Belloc's Prophecy 
October 25, 2001 

by Joe Sobran

     Back in the 1930s, when white men were preparing for 
another round of mutual slaughter, few of them paid any 
attention to the Muslim world. They assumed it to be a 
backward region that history had long since passed by. 

     One man saw it differently. The great Catholic 
polemicist Hilaire Belloc, an Englishman of French 
ancestry, remembered Islam's past and predicted, in his 
book THE GREAT HERESIES, that it would one day challenge 
the West again. As late as 1683 its armies had threatened 
to conquer Europe, penetrating all the way to Vienna; 
Belloc believed that a great Islamic revival, even in the 
twentieth century, was altogether possible. 

     Belloc saw Islam not as an alien religion, but in 
its origins as a Christian heresy, adopting and adapting 
certain Christian doctrines (monotheism, the immortality 
of the soul, final judgment) and rejecting others 
(original sin, the Incarnation and divinity of Christ, 
the sacraments). Its simple, rational creed had a 
powerful appeal to Arabs who had known only the arbitrary 
gods of grim pagan religions. It swept the Arab world, 
then made converts -- and conquests -- far beyond Arabia. 

     Islam was a militant religion from the start. 
Mohammed himself conquered the entire Arabian Peninsula 
in just a few years. The new faith was torn by violent 
internal divisions even as it continued to spread. But 
spread it did, with incredible rapidity. 

     Christians had good reason to fear Islam, which soon 
conquered Spain and held it for centuries. But because 
Islam has little attraction for Christians, the West has 
generally failed to grasp its appeal for others, its 
profound and permanent hold on the minds of believers. 
Unlike the Christian West, the Muslim world has never had 
crises of faith like the Reformation and the 

     Islam is a simple religion, easily understood by 
ordinary people. Its commandments are rigorous but few. 
When it conquered, its subjugated people often felt more 
liberated than enslaved, because it often replaced 
burdensome old bureaucratic governments with relatively 
undemanding regimes -- and low taxes. As long as its 
authority was respected, Islamic rule was comparatively 
libertarian. It offered millions relief from their 
traditional oppression; for example, no Muslim could be a 

     Belloc distinguishes sharply between Islam and such 
barbarous conquerors as the Mongol hordes of Genghis 
Khan. The Mongols were purely destructive; they were 
known for slaughtering whole cities and making huge 
pyramids of severed heads. 

     Such savagery was alien to the Muslims. Where they 
conquered, daily life usually went on much as before and 
culture thrived. In many respects the Muslim world was 
far more civilized than Christian Europe for centuries. 
The West hated and dreaded Islam, but nobody would have 
thought of calling it backward. 

     That contemptuous image came much later, when modern 
Europe's science, technology, and -- above all -- 
weaponry had eclipsed those of the Arabs. We are apt to 
forget how recently this development occurred; and, as 
Belloc warned, it is not irreversible. 

     Man, especially irreligious man, is apt to equate 
power and progress. Many of those who say America is "the 
greatest country on earth" really mean only that America 
has fantastic military might, capable of annihilating any 
other country -- and some of them, at the moment, are in 
the mood to do some annihilating. To the pious Muslim 
this attitude seems crass and barbaric. He may conclude 
from it that the decadent West understands only one 
thing: force. 

     And would he be far wrong? Belloc admitted that the 
idea of a new Muslim challenge to the West seemed 
"fantastic," but only because the West was "blinded" by 
"the immediate past." Taking a longer view, he saw Islam, 
though inferior in material power, as having a great 
advantage: its religious faith was still strong, while 
the West was losing its religion and consequently its 
morale. He thought it entirely possible that Islam would 
catch up technologically, while he doubted that the West 
would undergo a spiritual revival. 

     Are we seeing the beginning of the fulfillment of 
Belloc's prophecy? If so, the current uproar over Islamic 
terrorism may turn out to be a mere superficial symptom 
of a much larger historical drama. The West is still 
strong, but it is dying. Islam is still weak, but it is 
growing. Never mind the terrorists; check the birthrates. 


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