Orlando in Hindsight

While Islam is, as I judge it, a false religion, it is held by true believers who are much more accurate in their reading of their own classical texts than any of their critics.


As it turns out, the killings in Orlando were not what they seemed to be or what too many wanted them to be—that is, simply a random act of “hatred” caused by a deranged young man with no real relation to any religion. Or, perhaps, if we insist in relating it to religion, then, as some prelates argued or suggested, all religions are equally guilty. Even if the killings were by a “loner”, he was an active radical Muslim killer whose rationale was from this tradition. The killings remain one more careful, calculated move of ISIS to seize on every opportunity to continue a grand, too long delayed and neglected plan to undermine the stability of every non-Muslim country in the world not as yet under Islamic control. The Islamic countries that oppose ISIS can be dealt with later. In pursuing this goal, Islamic advocates think grandly. Opponents to it often think so narrowly that they cannot understand what is happening to them in the world.

A coherent approach to an historic mission is only a recently realized possibility on the part of many in modern Islam. In this view, things are now moving quickly in the right direction. Opportunities must be and are being seized. We see thousands of unidentified Muslims, usually young men of fighting age, continue to pour into Europe and now America under the guise that they are just like other needy immigrants. Be it noted that they do not “pour” into other near-by Muslim states where they presumably would be right at home. No pressing need can be found to conquer what is already conquered. 

Besides, Muslim lands are among the poorest in the world so no reason exists to flee to them unless for reasons of political control. Their poverty is almost directly related to their religious culture with its ideas about the direct causality of all things by Allah. Moreover, when Islam emigrates, it takes its culture with it.  It implants it into Europe or into the new world. Islam does not often assimilate; that is an alien idea. It thereby denies and undermines all the presuppositions of western liberal politics which insist on seeing it as just another religion.  In new lands, when it settles there, it reproduces what it brought with it. It gradually imposes its culture on others when it can, even by sophistical use of “democratic” means. Several Muslim groups are now realizing that this latter way may be a faster way to achieve this end than the violent way. But both options remain open.

An American-born member of a politically active Afghani family showed up as the next in a long, mostly forgotten, succession of such attacks by similar unknowns in this and other countries. Such an act cannot be explained in psychological, anti-gay, or “terrorism-for-the-sake-of terrorism” terms. Each “individual” Muslim killer, including the man in Orlando, ritually affirms his loyalty to Islam. Many in the West refuse to believe that such a religious motive could be serious. But unwillingness only reveals an ignorance of Islam and the paucity of much Western thought. This or any other “terrorist” has good religious reasons in Muslim tradition and scripture to do so. This affirmation is accepted as such by ISIS and other Muslim groups even if the deed is committed by an individual not directly commanded by an “official” Muslim group. In many ways, it is more effective for the ISIS cause if no direct connection is made. 

The attacks are, in one way or another, the result of an “inspired” politico-religious belief that incites such acts to put the Islamic way of life into effect. Such actions have been going on more or less successfully since the beginnings of Islam in the seventh century. By any standards, it has been an enormously successful endeavor. It usually expanded and conquered by quick military or terrorist strikes. But now many Muslim leaders also recognize the importance of demographic growth to gain its ultimate goal of the eventual submission of every nation to Allah. But the use of terror is not underestimated. It also is relied on as a direct means to undermine the stability of modern cities and economies.

Such is the poverty of our politically-correct educational systems, aided by governmental policies, that we generally have few intellectual tools available to us that enable us to comprehend the persistence of an idea over centuries, one capable of being carried on to a logical conclusion in historic time. And this mission predates western Hegelianism. Islam is what it is. “May Allah be praised!” is not just a slogan. The obtuseness in understanding is perhaps one of the greatest self-imposed blindnesses ever shown forth by supposedly rational leadership. But this blindness too can be explained, even in biblical terms. We do not see what we choose, for other reasons, not to see.

The rise of Islam may be made more feasible by the modern decline in reason and in Christianity’s understanding of its own revelation. But opportunism is not the heart of the matter. Islam proposes itself as the successor—or better, as the replacement of both reason and Christianity. But it also proposes itself to and seeks to expand in other cultures, to India and to China, as the way Allah should be worshipped in these places also. In India, Islam gained much ground by conquest but came to a standstill when India finally resisted. The China opening has begun, though China probably presents a much more difficult task than the West.


I write these comments as an admirer of the Islam of ISIS. I do not, of course, admire what it does in terms of terror or destruction. While Islam is, as I judge it, a false religion, it is held by true believers who are much more accurate in their reading of their own classical texts than any of their critics. The struggles within Islam itself between Sunni and Shiite interpretations of Islam are not, as such, disagreements about these ends or even the means to obtain them. What is going on cannot simply be explained in terms of modern political theory, by psychology, by economics, or by social science. It can only be explained by taking what the Qur’an and Muslim tradition say of itself and the means by which it can propagate itself.  

A report from Judicial Watch (June 15, 2016) recounted the arrest in New Mexico of a Muslim lady coming out of Mexico who just happened to have in her possession the blueprints of the gas system in that area of New Mexico. As far as I know, she was not a lesbian or a drug smuggler, though the drug smugglers evidently, for a price, will see to it that such folks do make it across any existing or non-existing wall into the States. Her motive seems to have been to further the cause, not to repair gas works in New Mexico. We must wonder how many blueprints of various electrical grids, gas lines, power lines, rail lines, airports, highways, bridges, tunnels, school campuses, churches, sports complexes, TV stations, or government buildings are already in the hands of ISIS members and sympathizers. We should not think that they do not know how to read them. Many of the “terrorists” are well-educated and well trained.

To assume that any place in Europe, America, or Canada is safe, at this stage of the game, is naïve. In every major and minor city in the world, we can likely find ISIS sympathizers who are willing to sacrifice their lives for this cause either when ordered to do so or when they see an opportunity. We have caused this situation ourselves by failing to understand Islam and what men and women will do to foster it. We have major Muslim centers in every major city, often financed by Saudi money; we know little of what goes on in them. What we do know is often more than unsettling. We have a President who has refused to name the enemy in any but vague, general terms. His policies have been almost invariably favorable to the Muslim cause in one form or another.

After Orlando, columns by Mary Jo Anderson, Carl E. Olson, Maureen Mularkey, Pat Buchanan, Andrew McCarthy, George Rutler, Joseph Pearce, and a host of others have pretty well gotten it right. The President of the United States, the Democratic Candidate, even Mr. Trump, much of the press, many bishops, college professors, and foreign politicians have it wrong. To acknowledge that it is what it is would be to admit that practically speaking their whole intellectual and political life has been wrongly directed. And it has been. We keep hearing pleas for them to “wake up”, but it isn’t happening. ISIS and Muslim Brotherhood thinkers, each in their own way, pretty well know this refusal to take them for their word and take comfort in it. They know that their likelihood of being caught is slim if their enemies won’t see and understand.

It has long been noted by some perceptive thinkers that Islam will expand, and rapidly expand, if it is not stopped by superior force. This is a truth that pacifist-minded people do not like to hear. I also think that Islam’s ideas and texts need directly to be confronted. They cannot be simply set aside and unexamined as too controversial to talk about, analyze, and criticize. Since almost all versions of Islam react angrily or even violently to any fundamental criticism of its basic positions, we have backed off on prudential or diplomatic grounds to talk only of things “about which everyone could agree.” It is what we do not agree with in Islam that needs to be talked about most. This delicate approach has not worked and never will. But the actual expansion of Islam, whenever and wherever it was able to increase, has only been stopped by superior force. Superior force is usually only a passing thing. Indeed, modern military force may not be able to stop the kind of expansion that does not depend on superior military hardware but on direct killings and self-sacrifice of true believers. The brutal beheading of Coptic Christians in Libya was much more terrifying than the counter picture of seeing helicopter gunships shoot at ISIS fighters in the desert.

There is only one good reason why Europe is not Muslim today (as it probably will be eventually, through its own political choices). This non-Muslim Europe is the result of the two great battles at Tours in the eighth century and Vienna in the seventeenth. The historic, self-defensive efforts of European powers to eliminate the constant danger of Islamic attack failed when it could not permanently retake the Holy Land and Byzantium. This counter-attacked failed because of inferior force used to dislodge Islam in the face of superior Muslim force in defeating them. But Europe also did not understand the importance of knowing what Islam was. It was this closing off of lands south and east of Europe that gave rise to the inner European development of modern states, cultures, and economies.

Likewise, most Islamic bastions in the Near East and in Africa were controlled by European powers from the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800’s to the end of World War II. What is interesting, if not frightening, about this record is that Islam proved largely impervious to change. After accepting voluntarism in theology, no science came out of Islam. Most of the science that was in earlier ages of Islam came from scholars who were originally Christian or Persian. In this aspect, it has not much changed. Its oils, the source of much of its riches, is mostly a result of economies and technologies that do not originate in Islam. The notion that it ought to change is not an Islamic idea. Its idea is closer to the view that it ought not to change. Islam in its closed family and community traditions manages effectively by a combination of faith, persuasion, and force to keep its masses loyal to itself.  The Muslim idea is, again, that it ought not to change its essentials. It ought to set up and impose Shira law everywhere. It ought to remain true to Allah. It turns out that they seem to have the better part of the argument. Their will to resist change is stronger than our will either to change them or to prevent them from changing us.

The following comment of an Englishman in a recent Financial Times makes the point: 

It is more likely that ISIS is modeling itself on the Islamist military strategy of the 7th and 8th centuries. It was then easy to offer stunned opponents the choice of conversion to Islam, death, or the adoption of dhimmi status, and so achieve the ultimate objective—the continuous expansion of the area subject to sharia law. Modern authorities may care to note that this strategy had one weakness: it failed when the initial violence was met with a robust military response which demonstrated a level of determination even greater than that of the Islamists.

This is well-said and true to experience and theory. Islam must expand or suspect that Allah has willed against it by Muslim defeats. It is part of the logic of its theology.


Orlando—like San Bernardino, Fort Hood, the Spanish trains, the Paris concert hall, and the Mumbai hotel—will soon be forgotten or minimized in the light of ever new events of the same order. Radical Islam is now a two-pronged force: the ISIS side and the Muslim Brotherhood side. Both have the same goal. The first relies on more direct military and terrorist methods. The latter does not shun these means but finds that more effective ways to gain control is through the shrewd use of democratic methods themselves. Both are aware of the demographics that Islam has over cultures that have been breeding themselves out of existence. This decline in willingness even to have children in any significant numbers is not the result of Muslim thought which, in its odd way with multiple wives, is pro-natal, however disordered a polygamous family may be for men, women, and their children. In this sense, numbers count. Islamic thinkers have every right to expect that numbers are in their favor. Several European countries can expect to be Muslim in ten to thirty years.

Aristotle had already said that large changes in population and culture would transform any existing regime into something else. The American regime, in particular, has doggedly maintained that it could welcome any one into its country. It took this position on the assumption that certain basic ideas about human nature were agreed on. Most of the immigrants, until recent years, came from the same broad European Christian culture that had much in common. It was not until the twenty-first century that its political culture decided that there was no human nature to agree about and that religion was not relevant.

Everyone had a “right” to his own view of the cosmos. The effects of this relativism are straight-forward. All individuals and institutions must accept the principle of relativism to continue in the public order. What is unique about Islam is that it has been able to use the principles of relativism to secure a place within the legal world that has no means to reject it other than to call it “terrorism”. But in a relativist world, even terrorism has a theoretic place. If there are no real standards, it is difficult to see on what grounds it can be excluded.  

What Islam seems to understand more clearly than those who welcome it into their presence is that it does not accept either the Christian or relativist premises of the culture. All factions within Islam positively reject them. It does not follow from this rejection that what Islam does hold is therefore correct. It is in fact just another danger from another direction, one rooted in ideas unique to itself. The opposite of truth is usually not just one error but many. Islam, however, has the advantage in being able to close itself off from the surrounding social and political order, especially from one that will not confront it on the grounds of its own presumed truth. If we only deal with Islam as just another “right” among other equally indefensible “rights”, it will thrive in a liberal environment. It will vote en bloc for its own interests. The advantage that the surrounding relativist culture gives to Islam is enormous. In a way, it has the best of both worlds. That is, it can operate as “legitimate” within and demand protection of democratic systems that are based on willed “rights”. It can also attack such a system as corrupt from both the inside and the outside with those ISIS type forces that maintain that, when using these forces, their understanding of Islam is the correct one.


Meantime, in conclusion, Iraqi forces finally seem to be having some success in retaking cities that ISIS, with much publicity and violence, had taken over. This scene is again a reminder that much of the violence that we see in the Islamic world is directed at each other. We see the Sunni/Shiite division, the Wahhabi influence,  the de facto frontiers of Islamic states, the claim that a single caliphate has been established, Hamas, al-Qaida, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Governments in Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia, as well as those in the smaller Muslim states like Yemen, Qatar, Kuwait, and others, are themselves under internal and external pressure to adopt the ISIS form of Islam. Many would prefer to let the Muslims fight it out among themselves. The complications of internal Muslim politics and controversies are no doubt bewildering. 

It does not take many people to cause a revolution in fact, though it does require ideas. That Europe and America could be seen as targets of Muslim rule seems at first sight preposterous. Yet, a method, an opportunity, and an organization have arisen that thinks the conquest of good parts, if not all, of Europe and America is possible. It understands that its enemy is itself confused and bears within itself as many diverse and conflicting currents as are found within Islam. But this lack of any unified faith in itself in the West is precisely why it is seen to be vulnerable by those whose faith in Allah is absolute. Islam is a shrewd religion that grew by the violence that is part of its sacred book and its heritage. Terror need not always be used; some Muslims oppose it. But it can be and often is most effective for its own ends. It is not contradictory to the understanding of Allah in the Muslim mind. Islam has not repudiated its own heritage. It is bound by it. It has in our time seen the possibility of universalizing it to subject the whole world to Allah. We continue to think this hope is naïve or impossible. But the brains behind ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood are right. The opportunity is there for the taking. As yet, they do not see any sufficient force or ideas sufficient to deter them.

To look back “retrospectively” on Orlando is to see it as one more successful example of what one person can do if he has a mission and a worldview to justify it. The Orlando killer was not alone. He was a true believer and other believers in the mission of Islam inspire him. Neither he nor any of his predecessors or future companions are to be explained by psychology, economics, or sociology. They are to be explained by taking their word for what they are doing. If the President of the United States or the British Prime Minister, the media, the professors, the clerics, cannot or will not understand this reality, we cannot blame ISIS and its friends. They are also realists who understand where ideas and reality meet, sometimes on a battlefield in Iraq, sometimes in a night club in Orlando.

ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Saudi’s may lose. But, as of now, they have a good chance of winning. Whether a victory of Islam in subjecting the world to Allah would be a victory for the world or a disaster is best answered when the conquest has succeeded. And then no other answer would be allowed in this world but “Allah be praised!” One last thing is clear, Christians and other non-Muslims in any existing Muslim state are still denied religious freedom, full civil rights, full freedom of speech. They remain second-class citizens. Most Christians are now out of many Muslim states. Orlando, in other words, is an isolated “incident” that forces us to see what is happening. Its second lesson is that many, even in the highest places, refuse to see. In this, they are not innocent.

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About James V. Schall, S.J. 180 Articles
James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019) taught political philosophy at Georgetown University for many years until retiring in 2012. He was the author of over thirty books and countless essays on philosophy, theology, education, morality, and other topics. His of his last books included On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018 (Ignatius Press, 2018) and The Politics of Heaven and Hell: Christian Themes from Classical, Medieval, and Modern Political Philosophy (Ignatius, 2020).