Memory of Andalusia… Yes, But which One?

Orientalism (especially so-called “scholarly,” i.e., institutionalized) is a European phenomenon whose complex history essentially concerns the three great nations of France, England and Germany. The other orientalisms, little or badly known, have been qualified as “peripheral”—thus, Spanish orientalism, neatly called “domestic” or “domestic orientalism.” This is because it emerges against the background of the past of Al-Andalus, which exerted a real fascination on Spanish writers and Arabists, such as Francisco Javier Simonet, Francisco Codera Zaidín and the theologian Miguel Asín Palacio. From the tentative resurrection of Arabic studies in the eighteenth century to the present day, an ideology and a scale of values underlie the work of many Spanish Arabists.

By what mystery was spread the historiographic myth of Al-Andalus as the oasis of a sweet, gentle life and harmonious religious understanding, in a world of brutes? The prize goes to Danielle Rozenberg for “recovering the memory” of a Spain presumed to be amnesiac. A few careful hours of reading is enough to pulverize this fashionable mythology.

First, there is Rosa María Rodríguez Magda, who published Inexistente Al Ándalus, De como los intelectuales reinventan el Islam (Ediciones Nobel, 2008) [Inexistent Al Andalus, How Intellectuals reinvented Islam]. She shows that the three communities, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, had limited relations, most of the time tense, not to mention the specific laws that were applied to them.

In another vein, the three volumes of Reinhart Dozy, Spanish Islam: A History of the Moslems in Spain (4 vols. 1861; 2nd ed. 1881) constitute a vast panorama of the history of the Muslims of Spain; that is to say a tiresome series of murders, betrayals, massacres, revenge, reprisals, taking and retaking of kingdoms or citadels, attempts at unification, broken and betrayed alliances.

Let’s be honest, there is no doubt that Islam was imposed by force wherever Muhammad’s warriors went, driven by the thirst for plunder and the prospect of the spoils of war.

The blood of the Umayyads flowed in 755 in Damascus when they were massacred by the Abbasids, whom the Persians had preferred to them. The only survivor, Abd al Rhaman, took refuge in Cordoba and ended up being proclaimed emir. From then on, these Umayyads were to be the propagators of the Arab greatness before the mass of converts coming from the submitted nations. These Umayyads were not ethnically Arabs. But their “blondness” did not prevent them from defining themselves as Arabs and claiming to be the best, purest and most faithful sons of the Prophet’s nation, in the ideological struggle they waged against the Abbasids of Baghdad and the Fatimids of Cairo. The Arab theme is central to Umayyad propaganda. This land, Al-Andalus, where the descendants of the caliphs of Damascus regained their rank, undeniably foreign to the Arabs, was an issue.

The fundamental choices of Al-Andalus were “Arab” choices: the Arab culture and the religion of the one God, a religion born on Arab-soil. They kept from those early times the arrogance proper to these Bedouins of the desert. The hatred between Berbers and Arabs continued from generation to generation. When the Berber princes governed, they oppressed the Arabs and the indigenous (Christians and converted Muslims). When the Arabs took over, it was their turn to shamelessly enrich themselves and oppress. Nietzsche described this phenomenon very well, applying it to Christianity, which he hated. In reality, it is the old animal programming, the ancestral and tribal rages that govern the Bedouin world and that have been infused into their primitive religion with such force that it has become almost invincible. Through power rivalries between Visigoth factions, some of them (including the archbishop of Seville) and the Jewish community, openly resorted to the help of the Muslims. Hence the meteoric success of their conquest of the peninsula.

Thus disappeared the Visigothic and Christian kingdom of Toledo, once magnificent, which yet remained in collective memory as a beacon of the Reconquista de Hispanae; and this from 722. A discontented fringe of the population turned to the newcomers, as in Byzantium. But the invaded populations were disappointed very quickly, when the true face of the conquerors showed itself—destruction of churches and places of worship, desecration of holy bodies; for the converts, prohibition to leave Islam under penalty of death. Chained to the religion of their masters, they derived little benefit from it and bore their contempt.

The first period of resistance was essentially religious, marked by spectacular provocations leading inexorably to martyrdom (on the model of the Christian martyrs in the first centuries of the Roman Empire). Eulogius was the leader of this rebellion.

It the second period, there were more uprisings, rebellions and revolts, inexorably drowned in blood. On the side of power, these three centuries were marked by cunning, treachery, and cruelty towards the indigenous, Christians and Muslims. The political facts gathered by Arab sources, stresses Gabriel Martinez-Gros, “do not show the social structures which emerged from beneath the froth of events but the consolidation of the political intrigue,” fundamental font of the history of this prolonged, ruinous and bloody occupation.

The Umayyads of Cordoba prospered for nearly two centuries until Emir Abd ar-Rahman III proclaimed himself caliph in 929, rejecting the spiritual authority of the Abbasid Caliphate. This so-called “golden age” was because of him; but in reality, it was merely a pause in the long oppression of the Spanish people. The reduction of tax allowed a moment of economic and cultural development. It did not last, and a civil war finally brought down the dynasty in 1031. Andalusia was then divided into a multitude of taifas (principalities). After a period of “splendor,” the khalifate of Cordoba succumbed to its divisions.

In the second half of the eleventh century, the vigorous Christian offensive of the “Reconquista” reached its peak and Islam could only hold out in Spain thanks to the help of the Berbers of Morocco:

Coming out of their deserts of Mauritania, these great Berber Sanhaja nomads, wearing the black veil with which the Tuaregs still cover their faces, after having conquered half of North Africa, went to Spain. They set back the Christian Reconquest; but also, taking advantage of their holy mission, they annexed the small Muslim kingdoms that they had come to save from the Infidels” (Georges Marçais).

These primitive Berbers of Morocco gave religious power a weight reminiscent of today’s mullahs, with their tyrannical, fussy and vicious morality. In Seville, in particular, these new masters replaced the Abbadids (the Abbad dynasty) who had called them to their aid. The last ruler, the poet king EI-Motamil, embarked with the princesses of his house on a boat that, going down the Guadalquivir, took them to the Maghreb, from where they would not return. Succeeding the sultans of Arab race and artistic tastes, hardly bothered by religious scruples, the rough Berber conquerors established the reign of austere virtue. Al-Ghazali, the most famous of them all, bore the fine title of “gravedigger of reason.”

At the head of the cities were appointed men of their own. Above all, the foqaha, Malikite jurists, who enjoyed the favors of the Berbers all the more because they issued opinions in accordance with Berber policy. The Almoravids added them to the provincial governors (qadi) to serve as advisors. To maintain the garrisons and prepare future expeditions, they obviously had their Sanhaja relatives from the desert, but also the “blacks” whom they had once defeated and converted to Islam and who were readily more arrogant than their masters and converters.

The deference owed to the new masters cannot be extended to the brigands they brought over. The wearing of the veil, which confused them with their leaders, was an attribute of nobility whose abuse was intolerable. Such were the trustworthy Andalusians and the “colored Berbers.” This division of labor expressed the distinction maintained in this Muslim society between the two fortuitously juxtaposed elements of the population: on the one hand, the Berber Almoravids (replacing the Arab and “Syrian” caste, which was very much in the minority) and the “muladi” or converted Christians, and on the other hand, the indigenous mass (the Andalusians), a mass divided between Christians, called “Mozarabs,” and Jews. At the bottom of this pyramid, the slaves.

Things did not go softly for the African conquerors and the people of Andalusia. The dynasties defended this Islamized Andalusia, but for their own benefit. They demanded of the people the literate, architects and artists not out of a taste for culture, but to increase the glitter of their reign. And yet hardly by the end of two generations, the sons of the big Saharan barbarians were seduced by Andalusian softness. The conquered land initiated them into the joy of living and to the charm of the common culture; the poets of Seville gave them the taste of the beautiful language; the art of Cordoba lived again in the mosques that they built in Fez, in Marrakech and in Tlemcen. Made of Berber robustness and Spanish elegance, the Hispano-Moorish civilization was established and flourished on both sides of their empire. It owed nothing to Islam, having borrowed everything from the civilization that it worked to destroy, but which tirelessly revived. It was made of the Arab taste for poetry and music, but above all for the ardent desire of the human soul to actualize the resources and treasures of beauty that it carries within, by casting them into the cultural molds at its disposal. It is neither Christian, nor Moslem, nor Jewish—it is a deep aspiration which finds its particularized expression in the psalms as well as in the lyric and love poetry, in the musicality of the language (the prosody), where the “Arab” poets exceled, an inheritance from the “times of ignorance.” It was this property of the soul and of human nature that austere Islam did not cease to repress because it felt an instinctive hatred of freedom and of the creative power inherent in any culture, (carried by some of its sons and daughters).

Are the Andalusians of today Arabs as the new ideology would like to make believe? The “balance of blood and race” (Gabriel Martinez-Gros) of the Andalusian compound is largely favorable to Spain and the West. The Islamization was also an Arabization, after the Romanization and the influence of the Visigoths, Romanized barbarians. In the Maghreb, the fact of bearing a name of Arab origin is most often only a sign of allegiance to power, and not proof of any descent from Muslim conquerors. But there is no “ethnic” particularism in Andalusia from the point of view of its population. The progressive reconquest by Spaniards first from the north and then from the center resulted in the same destructive behaviors towards the conquered populations: displacement, exile of those who refused to convert or even destruction.

The Muslim “umma” claimed to erase tribal distinctions. In reality, in the first centuries, it was confused with the “asabiyyah” of the Arabs instituted by the Prophet. A powerful asabiyyah, i.e., clan cohesion, reinforced by belonging to Islam, the religion of the masters, facilitated or even allowed the accession of a large family to power. Until another family took it over. To maintain power, one needs a “government.” Muslim power was corrupt from the outset, based on prebends, and continued only through intrigue, plots, betrayed alliances and violence.

And yet, the delirious ideology of Blas Infante (1885-1936) emerged, who was even awarded the title of “Father of the Andalusian Homeland” by the Parliament of Andalusia on April 3, 1983. For him, the Arab presence in Andalusia was not a lasting invasion but eight centuries of freedom, cultural influence, well-being and scientific progress. The Andalusian people were the product of a process of assimilation, resulting from the cohabitation of populations of different origins and religions. He went so far as to advocate the creation of a federal state which would delegate to Andalusia international relations with the peoples of Africa and the East.

In these semi-fantasy modern perspectives, special mention should be made of the novelist Juan Goytisolo, a sort of Spanish Roger Garaudy, but more subtle and intellectually equally ambiguous (he was buried in Marrakech and spent most of his life outside Spain). His book, Crónicas sarracinas (1982) [Saracen Chronicles], gives an idea of the weight of the Islamic past in the ideological struggles over the formation of national identity. In this work, Goytisolo had the elegant objective of “sodomizing myth” and defending his “Saracenicity.” The review of P.R. Baduel Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée gives a small idea of this edifying work.

Three chapters each are devoted to Ali Bey, to Gustave Flaubert and to Sir Richard Burton, “pilgrim and sexologist.” While Flaubert shamelessly and at the expense of the government went to pursue his fantasies of an oriental lupanar, Ali Bey, (pseudonym of Domingo Badia), administrator of the Royal Tobacco Monopoly in Cordoba and self-taught Arabist, was on a secret Spanish mission in Morocco, from where he then left for the East, where he was the first European to go (disguised) inside Mecca which he described and drew. Back in Europe and in France, he lamented, “the atrophy of the heart produced by the narrowness of a society of individual property, for he who returned from the great desert spaces.” Sir Richard Burton ventured to India and then went to Mecca, an act of unprecedented courage. Goytisolo compares his interest in Muslim society with that of Lawrence of Arabia: “Both feel the same fascination for Islam and the harsh and austere world of the Bedouins, placed entirely under the sign of masculinity. Both aspired to the wild freedom of the desert, to this hospitable and fraternal world from which woman is excluded.” Lawrence’s homosexuality, Goytisolo says, was linked to this choice of a society of males. This is a faulty parallel that reflects either great intellectual dishonesty or great ignorance about the life of Lawrence of Arabia, who, as we know, was illegitimately born and raped by a Turk when he fell into their hands, and who apparently never recovered from either injury.

Seeing the world through the lens of one’s homosexuality (even belatedly assumed) is not the most reliable light. Let’s be serious: Goytisolo’s ” Saracenicity” is nothing more than a figure of speech. In Las virtudes del pájaro solitario (1988) [The Virtues of the Solitary Bird], he builds his fiction on the Sufi origins of the mystical poetry of Saint John of the Cross.

At this point where the imagination erases fifteen centuries of history, the only answer is an appalled silence.

The Spanish Civil War halted the process of autonomy in Andalusia, which was resumed when the autonomies were established with the 1978 Constitution: Andalusian socialism then took over the nationalist theories of this Andalusia presented as the crucible of a civilization where Judaism, Islam and Christians coexisted in harmony, under the rule of the Muslim emirs and khalifahs, a civilization that could be the prelude and model of a tolerant multicultural society.

The same one that the French Islamo-leftism dream about.

The official flag of Andalusia includes two green bands, in clear reference to the color and banner of Islam.


Featured: “Abd al-Rahman III Receiving an Ambassador,” by Dionisio Baixeras Verdaguer; painted in 1885.

Al-Andalus was No Different…

In the early 1960s, an avalanche of tourists came in the footsteps of those intrepid travelers who toured Spain in search of the preconceived image they had of it. If those distinguished strangers were looking for exoticism, two centuries later, their successors came in search of the so-called “sun and beach tourism” on which was built an industry that has left an indelible mark on the Spanish coastline, once marked by watchtowers that warned of the dreaded arrival of Barbary piracy. The main figure associated with those days is Manuel Fraga Iribarne, Minister of Information and Tourism, to whom we owe the famous phrase, “Spain is different,” a phrase attributed to Napoleon after the defeat at Bailén.

Deindustrialized in exchange for its entry into the European Economic Community, now the European Union, Spain continues to have tourism as one of its main economic strengths. However, despite the fact that the clichéd image of Spain—bulls and flamenco—is largely maintained, the development of the autonomous model has forced the country to seek, if not manufacture, distinct symbols of identity. In the case of Andalusia, whose patriotic paternity has been attributed to a Muladi called Blas Infante, there are many who try to make the region match an idyllic al-Andalus, a model of tolerance and intercultural dialogue. The reverie is not new. In fact, it’s linked with the fantasies of those nineteenth-century travelers and even with those of certain political groups that sought to confront Andalusian democratism with Castilian authoritarianism.

All this is relevant because, for some time now, not only have the theses of Olagüe been rescued by Gonzalez Ferrin, regarding the alleged peaceful arrival of Islam to Spain, but even the concept of “reconquest” has recently been cancelled, as it is considered not only inadequate, but linked to political positions characterized as Spanish-ist or extreme.

In this context, the book by Yeyo Balbás, Espada, hambre y cautiverio. La conquista islámica de Spania (Sword, hunger and captivity. The Islamic conquest of Spain), a work that deals with the expansion of the Islamic empire to its limits, including, but not limited to, Visigothic Spania. An expansion by no means peaceful. Balbas’s book is distinguished not only by a solid handling of the Muslim sources, often ignored by historians attached to the narratives made from the Christian side, but adds a factor that meets the requirements for the cultivation of what Bueno called “phenomenal history”: the relics or vestiges that archeology is revealing. This archaeological aspect endows the book with a sort of verification mechanism that serves to dispel visions, often adjusted to literary canons, of a much more convulsed and fractured past than the usual maps that divide the Iberian Peninsula into two parts, the Christian and the Muslim, tinged with different colors.

Through the pages of Balbas’ book parade characters whose profiles are blurred by legend, but also crude realities such as massacres, crucifixions, slavery or a polygamy under which crimes were committed among factions linked to one or the other heir. The Al-Andalus that emerges in Balbas’ book is not different from the rest of the Dar-al Islam—although, as it is logical, being a Spanish author, he focuses more on Al-Andalus to examine the case of some Christians punished, first, and protected later, because of their Trinitarian God, and whom the Muslims therefore called “polytheists.” This forces Balbas to look at events surrounding the famous Don Julian and Don Rodrigo, that is, the battle of Covadonga, the starting point of a reconquest whose mere mention constitutes, in certain ideological environments, the prelude to anathema.


Iván Vélez is an architect and associate researcher at the Gustavo Bueno Foundation. Author of numerous books and articles. He serevs as the Executive Director of the DENAES Foundation and Coordinator of the p;olitical party VOX in the Parliament of Andalusia. Ths review appears courtesy of Posmodernia.


Featured: Late-14th-century Gothic mural painting by a Christian Toledan artist on the ceiling of the Hall of Kings of the Alhambra, possibly depicting the first ten sultans of the Nasrid dynasty.

East-West, Rootless in Ruins: A Conversation with Yves Lepesqueur

Yves Lepesqueur has worked in Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iran. A columnist for L’Atelier du roman, he is the author of a monograph, Les anciennes fêtes de printemps à Homs [The Ancient Spring Festival at Homs]. He has just published, Pourquoi les Libanaises sont séduisantes [Why Lebanese Women are Attractive: Twentieth Century Near Eastern History Very Briefly Explained to My Children], a book in which he examines the history of the Middle East in the 20th century as well as his concerns about uprooting that is taking place in Europe. He is in conversation with Shathil Nawaf Taqa.


Shathil Nawaf Taqa (SNT): The Lebanese woman symbolizes in your eyes the essence of oriental civilization—a paradoxical mixture of sensuality and asceticism. This description is reminiscent of Kuchuk Hanem, the inspiring alma mater of Flaubert, a novelist whom you also quote in your text. Wasn’t the oriental woman, sensual and mysterious, an orientalist myth?

Yves Lepesqueur (YL): It is fashionable to put Orientalists on trial by reproaching them for going to the East with Western concerns. However, when we go towards something, it is always with our own concerns, our own needs and questionings. It is absurd to imagine the opposite. It is the same for Orientals who come to the West with their own preoccupations. Thus, when one speaks with certain “progressive” Arabs, one often has the impression that for them the history of Europe begins in the eighteenth century. They see European culture only in terms of the dissatisfaction that their own culture inspires. They do not do any better than the Orientalists, who, of course, went to the East carrying the doubts, admitted or not, that European civilization was beginning to inspire in them. How could it be otherwise? A look always comes from the one who looks—there is no objective look.

Yves Lepesqueur, Isfahan (D.R.).

The question of objectivity is therefore irrelevant. The question that arises is that of loyalty. Do we invent? Do we refuse to see? Or does what we claim to see really exist, even if we perceive it according to our own subjectivity? If one doubts that oriental sensuality really exists, let’s go and see! By the way, it is curious that Arabs, progressive or Islamist, are today reluctant to recognize all that their civilization owes to the poetic or aesthetic elaborations of desire and sensuality. They are too eager to resemble serious American or Scandinavian puritans. This reluctance is an aspect of self-shame—which shows that my starting point is not so anecdotal.

The insight that put me on the track of this book was this—that the common representation of the so-called Westernization of the Middle East is radically false. It is not always the Western-looking people, especially the women, who are “Westernized”—the Islamists are much more so.

The “Lebanese women” in my title is a generic term that designates a certain way of being a woman, which can be found in the Maghreb, Syria, Egypt, etc., but which is particularly present in Lebanon. We are told: “These young oriental women, who are not afraid to seduce, are westernized.” I don’t believe this at all.

Evgeny Grouzdev, Portrait of a Lebanese Girl in White (2015).

What struck me was that the Lebanese women I worked with every day were extremely archaic, in the sense that they had no idea of succeeding in social life by becoming an engineer, for example. In fact, they were more interested in being beautiful, having fun, finding a rich enough husband, having beautiful children and a beautiful house. This vision is neither modern nor feminist; it refers to a very traditional conception of the role of women (which does not shock me at all). There was no reason to suppose a contradiction between their rather free dress and these conceptions that their grandmothers already shared—their taste to seduce did not come from a “Western modernization” but from a perenniality of the Eastern culture.

SNT: Is it not the dream of a Lamartine or a Hugo who come to seek in the East this ancient thing which had disappeared in the West?

YL: If they came to look for it there rather than in puritanical America, it is undoubtedly because it is there that they had some chance of finding it! What they may have discovered in the East is the richness of a perception of the world where one is sensitive to all the joys of this existence, which is expressed by a taste for beauty, perfumes, refined foods, beautiful and shimmering clothes—all that seduces the senses and delights the heart (even in the Koran, the sacrificial victim, to be accepted by God, must be “of a luminous yellow color that makes those who see it joyful.” One reads this without stopping; in truth, one only thinks one is reading).

But the more one loves this world, the more one is sensitive to its fragility—it will cease; all this is only a surface; it is necessary to turn towards what does not perish; towards the immaterial. These two aspects, sensuality and asceticism, weave together an infinitely moving vision of the world, because the beauty of the world is there; but at the same time, it can never be grasped; it flees towards a beyond. To love the world and not be satisfied with it—is this not the very principle of the human condition? This is why I wrote: “As long as we intend to remain human, the East remains our homeland.”

SNT: You have made the genealogy of the two postcolonial ideological corpuses of the Eastern world: nationalism and Islamism, which, according to you, are similar in that they seek to remedy the same problem—self-shame. The latter construct themselves in opposition to their recent past and put in place an identity-software that refuses the complexity of the Eastern identity. How can one access this complexity when one is inferiorized or under siege?

YL: To live complexity is not easy. That is why the anemic contemporary man cannot live it anymore!

By writing that the Orientals have renounced it, I am not giving myself the mission of telling them what to do or what not to do! I am simply trying to describe what has been. There was indeed a real shame of self, a rejection of the past, of heritage and tradition. There was a desire to be as strong as the West and a way of defining oneself in relation to the West; under its gaze in a way, in relation to this envied adversary. When I lived in Iran, I often thought that between the most conservative supporters of the Khomeinist regime and Iranians with a foot in California there was a common thread. They both asked themselves the same question when they woke up in the morning: “What about the West? Are we worth it? What are we worth against it? “

In such a mental climate, one no longer exists in relation to oneself, but in relation to another who is stronger and whose strength humiliates. This leads to a rejection of one’s own culture, which is almost always disguised as an ostentatious exaltation of that culture, which one actually denies. This is the principle of nationalism—one refuses the culture as it is around us and transmitted by our parents. One refers to a kind of unchanging ante-historic—the Arabs of the Umayyad period, for the Islamists, the Muslims of the Prophet’s time. Since we don’t know what the Arabs of the time of the Prophet or the Umayyads were like, we project onto them everything that we ourselves are—so, “I am like them, a true Arab, a true Muslim.”

The real heritage is what is transmitted from generation to generation; not what comes to us without intermediary from a generation of 1500 years ago. The heritage is everything that has been transmitted and transformed by all the generations that link and separate this distant past and our present. It is a living continuity, which, being living, is constantly transformed, but without rupture. We have access to it only through the last, and the last but one, generation that preceded us; those of our parents and grandparents.

The disguised modernisms—nationalism or Islamism (which is only a variety of nationalism), deny the fathers and forefathers we really knew, who seem too decadent, too underdeveloped, etc., and pretend to reconnect directly with an invented past, imagined according to the desires of the present; the first of which is the desire to be strong, to be a winner in this world.

In the meantime, we are ashamed of the country that our forefathers bequeathed to us, which translates in a very material way into the destruction of ancient cities, as Marwa Al-Sabouni showed in her very good book (The Battle for Home)—Orientals have become incapable of loving their cities with their inextricable alleys; so much so that in the past, foreigners who photographed them were suspected of doing so to make fun of them. The Orientals were no longer able to see the beauty of their living environment; they were ashamed of it. It was so unmodern! Nationalists, “secular” and Islamists, are equal in the vandalism and destruction of any beauty inherited from the past. It is a good starting point to understand that they are only the two heads of the same monster.

SNT: The history of modern Arab literature, as illustrated by the free verse poetry movement, shows a willingness to rediscover the literary heritage without devaluing the past; on the contrary. Wasn’t the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser rich in culture?

YL: I’m quite nuanced about the Nahda. Indeed, the Nahda (I use the word in a broad sense that allows me to include all the cultural movements up to the middle of the 20th century), even if it was already inspired by the desire to resemble Europe (to finally have trains, scientists, engineers, a literature of the self, to finally be “enlightened”), could also have had its fruitfulness. Indeed, it nourished a curiosity; it widened the intellectual horizons and thus gave rise to questionings which, in a certain way, brought back life and complexity—thus of “orientality.”

I will be more severe on the era of Nasser, the one in which the “nationalists in shoes” replaced and swept away the literate nationalists. The ideology of Nasserism and its equivalents in neighboring countries is perfectly summed up by that moment in Youssef Chahine’s film, The Sparrow, when we see a crowd chanting, “One heart, one soul!” Unanimity is hardly conducive to the life of the spirit! And nothing is more contrary to the civilization of the Near East which, in its Jewish, Christian and Muslim variants, has always shown a true genius for quarrelling, for disagreement, to which it owes much of its wealth.

No doubt there were still great writers, musicians, film-makers, etc. in Nasser’s time. But they were not born with that era; they had grown up in the previous period, when unanimity was not the norm. Culture is like agriculture—it is with a certain delay that we see what we have sown coming out of the ground. Look at France. It is now that we understand the effect of all the school reforms that have favored illiteracy—not at the time, fifty years ago, when this cycle of reform was initiated. To see the cultural effect of Nasserism, one must look not at the Egypt of the fifties and sixties but at the Egypt of the eighties; the desert, or very close to it.

That there were, as you recall, some great names of Arab culture in the twentieth century, is not enough to prevent that century from being a century of cultural collapse in the Arab world. To a certain extent, the same is true in Europe; whether this century had a Péguy or a Simone Weil does not prevent it from being the century of the collapse of European civilization. It is even for having seen and understood it first that certain authors are so precious to us.

In the East, it was worse; at least in some respects, because if popular culture and anthropological bases held up better than in Europe, on the other hand, intellectual production was not up to par. There is no Arab Simone Weil, no Péguy, no Bernanos, no Gunther Anders, no Michel Henry, and you can add the names you want.

Modernism, the fascination of the success of the other, has diverted Arab intellectuals from their own heritage. Or they have exalted it but without really feeding on it; simply wanting to make it an identity card that would allow them to enter the modern world with pride, like those scholars exalting the Arab science of the Middle Ages in which they see only an early approximation of what would later be modern Western science, whereas the speculative bases of this science were entirely different (which makes it not an outdated approximation but retains all its value, at least philosophically). Arab intellectuals have not been able to make use of the heritage to understand the present moment. Despite the many exceptions, the ignorance of Arabs, including educated ones, of the past cultural wealth of the Arab-Islamic world is astonishing. And those who claim to be the most religious are often the most ignorant.

You told me that Nasser had awakened the pride of peoples humiliated by Western domination. This is very true. I highlight in my book how much the interventions of the West had pushed the Middle East to despise itself, to deny itself. And no doubt Nasserism reawakened pride—Nasserism was an “Arab Pride,” as Islamism is a “Muslim Pride.”

But pride is not a response—it is a counterpart to humiliation, not a liberation from it. There is no ostentatious pride that is not nourished by resentment; that is to say, by a form of shame. This is why, as we see with feminist or homosexualist “prides,” the more one says one is proud, the more one says one is a victim, which is quite curious. And this attitude is not limited to these very visible manifestations. It is because we feel that France is disintegrating, forgetting itself, letting itself be forgotten by the world, that our nationalists say they are “proud to be French.” Our ancestors of the time of Saint Louis were not “proud to be French;” they were—and they hardly thought about it; but they were really. What matters is to be—not to proclaim a pride. The need to proclaim pride is in itself a very bad sign. When one seeks pride, one has a wound to heal; to seek pride is to continue to be obsessed by humiliation.

SNT: The Arab countries of the Gulf, on the periphery, experienced colonization from afar. They have been sheltered from post-colonial ideologies. But in the last ten years, consumerism has wreaked more havoc there than in the societies of the Near East that have lived through European colonization. They were less protected in the end.

YL: What protects against the present is the past, and what protects against consumerism is a culture that is not based on consumerism. Now, the Gulf countries have always been marginal in the oriental culture; the great centers were in Damascus, Cairo, Baghdad, Isfahan, etc. The Gulf countries had less of a past to protect them. The culture of the Gulf, steeped in Bedouin way of life, is a marginal culture, extremely friendly, which I was able to experience during my stay in Arabia, but it is not a learned culture. Cultures that do not have intellectuals to defend them are vulnerable cultures. And when they die, all that is left is what the present offers.

I would add that our way of entering the future is always influenced by the past, even if we have abandoned it. The culture of the Arabian Peninsula has valued cheerfulness more than thought. The people of the Gulf are very cheerful, with a very pleasant character. They like parties, music and a certain drunkenness, and the pleasures of life. We find something of this in an extremely naive way of welcoming everything that the world of consumption offers, without asking questions.

You speak of a certain resentment towards Lebanon and the Lebanese, which can be explained in part by the fact that this country assumes itself, does not deny itself, and finally is the only one to accept this orientality of contradiction. But Lebanon is also a project maintained by a colonial power whose cultural expression was manifested by the establishment of the American University of Lebanon which was initially a missionary institute. Were Orientals not outraged by what was the most perfect cultural expression of foreign interference on their soil? That was the justification given.

In reality, Lebanon is not the only Middle Eastern state that was “the project of a colonial power.” And Saudi Arabia?! And Jordan? Finally, the only Middle Eastern state that was not to any degree, even indirectly, the fruit of a colonial project, is the Ottoman Empire (for which Gobineau had so much sympathy), which the Turkish and Arab nationalists, enemy brothers in the imitation of the West, worked together to destroy. One can also, further on, add the old Iranian state, and perhaps, at a pinch, Yemen and the Sultanate of Oman, which are all the same somewhat marginal countries.

Why then would an Arab intellectual immediately think of applying this supposedly infamous qualification, “project maintained by a colonial power” to Lebanon rather than to Arabia or Kuwait? This reproach was only a presentable pretext. As for the American University of Beirut, whatever the intentions of its founders, it was a breeding ground for left-wing nationalists.

And if we talk about cultural interference, what was studied in the national universities of other Arab countries? The same as at the American University of Beirut, only worse. Without admitting it, people were happy that Lebanon was suffering. The Orientals consider, not without reason, that the Lebanese are arrogant and so were happy that this country was taking a beating; there was a kind of dull satisfaction. But there was a deeper reason for this Schadenfreude. People were angry at Lebanon for not having believed in this rationalist and efficient nationalism. On the contrary, it remained a completely elusive country.

What was it about Lebanon that shocked a Baathist Syrian or a Nasserite Egyptian? It was the fact that this country did not decide to be serious in the Arab revolution. Lebanon refused to enter the world of seriousness; it remained carefree, incoherent, ineffective, joyful, incredibly confused—all the bad things were said about it, but people took refuge in Beirut because there, in this carefree confusion, they could breathe. But one could not conceive this clearly; there was a cognitive dissonance, as the cooks say, between the pleasure that Arab intellectuals took in staying in Lebanon and the evil that they thought they were obliged to think of.

SNT: But what about the political domination that the Orientals suffered?

YL: Political domination is an insufficient explanation. It is said that from Cleopatra (and even Alexander, because the Lagids were of Greek origin) until Nasser, Egypt was never ruled by Egyptians. Was this enough for the Egyptian culture to disappear? It is also said that since the Mongols, and even since the Arab invasion, until the Pahlavi of sinister memory, Iran has always been ruled by foreign dynasties—but this vast period covers the most beautiful centuries of Persian civilization.

Foreign domination is only truly destructive, if one is convinced that the foreigner is not only militarily stronger, but that he is better than we are. This is the real humiliation that leads to resentment and denial—believing that we deserved to lose because the enemy was better than us. From then on, one will be obsessed by the ambition to become stronger than the one who is stronger than oneself, by having to be like him, by adopting his science, his technique, his rationality, etc. It is then that the foreigner really dominates, because he has entered into people’s heads.

In the opposite case (if the occupied are convinced of their superiority and the occupiers are impressed), the outcome is quite different. It happened, as with the Mongols in Iran. They were the strongest and they massacred like nobody else. But the Iranians remained convinced of the superiority of the Persian culture. The Mongols became convinced of it too and became Iranians like the others and even excellent propagators of the Persian culture, as far as India.

Certainly, material defeat contributes to self-deprecation; but it is not entirely sufficient to explain it. Western intrusions, however detestable, are not enough to explain the Orientals’ rejection of their own heritage. It is undoubtedly because this heritage was too difficult to bear. We come back to the starting point—complexity is heavy; it takes a lot of energy to remain human.

SNT: Concerning the Islamists, you recall that their ideology, contrary to their discourse, is not totally incompatible with Western modernity. They aspire to rationality, efficiency and reform of their religious corpus. How is it that they inspire so much rejection today?

YL: All serious researchers who have been interested in Islamism have come to the following conclusion: Islamism is the modernism of Islam. Adrien Candiard says it very well in an easy-to-read book. The lack of curiosity of Europeans, who love to have an opinion on what they do not know, is the only reason why we still hear such crazy things as the claim that Islamism is an irreducibly archaic Islam.

But there is no compatibility between this modernism and ours, that of LGBtism++. We have here two modernisms which are opposed to each other. It is a variant of the “modern against modern,” well seen by Muray. It is not the opposition of two civilizations—it is the opposition of two variants of modernism.

What has happened here and there, in reality, is that we have lost the spiritual sense. In Europe, the loss of spirituality has led to a dissolution of forms, first religious, then social; the most elementary forms of civilization, the first of which is the distinction between the sexes, tend to dissolve.

On the other hand, in the Muslim world, the loss of spirituality has led not to a dissolution of forms but to their devitalization. Empty forms have been maintained and have become the object of idolatrous worship. Both civilizations died, but their corpses did not have the same fate. The corpse of the West has decomposed, while the corpse of the Muslim world has mummified. One has the impression of an immense distance. But in the background, there is always the loss of the spiritual and the yearning for a world where there are no more humans, because the human is never simple, rational and content to be so; he is always tormented by absence, by what cannot be attained. Even Adam found that even in paradise something was missing.

SNT: The veil is today one of the most discussed subjects in the West. You speak several times of “the veil of the Islamists,” while regretting that the latter have turned their back on their traditional cultural and religious heritage. How do you distinguish the traditional veil from the Islamist veil worn by Muslim women?

YL: I quite agree with Michel Henry when he says that there can be no human sciences. Science implies a distance between the subject and the object; and that subjectivity does not intervene in the appreciation of the object. However, to understand a human phenomenon can only be done with one’s own human subjectivity. One will never be able to define objective criteria to establish categories that objectively separate the Islamic veil from the traditional veil. The only way is intuition. If I can perfectly distinguish between an Islamist and a traditional man or woman, even if they dress in more or less the same way, it is because I am human and I intuitively feel what humans are.

SNT: Isn’t this an arbitrary method?

YL: Assumed subjectivity is not necessarily arbitrary. To deny on principle that a subjective intuition has a heuristic value would mean that humans have no possibility of perceiving humans. In fact, I know very well how to distinguish between the Islamist who basically believes that he has taken out an all-risk insurance policy to go to paradise, and a woman who wears the veil out of devotion, out of attachment to a certain conception of modesty, but who does not see herself as chosen or better than the others. On the contrary, the Islamist will consider the others as potentially damned, whereas the traditional Muslim does not judge.

Moreover, in Islamism there is a desire for ostentation. It is a “Muslim Pride,” where one displays the signs that give one an identity; and thanks to this, one thinks of finding one’s place in the world of consumption. Indeed, we never consume anything other than signs that give us confidence, that “pose” in our eyes and in the eyes of others, whether it is a luxury watch or a scarf, or an ostentatious devotion, or a bikini if we feel confident about our figure. All these strategies are valid. What matters is to be proud of oneself. That is Islamism. Traditional Islam is not there to assert a pride, but is lived in humility.

No doubt, Muslim society was a society where self-satisfaction of being a good Muslim always existed, among some. But these were very vigorously condemned by words attributed to the prophet, which shows the antiquity of this attitude, but also that as long as this civilization was alive, one knew to guard against it.

SNT: It seemed to me that you were very severe on the supposed uprooting that affects Western civilization. However, the observer of European cultural life notices that people continue to go to the theater, literary prizes are still followed and celebrated almost everywhere in France, for example, and the museums in Paris are not empty. Why should we summarize all this interest in culture to the consumer mind of the ordinary man? Isn’t it the proof that this spirit of resistance that Bernanos called for is still present among the French?

YL: No doubt, since you and I are here to discuss, as we are doing, there are still beautiful interstices in the modern world. There are indeed people who still read Bernanos or Péguy. But that doesn’t change the picture of contemporary France. Our culture is collapsing; our very language, which our supposed elites are ashamed to speak, is disintegrating. Our little world of passionate and critical readers is a reservation of Indians. It is the last square that resists by retreating, while silliness and ignorance spread everywhere. Maybe it’s better in France than in other Western countries? There are no Philitts everywhere; it is a meager consolation. People like to talk about the misfortune of the Arab-Muslim world. Certainly, the Muslim world is doing very badly; but the other worlds are also doing very badly. The East is doing rather less badly than the West—the epidemic of wokism and that of LGBTism encounter solid immune defenses in the East.

SNT: You maintain that Islamism is to Islam what Puritan Protestantism is to Christianity. These consumerist deformations converge in what they offer to modern man—the immediate satisfaction of his desires. The delinquents who make the news are fed by both Islamism and consumerism. Do you make a difference between the newcomer rooted in his culture of origin and the young person from two or three generations ago?

YL: There is a difference between the immigrants, because of the conditions in which the immigration took place. The Iranian community, of Muslim culture, is well integrated in France and escapes Islamism as much as delinquency because there was a transmission—in this educated middle-class immigration, the children may have wanted to resemble their parents. When you are the son of a North African worker, humiliated by assembly line work, and an illiterate mother, you don’t want to resemble your parents, although there is still affection. Thus, there is more uprooting in some communities than in others.

Many young people were born here but do not have access to the France of the past, nor do they have access to the culture of their parents because it remained on the other side of the sea, and because their parents belonged to a milieu too poor and humiliated to be able to transmit it. So, they have no access to any heritage; they are the purest products of globalization, not of Arab or Muslim culture, or of this or that African culture.

For the newcomers, it is not always very different. It takes optimism to say that they are “rooted in their culture of origin.” When an African arrives in Europe, he comes from a big city, not from an immemorial village. He has already been uprooted from his culture for a long time; he has lived in an African metropolis where sometimes the daily lingua franca is not even an African language; he has never practiced one of the properly African religions; he does not know any of their myths. He has known nothing of the extremely complex social structure of the villages of yesteryear; he has been cut off from it for several generations. He is already uprooted long before landing in Europe.

Mutatis mutandis, these observations apply to immigrants of various origins, most often very removed, several generations before their birth, from what gave strength and finesse to their so-called culture of origin. This is also why they dream of the West. They are uprooted before they arrive.

The problem is not that they belong to another culture incompatible with that of Europe—it is that they no longer belong to any culture, except in a state of ruin; and that European culture is also in ruins. Two cultures eventually integrate each other, even if we do not believe that it is quick and easy. But we do not integrate an uprooting to an uprooting. Seriously, what do you want immigrants to integrate into? To the Paris of the silly bobos, to the school of the “ABC of equality?” If we want young foreigners to want to be French, we have to show them Romanesque churches, not sing them nonsense about “the values of the Republic.”


[This interview comes through the kind courtesy of Philitt.]

Featured: Walter Charles Horsley, “Women and an Old Man in the Harem;” painted in 1883.

Did Christianity “Divinize” Jesus?

Has Jesus been “deified” by Christians? This debate, which is quite recurrent in academic circles, is essentially determined by an external view of what Christians are supposed to believe. The idea is to compare the divine dimension of Jesus as expressed in the New Testament with the divinization of the Roman emperors after Augustus—or possibly with forms of divinization in this or that other ancient civilization. However, from comparison we often pass quickly to conflation.

Let us address the question head-on. Does the New Testament “deify” Jesus in any way, or is it something else? This debate is not incidental; it has serious consequences, six of which are defined and analyzed below, even if not everyone will readily recognize them as such. It is important to point out at the outset to what extent they imply each other in a logical sequence, from “B” to “G,” if we state “Proposition A” as the idea of the divinization of Jesus.

Let us begin by mapping Proposition “A”:

A: The presumed Christian idea of divinizing a man comes from, or corresponds to, a tendency in the Greco-Roman world, or more broadly in the pagan world—it is also found in various forms in Eastern Gnosticisms, the question remaining open of locating the origin of the latter in actual history.

On “A” is then built an entire sequence of logical inferences.

From Proposition “A,” the following is then deduced:

Proposition B: Since this presumed “divinization” could in no way be the work of Jews, it was therefore the work of non-Jews, namely of “Christianized” pagans (of the Roman Empire).

From Proposition “B,” it is then deduced that:

Proposition C: It is therefore these pagans who composed the Gospels, which are thus late (after the year 70 AD; this stretch of time needed to manufacture the “divinization”). And, of course, these pagans could only have composed the Gospels in Greek.

[An impressive and lavish publication of more than 700 pages, subsidized by the French Ministry of Culture, Après Jésus, l’invention du christianisme {After Jesus: The Invention of Christianity} (edited by Roselyne Dupont-Roc and Antoine Guggenheim, Albin Michel, 2020), largely defends this thesis of the late fabrication of a Christianity that does not owe much to Jesus, “except for a meal in memory of him, and a prayer, the Lord’s Prayer” (we read on page IV). The rest has been “invented,” which requires time—on pages 21-22, Mark’s Gospel is dated 71 AD, Matthew’s and Luke’s between 80 and 85 AD, and John’s 98 AD.]

And a further consequence of “C”: Thus, before these Greek compositions [the Gospels], the Jewish Christian communities produced nothing (or almost nothing); and the traces of this “almost nothing” in the Greek Gospels would suggest that they saw Jesus simply as a man.

It is then deduced from Proposition “C” that:

Proposition D1: It was Paul, whose writing period we know (between 51 and 64), who first deified Jesus; [Among the many discussions on this subject, this one is quite comprehensive.]

Proposition D2: Under the impulse of the Emperor Constantine, the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) contributed in a determining way by making the dogma of the “Trinity,” in answer to the Arianism which made of Jesus simply a kind of superman.

From Proposition “D,” it is then deduced that:

Proposition E: Since there were Christian communities speaking Aramaic (the language of the Jews of the first century)—and even today, at least one million Aramaic speakers—and since they always professed the divinity of Jesus, they could only have come to exist in dependence on Greek Christianity, and therefore not before the end of the third century; they must only be an outgrowth of Greek Christianity in the Syriac East of the Roman Empire, or the result of the deportation of some Greek-Roman populations to the Parthian Empire.

From Proposition “E,” it is then deduced that:

Proposition F: The Aramaic (or Syriac) texts of the New Testament or Peshitta NT were therefore translated from Greek. [Peshitta simply means, “without gloss.”] Thus, these texts must be of no interest. For an exegete, it is therefore unthinkable (and dangerous for his career) to spend time systematically comparing the versions in these two languages in order to find out which is the most original. One does not do research for which one already knows the answer.

From Proposition “F,” it is then deduced:

Proposition G: The Semitic-speaking groups that held Jesus to be a man (not a God) would be, according to research, the true Christians who retained the Christianity of the Apostles. These groups, sometimes called “Judeo-Christian sects,” are referred to as either “pre-Pauline” or “pre-Nicene.” Some traces of them are to be found in the Qu’ran (which is convincingly argued—but are they pre-Pauline or later groups?).

The logic of this sequence of seven propositions from A to G is unstoppable. It rests fundamentally on proposition “A”: to speak of the divinity of Christ is to speak of his “divinization.” We shall therefore look carefully at this postulate, and then, more briefly, at its six successive implications, in particular to see if they correspond to what we know of historical reality.

PROPOSITION “A”

What do Christians believe? Is Proposition A a legitimate interpretation of their faith, or not?

In the context of this analysis, the postulate of A can be presented as follows:

“Christians believe that God is present in a man (Jesus)” means “Christians have deified a man (Jesus).” Such an understanding of the first proposition would be legitimate, if there were not a completely different understanding than that of A. Indeed, “God is present in a man (Jesus)” is clearly to be understood as meaning “God has made himself present in a man (Jesus);” the totality of Christian writings indicating this. Is it rational to arbitrarily impose another understanding?

If we analyze the problem further, we perceive that the two understandings are radically opposed. The Christian faith undoubtedly mentions a descending movement (on the part of God; more precisely what has been called “Incarnation”); whereas Proposition A supposes an ascending movement (raising a man to become “god”)—it obviously confuses a “descending” movement with an “ascending” one.

We can therefore speak of a serious misunderstanding. But this is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, the faith of the Hebrews was the victim of many misunderstandings on the part of the surrounding peoples. For pagans inclined to “deify” humans, what could the Jewish (and Biblical) expectation of a God who comes to visit His people mean? In their mind, what was the value of the Temple in Jerusalem, which was the place of an invisible and impalpable presence, following the initiative of a God to “come down?” And what could they think of the idea—or rather the hope—that this God would really come to visit His people, according to prophecies where the how is not at all clear? Moreover, were they happy that the Jews considered their practice of putting a statue in a temple and then declaring it a “god” an abomination? Throughout history, Hebrews have sometimes been tempted to reconcile these irreconcilable positions—one might say that this temptation to amalgamate Jewish and pagan cults is the ancestor of Proposition A.

This can be said all the more so since the answer to this amalgam was given in antiquity already, by a Jew. In the early 40s AD, the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo († 45) noted in a passage of his Legatio ad Caium, after coming to Rome and seeing the emperor Caius Caligula there publicly displaying himself disguised as Jupiter: “God could rather change into a man than a man into God.”

As a Jew, he was shocked by this masquerade (he wrote it after 41 AD, once Caius had died). This philosopher of Alexandria perfectly understood and expressed the radical opposition existing between the Jewish religious vision and that of the pagans. He may have formulated it on his own, but it is also possible that he had heard of the Christian faith—in Alexandria he could have met many Jewish disciples of the Apostles. [According to the Acts of the Apostles (18:24-25), a former disciple of John the Baptist, Apollos, a native of Alexandria, was traveling through Asia Minor around the year 44 to speak about Christ—Paul, in Antioch, spoke to him about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which he had not heard of. Thus, this Apollos had not yet met any of the Apostles or any of their disciples; but, the text says, “he had been instructed in the way of the Lord”—in Alexandria?] Philo’s expression, “change into a man” corresponds in fact to the way of speaking of the first Jewish Christians—it is found in the apocrypha.

[In some “apocrypha,” one can read very similar formulations. Those given below are essentially taken from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. For this very complex question, see Le messie et son prophète, Vol. I, 2005, section 1.4.2.1, “Thématique de la venue de Dieu et double Visite” [Theme of the Coming of God and the Double Visit], pp. 166ff.]

In an amplified and clarified form, it is found in the New Testament, notably in this passage by Paul, where he speaks of the “descent” of God into human nature: “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form…” (Letter to the Philippians 2:6-7).

No parallelism should therefore be intellectually possible between the Christian faith and pagan cults. It is by virtue of an internal logic, foreign to Christianity, that a system of thought can produce this confusion. To illustrate the problem, let us take the example of Islamic discourse.

For Islam, the Qur’anic text is literally revealed by God through the word of an angel dictating the text to the messenger (rasul) Muhammad. One of its verses reads as follows:

“When God says: ‘Îsa (Jesus), son of Mariam, did you say to people:
Take me and my mother for two deities, beside God?” (Sura 5, verse 116)

The internal logic of Islamic discourse therefore requires that Christians have Jesus, Mary and God as the Trinity—it is written in the Qur’an, so God has said it literally. This is taught everywhere in Islam, at least where Christians have little influence, so that this assertion is not immediately ridiculed. And if a Christian disputes this, the answer to him is already prepared in the Qur’an: “See how they lie against themselves” (Sur. 6, v.24).

In fact, the ancient Muslim commentators [Tabari, al-Baydawi, al-Zamahšarî, al-Jalalayn and other lesser-known scholars all indicate that this verse (5:116) refers to the Holy Spirit and not to the Virgin Mary. See Azzi Joseph, Le prêtre et le prophète: aux sources du Coran, p.169]—still knew that the expression “mother of Jesus” (here, “my mother”) refers to the Holy Spirit, according to a way of speaking proper to the tradition of the Aramaic Church (even today), and as the oldest Syro-Aramaic spiritual writings testify. [For example, in Saint Aphrahat (known as the Wise Man of Persia). The “maternal” dimension of the Spirit is so common in the theology of the Church of the East that Saint Aphrahat applies it to the Christian: there is a danger, he writes, that the one who marries forgets “his Father and the Holy Spirit his mother” (The Demonstrations [written between 336 and 345)].

The irony of verse 5:116 relates to the role of judge of Christians, attributed to Jesus, and not to a classical Trinitarian formulation in the Syro-Aramaic context. But a serious problem of internal Islamic and Islamological logic arises. Indeed, if this context constitutes the obligatory explanation of a verse of the Qu’ran, it also determines the framework of the birth of Islam—one is thus led to consider for Islam an original place in northern Arabia. This is unacceptable for Islam. Nor did islamology, at least for a hundred and fifty years, want a place other than Mecca, since it took the Islamic discourse as its starting point. In fact, Islamologists even invented the existence of “Mariamites” to justify the literal Islamic understanding of this verse (5:116). This invention, based on an error, has been taken up by current Islamic propaganda to comment on this verse by mocking the faith of Christians. [Cf. the presentation by Hichem Djaït in Jésus et l’islam. Indeed, it happens that in the suburbs and living only among themselves, Muslims never see a single Christian; so they believe anything about the Christian faith.] It was not until the year 2005 that this gross error was denounced, although it would have been enough for any researcher to go and ask any Aramaic (Chaldean or Assyrian) Christian for this error to be disproved.

We can see, therefore, that internal logic can prevail over knowledge or simple information, even in a milieu of researchers. This is also the case of the confusion between the Christian faith and pagan conceptions, which concerns us here. It is possible that convenience has something to do with it—one always brings back what one knows badly to what one already knows. Hearing about groups of Jewish descent who denied the divinity of Christ early on, often in summary form, some scholars have concluded that their purely human conception of Jesus is the original, true Christianity; and, therefore, that to speak of the presence of God in Jesus is a later belief, influenced by Greek pagan thought. This is logical, but wrong—the so-called “Judeo-Christian” groups to which they refer in this discussion are in fact “ex-Judeo-Christians,” in the sense that they had first been Christians then Jews. Let us read what the apostle John writes in his first letter about these ex-Judeo-Christians who “deny the Father and the Son”:

“They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us” (1 John 2:19).

What is generally overlooked in the discussion is that those Jewish Christians who first adhered to the message of the Apostles and then turned it around to do something else were thus creating a new religious phenomenon, which would even be the source of many subsequent avatars. The opposition is not, therefore, between a Jewish monotheism and a pagan polytheistic influence—but between the Christianity of the Apostles, which has a Jewish foundation, and the doctrines opposed to that of the Apostles, which also have a Jewish foundation, and which warrant the designatio of “post-Christian.”

In fact, the confusion inherent in Proposition A has created a vagueness that obscures a whole area of research on the formation of the oppositions to the Apostles. The Adversus haereses of St. Irenaeus of Lyon, which has been available to us since the mid-sixteenth century (this book, along with The Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching, previously unknown), still does not seem to be taken as a reference book for the study of early Christianity and the groups that derived from it.

It appears, therefore, that Proposition “A” does not present the faith of the Apostles, but rather presents a kind of inversion of it. This is unfortunate from a scientific or even a rational point of view. And the successive consequences which follow from it, and which form a set of convictions quite widespread in the academic world, are serious.

Let us review these consequences, B to G.

Proposition B

This proposition follows from A: the “divinization” of Jesus must have been done by non-Jews, namely by “Christianized” pagans (from the Roman Empire).

If there was no “divinization” of Jesus, the question of its alleged authors is settled. However, a word should be said about the historical framework, the lack of knowledge of which favors adherence to proposition B.

The Apostles were Jews, as were the first Popes and the vast majority of Christians for at least a century. As Paul explains, non-Jews were added to the strong Hebrew-Aramaic olive tree—and it had to be a strong olive tree because, from the beginning, the Apostles and their followers went to evangelize every part of the world then accessible, as far as India and China. The result was very quickly a diversity of communities; the common Hebrew-Aramaic “olive tree,” both Biblical and cultic, ensured unity, especially liturgical unity (the Indians of Saint Thomas still celebrate in Aramaic today). When one discovers the extent of the Hebrew-Aramaic Christianity of the Apostles in the world of that time, the idea of an influence of “Christianized pagans” leaves one scratching one’s head.

Proposition C

Preceding from the previous one, this proposal assumes that it was these Christianized pagans who composed the Gospels, and therefore late (after the year 70 AD, the time of the fabrication of the “divinization”); and, of course, they can only have composed the Gospels in Greek. Consequently, the Jewish Christian communities produced nothing (or almost nothing) before these Greek texts, and the traces of this “almost nothing” in the Greek Gospels must suggest that they saw Jesus simply as a man.

Here we come to the fundamental problem of Western exegesis, posed by German Protestants from the end of the 16th century onwards. Because of their anti-Romanism, they turned exclusively to the Greek manuscripts, considering them a priori better than the Latin texts of the Catholic Church. Of course, other languages were not forgotten—in Pantagruel, Rabelais still indicates that it is necessary to learn Aramaic (Chaldean, he writes)—but, in practice, manuscripts in these languages were greatly lacking. These became available only at the end of the 19th century, because of the scarcity of contacts with Eastern Christianity before then; and in the 20th century, following the massive immigration of persecuted Eastern Christians, more numerous links were established.

Nevertheless, even today, no serious place is given to these Christians in the academic world among teachers, and the Gospels are still presented as the fruit of Greek writers—even though one is beginning to wonder whether they are not originally narrative compositions rather than redactions. In any case, almost no one has yet undertaken a systematic comparison of the best Greek manuscript texts (divided into seven or eight irreducible families, which poses a serious problem) with the Syro-Aramaic manuscripts (which form a single family). And one continues to affirm, in a dogmatic way, that the Aramaic texts were translated from Greek. [For example, here is a random example of this dogmatism: Muriel Dubié states peremptorily that “as early as 170, the Gospels were translated from Greek into Syriac”]. Those who have doubts and want to compare the texts, like the Protestant Jan Joosten, risk a lot.

Rationally, it is however very difficult to believe that the Jewish Christians did not compose stories in Aramaic, which was their language (and that of Jesus), when they were evangelizing in all directions of the world and when Aramaic (and not Greek) was the lingua franca, the English of its time. And that’s not all. The Jews were part of an oral civilization, even though all men had to be more or less able to read the sacred writings during the synagogal worship. Thus, for the Christian Jews, if the important thing was the transmission by word of mouth and from heart to heart, writing down as an aid to memory was an original necessity. What is a sacred transmission must be engraved on stone—on parchment in this case—like the Scriptures. The Gospel in its original sense of “announcement” made of various Gospel recitals (cf. Gal 2:2; Rom 2:16 etc.) is given this rank of Scripture, as is shown by the First Letter to Timothy, probably dating from the year 57 AD.

In fact, Paul quotes a saying of Jesus in parallel with a quotation from the Torah: “The Scripture says, You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the grain [cf. Deut. 25:4; 24:15] and again, The worker is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim. 5:18). But the second quotation exists only in Mt 10:10 and Lk 10:7.

[There is a small difference as to what the worker is worthy of: in Mt 10:10 he is worthy of saybbārā/Greek trophe, “food;” while in Lk 10:7 he is worthy of ‘agreh/Greek misthos, “wages.” In Aramaic, the key word is the verb šâw’é, expressing the idea of “suitability” (rendered in Greek by axios, “worthy,” for want of a better word): “the worker is šâw’é (it is suitable for him, he deserves) his food” (Mt 10:10—commented translation of the Peshitta by Mgr Francis Alichoran). But in Greek, what one is worthy of should not be food but honor or a reward-wage (as in Mt 20); axios estin o ergastès tès trofès autou is obviously an Aramaicism that reveals a translation.]

In the eyes of a Jewish Christian in the year 57 AD, what text could have the authority of sacred Scripture, if not an aide-memoire, such as the Gospel according to Matthew which was then used (primarily) in the liturgy as had been the Torah?

Moreover, the conviction that the Gospels existed in written form well before the first “Jewish war” (66-70 AD) is not uncommon among exegetes working on Greek—the case of John being special, as this Gospel was composed in two stages. But few still perceive that the aide-memoire of public recitation in Aramaic is the source of the translations into Greek (and into other languages), directly or on the occasion of simultaneous translations written down—it is systematically in Aramaic that the Apostles and other witnesses of the Resurrection gave their testimony; which, if necessary, was translated into Greek or Latin by interpreters, e.g., Mark, for what Peter said. [“Paul had Titus as his translator-interpreter, just as blessed Peter had Mark whose gospel was composed, with Peter speaking and Mark writing down” (St. Jerome, P.L. 22, col 1002)].

It is possible that the first writings in Greek or Latin were private, since the people of these languages no longer had an oral culture (but a written one) and were less able to memorize than the Aramaic speakers. In any case, the need for official writings was felt early on, also because of the dispersion of the Jerusalem community around 37 AD, threatened by unrest, which set the liturgical tone for the other Christian communities: Matthew urgently needed to establish a reference document for the liturgy.

[The sources that place the Gospel of Matthew in Aramaic before the Gospel of Mark in Greek allow us to place the first one around 37-38 AD, by virtue of the famous passage in the third book of Against Heresies by Irenaeus of Lyon, where there is found the matter of the publication of Mark’s Gospel. This passage presents a difficulty, however, since it seems to say that the community of Rome was founded by Peter and Paul—this is inaccurate, since in 42 AD Peter founded this community alone—and since it already existed, Paul had no intention of going there, as he wrote in Romans 15:22. The most likely explanation is that the words “and Paul” were added by a Latin copyist in honor of the Roman feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

Here is the amended text: “Thus Matthew published among the Hebrews in their own language a written form of the gospel about the time when Peter [and Paul] was evangelizing Rome [until 42] and founding the Church there. After his departure [exodos, “departure,” which never means “death”], Mark, Peter’s translator, also transmitted to us in writing what Peter preached. Luke, Paul’s companion, also published the gospel while he was in Ephesus in Asia” (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., III 1,1).

In order to date Mark late, some exegetes have attributed to the word exodos the meaning of “death,” so that the publication of Mark’s Gospel would be later than the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul, thus after 64 AD. But they are then in opposition to Eusebius of Caesarea who, quoting Clement of Alexandria († 215) and Papias († ±230), clearly indicates twice that Peter is alive at the time of the publication-translation into Greek: “They [Peter’s hearers] made all kinds of entreaties to Mark, the author of the gospel which has come down to us and Peter’s companion, that he would leave them a book as a memorial of the teaching given orally by the apostle, and they did not cease their entreaties until they had been granted… Peter … rejoiced at such zeal—he authorized the use of this book for reading in the churches. Clement reports this in his sixth Hypotyposis and the bishop of Hierapolis, Papias, confirms it with his own testimony” (Hist. Eccl. II,15 par. VI,14 6).]

The challenge of exegesis then is to rediscover the interplay of Aramaic orality, from the testimonies rigorously repeated by the witnesses themselves and then by their disciples from the 30s AD onwards. If there is a difficulty in discerning these narrative testimonies in our Gospels, it is because they are frequently intertwined. This is because of the very nature of the Gospels—they are organized for liturgical use, and therefore according to the Church calendar. They are lectionaries [Apart from exegetes working on Aramaic and aware of orality, some have nevertheless asked themselves the question of the synoptic Gospels as lectionaries, such as Gordon W. Lathrop, of the United Lutheran Seminary of Pennsylvania, in Après Jésus, l’invention du christianisme, p.160]—with the exception of John, which is organized for another purpose—The Gospel of John is organized according to oral patterns in a complex structure of meditation; it is not made for basic evangelization.

This major discovery, made possible by Aramaic oral studies, sheds light on the trial and error that began nearly four centuries ago and that leads each exegete working on the Greek to imagine his or her own plans for accounting for the Gospels—and no two agree. And of course, the idea that the Aramaic Christians of Asia (and of the eastern Roman Empire) lost their texts as a result of Tatian’s Diatessaron, and then had to re-translate them from Greek in the 5th century, with Bishop Raboula of Edessa, is a kind of academic myth—a convenient myth to avoid having to take a serious look at the Aramaic texts.

Proposition D

Proposition D seeks to clarify how the divinization of Jesus would have been invented—first by Paul and then by the Trinitarian definition of the Council of Nicaea (325 AD).

It does not matter that Trinitarian definitions had existed before. The problem is a misunderstanding of the so-called Christological discussions, which some scholars have believed to be about the divinity of Christ itself, when in fact they were about how to express it. It is true, on the other hand, that “Arianism” denied the divinity of Christ. But no Arian was invited to the Council of Nicaea, which met precisely against this denial.

At the time, Christian leaders were faced with the difficulty of agreeing on formulas of faith that would enable them to cope. The discussions at Nicaea and the subsequent councils were held in Greek and were marked by Byzantine ways of seeing and reasoning, which wanted to give conceptual definitions to everything. But sometimes this created more problems than it solved. Take the example of the Aramaic term qnoma, used by Jesus and found several times in the Aramaic New Testament: it was at the heart of certain divergences, because it corresponds neither to the Greek concept of ουσια (“nature”) nor to that of υποστασιϛ (“hypostasis”). The Council of Nicaea did not take sufficient account of the differences in culture and language, which eventually led, at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), to the exclusion of the non-Greek speaking apostolic churches, which would be called “pre-Chalcedonian.”

One can understand then the confusion caused by a certain number of inter-faith academics and by Islamologists. They believe that these sidelined churches (the Arameans of the Church of the East from now on designated under the sobriquet of “Nestorians,” and the Copts and the Armenians) defended Christologies comparable to those of groups opposed to the faith of the Apostles, that is to say, catalogued as heretics. And, in the past (and we can go back to medieval scholars), under the influence of Islamic legends, some even imagined that the Christology of Islam (which violently denies the divinity of Christ) was inspired by that of the Aramaic Church of the East—whereas, around 735, John of Damascus compared Islam with Arianism and in no way with the thinking of the Church of the East.

In fact, the idea was to link Islamic Christology at all costs to the Christological discussions of or after Nicaea, for lack of understanding but also for lack of serious research on the origins of Islam. We read until recently: “The Koran… belongs to a movement of Christians who remained pre-Nicene, i.e., churches or Christian communities that did not accept the dogma of the Trinity defined at the Council of Nicaea.” [In particular, it is the legend of the Nestorian monk Serge-Bahira who is said to have recognized the “prophet Muḥammad” while still a child and to have transmitted his Christology to him.]

In the end, only rather crude confusions seek to justify Islamic “Christology” by Christian theological debates; whereas Islam is rooted in a much earlier, post-Christian-Jewish phenomenon, which in fact goes back to the end of the Apostolic period.

It is true that a question, subtle for the historian, lies behind these confusions: what criterion can distinguish what is Christian from what is not? Is it adherence to definitions—but in what language? Before the definitions of the Councils, was there only a vast vagueness? Is belief adhering to definitions—assuming one understands something, which requires explanations that are not always clearer either? Or is it something else? In other words, are definitions fundamentally enlightening—which is what the Byzantines hoped for—or are they merely signposts?

If Christianity is primarily a life, it cannot be put into concepts and definitions. In the Gospels, in Greek, we read six times “Your faith has saved you,” or as in Mt 1:21: “he will save the people from their sins;” where the Aramaic means “Your faith has made you alive,” and Jesus gives life back to the people from their sins. Certainly, the Greek verb sozo has something to do with healing; but taken out of context, the statement “faith saves” could be understood in relation to a conceptual eternal salvation, or one disconnected from concrete life; whereas it is first of all a question of life (re)given here below by Jesus.

Therefore, if there is a criterion of Christianity, it can only be this: the Christian, whether Hebrew-Aramaic or from another cultural or linguistic area, is the one who believes that Jesus holds in Himself the power to vivify. Those who believe that Jesus is under the power of an Other, that is to say that He does not save by Himself but simply intervenes as a superman, or else believe that He is simply a model to be followed, that is to say that everyone must save himself by following this model, do not share the faith of the Apostles but another faith. They adhere to distortions of the Christian Revelation, whether they are of the first or the second type.

These distortions have generally been called heresies, thus creating an unclear catch-all (the Greek word ‘aïresis, which gave rise to “heresy,” simply means “opinion”). This vagueness does not facilitate the distinction between what is Christian and what is not, and often focuses attention on secondary aspects. What determines the Christian faith is that if Jesus saves by Himself, then the God revealed in the Old Testament is present in Him, for God alone can save-vivify. As for the way in which this presence is expressed, this is certainly already an object of the New Testament and will subsequently be the subject of many theological debates—but it is secondary. Unfortunately, these debates have often pitted different, but legitimate, cultural perceptions and expressions of the mystery of Christ against each other. In fact, all the apostolic Christian communities of the world today recognize each other fully and mutually in their faith, expressed in different languages (often not transposable from one to another—that is the difficulty).

Proposition D also leads one to call writings “Christian” that are not, either because they present Jesus as a messiah in whom God acts as an external mover or inspirer (according to the Arian-Messianist perspective), or because they present Him as a guide who, out of compassion, shows how to save oneself (such is the core of all Gnostic systems). Such writings are not Christian, and the groups who wrote them cannot be called “Christian”—nor can they be called “heterodox Jews;” they are in fact also in opposition to rabbinic Judaism (which repays them with the daily curse against the minim). This is why, instead of using the illegitimate term “Christian” for them, serious research leads to the qualification of these groups, which came after apostolic Christianity, as “post-Christians”—they exist historically and logically only in relation to the latter, from which they derive doctrines that would not otherwise stand by themselves.

The confusions linked to propositions A, B and C lead to those linked to proposition D, which is quite logical.

Proposition E

If faith in the divinity of Christ is a late invention, the Aramaic-speaking Christian communities must also be late, and they can only have existed in dependence on Greek Christianity, therefore not before the end of the third century—this is a logical necessity. It is said that they were only an outgrowth of this Greek Christianity in the Syriac East of the Roman Empire, or the result of the deportation of some Greco-Roman populations to the Parthian Empire.

This denial of apostolic antiquity of the Eastern Christians is expressed in numerous writings, for example by Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet, in her contribution to a book with the evocative title, Après Jésus: L’invention du christianisme (After Jesus: The Invention of Christianity). She speaks of a “staging” by Eastern Christians of a “conversion to Christianity” going back to the Apostle Thomas (p. 570). And in Paul-Hubert Poirier, one reads that “the expansion of Christianity” beyond the borders of the Empire dates from the 3rd century, with “the Christians beginning to use” Latin at the end of the 2nd century, Syriac at the beginning of the 3rd century only, Coptic at the end of the same century, Armenian in the 5th century, and other languages later still (p. 53). Did they not exist before? What is thus obscured is that from the first century until the great massacres by Tamerlane, Asia had more Christians than Europe. Of the twelve Apostles, only three (James, brother of John, Andrew and Peter) went West; the others went elsewhere, with the exception of James the Just, who remained in Jerusalem, considered the center of the world. To think that Christians existed only in the Roman Empire until the end of the third century is simply the result of a postulate; and this negationist postulate is fundamentally rooted in Proposition A.

Proposition F

Since the Syro-Aramaic churches are presumed to have existed only in the late period of time, their New Testament texts were therefore also presumed to have been translated from the already existing texts—i.e., from Greek.

But if the reverse is true, i.e., if early Christianity is no further West of Jerusalem (in the Greek Roman Empire) than East of it (in the Parthian Empire), it becomes essential to compare the best Greek and Syro-Aramaic manuscripts. And then, the Aramaic texts turn out to reflect a state of the text much earlier than the best Greek manuscripts, which appear to be the work of translators (various in fact and in various Greek dialects, which is the main reason for the existence of seven or eight irreconcilable families of Greek Biblical manuscripts). These Aramaic texts can shed light on most of the obscurities of the Greek or Latin texts, even if there is reason to believe that the translators did their best in the context that was theirs.

Proposition G

Since there were groups of Semitic language holding Jesus only as a man, one imagines that they preceded the churches of the same languages (Aramaic, Coptic); and that it was they who preserved the true Christianity of the Apostles (the Greek Christians having invented the divinity of Jesus). They are often referred to under the vague term of “Judeo-Christian sects,” or pre-Pauline or pre-Nicene groups. We have seen above how these labels are misleading. If Semitic or even other language groups speak of Jesus in opposition to the faith of the Apostles which is really known to us through the New Testament (which we can understand through the Aramaic texts even better than those in Greek or Latin), they are post-Christian groups.

The concept of “post-Christianity” was coined to designate the phenomenon of “leaving Christianity” that marked the 19th and 20th centuries, from the point of view of institutions (we also speak of “secularization”). But there is no reason to take into account only the institutional aspect. If we consider the theological aspect (or in other words, that of the Apostolic faith), we can and must look at the phenomenon that begins towards the end of the Apostolic era, that of groups of Judeo-Christians who questioned the faith they held from the Apostles, and who then organized themselves into groups and doctrines opposed to the Apostles (while keeping many traits of original Christianity).

These groups and doctrines, which would later be called “heresies,” are strictly speaking counterfeits (in the sense that a counterfeit is made to resemble the model, but it is no longer the original). These counterfeits, which constitute exactly post-Christianities, are fundamentally and historically of two types, corresponding to the two axes of Christianity (and thus to the two possible ways of counterfeiting it. See here):

Conclusion

The Propositions, from A to G, form a logical system. For this reason, it is enough that only one of these seven propositions turns out to be contrary to the data of serious research for the whole to be invalidated. There is no lack of reasons to question each of these propositions, starting with the first one, which is the most important—and which is even the key to the others. There has never been a “divinization” of Jesus, but rather a consideration of the plan of a God who revealed Himself in order to come and save humanity, which only He can do. The question remains open as to what God will do next, as a Second Coming of Christ is foretold. This is another question, which is not simple either, since Muslims also expect a second coming of Jesus, but it is not the same. It is understandable that some minds find all this very complicated and try to reduce their perception of Christianity to their logical and ideological schemes, from A to G.

It is therefore a new coherent and logical approach to Christian origins that must be promoted and explored, in accordance with Revelation and historical and anthropological data that are not censored or distorted by postulates. Such new orientations will not go without opposition—the seekers of truth are rare—but this is a characteristic of our time in almost all areas, alas.


Theologian and Islamologist, Father Edouard-Marie Gallez is the author of the magisterial  Le messie et son prophète (The Messiah and His Prophet), published in Paris in 2005 (and awaiting an English translation), which is an 1100 -page study that reconnects the origins of Islam to factual history by showing that the Koran and Islamic legends developed gradually over time. This study paved the way of current research into early Islam. See Roots of Islam and the Great Secret. Father Gallez also participates in research groups on early Christianity and its influence.


Featured image: “Traditio Legis,” mosaic, Santa Costanza, Rome, 4th century AD.

Report of the 7th Inârah Symposion, May 4-7, Trier

From 4-7 May, Inârah held its 7th symposium on the origins of Islam and the origins of the Qur’an.

For the first time, the venue was the idyllically located Robert Schuman House in Trier. The leitmotif of this conference was expressed in the chosen motto: “Farewell to salvation history.” In biblical studies or church history, for example, the difference between historiography based on reliable sources and salvation history has long been the academic norm. Islamic Studies, particularly, as it is practised in Western universities, especially with the establishment of seminars of so-called Islamic theology in some German Länder in recent years, represents both an intellectual and an academic step backwards, where this important distinction is still for the most part conveniently ignored.

The conventional, “classical” narrative, actually a fairy tale, of the Qur’anic revelation to Muhammad and the subsequent emergence of Islam, in general a distillation of diverse, late, and largely contradictory literary texts, is regrettably still taught and disseminated academically—as if it were true prophetic word. Historical-critical research usually remains the exception, unfortunately.

The purpose of such conferences is to bring together the few good colleagues and interested people who work on the basis of historically reliable sources and an established philological methodology, so that they can exchange ideas. The goal of the conference, to bid farewell once and for all to the Islamic salvation history, is based on the results of the previous six conferences and the ten volumes published so far. The tome known as the Qur’an, which is evident to every reader, can hardly be imagined to be the written rendering of oral revelations to a prophet named “Muhammad,” or even the written memorandum of an exchange between the “proclaimer and his congregation,” as it is still heard from Potsdam.

In terms of genre, we are dealing [with the Qur’an] with an originally Christian work, perhaps a lectionary in Arabic, which was subsequently reworked several times by theologians, as it clearly shows different editorial strata.

The location of early Islam to Mecca and Medina, as claimed by Islamic traditions, is clearly a later, anachronistic retro-projection. Rather, the language, the script and the theological content [of the Qur’an] point to Mesopotamian northern Arabia. Islam in the proper sense can only be spoken of during and after the epoch of the Abbasids (from ca. 750 AD onwards)—the Umayyads were still (seen from the seat of the then Chalcedonian imperial orthodoxy) heterodox or heretical eschatological Christians, with an immediate expectation of the Parousia.

The historical efficacy of Muhammad, God’s messenger, cannot be gleaned from the hagiographic fables of the later Sira traditions, which arose, among other things, to read the prophet’s biography into the Qur’an. The authors of the later Islamic meta-narratives (Meistererzählung), as already mentioned, offer contradictory information; moreover, the fact that later Islamic works (without source references) can surprisingly offer much more detailed information is striking. The later a tradition, the more it supposedly “knows” about Muhammad and the beginnings of Islam. These authors, such as Tabari, were not historians in the true sense of the word; and although they occasionally do use some historical information (often unrecognisably reworked), they were moralists who set themselves the task of explaining their time on the basis of an imagined past. They created a “prequel,” so to speak (a story that appears to be a continuation of another narrative, but is not). This is therefore not a continuation of the narrative of the past in the proper sense, but rather a retro-projection of the past intended to explain the present situation, which in literary terms belongs to the genre of the “backstory” (toile de fond). The backstory is often used to lend historical depth or credibility to the main plot—the Star Wars sagas may be seen as the present-day equivalent of Islamic historiography.

The task of finding out how the emergence of Islam happened historically is more difficult. This was the actual task of the symposium, undertaken by the international participants from Germany, Algeria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, Syria, Tunisia, USA and even surprisingly Canada, as always in four languages (German, Arabic, French and English). We found it very nice that many a foreign participant gave his presentation in German.

The opening speeches on the first evening were on topics of contemporary relevance, such as the importance of our work (Schwab), the intellectually debauched notion of “Islamophobia” (Ibn Warraq) and the influence of our research on social debates in the so-called Islamo-Arab countries (Ghadban).

The second day got straight down to business with topics on the origins of Islam and the history of religion:

  • What does the slogan “Allahu akbar” actually mean (Popp), and the relationship of the Aramaic Ahiqar traditions to the Koranic Luqman (Abousamra).
  • Dequin and Shoemaker showed why Islam’s holy site was originally Jerusalem and not Mecca and referred to some of the possible substrate traditions underlying the Islamic Hajj.
  • Grodzki and Weintritt then presented papers on the source criticism of the alleged hagiography of the Islamic Prophet, the Sira.
  • Von Sivers discussed the misdating of the Doctrina Iacobi and the Nitsarot attributed to Rabbi Simeon b. Yohai, which were written later and thus say nothing about conditions in the first quarter of the 7th century.
  • The last lecture of the day, by a talented young scholar who had just defended his doctorate, discussed how and why the traditions about Muhammad, including the Hadiths, were only invented later as a source of legitimacy for Islamic law (Barsoum).

The third and fourth days were mainly devoted to Quranic topics:

  • The project to finally produce a critical edition of the Qur’an (Brubaker).
  • The biblical background of Suras 105 and 106 (Bonnet-Eymard).
  • On the “mysterious letters” in the Qur’an (Puin).
  • Wuestions of editorial history were discussed by Dye and Da Costa.
  • Younes discussed how later Muslim exegetes manipulated the Quranic text to justify later Islamic dogmas.
  • Striking parallels of an Arabic manuscript of Luke’s Gospel with a Hadith were addressed by Arbache.
  • Groß discussed possible Buddhist influences in Islamic orthopraxis.
  • Decharneux, another young talent who also recently defended his doctorate, and Van Reeth presented the Christian Aramaic theological background of the Qur’an originating in the South (today’s Emirates).
  • And finally, Nickel gave a paper on the unlikely phenomenon of pursuing science on Twitter and other social media.

On the evening of the third day, there was a round table “on the origins of the Qur’an,” moderated by Jean-Claude Muller, in which the topic was debated at great length.

On Tuesday evening, there was no formal programme, as Prof. Dr. Max Otte, who takes a keen interest in our work, generously invited all participants to dine at the Blesius Garten in Trier. We would like to take this opportunity to thank him once again for a very enjoyable evening, the highlight of the congress. Of course, there was further debate on the relevant topics between the fantabulous courses.

According to the feedback we received, the symposium was a success—the important questions were asked and answers sought. The discussions were lively and passionate and lasted long into the night.

The deadline for the submission of papers is the end of August, so it is expected that Volume 11, with the papers presented at Trier during the 7th Symposium, will be published before the end of the year.

To learn more, have a look at the Symposion booklet…


Featured image: Mural from the Apodyterium of Qusayr Amra, Jordan, 8th century.

The Sahel: Setbacks and Insecurity

While all the world is focused on the Russian-Ukrainian war in Ukraine and terrible consequences, calling attention to other regional conflicts might seem diversionary, or even offensive. But the world is a complex and cruel landscape, involving international dynamics and various interest groups which affect the lives of people.

Thus, it is useful to look at the Southern “near abroad” of EU and NATO blocks, where dynamics risk to impact (seriously), with implications for the security of Western states, including military threats, migrations routes, and the energy landscape.

Nine years after the French intervention in Mali, violent extremism continues to spread in the Sahel, showing remarkable resilience, despite efforts to prevent and combat radicalism by local governments and international actors. Jihadism, which seemed to be limited to northern Mali a few years ago, now extends to 75% of its territory, in addition to affecting Burkina Faso and Niger, with an increase, in the Sahel as a whole, of 70% in the number of jihadist actions; and with Burkina Faso in the focus for now, with dangerous and worrying intrusion into Western Guinea Gulf subregion states.

The complicated situation in which the Sahel finds itself, at a time when Operation “Barkhane” is being called to come to an end in 2022, in favour of a new, more modest military deployment, has brough into play various questions about the future of security in the region, where there are emerging more and more problems challenging the confrontation between the Euro-Atlantic economic and security architectures and Russia in primis (and China in the shadows).

Further, to complicate the matter, analysis, approaches, and management, as a caveat, when mentioning the Euro-Atlantic economic and security architectures, there are various imprecisions, given the divergent agendas and erratic priorities of some partners of these coalitions, like Turkey, or strong national interests, like France (reinforced by an exclusive colonial dominance, established in the region in the second half of the 19th century and which ended in the 1960s; and it should be remembered that since those years, French forces have carried out in Africa at least 50 operations, without considering the secret ones, as secrets, are not recorded).

The Current Stage

What will be the consequences of the end of Operation “Barkhane” on regional security? To what extent can regional governments and, more specifically the juntas that govern Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea (and in a limited extent, also Chad) respond to the articulated security challenges? What alternatives or possible solutions meet the growing regional deterioration, at a time when new external stakeholders, such as Russia, are now on the scene, formally and informally (using the infamous contractors of the Wagner group)?

Nine years after the French intervention in Mali, violent extremism continues to spread in the Sahel, showing remarkable resilience, despite prevention and counter-radicalism efforts by local governments and international actors. The weakening of jihadist groups, following the French intervention in January 2013, proved to be short-lived and the survivors of Operation “Serval,” to which “Barkhane” is the successor, have shown a great ability to recover and adapt quickly to the changing security environment.

In Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger alone, more than 6,200 French military personnel were killed in action. Since 2013, the Sahel is the region where terrorist groups have grown the most, with the Islamic State now replacing the Taliban as the world’s deadliest group and Burkina Faso as the main locus.

Of course, the galaxy of terrorists’ groups is a complex landscape, because of the persistent merging and splitting among its members, as well as allegiance to tribal, ethnic, ideological, and personal elements—all of which makes such groups extremely difficult to track and to identify individuals and trends. As a result, strategical and operational lines, approaches and targets also become difficult to ascertain.

During the early days of Operation “Barkhane” (which began in 2014, and which weakened the presence of French forces in other Francopohone states in the region), jihadist groups, mainly Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), managed to survive, thanks to their “low profile” strategy, through which they concealed themselves among the population, thus eliminating the need for operational structures (“katibas”) that would be too large and therefore easily detected and destroyed by an opposing force which had air assets.

In this way, AQIM, supported by the Malian jihadists group, Ansar Dine, gradually reorganised itself to operate throughout Mali, and even extended its actions to Burkina Faso and Niger. Thus, from 40 attacks recorded in 2014, Mali experienced 98 the following year, and 157 in 2016, becoming progressively more complex as armed groups began to operate south of Niger, as evidenced by the spectacular attacks on the Radisson hotel in Bamako (20 November 2015), Ouagadougou (15 January 2016) and Grand-Bassam in Côte d’Ivoire (13 March 2016), all involving Western citizens as targets.

The katibas that moved around AQIM were soon joined by Amadou Kouffa’s jihadist group, Macina Liberation Front (FLM), a group that abruptly emerged in January 2015, with the aim of expanding jihad to southern Mali (and restoring the empire of Macina, which existed from 1818 to 1862). This group, which recruits among the Fulani populations of Mali, trapped between the Tuareg and Malian farmers in the south who reproach them for their pastoralist traditions, demonstrated its operational capacity by taking control, albeit temporarily, of the town of Fakola in the SW of Mali in June 2015.

In March 2017, all Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadist groups reunited in a tactical alliance, self-labelled, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM), which in turn was the result of the artificial merger of historical terrorist groups Ansar Dine, AQIM, the Macina Liberation Front (FLM) and Al Mourabitoun (a jihadist group created in August 2013 and whose leader, the Algerian Mojtar Belmojtar became notorious in January 2013 with his attack on the Tiguentourine/In Amenas gas facility in Algeria). The new JNIM leader became Iyad ag-Ghali, the head of Ansar Dine, who led the 1990 rebellion of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MPLA) against the Malian government and who is known in the West as an intermediary in the liberation of European citizens in the first decade of the century.

The aim of this merger, despite heavy personal rivalries, was to increase the synergy of their actions, by sharing networks, experiences, and results, but also by following al-Qaeda’s strategy, they distanced themselves from the other branch of international jihadism represented by the Islamic State (a.k.a. Daesh), which was then emerging strongly in the Sahel. JNIM used the strategy of presenting itself as a reasonable actor, a promoter of Islamic governance and capable of issuing apologetic statements when civilians were killed, rather than the bloodthirsty terrorists that Daesh fighters were being labelled as. This group emerged as a Sahelian brand of Daesh in the Middle East, adopting the name, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (IS-GS) and established itself in the “Three Borders” region (between Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso), in an area particularly neglected by the Niamey, Bamako, and Ouagadougou governance.

The IS-GS took the oath of allegiance to the Islamic State in May 2015, under the Sahrawi, Adnan Abu Walid al-Saharawi, former spokesman of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA, or MUJAO in French) and former “emir” of Al-Mourabitoun in Mali.

The IS-GS became particularly prominent in sub-Saharan Africa and was characterised by following the most intransigent and ultraviolent tenets of jihadism, becoming the preferred target of Western forces and local states troops. Its fighters were largely from the MUJWA/MUJAO, established in 2011 by the Mauritanian Hamada Ould Kheira, who had left AQIM because of the group’s internal ethnic-tribal antagonism, under the control of Algerian Islamist terrorist chiefs, such as Droukdel and Belmokhtar, while the fighters were mostly black Africans recruited from among the Fulani, Daoussahaks and Gao Moors (all from Mali).

From its stronghold of Ménaka, and strengthened by its local roots and its egalitarian discourse, the MUJWA/MUJAO became known for its campaign of kidnappings and suicide bombings modelled on al-Qaeda. However, MUJWA/MUJAO was faced with a strong internal struggle, with mutual accusations by Algeria and Morocco, which blamed its historical rival to be supporting the group and undermining the regional security to win advantage for their respective regional leadership ambitions.

Of particular interest is also the relationship between IS-GS and the other Islamic State (IS) franchise operating in the Lake Chad region, under the name, Islamic State in the West African Province (ISWAP). This group emerged in 2016 as a splinter group of the Nigerian-based Boko Haram, the most active and lethal group in West Africa, which, by 2019, had killed more than 35,000 people, and originated more than two million of IDPs (Internally Displaced People) and connected the Sahel area with the Islamist insurgency in Chad, northern Cameroon, Niger, and NW Nigeria.

Established in 2002, in the Nigerian state of Borno, and led since 2009 by Abu Bakr Shekau, after the death in police custody of founder Mohammed Yusuf, Boko Haram was characterised by indiscriminate attacks on civilians and spread to neighbouring Niger, Chad, and Cameroon.

In 2015, Shekau pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) and the group changed its name to ISWAP. Dut due to his extreme brutality, IS decided to remove him in 2016, appointing Al Barnawi, the founder’s eldest son and until then the group’s spokesman, as his successor; thus, creating two factions: Boko Haram and ISWAP.

Both groups pursued the same aim of creating a Salafist-jihadist caliphate in the Shari’a-ruled Boko Haram’s actions, as opposed to ISWAP’s greater concern of gaining the acceptance of the local population. Their phoenix-like operational trend tells a similar story for both, their greatest strength being their ability to use areas with weak state presence to retreat into and regroup, while using a variety of tactics to maintain the flow of resources that have made them deadly and resilient jihadist groups.

However, Shekau’s death in June 2021, and after the rival splinter group stormed his Sambisa Forest fiefdom, has weakened Boko Haram and facilitated the integration of many of its members into ISWAP.

In terms of the relationship between ISWAP and IS-GS, the two jihadist groups are geographically independent, although IS-GS is technically considered a sub-group of ISWAP, according to the Islamic State’s architecture. ISWAP is particularly active in the Lake Chad Basin region, where it has intensified attacks against security forces since mid-2018, and mainly in Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon; while IS-GS is more confined to the Liptako Gourma region, with operations in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

Another differential aspect of Sahelian jihadism concerns the relationship between JNIM as an Al Qaeda affiliate and IS-GS as an Islamic State affiliate. For several years there existed, in contrast to affiliates in other regions of the world where they operate, a kind of tacit agreement of non-belligerence, and even cooperation between the two in joint raids against shared enemies; this is what came to be known as the “Sahelian anomaly.”

This made it easier for jihadism to expand its range of action in other Sahelian and West African countries since 2017, taking advantage of porous borders were, rural, poor societies, marginalised by their states, lived.
However, in 2019, this pact was broken, and tensions between JNIM and IS-GS became violent in the “Three Borders” area of the Liptako region. The causes of this rupture must be attributed to several factors; the main one being the ideological hardening of the IS-GS, resulting in its integration into the more radical ISWAP, and the consequent pressure to confront JNIM. To this should be added the tensions that have arisen between the two groups, driven by the growing operational ambitions of the IS-GS, which competes for fighters and resources in the Sahel.

The jihadist threat now look to Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, and Senegal; and although ISIS has been weakened in Mali, through military action by France and its partners and has lost its leader, Adman abu Walis al-Sahrawi, in a spectacular action in September 2021, it continues to seek a foothold in Western Niger and Burkina Faso, even if that means linking up with Boko Haram in Nigeria. The JNIM, whose hatred emir Droukdel was also killed in June 2020 in Southern Algeria, is reportedly trying to strengthen itself in the Azawad region by taking advantage of the lack of reaction from Algeria and in central Mali, where it is forced to coexist with nationalist groups in the Azawad.

To complete the picture of armed (and institutional) threats in the Sahel, there is also the existence of the separatist groups in northern Mali, signatories to the 2015 Algiers agreements (many other such agreements were signed as well before, but without any real impact on the tribalism-separatistm trends of the region), agreements that were supposed to guarantee peace and reconciliation.

These armed groups have formed a kind of parallel army in the Kidal region, dominated by the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), which is an alliance of rebel groups, created in Mali, in October 2014, with the aim setting up a new Touareg-dominated state, named “Azawad,” which would include the northern area of Mali, SE Algeria, West Niger, and SW Libya).

These groups came together in September 2021 to form the “Permanent Strategic Framework” (CSP), which is dominated by Tuareg and Arab nomads, and where Mali’s ajority communities (all Black Africans, like Songhaïs, Peuls, Bellahs) are poorly represented.

Foreign and Regional Military Assets and Actions

As far as Western and Sahelian government military forces are concerned, it is undeniable to admit that, from a tactical point of view, important successes have been achieved in recent years. Operations against armed terrorist groups during 2020 and 2021 have resulted in the targeted elimination of some of the most important jihadist leaders, including Abdelmalek Droukdel (head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM), Bah Ag Moussa (one of the leaders of JNIM), Abu Walid al-Saharoui (head of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, IS-GS), or Abu al-Maghrebi (religious leader of JNIM).

These favourable results on the ground have not, however, prevented the spread of jihadist violence to southern Mali and Burkina Faso and to western Niger, and even attacks in Burkina Faso’s border areas, with countries in the Gulf of Guinea. This was the main reason for the double military coup in Mali in August 2020 and May 2021, and the coup d’état in Burkina Faso in January 2022.

The deterioration of the situation led French President Emmanuel Macron to decide, after much incertitude and contradictory statements, in early June 2021, to suspend joint operations between French and Malian forces, while assuring that France would remain militarily engaged in the Sahel, but within the framework of an “international alliance associating the states of the region,” a new mission whose precise outline is not clarified.

In fact, this is not a new decision. At the Pau Summit in January 2020, which brought together the G5 Sahel countries (Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad) countries and France, Paris had already expressed its desire to reduce its presence in the Sahel and reiterated the need for African countries to take responsibility for the security of their citizens.

Among the reasons for France’s stance were the frustration over the lack of military and political achievements, the human and financial costs of “Barkhane” and the substantial lack of support from the domestic public opinion, distracted by national economic and social emergencies. However, it was the second coup d’état on 26 May 2021 which ousted interim President Bah Ndaw and made Mali’s hitherto vice-president Assimi Goita as the transitional President, which precipitated the decision to withdraw from Mali, even if not fully completed in the spring of 2022.

The new Malian junta, in a context of growing popular hostility towards the French presence in Mali—the greatest expression of which was the expulsion of the French ambassador in January 2022—demanded the departure of all French and European forces, and the handover of the “Barkhane” bases to the soldiers of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the Malian army, but also to the Russian private security operators (or mercenaries) of the Wagner group who, in early January 2022, settled at the main military base of the operation, in Timbuktu.

Consequently, the French “redeployment” of forces was an implicit recognition that its counterinsurgency strategy was not working (despite a consistent, prolonged but very discrete support from USA), and that the natural consequence was to reduce the number of troops in the “Barkhane” force by half, in a process that was to be completed by the middle of 2023. The military force would thus be reduced from 5,100 to 2,500 French soldiers redeployed outside Mali, mainly in the “Three borders” area in Niger’s territory, and its mission would be exclusively anti-terrorist, aimed at curbing the expansion of jihadist groups towards the south, a trend that has been increasing recently.

This operational redefinition of the framework for French military action implied—along with a commitment to continue fighting terrorism—a significant reduction of its conventional, elite and SOF (Special Operation Forces) units in favour of a greater increase in SF (special forces), as well as a major reliance on air and space assets (fighter, helicopters, UAVs, ISTAR, satellites) to the detriment of ground capabilities, as “force multiplier.”

The increased use of UAVs since late 2019, combined with SF, would support this troop reduction strategy, as they are more effective at eliminating adversaries than ground forces. As a result, UAVs now account for 40% of air strikes, with the result of operations in the area multiplying.

The reduction of French troops in the Sahel will necessarily affect other French operation in the region, namely, Operation “Sabre,” which has been active since 2009. With its operational base in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, Task Force (TF) “Sabre” is composed of 400 French SF troops and has been primarily responsible for the elimination of most high-value targets (HVTs), such as jihadist leaders.

In the new context of French redeployment, France’s organisational and operational autonomy vis-à-vis “Barkhane” risks being affected by the end of this operation. In fact, TF “Sabre” could lose some of its assets if “Barkhane” disappears, to the benefit of the increased power of the new “Takuba” force that, although European, bases its structure to a large extent on the French SF that have defined the ROE (Rules Of Engagement) and operational procedures.

Activated in July 2020 to make up for the shortcomings of the EU’s training mission in Mali (EUTM)—given the impossibility for military trainers of the mission to accompany Malian soldiers during their operations—the “Takuba” force was planned to reach 2,000 combatants, from several European countries, and to take part in counter-insurgency actions, replacing “Operation Barkhane.”

As for “Takuba,” it is important to specify its institutional framework, which in a way, has impacted on its operational capabilities. “Takuba” is activated outside of the EU official defense and security architecture, led by EEAS framework, and it is closer to the scheme of the “coalition of the willing,” which led the establishment of the multinational naval force which operates in the Persian-Arab Gulf, the EMASOH (European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz).

This choice, strongly pushed by France, aimed at having more agile and lethal capabilities of the forces deployed, which by the way, never reached the planned level. Their deployment is an implicit recognition of the inability of French forces to control the vast territory of the Sahel, except temporarily and in specific areas, and of the weakness of local armed forces, especially in Mali. Thus, the constituent purpose of Task Force “Takuba” is to integrate local forces with European SF teams, thereby creating a critical mass of assets capable of defeating any opposing group and better protecting the population. This would obviously not solve the structural problems of local armies, but it would allow them to be more effective on the ground and to quickly do more. And in counter-insurgency warfare, the principle is that hitting the enemy is good, but controlling the terrain is better, with the combination of the two effects producing the best results. This principle works well in theory, but it remains to be seen whether it could yield strategic results in the Sahel scenario.

Moreover, TF “Takuba” is suffering from serious structural problems, stemming from its slow deployment, and the reluctance of some states to participate in it, despite the strong pressure by Paris on its partners. For example, the Danish component was withdrawn from Mali when it arrived, on the grounds of bureaucratic shortcomings, the small number of its components, which did not exceed 800 troops, half of them French, and the fact that they cannot operate in Mali, where the centre the insurgency is located.

Also, it should be remembered that Sweden, few days after the notification from the Bamako authorities to expel the Danes, to avoid a similar humiliating situation which was likely approaching, withdrew its own contingent.

Finally, the “Takuba” concept suffered from the perceptions of many of its potential contributors, reluctant to risk their precious assets of SF, on behalf of France and its benefits, which is not generous in opening economic spaces in what Paris considers an exclusive domain.

As far as training missions are concerned, they remain today the EU’s main and most substantial contribution to security in the Sahel. Although the will of Europe is to strengthen its means and capabilities, to support the security forces of the countries in the region, an objective it considers crucial in increasing the protection of local populations and bringing about stability of the region, its survival will depend, in any case, on whether the necessary conditions are met, as recognised in the EU-AU joint declaration of 17 February 2022, in the side-lines of the 6th EU-AU Summit in Brussels.

These conditions include a strict separation between its activities and those of the Russian group Wagner, which is increasingly active in the Sahel, and a guarantee that EU-trained Malian soldiers will not subsequently join units operating under Wagner’s orders. Despite the lack of consensus on the future of EU operations in Mali, with several member states in favour of suspending the mission, and while others are reluctant to do so, the European Council decided on 12 April of this year to close and withdraw it (EUTM-Mali was activated on February 2013), formalizing and finalizing a long-standing crisis between Brussels (and Paris) and Bamako.

It should be said that despite an important growing in staffing (more than 600 personnel between trainers and support staff), resources, and assets, the EUTM-Mali suffered several problems due to, among others, the existence of non-coordinated training paths between the national teams of trainers. It is useful to be reminded that the other EU-led presence in Mali, EUCAP-Sahel Mali is in limbo; but given the persistent hostility of the Bamako military junta, it will be withdrawing as well.

The other two forces on the ground will not produce tangible results in improving the stability situation, due to a lack of equipment, poor financial means, and poor transnational coordination. The G5 Sahel Joint Force—created in 2017 and officially composed of 5,000 men drawn from the elite units of the armed forces of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad—is conditioned by the need for greater regional cooperation to prevent each of them pursuing their national interests above all else. Moreover, reliance on the support of other military structures, such as the “Barkhane” force for training and MINUSMA for operational support, does not facilitate operational performance, either.

The G5 Sahel Joint Force was established following the activation, in 2014 of the G5 Sahel, a sub-regional organisation set up to deal with conflict management in the Sahel, when it seemed unlikely. Some analysts were already describing a “security traffic jam” in the region.

This concept emerged when Chad offered, but out of the G5 framework, additional forces, and AU a multinational brigade; the Chadian troops, briefly deployed in the “Three Borders Area” were called back due to the institutional crisis following the death of the President Deby, who fell fighting Islamist elements in his country (and who was replaced by his son); the AU brigade of 3,000 troops, despite being officially announced, was never deployed.

There is a wide range of stakeholders involved in conflict-management in the Sahel; but this multiple presence is based on uncertain approaches and weak actors, especially at the local level, where the G5 Member States may be easy labelled as “failed states” for their economic and social performances.

The multinational force of the G5, in theory formed by the elite elements of their respective armed forces, never reached an effective operational level, not even the ancillary roles of relieving the French forces of “Barkhane” and garrison duties of main urban areas and major communication axes.

Thus despite, an important flux of assets and finance (however not well coordinated) from donor countries, the local actors remain intrinsically weak, as noted by the strong report of a UN Security Council delegation visit in the region, in October 2021.

In the case of MINUSMA (UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission) in Mali—present in Mali since 2013—its work is hampered by the fact that its mandate is limited to the territory of Mali. With France’s withdrawal, the UN Security Council has announced an increase in personnel from 13,000 troops and 1,700 police officers to 17,300 to fill the territorial gaps created by the “Barkhane” withdrawal and to prevent security vacuums. But this risks falling, once again, in the typical mistake of UN-led peacekeeping missions, because of “Mission creep:/”Mandate creep.”

Further, the capability of MINUSMA is affected by divergent views of the Western major players in the area, France, and US, thus keeping the operation in a conceptual vacuum which does not help in formulating a proper approach, but only a limited confrontation to the Islamist insurgency.

The reduction/withdrawal of “Barkhane” worsened the burden on the Mission, and the future remains uncertain, without the permanence of MINUSMA, at least in the medium term.

However, as with the G5 Sahel Joint Force, MINUSMA suffers from lack of material, financial and intelligence capabilities; and the fact that its mission is exclusively to support the authorities and not fight counterinsurgency, make it difficult for it to replace the role of the French. Further, the mission’s effectiveness is threatened by the reduction and/or withdrawal of contingents from Western countries, leaving an additional burden on the poorly trained and equipped Third World country troops, who represent the bulk of the mission.

To better understand the current military (and political) stalemate which affects Mali and the region (and to be fair, it is not new), it is useful remember that in parallel deployment of “Serval,” the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) deployed, with the support of a NATO air bridge, the AFISMA (the African-led International Support Mission to Mali) sent to support Bamako against Islamist rebels in Northern Mali.
The mission was authorized with UN Security Council Resolution 2085, passed on 20 December 2012, which “authorizes the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali for an initial period of one year,” and which reached a peak of 8.000 troops (these troops, when MINUSMA was activated, were ‘re-hatted’ to blue berets).

On the other hand, there are regional armies and self-defence forces that have spontaneously emerged from within the civilian population because of the deteriorating security situation. Their performance falls far short of internationally accepted standards. And the Malian army’s overreaction against Fulani tribe civilians, accused of harbouring both JNIM and IS-GS militants, is having the opposite effect of increasing local recruitment and this has driven many in the population to seek protection from the jihadists. Indiscriminate attacks against the local population by government-affiliated forces, according to MINUSMA, has resulted in more civilian casualties than actual jihadist casualties by 2020.

In other cases, it is local communities that have set up rural self-defence militias, with the consent of the state, who then violently impose their own law. This situation has also spread to Niger, a large and poor country, currently threatened on five of its seven borders, by major jihadist groups. Niger is considered the best French alternative for deployment after the expulsion of its forces from Mali.

The “Alien”

As mentioned above, another actor that has emerged strongly in the security arena in recent years is Russia, which is increasingly active across Africa. But how has Moscow managed to push the French out of several countries that Paris lazily assumed were “acquis?”

A Wagner group financier, and the spearhead of Russian influence on the continent, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who made his fortune in the restaurant business, is one of the most important oligarchs within Putin’s entourage. Since hosting the first Russia-Africa summit in October 2019 (the next one is planned in November 2022) in Sochi, President Vladimir Putin has been striving to make his country play a leading role in Africa, extending geopolitical competition, as in the Cold War era.

In the Sahel, as before in Syria, Central African Republic and Libya, Russia has taken advantage of the insecurity and the vacuum created by the announcement of the departure of French forces from Mali, and is seeking to replace Paris’ influence there, and extend it in the region through regular and irregular means. To this end, its strategy, which began in December 2021, has relied on disinformation by facilitating the activities of the private military company (PMC) Wagner, linked to the Kremlin through the Ministry of Defence and the Federal Security Service (FSB), and by capitalising on a growing anti-French sentiment spreading across the region.

As in the Central African Republic and Mozambique, Wagner has taken advantage of the Malian junta’s turn towards Russia to secure regime protection services and security for senior Malian officials against any coup attempt, while securing significant financial benefits through financial and mineral concessions.

It should be recalled that Mali since independence (1960), was never a docile member of the so-called “FranceAfrique” and had an historical proximity with Moscow (before as USSR and now with the Russian Federation).

However, it cannot be assumed that the use of Wagner guarantees success, considering what happened in Libya, where 1,200 Russian mercenaries failed to deliver victory to Field Marshal Haftar, in his offensive against Tripoli, in the spring of 2020. Moreover, if we take into account their poor operational results in carrying out similar missions—for example, in 2019, against the Islamist insurgency in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province—and add to this the high legal and humanitarian costs they impose, including serious allegations of human rights violations, it could be concluded that Wagner is more of a tool to increase Russian areas of influence on the continent than an element to increase security and regional stabilisation. In any case, its influence on the region’s political future will depend greatly on the outcome of the war in Ukraine, where Russia’s attention is currently focused.

To What End?

The major transformations in the security situation in the Sahel in recent times, with the announcement of the “end of Barkhane,” the emergence of a strong regional hostility towards French policy and the multiplication of ad hoc agreements with JNIM-affiliated jihadist groups in both Mali and Burkina Faso, seem to pave the way for the relaunching of a possible negotiation at a national level, initially in Mali, but which could be extended to other countries affected by the Islamist insurgency.

Eventual negotiations would be favoured by a regional context in which jihadist groups have been able to exploit local grievances and bad governance—using rhetoric based on anti-colonialism—to stir up local sentiments, presenting themselves as indispensable actors to expel foreign forces.

To this end, JNIM’s recent willingness to enter into negotiations with the Malian state authorities seems to indicate a certain strategic flexibility, albeit based on a non-negotiable extremist ideological position on jihad, whether global or local. No matter how many setbacks and delays they suffer and no matter which regime they face, their mission to turn the Sahel into an Islamic emirate remains a priority.

This negotiating position, whose interlocutor is the terrorist leader Iyad Ag Ghali, is supported by Algeria, which is concerned about the evolution of the political and security situation among its southern neighbours, especially in Mali, and which has always been wary of the Barkhane operation, an anti-terrorist action led by the former colonial power.

Moreover, the G5 Sahel initiative, still supported by France, is also viewed with some caution by Algiers, which would have preferred the management of the continent’s security issues through the African Union and regional and bilateral collaboration between states, such as the Joint Operational Military Staff Committee (CEMOC) launched in 2010 and based in Tamanrasset.

Algeria, whose counter-terrorism policy has traditionally oscillated between the carrot and the stick—a counter-terrorism policy based on conventional operations, but leaving open the possibility of jihadists surrendering in exchange for some form of amnesty—now favours strengthening the JNIM vis-à-vis the CMA, albeit conditional on any agreement having the approval of Algiers, which looks with suspicious the idea of “Azawad.”

However, reaching a possible agreement does not seem to be an easy task. It would also require the current JNIM fighters to lay down their arms, something that can only happen if they are offered significant rewards through an ambitious disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) process, funded by the international community (UN?). In this scenario, it is quite possible that the IS-GS, a group that categorically rejects any dialogue, would attract all those disgruntled people who, for ideological or personal-interest reasons, will not accept a negotiation process with the governments.

Future Outlooks for Security in the Sahel

The outlook for security in the Sahel remains uncertain in the short to medium term. Jihadist groups have been demonstrating great resilience in adapting quickly to the dynamics of operations on the ground, even when faced with tactical defeats. Every time an African government has declared that a group is “defeated,” the claim has been disproved shortly afterwards. Military efforts to defeat them on the battlefield, the preferred option for restoring security, have been disappointing. The military efforts of French and local forces, despite having taken out many of the jihadist leaders, as well as regional initiatives, such as the G5 Sahel Joint Force, or military training provided by EUTM-Mali, have not yielded the expected results and, surprisingly, have failed to overcome local jihadist groups as reliable providers of security and services.

In this regard, experience over the years indicates that military strikes against jihadist organisations tend to displace them by forcing them to seek refuge, rather than eradicate them, so that once military pressure diminishes, they return stronger and expand further, unless the capabilities of the state, in which they have been operating, have substantially improved.

On the other hand, and regardless of the difference in approach or ideology, the new security reality in the Sahel is marked by the bitter rivalry between regional Islamic State and al-Qaeda franchises, exacerbated by pre-existing structural vulnerabilities, which have resulted in increased violence and conflict.

However, competition between the two branches of jihadism in the Sahel may be a favourable factor in the new context of French withdrawal and may contribute to the weakening of these groups and the depletion of their resources, effectively diluting the threat they pose.

But the opposite can also happen: direct competition for new recruits and the support of locals can lead to a “bidding up” process using increased levels of violence to demonstrate their commitment and relative power vis-à-vis the competing organisation. Such competition between jihadist groups can aggravate the insecurity situation by encouraging operational innovation, increasing recruitment and pushing civilians to choose sides, contributing to the prolongation of the conflict, as well as to the resilience and adaptability of competing groups. If this were to happen, it would further complicate the security landscape in an already fragile region.

Moreover, the change in the mechanism of Operation “Barkhane,” to delegate responsibility for counter-insurgency to local armies and “Takuba,” comes too late, and does so at a time when protests by local populations and the French authorities’ inability to communicate strategically are showing the limits of external military action.
It seems fundamental, therefore, in order to have a minimum guarantee of success, to achieve a greater “hybridisation” between international forces and local armies that avoids possible rejection, so that the former appear as a support element and not as those responsible for counter-insurgency action.

Finally, the progressive intromission of a new stakeholder (Russia) has changed the strategic view of the Western actors in the region, re-focusing their action to expelling Wagner from Mali so that Moscow does not gain influence in Burkina, Guinea, Niger and Chad.


Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).


Is Islam Our Future? A Conversation With Jean-Louis Harouel

This conversation with the eminent French historian Jean-Louis Harouel examines the long-term consequences of multiculturalism, especially the settlement of large numbers of Muslims in the West. He is Professor Emeritus at Paris 2 University and the author of about twenty very important books, such as Les droits de l’homme contre le peuple (2016), which was translated into Italian and Hungarian. His most recent book is L’islam est-il notre avenir? (Paris, La Nouvelle Librairie, 2021), which forms the basis of this interview which is made possible through the courtesy of Breizh-Info.


Breizh-info (B-I): Yet another book on Islam, I am tempted to say. What did you want to bring to the debate on the Islamization of Europe?

Jean-Louis Harouel (J-L H): I wanted to say that it is totally unrealistic to let millions of Muslims reside on our territory who keep the ways of thinking and the morals of a Muslim country, and at the same time hope to continue to live in France and in Europe as we used to live there, while practicing a freedom of thought and expression proscribed by Islam. In many parts of its territory, France, which is the European nation with the largest number of Muslims on its soil, has today become a country other than France: a Muslim country. This is what Éric Zemmour recently felt when he returned to the northern suburbs where he had spent his childhood and concluded that we had changed countries: “We are no longer in the same country.”

I wanted to show that Islamist killings are a danger inherent in a massive Muslim presence. In a large Muslim population, there will inevitably be a percentage of people who will take Sharia law to the letter and want to kill infidels and blasphemers, as prescribed by certain passages of the Koran, or as the Prophet repeatedly urged his followers to do. The possibility of assassination as a punishment for freedom of thought, or other forms of impiety, is an inherent risk of Islam. The multiplication of this violence in France is the result of the fact that it has been allowed to become, in large parts of the land, a Muslim country. But, in a Muslim country, there is an obligation to show respect for Islam and offenders are severely punished.

Jean-Louis Harouel.

The beheading of Samuel Paty and the death threats against any teacher considered to be offensive to Islam are only the logical consequence of the insane situation in which political leaders have progressively trapped France over the last fifty years: welcoming millions of Muslims while scrupulously respecting their beliefs, and at the same time expecting them to adhere to a freedom of thought that Muslim law considers a crime and punishes with sentences that can go as far as death.

To try to keep our freedom of expression, and even more fundamentally the future of our existence as a people, there is only one way: to make sure that this Muslim country which was constituted on French soil is reintegrated into France, that it becomes French again. If we fail to do so, our very existence as a people will be compromised, because we will have allowed another civilization to snatch away our right to “historical continuity,” according to the beautiful formula of Bérénice Levet. We have known this since Valéry: our civilization can die because civilizations are mortal and history is their tomb. It is up to the peoples of Europe to decide whether they want to die or continue to live, and whether they are ready to do what it takes to do so.

B-I: Doesn’t the demographic question settle today, and in the medium term, the fate of Europe and Europeans in the face of an increasingly numerous Ummah?

J-L H: Indeed, it is demography that will be the key to our future and that will indicate to the Ummah whether or not France and other Western European countries have become fruit to be picked; whether they are ripe to fall almost of their own accord into the hands of Islam. It is well known that there has been a millenary Muslim will to conquer Europe. And it is by pushing back the conquering enterprises of Islam, or by freeing itself from the occupations that it had established (Spain and southern France, Sicily, Hungary, Balkans) that Europe succeeded in remaining Europe. Otherwise, it would have become in the field of civilization what it is geographically, i.e., a small corner of Asia.

Now, because of the extent of the Muslim presence on our soil, at a time when our capacity to resist is diminished by the submission of Western societies to the religion of human rights, there is no doubt that Western Europe has become once again what it was in the Middle Ages; that is to say, a land to be taken, a prey for Islam. This has been said in no uncertain terms by senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood; but it is not only the Islamists who are to blame. Many Muslims who are considered moderate are also in this logic of patient, hushed, unspoken conquest. They know that demographics play in favor of Islam, thanks to the number of children born to Muslim women and the constant arrival of new Muslim immigrants. They know that sooner or later, the situation of Islam will be strong enough for it to somehow take over France and perhaps other European countries as well. If nothing is done in the meantime to reverse this process, the tipping of France and other Western European countries into the orbit of the Muslim world seems inevitable within a few decades.

B-I: Your book evokes the impossibility for the Muslim world to get rid of religion, which is intrinsically linked to it. In what way would what has been possible for other religions not be possible for Islam?

J-L H: In fact, the only religion that has fully experienced this phenomenon is Christianity, of which Marcel Gauchet wrote that it had historically been “the religion of the exit from religion.” Under the effect of the logic inherent in Christianity, and without this having prevented the maintenance of “a religious life at the scale of individuals,” European societies have progressively left “the religious structuring of societies.” This does not mean that the Church did not oppose this abandonment of “religion as structure” as much as it could. But, since Christianity is a religion exclusively turned towards spiritual ends, the Church has never directly punished irreligion with earthly sanctions. She has let the State do it for her. Only when the State freed itself from the Church and secularized itself, did it stop punishing the impious and the blasphemous. And since the Church could only inflict spiritual punishments on them, they ceased to be punished concretely.

In contrast to this process, Islam did not need the state to enact laws to punish the ungodly, since the Muslim holy texts contain a whole code of law that fulminates terrible punishments against bad Muslims. Thanks to the weapon of the allegedly divine penal law which it carries, Islam has from the outset protected itself against any challenge by threatening death to those who would challenge its dogmas and its hold on society.

B-L: You explain that it is fear that has allowed Islamic regimes to maintain themselves for centuries and centuries in the Muslim world. On the other hand, there are also examples of countries that have taken Islamists out of history, notably in the Arab world, again through fear and violence. Explain this to us.

J-L H: There are two very different things. On the one hand, some Arab rulers have indeed, without in the least questioning the prestige of Islam and its domination over society, used violence and fear against the Islamists, such as Nasser and then Sadat in Egypt, who was finally assassinated by them. And then, on the other hand, there is the repressive mechanism of the terrorist nature inherent to Islam, which protects it against the freedom of the spirit. And this concerns Islam considered as normal, as moderate compared to Islamism.

When, in 1981, in Sadat’s Egypt, one of his ministers of state calmly explained to the foreign press that the assassination of a Muslim who converted to another religion “does not go against the freedom of religion,” this statesman was not speaking as an extremist or an Islamist. He was simply giving the point of view of a good Muslim who knew his holy texts well. Islam locks human thought into a bigoted conformity to all the prescriptions and prohibitions laid down in the texts that Muslims claim to be divine law. From a Muslim point of view, there are many things one is not allowed to say or do. Breaking these rules is done at the risk of one’s life, as Muslim criminal law has prescribed penalties for these crimes that can go as far as death. As a result, with rare exceptions, intellectuals of Muslim origin have not dared to stand up openly against Islam, and Muslim societies have not experienced the great revolt against the domination of religion that characterized Christian societies in Europe from the 18th century onwards. Islam has been and remains preserved from all contestation by fear.

B-L: Is Europe, in all this, not finally a victim of the religion of human rights, which finally condemns a civilization to suicide, if nothing changes?

J-L.H: The tragedy of France and more generally of Western Europe comes from their adherence to a new utopia which is supposed to establish the reign of good on earth: the secular religion of human rights. This new avatar of the religion of humanity has taken over from the communist one, with the difference that the class struggle has been replaced by the fight against discrimination, but in the service of the same objective, which is the emancipation of humanity through the establishment of equality.

The religion of human rights is the basis of a fiercely anti-national ideology that has radically changed the content of democracy, which is now identified with the cult of the universal, with the obsession with openness to the other. As a fundamental principle of democracy, the sovereignty of the people has taken a back seat and has been replaced by the reign of the dogmas of the religion of human rights, with judges as their priests. In Western democracies, perverted by the religion of human rights, as in the former so-called democracy of the Soviet world, citizens are crushed by ideological taboos whose transgression is severely punished by criminal law: human rights totalitarianism has taken over from communist totalitarianism in the desire to prevent the Western individual from thinking and acting freely. Violating the founding disjunction of the West between politics and religion, this secular state religion deprives the French and more generally the Europeans of their liberties and forbids them to protect themselves against the invading presence of other peoples, other civilizations.

B-I: What optimism, what prospects do you offer to readers for our near future?

J-L H: The truth is, not much. We are in such a deadlock that it is not clear how we will get out of it. And this is because of the West’s submission to the dogmas of the official religion of human rights. Exerting a profoundly dissolving effect on European societies in the name of the hunt for discrimination, presenting cosmopolitanism as the absolute good, forbidding the European peoples to value and love each other, digging the demographic void of Europe by a strong incitement to abortion and filling this void by the arrival of populations mainly of African origin and of Muslim civilization, the religion of human rights is leading the Europeans to their own annihilation. And it is very difficult to reverse this suicidal mechanism, as long as this objectively disastrous state of affairs for the European peoples is perceived as just and good by government officials and by the globalized business community; as long as it is in conformity with the virtuously self-destructive morality that underlies the ideology promoted by the religion of human rights. Like the communist religion, it has taken over from, this secular religion forbids seeing reality and forces people to live in an imaginary world. As a result, good and evil are no longer defined by an understanding of reality, but by the ideals of this dream world. So that what was good has become evil, and vice versa. The measures in favor of immigration and the complacency for the Islamization of Europe being considered as good by the elites who govern us, one should obviously not count on them to fight them.

The only small note of hope that it is possible to introduce, in spite of everything concerning France, is the totally atypical way in which the pre-campaign for the presidential election is currently taking place there, due to the shock wave provoked by the probable candidate Éric Zemmour, with his unprecedented way of refusing all wooden language and calling things as they really are. He thus forced the candidates claiming to be from the governmental right to renounce their usual conformist preaching, in order to take a clear stand on the issues of immigration, Islamization, and the paralysis of political power by the priest-judges of the cult of human rights, both national and supranational.

Even, in this context of liberation of speech and thought, the president and future candidate Macron felt compelled to give to the Algerian leaders a speech of reality at the antipodes of the genuflections and repentant prostrations to which he had given himself up until now. In short, Zemmour has succeeded in a few weeks in doing what the National Rally to achieve despite all its efforts—forcing the political class to leave the imaginary world of human rights and return to the real world. This is crucial, because the process of the conquest of Europe by Islam can only be countered to the extent that it is recognized for what it is, and not perceived as a normal or even desirable phenomenon. This recent—but fragile—return to the world of reality is a welcome ray of light in the night that is falling on France.

And then, more fundamentally, a touch of optimism for Europe can be added to this gloomy picture, thanks to the realistic policies courageously pursued by several countries of the former communist bloc, foremost among them Hungary and Poland. Having suffered for half a century under the boot of communist totalitarianism, these peoples and their leaders are more capable than we are of perceiving the totalitarian and suicidal character of the religion of human rights that has taken over from it, so much so that they refuse the immigrationist ideology that it claims to impose on Europeans and that they are the basis of a resistance to the Islamization of Europe.


Featured image: “Héroïque fermeté de saint Louis à Damiette, mai 1250” (Heroic Resolve of Saint Louis at Damiette, May 1250), by Guillaume Guillon Lethière, painted in 1827.

Two Moorish Jesuits: Juan de Albotodo And Ignacio de las Casas

After the conquest of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs on January 2, 1492, the Muslim population that remained in the old Nasrid kingdom was a constant source of problems because of their lack of integration. After the War of the Alpujarras, between 1568 and 1571, the Muslim population was dispersed throughout the other kingdoms of Spain, until its definitive expulsion in 1609.

The Ignatian Moriscos

During this long century, the attempts at evangelization multiplied; but the authentic conversions were always sporadic, and even less numerous were the converts who entered into religion. Two of them were Juan de Albotodo (1527-1578), and his disciple Ignacio de las Casas (1550-1608), both Jesuits, followers of the project of their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, who wanted to assign a large number of Moorish religious to the evangelization of North Africa.

Miguel Ángel García Olmo, PhD in Cultural Anthropology, lawyer and philologist, author, among other works, of Las razones de la Inquisición española (The Reasons for the Spanish Inquisition) has written an essay on both these Jesuits Moriscos, which won him the Pascual Tamburri Bariain 2021 Prize, an award that furthers the legacy of Pascual Tamburri Bariain, professor, intellectual and journalist from Navarre, who died prematurely in 2017, at the age of 47.

The essay, published in issue 228 of Razón Española (a magazine founded in 1983 by Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora), and entitled, “The Ignatian Moriscos,” highlights Fathers Albotodo and Las Casas for their powerful personality and apostolic constancy, but also as an example of “the poor harvest that the Church was able to reap after a century of exhausting and disheartening sowing in the hermetic field of the Moorish soul.”

The converts from Islam to Christianity had a double merit: not only did they have to face their communities of origin, but also the reticence and mistrust of the Spanish society of their time, obsessed with the cleanliness of blood due to the presence of the Judaizers. When they then entered religion, their natural desire was to preach among their brethren.

Standard Of Charity

Albotodo, son of Moors and grandson of Moors, well expressed his intention to “preach especially to Moriscos and Moors… and to give tidings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is not known,” in gratitude for the “so great mercy and benefit” that he had received from Him with the light of faith.

On feast days he gave such tiding, in Arabic, in the Albaicín of Granada, where there were six thousand new Christian homes, to whose children he taught the Christian doctrine. His preaching in the neighborhood, or in his missions in the Alpujarras shocked his listeners, particularly the women, whose conversion was fundamental because they were the ones who, in the discretion of the home, transmitted the Mohammedan beliefs from generation to generation.

Father Albotodo was also devoted to charity; and thanks to his efforts, a hospital for the poor and a school for children and adolescents was opened, sponsored by the famous Archbishop Pedro Guerrero, a prominent figure in the Council of Trent. In its heyday, it had 550 students.

But what was the fruit of such an enormous apostolic effort? García Olmo points out the contrast between the triumphalist letters sent to Rome and the “growing pessimism” in the face of the “sterility of the colossal effort” which did not bear fruit.

The Jesuits considered shutting everything down, but Albotodo did not give up (supported by St. Francis of Borgia) and remained as the only priest in the neighborhood, assisted by five Jesuit brothers, until the final farewell in 1569, when the War of the Alpujarras completely changed the relationship with the Muslim community.

Support For The Crown

This community, which a few years earlier had asked for Jesuits for the neighborhood, conceived a “bitter resentment” towards them, because the sons of St. Ignatius, who knew the reality they were facing, had approved the military actions of the Crown against the Moorish uprisings. They made an attempt on the life of Albotodo, who escaped unharmed; and on Christmas Eve 1568 the Muslims assaulted the Jesuits’ house looking for him to kill him, from which he escaped at the last moment.

Although he supported the repression of the Moorish uprisings, Father Albotodo protected his relatives and obtained from Don Juan de Austria, in command of the royal forces, guarantees for their lives.

He then devoted himself to other apostolic work, among the prisoners, where he stood out; and there is a record of at least one conversion, that of a Moor condemned to death and executed in 1573.

Christianity And Islam: An Impossible Convergence

Father Ignacio de las Casas, a disciple of Albotodo, continued his work, although in a very different style. If the master had done the work mainly through charity, Casas devoted himself to an effective public defense of his people. He did so without any relativism, because in the same way that he advocated a deep and orderly study of the Koran to better approach his followers, he encouraged—in his words—to “hate and abhor the sect of the perverse Muhammad.”

In fact, in the famous polemic of the Plomos del Sacromonte he opposed any compromise between Catholicism and Islam. In 1595 some pages were discovered in a strange Latin mixed with Arabic that pretended to be a fifth gospel, with supposed revelations of the Blessed Virgin and of the Apostle Saint James, looking for a compromise between the Christian faith and Mohammedan beliefs. A forgery—probably the work of elite Moors anxious to reduce the tension between both communities—but this work did not deceive Las Casas.

Even so, he sought compassion rather than confrontation, and did not hesitate to make in his letters and writings, explains García Olmo, “an emotional and at the same time reasoned vindication of the moral qualities treasured by the Moorish people.” At the same time, he denounced the contradictions of the assimilationist policies of the Crown and the Church, which combined mass baptisms with “isolation” and “contempt” for the neophytes.

Failure

Las Casas, like Albotodo, was motivated by a sincere desire for an authentic conversion, thanks to a true catechesis, instead of a policy of pacts that was satisfied with the purely external submission of the Moriscos, only to have to subdue them by force when, resentful of their own double life, they rebelled. He himself went to the King and the Pope to censure this way of acting.

The truth is that the evangelizing work of Albotodo and Casas did not obtain the expected results, because of the closed resistance of their recipients, who ended up seeing the Jesuits as mere agents of power to strip them of their identity and their traditions.

And both men also understood and supported the subsequent decisions of the Crown when that stubborn resistance translated into open insubordination, accompanied by crimes and martyrdoms against Christians. Both men were good and zealous shepherds of souls—souls of the people to whom they belonged by blood—but they did not hide from the danger of interior Islam as a cancer of Christianity, the people to whom they belonged by faith.


Carmelo López-Arias is a Spanish historian and writer. This article through the kind courtesy of Religión en Libertad.


Featured image: “The Moorish Proselytes of Archbishop Ximenes, Granada, 1500,” by Edwin Long; painted in 1873.

The Claws Of The Sphinx: René Guénon And The Islamization Of The West

I.

The profound historical and spiritual transformations that will determine the future of humanity are so distant from our media, from our university life, and generally from all public debates in this country, that what I am about to say in this article will certainly seem stratospheric and alien to immediate reality.

The incurably ill patient who groans in pain on a hospital bed is hardly interested, at that moment, in the medical, biochemical, and pharmacological controversies that are going on in distant countries and in languages he doesn’t know, but from which may come, one day, the cure for his disease. What is most closely related to his destiny seems distant, abstract, and alien to his pain.

Those who are interested in the future of Brazil should pay attention to what I am going to tell you here; but it will be very difficult to make them see that one has something to do with the other.

I will start by analyzing the review of an author unknown in this country [Brazil] who is reviewing the book of another author equally ignored here.

The book is False Dawn: The United Religions Initiative, Globalism, and the Quest for a One-World Religion, by Lee Penn, which I have recommended many times but few have read it, because it is a long and boring tome. The reviewer is Charles Upton, author of The System of the Antichrist, which has been even less read, which I have also recommended but with less emphasis and constancy. The review was published in a more recent book by Upton, Findings: In Metaphysic, Path, and Lore, A Response to the Traditionalist/Perennialist School.

Lee Penn’s book describes and documents, with an abundance of primary sources, the formation and development of a bionic world religion, with all the characteristics of a satanic parody, under the auspices of the UN, the US government, virtually all the major Western media, and a handful of the mega-wealthy. Started in 1995 by William Swing, bishop of the Episcopal Church, under the name, United Religions Initiative [URI], although unofficially it had existed since much earlier (going back to the Lucis Trust, founded in 1922 by Alice Bailey), the enterprise, sustained by incalculably vast financial resources and backed by a whole cast of show business and political stars, has even won the informal support of Pope Francis.

With the beautiful goal of creating “a world of peace, sustained by engaged and interconnected communities committed to respect for diversity, non-violent resolution of conflicts, and social, political, economic, and environmental justice,” the movement brings together, in festive so-called “ecumenical” celebrations, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Shintoists, Animists, Spiritists, Theosophists, Ba’hais, Sikhs, followers of New Age, Wicca, Satanism, Reverend Moon, Hare Krishna and any indigenous or ufological cult that presents itself, and giving to everything a sense of universal brotherhood that blurs with smiles of mutual condescension the most obvious and insurmountable incompatibilities among these various beliefs.

All religions and pseudo-religions added together, merged and mutually neutralized, are thus reduced to an auxiliary instrument of the globalist project, aimed at creating a World Government.

Roughly speaking, the ideology that sticks these heterogeneous and irreconcilable elements together is the low brow universalism of the “New Age,” which, copying badly the language of the Hindu tradition, proclaims that all religions are nothing more than local and accidental aspects assumed by a single Primordial Revelation, from which it follows that, by this or that path, everyone will reach the highest stages of human or even superhuman spiritual realization sooner or later.

This ideology had precursors in the 19th century, such as Allan Kardec, Helena Petrovna Blavatski, the famous Theosophist and—literally—pickpocket, Jules Doinel, founder of the French Gnostic Church (1890), Gerard Encausse, better known as “Papus,” Jean Bricaud, and, in general, all the components of the movement which was to be called “occultist.”

This “universalism,” which at the beginning of the 20th century sounded only like an exotic fantasy, ended up penetrating so deeply into the common sense of the multitudes that today the equivalence of all religions in dignity and value is a dogma subscribed to by all the great world media, by the parliaments, by the legislations of almost all countries, and by most of the religious authorities themselves.

Far from being a spontaneous phenomenon, this radical transformation of collective beliefs reflects the incessant work of the omnipresent agents of URI, to whose interference no socially relevant organization is immune.

It is not necessary, therefore, to emphasize the importance of this project within globalist plans, nor, of course, is it possible to deny the value of Lee Penn’s work in gathering and sorting out more than enough documentation to prove the unity of inspiration and strategy behind phenomena that to the lay observer may seem scattered and unconnected.

The reviewer, Charles Upton, praises the merits of the book and adds a clarification that, he says, he had already transmitted personally to the author, with his full agreement.

The clarification is this: the parodic “universalism” of New Age and URI should not be confused with the high-brow universalism of the so-called “traditionalist” or “perenialist” school inspired by René Guénon, Frithjof Schuon, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and their continuators.

It’s true. They are very different. Long beforehand, the founder of the school, René Guénon, had already subjected to devastating critical analysis the entire “occult” ideology that decades later would come to form the doctrinal basis—if one can use the term—of “New Age” and URI.

A member and even bishop of the Gnostic Church in his youth, Guénon soon came out swinging and took no prisoners. Nor did he leave intact the spiritualism of Allan Kardec, the theosophy of Madame Blavatski, and a thousand and one other movements in which Guénon saw the very embodiment of what he called “pseudo-initiation” and “counter-initiation”—the former constituting the simian imitation of spirituality, the latter its satanic inversion.

In fact, the contrast between the universalism of URI and that of the Guenonian-Schuonian current goes far beyond the mere difference between low-brow and high-brow, although this difference is obvious to anyone who compares them.

On one side we see a pastiche of inconsequential syncretisms, reinforced by some sentimental or futuristic humanitarian rhetoric (sometimes “progressive,” sometimes “conservative,” to please everyone) and adorned at most, here and there, by the superficial adherence of some fashionable writer, like Aldous Huxley and Allan Watts.

On the other side, sophisticated intellectual constructions, a deep and organized understanding of the religious and esoteric symbols of all traditions, a full command of the revealed sources, and a comparative technique that approaches, in precision, almost an exact science. In addition, some of the most consistent analyses of the civilizational crisis of the West in its various expressions: cultural, social, artistic, etc.

The difference is obvious to any educated reader. In contrast with the syncretistic mix of the “New Age,” we have here a universalism, in the strong sense of the word, a comprehensive and ordering vision that not only grasps with extreme sharpness the common points between the various spiritual cosmo-visions, but gives the reason and basis for their diversity, so that to this articulation of the one and the multiple is subordinated, in fact, the entire universal history of ideas and beliefs, theories and practices. In a word: everything that the human being has done and thought in his journey on Earth. There is practically nothing, no phenomenon, no thought, no fabulous or inauspicious event, that somehow does not find some efficient and persuasive, if not irrefutably certain, “perennialist” explanation.

From the point of view of the ordinary seeker who, coming from revolutionary, modernist and atheistic circles, is alerted to the importance of “spiritual” themes and, after a temporary illusion with the “New Age,” becomes disillusioned with its superficiality and goes in search of more nourishing food, the passage to the traditionalism of Guénon and Schuon is a formidable intellectual upgrade, an unculturating impact, almost an inner transfiguration that will suddenly isolate him from the surrounding mental environment, marked at one time by the discredit of religions and the endless vulgarity of omnipresent occultism, and will leave him alone, face-to-face with his conscience. Thus is fulfilled, on the individual scale, the famous prophecy issued by an anonymous biographer of René Guénon soon after the master’s death:

“The time will come when each one, alone, deprived of all material contact that can help him in his inner resistance, will have to find in himself, and only in himself, the means to adhere firmly, through the center of his existence, to the Lord of all Truth.”

Rare, very rare are those who reach this point—most fall by the wayside—but for those who do, it is difficult to resist the impulse to make personal contact with Guenonian and Schuonian circles, in search of relief, support and guidance. It is by this process of spontaneous selection that the “intellectual elite” is formed, which, as we shall see later on, Guénon had in view in the 1924 book East and West.

For it is clear that among the various worldviews in struggle, the most comprehensive one, which absorbs and explains all the others, is at the top. It is the summit of the consciousness of an age, the nec plus ultra of intelligence and the intelligible.

What gives even more authority to the Perenialist teaching is the repeated affirmation by its expounders that it is not their invention, but the mere transfer, in current theoretical language, of immemorial revelations that go back to a single original Source, the Primordial Tradition. An affirmation identical, on the surface, to that of the “New Age” proponents, but now based on a superabundance of documental proofs, rational arguments, and an organized science of universal symbolism and comparatism, from which are born intellectually dazzling tours de force such as René Guénon’s Symbols of Sacred Science and A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom, by Whitall N. Perry, one of F. Schuon’s closest collaborators in the USA. Schuon in the USA, a monumental collection of sacred texts organized in such a way as to illustrate, beyond any reasonable doubt, the essential convergence of the doctrines and symbols of the great religious and spiritual traditions, the “Transcendent Unity of Religions,” as Schuon called it in the title of a book that none other than T. S. Eliot considered the greatest achievement of all times in the field of comparative religion.

Any resemblance to the “universalism” of URI is misleading.

In the first place, all the Perenialists, without exception, insist that the doctrines, symbols and rites of the various traditions in particular, although they always point to a supreme Reality which is the same in all cases, have their own integrity, and cannot be subject to fusion, mixture or syncretism. In other words: they cannot undergo the kind of unifying operation that precisely characterizes the “New Age.”

Secondly, not everything that presents itself under the name of religion, spirituality, esotericism or the like can enter this synthesis. On the contrary, the precise, strict and even intolerant distinction between Tradition, Pseudo-Tradition and Antitradition is common to all Perenialists. Much of the material compacted in the “New Age” falls into these last two categories; and, far from integrating the unity of the primordial source, represents the parody or negation of everything that comes from it.

Third and most important, the transcendent unity of religions is really transcendent, not immanent. The religions there are unified only by the top, the summit and the living core of their doctrinal conceptions, and not by the irreducible variety of their liturgies, their moral codes and their different “paths” of spiritual realization. And where, precisely, is this core and summit? It is in their respective metaphysical conceptions, which are in fact convergent, as the simple collection organized by Whitall Perry suffices to show beyond all possibility of controversy. In this sense, religions and spiritual traditions can be seen, without distortion, as adaptations of the same Primordial Truth to the historical, cultural, linguistic and psychological conditions of various times, places and civilizations. The various exotericisms reflect, in their differences, the unity of the same primordial esotericism. Those who have clearly grasped the unity of this esotericism have intellectually overcome the difference between religions; but since they are not made of pure intellect and still have a historical-temporal existence as flesh and blood people, they remain subordinated to their respective religious tradition, without being able to merge or mix it with any other. The classic example is the great Sufi master Muhyi-al-din Ibn’ Arabi. Explicitly stating that his heart could assume all forms—that of the Hindu Brahman, that of the Kabbalist Rabbi, that of the Christian monk, or any other—he remained, in his life as a real and concrete individual, entirely faithful to the strictest Islamic orthodoxy.

But that’s where the trouble starts.

II.

This conception demands, besides the “horizontal” differentiation between the various traditions in time and space, a “vertical” or hierarchical distinction between the “inferior” and “superior” parts of each one. The “lower,” or exoteric, parts are historically conditioned, and by them the traditions move away from each other to the point of mutual hostility and total incompatibility. The “higher,” esoteric parts, reflect the unchanging eternity of Truth, where all traditions converge and meet.

There is, in short, a popular religion, made up of rites and rules of conduct, equal for all members of the community; and an elite religion, only for “qualified” people, who behind the symbols and laws can grasp the ultimate “meaning” of revelation. By practicing the aggregation rites that integrate them into the religious tradition, and by obeying the rules, the men of the people obtain the post-mortem “salvation” of their souls. Through initiation rites, the members of the elite obtain in life, and far beyond mere “salvation,” the spiritual realization that takes them away from the simple “individual state” of existence to transfigure them into the Ultimate Reality itself, or God.

It is good not to talk too much about these things before the general public, who may be scandalized by the decipherment of a mystery that must remain opaque for their own spiritual protection. The story of the Sufi Mansur Al-Hallaj (858-922) is well known, who after reaching the ultimate “spiritual realization,” came out shouting “Ana al-Haqq!” (“I am the Truth”) and was beheaded by the exoteric authorities. Al-Haqq does not only mean “the truth” in the generic and abstract sense. It is one of the ninety-nine “Names of God” printed in the Koran, so that Al-Hallaj’s statement was literally equivalent to “I am God.” From the point of view of esoteric orthodoxy, this resulted in denying the Koranic principle of the oneness of God, and constituted a crime that was punished by death. Later Islamic jurists admitted that statements made by Sufis in a state of “mystical rapture” escaped the purview of ordinary justice and were to be accepted as undecipherable mysteries.

In the explicit, legal, and official sense, the distinction between exotericism and esotericism exists only in one tradition: Islam. It corresponds to the distinction between shari’ah and tariqat. On one side, the religious law obligatory for all; on the other, the spiritual “way,” of free choice, only for interested and gifted people. The application of this distinction to all other traditions is merely suggestive or analogical—a figure of speech, not a proper descriptive concept. With that the whole edifice of “perenialism” begins to sway a bit.

Are there, for example, exoterism and esoterism in the Hindu tradition, precisely the one whose vocabulary René Guénon uses most frequently, because he thinks that Hinduism has achieved maximum clarity in the exposition of metaphysical doctrine? Evidently not. The caste distinction is something completely different. First, because entry into the upper caste is not free choice: the subject is born shudra, vaishia, kshatryia or brâhmana and remains so forever. Second, because accidentally members of the lower castes can reach the highest levels of spiritual attainment without changing caste. Third, because there is nothing secret or discreet about the upper caste rites, or brâhmana: any Joe-Shmo can know about them; he is just not allowed to practice them.

Is there such a thing as “Christian esotericism?” Things get formidably complicated. There were and there are, here and there, esoteric organizations professing to be Christian and which, by means of special rites, different from the sacraments of the Church, transmit initiations. The Companionship, the Fedeli d’Amore, Freemasonry and the Templar Order are examples. More modernly, numerous occultists, such as Madame Blavatski, Rudolf Steiner and Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff have presented their teachings as modalities of Christian esotericism.

But there remain a few facts that are enough to demolish these claims.

First of all, there is no trace of any Christian esoteric organization in the first ten centuries of the Church. Secondly, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself stated flatly, “I have taught nothing in secret.” Even His parables, whose meaning was not immediately evident to everyone, were spoken in public, not to a reserved circle. How is it possible then that the core of the Savior’s teaching was kept secret for ten—or twenty—centuries?

In contrast, in Islam the difference between exotericism and esotericism is clear from the very first moment. Upon seeing a group of the Prophet’s companions practicing certain strange rites, different from the five daily prayers, the faithful went to ask him what they were about. He explained that they were voluntary devotions, meritorious but not obligatory. This was the first sign of the existence of tasawwuf or “Sufism,” Islamic esotericism.

Third, and most decisive: the sacraments of the Church are not mere “rites of aggregation.” They are initiatory in their own right. They give access not only to the community of the faithful—or to their “egregora” or collective consciousness—but, Deo juvante, to the most intimate knowledge of the Ultimate Reality to which a human being can aspire. “It is no longer I who exist,” says the Apostle, “it is Christ who exists in me.”

John Paul II, in his Catechism, explicitly states that the sacraments are the steps “of Christian initiation;” and it is inconceivable that in such a formally doctrinal text he would use the term as a mere figure of speech.

Father Juan González Arintero, in two memorable books that probably constitute the summit of mystical literature in the 20th century, demonstrates with abundant arguments and examples that the way of the sacraments was opened precisely to give everyone, without exception, access to the highest levels of spiritual realization. The distinction between exoteric and esoteric is only used here as a metaphor to designate the different spiritual benefit obtained by this or that individual according to his aptitudes, his commitment and the movements of divine Grace.

All Christians who have received the sacraments are, therefore, initiates, in the strict sense that perenialism gives to this word. The difference between the various spiritual results obtained can be explained by a concept developed by René Guénon himself, that of virtual initiation. Not all initiation rites immediately produce their corresponding spiritual results. These effects may remain withheld for a long time until some external factor—or the evolution of the recipient itself—calls them into full manifestation.

To complicate things a little further, Schuon himself recognized that the Christian sacraments had initiatory scope. For one to appreciate how thorny this question is for the Perenialist school, it is enough to recall that, when Schuon’s opinion on the subject was published, Guénon reacted with indignation and fury, even breaking off relations with his disciple and continuator.

Guénon continued to maintain that the Christian sacraments were only rites of aggregation and that authentic initiations only existed in certain secret or discrete organizations, such as the Companionship or Freemasonry. To support this thesis, he invented one of the most artificial historical hypotheses anyone has ever seen—that Christianity initially emerged as an esotericism; but in view of the general decadence of Greco-Roman religion, it was forced ex post facto to popularize itself, eventually being reduced to an exotericism. There is absolutely no sign that this ever happened. Quite the contrary, Jesus spoke openly to the crowds from the very beginning of His preaching, and the sacraments have not undergone any substantial changes in form or content over the ages. Whatever his errors may have been in other areas, on this point Schuon was right.

It is also only as a figure of speech that the distinction of exoterism and esoterism—or of aggregation rites and initiation rites—can apply to Judaism, since the cabalistic mystery cultists there are none other than the very priests of the official cult.

So inappropriate is the application of this pair of concepts to extra-Islamic territory that members of the Perennialist school itself have ended up having to acknowledge the existence of “exo-esoteric” and even “exoteric” initiations alongside the properly “esoteric” ones, which is enough to show that these concepts serve little purpose.

Guénon’s lack of reasonable arguments, and his disproportionate reaction to what could have been a discussion among friends, suggest that in this episode he might have been hiding something. Unable to argue clearly, he appealed to an absurd hypothesis and tried to reduce the interlocutor to silence by a display of authority, which Schuon politely rejected.

What was the reason why Guénon would have chosen to forcibly fit all traditions into a pair of concepts that did not properly apply to any of them except Islam in particular? Why did this man, so judicious in everything else, allow himself such arbitrariness, thus putting himself in a vulnerable position that was jeopardized as soon as Schuon raised the question of sacramental initiations? He almost certainly had reasons for doing so which, at least at that time, could not be openly discussed.

But even before clarifying this point, another question needs to be raised.

III.

That materially different traditions converge toward the same set of metaphysical principles is something that can no longer be seriously doubted. The thesis of the Transcendent Unity of Religions is victorious in every respect.

There is only one detail: What exactly is metaphysics? I do not use the term as the denomination of an academic discipline, but in the very special and precise sense that it has in the works of Guénon and Schuon. What is metaphysics? It is the structure of universal reality, which descends from the infinite and eternal First Principle to its innumerable reflections in the manifested world, through a series of levels or planes of existence.

The fact that it is essentially the same in all traditions indicates that there is a normal perception of the basic structure of reality, common to all men, of any age or culture.

This perception requires a clear consciousness, or at least a presentiment of the scalarity of reality, that is, of the distinctions between different planes or levels of reality, from the sensible objects of immediate perception to the ultimate Reality, the absolute, eternal, immutable and infinite Principle, passing through a series of intermediate degrees: historical, terrestrial, cosmic, angelic, etc.

The perfect submission of human subjectivity to this structure is implied in all traditions as a conditio sine qua non of religious life and, even more so, of spiritual realization. Its denial, mutilation or alteration is the root of all the errors and follies of humanity.

This is why Schuon proposes a distinction between essential heresy and accidental heresy. The word “heresy” comes from a Greek root that has the meanings of “to choose” and “to decide.” A heresiarch is someone who, of his own volition, chooses from the total truth the parts that interest him and ignores the others.

Accidental heresy, according to Schuon, is the denial, mutilation or alteration of the canons of a particular tradition, such as monophysitism in Christianity (the theory that Jesus had only divine nature, not human nature) or associationism in Islam (associating God with other beings).

Essential heresy is the denial, mutilation or alteration of the very fabric of reality—an error, therefore, condemned not only by this or that particular tradition, but by all of them. Materialism or relativism, for example.

This is all very well, but there is a logical problem. If metaphysics is common to all traditions, how can it be the top and supreme perfection of each of them? By definition, the perfection of a species cannot be in its genus—it has to be in its specific difference. The perfection of the lion and the flea cannot reside in the simple fact that they are both animals.

It is admissible that in the individual’s initiatory climb, the arrival at the Supreme Reality, which raises him above his individual state and absorbs him into the very Being of divinity, is the culmination of his efforts. It would also correspond, according to perenialism, to the moment when the differences between spiritual traditions are definitively transcended, while continuing to apply to the empirical existence of the initiate on the earthly plane. It is Muhyi-al-din Ibn ‘Arabi being Christian, Zoroastrian or Jewish “inside,” without ceasing to be orthodoxly Muslim “outside.”

But, for this very reason, metaphysics can only be the culmination of traditions, as such, if we accept an indistinction between the order of Being and the order of knowing, which, according to Aristotle, are inverses. The top of the initiation ladder cannot be, at the same time, the culmination of religions because, being common to all of them, it is only the genus to which they belong and not the supreme perfection specific to each one.

More reasonable would be to suppose that the primordial Tradition is the common basis not only of all spiritual traditions, but of all cultures and, ultimately, of the core of sound intelligence present in all human beings. Starting from this base, or origin, the various traditions develop in different directions, each seeking to reflect more perfectly the absolute Principle and to give men the means of returning to it. In this sense, the culmination of each tradition is not the Principle itself, but the success it achieves in the operation of return. And there is no reason to suppose that, of the various species, all express equally well the perfection of the genus: fleas and lions are equally animal’ but the flea does not express the perfection of animality as well as the lion, to say nothing of the human being.

Schuon asserts that the claim of each religion to be “better” than the others is only justified by the fact that they are all “legitimate;” that is, they reflect in their own way the Primordial Tradition; but that, seen on the scale of eternity and the absolute, this claim is illusory. However, if the perfection of a species cannot reside in its genus alone, but rather in its specific difference, there is no reason to take for granted that all species equally represent the perfection of the genus. All religions refer to a Primordial Tradition. Five, but do they all represent it equally well? The question is entirely legitimate; and nowhere has the Perenialist school offered—or tried to offer—an acceptable answer to it. In fact, it has not even asked the question. Will we find even in these high places the phenomenon of the “ban on asking” that Eric Voegelin discerned in mass ideologies?

IV.

“The generation of the Traditionalist School gathered around Frithjof Schuon,” writes Charles Upton, “presented and revealed the religions in their celestial essences, sub specie æternitatis.”

If the celestial essences of the religions are substantially the same, the difference between them is purely terrestrial and contingent; the particular forms of each having nothing sacred in themselves, without the nourishment they receive from the Primordial Tradition: only the one, the Religio Perennis, is true in the strictest sense. The others are symbols or imperfect appearances of it, clothed in its various earthly incarnations.

But,” continues Upton, “these revelations are considered branches of the Primordial Tradition; but this Tradition is not presently in force as a religious system; it is not a religion that can be practiced. The only viable spiritual paths exist in the form of—or within—the present living revelations: Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.”

But these paths lead only to “salvation” in a post-mortem life. To climb a little higher in the present life, one must, without abandoning them, join an esoteric organization and practice, besides the rites and commandments of the popular religion, some special rites and commandments of an initiatory character.

In other words, popular religion is a certificate of qualification required of the postulant at the entrance to the initiation path. For the Muslim, this is not a big problem. Although they have a separate existence, tariqas (turuq in Arabic) are generally recognized as legitimate by the official religion, so that the interested believer can move freely between the two types of practices.

For the Hindu, this is not a problem either; even though there is no proper Hindu esotericism, Hinduism accepts and absorbs all the practices of other religions, so that—apart from the political conflicts between Hindus and Muslims—nothing prevents a Hindu from joining a tariqa, Freemasonry, a Chinese Triad, or any other esoteric organization without changing his status in his society of origin.

In the case of a Catholic, however, things get complicated. According to Guénon, all Christian initiation organizations disappeared after the Middle Ages, leaving the poor faithful limited to a spiritually capricious exotericism. All that remained were the remnants of extinct organizations and… Freemasonry.

It turns out that a sentence of Pope Clement XII, in 1738, condemned to automatic excommunication any faithful Catholic who affiliated with Freemasonry (or any other secret society). The decision was reinforced by Pope Leo X in 1890 and formalized by the 1917 Code of Canon Law. The new Code of Pope John Paul II, in 1983, spoke only of “secret societies,” without mentioning Freemasonry by name, which briefly gave the impression that the excommunication had been suspended, until the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in November of that same year, clarified that this was not the case at all; that the prohibition to join Freemasonry remained in force.

In other words, the faithful Catholic who read René Guénon and believed in him, seeing in the loss of the initiatory dimension the root of all the evils of the modern world, was pressed to the wall by the choice between giving up esotericism once and for all, being content with exotericism more and more reduced to an external moralism, or seeking Masonic initiation and being excommunicated; that is, losing the exoteric affiliation which, according to Guénon himself, was the conditio sine qua non for entering esotericism.

The conflict was not only of a legal order. Although it had remote origins in professedly Christian esoteric organizations, Freemasonry had become, in various parts of the world, an ostensibly and violently anti-Catholic force, encouraging persecutions and killings of Catholics, especially in France (during the Revolution and then again in the early 20th century); in Mexico (where this provoked the Cristero War); and in Spain, where, with the barely disguised connivance of the Masonic republican government, priests and the faithful were killed in large numbers, and many churches destroyed even before the Civil War broke out.

That is to say: the Catholic who affiliated with Freemasonry not only incurred automatic excommunication, but became a traitor to his murdered coreligionists.

Catholic Guenonians like Jean Tourniac went to great lengths to prove that Masonic doctrines were compatible with Catholicism; but, of course, this remained theoretical. Talks between Catholic and Masonic leaders in search of an agreement came to nothing. Excommunication was still in force, and the moral hazard was still very high.

Beginning in the 1960s, when these problems began to become the subject of more open discussion in the circles of those interested in traditionalism, the perenialist group began to suggest to the trapped Catholic the following possible solutions:

  1. Drop everything and convert to Islam.
  2. Seek shelter in the Russian Orthodox Church, where there is still a residue of esotericism and whose sacraments, after all, are accepted as valid by the Catholic Church.
  3. Join the multi-faith tariqa of Schuon, where you can practice Islamic initiation rites without formal conversion and while keeping at a prudent distance from exoteric Muslims.

The first option was certainly the most traumatic. After all, Schuon himself had written that “changing religion is not like changing country—it is like changing planet.”

The second was more comfortable, but it ran into an obstacle that I have never seen any Perenialist author even mention—the Russian Orthodox Church was infested with KGB agents, and it was almost impossible for the newcomer to find his way through that savage jungle of conspiracies and pretenses. Not coincidentally, the KGB was at that very moment organizing and training Islamic terrorist organizations for war against the Christian West.

That left the third, the easiest and most natural. Schuon’s tariqa was, in fact, full of members of Catholic origin—starting with Schuon himself and some of his closest collaborators, such as Martin Lings, Titus Burckhardt, and Rama P. Coomaraswamy, of whom the first two converted to Islam, the third remained a Catholic at least in public, while still paying the sheikh the statutory vow of total obedience required in the tariqas.

In the souls of those who remained Catholics—ex professo or in heart only—the plan that René Guénon had been outlining for the entire West since 1924 was thus being realized on a microscopic scale.

V.

After describing with the somber colors of a genuine Apocalypse the spiritual degradation of civilization in the West, attributing it to the loss of the “true metaphysics” and the links between the Catholic Church and the Primordial Tradition (links that could only have been maintained through initiatory organizations), René Guénon foresaw three possible developments for the state of affairs in the West:

  1. The definitive fall into barbarism.
  2. The restoration of Catholic tradition, under the discreet guidance of Islamic spiritual masters.
  3. Total Islamization, either through infiltration and propaganda or through military occupation.

These three options were basically reduced to two: either a plunge into barbarism or submission to Islam, either discreetly or ostentatiously.

The outbreak of World War II seemed to show that the West preferred the first option’ and it is an ironic detail that important Islamic religious authorities gave the Führer their full support, especially on the question of the extermination of the Jews. Macabre coincidence or self-fulfilling prophecy? I don’t know.

After the War, the close collaboration between Islamic governments and Communist regimes in the joint anti-Western effort came to be so notorious that there is no need to dwell on this point. It is also worth remembering that today the world left, which is committed to corrupting the West “until it stinks,” as André Breton advocated, is the same one that ostensibly supports the Muslim occupation of the West through mass immigration, as well as boycotting by all means any serious effort to combat Islamic terrorism, so that there is between the two blocs a kind of Leninist agreement to “foster corruption and denounce it.” Again, the same question from the previous paragraph applies, with the same answer.

For the aspirant from a Catholic background, all the tariqa offered was the choice between becoming a Muslim or being a Catholic under Muslim guidance. The same choice that Guénon was offering to the entire Western world.

I believe that this makes Guénon’s intention to squeeze all religions, especially the Christian one, into the forced mold of an Islamic descriptive concept, the exoterism-esoterism distinction, clearer. Indeed, how can one dominate an entire civilization without first framing it within the intellectual coordinate system of the dominating civilization, where it will cease to be an autonomous totality to become part of a comprehensive map? It is also obvious that it was not enough to do this in theory; the most valuable, most intellectually active elements of the target civilization’s elite had to be won over to this new view of things. Only when the latter began to understand themselves in the dominator’s terms, instead of their own, would they be ripe to accept, without further reaction, a wider operation of cultural occupation. All the more so because the reduction of Christianity to the binomial exoterism-esoterism, accompanied by the gloomy diagnosis of the loss of the esoteric dimension, inexorably culminated in the conclusion that the “restoration of Christianity,” of its connections with the Primordial Tradition and therefore of the higher dimensions of its spirituality, could only take place under the direction of a “living esotericism,” that is, Sufism. To use Guénon’s own terms, it was necessary to submit the West to the “spiritual authority” of Islam before submitting it to its “temporal power.”

Schuon’s theory that the Christian sacraments retained their initiatory power seemed to mitigate somewhat the force of the Islamizing argument, but in fact it did not do so at all. Without the proper spiritual instruction, which only a “living esotericism” could offer him, the bearer of a “virtual initiation” remained unaware of having received it and not only remained paralyzed in the middle of the initiation climb, but risked, as a result, suffering all sorts of spiritual and psychic disturbances. Only Sufi spirituality—embodied, in this case, in the person of Schuon—could save Catholics from themselves.

The Islamization of the West—discreet or overt, peaceful or violent—is the central, and indeed the only, objective of René Guénon’s entire work. The entire work converges on this goal, not as a mere logical conclusion, but as a kind of only way out to which the reader—and, ideally, the entire West—is being led, within the walls of a labyrinthine construction, by a sense of inexorable fatality. Apart from this objective, his work is nothing more than a collection of purposeless theoretical speculations, an edifice of beautiful and unrealizable spiritual possibilities, which he always denied.

If an explicit confession were necessary to confirm this, it would suffice to recall that at the very moment when Schuon was returning from Algeria with the title of “sheikh,” vaunting his intention to “Islamize Europe,” Guénon declared that the foundation of Schuon’s tariqa in Lausanne, Switzerland, was the first and only fruit produced by his decades-long effort.

VI.

What can make this goal nebulous or even invisible to the public eye are two factors:

First: Guénon repeatedly affirmed his total contempt for any political activity, current, or ideology, assuring that his interests had nothing to do with the struggle for power, and his turn exclusively to the sphere of the spiritual and the eternal. This seems to place him, in the eyes of many, incomparably above the current dispute between Islamic countries and the West.

This way of seeing is not exactly false, it is just empty. It is obvious that Guénon is not disputing political power. He is disputing something that is infinitely above it and of which, as he himself explains, political power is only a secondary, almost negligible, reflection—he is disputing spiritual authority. He is disputing with the Catholic Church, placing himself far above it and claiming to guide it from the sublime heights of Sufi spirituality (not necessarily in person, of course).

He is very explicit on this point. The Catholic Church, at some point in its history, he says, has lost contact with the Primordial Tradition and no longer even has an understanding of the “higher parts” of metaphysics; it stops at pure ontology, or theory of Being, without penetrating the supreme mysteries of Nonbeing (Schuon prefers to say “Suprabeing”).

I have already explained on other occasions what seems to me to be the intrinsic absurdity of the doctrine of Non-Being, and I will not return to this subject here. What matters for the moment is to point out that, according to Guénon, Catholicism, from this initial mutilation, came to decline sharply until it was reduced to a mere sentimental devotion for the masses.

Since only those who can raise it from this abyss are the ones who still possess the original connection with the Primordial Tradition, it is evident that the salvation of the Church and, through her, of the entire West, can only come from outside. From where, precisely?

Not from Buddhism, since Guénon does not even consider it a fully valid tradition.

Nor from Hinduism, because it cannot be practiced outside India nor by anyone who is not of Indian nationality. All that Hinduism can provide is a deeper understanding of metaphysical doctrine—and indeed Guénon resorts abundantly to Hindu texts for this—but mere theoretical understanding, while indispensable, cannot by itself even remotely provide authentic “metaphysical realization.”

Of Judaism, even less so, for it would be inconceivable that the Church, having been born of it, would return to its mother’s womb without ipso facto annulling itself and ceasing to exist.

From Freemasonry? Impossible, not only because of the incompatibilities pointed out above and never overcome, but because, according to Guénon, Masonic initiations are only of “Small Mysteries,” secrets of the cosmos and society that do not even remotely touch the heights of the supreme metaphysical realization, the “Great Mysteries.”

From obstacle to obstacle—there is no need to examine all the alternatives—the inexorable conclusion is that the labyrinth of impossibilities has only one way out—Catholicism can only be returned to its original integrity if it consents to submit itself to the guidance of Islamic masters. Either that, or the occupation of the West by Muslims. Tertium non datur.

That, en passant, Guénon and his followers made several valuable contributions even to the understanding of Catholicism by Catholic intellectuals themselves, especially with regard to symbolism and sacred art, is something that no one in his right mind could deny.

But there again, that is nothing to be surprised about. What authority could a Sufi master claim to exercise over Catholics if, at least on some select points, he did not prove to understand their religion better than they did themselves?

Guénon’s “Catholic” articles published in Regnabit between 1925 and 1927 do not prove, or even suggest, that he accepted the independence, much less the superiority of Catholicism over Islam. They only prove that, at that period, he still believed in the possibility of directing the course of things in the Catholic Church by means of gentle persuasion and infiltration. His departure for Egypt in 1930, with the firm decision not to return and to communicate with his public henceforth only through the journal Études Traditionelles, marked the moment when he lost this hope and, integrating himself more and more into Egyptian esoteric circles (even marrying the daughter of the prestigious Sheikh Elish El-Kebir), passed the ball back to the Islamic authorities who had by far guided his actions in the European framework. How things evolved from that point to the adoption of the policy of terrorism and “occupation by immigration” (which, of course, would never have happened without the blessing of the Islamic spiritual authorities), is a story that we do not know and that can only be told, perhaps, several decades from now. What is absolutely certain is that Guénon, from the very beginning of his public activity, declared that he did not speak in his own name but strictly followed the guidance of “qualified representatives of the oriental traditions,” among whom, it is now known, was mainly Sheikh El-Kebir himself. It is utter nonsense to say that Guénon “converted to Islam” in 1930. He had been a regular member of a tariqa at least since he was twenty-one, which is enough to show that he had been long prepared for the very difficult mission he was about to undertake.

VII.

The second factor that makes it difficult to perceive Guénon’s identity as an Islamic agent is the very impact of his work on his disciples. Qualified as “the most dazzling intellectual miracle of our time,” this work sheds so many unforeseen lights on the religious phenomenon and on the spiritual decadence of the West, and so great is its contrast with all modern atheistic or Christian thought, that the temptation to regard it really as a miracle, a divine intervention in the course of history, becomes almost irresistible. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, in Knowledge and the Sacred, does not hesitate to present the entire intellectual history of the West as if it were a long, groping, half-hearted preparation for the advent of Guenonian lights. Viewed in this way, Guénon’s work seems like a supra-historical message coming from the dawn of time, from the Primordial Tradition itself, and not from a contemporary Egyptian sheikh.

The desire to erase his contemporary roots and to hover above historical contingencies is manifest in several passages of this work, and is further reinforced by several expressions of contempt for the “mere” historical perspective, according to Guénon an illusory veil of passing appearances covering up the reality of eternal things. He even criticizes the attachment of the Western mentality to “facts” as if it were a vice of thought.

Jean Robin characteristically proclaims Guenonism a providential intervention and “the last chance for the West.” It is an inalienable right of the enthusiastic disciple to celebrate the master’s work with the most emphatic qualifiers. But a qualifier means nothing when separated from the substance it qualifies. It is one thing to speak generically of a “last chance for the West”—and we all know that the West needs one. But it is quite another to make it clear that this is not just any chance, an abstract and generic “restoration of spirituality,” but rather salvation through Islamization. Jean Robin simply omits this point.

It is also very fair to privilege the eternal and immutable above the temporal and transitory. But any faithful Catholic accustomed to the sacrament of confession understands that the leap to the eternal, without passing through awareness of the factual details of earthly life, so often humiliating and depressing, is not spirituality, it is angelism. The apostle who affirms “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” is the same one who confesses to carrying “a thorn in the flesh” to the end of his days.

The desire to fly into the world of eternal archetypes by leaping over concrete historical reality appears not only in the hagiographic profiles of “René Guénon’s mission,” but in at least three books by important perenialist authors on Islam.

Ideals and Realities of Islam by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Comprendre l’Islam by Schuon, and Moorish Culture in Spain by Titus Burckhardt, barely conceal their rhetorical strategy of showing Muslim life only for the eternal archetypes it symbolizes; contrasting them, explicitly or implicitly, with the gross factual miseries of the materialistic West. It is all even a little naive. Even a child realizes that it is not fair to compare the virtues of one with the defects of the other, instead of virtues with virtues and defects with defects.

All this makes it difficult, both for the newcomer reader and sometimes for the spokesmen of Perenialism themselves, to admit the obvious: the work of René Guénon can have all the providential and salvific character one wants, on the condition that one clearly admits the obvious—that, in the end, it has never offered any other way of salvation for the West except Islamization.

It is also true that any intelligent Christian, Catholic or otherwise, can benefit from the teachings of René Guénon without adhering to the Guénonian project. But how can one refuse adherence without knowing or wanting to know that the project exists? Every useful idiot is an idiot and useful to the same extent that he denies the existence of the one who uses it.

Many Christians, Catholic or not, have been so outraged by the teachings of René Guénon that they have made several attempts to refute and even deride him. These attempts only proved the intellectual superiority of the opponent and fell into ridicule or oblivion.

In this respect, Guénon’s disciples were not entirely wrong in considering him unsurpassable (the “infallible compass,” Michel Valsân said). But Guénon need neither be fought nor defeated. By adopting the pseudonym “Sphinx” in his early writings, he knew that those who did not decipher his message would be swallowed up and reduced to obedience. Those who lurch between cries of revolt will not fail to render him obedience, begrudgingly or even unconsciously. Once deciphered, however, the Sphinx has no remedy but to gently release its prey, which will emerge from its clutches not only free, but strengthened.


Olavo de Carvalho (1947-2022) was a Brazilian philosopher who lived in the United States. His books cover a wide array of topics, including Aristotle, Descartes, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Christian philosophy. For his work, he was honored with the Grand Cross of the Rio Branco Order, Brazil’s highest award, by President Jair Bolsonaro. His most recent book in English is Machiavelli or the Demonic Confusion.


Featured image: “Prayer in Cairo,” by Jean-Leon Gerome, painted in 1865.

East Versus West

This is Chapter XVI of my book, A Marcha dos Abismos. A Dupla Tragédia da Utopia (The March to the Abyss. The Double Tragedy of Utopia), which I have not yet been able to finish for publication. Written in 2017, this is one of innumerable writings and class recordings that prove, to the supreme disappointment of Ninguens [the nobodies, ordinary folk] and Ninguensists [those that claim to stand for the nobodies], the insurmountable critical distance that separates me from all Guenonian-Schuonian “perennialism.”


The destruction of the West, however, would not even be conceivable if the real and supposed evils of the targeted civilization were opposed only by criticism, however corrosive it might be. Thus, it was necessary to raise on the horizon the image of an alternative, an anti-model, invested with all the virtues that the civilization under criticism lacked. Only in this way would criticism lose its air of mere theoretical objection and become practical guidance toward a real goal. This goal, in turn, could not be reduced to the embellished image of a future socialism, which, precisely because it was only a hypothetical ideal, lost half of its attacking force.

This is how the accursed West ended up being opposed, almost automatically, by the most obvious and easiest alternative model whose simple location in space seemed to predestine it to that role: the East.

The invasion of Eastern ideas began in the 19th century with Madame Blavatski’s Theosophical Society, university orientalism, and the fashion for Eastern themes in the fine arts and music. It soon underwent a considerable upgrade at the hands of Carl-G. Jung, the erudite Romanian historian Mircea Eliade, and numerous scholars of the first order, such as Heinrich Zimmer, Count Dürckheim, and Ananda K. Coomaraswamy.

But until then everything was nothing but the rescue of spiritual, intellectual, and aesthetic heritages of genuine value, which could in no way harm Western civilization. On the contrary, the fact that it opened itself to these values only showed the authenticity of its universalistic pretensions and its capacity to absorb, without prejudice, all kinds of knowledge.

The cult of the East only took on the features of a bellicose confrontation through the works and influence of a personage considered to be one of the greatest incarnations of reactionary traditionalism in the 20th century, whose decisive contributions to the “spirit of ’68” are still the best kept secret the world has ever seen.

I refer to the French doctrinaire René Guénon (1886-1951), who ended his days in Egypt as a devout Muslim. His 1924 book East and West, under the appearances of a mere comparative study, is a veritable declaration of war, culminating in the outline of a plan for the cultural and even military occupation of the West by Eastern forces, especially Islamic ones.

Whether through genuine ignorance or cunning, Guénon reduces the civilization of the West to a mixture of capitalism, scientistic materialism, and popular pseudo-religions. The last residues of spirituality he sees in it are the decadent Freemasonry and Catholicism reduced to an “exoteric” perspective, no longer in touch with the “sources of the primordial Tradition.” Sources located, of course, in the East, more specifically in the regions of Central Siberia, Malaysia and Tibet, which Ferdynand Ossendowski visited in 1920, according to the narrative in Bêtes, Hommes et Dieux, where the famous explorer says he entered the underground sanctuary of the “King of the World” himself. Coincidence or not, these regions are the same where most of the “Seven Towers of the Devil” are concentrated, irradiating centers, according to Guénon himself, of diabolical influence over the entire planet.

Of all the signs of the Catholic spiritual boom at the time—the apparitions of Fatima, the miracles of St. Padre Pio, the flourishing of Catholic intellectual life in the first half of the 20th century—Guénon wanted nothing to do with any of it. For him, anything that did not have a direct channel with the unknown temples of Agartha and Shambhala was at most exotericism, if not antitradition, pure and simple.

From this one-sided picture of a spiritually devastated West, Guénon saw only three possible ways out: the ultimate fall into barbarism, the restoration of the Catholic Church under the secret guidance of Islamic spiritual masters, and the occupation of the West by Islam, either by cultural invasion or manu militari.

In contrast to the cartoonish reductionism of his vision of the West, his image of Eastern civilizations was so charmingly idealized that he even proclaimed that Bolshevism would never penetrate China, so solid were the “spiritual defenses” of the Chinese tradition. Not only did it penetrate, but it installed a lasting genocidal tyranny whose violence far surpassed that of the Soviet Union and satellite countries. A powerful magnet in the vicinity must have disoriented for a moment the needle of the “infallible compass” that Michel Valsân believed he saw in René Guénon.

The next generation of Guénonians did not change their rhetoric. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, in Knowledge and the Sacred (1981), describes the entire intellectual history of the West as mere preparation for the advent of the Savior, René Guénon, and, in Ideals and Realities of Islam (1966), only confronts the beautiful ideals of Islamic civilization with the sad realities of the West, without it occurring to him that this comparison of the virtues of the one with the defects of the other might well be reversed.

For decades Orientalist devotion was a private cult within groups of intellectuals and wealthy aficionados, inspiring innumerable pilgrimages in search of “wisdom” and the creation of centers of meditation and spiritual retreat such as Monte Verità in Ascona, Switzerland, Hermann Keyserling’s “School of Wisdom” in Darmstadt, Germany, and Georges Gurdjeff’s famous chateau at the Prieuré des Basses Loges in Avon, France.

From the 1950s on, however, promoted in large part by the show business industry and by celebrities in letters and the arts, the fashion for oriental doctrines and practices expanded to huge swaths of the population in Europe and especially in the U.S., constituting a phenomenon that can only be correctly described as mass de-culturation—surely the heaviest blow suffered by Western civilization before the Islamic invasion that was to come in the 1990s.

The contribution of the Beat generation poets to the popularization of Eastern fashion was not small:

“The Beats not only adapted the wisdom teachings of the East to a new, specifically American terrain; they also articulated these teachings in a vernacular, jazzy, street rhythm, opening to the popular audience what had been the domain of stifling academics and pompous translators…The voice of American poets retold the teachings of the Buddha to the general public for the first time.”

By 1962, with the founding of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, the “spiritual” revolt against the modern West had reached the dimensions of a unified, self-conscious movement. The Institute quickly became the agglutinating center of what would later come to be called the New Age.

To make matters worse, in America as in Europe, the Orientalist wave came together with a new style of cultural criticism that spread rapidly in the media and in universities, represented by the Frankfurt School and by the likes of C. Wright Mills, Margaret Mead, and Saul Alinsky, among others, from whose writings modern Western civilization emerged, at best, exactly as René Guénon had described it: an anomaly, a deviation from the universal human pattern, a disease that had to be eliminated at all costs. Although operating in seemingly distinct fields, culturally New Age and the New Left were working toward the same end. In fact, without the concomitant contribution of New Age, the New Left would have been limited to the superficial field of politics stricto sensu, without support in the tremendous revolution of customs, feelings, and lifestyles that marked the 1960s-1970s.

Here the strictly observant Guénonian or Schuonian may claim that his masters, as well as all “authentically traditional” esoteric organizations, abhor New Age and therefore can have nothing to do with the vulgar Orientalism of Esalen and the Beats or with any other form of “pseudo-initiation” or “counter-initiation.” But this argument is innocuous, for, as one of René Guénon’s most eminent disciples and interpreters observed,

“Hostile on principle to a world governed by that metaphysical ‘Newton’s law’ which goes by the name of ‘cyclic degeneration,’ initiatory organizations and secret societies can only play a double role, apparently contradictory but, in re, complementary: to restore, for each ‘qualified’ individual, the original level of consciousness, designated as the primordial or adamic state, and, less avowedly, to accelerate in a ‘subversive’ mode the process of collective decadence which alone will allow the advent of a new cycle.”

A more explicit confession of the discrete partnership of “initiation” with “pseudo-initiation” and “counter-initiation” cannot be asked for.


Olavo de Carvalho (1947-2022) was a Brazilian philosopher who lived in the United States. His books cover a wide array of topics, including Aristotle, Descartes, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Christian philosophy. For his work, he was honored with the Grand Cross of the Rio Branco Order, Brazil’s highest award, by President Jair Bolsonaro. His most recent book in English is Machiavelli or the Demonic Confusion.


Featured image: “Le Rapt” [“the Abduction”], by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux, painted in 1844.