Posted by lex, on July 3, 2006
An occasional reader sent this link along: A straightforward, if unattributed argument on the strained relations between Islam and the West through history, and into the present day. No rose-colored glasses here:
In the days after September 11, 2001, American leaders rushed to portray Islam as a peaceful religion that had been “hijacked” by a fanatical band of terrorists. One hopes that these assurances were merely tactical—that nobody was meant to believe them and that they were meant to assure the Muslim world that the inevitable American reprisals were not directed at their religion as a whole.
If the world Muslim community perceived America as attacking Islam in general then the duty of every Muslim to fight for his religion—the duty of jihad—would have been invoked on a broad scale. The war against terrorism, instead of simmering with occasional flare-ups, like the Cold War, would have boiled over into a global conflagration, with the Muslim countries of the world—1.2 billion strong—mobilizing against America and the West.
Muslim apologists also rushed forward to assure the public that Islam was a peaceful religion. They disingenuously declared that the word Islam means “peace.” And they tried to portray the terrorists as a fringe group outside the mainstream of Islam.
These were lies.
The writer weaves together separate strands of intellectual thought in a way that will not necessarily be new to readers of Bernard Lewis or Samuel F. Huntington, but he does so from an informed perspective of what we now call “the West,” used to call “Christendom,” and is perceived by our Islamist foes as mere “modernity.” His conclusion – a faith in the Christian God’s plan for history – may leave unfulfilled those who were taught that God helps those who helps themselves, but taken as a whole, an effort well worth reading.
The point I think those of us on the sidelines of policy too often miss as we look to criticize the choices made by our political class is that the question being asked within the umma, and captured so tidily by Lewis in his well-titled book, “What went wrong?” is still being asked by the faithful today. It’s not for a lack of trying new solutions – after the fall of the Ottomans, Arab nationalism was attempted but failed to pan out, while the Ba’athist version of socialism has proven rather a better bargain for the governing class than for the governed. But all the while, and despite two savagely destructive wars which the umma watched mostly from the sidelines, and should have left the West weaker, rather than otherwise, on any metric of scientific or cultural achievement it was instead the East that fell further and further behind. Only two options remain, as yet untested: Modernity, the loathed “Westoxification” of the radical Islamic purist and its nemesis – the return to a fantastical, aggressively missionary, seventh century caliphate. A caliphate that, having once more re-united the faithful under one bloody banner, may lift its eyes once more to the lost peninsula of al Andalus, and that may once more march to the gates of Vienna. Or if not so, a caliphate that could hope to terrorize the West into submission, using weapons suitable to the scale of the purpose.
Our framing of the jihadist fringe as being separate and apart from the vast mass of peace-loving Muslims serves at least two purposes, one tactical and one strategic. At the tactical level, as the author writes in his second paragraph above, it’s designed to bound the problem without having to mobilize the rest of the world to a wartime footing – a dubious prospect at best. At the strategic level, the GWOT serves to demonstrate that, whatever “went wrong,” the solution does not lie in interconfessional violence: To demonstrate in other words, that those who choose to live by the sword will die by the laser guided bomb. Calibrating the levels of force used to immanentize the latter without invalidating the former can be exceptionally frustrating to the warfighter (and his allies), but the only real alternatives in “the Long War” are either to submit or else cry havoc.
We are not quite there yet, and a good thing too: Although the eventual outcome of Mr. Huntindton’s civilizational clash is not in doubt, we would emerge from the other end a good deal changed I think, and would perhaps have lost a great deal more than we could have imagined along the way.