Last December, Dan Pipes posted a piece entitled “How the West Could Lose.” It’s the kind of thing that the Europeans can’t even think about much less assess. For an example of how suicidal the Europeans, see Paul Beilin, “The Islamicization of Antwerp” (comments in next post).
Middling souls sustain;
Great souls launch, democracies;
Small ones, destroy them.
How the West Could Lose by Daniel Pipes
New York Sun
December 26, 2006
After defeating fascists and communists, can the West now defeat the Islamists?
On the face of it, its military preponderance makes victory seem inevitable. Even if Tehran acquires a nuclear weapon, Islamists have nothing like the military machine the Axis deployed in World War II, nor the Soviet Union during the cold war. What do the Islamists have to compare with the Wehrmacht or the Red Army? The SS or Spetznaz? The Gestapo or the KGB? Or, for that matter, to Auschwitz or the gulag?
Yet, more than a few analysts, including myself, worry that it’s not so simple. Islamists (defined as persons who demand to live by the sacred law of Islam, the Sharia) might in fact do better than the earlier totalitarians. They could even win. That’s because, however strong the Western hardware, its software contains some potentially fatal bugs. Three of them – pacifism, self-hatred, complacency – deserve attention.
Pacifism: Among the educated, the conviction has widely taken hold that “there is no military solution” to current problems, a mantra applied in every Middle East problem – Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the Kurds, terrorism, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. But this pragmatic pacifism overlooks the fact that modern history abounds with military solutions. What were the defeats of the Axis, the United States in Vietnam, or the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, if not military solutions?
My favorite is “War is not the answer.” A popular bumper sticker in places like Cambridge. As soon as one suggests that force may be necessary, the conversation is over. “Oh, you’re one of those people who think that they only understand force.” Well no, they understand more than force, but without force, they don’t understand much.
This issue lies at the heart of demopathy: Arabs/Muslims play on our desire to believe that they are “rational” like “us.” And while there are some who do, the culture remains in the place where the vast majority of pre-modern cultures have operated for millennia — “might makes right.” That’s the point of the Caliphate.
Self-hatred: Significant elements in several Western countries – especially the United States, Great Britain, and Israel – believe their own governments to be repositories of evil, and see terrorism as just punishment for past sins. This ” we have met the enemy and he is us” attitude replaces an effective response with appeasement, including a readiness to give up traditions and achievements. Osama bin Laden celebrates by name such leftists as Robert Fisk and William Blum. Self-hating Westerners have an out-sized importance due to their prominent role as shapers of opinion in universities, the media, religious institutions, and the arts. They serve as the Islamists’ auxiliary mujahideen.
This trait links the fate of Europe in the 21st century to the fate of Europe in the 5th century. When the Goths sacked Rome in 410, the “patriots” – pagans who deeply resented the Christian theocrats destroying the Altar of Victory (382 CE) — blamed Christendom. Augustine wrote an apologia for Christianity, The City of God against the Pagans, that, to this day, students read in History and Religion courses as a brilliant defense.
It’s really nothing of the sort. Were I a lawyer prosecuting the case against Christianity, I’d use Augustine’s argument as exhibit A. It also embodies many of the elements of current attitudes.
- De-dramatization: It wasn’t so bad; the nuns who took refuge in churches didn’t get raped; it was just a “sack” of Rome, not the “Fall.”
- Self- accusation: We deserved it; the pagan Romans were imperialists driven by libido dominandi and therefore this is come-uppance.
- Pacifism: This is a test from God which we should endure with penitential meekness.
Now there is a profound two-fold irony here. First, the reason why medievalists by and large are in profound denial over the calamity of the Fall of Rome (it was really just a transition), is at least in part because so many medievalists are gentle apologists for Christianity. To blame Christian spirituality for the Fall of the Empire will get you little appreciation in medieval circles still largely dominated by clerics and ex-clerics and secular historians who have learned to stay away from delicate religious topics. To discuss the “fall” of Rome is already to run into academic flak; to compare the past with the present is beyond the pale.
Second, the people who most resemble the suicidal Christian Romans in their attitudes (masochistic self-criticism), are the decidedly post-Christian secular elite of modern Europe, people with no firm faith except in their own moral superiority. What makes this irony particularly biting is that even as post-Christian Europe seems most unlike the Christian empire with its addiction to theocracy (i.e., the modern version is tolerant of all religions, afraid to promote their own), and the nature of the current invaders least like the Germanic warrior tribes (i.e., committed Muslims with a program for converting the Europeans), in an interesting way, there is a symmetry. Modern Europeans are profound believers in the superiority of their system and have assumed that their combination of democratic freedoms, human rights, social safety nets, and economic productivity will “convert” their immigrants to true Europeanism. Whatever the intentions of the Muslims who plan to take over Europe — like the Germanic tribal warrior chiefs, they want to put themselves in the position of the dominant elite — the collapse of civil society will make the entity they want to plunder as impoverished as the Arab world today. Perhaps they should read James Russel’s The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity.
Complacency: The absence of an impressive Islamist military machine imbues many Westerners, especially on the left, with a feeling of disdain. Whereas conventional war – with its men in uniform, its ships, tanks, and planes, and its bloody battles for land and resources – is simple to comprehend, the asymmetric war with radical Islam is elusive. Box cutters and suicide belts make it difficult to perceive this enemy as a worthy opponent. With John Kerry, too many dismiss terrorism as a mere “nuisance.”
This is the refrain I hear from my colleagues and former class-mates: Terrorism is a criminal problem, let the police handle it. But as a counter-terrorism expert I recently spoke to pointed out – criminals don’t seek publicity. This a-symmetrical war is played out on terrains — like the media — most westerners don’t even imagine.
Islamists deploy formidable capabilities, however, that go far beyond small-scale terrorism:
* A potential access to weapons of mass destruction that could devastate Western life.
* A religious appeal that provides deeper resonance and greater staying power than the artificial ideologies of fascism or communism.
* An impressively conceptualized, funded, and organized institutional machinery that successfully builds credibility, goodwill, and electoral success.
* An ideology capable of appealing to Muslims of every size and shape, from Lumpenproletariat to privileged, from illiterates to Ph.D.s, from the well-adjusted to psychopaths, from Yemenis to Canadians. The movement almost defies sociological definition.
It only works when you apply the categories of honor-shame culture.
* A non-violent approach – what I call “lawful Islamism” – that pursues Islamification through educational, political, and religious means, without recourse to illegality or terrorism. Lawful Islamism is proving successful in Muslim-majority countries like Algeria and Muslim-minority ones like the United Kingdom.
* A huge number of committed cadres. If Islamists constitute 10% to 15% of the Muslim population worldwide , they number some 125 to 200 million persons, or a far greater total than all the fascists and communists, combined, who ever lived.
Pacifism, self-hatred and complacency are lengthening the war against radical Islam and causing undue casualties. Only after absorbing catastrophic human and property losses will left-leaning Westerners likely overcome this triple affliction and confront the true scope of the threat. The civilized world will likely then prevail, but belatedly and at a higher cost than need have been.
Should Islamists get smart and avoid mass destruction, but instead stick to the lawful, political, non-violent route, and should their movement remain vital, it is difficult to see what will stop them.
Mr. Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers). This column will be on hiatus for the next 15 weeks, until mid-April, while Mr. Pipes teaches at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.