Posted on February 6, 2006
All weekend long this post has been bubbling inside me, asking to be let out. All weekend long I demurred, procrastinated, changed the subject, argued with myself. It’s a deep subject, susceptible to error, even to over-generalization. It might be long to write, uncomfortable to think about and challenging to get my mind around.
Because most of all, I wish it was not so:
The United States is engaged in what could be a generational conflict akin to the Cold War, the kind of struggle that might last decades as allies work to root out terrorists across the globe and battle extremists who want to rule the world, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday…
“Compelled by a militant ideology that celebrates murder and suicide with no territory to defend, with little to lose, they will either succeed in changing our way of life, or we will succeed in changing theirs.”
This has been a realization slow in coming to the US national command authority. Much effort was made in the early days after 9/11 to try and isolate the cancer of the jihadis from the body of the umma.
All over the West, presidents and prime ministers tripped all over themselves in their rush to lecterns and mosques – even while the World Trade Center ashes were yet burning – in order to reassure a ruffled population that Islam was a “religion of peace.” This despite the fact that there was no lack of countervailing evidence, evidence the West had painfully accumulated through a thousand years of contact with yet another messianic faith brought to the West from the Middle East. A faith generously offered where genially accepted, but brought anyway, even on the point of the sword wherever necessary.
As if to prove that parentage still matters, there is this little bit of genesis to ponder: The prophet of the West died for his people – the Eastern prophet killed for his. For those of us in the West who no longer hew to our prophet’s philosophies – and there are no few – it doesn’t matter: The Eastern prophet’s more radical disciples will still kill you anyway.
In those early days of mournful anger and – say it – altruistic hopefulness immediately following 9/11, it made perfect sense to separate the ostensibly minority radical Islamist fringe from their peaceful co-religionists. A fight was clearly upon us and we chose to frame it as a war that we could swiftly win – topple the Taliban for hosting Al Qaida, topple Saddam for being the industrial sum of all apocalyptic fears. In the place of tyranny, plant optimism and freedom. We asked ourselves, who would resist the chance to govern themselves, even if a hated enemy offered such an opportunity? And we asked for our own part, who would want to fight a war against a billion people? That’s a war that we could certainly win militarily – although at great price – but risk the losing of our own national soul in the destruction of our enemies. We would risk becoming what we had beheld.
And after all, what should it profit us to gain the whole world, but lose our own soul?
But after having liberated the people of Afghanistan from a barbarous regime, still our soldiers fight and die there. The almost unimaginable reality of 11 million free Iraqis queuing up at the polls to select a government not of our preference is insufficient to stop the deliberate, sullen, wholesale slaughter perpetrated upon them by their disenchanted countrymen. Along with the murder of innocent civilians and an appalling loss of life among the Iraqi police and military forces, these murderers continue to claw at coalition forces hoping to gall them to retreat no matter what cost. In Iran, an end-times infatuated madman who thinks that the Holocaust was propaganda, that Israel should be wiped from the map, that the West is decadent paper tiger, that he is somehow personally destined to bring forth the Mahdi who will lead Islam to final triumph over its enemies, is the president of an imminently nuclear state. Somehow we find ourselves, even with military forces to Iran’s east and west, with no good options to forestall this.
And now poor Denmark is threatened and embassies and consulates burn throughout the Middle East because a dozen or so cartoonists had the temerity to put pen to paper and draw a picture of the prophet. Someone who, giving credit where credit is due and taking nothing else away, was nothing but a man, take him for all in all.
Such a rendering is a violation of Islamic tenets, as it turns out. As is drinking alcohol and eating pork. Both of which Western cartoonists have been known to do, without death threats being heaped upon their heads.
Now incensed Islamists in Britain use their freedom of speech rights to decry – wait for it: Freedom. We are left to scratch our heads and wonder how people who left the oppression of their homelands to join us in our national houses as guests in search of a better life demand upon arrival that we change our rules to more closely conform to the oppression that they fled.
Irony? Not a big enough word.
Are these our only choices? Fight and maybe die, or submit, give in, surrender? And in that surrender, give up all that we have built in the last five hundred years, our freedoms, our way of life – everything?
We cannot submit. But the more we fight this, this slow attempt at the strangling of our freedoms, the very things that define us, the more radicalized become our adversaries. In that radicalization, young men – and it is men, very few “protest babes” are observed in any of this – men who have been denied many of the simpler pleasures of this life but promised Hefneresque obscenities afterwards bring in their after draft an increasing number of passive co-religionists. People of a generally non-violent bent who fear to be labeled “apostate” – a death penalty offense under the sharia – and who grow increasingly persuaded that the war against terror is not against terror at all, as we have framed it, but against their faith. They grow convinced that this is a war being fought against their very selves.
They are been dragged towards the fringes by an Islamist information campaign that we have clearly underestimated. The jihadis are organized, intelligent and committed – where do you think the villagers in rural Pakistan or in Gaza found Danish flags to burn? Why do you think these protests explode into the streets only now, when the cartoons were printed in September?
As the Islamists carefully craft their message to appeal to Muslim sensibilities, the perception of the war in the minds of the great, undecided middle shifts gradually away from modernity and towards reaction. The ranks of intolerance and barbarism swell, the middle ground gets mined, and all of us on either side are left to walk away from dialogue and man the barricades instead. Or most of us, I should say. Some decline to join the fight. No impeachment process for W? Not interested then. Nothing to see here. Move along.
And here’s the pity of it: When the dialogue ends, the Clash of Civilizations truly begins. That is a war of cultural survival, and one the West can, must and will win, if we have to. But it will be a long war, and at the ending of it, we will not be the people we had once been.
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