18 SEPTEMBER 2004, Page 32

Why Western intellectuals champion their countries' most powerful enemies

Ive oppose the Iraq war. Nonetheless we believe that there is a militant Islamic threat to the West. This must be what many of us think. The two views should not be thought contradictory. Many of us came to believe that the United States was wrong about Vietnam, but we still believed that there was a communist threat to the West, even if that war's Left opposition did not.

My purpose here, though, is to explore whether there is something in common between the West's view of the old communist threat, and its view of the new Islamic one. Both have, or in the Soviet Union's case had, the benefit of much aid and comfort in the West from Westerners. Now these Westerners argue, in newspapers, tele vision and on radio, that as was once said of communism — the ideals of Islam have much to teach us, and that the West is much to blame for any aggressive form that those ideals now take towards us. In the case of Islam, not all of those communicators from the media and the academy are Muslims. Many are white intellectuals who we may suspect, in the 1930s, would have drawn our attention to Stalin's achievements.

Our indigenous Muslamists, if we can call them that, cannot point to any Muslim or Arab five-year plans and industrialisations (if anything, Islamic fundamentalism seems to be against such materialism). Instead, they emphasise Arab and Muslim achievements of long ago, if they can be used to make the West seem barbarous in comparison with Islam. Thus hardly a month goes by without someone writing or saying that, say, Islam preserved Greek learning at a time when Christian Europe was indifferent or hostile to it.

Mohammed had founded the new religion in what is now Saudi Arabia in the 7th century AD. He then set out successfully to conquer — or, as the Muslamists would prefer to say, convert — the rest of the Arab world. In due course, the conquerors ruled Syria, Egypt, the Mediterranean coast and Spain. Many Greeks and Hellenised Syrians and Egyptians had for centuries lived in such regions, though not much in barbarian-ruled Spain. Therefore, we are told, the Muslim conquerors attached enormous importance to preserving Greek learning.

That might or might not be true. But there is not much evidence for it. It is at least equally possible that the conquerors were indifferent to that learning. This seems more probable than the idea of a mass of potential classical scholars swarming out from Arabia — would-be Oxford Greats men on camels.

In any case, there was a revival of classical learning in barbarian Europe at about the time that Islam was consolidating its hold on the Arab world. The history books tell of a renaissance under Charlemagne. Whatever the truth about this Islamic respect for classical learning, there seems to be flimsy evidence on which to base today's modish theory of Islamic tolerance.

But this Islamic tolerance remains the party line in the West. Moorish Spain is especially held up as an example. Is there any truth in that one? The names of important-sounding, tolerated Spanish philosophers are brandished. Do those who brandish them care about them enough to read them? Or are these names from the past just being plundered in order to provide propaganda in the present?

The trouble, for us laymen, is to establish a few basic facts. The airwaves, the printed page and the universities are full of the party line. Where to look for any alternative? The book catalogues and the Internet are searched. One chances on The Sword of the Prophet: History; Theology, Impact on the World by Serge Tritkovic (Regina Orthodox Press, 2002), whose cover proclaims it the politically incorrect guide to Islam'. This sounds the sort of book which the professional anti-racists, and the British mosques, might try to ban before long, irrespective of whether it tells the truth or perhaps particularly if it does so. The cover says that the author 'started his working life as a broadcaster and producer with the BBC World Service in London'. Liberals should concede that that must confer on him a certain respectability, though his time with the World Service must have been quite a while ago, since few of that organisation's employees would dare to utter anything like this: 'Moorish Spain was not a tolerant and enlightened society even in its most cultivated epoch. There was beauty, but little tolerance. The Jews of Granada were butchered in 1066, the Christians were deported to Morocco in 1126. Learning did exist, but it was restricted to a small elite that was constantly at risk from persecution. In Moorish Spain, oppression or anarchy were the rule, good order and civilised behaviour a fondly remembered exception.'

The story of Western apologists for Islam, be it militant Islam or otherwise, is familiar. Since the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, so many British intellectuals have tended to espouse the cause of their country's enemies. They do so, it seems, because of their dissatisfaction with what they see as their countrymen's unromantic and materialistic existence, and sometimes because of dissatisfaction with their status in their own country. Napoleon had the support of Fox, Huhn, Leigh Hunt and Byron, each of whom had grievances. Fox was angry that his beloved father, a supporter of the king, had not received a peerage.

Stalin had many a poet and journalist to champion him here. When Khrushchev discredited Stalin, they transferred their allegiance to Mao, Castro, Guevara or successive African dictators. For we must always remember the Western radical intellectual's wish to identify with the world's rising and most frightening power. Coleridge spoke of Napoleon's British admirers possessing a 'prostration of the soul'.

But British Napoleonists differed from British Stalinists, and were similar to today's Muslamists in one respect. They did not want the foreign power to rule Britain. Byron said that Napoleon was his hero 'on the Continent; I don't want him here'. Those feminist columnists and academics — proclaiming Islam's great past — do not want to have to go veiled in their native Camden Town or Islington. Their game is to use Islam to demoralise Western bourgeois life.

Between the world wars, one of the most vocal champions of Islam and the Arabs, and a hostile critic of Britain's treatment of both, was the Arabist Harry St John Philby. He died in the arms of his exceptionally devoted son, Kim. Perhaps — no longer able to spy for the Soviet Union — Kim Philby would today seek to undermine despised bourgeois Britain, and our hated friend the United States, by proclaiming Islam's virtues.