[NB: I wrote this last November, but forgot to post it. Better late than never, and given the reaction to Trump’s Executive Order about admitting people from seven Muslim-majority nations as feeding global Jihad, it seems still highly relevant.]
Pundits are worried that Donald Trump and team – Bannon, Flynn, Pompeo – are “bringing back” the clash of civilizations (back to 2001). This regression, we are told, is a dangerous move that will play right into the hands of the Jihadis. Notes Fawaz Gerges:
What Trump and his followers do not get is that their inflammatory rhetoric plays into the hands of ISIS and Al Qaeda, who labor hard to convince skeptical Muslims that the West is waging a war against Islam.
Indeed this sentiment inspired both Bush’s famous “Islam is a religion of peace” speech within a week of 9-11, and Obama’s aversion to any association of Islam with violence. “ISIS is not Islamic.” It goes along with hand phrases like, “We can’t go to war with 1.6 billion Muslims.”
Much has been written of late about the dangers of exaggerating things. Democrats/ Liberals/ Progressives exaggerate the flaws of their “right-wing” opponents, abusing terms like racism and xenophobia till it ceases to move people. Republicans/ Conservatives/ Realists paint with a broad brush, tarring all Islam with the stain of Jihadi extremism.
And the danger here involves not merely the outsiders who cease to respond to the exaggerated rhetoric intended to stampede them against those designated as “beyond the pale.” It also carries the danger of convincing true believers that the sky really is falling. In this sense, Trump may have won in part because his foes had so abused terms like racist and Islamophobe that some voters even warmed to him because he so openly mocked their politically correct strictures. And in the wake of his stunning victory (unforeseen in part because the mainstream of news and commentary so believed their own pack rhetoric), we now have “progressives” alarmed, even panicked, at the prospect of such a terrible man inhabiting the White House, a man so beyond the pale, that normalizing him would be Orwellian “newspeak.”
And yet the same folks who consider “normalizing Trump” an act of newspeak, would not dream of identifying the claim “Islam is a religion of peace,” as a variant on a central theme of newspeak: War means peace, peace means war. In fact Western infidels have formulated the problem of Islamic violence in a way that guarantees it won’t be understood, much less effectively addressed. Right now, certainly since the turn of the millennium, outside dealings with violent Muslims only made things worse
However well-intentioned, or defensive we infidels might be, whatever we do, we make it worse: if we appease, we invite further demands; if we push back, we elicit further hostility. And while we fail miserably to recognize danger and menace coming from without we consume our energies with internecine warfare between “left” and “right”: our tough cops assault our nice cops for being self-destructive fools, while our nice cops assault tough cops for their obscene and atrocious belligerence: each side correctly predicting the failure of the others’ strategies.
Meantime their tough cop (Jihadis) terrify, and their nice cops (Summoners) show us the path to proleptic dhimmitude, to submission. And the first and most important submission of the dhimmi is not to blaspheme, not to criticize, not to shame a Muslim publicly. Accusations of Islamophobia currently play the role of making substantive criticism of currents of Muslim religiosity impossible.
Thus what began as respectful, politically-correct concerns about not offending others, when applied to Muslims, has become so charged with anxiety (and fear) that anyone who addressed the more problematic aspects of Muslims response to the modern world, gets marginalized. As a result, serious discussion about “radical” and “moderate” Islam, and their relationships to each other and infidels, cannot take place, even though they’re key to responding to the challenge of global Jihad.
Reuel Mark Gerecht offers a fine example of the rhetoric that has made discussion so difficult. Even as he faults Obama for failing to address the issue at all, he then turns on the “anti-Islam crowd:
However, I do have a really big problem when certain individuals attempt to paint Islam, in all its 1400-plus years of glorious complexity, as a deranged civilization and faith, whose denizens and practitioners are somehow uniquely capable of violence because they are hard-wired to do so, via the Koran, the holy law, and whatever else the anti-Islam crowd thinks makes Muslims tick. This is just historically atrocious. It is often obscene.”
“Anti-Islam crowd thinks… deranged faith… Koran makes Muslims hard-wired for violence tick… just historically atrocious… often obscene.”
I’ve long learned to beware the term “just” used dismissively. It has a knack for pulling the rug out of a discussion: the anti-Islam crowd’s view of Islam and Muslims is just awful and tasteless, don’t listen to them. And yet, when one subjects Islam, Muslims, to historical scrutiny, it turns out that on just this subject of war and violence, Islam has the most expansive armory of sacred war phrases, which Mahdi warlords and their mujehaddin have used them, generation after generation, Mujadded after Mujadded, to wage war on Allah’s enemies. Any impartial assessment of the historical record on religious war and violence – thoughts and deeds – would fairly rank Islam at the top of the list in its intensity and recurrence. “Islam is a religion of peace,” as historical generalizations go, is about as misleading as one can possibly get to newspeak.
The Qur’an, the sayings, and the law in Islam all give a great deal of attention to non-believers – kufar, those who cover the truth – and much of it is distinctly hostile. War on the infidel qua unsubjected infidel, plays a role in Muslim thinking that has no parallel in any religion in recorded history known to me. For some Muslims (how many?) Jihad a religious vocation: it is a way of proving one’s fervor for Allah. Indeed it would seem fair to venture that historically and currently, Muslims have a lot of trouble dealing with the “infidel other.”
What attitudes and range of behavioral norms govern Muslim interaction with non-believers, those living within and outside of Dar al Islam? How to deal with dissenters and apostates, those whose voices challenge and undermine the faith’s hegemony? Just how important is it to Muslim identity that Islam’s destiny is Muslim rule over all other, false, religions? Where there was Dar al Harb (realm of war), there shall be Dar al Islam (submission). How many Muslims teach and how many learn that the meaning of Muhammad’s urging wala wa bara means “love your fellow Muslims and hate the infidels”?
How painful is the condition of Muslim believers in a modern world that subjects everything, Muhammad and the Qur’an included, into the same critical matrix. Fair treatment for Islam would be very embarrassing. it has thrown Moses and Jesus and their respective documents? And in what complex ways do Muslims deal with that pain? When the simple, arousing, absorbing, deadly appeal of jihadi triumphalism reaches young Muslims passionate about their faith, who can resist, how many are they, and what do they do to shut down the venue for violence.
These are all legitimate observations from the perspective of a free West, indeed one might even argue, indispensable observations. And yet, when weighed in the balance of Gerecht’s judgment, these historically-based observations, come out on the side of “atrocious and obscene.” It’s not that this is all there is to Islam, but that in its history, cases of hostility to religious “others” has led to “deranged [and destructive] episodes, repeatedly giving birth to “practitioners… uniquely capable of violence because they [we]re hard-wired to do so, via the Koran, the holy law,” the hadith, the histories, the tales of glory, the teaching of the global Caliphate. This is historically accurate. It’s Verités de la Palice. If it is “obscene,” one should ask: In whose eyes the offense?
The ability to disagree, to listen, to self-criticize, to empathize with other perspectives, has played a key role in success of civil polities. To talk about real issues, relevant issues, and try and understand them as best we can, is almost too self evident an activity to need defending. And yet, now, if one discusses such matters, rumblings of Islamophobia, of racism, of paranoia, of obscene and atrocious pronouncements, of a racist lack of empathy for the marginalized, for the not-privileged. This dynamic has led to a radical misunderstanding of the violent Muslim forces at play in these matters, initially concerning Israel, now a global phenomenon, come home to roost in your campuses, and even your halls of power.
Take a particularly critical topic: the emergence of sanctified suicide terror, the most potent weapon of global jihad in the 21st century. Historically speaking, one of the critical moments for apocalyptic movements, is when they go public. History is littered with the corpses of slain messiahs, including the most famous one of all. Most authorities throttle even peaceful millennial enthusiasm, a fortiori, millennial hostility. So when an apocalyptic death cult that believes they must destroy the world to save it appears, societies mobilize in opposition.
(Today, the vast majority of those killed by suicide bombing are Muslims.)
And yet, quite to the contrary, the first suicide-terror attacks were greeted with such unanimity on the Arab/Muslim street, that even the most staid theologians in Cairo, yielded to the pressure and legitimized both suicide and attacking civilians. The meme gave birth to a movement; the revenge poetry of pink mist. Certainly this is a tragedy for Muslims, who today, by far, suffer the most from this apocalyptic weapon unleashed upon their world.
The behavior of the West, however, was still more unusual. Rather than protesting this moral monstrosity, this paranoid hatred for a demonized “other” for whom one has no empathy – the Nazi formula – which was now reappearing in Islam, which threatened planetary peace itself. Western progressives, reacting to lethal reports of a “Jenin massacre,” cheered the Palestinian martyrs on, some wore mock belts in solidarity. In the history of civilizational-suicidal gestures, that ranks high, although the last 16 years have been very high in such incidents.
In the history of the millennial movement of global jihad, that moment in the early aughts (Spring, 2002), when infidels cheered on the most ominous new development in the war on themselves, will stand out as a major turning point. In their eagerness to believe in the IDF as Nazi, they, like the Arab theologians, threw out basic principles of humanity. It was a stunning loss of empathy for people who, only two generations earlier, had a special claim on European empathy.
And for whom did the progressives who shouted “We are Hamas!” in European capitals have empathy? For the Palestinian “people,” for their cause. The people whose culture had produced Hamas’ martyrdom operations, in which the apocalyptic meme of “pink mist” arose, designating that magic moment after explosion when your own blood mixes with the blood of your victims, and your soul ascends to heaven and your victims’ descend to hell. A case study of paranoid violence against an utterly demonized “other,” “martyrs” with no trace of empathy. So instead of identifying the phenomenon of martyrdom operation as a massive social problem, and more specifically, an tragic failure in even the most elementary forms of empathy, it cheered on the death cult as resistance, and protested when the autonomous infidel, under attack, defended.
Of course if Gerges and others were concerned with not radicalizing the Muslim world, they would have spoken out long ago against the own-goal lethal journalism that Western journalists and “progressive activists” have engaged in over the last decade and a half, depicting the Israelis as (Muslim) child-killers and the Western militaries as killers of hundreds of thousands of Muslims – when indeed and alas, Muslims kill many more Muslims than Westerners do.