20 February, 2005
Author: George Irbe
Back to George's Views
For the Love of God: War Between the Abrahamic Religions
This essay is a commentary on how two American intelligence analysts view the on-going war between Islam and the West. Their views are expressed in recently published books: Beyond Terror: Strategy in a Changing World, by Ralph Peters (Stackpole Books, 2002); and Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, by ‘Anonymous,’ subsequently revealed to be Michael Scheuer, (Brassey’s Inc., 2004). The two authors have had similar career experiences as intelligence analysts: Peters as a U.S. Army officer, Scheuer as a CIA employee.
Peters’ Beyond Terror is a collection of his essays, written between 1994 and 2002, which have appeared in several professional journals. Peters is considered to be a futurist: one who prognosticates on what is likely to happen in the world based on analyses of past and present conditions, events and trends.
Scheuer had a long career as a CIA analyst, seventeen years of which he spent gathering and analyzing intelligence from the Muslim world of the Middle East and South Asia, and the terrorist activities of militant Islamists, in particular bin Laden. Imperial Hubris covers the period from the mid-1990s up to early 2004. Anyone can already guess from the book’s title that the author is quite critical of how the Bush Administration and the Western world as a whole has been prosecuting the so-called ‘war on terror.’
I found much that I could agree with in both books. Yet, I also often found reading the two books intellectually irritating, because they fail to identify squarely the nature of the current conflict: namely, that it is a traditional new-old conflict between religious cousins: Islam – the youngest claimant to Abraham’s patrimony, against the two older ones – Christianity and Judaism. In this centuries-old conflict, religious dogma has always played the surrogate for very practical objectives, bluntly put – for territorial and political conquest and domination.
Both Peters and Scheuer fail, each in his own way, to identify the secular, one could say the strategic, objectives of the Islamists of today, which are wrapped up in old and familiar religious garb. Peters tends to ignore the importance of the Islamists’ use of the religious weapon to mobilize their followers. He also seems oblivious to the fact that bin Laden and his followers actually have strategic and genuinely secular objectives. Scheuer certainly recognizes the centrality of the religious factor in this conflict, but, because of his own religiosity, explains and excuses the Islamists’ actions on purely religious grounds, failing to recognize that the Islamists are using their religion to mobilize the masses of the Muslim world in order to attain their quite secular geopolitical objectives.
It could also be that Peters and Scheuer don’t identify this conflict as a resumption of a war, waged, as of old, on a religious pretext for territorial and political ends, in order to avoid criticism from the public at large and the powers-that-be. After all, the entire Western world is unwilling to face the fact that it is engaged in a war with Islam, both in the religious and secular sense. To put it in another way: What we have here, then, is perhaps deliberate avoidance by both authors of the dreaded bugaboo of ‘religious war’ in order to stay on the safe side of popular ‘political correctness.’
Perhaps for the same reason, Peters and Scheuer also do not go to any depth into Islam as such – its historical behavior and its mixed religio-ideological nature. Their analyses of the current conflict suffer as a result. I suppose that, in general, all Western intelligence agencies labor under the same kind of self-imposed taboo: Religion - Islam in particular - is out of bounds. As Peters poignantly says, on page 195: “During my bleak Washington years as an intelligence officer, no one dared to speak of the forces of love or hatred, or of any other emotion. Nor could they say anything profound about religion or culture. . . We tried to deal with the torrid world of flesh and blood as if it were made of fitted nuts and bolts. We understood nothing that mattered.”
Another general observation: Peters and Scheuer both disregard the significant role that the United Nations has necessarily played, and will continue to play - like it or not - in constricting and, at times, opposing outright the foreign policy moves and initiatives of the United States. Now, many people, myself included, think that the United Nations is a malformed and useless organization, which has done more harm than good for mankind. It was largely the brain-child of the utopian radical left lobby which dominated the Roosevelt administration during World War II. I consider the founding of the United Nations to be the greatest foreign policy blunder by the United States in the 20th century. Therefore, I can understand the antipathy that large numbers of Americans, perhaps also including Peters and Scheuer, may feel towards that international den of poseurs and thieves. However, such is the geopolitical order of the world today that, dislike that parasitical organization as much as we want, ignore it we cannot.
Because most of my critique of what Peters and Scheuer have written will concern religion in general and Islam in particular, it is appropriate that I declare my own views on religion and my understanding of Islam at the outset. What I will have to say about religion, especially to Scheuer, may give the readers the impression that I am an atheist. They would be wrong to assume so. I know that there is God. I have stated my understanding of God in the essay http://www.interlog.com/~girbe/credo.html; and my views on organized religion in http://www.interlog.com/~girbe/Religion.html. I consider my rational understanding and acceptance of God to be mentally healthier than that of the religionists who need the crutch of a personal (and imagined) anthropomorphic God.
As for Islam, I believe I have become sufficiently acquainted with its character and history for my particular purposes. Islam is not an overly sophisticated institution. It doesn’t take that much reading or appreciation to understand it. If you are unsure where to start, take a look in the Koran, the be-all and end-all for Muslims. Today, there are numerous sites on the internet which provide translations of the Koran in English and other languages; most of them offer options to search on words and phrases. Most of them are maintained by Islamic organizations and most are quite ‘in-your-face’ about every word of the Koran having been dictated by God (Allah) in Arabic to His Prophet Mohammed; and that therefore the Koran is unalterable and unquestionable. The Islamist purists would insist further that it is therefore not translatable into other languages.
Another source, not as readily available as the Koran, but of equal importance to understanding the inner composition of Islam, is The Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, by Ahmad ibn Naqib-al-Misri (d. 1368). It is a compilation of the laws (there is no distinction between civil and religious law in Islam) that every Muslim is obliged to live by.
When I undertook to become familiar with Islam, it was perhaps only my good fortune to encounter a few very useful books on the subject, most notable among them: 1. The Clash of Civilizations, by Samuel P. Huntington, 2. The Seed of Abraham, by Raphael Patai, 3. Mohammed, by Maxime Rodinson, 4. Among the Believers, by V.S. Naipaul, and 5. Jihad, by Paul Fregosi. These five works, plus the Koran and the Manual of Islamic Sacred Law provide a basic, if by no means exhaustive, understanding of Islam, its dogma and its history. My understanding of the nature of Islam is given in http://www.interlog.com/~girbe/New%20Jihad.html.
Comments Concerning Religion and Religiosity
There should be little disagreement with the following two statements: First, that our Western civilization is grounded in Judeo-Christian traditions; Second, that, this being a conflict between Islam and the West, it is therefore also a conflict between Islam and the other two Abrahamic religions. I think that therefore it also follows that, the only good intelligence analysis being impartial intelligence analysis, such analyses should be delivered preferably only by individuals without a personal belief in, or sympathy towards, any of the three Abrahamic religions; ideally, an intelligence analyst should have no attachment to an organized religion of any kind. Opinions expressed about this conflict by a person with religious convictions are inescapably biased; such a person cannot provide an impartial analysis of the conflict.
Ralph Peters, to my knowledge, has not indicated his religious affiliation, if any; nor do I detect a particular religious bias in his writings. But he undervalues the importance of religion, seeing it as a mere adjunct of culture in general, whereas in actual fact religion is still the indispensable nucleus of all cultures, except, perhaps, in the modern industrialized societies.
Michael Scheuer’s problem is that he appears to be quite religious himself. He esteems religion too much and betrays certain personal religious biases by what he says. He remarks in his book that his is a “Catholic tradition” (Pg.255). It is good that he does so, because that explains his strong religionist’s bias which robs his opinions of some of the objectivity one would expect from an intelligence analyst.
Comments Concerning Islam
The facts about Islam are laid out in my essay; its internet address is given above. I encourage readers to learn about Islam for themselves by reading the books I have listed there. To put it very bluntly, Islam is a blueprint for world conquest camouflaged in religious accouterments which it borrowed from the two Abrahamic religions extant at the time of Mohammed.
Here I want to deal with two characterizations of Islam, which are commonly inserted generously (and unthinkingly) in speech or text by Western academicians, media pundits, and politicians, because they are such safe ‘politically correct’ things to say. The first is a tiresome stock phrase about Islam that we see and hear repeated again and again by all sorts of people who talk at us in the broadcast media and write books and newspaper columns for us to read on the subject. It goes something like this: “Islam is one of the three great religions,” or a variant of it: “Islam is one of the world’s great religions.” I wonder if the persons mouthing or writing these phrases are trying to glorify Islam, flatter Muslims, or gloss over Muslim hostility towards all non-Muslims. I must ask: What’s so “great” about any religion, and particularly about Islam which does not even bear the biblical bona fides of the other two Abrahamic religions? Would it not suffice to simply say, “Islam, one of the Abrahamic religions”?
The second dubious characterization of Islam is to say that it used to be so progressive and so beneficial for mankind. Much is made by many scholars and historians, notably by the prolific Prof. Bernard Lewis, of the supposedly enormous contribution by Muslims to science and cultural refinements during the pejoratively termed “Dark Ages” of European history. I suspect that in this case also, many people simply parrot what they have heard or read because it is such politically correct talk. As for Europe, dark the ages may have been insofar as the disintegration of the Roman Empire and the destruction of its civilizing norms by the invading barbarian peoples from Asia. Indeed, after the collapse of the old Roman Empire, its European dominions suffered through a long period of intellectual darkness, when endless savage violence was the norm and the pursuit and cultivation of knowledge was rendered almost impossible. However, history tells us that the calamity in Europe was really not that exceptional. War, pillage and destruction had been routine visitors already for millennia in the classical world of the Mediterranean basin, the Levant, and eastward into Persia. There, throughout thousands of years, centers of learning and cultural achievement have risen and fallen, have bloomed and withered.
There is another point to be made. Rulers, however exalted, and civilizations, however splendid and grandiose, do not create knowledge. The advancement of science, mathematics, and knowledge in general, has always been by fits and starts. The contributors of new ideas and discoveries to mankind’s common store of knowledge have always been exemplary individuals who often made such contributions in defiance of the religious beliefs and mores of the society in which they lived, rather than with that society’s approval and assistance. Often they paid with their life for their obstinate pursuit of knowledge. I want to suggest that it was the insatiable thirst for knowledge by individual Europeans, which they inherited from the Greeks and Romans, that eventually lifted up Western civilization once again and to even greater heights than what had existed before the fall of Rome. That is a feat unequalled by any other civilization.
I rather subscribe to Samuel P. Huntington’s observation, to the effect that “Islam has always had bloody borders.” Islam was designed for conquest, pure and simple, by its founder Mohammed. Islam was never a builder of civilization. In fact, the Arab irruption into the civilized world in the 7th century was just as savage and destructive, and perhaps more so, than the barbarian invasion of the Roman Empire some three centuries before that. The Arab tribes that set out to conquer in 622 had a primitive culture and were almost totally illiterate. Yet, Islam over-ran long-established centers of civilization which had been Christian for hundreds of years: Egypt, Libya, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Asia Minor. The most that can be said for Islam is that, when it conquered an established civilization, it assimilated and transmitted those parts of it which it found to be useful for its own purposes. The rest it destroyed.
In certain respects Muslims exceeded the barbarians in savagery and bloody-mindedness. Muslims had a particular taste for beheading their captives who would not convert to Islam on the spot and, when the need arose, they would behead their own Muslim rivals as well. They greatly exceeded their adversaries, Christian or pagan, in such behavior. Their penchant for beheading is still evident today in Iraq. It was also normal practice by a Muslim ruler, or the one next in line to rule, to ruthlessly eliminate all of his own family members who were his potential rivals.
In Spain, during the 700 years of warfare between Christians and Muslims, it is pointless to try to judge who were the more barbaric and who the more civilized. Both sides committed exemplary atrocities; however, there was always something particularly imaginative and exquisite about the atrocities perpetrated by the Muslims. Therefore, all things considered, I have a gut feeling that all the paeans to the great cultural and scientific heights achieved by the Muslims in Al Andalus - in Cordoba in particular – are wishful exaggerations. I ask: When did the Caliphs of Cordoba find time to be gracious patrons of science and the arts when they were occupied almost full time with mayhem and slaughter?
Much has been made of Cordoba’s so-called “golden age” by numerous historians. That age was actually of rather short duration, consisting roughly of fifty years, from 926 to 976. It lasted just a bit longer than the long reign of Abd-al-Rahman III (912-961), the ruler who is credited with bringing it about. He was half European, as were many of the ruling caste of Andalus; his mother was a Navarrese princess. Rahman III is described as short, fair-haired, blue-eyed, and bow-legged; he dyed his red hair black to match that of most of his subjects. His grandfather, Abdullah ibn Mohammed ruled just before Rahman, from 888 to 912. Abdullah had his own son and Rahman’s father, Mohammed, murdered, but then designated grandson Rahman III to be his successor.
Rahman III assumed power in 912. After more than ten years of fighting, he managed to bringing most of Andalus under his power by the year 926. He started his campaign of pacification in a resolute and convincing manner. It is said that within days of taking power he had an enemy decapitated and the head nailed to the door of his palace as a warning of what awaits his other enemies. By 929 he felt secure enough to challenge the suzerainty of the Caliph of Baghdad, by elevating his own emirate to the status of a caliphate. By so doing, he was repudiating his nominally subservient position to the Caliph of Baghdad, claiming complete religious and political sovereignty for himself. I surmise that it must have been in this later period of independence from the shackles of Islamic dogma, from 929 onward, that Rahman III could indulge the European side of his lineage, which he inherited from his mother, by allowing freedom of thought and expression in the sciences and arts to flourish.
Undoubtedly, in the vast Islamic empire, which stretched from Spain eastward all the way into India, there were, at times, periods of enlightened rule by particular rulers in particular cities and emirates, while at the same time, in other parts of the empire, conditions were horrendous. For example, during the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad, the reigning caliph always had his executioner standing by the throne and could order a visitor who displeased him to be beheaded on the spot. The execution block stood on a leather mat so as to prevent messing the place up with blood. All said, then, it is silly on the part of historians to ascribe to Islam as a whole all those noble, but, alas, non-existent, virtues.
Comments on Beyond Terror
As already mentioned, Beyond Terror is a collection of essays written between 1994 and 2002. Of the seventeen essays in this book, I take it that only three were composed post-September 11, 2001. Peters states in the Introduction that, in the interest of intellectual honesty he has not edited or rewritten any of the earlier essays, in order that the reader can “track the development of the writer’s thoughts, and to be able to weigh that which had been gotten wrong against that which stands the test of time.” For that Peters deserves our commendation. Keeping in mind all that has transpired in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2002, it is quite likely that Peters’ views have changed yet again in some respects since this book was published, but of course, they remain unknowable to the reader at present.
Ralph Peters’ essays deal with varied and interesting topics and his prose has a simple but elegant style, making the essays easy to read. Peters retired from the United States Army with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Nearly all of his essays deal with United States foreign affairs and military strategies, now and in the future. It is a given that his military education included quite a lot of world history in a political and military context. However, it seems unlikely that a military curriculum would give much attention, if any, specifically to the study of religion, even in instances where religion has been the primary cause for war. That would explain Peters’ lack of emphasis on the religious dimension of the present conflict.
I will now present some selections from Beyond Terror, with my comments stating whether, in my opinion, Peters has gotten it right or wrong. To begin, Peters does have a realistic general appreciation of human nature per se, and human societal behavior, and has it, I am happy to note, very much along Aristotelian lines, as the following selections show:
Pg.82: The truth is that we do not want to know the truth about ourselves. And the truth is that human beings are different in mass. Our primitive level of science cannot yet differentiate the psychological from the biological changes when humans group together, but profound changes do occur.
Pg.83: . . it appears that mankind is a violent herd animal hardly more domesticated than the wolf. . . Men like to kill. Not all men like it, and not all of those who do kill do like it to the same degree. . . Violence is psychologically rewarding for the victor, and it is addictive. It is cathartic and exhilarating, and lying about it will not change any of this.
Pg.84: Even in the pogroms and slaughters, the majority rarely participates in direct physical violence. The crucial violence is usually perpetrated by a smallish number of actors, with lesser violence enacted by a larger circle, with still a larger group enjoying the spectacle of violence and, perhaps, looting.
Pg.86: . . men like to kill; humans change in mass; masses hate instinctively; a small number of instigators can lead the mass to commit atrocities its individual members would shun in isolation; violence is addictive and cathartic; the fear of retribution long outlives the joy of action.
Pg.119: In this age of change, I stress the continuity of human behavior and, perhaps, human instinct (issues of biological or cultural or complex causation remain unresolved, and those among us vain about the state of contemporary knowledge had better read Aristotle or Oswald Spengler to learn how wrong intelligent men can be about the wisdom of their age). We are primitives, and have barely begun to understand who we are. Ignorance is our lot.
Pg.125: There is such a striking difference between human organizational progress and the lack of development of the individual human’s behavioral range that the lack of attention paid to the discrepancy is baffling. While individual behavior, apart from table manners and dress, has changed little since the days of myth, social and political organization has made clear, if uneven, progress. Boston is better than Babylon.
Peters also recognizes the foibles and weaknesses characteristic of Western society:
Pg.54: We too have our comforting myths, among them that all the people of the world are really “just like us,” that all men are finally subject to reason, and, most perniciously, that violence is a desperate measure that solves nothing. In fact, billions of people are not “like us,” surprisingly few men are subject to reason when reason threatens their most precious beliefs, and violence is often the only meaningful solution.
Comment re Pg.54: Very true, indeed.
Pg.223: In the right cultural and economic environment, democracy is an inexhaustible treasure; in an unprepared environment, it is Pandora’s box.
Comment re Pg.223: This is an observation as ancient as democracy itself. It was true in the times of Aristotle as it is true today.
Pg.218: The Western crusade – and it is nothing less – to make democracy fit the body of every state is nothing more than evolved imperialism.
Comment re Pg.218: This observation is quite true, and when the Islamists accuse the West of waging an imperialist crusade against the Muslim world, we cannot really say that their accusation is entirely groundless.
Pg.244: The belief that different ethnic groups can get on peaceably and equitably is a utopian Western notion, with no empirical foundation. . . even the United States has yet to fully assimilate a single non-European immigrant group . .
Comment re Pg.244: Furthermore, this same crazy utopian notion is dogmatically enshrined in the protocols of the United Nations, which sends “peace-keepers” to stand between groups that could never live at peace with one another.
Pg.162 . . the West is most willing to fight for economic causes, while the rest of the world squabbles over identity, be it religious or ethnic. Certainly there have been plenty of rehearsals for these conflicts over blood and belief down the millennia, but the global lines have never been so sharply drawn.
Comment re Pg.162: I disagree with the sweeping generalization that only the West will fight for economic causes and “the rest of the world squabbles over identity, be it religious or ethnic.” Recently, several lesser conflicts between nationalities or tribes have flared up, but usually the reasons for them are primarily economic. There is only one sharply-drawn line of global-scale conflict: that between Islam on one side and Christianity and Judaism on the other.
As I stress, beginning with the very title of this essay, this is a war between the Abrahamic religions. Reluctance by Western society in general and the Western military establishment in particular to confront squarely the specter of a religious war severely inhibits Western ability to meet the challenge from Islam. This inability, or unwillingness, to deal openly with the issue of religion, crops up repeatedly in Beyond Terror; but Peters is hard pressed to acknowledge this inhibition openly. Most of the time it is acknowledged in an indirect or veiled manner, or is buried in the general mix that constitutes culture. For instance,
Pg.293: This truly is a war. At present  it is being waged against us, but not by us. Until we, too, regard it as a war, our vulnerability will not decrease. It is also a war in which there will be no final victory, and that concept is difficult for Americans to accept. . . Unfortunately we are poorly prepared for this war. . . We are prepared to fight machines. But the enemy is belief (or simply hatred). Whether that belief lies in religion misinterpreted or in ethnic fanaticism, it commonly rejects our rules of warfare, as surely as it does the rule of law.
Comment re Pg.293: I have inserted the year after “At present” to indicate that this selection is from an essay, titled Hard Target, which was written well before the fateful day of September 11, 2001. Peters straightforward declaration that America is at war already then, in 1998, is to be admired. But he avoids naming the enemy as Islam itself. His language is torturous; the enemy is unidentified “belief”; it could be belief in “religion misinterpreted,” but which religion and in what manner it is misinterpreted remain a mystery for the reader.
Pg.195: . . in this age of technological wonders, the threats to our lives, wealth, and order are fundamentally, crudely human. We may diagram bunkers, bombs, and entire armies, but we falter at understanding the human soul. Nor will the human heart fit into our templates. Love, fear, and hatred, not machines, are the stuff of which wars are made, whether we speak of terrorist jihads, campaigns of ethnic cleansing, or conventional offensives (and do not underestimate the deadly power of love, whether felt toward a god, a people, a clan, a flag, or an individual). During my bleak Washington years as an intelligence officer, no one dared to speak of the forces of love or hatred, or of any other emotion. Nor could they say anything profound about religion or culture. . . We tried to deal with the torrid world of flesh and blood as if it were made of fitted nuts and bolts. We understood nothing that mattered.
Pg.198: Understanding, understanding, understanding! Get at the human beings, and the rest falls into line. Understanding your enemy is the most effective weapon of all, but a weapon we rarely wield.
Pg.207: This brief essay [“The Black Art of Intelligence”] is concerned with the art of intelligence analysis – a field in which we insist that our product dare not be offensive to other religions, cultures, minorities . .
Comment re Pages 195, 198, 207: It is indeed true that they “understood nothing that mattered,” and in this conflict religion matters most of all. Peters states candidly the two debilitating self-imposed restrictions (or, restrictions imposed by political leaders) on the thinking within the American intelligence community: First, that bin Laden leads a bunch of terrorist thugs, not a world-wide Islamic resurgence; Second: that political correctness has imposed a taboo on realistic assessments of the role of religion and culture in the current conflict with Islam.
Peters states his own, i.e. American, attitudes towards religion on Pg.17:
. . there is among us an instinctive urge to rebel against any church or patriarch who tries to render religion too prescriptive. Americans, across all creeds, are simply making religion suit them. And so human nature changes the world. . . Strict adherence to and interpretations of religious doctrine, as we see with miserable clarity in the Middle East, are the signs of a frightened human being in an undersocialized faith in a divided society. Nor do I make light of faith, which I believe is essential to our humanity. Rather, I propose that a faith that does not depend upon the crutch of obsolete doctrine is a more evolved faith. Composed by men, doctrine is, at best, a veil through which we see God darkly. . . Faith enables, doctrine inhibits. In the true American grain, we are simply casting off that which has failed us. Faithless Europe meanders, while faithful Islam crumbles. We have gained an almost miraculous middle ground.
Comment re Pg.17: There are some points here that one can agree with and others one can dispute. Indeed, there is in America the urge to rebel against religious dogmatism, but that is not true of all Americans. Americans do not make religion suit them – religion is not like a garment of clothing one can alter to fit one’s taste. It is merely that some Americans have stopped taking religion per se too seriously – and that is indeed progress.
Peters does not explain how he comes to the conclusion that strict adherence to religious dogma is a sign of a “frightened human being.” In that case a good many Americans are also frightened human beings. I also cannot comprehend what he means by the term “undersocialized faith.” He asserts that faith is “essential to our humanity,” but I must ask: faith in what or in whom? Can we assume that Peters means faith only in the context of the three Abrahamic religions, or are other faiths and other gods included?
I agree completely with Peter’s statement that “doctrine is, at best, a veil through which we see God darkly,” but his assertion that “Faith enables, doctrine inhibits,” once again begs the question: faith in what or in whom.
The same question about what Peters means by “faith” pertains also to his italicized axiomatic statement on Page 18: A society that transcends its religious differences without losing its faith is invincible.
Peters, like many other writers, makes the apparently obligatory ‘politically correct’ obeisance to religion in general and Islam in particular:
Pg.39: In one of the many ironies of history, two great religions have swapped places over the last half millennium, with Christianity breaking free of medieval intellectual and social repression, while the once effervescent world of Islam has embraced the comforts of shackles and ignorance. Today, at least, the Judeo-Christian world faces forward, while the Islamic world looks backward with longing and wallows in comforting myths.
Comment re Pg.39: This is a good example of an author tossing in the gratuitous “great religion(s)” phrase which I have complained about in my introductory general comments above; that is followed by the gratuitous pandering to Muslims, which I have also objected to above, delivered by the rather incomprehensible phrase “once effervescent world of Islam.” It is true, as Peters says, that today the “Islamic world looks backward with longing,” but he neglects to say what it is longing for: its lost empire and lost Caliphate. Islam has gone to war with the West precisely in order to recapture the former and restore the latter. And, it is precisely the lack of appreciation of Islam’s goals and intentions by our intelligence analysts and political leaders that is our main problem.
Concerning religious extremism in general, Peters writes,
Pg.161: Extreme religious fundamentalism, like oppressive ethnic nationalism, is not an indication of strong faith or shining conviction. On the contrary, the human being of deep, abiding faith can afford to be tolerant in thought and deed, to question and be questioned. . . Those who feel compelled to force their vision of God upon others are trying to convince themselves, thus their ferocity. . . As with men, so with nations. Failing states and cultures crave beliefs as firm as iron. But iron, struck with sufficient force shatters. The information revolution has the required force, and to spare.
Comment re Pg.161: I disagree strongly with Peters’ implication that the tolerant human being has “deep, abiding faith,” but the extreme religious fundamentalist does not and therefore needs to act fanatically in order to persuade himself and fool others into thinking that he, too, has this deep and abiding faith when in fact he does not. I maintain that, to the contrary, the religious fanatic has the most faith of all, and, contrary to Peters’ hopes, the faith of the fanatics will never be shattered by the information revolution. America’s own home-grown Christian fundamentalists belie Peters’ assertions.
Pg.118: Never underestimate the savage, or the human love of comforting lies, or the power of irrational belief. The fundamental weakness of American foreign policy is that it is made by educated, like-minded men and women who cling to a rational model of human affairs against all evidence to the contrary.
Comment re Pg.118: Once again, Peters circles around religion by naming not it, but its properties: “comforting lies” and “irrational belief.” The fundamental weakness of American foreign policy is that most of those “educated, like-minded” people who conduct it are, although rational, still believers in, and respecters of, their own version of religious ‘revealed truth.’ It would be psychologically very painful for them to admit that the system of beliefs they subscribe to – i.e. Christianity, is akin to the system of beliefs of their enemies - Islam. Therefore, when setting foreign policy, they must ignore the fact that the enemy is Islam - the sister religion of Christianity - and thus they repeatedly come up with wrong or misdirected policies.
There are other oblique remarks in the book concerning the role of religion in world conflicts:
Pg.80: The most powerful weapons our future enemies will bring to bear against us will not be submarines, or strike aircraft, or tactical missiles, or software viruses – or even nuclear weapons. Their most powerful weapon will be hatred.
Comment re pg.80: True. The power of that hatred is already being demonstrated in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, Peters should call it religiously-inspired hatred.
Pg.81: Masses hate. In turn, hate bonds the masses. . . We refuse to believe that the “civilized” peoples of the Balkans could slaughter each other over an event that occurred over six hundred years ago. But they do. Hatred does not need a reason, only an excuse.
Comment re Pg.81: Once again Peters’ appreciation of history and religion is somewhat off the mark. The Balkan peoples have slaughtered each other in the name of religion for many centuries; they were still at it on a grand scale immediately after WW I. Religious hatred is eternal; it provides both reason and excuse for slaughter.
Pg.87: We live in a period of such powerful change and dislocation – physical and psychological – that the collapse of the Roman Empire looks glacial by comparison. The grail of individuals and masses alike will be the quest for an excuse for their failures. They will find it in a return to crude, intoxicating systems of belief and valuation – wronged gods and stolen patrimonies. The result will be intermittent euphorias of hatred, stunning violence, and ultimate failure that then begins the cycle again. Much of humanity is returning to the days of witches, anti-Christ, and self-willed apocalypse.
Comment re Pg.87: Peters likes to speculate on the future. His outlook, as stated here, is, in my opinion, overly pessimistic. It is notable that even when predicting that “Much of humanity is returning to the days of witches, anti-Christ, and self-willed apocalypse” (surely, a phrase loaded with religious connotations), Peters yet again goes to great lengths to avoid using the taboo word ‘religion.’ But I must ask what other “intoxicating systems of belief and valuation,” what other “wronged gods and stolen patrimonies,” besides the Abrahamic ones, are there left in this world that could arouse large masses of people to “euphorias of hatred” and “stunning violence.” I cannot think of any others.
Pg.160: In the absence of trustworthy comparative data, [information] is almost always misinterpreted. Worse, comforting rumors and messages of hate have the power of an incantation where countering data is not readily at hand. . . Nor must the debilitating information be outright lies – it may come as a message of faith assuring believers that all of their failures and lacks are the fault of the infidel abroad and the minority in their midst. The appeal to believe, to submerge yourself in the comforting promises of extreme, exclusive religion (comforting as much for the damnation promised to your enemies as for the salvation promised to you), is, of course, timeless.
Comment re Pg.160: This is one instance where Peters clearly acknowledges the mesmerizing, psychotic effect that an “extreme, exclusive” religion has on its adherents. Of course, that describes very well the religion of Islam, which in itself is also as timeless as its promise of paradise.
There are aspects of Islam (Peters prefers to address it in a less confrontational manner by calling it the “Islamic world”) which he evaluates correctly, as for instance in the following passages:
Pg.7: Enmeshed within a religion frozen in time, and betrayed by their own viciously corrupt leaders and greedy elites, men, women, and children throughout most of the Muslim world will continue to slide deeper into poverty and bitterness. And it is not our fault. A civilization that is anti-meritocratic, that oppresses and torments women, that mocks the rule of law, that neglects education and lacks a work ethic simply cannot prosper under modern conditions. Flawlessly intolerant and blithely cruel, the Islamic world does far more harm to its own people than it has done – or ever will be able to do – to the West.
Comment re Pg.7: Religion – any religion – can be said to be “frozen in time.” A religion cannot be modernized. Reformers of religion succeed only in creating a new variant of it, which is then referred to as a new sect or denomination, while the original core of the religion stays unaltered and retains its own followers. All the negative properties which Peters ascribes to “a civilization” are actually the properties of the religion of Islam, and it is Islam that upholds this backward “civilization.”
Pg.46: A religio-social society that restricts the flow of information, prefers myth to reality, oppresses women, makes family, clan, or ethnic identity the basis for social and economic relations, subverts the rule of secular law, undervalues scientific and liberal education, discourages independent thought, and believes that ancient religious laws should govern all human relations has no hope whatsoever of competing with America and the vibrant, creative states of the West and the Pacific Rim. We are succeeding, the Islamic world is failing, and they hate us for it.
Pg.52: . . empirical reality is almost irrelevant within the Islamic world – comforting myths are much more powerful. The mental processes at work are so fundamentally different from our own that we literally cannot comprehend them.
Pg.53: . . few facts support a positive self-image within the Islamic world. The flight into fantasy has been going on for a very long time – at least since the expulsion of the Moors from Spain in 1492 – but the impact of globalization, modernity, and now postmodernity has driven hundreds of millions of Muslims into a fabulous refuge of their own collective construction. Powerful myths my be the only thing the Islamic world is any longer good at building.
Comment re Pg.53: Peters is wrong to characterize as myth what is actually a Muslim irredentist desire to recapture the empire they lost after WW I.
Pg.57: No matter how generous the terms offered to a future Palestinian state, a substantial, deadly portion of the Palestinian population (to say nothing of Arabs of other nationalities) will never be satisfied, materially, or more importantly, psychologically. The Arab world’s spiritual crisis, born of a generalized failure, needs the demon Israel (and the demon America) far more than it needs peace in the West Bank or Gaza. Israel is the great excuse for failure, and it will never be viewed as a mere tolerable neighbor.
Comment re Pg.57: Peters’ ‘heart is in the right place’ concerning the Palestinian issue, but he is slightly off the beam here again, because a full appreciation of the Palestinian problem requires a deeper knowledge of the religion of Islam than what (so it appears) Peters possesses. It is a general sacred Islamic doctrine that a territory once conquered must never be relinquished. Granted, much Islamic territory has been lost in war, but it will all be eventually retaken (Muslims hope), including, first and foremost, territory occupied by the illegal Zionist entity (Israel) in Palestine.
As an interesting aside to the above point, here is a small piece of history which has recently become a popular item, now posted at several Islamist web sites:
In 1901, the founder of the Zionist movement, Theodor Hertzl, visited Istanbul and tried to meet Sultan Abdul Hameed in order to negotiate the purchase of land for the Jews in Palestine. Abdul Hameed refused to meet him and he told his Head Of The Ministers Council: "Advise Dr. Herzl not to take any further steps in his project. I can not give away a handful of the soil of this land for it is not my own, it is for all the Islamic Nation. The Islamic Nation that fought Jihad for the sake of this land and they have watered it with their blood. The Jews may keep their money and millions. If the Islamic Kalifah State is one day destroyed then they will be able to take Palestine without a price! But while I am alive, I would rather push a sword into my body than see the land of Palestine cut and given away from the Islamic State. This is something that will not be, I will not start cutting our bodies while we are alive."
Peters’ misunderstanding of bin Laden, the man, and what motivates bin Laden and his followers to wage this war against the West constitutes his greatest and most grievous error, as shown, for example, in the following passages:
Pg.43: Perhaps the closest figure to Osama bin Laden that America has ever produced was John Brown. Millions of people thought he was right, too. And we have to wonder what that cherished American “saint” might have done had he possessed twenty-first-century technology. He too reveled in a “cleansing” bath of blood. Perhaps our saving grace today is merely that successful economies and flowering societies spawn fewer zealots. But should apocalyptic terrorists from the Islamic world ever manage a truly devastating attack upon America, they might find a new John Brown waiting in our wings – with twenty-first-century technology. Certainly, no sane person in the West wants the current conflict with terrorism to become a religious war. But the apocalyptic terrorists and their supporters already consider it to be one. And we in America probably underestimate our own capacity for savagery against another religion, if sufficiently provoked.
Comment re Pg.43: Peters is very wrong about bin Laden. Chief Sitting Bull and Geronimo, not John Brown, are American figures which most closely resemble bin Laden, insofar as they, too, were fighting desperately to regain their lost territorial possessions.
Pg.187: Osama bin Laden and his ilk may kill thousands of Americans through flamboyant terrorist acts, but their deeds reflect tormented desperation and fear, not confidence or any positive capability. . . Destruction is the only thing of which they remain capable, and destruction is their true god. These men seek annihilation, not only ours, but their own. . . They are failed men from failed states in a failing civilization. . . They are, in every sense, lost souls, the irredeemable.
Comment re Pg.187: Here, again, Peters depreciates bin Laden and his mission as being hopeless and apocalyptic. To the contrary, bin Laden is a logical and methodical man who is trying to rejuvenate the once-great Islamic empire. He was victorious in Afghanistan against the Soviets. He and his colleagues are anything but “lost souls” or “irredeemable.” The campaign of terrorism bin Laden wages is also known as asymmetrical warfare: one fought by the guy who has very little high-tech weaponry against the guy who has it all. It is a clever tactic and by no stretch of the imagination one of “tormented desperation and fear.”
Peters actually devotes a lengthy essay in his book in order to differentiate between what he calls “practical terrorists” and “apocalyptic terrorists.” Peters is wrong to place bin Laden’s terrorism in the “apocalyptic” class. An apocalyptic conflict is one in which there are no victors; it is a battle of mutual destruction. Unlike Christianity, Islam does not entertain apocalyptic notions. Islam’s goal has always been world domination – perhaps unrealistic but nevertheless a practical one. Today, due to Islam’s reverses in the last two hundred years, there is a preliminary objective to be achieved, namely, the recapture of lost Ottoman territories.
Thus, ‘apocalyptic’ is an entirely wrong adjective to describe bin Laden’s terrorism against the West; I suspect that Peters has almost certainly used it in order to avoid using the taboo terms ‘religious’ or ‘Islamic.’ And furthermore, Peters compounds the mushy logic when he states that “no sane person in the West wants the current conflict with terrorism to become a religious war.” Indeed, one of the West’s greatest failures, so far, is precisely that sane people are in denial of the fact that we are already in a religious war. Religious wars are the most savage of all wars and we can only hope that Americans (and most Europeans) will eventually become “sufficiently provoked” to fight this one with all the savagery that it will take to win it.
Finally, Peters also makes some observations and recommendations for future actions by the United States and the West in general, some of which I can agree with and others I disagree with, particularly those that can be implemented only with the co-operation of the United Nations:
Pg.192: . . our role should be that of a global referee, calling time out when the players hit below the belt or get too rough, and clarifying the rules of the game (no genocide, no ethnic cleansing, no mass rape, no torture, etc.). Instead of trying to stop the game, which was our approach across the past decade, we should try to facilitate it when it is played by legitimate players for legitimate stakes.
Comment re Pg.192: Although Peters has said just before this, on Pg.192, that the United States should not be the world’s policeman, here he recommends almost the same role – a global referee. He does not say how, if at all, the United Nations would take part in all this. Surely, as long as the United nations exists, it is impossible for the United States to act unilaterally as a global referee, to judge who is in the right and who in the wrong, in the sundry armed conflicts that flare up all over the world.
Pg.297: At present, we are so obsessed with international law, narrowly interpreted, that we handcuff ourselves, while allowing the terrorists to turn borders and legalisms against us. . . In an age of innovation we cling to a nineteenth-century model of international relations. The greatest refuge of the terrorists isn’t Afghanistan, it is our own fear.
Comment re Pg.297: This statement also comes from the essay, Hard Target, written in 1998, years before the U.S. preemptive invasion of Iraq. Something that Peters should have understood, even as early as 1998, is that the United States is not so much handcuffed by niceties of international law as it is by its outright enemies as well as its envious fair-weather friends at the United Nations. That will remain an insoluble problem for the United States until the United Nations is either dissolved or drastically reformed.
Comments on Imperial Hubris
Scheuer writes as one would expect a CIA intelligence officer to write. Imperial Hubris is rich with factual information. There is no reason why one would want to dispute Scheuer’s factual account of the armed conflict between Islam and the West, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, which has gone on now for nearly a decade. He was on the scene and closely acquainted, in real-time, with events as they unfolded, and is undoubtedly vastly more knowledgeable on the subject than most ordinary people.
However, as I have already said above, Michael Scheuer shows a rather strong bias in favor of religion and religiosity in general. His writing is also filled with bitterness towards people in the U.S. administration and government agencies who have been setting and implementing (wrongly, in Scheuer’s opinion) foreign policy over the last two decades. Scheuer expresses his personal opinions and sentiments in Imperial Hubris in a manner that one would not expect from a professional CIA man. It also makes one think that, if Scheuer’s unhappy mood is shared by other CIA agents, then it is no wonder that the agency has performed so poorly of late.
In his analysis of the on-going conflict between Islam and Western civilization, he suggests that the world should accept as legitimate and rational the irrational religious notions on the grounds of which Muslims justify their intolerant and violent actions towards non-Muslims. Scheuer seems to be unaware that he is equating and mixing the illogical with the logical. Starting already on page 2 of Imperial Hubris, and before he begins to present the chronology of events and his commentary on the successes and failures in the ‘war on terror,’ Scheuer fervently declares as a universally accepted truth that which, in truth, is but a fiction. Even if this fiction is accepted as truth by a majority of mankind, it is not, however, accepted universally; and it would still be only a fiction even if every human being were to take it for the truth. Those who accept this fiction as truth call it ‘revealed truth,’ or ‘religious truth.’ This figment of men’s imagination, this so-called ‘revealed truth,’ has caused endless strife and slaughter between men through the ages, and it is used as the basis for the conflict now underway between Islam and the West. Sad to say, given his Catholic background, it was to be expected that Scheuer would accept ‘revealed truth’ as equal to factual truth. After all, like millions of others, he is not aware of the flaw in his reasoning to begin with. The question is: should individuals with a mind-set like Scheuer’s be employed by a government intelligence agency?
Scheuer’s religiosity is quite severe; to make my point, I have inserted here a lengthy passage from page 2 of Imperial Hubris, with my comments interspersed as I deemed necessary to make them:
I ask the reader to suspend judgment and look at how bin Laden and other Muslims – those who support and those who reject his martial actions – appear to genuinely love their God, faith, and fellow Muslims in a passionate, intimate way that is foreign to me and, I suspect, to many in America and the West.
Comment: So, then, when individuals or groups declare that they love their God, faith and fellow believers - and do so in an intimate and passionate way, no less - such declaration justifies and absolves all their aggressive actions against the rest of humanity who do not profess to have this same passionate love for God. Of course, to the real, rational world, such declarations of love are meaningless blather; they are pretentious self-aggrandizing lies, or simply the internal mental constructs of men whose minds are afflicted by the very prevalent psychosis called ‘religion’.
Mankind has been beset with this psychosis for many millennia, and considering that this psychosis is again intensifying rather than abating now, at the beginning of the 21st century, leads one to conclude that mankind may be afflicted by it for however long it will exist. This religious psychosis manifests itself most virulently in the individuals who are known as ‘people of the book’ - the adherents of the three Abrahamic religions with common biblical roots. They all profess to ‘love’ a god whose origin is thought by students of history to be either a phantasm conceived in the mind of a man known as ‘Abraham,’ or it is the collective mental figment of imagination of the Israelite tribe of Levi, who called their god Yahweh. Levi was the most powerful of the tribes of Israel, and therefore Moses, who was the great unifier of the tribes of Israel, being a member of the tribe of Levi, naturally declared his tribal god, Yahweh, as the official god of all of Israel.
We must, therefore, go beyond Scheuer’s request that we suspend judgment and rather abandon rational judgment entirely, if we are to regard the figments of men’s minds, known as religious ‘revealed truths,’ as if they had the same verity as factual truths. Sadly, it is indeed true that most of mankind is afflicted with this inability to tell the difference between factual truth and ‘truth of revelation.’ As I noted before, averring that figments of their imagination have the same standing as factual truths is particularly pronounced among the practitioners of the three religions which have a common religious ancestry in the Levi tribal god Yahweh.
This is not to say that Westerners do not love their faith, God, and brethren; evangelical Christians have a fervor for God and His word similar to the Islamists’, though the former have yet to take up arms in His defense. Even they, however, do not live and love their religion with the ferocity and thoroughness of bin Laden and many Muslims, primarily because Christians – evangelical or otherwise – accept the American and European legal divide between church and state. And while evangelical Christians would like the Bible to have more impact on state behavior, no evangelical leader, or any Christian leader for that matter, has called for creating Western theocracies.
Comment: Scheuer sounds almost regretful that evangelical Christians “do not live and love their religion with the ferocity and thoroughness of . . many Muslims.” Apparently, the world-wide acts of terrorism and armed insurrections staged by Muslims are justified because they are simply defending their God. One is tempted to ask what sort of god is it that needs defending by mere mortals.
Let’s hope that Scheuer is not putting ideas in the heads of the evangelical Christians of today who “have a fervor for God and His word similar to the Islamists’.” Indeed, there were occasions, not so long ago, when some Christian leaders were calling for the creation of Western theocracies. Fortunately, the Western world as a whole has always resisted such calls, because the people have always preferred to have that “legal divide between church and state.” However, there certainly still are some evangelical Christians today who, given the opportunity, would gladly impose their brand of tyrannical, theocratic rule on all citizens.
Most Muslims – and bin Laden is in the Islamic mainstream – believe separating church and state is apostasy. “You are the nation,” bin Laden criticized Americans in a late-2002 letter to them, “rather than ruling by the law of Allah, chose to implement your own inferior rules and regulations, thus following your own vain whims and desires. You run a society contrary to the nature of mankind by separating religion from your politics.” For Muslims, God’s word – as He revealed it in the Koran – and the Prophet’s sayings and traditions (the Sunnah) are meant to guide all aspects of life: personal, familial, societal, political, and international. God makes laws, man does not. As Professor Lewis explained, “The idea that any group of persons, any kind of activities, any part of human life, is in any sense outside the scope of religious law and jurisdiction is alien to Muslim thought.”
Comment: It is clear that bin Laden and other Islamists also suffer from their own brand of hubris. Bin Laden’s statement reveals the typical Islamist contempt, steeped in blind ignorance, of any of the intellectual achievements, throughout history, by non-Muslim people, both before and after the rise of Islam. Bin Laden’s arrogance and conceit towards the non-Muslim world is monumental. If that is not hubris then I ask: what is?
The West has an absolutely superior culture to any other in the world when it comes to promulgating just laws. Yes, God created Natural Law along with the rest of His creation, but it is up to men to recognize it, understand it, and enact those parts of it which apply to men as positive law. When bin Laden says that the laws of Western society are “inferior rules and regulations” implemented for the sake of “vain whims and desires,” he reveals a lack of knowledge of the world equivalent to that of a primitive savage. The West has an old and honorable heritage of law, all of it made by men, none by a god or gods. Since the times of the ancient Greeks, Western society has recognized (if but seldom realized) man’s natural need for individual freedom and the great benefits accruing to societies, where such freedom is guaranteed by secular, not religious, laws. Greek law-givers, like Solon, Lycurgus and Charondas, to name only the most illustrious of them, enacted public laws and the attendant constitutions according to which the laws were to be enforced a thousand years before there was Islam. They knew that the best laws are promulgated by a society of free men, not by tyrants, be they secular or religious. After the Greeks, the Romans built a civil law code which is still a living part of modern Western law. Thus, it is rather the Islamic Shariah code which is “contrary to the nature of mankind” because it imposes irrational religious dogma as law and thereby stifles individual freedom and reduces society to psychotic religious servitude. Professor Lewis’ declaration, above, that, “the idea that any group of persons, any kind of activities, any part of human life, is in any sense outside the scope of religious law and jurisdiction is alien to Muslim thought,” is very appropriate. There is nothing that civilized societies can learn from the primitive and brutal ‘laws’ of Islam.
Anything appearing to attack the ability or right of Muslims to perform this divinely ordained duty to run all of life according to God’s law is seen as an act of war and, on a personal level, an attack on a faith they love with an intensity unknown to Christians since Pope Urban II sent Crusaders to the Levant, after granting “remission of sins to all Christians fighting Muslims,” and since the wars attendant to the Protestant Revolution.
Parenthetically, Muslims’ passionate love and reverence for God and His prophet help explain the great importance they attach to negative remarks made by U.S. Protestant clerics about Islam and the Prophet, especially by clerics publicly associated to serving administrations. . .
Comment: It has indeed been true historically that Muslims have very tender feelings. They need only to imagine that their God or his laws are somehow being offended to use that as an excuse to attack whoever they finger as the guilty ‘infidel.’ I agree with Samuel P. Huntington, who says that Islam has always had bloody borders, and that, of all religious groups, Muslims are the least able to live harmoniously with people of other religious persuasions. The pity of it is that, rather than recognizing their irascible bellicosity as a character flaw that needs taming, Muslims flaunt it and glory in it, all in the name of - as Scheuer says - their “passionate love and reverence for God and His prophet.” So much, then, for the ‘peace-loving’ Muslims.
Scheuer continues on, defending and justifying the actions of the Islamists with an absolutely irrational argument:
Pg.4: . . I hold it strongly and believe that an understanding of the Muslims’ direct and immediate relationship with God is pivotal to understanding the hatred bin Laden has corralled and focused – but not caused – against the United States, and the West more generally. In listening to and reading bin Laden, one cannot help but believe that he is utterly sincere in expressing devotion to God and respect for the Prophet Mohammed. When bin Laden describes himself as “Allah’s slave,” “poor to his Lord,” and “the humble servant of God,” he sounds not just sincere but loving. And bin Laden is not alone in using loving tones to speak of God and His prophet; other al Qaeda leaders . . all echo bin Laden’s words and tones. . .
This loving tone is also common to the individuals whom the West commonly describes as “moderate” Islamic leaders – including those who stood by President Bush to denounce the 11 September attacks and annually dine with him during Ramadan . .
Comment re Pg.4: It seems quite demented to me for anyone to ask that we should understand (and perhaps pardon?) the Muslims’ hate for us because they have this “direct and immediate relationship with God.” Scheuer bolsters this utterly irrational request by praising bin Laden in equally irrational terms, such as: “he is utterly sincere in expressing devotion to God,” “he sounds not just sincere but loving” (please, spare us!), and he uses “loving tones to speak of God and His prophet.”
Pg.17: Bin Laden and most militant Islamists, therefore, can be said to be motivated by their love of Allah and their hatred for a few, specific U.S. policies and actions they believe are damaging – and threatening to destroy – the things they love.
Comment re Pg.17: Scheuer just can’t stop intoning the meaningless terms ‘love of God,’ and ‘love of Allah,’ as if they provide a rational justification for the Islamists’ hatred for almost everybody and everything. But he is correct to say that the West threatens to destroy “the things they love,” but the things they love the civilized world find repugnant in the extreme.
Scheuer expresses his admiration of bin Laden in several places, and it obviously is the admiration of one religionist for another. It is difficult to say, from the following passages, on which side of this conflict Scheuer’s personal sympathies lie:
Pg.118: It is the combination of bin Laden’s admirable and self-effacing character – as seen through Muslim eyes – and his resonance with Muslims familiar with fourteen plus centuries of Islamic history that add the necessary and unquantifiable human dimension to fill out the portrait of bin Laden as the warrior-CEO.
Pg.126: [Kent] Gramm says [in Gettysburg, p. 184] Lincoln believed in the existence of a moral universe in which men could know right from wrong and act accordingly. I would argue bin Laden believes in the same universe, and that Muslims love, respect, and support him because he speaks of and defends that reality.
Pg.149: Since September 11 2001, bin Laden and God’s word have been winning hands down among Muslims because he manifestly obeys God’s injunction to oppose evil, protect Muslims, and act as well as speak in defense of Islam.
Pg.158: It is clear that bin Laden is one of those “in authority over the jihad” who has decided that the “jihad requires” the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States and believes that their use is religiously “legitimate.”
Pg.168: . . there is no reason, based on the information at hand, to believe bin Laden is anything other than what he appears to be: a pious, charismatic, gentle, generous, talented and personally courageous Muslim . .
And, no doubt because Scheuer also believes it to be a fact, he repeats bin Laden’s words to the effect that only law “which Allah has given” is law:
Pg.189: Bin Laden’s foes must always recall that he believes he is abiding by the spirit and the letter of the law – as Anglo-Saxons might say – revealed by Allah and explained by His prophet. For Muslims, bin Laden said in 1999, “The only accused is he who disobeyed the command of Allah, has left the way of the Prophet, and has done away with the tenets of its religion. . . Law is not what man has made. Law is that which Allah has given.
Even as Scheuer shows his religiously-inspired bias in favor of bin Laden and the Islamists, he is at least consistent by indicating his disfavor of Israel:
Pg.227: Surely there can be no other historical example of a faraway, theocracy-in-all-but-name of only about six million people [Israel] that ultimately controls the extent and even the occurrence of an important portion of political discourse and national security debate in a country of 270-plus million people . . . At the UN and other international fora, the U.S. government stands four-square, and often alone, with Israel to free it from obeying UN resolutions and non-proliferation treaties; with U.S. backing, Israel has developed and deployed weapons of mass destruction at the pace it desires.
Pg.230: Abu-Ubayad al-Qurashi wrote in Al-Ansar in early 2002, “This Shaykh Usama has become a symbol of the oppressed east and west, even for non-Muslims.” A symbol, one might add, whose luster is only enhanced by the arrogant racism symbolized by the wall Israel is building to separate Jews from Muslims, and our own obtuseness in seeing the wall as a means of Israeli self-protection and not, as Muslims see it, as further persecution of the Palestinians twined with yet another Israeli land-grab.
Pg.257: . . the half-true mantra that Israel is a democracy . .
Comment re Pages 227, 230 and 257: Imagine that! Israel is a “theocracy-in-all-but-name,” and it is only a “half-true mantra that Israel is a democracy.” And Israel is set on persecuting the Palestinians and grabbing Palestinian land. These statements, together with the paeans to bin Laden, leave no doubt about where Scheuer’s sympathies lie in this conflict between the Jews and the Arabs.
Continuing with evidence of Scheuer’s pronounced religious bias:
Pg.255: America’s problem . . must be described as a Muslim or an Islamic problem. To say this is simply to accept reality. The statement has no connotations – explicit or implicit – of denigrating one of the world’s great religions. Indeed, there was a time in Western history when Christians were ready to fight, die, and even burn at the stake rather than renounce or abandon their faith. “Christian history,” Kenneth Minogue reminded the readers of National Interest, “is testimony to the ferocity with which lovers of peace can respond to what they conceive to be a challenge.” In the Catholic tradition, which is my own, some of those who today are worshipped as saints won their status as fighters in Rome’s version of jihad, the series of crusades launched by Pope Urban II. In the Catholic military order of the Knights Templar, for example, James Reston Jr. has written that the order “drew its inspiration from St. Bernard of Clairvaux who declared that ‘killing for Christ’ was ‘malecide not homicide’ and ‘to kill a pagan is to win glory, for it gives glory to Christ’.”
Comment re Pg.255: Scheuer, too, makes sure that he has observed the protocol of ‘political correctness’ by using the phrase “one of the world’s great religions.” He seems to regard people who kill in the name of religion “lovers of peace” who are merely responding to “what they conceive to be a challenge.” And he sounds rather wistful for the good old days of Christianity when one was encouraged by a saint, no less, to kill people for the glory of Christ.
However, I must give Scheuer credit for knowing how the quite recent historical events of the 20th century have given rise to today’s conflict:
Pg.142: Since the British concluded the destruction of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924, no country has replaced Turkey as the Muslim world’s center. In other words, Islam has needed a site from which to launch a new Caliphate, a state that would be governed by the shariah, God’s law. “The beauty of the new Islamic system,” wrote the Sunni scholar Sayyid Qtub, an Egyptian executed by Nasser and whom bin Laden and most Islamists view as both hero and mentor, “cannot be appreciated until it takes concrete form. To bring it about there must first be a revival in one Muslim country, enabling it to attain the status of world leadership.” . . . Professor Samuel P. Huntington, like Qtub, noted that Islam has lacked what he called “a core state” since the Ottomans’ demise. “A core state,” Huntington contends, “can perform its ordering function, because member states perceive it as cultural kin. A civilization is an extended family and, like older members of a family, core state states provide their relatives with both support and discipline.”
And, because of his pronounced religiosity, Scheuer has a better appreciation than does Peters of religion as the key motivating factor for the Muslim fighters in this conflict; he acclaims people who possess the zeal and fortitude to kill in the name of their religion. In addition, Scheuer is also very good – and much better than Peters - at recognizing and enunciating the self-imposed handicap that the Western world is laboring under in its struggle against the irredentist Islamists, as the following passages clearly show:
Pg. 115: . . most of the Western world have not fully factored in the role Islam plays in the thinking, plans, flexibility, patience, and endurance of bin Laden and his allies. This situation exists because some in the West discount the power of religion, know little about the religion of Islam, or recognize Islam’s motivating role but are afraid to raise the issue in debate for fear of being labeled a racist or bigot. The latter concern is the deadly enemy of an effective American debate to formulate a strategy to destroy the Islamist’s threat.
Pg.135: We judge suicide bombers and their work as negative phenomena; based on our experience we could not see them in no other way. To date we have been unable to see the issue through any but Western eyes, and so have missed recognizing that the young Palestinian bombers are seen by large numbers of Muslims as heroes who are willing to sacrifice their lives – in martyrdom, not suicide attacks – for a cause that is greater than themselves and sanctioned by their God. What the West sees as tragic brutality practiced by despairing or deviant individuals is perceived in much of the Muslim world as a heroic act of self-sacrifice, patriotism, and worship, an act to be greeted not with condemnation and revulsion, but with awe, respect, and a determination to emulate.
Pg.250: The only thing accomplished by refusing to admit a war exists with an enemy of immense durability, manpower, and resources is to delay design of a strategy for victory. Only in today’s America could the simple statement of fact that much of Islam is fighting us, and more is leaning that way, be labeled discriminatory or racist, a label that kills thought, debate, and, ultimately, Americans. But such is the case, and so U.S. leaders prepare to fight the enemy they want to see, not the one standing on the battlefield.
Pg.255: “You cannot lead a nation to war if you dare not recognize the enemy,” Mark Helprin argued in the Wall Street Journal [16 Sept., 2002]. “The Islamic world, no stranger to war for the faith, has tentatively renewed its energy of expansion and given rise to those within it who have begun to rekindle its ancient conflict with the West.” Though Mr. Helprin is wrong about bin Laden-led Islamic expansionism, the al Qaeda chief clearly is one of “those within it” who is leading a defensive war against us.
Comment re Pg.255: I disagree with Scheuer on one point. Mr. Helprin is right in saying that the Islamic world has “renewed its energy of expansion.” Scheuer is wrong to characterize bin Laden’s war as defensive; the war is irredentist, waged to recapture lost territories. I think most people would characterize such war as offensive.
Pg.198: Multiplying the negative impact of hubris and arrogance is a simply described semantic problem that is, at the same time, a complex obstacle to defeating our enemies and protecting America. The U.S. government assumes – I think incorrectly – that it knows what we are facing in al Qaeda and its allies: they are terrorists, roughly the same kind of state-supported terrorists we have faced since the 1970s, only there are more of them. This is not the assumption on which to operate. While it clearly is inaccurate to identify al Qaeda as a nation-state – mostly because it has no fixed address – it is a greater and more damaging error to describe them as terrorists. . . . we will be defeated as long as we conceive and construct our anti-al Qeda strategy using the terrorist paradigm. The use of this paradigm ensures a time-consuming, law-enforcement approach, one that focuses on dismantling the group one terrorist at a time, as if we were nicking away at the Mafia. . . Continued adherence to the terrorist paradigm will cause our ultimate defeat by bin Laden . . . We must abandon this decades-old paradigm and accept the fact that bin Laden and al Qaeda are leading a popular, world-wide, and increasingly powerful Islamic insurgency.
Pg.199: . . America is at war with a faith-driven force that dwarfs anything that can, with intellectual honesty, be called terrorism.
Comment re Pages 198 and 199: The above is an excellent, succinct argument stating why it is so wrong to regard the Islamic insurgency as mere terrorism. In this respect Scheuer has it right and Peters (for whom they are ‘apocalyptic terrorists’) has it all wrong.
Pg.166: [Our elites say that] the movement bin Laden symbolizes has nothing to do with the Islamic religion because here in America all religions get along amiably and so the rest of the world can work the same way. To make this so, we send forth U.S. diplomats, politicians, officials, and preachers to coercively persuade Muslims to Westernize the Koran and the prophet’s traditions and sayings, especially the parts of the Islamic canon dealing with education, charitable giving, the non-separation of church and state, and that pesky idea of jihad. Surely, we have concluded, if we drive and manage an Islamic Reformation that makes Muslims secular like us, all this unfortunate, nonsensical talk about religious war will end and Muslims will be eager to keep God in the same kind of narrow locker in which the West is slowly asphyxiating Him.
Comment re Pg.166: The content of this passage is quite reveling of the author’s own smoldering attitudes. American efforts to modernize the Muslim world are described in sarcastic tones, e.g., “that pesky idea of jihad,” “this unfortunate nonsensical talk about religious war.” The most reveling quip of all, which again testifies to Scheuer’s strong religious bias, is that he thinks the West is guilty of slowly asphyxiating God in a narrow locker.
Scheuer reveals (perhaps inadvertently) another personal dislike of modern Western ways when he makes a gratuitous sarcastic comment regarding the Taliban abuse of women:
Pg.143: The Western media coverage of the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad was spotty at best, and its coverage post-1989 – the year of the Soviet withdrawal – focused mainly on narcotics, the interethnic civil war, and the failure of the Taleban leaders to prove themselves radical feminists.
His innate sense of the religious, and appreciation of the role that religion plays in the current conflict also enable Scheuer to grasp the full scope of bin Laden’s and the Islamists’ strategic objectives, as indicated in the following passages:
Pg.209: As he has said repeatedly since1996, the survival of Islam and the Muslim world is, God willing, in the hands of every Muslim, and is the responsibility of each. Islam, bin Laden claims, is being attacked by U.S.-led Christian Crusaders and Jews, and so each Muslim is bound by his faith to participate in a defensive jihad.
Pg.210: . . bin Laden and his ilk do not demand that Americans become Islamists. Instead, bin Laden has reminded Muslims that God revealed Islam’s superiority over all other religions, and he has focused Muslims on six specific aspects of the Crusaders’ attack on their faith and on themselves as its adherents.
Pg.211: Because bin Laden believes that the United States is “an invader, an imperialist, an exploiter” and has successfully portrayed it as such, his rhetoric has much greater anti-American impact than that of Khomeini.
Scheuer, perhaps even more than Peters, sees the idealistic foolishness of the American mission to bring democracy to all the people in the world, whether they like and want it, or not:
Pg.205: Thus, as Americans today confront bin Laden and militant Islam, they must recognize that the solution to this conflict can never be a painless, quick transformation of the Muslim world to a Western- style democratic system. This is not to say that Muslims or any other people are incapable of democratic government, although there is a staggering incompatibility between American democracy in 2004 and contemporary Muslim society, between a world where Caesar and God each receive their due, and one where God and Caesar are the same.
Pg.207: Only when U.S. leaders stop believing and preaching that bin Laden and his allies are attacking us for what we are and think, and instead clearly state that they are attacking us for what we do, can we put aside our ill-advised and hallucinatory crusade for democracy – our current default response. . . Defeat for America, I fear, lies in the military and foreign policy status quo and the belief that our Islamic foes will be talked out of hating us and disappear if only we can teach them voting procedures, political pluralism, feminism, and the separation of church and state.
Scheuer is also very good at identifying what in his opinion are the weak spots in the American response to the Islamist threat: diplomatic failure at the UN and with America’s traditional allies, unclear strategy at home as well as abroad, and botched prosecution of the war on the ground:
Pg.185: The legalistic lens America uses to deal with the world causes confusion about what we are doing, and what we need to do, against bin Laden. . . we are predisposed . . to look for law-enforcement solutions to problems. In bin Laden’s case, this predisposition is encouraged by our leaders’ insistence that bin Laden means to destroy our freedom, liberties, and democracy. If that is what bin Laden intends, it is only natural we seek protection from the FBI and the Justice Department. . . This is natural enough. There is little more congenial to American thought than the Texas Rangers’ formula of “chase ‘em, catch ‘em, and try, convict, and hang ‘em.”
Comment re Pg.185: I agree with Scheuer that American political leaders, President Bush most of all, are going on incessantly about ‘the terrorists’ being hell-bent on destroying “our freedom, liberties, and democracy.” That is sheer propaganda. Bin Laden and his followers could conceivably cause us great material destruction and loss of life, but it is absolutely inconceivable that they could destroy our treasured political and moral values and institutions.
Pg.188: By making too much of law-enforcement successes, U.S. leaders obscure the fact that such successes do not alter the strategic balance in the U.S.-al Qaeda war and that they cannot be victory’s engine.
Pg.243: UN mandates, coalition-building, and multinational forces are contemporary concepts meant to limit the U.S. expenditure of blood and money. . . But for defending core U.S. national interests they usually yield delay, limits on U.S. military power due to squeamish allies, and problems half-solved or wars half-fought. The lesson is not only that others will not do our dirty work, but that others will stop us from doing our dirty work as completely as possible. So committed are we to finding others to do hard and bloody things for us that we misread reality and enlist allies who cannot or will not do the job.
Comment re Pg.243: Scheuer is absolutely correct about the unreliability of America’s ‘fair-weather’ friends at the United Nations and in NATO. The United States indeed face a great dilemma: (a) act alone and decisively and be condemned for it by most of the international community of nations; (b) try to enlist co-operation of other nations in the prosecution of the war, and get mired down by the usual indecision and procrastination typical of international military undertakings.
Pg.212: The U.S. invasion of Iraq is Osama bin Laden’s gift from America, one he has long and ardently desired, but never realistically expected.
Pg.215: . . we delayed acting against Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda and Mullah Omar’s Taleban until each had grown – the former in international reach and presence, the latter in terms of a consolidated regime – to the point where a single, intensive application of U.S. military power could not destroy them. We dithered fatally because our leaders and their analysts wrongly assessed the nature of the threat and refused to accept the shift in the terrorism problem from one of state sponsors and their surrogates to one of Islamist insurgents.
Pg.224: Because the U.S. military failed to ready a devastating response to an al Qaeda attack in the United States – which U.S. officialdom now says was inevitable – America . . missed a one-time chance to blow al Qaeda and the Taleban to the Stone Age.
Pg.225: . . the Arab media, the U.S. and Western media, and the political leaders of the coalition’s non-U.S. forces all shared the common goal of making sure the application of military power was “civilized.” In this case, the coalition’s good-guy members severely limited the thoroughness and savagery the U.S. military could have used to destroy large numbers of al Qaeda and Taleban fighters.
Pg.235 . . no matter how precise the weapons dropped or fired by U.S. aircraft, it still kills the Muslim or Muslims on the receiving end. Crusaders kill Muslims in these [video] clips, and the reality is worsened by our officials’ public claims that most young Afghans and Iraqis serving in the armies of Mullah Omar and Saddam were conscripts who had been forced to choose between becoming soldiers or risking their lives and the lives of their families at the hands of the state. In the second instance, Islamists and many other Muslims in the Islamic world – where violence, at times indiscriminate, is often the lingua franca – see America’s precise and intentionally casualty-limiting attacks as a lack of bloody-mindedness . . .
Perhaps it is the latent Christian ‘crusader’ in Scheuer that helps him recognize that this engagement with Islam, if it must be fought, should be fought with the same ferocity as of old. Therefore, he urges the United States and the West to wage a ruthless and merciless campaign against the Islamists. Again, one must wonder how, if at all, the United Nations fit into this scheme of unrestricted total application of U.S. military might.
Pg.85: If U.S. leaders truly believed the country is at war with bin Laden and the Islamists, they would dump the terminally adolescent bureaucrats and their threat matrix, accept and tell the voters that war brings repeated and at times grievous defeats as well as victories, and proceed with relentless, brutal, and, yes, blood-soaked offensive military actions until we have annihilated the Islamists who threaten us, and so mutilate their forces, supporting populations, and physical infrastructure that they recognize continued war-making on their part futile.
Pg.241: To secure as much of our way of life as possible, we will have to use military force in the way America used it on the fields of Virginia and Georgia, in France and on the Pacific islands, and from skies over Tokyo and Dresden. Progress will be measured by the pace of killing and, yes, by body counts. . . Killing in large numbers is not enough to defeat our Muslim foes. With killing must come a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure.
Pg.242: . . this sort of bloody-mindedness is neither admirable nor desirable, but it will remain America’s only option so long as she stands by her failed policies toward the Muslim world.
Comment re Pg.242: The “failed policies” Scheuer is referring to is America’s support of tyrannical and corrupt regimes in the Muslim world. That is correct, on the face of it; America and the West need the oil on which these regimes sit.
However, I think Scheuer errs by stating, on Page 247 (below), that Arab rulers are the instigators of the Islamist jihad. Scheuer knows of Qtub and of Qtub’s writings. Then, he must surely also know that, since the 1920s, the Islamists have viewed all the secular rulers, installed in the Arabian heartland by the Western powers, as illegitimate and as apostates of Islam who must be removed from power. Rather than being the leaders of jihad, these rulers have been hostages of it; they have prolonged, but only for the time being, their own precarious existence by making large financial contributions to Islamist causes and programs. Incidentally, much of the Saudi financial contribution has gone towards attempts to eradicate the state of Israel, a state that Scheuer considers to be not unlike Saudi Arabia: a quasi-democratic theocracy-in-all-but-name.
Pg.247: Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states – not bin Laden – are what historian Malise Ruthven and others describe as the real imperial Islamic expansionists, seeking to spread fundamentalist Islam from Madrid to Manila and beyond. For decades, these regimes, with Riyadh in the van, have “tutored generation after generation [of their subjects] in what amounts to jihadist incitement against non-Muslims.” They also have systematically funded and staffed organizations that foster an intensely anti-American brand of Islam around the world and in the United States.
Towards the end of the book, Scheuer expresses his frustrations with the world at large by waxing isolationistic (Pg.251), and takes a last broad-brush swipe at the decadent America’s elites (Pg.258), among whose sins he includes, I am sad to note, their desire to protect the environment, which Scheuer ridicules with the quip: “the sanctity of inviolate homes for caribou and Arctic hare.” This last gratuitous cheap-shot at the natural world is the ultimate confirmation, for me, that Michael Scheuer is indeed a small- and narrow-minded man, as befits a religionist.
Pg.251: . . can it be proven that it would make a substantive – vice emotional – difference to U.S security if every Hutu killed every Tutsi, or vice versa; every Palestinian killed every Israeli, or vice versa; or if Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians exterminated each other to the last person? The brutal but correct answers are: we do not understand these conflicts, and none of them, regardless of who wins, endanger U.S. interests.
Pg.258: As the reader can imagine, such questions [posed by Scheuer immediately before this], if honestly examined, would spur passionate debate, not to mention much mudslinging and charges of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, isolationism, nationalism, and – specifically for the author – simpleton-ism. Several generations of America’s elites – who have long accepted as axiomatic our support of Israel, iron ties to Arab tyrants, the sanctity of inviolate homes for caribou and Arctic hare, and a duty to make all nations democratic and secular – would rise up in righteous indignation.
After the implosion of the Soviet Union, the lid came off the Cold War pressure cooker that had pent up the normally-prevailing, ages-old religious and nationalistic hatreds for fifty years. Suddenly, religious and nationalistic aspirations were again given freedom to express themselves in realistic, and if need be, violent terms. Like a forgotten peat fire, Islam had been smoldering, scarcely noticed, with a hot rage at the enormous injury inflicted on the very core of its being by the Western powers at the end of WW I, when they dismembered the Ottoman empire and allowed Kemal Attaturk to abolish the institution of the caliphate. It did not enter their minds that this was comparable to a religious wound that would be inflicted on Catholicism if some power were to abolish the Papacy of the Roman Church.
However, Western insensitivity towards religious issues can be explained. The Europeans had not fought a war strictly on religious grounds since the 18th century. In 1918, they had just finished fighting the most destructive of wars yet, and when it was over, no one could say exactly what the war had been about, but all could agree that religion had very little to do with it, at least insofar as the major European powers were concerned. In the West, religion was no longer viewed as something one should go to war for. Religion was what people did on a personal level in church, temple, or mosque. So it was that when the Western powers: Britain, France, the United States, dismembered the Ottoman Empire for having sided with the losers in WW I, they did it on a purely practical geopolitical basis by dividing up the territorial spoils among the victors. They were blithely unaware that as they were carving up the empire they were inflicting grievous wounds on the very heart of the religion of Islam.
For the rest of the 20th century, all but for the last decade of it, the world continued to be consumed by large and small wars over ideology, while the very notion of a war over religion faded from the mind of Western man. And, even though Muslims grumbled and Islam smoldered with hate during all those years, the West and the non-Muslim world was too preoccupied with wars over secular ideology, to pay any serious attention to the religious grievances of Islam.
Therefore, the rise of militant Islamist organizations and leaders like Khomeini and bin Laden, who proclaimed the resumption of Jihad (‘holy war’), came as a shocking and incomprehensible surprise to Western societies. It just could not be so, there can be no such thing as a holy war. Those Islamist fellows are mere terrorists, to be dealt with as terrorists.
I am convinced that it is the sudden and unexpected reappearance of the specter of religious war that has stymied the West and thrown the Western military and intelligence establishment into confusion and disarray. After reading Ralph Peters’ Beyond Terror and Michael Scheuer’s Imperial Hubris, I saw that the accounts of these two veterans of the on-going war with Islam illustrate perfectly the difficulties the West faces while it searches for the correct strategies and responses in a new-old war, the kind of war that our ancestors often fought only some 400 years ago, which is not a long time, historically speaking. Therefore, I thought it would be worthwhile to compose a commentary on the two books, pointing out where they agreed and differed, and where I agreed or disagreed with the authors’ observations and opinions. More than that, I could not help noticing the different mind-sets of the two authors, which lead them to different views of world events. I have already stated previously that I consider the privately-held religious convictions of individuals to be crucial to how they cope with the current conflict between Islam and the West. Therefore, I have been so bold as to also infer from the authors’ own language, and have commented on, their personal attitude regarding religion. I trust that by so doing I have not caused any offense to either one of them; none was intended.
Finally, I want to offer my own prediction of how the West is likely to prosecute this war with Islam, and suggest how it should deal with it. I think, however, that the West is most unlikely to make the kind of changes I will suggest.
My prediction of how the West will proceed with the war is quite easy to make. A religion worth the name can never be eradicated by force. Therefore, the current conflict between the three Abrahamic religions can never end with the destruction of any of them. At best, Islam, Judaism and Christianity can only battle to a draw - a temporary truce - just as they have done before. But, each religion will always have its zealous extremists eager to resume the conflict.
The West, with America leading, will continue to pursue and either kill or capture the Islamist ‘terrorists’ into the foreseeable future. But as long as Islam’s grievances remain unresolved, chief among them the loss of the caliphate and the imposition of illegitimate regimes in Arabia, for every Islamist fighter the West kills or captures, a new one will take his place. I guess that the struggle will continue until America and the West grow tired of the drain on their economy and the human casualties that it will entail, or, if and when America’s attention is re-directed to another and more substantial geopolitical threat, such as might be posed by China. At that point, America and the West might concede to militant Islam a ‘free hand’ to settle affairs to its own satisfaction in the Arabic-speaking Muslim countries, excluding, of course, the territory of the State of Israel. Such a concession might keep Islam at bay for a few years, but by no means would it establish permanent peace with Islam. For a start, there would still be the vast territory of North Africa to re-conquer, but that issue is best left alone, for now.
Now, for my suggestions, which are quite unlikely to be followed, of how the West should deal with Islam. All the countries which are ‘Western’, in spirit and not just by geography, should rid all their state institutions of even so much as a hint of religious trappings and influences. They should pass stringent laws, and enforce them rigorously, prohibiting the public dissemination, by any means, of religious language that encourages or promotes hate or incites violence against any person or group. They should further declare that, within their jurisdiction, they do not recognize the validity of any law which is, or claims to be, based on a religious dogma.
If the West were to thus set its own house in order first, it should next communicate to the governments of all Islamic states its determination to confine religion to the strictly personal and private domain of society. The West should then assure the Islamic governments that it will not, under any circumstances, interfere in their internal economic or political affairs, and will engage with them consonant with proper, internationally accepted diplomatic and trade practices.
By doing all of the above, the West would solve the main problems it now faces: First, clamping down hard on incendiary religious speech would limit the Islamists’ abilities to carry on subversive activities among the Muslims living in Western countries. Second, by withdrawing all military and economic involvement from the Arab-speaking countries would allow for a genuine process of self-determination by the indigenous peoples to take place. It is more than likely that the process would not be democratic, but it would satisfy the Islamists’ chief demand that the Arabs should be left alone to choose whatever system of government they deem proper for themselves.
As I see it, the best solution to this religious conflict is to create some distance between Islam and the West. That could be achieved by following the steps I have outlined above. We must develop a proper but very cool relationship with the Islamic countries. We need to trade with them, as they need to trade with us. But we need not be, and so far as Islam is concerned, cannot be, friends. We should let them create and live in the theocratic hell-on-earth they apparently wish for. If they decide to live under the single, unified authority of the Caliphate, that would also be advantageous for the West. It is much easier to negotiate with a single authority than many different ones.
Top of Page
Back to George's Views
Send comments to George Irbe