Can the West defeat the Islamist threat?
Here are ten reasons why not
LET US SUPPOSE, for the sake of argument, that the war declared by al-Qaeda and other Islamists is under way. Let us further suppose that thousands of “terrorist” attacks carried out in Islam’s name during the past decades form part of this war; and that conflicts that have spread to 50 countries and more, taking the lives of millions — including in inter-Muslim blood-shedding — are the outcome of what Osama bin Laden has called “conducting jihad for the sake of Allah”. If such war is under way, there are ten good reasons why, as things stand, Islam will not be defeated in it.
1) The first is the extent of political division in the non-Muslim world about what is afoot. Some reject outright that there is a war at all; others agree with the assertion by the US President that “the war we fight is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century”. Divided counsels have also dictated everything from “dialogue” to the use of nuclear weapons, and from reliance on “public diplomacy” to “taking out Islamic sites”, Mecca included. Adding to this incoherence has been the gulf between those bristling to take the fight to the “terrorist” and those who would impede such a fight, whether from domestic civil libertarian concerns or from rivalrous geopolitical calculation.
2) The second reason why, as things stand, Islam will not be defeated is that the strengths of the world community of Muslims are being underestimated, and the nature of Islam misunderstood. It is neither a “religion of peace” nor a “religion hijacked” or “perverted” by “the few”. Instead, its moral intransigence and revived ardours, its jihadist ethic and the refusal of most diaspora Muslims to “share a common set of values” with non-Muslims are all one, and justified by the Koran itself.
Islam is not even a religion in the conventional sense of the term. It is a transnational political and ethical movement that believes that it holds the solution to mankind’s problems. It therefore holds that it is in mankind’s own interests to be subdued under Islam’s rule. Such belief therefore makes an absurdity of the project to “democratise” Muslim nations in the West’s interests, an inversion that Islam cannot accept and, in its own terms, rightly so. It renders naive, too, the distinction between the military and political wings of Islamic movements; and makes Donald Rumsfeld’s assertion in June 2005 that the insurgents in Iraq “don’t have vision, they’re losers” merely foolish. In this war, if there is a war, the boot is on the other foot.
3) Indeed, the third reason why Islam will not be defeated, as things stand, is the low level of Western leadership, in particular in the United States. During the half-century of the Islamic revival, it has shown itself at sixes and sevens both diplomatically and militarily. It has been without a sense of strategic direction, and been unable to settle upon coherent war plans. It has even lacked the gifts of language to make its purposes plain. Or, as Burke put it in March, 1775, “a great empire and little minds go ill together”. In this war with Islam, if it is a war, the combination bodes defeat.
4) Next is the contribution to the disarray of Western policy-making being made by the egotistical competitiveness, and in some cases hysterics, of “experts” and commentators on Islam. They include hyperventilating Islamophobes as well as academic apologists for the worst that is being done in Islam’s name. On this battleground, with its personalised blogsites to assist self-promotion, many seem to think that their opinions are more important than the issues upon which they are passing judgment; and amid the babel of advisory voices, policy has become increasingly inconsistent.
5) The fifth disablement is to be found in the confusion of “progressives” about the Islamic advance. With their political and moral bearings lost since the defeat of the “socialist project”, many on the Left have only the fag-end of anti-colonial positions on which to take their stand. To attribute the West’s problems to our colonial past contains some truth. But it is again to misunderstand the inner strength of Islam’s revival, which is owed not to victimhood but to advancing confidence in its own belief system.
Moreover, to Islam’s further advantage, it has led most of today’s “progressives” to say little, or even to keep silent, about what would once have been regarded as the reactionary aspects of Islam: its oppressive hostility to dissent, its maltreatment of women, its supremacist hatred of selected out-groups such as Jews and gays, and its readiness to incite and to use extremes of violence against them. Mein Kampf circulates in Arab countries under the title Jihadi.
6) The sixth reason for Islam’s growing strength is the vicarious satisfaction felt by many non-Muslims at America’s reverses. Those who feel such satisfaction could be regarded as Trojan horses, a cavalry whose number is legion and which is growing. For some, their principle — or anti-principle — is that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. Others believe their refusal of support for the war with Islam, if there is such a war, is a righteous one. But the consequences are the same: Islam’s advance is being borne along by Muslims and non-Muslims together.
7) The seventh reason lies in the moral poverty of the West’s, and especially America’s, own value system. Doctrines of market freedom, free choice and competition — or “freedom ’n’ liberty” — are no match for the ethics of Islam and Sharia, like them or not. Yet in the “battle for hearts and minds” the US First Cavalry Division saw fit to set up “Operation Adam Smith” in Iraq to teach marketing skills, among other things, to local entrepreneurs. There can be no victory here. Or, as Sheikh Mohammed al-Tabatabi told thousands of worshippers in Baghdad in May 2003: “The West calls for freedom and liberty. Islam rejects such liberty. True liberty is obedience to Allah.”
8) The next indication that Islam’s advance will continue lies in the skilful use being made of the media and of the world wide web in the service both of the “electronic jihad” and the bamboozling of Western opinion by Muslim spokesmen. It is also a political enterprise in which Muslims and non-Muslims can now be found acting together in furthering the reach of Islam’s world view; the help being given by Western producers and broadcasters to al-Jazeera is the most notable instance of it.
9) The ninth factor guaranteeing Islam’s onward march is the West’s dependency on the material resources of Arab and Muslim countries. In April 1917, Woodrow Wilson, recommending to the US Congress an American declaration of war against Germany, could say that “we have no selfish ends to serve”. American levels of consumption make no such statement possible now. The US is, so to speak, over a barrel. It will remain so.
10) Finally, the West is convinced that its notions of technology-driven modernity and market-driven prog- ress are innately superior to the ideals of “backward” Islam. This is an old delusion. In 1899, Winston Churchill asserted that there was “no stronger retrograde force in the world” than Islam. More than a century later, it is fondly believed that sophisticated hardware and Star Wars defences will ensure Western mastery in this war, if it is a war.
But as the Saudi “scholar” Suleiman al-Omar declared in June 2004: “Islam is advancing according to a steady plan. America will be destroyed.” As things stand, given the ten factors set out here, he is more likely to be proved right than wrong.