The True Melting Pot

by Edwin Faust
November 3, 2010

In 1905, Israel Zangwill was the toast of New York City, as his popular play The Melting Pot celebrated the ideal of America as a true utopia where the divisions and animosities of the Old World, based on religions and ethnicities, were dissolved in the fire of a new brotherhood of man. The hero of his play was a Russian Jew; the heroine, the daughter of a tsarist officer who had led a bloody pogrom in the hero’s Jewish village in the old country.

It was a boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl plot, as the hero realizes that America is a place where the dark past can be forgotten and forgiven. The happy couple, Jew and Christian, are reunited as the sun sets over the Statue of Liberty. The curtain rings down. The applause rises to crescendo. Then, the theater empties, as the dream world of the footlights fades to black.

The extent to which Zangwill’s play reflected the realities of the New World may be doubted, but the aspirations it represented were, and remain, quite real. Jews and Christians, Catholics and Protestants, Blacks and Whites, have managed to coexist here, despite occasional violence, in a state of general tolerance, at least superficially.

Assimilation is still the desideratum of Western democracy, where the separation of Church and State is thought to be an essential component of social harmony. Both Jew and Christian surrender religious hegemony to the temporal power, which administers justice based on values that all parties hold in common, such as the criminality of murder or the respect for personal property.

Jews and Christians also maintain their own legal systems that follow rabbinical and Canon law, but such civil and religious tribunals rarely find themselves in conflict. If a Catholic tribunal, for instance, grants an annulment, the dissolution of the marriage is usually made final by a civil divorce, and the settlements of the civil court with regard to the disposition of property and children are respected, despite the fact that the Catholic Church does not recognize the right of the civil power to dissolve a sacramental marriage.

Champions of the Melting Pot ideal of assimilation become alarmed when any religious group becomes involved in politics. The secular media is ever on the lookout to note and warn of the dangers of the “Christian right.” And there are Protestant ministers occasionally imprudent enough to make the inflammatory claim that America is a “Christian nation,” a comment that is immediately denounced as intolerant and likely to lead to discrimination and even violence against non-Christians.

The Catholic hierarchy is more cautious than the separated brethren when it comes to statements about public policy. Fearing to be portrayed as Torquemada, advancing on freedom-loving people with thumbscrew and rack, Catholic bishops keep a low profile on disputed questions, offering low-key and lukewarm support for pro-lifers and concentrating on bland documents about social justice that end up as endorsements of government entitlement programs. Catholic bishops have been called the leftwing of the Democratic Party at prayer. How much the bishops are given to prayer may be arguable, but their politics certainly puts them at a great distance from the Christian right.

But now, the Christian Right has been eclipsed by what might be called the Muslim Right, and the media and the courts are ill at ease with the phenomenon. For now we have a religious group that does not share the ideal of assimilation. Quite the reverse. The Muslim Right wants to maintain its separation from what it considers the corrupting influence of its host countries. It even envisions a future in which sharia law replaces the constitutional laws of the West.

Unlike the Canon law of the Catholic Church, sharia law does not confine itself to the internal government of the clergy and the adjudication of disciplinary disputes. It comprises a comprehensive system of criminal and civil law with specific penalties that include capital punishment for several offenses, adultery being among them.

The regulation of marriage under sharia law is in some cases diametrically opposed to the laws of the host countries. The practice of Talaq, in which a husband may decree a marriage dissolved and all obligations to his spouse ended is not recognized in the West; nor is polygamy, which makes the legal status of a second wife problematic. There is also the case of divorce settlements, which sharia law may decree independently of the civil courts and quite at odds with its statutes.

Of course, such conflicts have not posed a great problem to date. The maintenance of separatist Muslim enclaves has kept much of the activity of sharia justice out of the public eye. It is now the case that in certain areas of France, where the Muslim majority predominates, the authority of the local police is subordinated to the authority of sharia law. Just how far sharia law extends its reach is unknown, for its deliberations are neither mentioned nor monitored by officials and the media.

And if sharia law now largely restricts itself to the regulation of marriage, such restriction likely arises from external pressures, not a genuine desire for restraint. As Islam grows in strength and influence in the West, we can expect to see the imposition of sharia codes in more areas of life.

We are facing the prospect of the legitimization of honor killings, genital mutilation, dismemberment, beheadings, whippings, etc., for a variety of offenses. In 2008, there were 102 executions, mostly beheading by sword, in Saudi Arabia. An Iranian woman now stands under sentence of death for adultery. And there is the supreme capital offense: apostasy. No Muslim may convert to another religion without forfeiting his life. The fatwa, a decree of death for an offense against Islam, respects no national borders. Ask Salman Rushdie.

Bernard Lewis, who has written extensively about the growth of Islam in the West, predicts that by the end of this century, Europe will be Muslim. Pope Benedict, who has angered Muslims by denouncing Islam’s historic use of force in religious conversion, wants to re-evangelize the West before it loses entirely the character of its Catholic heritage. The question arises: Is the Pope’s initiative too late? What are its prospects of success?

In 1952, Bishop Fulton Sheen made some amazing predictions. He agreed with Hilaire Belloc that Islam would rise again and try to conquer the West, where the influence of the Church was in decline. He also predicted that Islam would ultimately be converted to the Catholic Faith. This would happen, not because of the initiative of a Roman bureaucracy, such as the new office created by the Pope for re-evangelizing the West. The conversion of Islam would be solely attributable to Our Lady of Fatima.

Bishop Sheen noted that nothing is done by Heaven haphazardly. Every detail has its purpose. Why should the Miracle of the Sun — the greatest public miracle in the history of the world — have occurred near an obscure village in Portugal? Why is that village named after the daughter of the prophet Mohammed? Because when the Muslims were driven out of Portugal centuries ago, the daughter of the Muslim chief who had ruled what is now Fatima had a daughter by that name who stayed behind because she had fallen in love with a Christian boy. They married and she converted to the Catholic faith. The village was renamed in her honor.

Now, according to Islam, Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed, is the most honored of women, after the Blessed Mother. “Thou shalt be the most blessed woman in Paradise, after Mary.” So said Mohammed to Fatima. And the 19th chapter of the Koran praises Mary for Her virtue and Her virginity. She is, for Muslims, the true Sayyida — the great lady.

Bishop Sheen pointed out the enthusiasm with which Muslims greeted the statue of the Pilgrim Virgin as it made its way through the largely Muslim countries of Africa in the 1950s. Now, a half-century later, we should be asking: what is delaying his predicted conversion of Islam?

Only one thing: the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Pray that the Holy Father and the bishops will soon obey the request of Our Lady of Fatima. Devotion to Her Immaculate Heart is the true melting pot in which we will all find ourselves equally Her children. She is the only hope of the West. The only hope of the world.

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