psychic conflicts resulting from religious identification are rare and in cases encountered, the interest in religious things follows the illness and does not precede it. It is not the religion that is important but the individual’s reaction to it. Clearly, it is the illness or the neurosis that is prior to the religion. “The neuroses can transform religion into a pathological construction and the psychoses into feeding the delusions. But it is not the religion which creates the one and the other.”

It would be appropriate to inform a large part of our contemporaries about this.

In the 1960s, especially in Italy, psychiatrists and members of the clergy collaborated on these difficult questions. It was a question of “saving” religious life from what could jeopardize it (intra-family conflicts, the inhumanity of industrial relations) and which could eat away at it from within and make it fail in neurosis. One sought in the community spirit or the discipline of the Churches—(Christian asceticism)—a ” dominium ” of the affective life—in particular of the impulsive life—a protective environment, an education of the spirit and an orientation towards a healthier world. Even more “holy.”

All this is still very true, in any case for the Christian religion which largely molded and configured the European culture and mentality and thus French. At least until the last forty years.

But then what about Islam in a sociology of mental illness? And what about Muslim immigration, since it is clear that it is with this specific immigration that the European peoples are confronted.

The “Culture Shock”: “The Poplar Quarrel”

A famous quarrel pitted André Gide and Maurice Barrès against each other about rootlessness. It is known as the “Poplar Quarrel” because it uses the botanical analogy. Barrès stressed the harmful effects of rootlessness; Gide saw in it the sine qua non condition of creativity—except that the two cultures between which Gide saw himself divided were those of Normandy and Neustria… There is undoubtedly a more violent duality.

What does sociology say about the question?

Everything obviously depends on the predispositions—robust personalities are enriched by this double culture. And they usually learn to exploit both of them skillfully.

In any case, there is always a crisis and this crisis for some may be difficult or impossible to overcome. Learning new cultural mechanisms is difficult after the plasticity of childhood. The new social environment is perceived as hostile, because one does not manage to master it, even if only symbolically through the shared language. More seriously, the new environment is not perceived as different but as contradictory. Anxiety and hostility are the consequences of these difficulties.

In our case, the “European” social body evolved from a Christian society, with associated values and also virtues (even in counterfeits), the morality sometimes a little narrow and puritanical—to a “secularized” society; then secular one; in other words, essentially atheist. And since a few decades, Europe became anti-Christian and even Christianophobic.

In other words, Muslims found themselves faced with a changing society, with which they had less and less affinity, to the point of no longer recognizing themselves at all in the values displayed. The new anthropological foundation only reinforced their deep aversion for a society that they perceive as perverse, immodest and deeply revolting.

Studies, fifty years ago by Georges Bastide, showed that in the case of mixed marriages, the parent belonging to a different civilization pulled the child towards his culture, which made the child internalize a double system of contradictory standards. The disorders resulted from the conflict of cultures, not from family conflicts.

It is known, for example, that the close relationship of sons to their mothers generally delays Americanization (i.e., integration). However, no one is unaware of the hold of the maternal imago in all cultures and societies, but particularly in Muslim society. It is the male child who allows the mother to finally exist. Many psychoses appear not when there is a rupture of the family or internal tribal bonds but where the abnormal rigidity of these pre-social bonds prevents the individual from freeing himself from the law of his family circle, or his restricted group remained foreign to the social community. This is exactly the situation of the Muslim family, tribal, rigid and especially more and more alien to the society that surrounds it.

In the case of a marriage between Muslim and French (of Christian tradition but most often without any knowledge of his or her religious tradition), the Muslim parent has no need to “pull” the child to him or her. The community force acts. The child will be “Islamized.”

This so-called “moderate” Islam is in reality a dormant, muted Islam. It guarantees a possible functioning in European society, according to schizoid modalities (very widespread, whatever the religion) which allow to live, to have a job. The virus is in a way “dormant.” But in the face of the mutations of our societies, and their deviated ethics, radicalized and radicalizing Islam begins to shake the whole edifice. A very deep violence comes out of it, linked to the anguish of psychological disintegration of personalities which have been structured according to modes of which we know very little. Ethnopsychiatrists have been interested in traditional cultures, but relatively little in the disorders of the Muslim population. The proof is that in 1965, Islam was not included in religious variables, nor in any variables at all.

A Psychiatry of Transplantation and Uprooting?

It is obvious that a “crisis of transplantation” is inevitable, whatever the modalities in which it takes shape.

The migration of Muslim communities is not a migration like any other. The men and women who arrive in Europe belong to a completely different civilization. The basic personality built in a Muslim society obeys rigidities and defines a mentality. The new environment can only reshape a mentality that is “compatible” with the host country, if the person does not live withdrawn in a reconstructed environment. However, it takes months before a person or a family is integrated; in other words, before they have a home, a job, a stability that is not based on parasites. The time to feed many feelings of frustration, powerlessness, envy no doubt. The perfect ground for developing mental disorders.

However, the reality that is ours is striking. “Ghettos” are not the sole responsibility of the host country, but also of the need of migrant communities to reconstitute something of their country of origin.
Even if one emigrates to improve one’s social status, the change is marked by a decline in status. We know that Germany has integrated skilled men and women with low wages and trainee status. If at first, given their situation, these doctors, computer scientists and others are happy about the “chance” they have been given, it is not certain that in the long run their appreciation does not change. However, the descent in the social scale occupies an important place in the genesis of mental disorders.

How can the old European lands, de-Christianized, and having to face attacks of a great violence that aim at destroying the anthropological base which constitutes the only common element with the Muslim community, face without risk of collapse such a terrifying aggression?

Durkheim had provided a still effective framework by distinguishing four types of solidarity: mechanical solidarity, organic solidarity, forced solidarity (which defines colonial and slave societies, and apparently ours), and finally anomie. He analyzed the phenomenon of suicide within this framework that he had elaborated. In societies with forced or anomic solidarity, there is an abnormal increase in the suicide rate. This is the case in our societies. Anomie, by developing anxiety (the ambition without brake, the amplitude of the unrealizable projects, or, today, the confusion between unrealizable dreams and projects), by multiplying the failures is particularly apt to multiply the number of suicides.

It seems to me that what we are witnessing is less a clash of civilizations than a clash—very brutal and very violent—of mentalities.

Christianity used to mediate (in an often anomalous, diffuse, sometimes rather soft way) between the Muslim community and French society. Contrary to the efforts to make people believe that we have the same God, which is not the case; but we had common or similar ethical positions in matters of sexuality, an “altruism” whose roots were undoubtedly not comparable, but which in practice are similar: almsgiving, prayer. But blinded by her internal affairs, by the post-conciliar crisis, by the preoccupation to show the world her brand new modernism, the Church remained blind to the essential.

The retreat of Christianity has left Islam facing an increasingly libertine, impudent and shameless secular society, which is now seen not as different and compatible at least on the essentials, but as radically “contradictory.

And then came Muslim migration.

A Shock of Mentalities

From now on, we have to face a community, which not only does not wish to integrate itself into our society but which intends to “disintegrate” it. The madman does not invent his madness: he uses the symptomatological stereotypes that the society or the community to which he belongs provides him. He needs them to give signs. The world of madness not only feeds on images and signs borrowed from the surrounding world, but it keeps the formal laws of this world. Faced with a European madness, understood as the triumph of pure subjectivity, we have today a new pathological disorder: the “jihadist” madness, the madness of the Muslim world understood as the triumph of the religious group.

What better sign than to blow oneself up, in other words to disintegrate? The jihadist with his belt of explosives gives himself to be seen and heard by two types of audience: the Muslims, to whom he addresses himself to show the strength of his faith, and to the society he wants to destroy. And as well to his instructors.

We have two “matrices” to generate mental disorders.

On the one hand, a society suffering from dementia and suicidal madness, which no longer wants to encourage life, support old age, regulate the aggressiveness of dominant males and look after the weakest. And on the other hand, a society that pretends to freeze the roles of men and women, to control social behaviors, to fossilize effort, to forbid women any public life, to forbid them any social mobility and even any education.

They are two faces of the same unheard-of violence: convulsive fury on one side; ideological lies and mass propaganda on the other.

And between them? Ecumenical dialogue and SREM (Department of Muslim Relations) for the Churches, and for the State, ELCOs (Teaching Languages and Cultures of Origin).

In other words, nothing.

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia. She is the founder of the Pteah Barang, in Cambodia.

Featured: Pelerinage aux lieux dits saints de la ville de La Mecque en Arabie Saoudite—Le Hajj (Pilgrimage to the holy places of Mecca in Saudi Arabia—The Hajj), by Alfred Dehodencq (1822—1882); painted ca. late 19th century.

The Memory of Lebanon—Also Our Own

Not so long ago, when “The State” and the banks appropriated the savings of thousands of Lebanese families, the French press was all abuzz about Lebanon. And then, the Lebanese and their bankrupt country were forgotten.

Between 1915 and 1918, Mount Lebanon was hit by a terrible famine that took away almost a third of its population and left in the Lebanese memory the certainty of the overwhelming responsibility of the Ottoman authorities in the organization and unleashing of what they considered a genocide. For many Lebanese, there is still no doubt that the famine of 1915-1918 was deliberately organized by the Ottoman authorities.

Lebanon has been distinguished from the neighboring provinces of Damascus and Beirut by a long tradition of autonomy. For three centuries, local emirs governed this Ottoman province. Between 1842 and 1860, taking advantage of “dissensions” within the population, the Sublime Porte tried to reinforce its control—without success. In 1860, the Muslim Druze massacred hundreds of Christians. In spite of a muted diplomatic resistance from England, France obtained permission from the European powers to send an expeditionary force to come to the aid of the victims and to restore order. The confessional massacres of the time led to the military intervention of Napoleon III’s troops and to the re-establishment of Lebanese autonomy guaranteed by the five powers, with the establishment of a specific administrative regime—Mount Lebanon would henceforth be directed by a compulsorily Catholic governor, appointed by the Sublime Porte after European agreement.

From 1913, following the coup d’état of Enver Pasha, the Ottoman Empire was governed by a triumvirate of which he was the dominant figure. In April 1915, in the midst of the war, he authorized his Minister of the Interior, Talaat Pasha (the “Turkish Hitler”) to organize the massacre of the Christian peoples of the empire: Assyrians, Pontic Greeks and Armenians. Wikipedia forgets the Lebanese in this sinister list.

For them, the matter was delegated to Jamal Pasha. But the objectives were the same.

“Enver Pasha then delegated Jamal Pasha who was given the job of exterminating Christians in the empire. From then on, he bore the nickname of Jamal Pasha al-Saffah. For this clever and Machiavellian man, there was no question of repeating the mistake of 1860. The sword used in the Armenian, Syriac or Assyrian-Chaldean regions could not be used in Lebanon without taking the risk of a new French landing” (Dr. Amine Jules Iskandar, President of the Syriac Maronite Union, Tur Levnon).

The Armenian precedent leaves little room for doubt as to the real intentions of the Turks. The mass deportation of Armenians from Anatolia coincided with the time when the blockade and repression of Mount Lebanon intensified (March 1915). The same chronology, the same motivations of the executioners—like the regions of eastern Anatolia, the Syrian coast and Mount Lebanon seemed like weak points for the Ottoman defense. Hence the objective of “creating a desert” in these two regions.

The Young Turk leaders had the necessary motive. They were suspicious of these Arabs who were much too Europeanized for their taste. Unlike Armenia and Upper Mesopotamia, Lebanon was closely connected to Europe. It was necessary to isolate it diplomatically and in the media before imposing the food blockade. Jamal Pasha immediately instituted general censorship. Once all communications with the outside world had been cut off, it was time to start.

It began in 1914, with the abolition of the capitulations signed between the Christian powers and the Sublime Porte which guaranteed the security of the Christians of the empire: the autonomy of Mount Lebanon was abolished. Persecutions multiplied: military occupation of the Mountain (November 1914); de facto suppression of its privileges (March 1915); forced appointment of administrators known for their harshness: Jamal Pasha, military governor of Beirut and Mount Lebanon from December 1914, and Ali Munif Bey who replaced Ohannes Pasha. Ali Munif Bey had distinguished himself by his relentless persecution of the Armenians of Adana, his home town. In his Memoirs, (Revue d’Histoire arménienne contemporaine, Tome V, le Liban. Mémoire d’un Gouverneur, 1913-1915, Ohannes Pasha Kouyoumdjian, 2003), Ohannes Pasha denounced Ali Munif Bey’s tactics—in 1915, he formed a Lebanese Red Crescent Committee. Officially, it was to help the Lebanese; in reality it was only a machine to extort donations from them. And then there was the violent repression of the Lebanese elites: in 1915-1916, several notables were sentenced to death for treason and hanged, and two hundred others deported to Anatolia.

The Ottoman Empire’s entry into the war against the Entente powers at the end of October was followed by a blockade of Entente ships on the western side. Set up in November 1914, this ruthless blockade not only in the Mediterranean but also in the Red Sea, (which continued until the autumn of 1918 when the outcome of the war was no longer in doubt) stopped the grain trade in the eastern Mediterranean.

On the eastern side, the land blockade was ordered by Jamal Pasha. Mount Lebanon was very dependent on the surrounding regions for food because of the scarcity of its agricultural land and the density of its population: 100 inhabitants/km2, i.e., ten times more than in the neighboring vilayet of Damascus, which was well provided with arable land (Ohannes Pasha, Memoirs). But in 1914, the food situation in Syria and Lebanon was favorable: the summer harvests had made it possible to build up large stocks.

From November 1914, the price of flour soared. The Lebanese sold their silk cocoons at a low price, then had to mortgage their goods to rich merchants in Beirut or Tripoli. The interest rate on loans soared to 400% the following year.

Visiting Lebanon in February 1916, Enver Pasha was quoted as saying: “We destroyed the Armenians with iron. We will destroy the Lebanese with hunger.”

Which was well on its way.

Practicing a scorched earth policy, the Turks destroyed most of the depots and railway equipment. In 1916, fearing for the army’s supplies, Jamal Pasha requisitioned all wheat, kerosene, beasts of burden, poultry and cattle, wood, and building materials. In 1916, the Ottoman soldiery even attacked the plantations, orchards and forests. The hills of Lebanon were completely stripped under the pretext of supplying coal to the trains. Jamal Pasha forbade the peasants to thresh the wheat before the arrival of a government agent. With the rains, the crops rotted. Many peasants fled to areas beyond the control of the government, so that the authorities were forced to ask soldiers to plow the fields around Damascus.

The Christians, starving and having already sold their furniture and clothes, ended up selling the beams of their houses. The roofs collapsed and families were left homeless with nothing on their bodies. To those who, from Constantinople, pointed out to him that the exclusive use of the means of transport for the benefit of the army risked starving the capital, Enver Pasha replied: “I do not care… about the supply for the population; it will look after itself as best it can. During the Balkan war, the civilians were full while the army was starving. Now it is their turn to fast: I am only concerned about my soldiers.”

The means of transport were thus lacking: the transport of grain through Port Said was not easier. In mid-October 1916, British General Allenby opposed the establishment of a French naval base in Beirut and refused to lift the blockade entirely, prohibiting the outflow of wheat to Lebanon.

The peak of the crisis was reached in 1917-1918. The desperate search for food led to social regression. In March 1918, near Tripoli, two women were arrested for kidnapping and devouring eight girls.

“Living skeletons wandered here and there in the mud and snow. One could hardly tell the living from the dead. The carts dumped in mass graves about a hundred bodies a day in the city of Beirut alone. In these conditions of cold, malnutrition, non-nutrition and absolute lack of hygiene, epidemics took their toll. Typhus, cholera, plague and other diseases of another age added to the misfortunes of the Lebanese. This is where the Ottoman genius proved itself. Pharmacies were robbed, medicines of all kinds were requisitioned, always for the needs of the army. The Sublime Porte needed doctors to treat its soldiers on the front, so they mobilized doctors from all the towns and villages. The cruelty of the invader had no limit. Ottoman-style corruption was in full swing. Even some Christians participated in it. The governor of Lebanon, Ohannes Kouyoumjian, who was far too honest and honest, was replaced by Ali Mounif. The latter arrived in Lebanon “penniless and left with two million gold francs” (Amine Jules Iskandar).

The shortage of wheat during the spring of 1916 was also due to the sending of grain to Arabia in order to keep the allegiance of the Bedouin tribes of the Hejaz, as the Arab revolt of Sharif Hussein began. The famine did not spare Syria, starting with Damascus, although it was close to the rich agricultural lands of the Hauran. There, as in Lebanon, the local population was sacrificed to the Turkish army and civil servants, the only beneficiaries of rationing. They were immolated on the altar of the strategic objectives of the Ottoman Empire.

The window still open to Europe, specific to Lebanon, was the Church: the Catholic missionaries, their monasteries and their schools. All their properties and places were requisitioned, transformed into barracks or military depots. Expelled, the missionaries could no longer serve as witnesses and observers. What remained were the Maronite bishops, but also the Romanian (Greek Orthodox) and Melkite bishops. The most active of them were then exiled; some Maronite bishops were even court-martialed and hanged. Lazarists, Jesuits, Daughters of Charity were still present in Lebanon in 1914. In November, most of them were expelled and their places ransacked. Inside the Mountain, the Lebanese members of the Catholic congregations managed to keep some missions open to relieve the suffering of the population. These had to be abandoned under pressure from the Turks in 1916.

In the spring of 1916, French diplomats estimated the number of victims in the mountains and on the coast at more than 80,000 (more than 50,000 in the mountains alone).

The Lebanese emigration mobilized; and in June of the same year, in New York, a Committee of support for the Syrian Mount Lebanon was formed. The poet Khalil Gibran joined it. He dedicated two poems to the Lebanese people: “Dead are mt People.” Of course, there has been much discussion about this committed poetry. However, the text remains quite vague in its poetic evocation of the “invisible snakes” responsible for this “tragedy beyond words.” The snakes were quite visible and the poet did not risk much in New York.

The Jesuits denounced the crime as coming “on the heels of the Armenian genocide.” The French ambassador in Cairo, Jules-Albert Defrance, who was close to the Lebanese community in Egypt, wrote to Aristide Briand at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The latter then shared the information and alarming news with Camille Barrère, his ambassador in Rome, and also with the Holy See, with Washington (on May 16, 1916) and with the very Christian king of Spain. The atrocities are described in all these letters. All came to the same conclusion: a military intervention in the Levant would be fatal for the Christians of Lebanon. It would push the Ottomans to speed up their work and, perhaps, to put them to the sword. As for the food aid, it was systematically confiscated and diverted by the Ottomans.

On the Perseus website, there is an edifying article by Yann Bouyrat, “Une crise alimentaire provoquée? La famine au Liban (1915-1918).” The author is an associate professor and doctor of history, a researcher at the CEMMC in Bordeaux, and a lecturer at the Université Catholique de l’Ouest. “The article was validated by the reading committee of the CTHS in the context of the publication of the proceedings of the 139th National Congress of Historical and Scientific Societies, a symposium held in Rennes in 2013.”

The main thrust of the article is to mitigate the responsibility of the Turks and to minimize the role of France. Thus, the testimonies against the Turks are contradicted by other sources. First, the Spanish consul, who never believed in any “genocide by hunger” of the Lebanese population; a text from the Patriarch of the Maronites, found in the military archives, which clearly defends Jamal Pasha and underlines “his eager courtesy” and “the salutary effects of his generosity in providing food for the poor.” Meager evidence all. In the diplomats’ reports, Enver Pasha is presented as a criminal.

As for Ohannes Pasha, he was Armenian, which makes him “subjective.”

For Mr. Bouyrat, the ban on the export of cereals from Aleppo and Damascus to the mountains and the coast should be seen as a security measure to avoid the building up of cereal stocks on the coast, which could have served a possible invading army. And it could also be explained by the speculative madness of a certain number of unscrupulous local grain merchants. Monopolizing the grain market, the Aleppo merchants drove up prices, preventing the Beirut traders from recouping their expenses. This is undoubtedly true. But how does this diminish the responsibility of the Ottomans?

For this “specialist” in humanitarian intervention, “the human toll of the famine is difficult to establish with certainty.”

Really? For the Mountain alone, the losses reached at least 120,000 people—that is to say a third of the population. According to Dr. Jules Iskandar, out of a Lebanese population of 450,000 people, about 220,000 died. And half of the survivors went into exile. “We are,” he says, “the descendants of the remaining small quarter.”

The government in Paris, sensitive to the fate of the Syrian-Lebanese population, had considered on several occasions a partial lifting of the blockade. It had to give up in the face of London’s veto. Warned of the seriousness of the situation in the Mountain by Mgr Joseph Darian, Archbishop of Alexandria and spokesman for the Maronite Patriarch, Aristide Briand, then President of the Council, had successively asked two neutral powers (the United States in June, then Spain in July 1916), to intervene with the Porte so that it would authorize the sending of international humanitarian aid to Lebanon. In exchange, France agreed to allow the passage of ships chartered for relief. Here again, the intransigence of England forbade it. As well as the bad faith of the Turkish government, which did everything to hinder the action of the American and Spanish action committees.

The rescue of Lebanon began in 1918-1919; and the action was considerably amplified after the arrival of the French army in Beirut. When the first detachments landed in the city on October 7, 1918, the situation was catastrophic. The only aid brought to the population came from the British navy and remained insignificant: 100 tons of cereals, 50 tons at the disposal of the city of Beirut and 50 for the Mountain. At the same time, the monthly needs of Lebanon and the coast were estimated at over 2,000 tons.

At the end of October, Clemenceau’s intervention enabled France to obtain an end to the obstacles to the circulation of cereals. The arrival of all this aid in November quickly had positive effects: it brought down the price of foodstuffs and forced speculators to sell their stocks.

What is taught in Lebanese schools today?

Lebanese children are taught that the famine that decimated a third to half of their people at the time was due to the unfortunate coincidence of disparate factors: the Allied sea blockade, the Ottoman land blockade and the locust invasion.

But even more serious, according to Dr. Amine Jules Iskandar: two hundred thousand disarmed victims whose only crime was to be Christian—and not a museum, not a monument, not a public square, not a national day, not a mention in the history books. Greater Lebanon preferred them to the forty martyrs of the Place des Canons that now bears their name: their multi-faith origins better satisfied the image sought by the young state.

Ancient Lebanon had such respect for its martyrs that it dedicated to them the highest peak in the country: Qornet Sodé (in Syriac: the Summit of the Martyrs). The name has now become the meaningless Arabic, Qornet al-Sawda (Black Summit). In order to build this Greater Lebanon, now in ruins, the historical Lebanon was sacrificed, which should have been the soul of the new state and not considered a hindrance.

Was it necessary to abandon its Syriac language and the ancient Christian cultural base that was supported by it? Was it necessary to conceal the blood of the martyrs by erasing the black page of this famine, if not planned, at least wanted and organized?

We must leave the historian Yann Bouyrat to his academic ambitions and privilege the testimony of those who carry in their living memory the infinite grief of the survivors and their frightening lucidity:

“We are the descendants of the quarter that survived and remained in Lebanon. And from this group, three quarters also emigrated. So, we are only one quarter of the quarter. Let us be conscious and modest in the face of all this legacy for which we are responsible today. The genocide of the Christians of the East, “Tsekhaspanutyan” Ցեղասպանություն (genocide) for the Armenians, “The Sayfo” (the sword) for the Christians of Upper Mesopotamia and “The Kafno” (famine) for the Christians of Lebanon, is a duty of memory. One cannot murder a people twice; first by death, then by silence and oblivion. It is a national duty to be taken into account at the level of state, religious and cultural institutions.”

He is right.

And his testimony weighs more heavily in the balance of responsibility than Mr. Bouyrat’s work on questions of humanitarian interference. The millions of victims weigh more in the scales of justice than diplomatic issues. The honor of France, which was involved in this drama, was saved by all those who behaved with courage and humanity:

“The Syrian island of Arwad (ouad in French) was in the hands of the French, under the command of Albert Trabaud. The aid from the Lebanese diaspora was then brought to the island and transported by night to the Lebanese coast. The first part of the journey was done by boat, while the second part was completed by swimming. The gold was handed over to the envoys of the patriarch of the Maronites. The sums collected in Bkerke were then used to buy quantities of food to be distributed to the people in order to limit the carnage as much as possible…. Albert Trabaud contributed to the survival of our ancestors, there is still a street in Achrafieh named after him? For how long?” (Jules Iskandar)

A people without memory is a people without a future. Today’s Lebanon is a country in ruins that survives only thanks to a Christian diaspora assimilated wherever it exists, industrious and with a high degree of education. It knows that on it depends the survival of this small country with an ancient history that gave the alphabet to the European world and inaugurated the history of the Mediterranean and its civilization.

And today?

Today, the world history of infamy continues through the scandal of the Latchine corridor: 150,000 Armenians deprived of everything by the Azeris in defiance of international rights.

But can anyone tell us when an Islamic state has respected such rights?

In a few years, eminent academics with titles will write about the question of humanitarian interference in Nagorno-Karabakh, wondering about the number of victims and the difficulty of establishing the number with certainty.

In the meantime, men, women and children are dying. Christians.

In French schools, grade five students are taught that there were “contacts” between Islam and Christianity in the Mediterranean and that Islam was a brilliant Arab-Muslim civilization to which we owe the transfer of all Greek science.

We believe in order to dream.

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia. She is the founder of the Pteah Barang, in Cambodia.

Featured: Starving family in Mount Lebanon, ca. 1915-1918.

Anthropology in Islam, Anthropology of Islam

“Classical” Islamology (that of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) was never really interested in the vision of man in Islam, being preoccupied with philology and the creation of a library of texts. The idea of an “anthropology of Islam” is only a few decades old at most, and as such, it is part of the paradigm of the “science of man” developed over the last two centuries, which defines the practices and methods of ethnology and conditions its debates as well as its issues. This anthropology of Islam is poorly distinguished from sociology, which signed the death warrant of ethnology before integrating it into its orbit. To be precise, we should therefore speak of a sociology of Muslim societies, to be carefully distinguished from an anthropology of Islamized societies, which yet remains to be elaborated.

The anthropology of Islam is not ours. It is not like ours, carried by two thousand years of philosophical history, nor is it marked by the encounter in the second century of Christian wisdom and Greek wisdom, which cast Semitic concepts into the linguistic universe of Hellenism; and unlike ours, it has not elaborated a singular humanism (which is now beaten to a pulp) but which has nonetheless had several centuries of existence and debate.

If we consider the structure of biblical thought, its constitutive tendencies, the reasons why Saint Thomas Aquinas, after his master Albert the Great, chose Aristotle rather than Plato as his guide in philosophy become clear: the Platonic doctrine of matter, of the sensible, of evil, of soul and body, was incompatible with biblical realism and with love in the whole Hebrew tradition for the sensible creation. The first act of the Old Testament is a justly famous text, “the Creation story.” What is called Genesis is the Semitic answer to the question that the pre-Socratics, also known as the physical philosophers, asked themselves: that of the origin of the world. But contrary to the depreciation of the Greek world and then of Manichaeism, the phrase “and God saw that it was good” establishes a solid foundation for a knowledge of the sensible world and even of matter, which is crucial for the future development of physics. It is also a mistake to believe that this text evokes the origin of man; rather, it provides the principles of intelligibility of human nature, and therefore the keys to understanding and knowing man, starting with the true nature of sexual differentiation. “Male and female (ish and isha) he created them.” Woman in the Bible can only be interpreted as that which is most intimate to man, his opposite, his interlocutor, his helper in the difficult and exalting work proposed to accomplish creation.

Genesis implies a metaphysics and an idea of time. The world is not the product of a conflict of elements driven by chance—a concession to the mathematics of games—and the dark necessity of old Babylo-Hellenic myths. The world is the place of emergence, development and fulfillment of human freedom, in creation, in history, and in the human world, family, city, different organic units as they appear in different climes and under different historical skies. Christianity contains a principle of order, of logic, of differentiation and therefore of freedom, which, properly understood, is destructive to all oppression.

Nothing of the sort in Islam.

The Koran has nothing like the “and God saw that it was good” that is found in Genesis. For Islam, death is the result of a problem of technical difficulties that the Creator could not solve. There is no real freedom in Islamic creation. This leads to a very precise relationship with the word: what is the point of convincing if everything is determined? What is the point of acting if the divine arbitrariness governs the whole world and human destiny?

The very foundations of religion are hostile to our entire tradition of rhetoric; and the “faith/reason” debate ended in the 12th century with Al Ghazali, the “gravedigger of reason.” In case of conflict between reason and the precepts of Muhammad, it is the precepts of Muhammad that a Muslim must bow to. No deliberation, no use of reason in a difficult situation which requires a free and reasonable decision.

Averroes himself, an infinitely enlightened man, granted the right of exegesis to only a few chosen ones. From the point of view of the revealed Law, men are divided into three classes: those who are incapable of knowing any interpretation, those who can know the dialectical interpretation and those who can know the certain interpretation, that is, the philosophers. A few chosen ones.

It is found in Surah the Table (Al-Ma’idah’) verse 101: “Do not ask questions about things that, if explained to you, might bring you misfortune.”

Now, the whole life of the Muslim is governed by the Koran or by the Hadith, even if he often does not know them more than he distinguishes them. The Muslim law called Sharia has been established by jurists on the basis of these two essential sources.

If we want to pose correctly the problem of an anthropology of Islam (or in Islam), it is therefore necessary to distinguish two fields: that of Koranic anthropology (as we say today, biblical anthropology) and that of the political anthropology of Islam. The latter can be inferred from the Mohammedan revelation, which requires the analysis of the main models of domination that can be seen being put in place in and through Muslim history.

At the heart of this political anthropology is the idea of jihad.

The Koranic anthropology alone involves a set of difficulties that are still insufficiently laid bare in research. Muslim prophecy enters history very quickly, and this history is a history of military conquest and warlike domination. Could an ideology of conquest have been forged with such urgency? This is a real question of military history, and this question also refers to a question of anthropology.

The fragmentary texts of the “revelation” to Muhammad are supposed to have been inscribed, as this revelation was being spoken, by attentive listeners upon various materials, constituted into a more complete text at the initiative of Muhammad and then at that of his supposed great companions. The definitive fixing of the Koran thus appears to have had as its source a collective and joint action emanating from the first community of believers.

Now, the Koran is characterized by the multitude of external contributions, contributions recognized as being essentially of “biblical” origin. The “biblicism” of the Koran (which goes back in time to the Creation) seems to have been constituted in a relationship to the books of Judaism but in a permanent historical hiatus with this contiguous past. The first difficulty with the anthropology of the Koran comes therefore from these biblical sources, which for half a century have been made autonomous from the source to which they refer. That there may have been “borrowing” is even denied in the name of a research that wants to be free of these invading myths. And yet there is the Bible, even though the Koran asserts its status as a revealed text. The a posteriori recognition of the Koran that is asked of the Jewish world is quite simply impossible. One cannot speak of coherence other than the coherence of the Koranic narrative in a set of suras that are both composite and terribly repetitive. From the Koran-revelation of the prophetic period to the Koran-vulgate (of the Uthmanian period) of the Muslim ages, one must admit a rupture of representation. The writing of the Koran seems to have been an Arab affair, whereas the exegesis and the construction of caliphal Islam were mainly a matter for converts. Relying on a tradition that mythically claimed to be authenticated by going back to the prophet and his companions, efforts were made to present a precise order of revelation of the suras, which corrected the order of the vulgate. It was essential that no question should remain unanswered. The great sacred tradition of classical Islam proceeds from this reality.

To this hiatus between the biblical sources and their “integration” into the written Koran, is added another hiatus, a chronological one, or if one prefers historical, between the tribal age of Mohammed and the societies that followed. This hiatus is also social, ethnic and religious. The notion of “Muslim” only managed to separate itself from its ethnic and racial component from the middle of the 8th century onwards with the accession of the Abbasid family to power.

The Koran reflects an extremely pragmatic traditional tribal society: the primary goal of patriarchal tribal families is to survive in a hostile environment. The desert environment means that their way of life is confined to practical problems. No binding structure: no police or courts. Marked by a system of survival representation, the tribes are governed by relationships of solidarity and alliance.

In the first period, being Muslim meant “entering into allegiance to Allah;” and this concerned the whole tribe (through negotiation or even blackmail); it meant being submissive, and from the beginning; becoming Muslim meant entering into an alliance that was first of all social, which was obviously not given to everyone: one had to be accepted as a member attached to a tribe originating from the Arabian Peninsula. As soon as one was no longer interested, one left the alliance. The members of this society did not care about heaven or hell. The goal was not to convert the world to Islam but to get booty. The exit from Arabia was about raids and massacres. For a century and a half, the conquered were not asked to convert; when the tribes left Arabia, they left others alive because it pays. The first “Muslims” just wanted the people to keep quiet and pay them tribute. What they thought or believed in was not their concern. During the period of the first two caliphates, that of Medina (in the founding age of original Islam) which is integrated into the traditional representation of Muslim historiography and that of Damascus which succeeded it in the middle of the seventh century, one could only become a Muslim by joining an Arab tribe: conversion was first of all social before being religious. The convert received the status of mawla, a freed slave.

The ideal Muslim community made up of pious companions therefore never existed. In the ninth century, when Islam integrated and dominated outside populations, it entered a completely different social model and it was then that the fantasy of an ideal past was created.

The appropriation of the period of origins by the founding narrative and the myth was all the easier since the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Muslim societies of the period of the triumphant caliphates had completely broken with the society of the tribal Arabs, contemporaries of the prophet, to whom they nevertheless claimed to belong. What had been defined by a first society (disappeared) was rewritten by another society, not that of the Arabs, but that of the converts, the Abbasids. They broke with a certain tribal model and established an imperial logic, with a hierarchy, constraints, an ideology and a dogmatism that no longer gave precedence to the tribes, even if it still entered into the logic of domination.

The converts largely contributed to the transformation of the original model. Their previous religious practice influenced the way they practiced Islam. Many of them were former Christians and thus found a space in which the Bible and Jesus were still spoken of, and they imported something of the apostasy religion into it. And probably also in the Koran.

The corpus designated as “prophetic words” was invented in this new context, two or three centuries after the emergence of tribal Islam, in a society that no longer had anything to do with that of the seventh century.

Did this mean that the “tribal” difference was erased? No, it simply meant that all populations were now equally subject to the Muslim caliph. It was a change from one political model to another. It only remained to substitute a purely Muslim representation of this past. This was done as soon as the society to be built had found the ways of a common configuration which could integrate the various components. It is only then that Islam as we see it today was constructed.

Two political projects governed these two historical moments: that of the Islam of the tribes and that of the Islam of the caliphs. In the former, the aim was to create a civil society with Islam as its frame of reference, a frame adapted to the socio-political functioning of the clan society close to the original Islam of the time of the Prophet. Two centuries later, the model of imperialist states was set up with the aim of dominating other states, kingdoms or regions militarily, politically, economically, culturally and therefore religiously in order to extend their hegemony. Hence the importance of controlling wealth to finance the usual means of conquest: the army.

This is why we can say that there is no notion of a holy war for the Arab caliphates, Umayyads or Abbasids, but only a classical war between empires.

Throughout the history of Muslim domination, we can see the coexistence of these two political models, sometimes competing. Thus, in the eleventh century, in West Africa, facing the Berber Ibadites, advocates of a non-state Islam, stood the Arab-Berber Malekites for whom it was a question of constituting an empire where Islam was the mark of submission of pagans (the blacks) and their insertion into the civilized world. Draining the gold from Ghana and Mali was a way of providing a source of financing for military campaigns.

At the very heart of the anthropology of Islam, that of the Koran as well as the political anthropology such as we can theorize it, there is the native violence of man, and in particular political violence: there is Jihad.

Originally, jihad was a very ordinary word which meant “to make an effort to achieve a result.” The first reference in the Koran is to parents waging jihad against their children so that they would not join Muhammad. When the Prophet arrived in Medina, he needed volunteers to carry out an action, so jihad became, “make an effort to join me” or “volunteer.” But this could only be based on the will of the individual. Some joined and then found it too dangerous and gave up. Jihad then became a kind of oath to do a certain action.
Thus, jihad is not a deviation from an essentially spiritual struggle. It is extolled, valued and justified in the Koranic text, and the entire political history of Islam is the history of institutionalized, justified and even glorified violence.

Sufism is held to be the mystical stream of Islam and it is said that true jihad is primarily about spiritual warfare. This is not the case. The figurehead of Sufism is Salman the Persian, whom tradition considers to be one of Mohammed’s instructors, in a mixture of oriental wonder and apocalyptic type legends. He was an Iranian Mazdean who first converted to Christianity and then to Mohammed. He sought the pure religion that he took for that of Abraham. Converted to the Christian faith, he was locked up by his father, escaped, went to Syria and received religious instruction from several Christian bishops and monks. He learned from one of his masters of the coming of a prophet destined to close the cycle of prophetic revelations and to revive the true original religion of Abraham. Above all, with him came the idea of the existence of a spiritual “family,” united by faith and obedience to God and, more generally, of the precedence of filiation by faith over that of the flesh. This notion has been widely taken up by many mystical currents and remains very present in Shiism, where pure-hearted believers are considered to belong to the same family, that of gnosis and wisdom. Salman has rather bolstered various imaginations, like that of Westerners magnetized by a certain romantic idea of Islam, and he has been instrumentalized for various purposes. He serves as both a historical and symbolic linchpin hold together mystical and initiatory Islam to Arab Islam. This thus guarantees the unity of the doctrine and avoids its dismantling—at the price of much violence. In reality, Salman is perfectly inconsistent. The authority that he acquired is posterior to his existence, perhaps real, of companion of the prophet but which no source can attest. This notoriety is due to great intellectuals, both Eastern and Western.

Ibn Arabi, one of the great masters of speculative gnosis, presents Salman as the archetype of the religion and as the heir to the secret meaning of the revelations that preceded Islam. Salman thus plays the eminent role of initiator with the Prophet Muhammad concerning these previous revelations; those which founded in particular this supposedly pure Abrahamic religion. The relay was taken up in France by Henry Corbin who speaks of “angelic magisterium” when he evokes this hermeneutic function. In 2022, France Culture relayed these same ideas, which can be heard in replay. The subtitle reads: “The figure of the patriarch Abraham is the founder of monotheism. The prophetic gesture of the coryphaeus of the believers is presented in the Koranic writing as paradigmatic of the immutable religion, that of prime nature.”

This Islam is a chimera of epigones of Louis Massignon.

The very concept of anthropology has no meaning in Islam; there is no concern for what Man is or for his accomplishment. It is an institutional violence, justified by the Koran, which serves to channel the native violence of men and their tribal groups. It is hard but it makes a kind of peace for Muslims (a very precarious war and sometimes it is even questioned) and an inexpiable war for everyone else.

How can a society receive by violence, intrigue, murder and war a public power that must enforce law, peace, justice, order and happiness? It can only do so by oppression, seduction, propaganda or lies.

This is the whole history of the violent domination of Islam, whatever the political model under which it implements this violent domination, wrapped in the religious phraseology that justifies it.

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia. She is the founder of the Pteah Barang, in Cambodia.

Featured: Salman the Persian and his Teacher. Leaf from a Turkish manuscript, Istanbul, ca. 1594-1595.

The Orders of Allah, or the Repudiation of Beauty

Les ordres d’Allah was published in 2006, whose author, Jean-Paul Roux, was a research director at the CNRS. One cannot, therefore, without being anachronistic, qualify it as a conspiracy book. The book is a marvel of clarity and conciseness and raises some central questions in the improbable time that we now live in.

The book says that Muslim society does not resemble ours; that the Muslim man has a personality (a mentality, historians would say) that is in many ways diametrically opposed to ours: “We are not dealing with an amorphous mass, but with a living and dynamic body, and moreover in continuous demographic expansion. We are confronted with it more and more closely, because we travel in Muslim countries, because we are victims of its terrorist attacks, of its apostolate, of the arrival in our lands of millions of immigrants who settle in our cities and whom we come into contact with every day.”

These words date from 20o6.

Muslim law (called, Sharia) has been established by jurists based on two essential sources: the Koran and the Hadith, the latter transmitted by an unbroken chain (or presumed to be so) of honorable and well-known people from the time of Muhammad until the ninth century, when they were recorded by great compilers. Who were these honorable men? Not much is known about them, if anything, and what is known about them has not come to the attention of the press or Islamic scholars.

Would someone like to explain to me by what mystery the Roman Catholic world gives to this chain of oral transmission a credit and a dignity that it denies to all the oral transmission of Eastern Christianity?

The other source of Sharia, the Koran, is untouchable. One must accept this book as such or reject it outright. One cannot be a Muslim if one rejects or even discusses the Quranic text.

Most Muslims do not know the Koran. They have heard of it but have never read it. Ask any Libyan, Afghan, Pakistani coming out of a mosque, he has not read the Koran because it is written in Arabic and is rarely translated and made available to the people. It can therefore be difficult for Muslims to determine whether a particular injunction comes from a Hadith (and can therefore be contested) or from the Koranic text, which imposes the most absolute submission. In fact, the religious culture of most Muslims is much the same as that of the Christians in our parishes. A few stories were finally given some credence. “I was told that…”

I would like to focus on only one of the aspects evoked in Roux’ book: sexuality, going a little beyond the deductions drawn by its author, who is a historian, but not a philosopher.

Why sexuality? Because it constitutes one of the great human conducts, because it engages the moral (or ethical) quality of every man and woman; because this dimension of human existence is organically linked to the vision of man conveyed by a society and internalized (or rejected) by its citizens; because sexuality implies an anthropology, and that of Islam is not only deficient but essentially unequal and oppressive for half of its humanity, women; because, finally, it poses an essential point of metaphysics and philosophy, which is not visible and which requires a somewhat technical analysis, but which Allah’s orders touch directly.
In Islam, it is normal to mate as nature wants but also in submission to God who established these laws. Man needs to eat, let him eat; he has sexual organs to enjoy and procreate, let him enjoy and procreate: “enjoy them (your wives (IV, 24/28), have commerce with them and desire what he has prescribed for you.” This is very clearly the expression of an animal law which puts the act of eating and copulating on the same level. But if it is normal to mate, it should be done by observing “continence” which the Koran calls “control” or “guarding one’s sexual organs.” Believers are thus invited to “lower their gaze” and “watch over their sexual organs.” The invitation applies to everyone, men and women alike.

This means something precise: sexuality is legitimate on the condition that it is restricted; it can only be exercised within the framework of marriage or concubinage with slave women.

“Those who live in continence, except with their wives and slaves, will be honored in the gardens of paradise” (LXXX,29).

There is no need for the long Cartesian deductive chain to reach a conclusion: sexual slavery is perfectly authorized and even rewarded. The Islam of DAESH thus applies the Koran. There are female slaves, and they are authorized by the Koranic text itself, and to enjoy them, with a reward. Why deprive themselves?

There are two points to consider. It may well be that it is impossible for a believing and firmly believing Muslim to hold the sexual act as a highly significant act of communication which engages the whole body, not to say the whole person, since the body is also the soul which is united to it. It is true that the sexual organs can be considered as a kind of metonymy for the whole body. But Islam does not know the spirit, it only knows the letter of the text, because if it admitted the spirit, it would simply have to reflect, and all its prose would crumble under the light of evidence and reason.

It is therefore continence (as Islam conceives it) that opens paradise, not fidelity or the relationship with the wife. Islam cannot reach the idea that Catholic theology has promulgated based on St. Paul: woman is the glory of man and the husband/wife relationship is the visible and analogous figure of the relationship of God and the creature. The human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and it is a desecration to consider it as an object of pleasure and lust.

Islam condemns not only adultery and homosexuality (the Koran enjoins the torture of men who have committed “turpitudes” in pairs) but also prostitution, and a hundred lashes are inflicted on “debauchery (i.e., any act of debauchery) and the debauched.” And those who cannot afford to pay a dowry should simply refrain from sexual acts.

“As for those who have no money to marry, let them choose to remain chaste.”

Can it be a choice when you don’t have money for dowry?

The Koran does not only set up a rigorist and prudish morality which one would end up getting rid of like a used coat: it institutes a specific relationship to sexuality which places the woman in a radically unequal situation, a relationship which moreover destroys the relationship of the man to beauty and to voluptuousness, a healthy voluptuousness. For sexuality is not radically bad; it can simply be perverted, like everything that is good.

As such, the wearing of the veil informs us, in the deepest sense of the term. Of course, except in the perverse case where even the eyes are hidden by a veil (often transparent), it cannot cover the eyes, which must be lowered, an attitude associated with modesty but also with shame. I have seen women in Qatar driving at 130 miles an hour in Doha with this veil on their face.

After all, why cover the whole body if it is enough to watch over the sexual organs?

By themselves, the sexual organs are neither beautiful nor ugly. What is beautiful (or ugly) is the human body. And it is because this human body, when it is young and of beautiful proportions, arouses an aesthetic type of pleasure so that it can arouse sexual desire. If we cover the woman’s body, there is no need for the Muslim man to look down; he can watch over his sexual organs in all serenity because we do not look down on a shapeless mass that is completely covered and looks like a sack of potatoes.

This relationship with sexuality is one of the vicious orientations of Islam, because it implies the repudiation of beauty, and is thus a form of perversion.

The spirit needs enjoyment, to contemplate beautiful things, because the aesthetic sense needs to be awakened and for that it has around it all Creation, which is a marvel: mountains and valleys, rivers and woods, landscapes of infinite variety. And, of course, the pleasure given by the radiance of youth or by the feeling of a life really lived, and of the fragility of human life on a wrinkled face. For lack of this delectation, there remain only the compensatory pleasures of this frustrated sense which is the sense of beauty, intellect and sensibility at the same time: pleasures which satisfy then the raw curiosity, the brutal appetite and the morbid curiosity under the reign of the carnal Venus.

Beauty, which is delectation, implies aesthetic pleasure; and the singular nature of this pleasure is translated in the engaged senses: the sight and the hearing, held traditionally for the highest senses. For it is only in man that there exists the possibility of a pleasure quite distinct from tactile satisfaction. To taste this sense of beauty, one must stop wanting to touch things or take hold of them.

Because, by its very nature, beauty is delectable; it moves desire. And it produces love.

The Greeks saw the essential in telling of the Trojan war. The principle which governs the sensitive life, the life of the sensitive appetite—in potential—is love, which Saint Augustine, a fine psychologist, put at the root of all passions. Saint Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between the affectivity regulated according to reason—the love that leads to a thing by virtue of the fact that it suits us—and the affectivity regulated according to sensitive passion—sensory love, necessarily regulated by an affection. It is the sensory appetite which explains that there is in the man a kind of love which is of purely animal order, love exclusively carnal and intimately bound to the senses, even exclusively governed by the attraction of the senses.

This is why, to the misfortune of the Trojans, it was to Venus that the victory over the two other goddesses belonged. If the beauty of Helen is the terrestrial origin of the Trojan War, the divine origin is the “trifunctional stupidity” of the shepherd prince summoned to choose between the three goddesses. By choosing Venus, Paris shows thereby how much beauty is taken in by the senses and the secret bonds which unite aesthetic pleasure and voluptuousness. He shows that he is a slave to appetite in the choice he makes and which will cost his family dearly. Woman is thus presented as the natural place of beauty, even of voluptuousness. She is in a relation of obedience to beauty, the metaphysicians would say.

That they are or not able to explain it philosophically as I have just tried to do it, men (men and women) feel this node of relations between aesthetic pleasure, voluptuousness, desire and love. It is this complex nucleus that the orders of Allah destroy, destroying the use of reason as the exercise of freedom, and the risk of error that it can generate. And since it is woman who in a general way arouses this feeling and this aesthetic pleasure, therefore this desire, it is necessary to hide this body that one cannot see. But then we break one of the great sources of delight: the beauty of the female body and what it represents—inspiration.

Allah’s orders have made Homer unreadable and plunged a quarter of humanity into a kind of moral distress with no way out. It has forbidden women the happiness of feeling the energy of a young, vigorous body, full of attraction, energy and vitality, of experiencing the joy of noticing that this body is seen, looked at, that it can arouse attraction, desire and therefore the meeting, the exchange, the conversation. It is to deprive women but also young men of the relationship of mutual attraction which constitutes the ground and the spring of the future love relation.

Shakespeare’s Juliet was not a sex offender.

Killing in Islam is a pious act when it comes to jihad. Natural law has no consistency. Allah decides what is right and what is wrong. Allah’s orders are those of an arbitrary God who does not allow man any freedom and who has conceived him as an animal, an animal whose lust and concupiscence must be curbed, an animal that must be put under the yoke.

We do not know Islam. The works to make known the contemporary Muslim world and which pose the problem of its relations with the Western world, support theses inspired by ideologies, most often currently extraordinarily favorable to Islam.

“We have invented to reassure ourselves, two Islams: one open, enlightened, tolerant, peaceful, formalist, preoccupied with rituals and struck by multiple prohibitions; the other obscurantist, closed in on itself, sectarian, fanatical, warlike, that we call fundamentalist or Islamist, which means absolutely nothing; the one authentic—the first—the other deviant and sick—the second. There is only Islam; and it does not have two faces—but only one with multiple facets. The mystic and the terrorist, and all those who fall between these two extremes, have always coexisted and drink from the same sources, the book of God and the person of Muhammad.”

This was written back in 2006.

Three questions arise when faced with this religion: Can the individual, as Islam sees him, fit into Western civilization? Does the image that the Koran and history have drawn of the atheist, the idolater, the Jew and the Christian make it possible or not for the Muslim to fraternize with them? Is society, as Islam conceives it, compatible with Western society in such a way that they can merge into each other?

If the answer to these three questions is no, then the fate of our Christian brothers in the East is seriously compromised. But we already know that, don’t we? And we would know it if the Church of the West had defended its part in the East with the courage that its cause requires, and that it deserves.

Let’s open a world map and look at the Muslim lands, those that apply the Koran, at least officially, between the two extremes of mysticism and terrorism. May God have mercy on the women of Afghanistan, but also on those of Pakistan, and on those of all the Muslim nations that condemn them to a terrible subjugation.

The unnatural alliance of the new anthropologies and Islam (of which we see a figure in what is called Islamo-leftism) is only possible because both of them consider man as an animal. The orders of Allah for all, such is the program of Islam. Opposite, the destruction of what makes our human nature: “Man and woman he created them,” to show another invisible pole of human nature, the sacerdotal, the greatly sacerdotal. There is no priesthood in Islam.

History, which has already given birth to many bloodthirsty monsters, has given birth to Islam and the new programming.

But one does not go against the God of Israel who programmed man for freedom, for beauty and for Him. God, our God, is true, true is His promise, true is His word, true is His salvation. True also is His power. When the God of Christians orders, He says to His prophets: “Go, I will be with you,” “Tell my people”—He gives the choice: “I set before you life and death. Choose life.”

Let us choose life.

Let us choose Him.

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia. She is the founder of the Pteah Barang, in Cambodia.

Featured: Pandora, by John William Waterhouse; painted in 1896.

The Poor and the Love of the Poor

“Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are in the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy… And you shall go out through the breaches… you shall be cast forth…” says the Lord” (Amos 4:1-4).

Beyond all the various humanitarian trappings that have been used to dress up Christian charity, the idea of the “preferential option” for the poor, which is widely accepted in the official Catholic Church, is not without similarities to a phenomenon that occurred in the fourth century, in the history of the Roman Empire. In this respect, a close analysis can help us to better understand the abstract and ideological character of this option for the poor that has contributed in the transformation of the Church into a mega NGO, with all the great waste of money that we know well—the insistent letters asking for donations, various forms of communication, cheesy postcards accompanied by useless objects—all designed to force the recipient of all this revolting prose to give. Some NGOs actually hide commercial activity under the humanitarian envelope. Father Ponchaud in Cambodia, where he has been living for 60 years, has described this deception very well.

The concern of the early Church began with helping the faithful in need, welcoming newly arrived co-religionists from other cities, and protecting the widows and orphans of Christian families (a very clearly Judaic heritage). On both sides of the Euphrates (Roman and Greco-Latin East), the development of the Church in the first centuries took place under Roman domination; and this was not without consequences.

From the second century onwards, the universal penal code of the Roman Empire made only one distinction, between honestiores and humiliores, i.e., between the rich and the humble. The problem with these two categories is the gap between them. Beyond a certain threshold, it is justice that is compromised; and justice is the cement of peace.

But in the fourth century, things changed. The growing importance of the Church contributed to notable social transformations. The Christian representation of the role of the Church in Roman society (unprecedented at the time) was supported by great combativeness in the proclaimed will of the Christian bishops to act according to this “love of the poor.” This theme began to exert a force of attraction that could be considered out of proportion to the actual action of Christian charity at that time.

Have things changed that much?

For the Roman Empire, as for any state, the problem of poverty was closely linked to that of social peace. It was necessary to ensure that the inhabitants of the cities, and particularly the populations of the great metropolises of the Eastern Mediterranean, kept their peace. However, the poor, as we know when we have looked at a little history or sociology, can become restless—especially when they are hungry. In the city, in particular, hunger-riots, clashes between competing religious groups and later fights between circus factions, were regarded with relative indifference. Except in rare cases, these riots did not turn into a general insurrection.

In the end, things didn’t change much in this respect either. Sports stadiums have replaced the circus games.

Civic peace was thus the Achilles heel of the traditional municipal elites of 4th century Rome. They had to face a rival: the Church. The latter proclaimed the inanity of the privileges of the system of elite training (the paideia). The urban notables regarded themselves as the summit of a social pyramid encompassing all the active members of the city.

In contrast, the Christian bishop (often from the educated social class) based his claim to authority on a social vacuum. Indeed, the demos, the “civic body” did not include all the inhabitants of the city. To belong to the demos, one had to come from a family of citizens and be a member of a recognized civic group. It was vital for the city’s representation of itself that it not be made up exclusively of poor people. And it was vital for the real city, too, that it not be made up exclusively of the so-called poor. These poor people defined themselves by not belonging to an urban group. Not belonging to any group, they remained on the margins of the attention given by the great to the city as a whole. They were not fed by anyone. Indeed, the homeless and destitute were excluded from the demos.

Have things changed that much?

In the fourth century, the number of poor people seems to have increased considerably in many cities of the Roman East. The cities of the late Empire were characterized by massive unemployment. Immigration also increased. Metropolises traditionally tended to absorb wealth and populations from secondary provincial centers. Not all of these immigrants were necessarily destitute, but they were “poor,” in the sense that they were foreign to the city. Their mass eroded the clear distinction between members of the demos, many of whom were poor, and the bulk of the lower classes, who, while not poor in the strict sense of destitute, were nonetheless vulnerable and eagerly sought a group to which to attach themselves.

In the fourth century, the notion of the poor broadened its range while taking on the colors of the Old Testament (the complaint of the righteous found in certain psalms). The lower classes were no longer considered fellow citizens but as disadvantaged people, entitled to demanding justice from the new patriarch, the bishop. And it was then that the lower classes as a whole, and not only the poor on the Church rolls, helped to ensure the election of certain bishops.

If we do not know, region-by-region, what the Christian Church actually did for the urban poor at the end of the Empire, we do know how crucial this assistance had become as a component of the Christian representation of the bishop’s authority over the community. Even if it was still in the minority, compared to the polytheists and the Jews, this Church, which reached the furthest fringes of society, “spectacularly embodied by the poor,” to use Peter Brown’s expression (his is the only study, to my knowledge, of poverty), established for the future its moral right to represent the whole community. Hence the concern for the monopoly of almsgiving. Not only was the bishop supposed to know well those in need, but a mystical bond was even supposed to unite him with the city’s poor. The actions of the Christian bishop resulted in making the poor more visible. Food was distributed in the churchyards. By being visible, the poor were also easier to control. By becoming the poor of the Church, they were stabilized. Constantine encouraged this action by the bishops by ordering that the distribution of food and clothing to the poor be organized by the bishops alone.

This foray into history invites us to take a closer look at the question that should be examined with some care: “Who are the poor today?”

If we follow the Old Testament, the poor are the ones who are the object of iniquity. They are the nes who cry out to God. It is on them that the rich man fattens himself like those cows of Bashan of the prophet Amos. When Jesus is asked about the identity of the neighbor (who is my neighbor?” Luke, 10-25, 37), it seems impossible to ask “who is poor to me?”—except to recall Jacques Brel’s atrocious and brilliant song about lady bosses, who “knit everything in goose-poop hue, which lets you recognize your poor on Sundays at high mass.”

In the light of this analysis, what can be said about the “poor” today and about the love for them that is so much sung in parishes and echoed by secularized NGOs?

Beyond a wide range of poverty, it is difficult to distinguish in this complex sphere between the religious and the profane, the Christian and the political. On the side of the values of the Republic, we observe the obsession that the poor not to be excluded from the “demos.” But in order to vote, that shining sign of belonging to the citizenry, one needs a home, preferably a somewhat stable one (and not a hotel room). The problem is even more difficult with migrants and the whole mass of men and women (mostly single and men) who cross the porous borders of Europe. The right of asylum brings them into the “demos.” They are usually not rich; but they also transcend the category of the poor as we understand it in the light of this analysis (if we admit that it is still valid today).

As in the fourth century in the Roman Empire, this entire mass of migrants erodes the distinction between the class of poor and destitute “citizens” within this broad spectrum of modern poverty and the non-citizens. The group-affiliation of the Muslim majority that crosses our borders is religious. There is nothing egalitarian about the Muslim world. Woman is a sub-group; the younger brother obeys the elder who obeys the father. The Islam of the Maghreb is not that of Central Asia. But all the followers of Mohammed obey a concept that is not well known to Europeans, but which is formidably operative: the Ummah.

And the Church? It vaguely maintains the idea of the poor of the Old Testament. But it is like a kind of appogiatura that it plays from time to time, with all the piping, in a deafening symphony about the “poor,” of which the Bishop of Rome makes himself, here and there, the badly inspired singer. However, today, this is a reality amplified by the revolting iniquity of which many small people are victims, in a society that has abolished the very idea that founds the concept of justice—any fault requires reparation.

The figure of the poor in the Gospel is recognizable: the blind, the paralyzed; in short, the invalids who are dependent on their families. For illness deprives a family not only of the strength of the sick person, but also of the person or persons who are supposed to take care of them. Double punishment.

The paradigm of the traditional opposition between the rich and the poor is provided by the parable of Lazarus, this man who camps on the threshold of a rich man, dressed in bissus (an extremely expensive fabric) and linen, and who banks daily without even distributing the remains of his feasts. The poor man dies and ends up in Abraham’s bosom; the rich man dies and ends up in a place where flames burn him.
This is not Hell. For a simple reason: he can still see and he can hear. And he has not forgotten because he does not ask Lazarus directly to come and ease his suffering—he calls “Father Abraham.” So, there is possible communication between the two spheres (or the two states of the soul). But Lazarus is not allowed to come and ease the suffering of the rich man. “A great chasm has been established between you and us, so that those who would pass over to you cannot, and from there also they cannot cross over to us.”
Only the prayer of the living can alleviate the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory, a dogma that Vatican II suppressed with the stroke of a pen.

We thus have here a figure of these states of the soul, symbolized by Hell and by purgatory. The ultimate characteristic of Hell is the radical absence of communication, when not only is it not allowed to be refreshed by the prayers of the living, but where no communication is possible—neither by sight nor by sound. This has a name—the punishment of the damned.

The inhabitants of the great metropolises, harassed by all forms of begging poverty, do not dress in bissus; they do not feast every day; they usually have a family to support; sometimes a sick person to support… No, they are not rich in the sense of the Gospel. Those who dress today in bissus and linen and feast every day live carefully protected lives; they have bodyguards; armored doors, gated villas. They travel in five-star hotels where beggars are not allowed to come near.

The official Church seems to have forgotten this great figure of Lazarus, a paradigmatic figure of poverty, who is also a figure of the virtue of strength; this virtue which is also a breath of the Spirit and which consists in enduring. Lazarus has known suffering here on earth; he knows consolation in the bosom of Abraham. The rich man did not console, did not relieve; he gorged himself in insolence. Now he knows suffering.

Nothing says that it is eternal.

The rich man has five brothers. He would like to warn them, because they too will undoubtedly behave like his older brother. But it is not possible to warn them either: they have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.
The message is clear; and it comes from the mouth of the Lord himself. Do we hear it echoed in our parishes, in our Christian structures?

Is there a mystery of poverty? Yes, and it is linked to the mystery of iniquity that reason cannot face, without the risk of breaking down; that sin of the world which increases with the weight of history, as St. Augustine saw. So, there will always be poor people; and the Christian soul remains inconsolable. And if the soul can find, in a night of prayer, some strange and enigmatic answer to this mystery, only the cross can give a full account.

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia. She is the founder of the Pteah Barang, in Cambodia.

Featured image: “Charity,” or “The Indigent Family,” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, painted in 1865.

And Here We Are…

A little more than half a century ago, in 1956, the German Jewish philosopher Günther Anders published a book with a prophetic title, Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen (The Outdatedness of Human Beings). He is credited with a quotation, the history of which can be found at this link. The quotation can be considered as belonging to three authors: Anders, Huxley and Serge Carfantan, who gave it its final form. Whatever the ultimate source of this quotation, I have taken the liberty of commenting on it:

“In order to stifle any revolt in advance, one must not use violence. Methods like those used by Hitler are outdated. You need only develop such powerful collective conditioning that the very idea of revolt will not even cross people’s minds. Ideally, individuals should be conditioned by limiting their innate biological abilities from birth…”

This is done already. And even gone way beyond. A whole generation is being trapped in a totally chimerical identity problem, by making them believe that freedom consists in choosing not only so-called sexual identity, but also the sexual body in which they want to grow up.

“Then, we would continue the conditioning process by drastically reducing education in order to bring it back to a form of integration into the world of work. An uneducated individual has only a limited horizon of thought, and the more his thoughts are confined to mediocre concerns, the less he can rebel.”

For half a century, we have been working in France to impose pedagogical methods that have shown their inefficiency, with the complicity of teachers whose ideological marking to the left made them particularly favorable to these new tendencies. The Anglo-Saxon model of a narrow-minded pragmatism, strictly oriented towards adaptation and relational conformism, was imposed in secondary and higher education.

“Access to knowledge must be made increasingly difficult and elitist. The gulf between people and science must be widened. All subversive content must be removed from information intended for the general public. Above all, there should be no philosophy. Here again, we must use persuasion and not direct violence: we will massively broadcast entertainment via television that always extols the virtues of the emotional and instinctive.”

Access to knowledge means—good books, annotated bibliographies, teachers capable of introducing difficult works, of situating them, of commenting on them and of making them accessible. Above all, no philosophy; and where it is still taught, it is only an exegesis deficient in intelligence of abstruse texts that high school students do not have the sufficient level of language to understand them, even literally. By forbidding a large number of teenagers to master the language, a necessary but not sufficient condition for thinking, we block their access to written culture. At the same time, we discredited the field of study that constituted the visibility of these typical skills of the exercise of thought (literature, philosophy, history) until we were able to liquidate purely and simply this “literary” field of study, a moment that we will call the “Blanquer moment.”

“We will fill people’s minds with what is futile and fun. It is good to prevent the mind from thinking through incessant music and chatter.”

In buses, on the station platforms, wherever you have to wait, except at the post office, you have to put up with unbearable musical threads dominated by Anglo-Saxon songs and all kinds of noise whose mixed qualities are praised.

“Sexuality will be placed at the forefront of human interests. As a social tranquilliser, there is nothing better.”

It is indeed everywhere, omnipresent. You are harassed if you are not sexually active—chastity and continence have become unintelligible. Even at the age when one can hope that one’s senses will be appeased and one can take care of one’s grandchildren, one’s garden, and others, one is harassed on the question of sexual activity. And this age, which traditional societies respect and venerate because it is emblematic of the wisdom acquired by and through an entire existence, is dishonored by a whole perverse, perverted and perverting press.

BFMTV is the brilliant daily tribute to the stupidity divinity. Let’s add Koh-Lanta and all the programs intended to show in the most indecent and vulgar way the problems of all kinds of poor people who make fools of themselves without being aware of it.

“In general, we will make sure to banish seriousness from life, to deride anything that is highly valued and to constantly champion frivolity: so that the euphoria of advertising becomes the standard of human happiness and the model for freedom.”

For twenty years, a whole generation was fed by the “Guignols de l’info,” which made fun of life and politicians, until that historic moment when the parody of François Hollande as president, by the comedian Canteloup, seemed more real than the real man himself. That he amply deserved to be mocked in this way, there can be no doubt. But it is appropriate to recall Blaise Pascal’s text on the two greatnesses. We would be entitled to despise Hollande as well as Macron in their totally corrupted persons. But we are bound to respect the function they represent, or have represented, even if they have, each in his own style, dishonored it, thus dishonoring the country, the nation and the people who elected them. As for the press, it has signed on to it for years and still shows its in-culture, and shows the god it worships: the divinity Stupidity.

“Conditioning alone will thus produce such integration that the only fear – which must be maintained – will be that of being excluded from the system and therefore no longer able to access the conditions necessary for happiness. The mass man produced in this way must be treated as what he is: a calf, and he must be kept a close eye on, as a herd should be. Anything that allays his lucidity is good socially, and anything that could awaken it must be ridiculed, stifled and fought.”

And so here we are. And we seem to be getting to the point where those who do not share the prevailing rhetoric may be excluded from the health care system. This mass man is now being closely monitored. Everything is set up, including the feedback questionnaires sent by the “high authorities of the hospital,” supposedly to contribute to the improvement of the structures. Who do they think they are fooling?

“Any doctrine questioning the system must first be designated as subversive and terrorist, and those who support it must then be treated as such.”

This is how a young woman with the significant first name of Cassandra was heavily penalized for carrying a sign with the word “WHO” written on it during a demonstration. This is how the leaders of the Yellow Vests were heavily punished. Meanwhile, the real terrorists preach holy war in our prisons or settle comfortably in our psychiatric asylums, financed by the taxpayers.

Yes, here we are…

Programmed obsolescence is not only in the machines that turn the planet into a huge landfill; it is now programmed for humans. This is what we call the Great Reset, with the complicity of the masses, which were once called peoples and nations.

Some doubt this and Pope Francis seems to find it all very convenient. It is time he opened his eyes. It is urgent, because it is also the Church that is going to be reprogrammed with built-in obsolescence…

So, of course, in Canada, an endless line of truckers drove towards Ottawa to protest against the odious measures of Justin Trudeau’s government. They were obviously defending their particular interests. Let’s not dream, the ideal of freedom was probably not their primary motivation. But it was a start.

The organized division of society, with a view to controlling and squeezing it, could well one day turn against those who have destroyed the glue French society—a certain shared idea of France, of its political, religious, literary and even loving history, a certain confidence in its institutions.

Justice is the glue of peace. It is rooted in a Law, the divine Law scorned in the most ignoble way, in all the domains of life—family, marriage, children, education, history, respect of politics.

It is also a law of history—when a society becomes too radically evil, it is wiped off the face of the earth. The new European empire will know the fate of all empires: it will collapse and go to fill a chapter in the history of the world, in what will remain of our textbooks, or in rewritten history books.

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia.

Featured image: “Justitia,” by Carl Spitzweg, painted in 1857.