Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Naming Names and Identifying the Real Problem

I'm reading Rudy Giuliani's piece in Foreign Affairs. He's settled on the terms "the Terrorists' War on Global Order" and the "the Terrorists' War on Us" to describe the current conflict. This is better than "the War on Terror," but it still leaves out a crucial factor. The current struggle is solely with Islamists.

I'm not asserting that we are at war with Islam. I'm not even asserting that we are at war with Islamism, although it may come to that. Rather, we are at war with those who would impose Islam on any people by force. Similarly, we are at war with those who would prevent any Muslim from leaving the faith by force.

All religions have three major bodies of doctrine:

  1. What its members believe.

  2. How they get non-members to believe it.

  3. How they enforce those beliefs and prevent them from being modified.

Societies can be founded on a wide range of beliefs. Those beliefs in no small measure determine the health and success of the society. Western civilization is obviously based on Christian beliefs, which have served it fairly well. (Truth in advertising: I am not a Christian. But I am certainly a Westerner and approve of the mores that I was indoctrinated with.)

But let's not forget that the evangelical and anti-heretical portions of Christian dogma used to be a horror show. The West fought both defensive and offensive wars with Islamic powers for almost a thousand years. And, following those wars, Christianity was forcefully imposed on the Americas, Africa, and Oceania. The amount of human misery caused by Christianity's violent past far surpasses anything Islam has caused. Furthermore, Christian heresy and apostasy were also violently suppressed.

But, slowly but surely, Christian doctrine evolved into a less violent form. With the Reformation and the Enlightenment, the power of the Church changed from a coercive force to a persuasive one. Crusader armies and inquisitions were replaced with missionaries and secular legal systems. These systems still pressured individuals to conform and offered incentives to associate with like-minded members, but ultimately it tolerated religious differences and accepted the idea other beliefs were possible and could coexist.

Like Christianity, Islam had tenets that spread the faith by military conquest and ruthlessly stamped out apostasy and heresy. Unlike Christianity, however, Islam has yet to have its Enlightenment.

And there's the problem. While the rest of the world got a welcome 300-year breather from the coercive portions of the Islamic faith, the advent of asymmetrical warfare has unleashed them on the West once again. The symptom of this is terrorism, and the vehicle is a fairly small number of terrorist jihadis, but the proximate cause is Islamic dogma. This dogma is not restricted to a few tens of thousands of nutjobs; it is widely held by a significant percentage of the Muslim population.

The West is at war with the evangelical and apostatic dogmas of Islam itself. Those dogmas are antithetical and inimical to the underpinnings of the post-Enlightenment philosophies that make the West so successful. We can expect unrelenting violence from the Islamic world until it moderates its dogma and becomes tolerant of other beliefs. In short, the violence will continue until an Islamic Enlightenment occurs or until Islam succeeds in destroying the Western Enlightenment.

You can't impose an Enlightenment by force, obviously. But you can hold off Islamic encroachment by force for a bit, while you marshall the communication, economic, and geopolitical resources necessary to pressure Islam to make real doctrinal changes. Meanwhile, the West owes itself the honesty to admit that it's not fighting the Terrorists' War on Us. It's fighting a war with some of the core tenets of Islam itself.

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