By lex, on July 19th, 2007
It was hard, yesterday, to get through the “us” part gracefully. I’m searching partly to understand who we are as a people now, having come to the tentative conclusion that we are not who we used to be.
My uncle was a doctor in the Army, went ashore in Anzio, was awarded the Bronze Star for service there. I was in his office as a young lad and saw his service certificate. It said that he had been a part of the “Army of the United States,” a sufficiently strange article that I asked him what it meant, why it didn’t say “United States Army.” He replied that the US Army was the standing force into which, in times of crisis, the rest of the country mustered. All men of military age were a part, or a potential part, of the Army of the United States.
He’d grown up in the Great Depression, my uncle, as had the Marines who waded ashore at Tarawa under withering machine gun fire for 500 yards after their assault vehicles got stranded on the outer reef. They were part of a cohort of young men that had grown up in the type of grinding poverty that their over-weight descendants can scarcely imagine – one in three World War II draftees were rejected by military doctors for malnourishment.
They carried with them into the fire no great expectation that life would be easy, that they were entitled to anything more than they could get with their own effort and with no one talking to them from their cribs about the importance of self-esteem. These were hard men, and if theirs was a hard death, then it bookended neatly with what had been, for most of them, a hard life.
We ourselves have grown up in a sharply different environment, and while there are still – thank God – hard men willing to stand for us at the uttermost ends of the earth, my sense of it is that they are the volunteers of the United States Army and Marine Corps rather than members of the Army of the United States.
It’s even harder to know “them.”
Are they the people who risked their very lives to vote in greater numbers * than we ourselves? We in the peaceful cradle of modern democracy, who even in one of the most sharply contested and divisive elections in recent history, around which matters of vast national import were debated, could only partially bestir ourselves from our own preoccupations to participate?
Or are they those who would ruthlessly murder innocents in order to cower them into submission? And who are these, that would be led as sheep to the slaughter when every man in every neighborhood has to his hand the means with which to defend himself and household from tyranny?
Are they the terrorists that have killed in their innocent thousands anyone whom they determine is insufficiently or inauthentically devoted to their own sere vision of beauty? Or are they the Iraqi security forces who have died in their thousands in the name of protecting the fragile and experimental flower of real Arab democracy?
I really don’t know, so it is with real interest but some confusion that I read the writings of Bernard Lewis on the one hand – a man whose sympathetic and almost tender appreciation for the better elements of Islamic culture does not blinker him to its manifest deficiencies – and determinedly pessimistic writers like Walid Phares on the other (while rejecting out of hand Edward Said’s “Orientalist” thesis that for a Westerner to even attempt to understand Islamic Arabia is to impermissibly apply a impose racist, colonialist perspective).
Phares, quoted in Spencer’s Jihad Watch * , says that those in the West who attempt to shift the terms of the Islamic debate by labeling terrorists “mufsidoon” (spoilers) vice “jihadi’s” (those who struggle in a ‘holy’ cause) are missing the point entirely:
First, the argument of “good jihad” raises the question of how there can be a legitimate concept of religious war in the twenty-first century to start with. Jihad historically was as “good” as any other religious war over the last 2,000 years. If a “good jihad” is the one authorized by a caliph and directed under his auspices, then other world leaders also can wage a “good crusade” at will, as long as it is licensed by the proper authority. But in fact, all religious wars are proscribed by international law, period.
Second, the authors of this lobbyist-concocted theory claim that a wrong jihad is called a Hiraba. But in Arab Muslim history, a Hiraba (unauthorized warring) was when a group of warriors launched itself against the enemy without orders from the real commander. Obviously, this implies that a “genuine” war against a real enemy does exist and that these hotheaded soldiers have simply acted without orders. Hence this cunning explanation puts “spin” on jihad but leaves the core idea of jihadism completely intact. The “spoilers” depart from the plan, attack prematurely, and cause damage to the caliphate’s long-term plans. These Mufsidoon “fail” their commanders by unleashing a war of their own, instead of waiting for orders.
The thrust of this is, combined with the emphasis of Phares’ writings on the Islamist code of Taqiya, or deception, comes perilously close to declaring that there is no such thing as a “good Muslim” who is also a good human being, that there cannot be. That the doctrinal support for such positions can in fact be found within the Qu’uran and Hadith themselves only lends support a scholarly pessimism – could not one label it “racism” ?- which attempts to persuade us that the only acceptable narrative of coexistence with Islam, even in the 21st century, is one of conflict, even violent conflict.
But to wrap oneself in that cloak is to invite the tempest. Treat all of Islam as though it was the enemy rather than a spiritual force that has provided deep meaning to a quarter of the world’s population and we may find that a quarter of the world will treats us as an enemy right back. On the other hand, wilfully refusing to see the enemy as he is would be to invite continued conflict.
I continue to believe that if 1.2 billion of the world’s population were in fact unremittingly hostile to the West we would know about it, there wouldn’t need to be a debate. Even while accepting the grim calculus which tells us that, if even 1% of the ummah indeed carried such malice, we’d be talking about the non-trivial problem of over 1 million fanatical terrorists, supporters and apologists.
This is a deadly earnest question to understand, because at it’s heart the experiment playing out in Mesopotamia resolves to this: Given a chance to shape your own destiny rather than be tyrannized by those who would manipulate you to their own ends, is there a possibility that we can peacefully coexist? Whatever it ends up that “we” end up being?
I know what the violent extremists think. I really want to know about the rest of “them”. And it’s very hard to understand them.
* 08-11-2018 Links Gone; no replacements found – Ed.