After the recent terrorist outrages in Paris and Beirut, there are many voices calling for Something To Be Done.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. But before talking about Daesh (IS, ISIS, ISIL, etc.) and how to deal with it, there is another issue that we need to get clear about, and that is the identity of our enemy.
President George W. Bush got it spectacularly wrong on September 20, 2001, when he said,
The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics; a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.
I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.
Bush was not alone, and there are still many, including the current president of the US, who are wedded to the idea that there is somewhere a religion of peace that is ‘hijacked’ by ‘extremists’.
President Bush didn’t know a lot about Islam, but he knew that he didn’t want to antagonize American ‘allies’ like Saudi Arabia (President Obama, who does know quite a lot, has other reasons which I am not discussing today).
What’s relevant is that the ‘hijack’ theory implies that the enemy is either ‘extremism’ – which is ridiculous, since it is an attitude and not an enemy – or some group or groups of extremists. So Bush declared war on “terror” and Obama chose al-Qaeda as the enemy. He has now added Daesh, but – in deference to the theory – will not use the phrase “Islamic terrorism.” In his remarks on the Paris attacks, he said that “we stand together with [the French people] in the fight against terrorism and extremism” and that “this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.” [my italics]
As usual, Obama did not use the words ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslim’, despite the fact that the terrorists at the Bataclan theater were reported to have shouted “allahu akbar.” And the implication that we share universal values with Muslims is very misleading.
Daesh has released a statement taking credit for the attacks. They quote Islamic sources, and write,
In a blessed attack for which Allah facilitated the causes for success, a faithful group of the soldiers of the Caliphate, may Allah dignify it and make it victorious, launched out, targeting the capital of prostitution and obscenity, the carrier of the banner of the Cross in Europe, Paris …
[They also targeted] the Bataclan Conference Center, where hundreds of apostates had gathered in a profligate prostitution party …
Let France and those who walk in its path know that they will remain on the top of the list of targets of the Islamic State, and that the smell of death will never leave their noses as long as they lead the convoy of the Crusader campaign, and dare to curse our Prophet, Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, and are proud of fighting Islam in France and striking the Muslims in the land of the Caliphate with their planes, which did not help them at all in the streets of Paris and its rotten alleys. This attack is the first of the storm and a warning to those who wish to learn.
There’s more, but the statement makes their reasons for the attack clear: in part it gets revenge for France’s participation in a coalition that has fought Daesh in Iraq and Syria, but it is also an expression of their outrage at what they consider the moral turpitude of France and the West, particularly their sexual freedom. And importantly, it alludes to the historical struggle between Islam and Christianity, which Daesh sees itself as having taken up after centuries of humiliation by the “Crusaders.”
In other words, they did it for Islam.
Bin Laden’s 2002 “Letter to America” also makes similar points, although he threw in everything but the kitchen sink (Palestine of course, and even criticism of the US for not signing the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases).
There is nothing ‘extremist’ in an Islamic sense about these concerns. Their moral principles (yes, it’s strange to write this about the people who rape their female captives and sell them) are mainstream Islam and supported by their texts, as is the imperative to promulgate Islam by Jihad. Violence and terrorism against unbelievers has Quranic sanction. What is extreme is the ferocity with which Daesh and other radical Islamists put these basic Islamic views into practice.
This is why it is difficult to get ‘moderate’ Muslims to disavow the radical groups completely. Even if they don’t approve of murder, they see the objectives of the extremists as laudable – Islamic morality and Islamic rule, an end to Crusader domination and the restoration of the correct world order with Muslims on top.
And this is why a military-only solution doesn’t exist. If you damage al-Qaeda, Daesh appears. If you kill members of Daesh there are always new ones waiting in the wings.
Don’t get me wrong – it is absolutely necessary to crush these organizations: they must be disarmed and the logistical systems that keep them alive (in the case of Daesh, their oil revenues) must be interdicted. Leaders, strategic planners and technicians have to be killed. But that isn’t enough to win the war that they are spearheading against the West.
I said spearheading because the West is not fighting either ‘terrorism’ or Daesh or any other group that uses terrorism as a tactic. The truth is that we are fighting Islam, and these are its soldiers today. And they are not its only soldiers. Although a deadly enemy of Daesh, the Iranian regime also seeks to carry the banner of Islam against the West.
This concept – that we must fight Islam itself – is very uncomfortable for an enlightened Westerner, who is used to thinking of religious war as an artifact of the past, a stupid and pointless endeavor. We feel so superior to the 17th century Europeans who wrecked an entire continent with the 30 Years War! Today we have adopted the view that religion isn’t worth fighting over, that only arguments over geopolitics and economics can supply a legitimate casus belli.
Well, unfortunately our Muslim enemy doesn’t see it that way. They don’t think that religious differences end with your choice of day of the week to worship, or what you call the building you do it in. And they don’t think that the appropriate reaction to these differences is ‘live and let live’. Not at all.
As a result, we need to take these differences seriously as well. And we have to understand that Islam has declared religious war on us, with the intent to make us all Muslims, to destroy our churches and synagogues, and to replace our secular constitutions with shari’a, our parliaments with religious councils. Or, if we refuse, to make us die.
We can’t explain to them that they should read Locke and Rousseau, or treat the words of the Qur’an as metaphor. War isn’t a game that one side can refuse to play. If they win, we lose, whether we knew we were playing or not.
Therefore, the way to win is not just to wipe out the shock troops of Daesh (although we need to do that too).
We need to take down Islam, ban it in the West, close its schools and mosques, humiliate its believers, even destroy its symbols, as they would like to do to us. We need to fight them physically and psychologically as well. We need to teach the lesson that as a matter of fact Muslims are not superior to non-Muslims, and that’s why they are losing this war.
If we don’t do this, there will be no end to the war — at least not until they get nuclear weapons, which they would not hesitate to use.
If it’s hard for you to accept this, then don’t think of Islam as a religion like Reform Judaism or Episcopalianism. Think of it as an ideology, like communism or Nazism, because it is that as well.
Right now, some of you are saying “we mustn’t descend to their level.” But this is one way they are using our own values against us, one way they are using asymmetric warfare.
Whether we like it or not, we are on their level, and engaged in a struggle to keep a world in which the values that we learned from Locke and Rousseau inform our social and political systems – not shari’a.
This war has been going on since at least the 1990s. The enemy isn’t hiding his plans or his objectives. Time to wake up and fight for the life of our civilization.