Another Perspective

What Peaceful Islam?

By playing nice, the WSJ editorial board is missing the unfortunate clash of civilizations.

By 3.1.06

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The Wall Street Journal has begun a momentous retreat. Unfortunately, the editorial writers for that bastion of free market conservatism are just not quite up to admitting it, or put more collegially, they haven't yet recognized it as such. Thus, in its editorial of February 27, 2006, the editors ask by way of a challenge "amid some recent wringing of hands" about newly formed democracies in the Middle East "succumb[ing] to illiberal temptations": if the argument is that democracy-building is not the best solution to win the war on terror, "does someone have a better idea?"

It is clear to those who have followed the Journal's path that the question posed was intended rhetorically. The reason is not because these are stubborn or arrogant men and women who pose questions stylistically as if to say that once they have staked out their position all discussion effectively ends. Rather, what we see in this literary style is an implicit admission that anyone who begins the intellectual journey from the starting point that the highest good is modern, liberal (i.e., free market) democracy, all else is meaningless commentary. In other words, if one's grounding is not the preservation of America and its national existence, but rather the "policy" that a rights-based, libertarianism is a panacea for the ills of the world, to contemplate anything but democratic nation-building even in the face of mounds of evidence to the contrary is futile. And, of course, the Journal is correct in this.

In effect we have fully answered the editors' challenge and deserve the prize. But, lest we be accused of being a bit too cute, let's examine in more detail the retreat to which we point. The high ground from which the Journal editors begin their retreat is modern, rights-based, democracy. For the Journal, while America's constitutional republic is by far the greatest example of such democracies, it holds no monopoly. The call of liberty, limited government, the freedom to do as one pleases (as long as the exercise of such freedom doesn't illegally restrain another's freedom to do likewise), open borders to pursue free trade and amass wealth, these are the positions staked out over the years by New York's high-brow business paper. All in all, pretty innocuous, or so it seems.

The problem, however, is that the Journal wishes to convert these libertarian policies into some kind of human order of being. The Journal's editors actually envision America's greatness not in its national existence and its peoplehood, but in a kind of crafted liberal, democratic ontology. For the Journal, what makes America great is not what is unique to America but a state of nature that demands that man live in a politico-economic order that recognizes no absolute good or truth other than the individual's own personal choices unbounded. America is great, goes this logic, because it conforms best to human nature, which is to say that man has no nature but the desire to make choices freely. All else, his Christian faith, his unadulterated patriotism and national pride, his understanding that his country, not his neighbor's, is uniquely blessed, are at best historical remnants of quaint Old World beliefs and at worst dangerous opinions that blind man to the truth that there is no truth.

Of course, what the Journal has done is to miss the fact that America's greatness, its call to liberty and dignity, its constitution, is a unique product of its founding national make-up. A unique Judeo-Christian consciousness, coupled with an undaunted spirit, unfailing work ethic, and abundant kindness, resulted in the greatest modern republic the world has seen. Our politico-economic system works to the extent that it hasn't been warped by ideologues, because America works. We have survived revolutions, slavery, civil war, world wars, depression, impeachments, natural disasters, and domestic and international terror not because we are a liberal democracy but because we are America. Is that national chauvinism? You bet it is.

FROM THE JOURNAL'S HIGH GROUND, which we now suspect is not high at all, the paper's Weltanschauung comes into focus. Thus, a mere 17 days after 9-11, the Journal published an op-ed by a college law professor who wanted to tell us that Islam is really not such a bad religion. If you look hard enough into its history, you will find the Murji'tes, the Mu'tazilites, al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes, all reasonable West-like voices of rationalism, tolerance and enlightenment. All of this is nonsense of course because none of these "voices" or "traditions," if in fact they were rational or tolerant even in their day, ever came close to defining Islam or surviving to this day. They died childless and homeless as it were. But, we turn to the bottom line of that essay, typically in Journal commentaries literally the bottom line, and we find:

It is not for us in the West, of course, to define what "true" Islam is, especially when Muslims dispute it among themselves. But we can all stand against evil, and we can oppose an evil that Islam itself experienced and turned away from in its early days. More important, we can begin to appreciate the varied voices that Islamic civilization offers to the world.

Just reading this makes one wonder what in the world the editors were thinking about after 9/11. Who is this "we?" Were "we" to all sit in a candle-lit room, "the West" and poor, confounded "Islam," and chant meditative hymns until we discovered who the hell Islam is? America was attacked by Muslims. Almost universally, Muslims everywhere, the world over praised bin Laden. Of course, the political leaders of those Arab dictatorships that sell us oil consoled us, but as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times likes to say, the Arab street was quite content to see America burn. There is only one "we" of import here: America. That is the "we" we Americans should be concerned about.

But almost equally absurd is this professor's suggestion that there is some "Islamic civilization" that has "turned away" from evil. Islamic civilization has turned away from what few moments of civilized behavior it has manifested for now hundreds of years and has done so without looking back. There are no varied voices of Islam. It is true that Islam is a fractured religion, but not so fractured that it finds itself incapable of preaching institutionally the hatred of America and the West, and the need for the Ummah to find dignity through jihad. And, for every liberal Muslim college professor who would like to limit the meaning of jihad to some intra-Arab, personal struggle against one's evil inclinations, there are 100 a'immah or preachers teaching relentlessly consistent jihad, war with real weapons against real kufar or infidels. For those confused by the rhetoric of the Elites that true Islam seeks to live in peace with Christians and Jews as People of the Book, such a peace comes at a price: total submission to Islam, its law and its leaders. As Hamas has said, the Christians that now live in the Palestinian territories will be allowed to stay if they agree to the status of dhimmi, which, in addition to total submission, includes a special head tax.

Having attempted to deny the fact of 9/11 and the uniqueness of a worldwide terror only pursued by Islam and in ways uniquely suited to Islam, the Journal was forced again earlier last month, on February 11, to deal with the "clash of civilizations" apparent in the cartoon mess. This particular editorial appears after several editorial page efforts to "explain" the Hamas victory in a way to excuse democracy and human nature for its failure to ignite the Arab soul. We were assured that democracy would win out. So, in typical fashion we turn to the February 11 editorial's bottom line, again literally so:

There's a lesson in this for those who would have us believe that what this cartoon conflagration represents is a conflict of civilizations. There is a conflict all right, not between civilizations, but within one, and it pits those who would make Islam barbaric and those who would keep it civilized. In that struggle, the heirs of Socrates and the heirs of al-Farabi must make common cause.

Where exactly do the Journal editors discover a conflict within Islam? True, Muslims are slaughtering one another in Iraq and tyrannizing one another in almost every Arab dictatorship in the world to some degree or another, but the conflict is not over some ontological or theological disagreement, but political power. Even the battle raging between the Shia and the Sunni elements in Iraq is a battle over power and oil, not the correct interpretation of the Koran. Every single major Islamic institution that is not simply a propaganda arm of the political leadership rejects narrow nationalism (just like the Journal). But Muslims, clearly preferring the duty of Jihad to conquer the dar al-Kufr (House or Nation of Infidels), are inclined as well to make their "political power" struggles matters of warfare.

One final point about the Journal's pleas to the descendants of Socrates and al-Farabi. I will leave aside it was democrats who falsely accused Socrates of offending the multiculturalism of his day, and for that he was forced to drink hemlock and die. The Journal missed the genuine comparison. On the Muslim side, al-Farabi was the right choice only in the sense that he had no impact on Islam at all. His influence, like that of Socrates and the philosophers Plato and Aristotle, was on Western religion; Judeo-Christianity. Thus, al-Farabi had a far greater impact on Jewish thought than he ever had on Islamic theology because the great Jewish codifier and philosopher Maimonides learned much of what he knew of Aristotle's philosophy through the writings of al-Farabi. As for the Greek philosophers, their influence was directly on the early Church.

The Journal "missed" this, the genuine point in the case of al-Farabi (and Socrates), for the same reason it misses the "better idea" than its own: a shallow democratist-libertarianism cure-all for the Muslim world (and much else). The point about Islam is it produces Muslims according to teachings of domination, men with many wives, and families with traditions of war and violence all within a vision of life, Islam, that praises war and a world state. Al-Farabi, as far as we know, died a bachelor, recoiled from Islam, and admired Aristotle. In a word, he did not "reproduce" in any sense as a Muslim. So the point the Journal missed, publishing a post-9/11 commentary representative of it, is this: Muslim civilization is at war with Judeo-Christian civilization. The Journal is obliged to state so transparent a truth, most all to ask what is it that compels Western elites so relentlessly to resist facing this truth about Islam.

SO IT IS WE RETURN to the Journal's editorial of February 27. Let us be straightforward in the face of the empirical evidence that Muslims require us to treat them as we treated our enemies in World War II. If the nation-building in Europe and Japan was good it had something to do with the prior defeat and surrender of these peoples. Total submission. Without that, nothing else matters. When you have an enemy bent on your destruction, you must face that enemy and recognize that it is a war that does not end until one or the other is vanquished. Completely. That is especially important in the case of Islamic enemies whose very raison d'etre is to conquer dar al-Kufr. Israel's tack with the Palestinians, like that of America's in Iraq or Afghanistan, has been to deny this Muslim intent. Certainly Israel is being destroyed by this, by the Israel-U.S. peace process. America's similar approach is not less misguided, or less dangerous, than Israel's.

Insofar as the editors of the Journal are so smitten with the social sciences, it is interesting to note that two of the most respected historical scholars of the post-World War II American-led recovery in Europe and Japan, respectively, Professors Charles S. Maier of Harvard University and John W. Dower of MIT, both concluded at a colloquium at MIT on March 7, 2005, that two important factors that led to the peaceful and successful democratization after the war were: (1) the war was long and so totally devastating to the people of Japan and Germany with massive, unremitting bombardment of civilian centers that there was simply no will or physical ability to fight further; (2) Germans, but also the Japanese, did not inherently reject Western democratic principles.

The short answer for our friends at the Journal: American forces, and by implication Israeli, British, Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, German, and Danish, need to totally vanquish the Islamic terrorists. War is hell for a reason. The reason is men facing terrorist destruction more explicit than ever came from Japan or Germany are bound to fight enemies if they are to survive. The Muslim peoples, those committed to Islam as we know it today, are our enemies. So your question, does anyone have a "better answer" is this answer.

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