Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Legionário, n.° 775, June 15, 1947
When we study the sad story of the fall of the Western Empire it is hard for us understand the Romans' shortness of views, tranquility, and indifference toward the looming danger. To further aggravate its other ills, Rome suffered from an inveterate habit of winning. At its feet were the most glorious nations of antiquity: Egypt, Greece, all of Asia. The ferocity of the Celts had been definitely softened. The Rhine and the Danube constituted a splendid natural defense to the Empire. How could anyone fear that the barbarians, who roamed the virgin forests of central Europe, could pose a serious risk to such an immense political edifice?
Accustomed to this view, the Romans lacked the flexibility to understand the new situation gradually being created. As the Barbarians crossed the Rhine and began their raids they only met weak, indecisive and inadequate resistance from the Roman legions. But the Romans continued to ignore the danger, obsessed on the one hand with an all-absorbing thirst for pleasures, and on the other, misled by what the detestable Freudian terminology would call a superiority 'complex'. This explains the deadly tranquility which they kept to the end.
Yet even taking into account the mystery of Roman inertia, the overall picture seems peculiar and perhaps a bit oversimplified. We will understand it in a much more lively fashion if we consider another great mystery that takes place before our eyes and in which we somehow participate: the great inertia of the Christian West facing the resurrection of African-Asian gentility. The subject is way too vast to be treated as a block. In order for us to understand it well, it suffices to consider only one aspect of this phenomenon: the renewal of the Muslim world.
This is a topic that Legionario, already accustomed to being misunderstood, has approached with an insistence that sometimes seemed inopportune. But the question deserves to be examined once again at greater length than in the short paragraphs of the "Seven Days in Review" section in which we have previously treated it.
Let us quickly recall some general data about the problem. As is known, the Muslim world spans a territory that begins in India, passes through Arabia and Asia Minor, Egypt, and ends in the Atlantic Ocean. Islam's zone of influence is immense from all points of view: territory, population, and natural resources. But until some time ago certain factors rendered all this power almost completely useless. Obviously, the religion of the Prophet would be the bond that could unite Muslims from all over the world. But this religion presented itself divided, weak, and totally devoid of notable men in the sphere of thought, command, or action.
Mohammedanism vegetated, a fact that seemed perfectly sufficient to the zeal of the high dignitaries of Islam. The same taste for stagnation and for a merely vegetative life was an evil that also affected the economic and political life of the Muslim peoples of Asia and Africa. No man of value, no new ideas, no truly great enterprise could rise and prosper in this atmosphere. Each Mohammedan nation closed up on itself, indifferent to everything but the small and quiet delights of everyday life. So, each lived in its own world, differing from others by profoundly different historical traditions. They were all separated by mutual indifference, incapable of understanding, desiring or carrying out a common task. In this highly depressed religious and political framework, the exploitation of the natural resources of the Muslim world -- riches which taken together constitute one of the globe's greatest potentials -- was clearly impossible. Everything therefore was nothing but ruin, breakdown, and torpor.
While the East so dragged along, the West attained the zenith of its prosperity. Since the Victorian era, an atmosphere of youth, enthusiasm and hope spread across Europe and America. The progress of science had renewed the material aspects of Western life. The promises of the Revolution were seen as creditworthy, and in the last years of the nineteenth century some people even saw the coming twentieth century as the golden age of mankind.
Of course, a westerner placed in this environment would become fully aware of the inertia and impotence of the East. He would see any talk about the possibility of a resurrection of the Mohammedan world as something as unworkable and anachronistic as a return to costumes, methods of warfare, and political outlook of the Middle Ages.
Today, we are still living this illusion. And like the Romans, trusting the Mediterranean that separates us from the Islamic world, we fail to realize that new and extremely serious phenomena are taking place in the lands of the Koran.
It is difficult to cover such vast and rich phenomena in a short space. But in a very general way one can say that, after the great war, the whole East -- understood in a very broad sense covering all areas of non-Christian civilization in Asia and Africa -- began to undergo a very pronounced phenomenon of anti-Europe reaction. This reaction concerned two somewhat contradictory aspects, both very dangerous to the West.
On the one hand, the eastern nations were bearing the Western military and economic yoke with growing impatience and manifesting an increasingly pronounced aspiration to full sovereignty, to form an independent economic potential and set up their own large armies. To be sure, this aspiration implied a certain "westernization," i.e. to import Euro-American military-industrial and modern agricultural techniques, as well as financial and banking systems, to Asia and so on. On the other hand, however, this patriotic surge caused a renewed enthusiasm for national traditions, national customs, national worship, and national history. It is superfluous to add that the degrading spectacle of corruption and divisions to which the Western world was exposed contributed to encourage hatred of the West. Hence the rise throughout the East of a new interest for the old idols and for a "neo-paganism" a thousand times more combative, feisty and dynamic than the old. Japan is quite a typical, perhaps ultra-typical example of the whole process we are trying to describe. The ideological and political group that lifted her to the rank of major power and aspired to Japanese world domination was precisely one of those neo-pagan groups stubbornly attached to old concepts of the Emperor's divinity etc.
Now then, a slower but no less vigorous phenomenon than the one in Japan occurred throughout the eastern world. Because of this phenomenon, India is on the verge of gaining its independence; today Egypt and Persia enjoy a privileged situation on the international scene and progress at a rapid pace. Well before this, Mustafa Kemal had renewed Turkey. All these nations, we can say these powers are proud of their past, traditions and culture, and are keen to keep them; and the same time they are proud of their natural resources, political and military possibilities, and growing financial progress. They grow richer by the day, build cities endowed with an effective government apparatus, a well-trained police, strictly pagan but well developed universities, schools, hospitals, museums, in short everything that somehow means power and material progress to us. In their coffers, gold accumulates. Gold means the ability to buy weapons. And weapons mean global prestige.
It is interesting to note that the Nazi example strongly impressed the East. If a large country like Germany has a government that abandons Christianity and does not blush to return to the old idols, how is it shameful for the Chinese or Arabs to remain in their traditional religions?
All this transformed the Islamic world and produced in all Mohammedan peoples, from India to Morocco, a shudder that means that the millennial slumber is over. Pakistan -- a Muslim Hindu state on the brink of independence -- Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt are the high points of the movement of Islamic resurrection. But in Algeria, Morocco, Tripolitania, Tunisia, unrest also grows intense. The vital nerve of Islam revives in all these peoples, rekindling in them a sense of unity, a notion of common interests, concerns of solidarity, and a taste for victory.
None of that stayed in the realm of possibility. Today the Arab League, a vast confederation of Muslim peoples, unites the entire Muslim world. It is, in reverse, what Christendom used to be in the Middle Ages. The Arab League acts as a large block facing non-Arab nations and fosters insurrection throughout North Africa. The flight of the grand mufti was a clear manifestation of the League's strength. Even more than this, the release of Abd-el-Krim is an affirmation of the League's deliberate purpose to intervene in the affairs of Northern Africa by promoting the independence of Algeria, Tunisia, Tripolitania, and Morocco. This is what we showed in our last issue's "Seven Days in Review" column.
Does it take a lot of talent, insight, and exceptionally good information to realize what this danger means?