Saturday, September 11, 2010

Facing the Obvious

     If he does not burn a Koran today, Pastor Terry Jones will have proven himself more reasonable, in the end, than the Muslim extremists he reviles.  Of course, it took pressure from the entire civilized world to dissuade him, including (reportedly) a personal phone call from the Secretary of Defense.  No doubt he also very much believed the assurances he claims to have received, (via an intermediary) from Imam Rauf in New York, that the Park51 Islamic center (“Ground Zero Mosque”) would be moved.  Now that it appears those assurances were either lies or wishful thinking, Pastor Jones has still said the Koran burning is “suspended,” despite the threats, violence, and flag-burning by Muslim radicals across the Islamic world.  What could be a clearer illustration of the differences between the two faiths?  In confronting this challenge, Americans must acknowledge that difference or our plans will be grounded in fantasy.  We must answer violence with overwhelming force, and simultaneously use soft power to detach moderate Muslims from their brutal brethren.

     The nature of the Islamic reaction to the pointless provocation by Pastor Jones has been instructive.  If nothing else, he has smoked out the essence of radical Islam for anyone who may have missed it so far.  Every religion has its hot-heads, but where Christians have united in loud opposition to Pastor Jones, any Muslim opposition to Islamic provocateurs—such as Imam Rauf—has been disturbingly quiet.  Moreover, the violence of the Islamic response to Pastor Jones, who after all did not plan to hurt anyone physically, is grotesquely disproportionate to the provocation.  It is also widespread, from Afghanistan to Indonesia.  In the study of logic, there is a fallacy called hasty generalization.  In the study of national security, there ought to be a balancing rule against refusing to face the obvious.

     Historically, all religions have been more or less dangerous, more or less tolerant, depending on the era.  In the fourteen hundred year conflict between Islam and Christianity, each side has accumulated its own record of atrocity.  At this point in the conflict, however, Islam is the more blameworthy.  The central tenets of the faith are barbaric, including as they do the subjugation of women and the suppression of free inquiry.  Of course, the Bible contains its own examples of barbarity, including death by stoning for taking the Lord’s name in vain and for working on Sunday.  There are no modern Christians (or Jews, for that matter) who follow such rules literally.  The civilized conduct of the faithful repudiates the barbarity of the law.  By contrast, while the majority of Muslims also repudiates the most barbaric laws in the Koran, an enormous minority actually carries them out.  In some Islamic countries, stonings for such religious “crimes” as adultery, marriage without parental permission, and homosexuality remain common.  Of course, the real crime is the barbaric infliction of pain and death for religious reasons, and the real name for the people who do so is “barbarian.”

     When dealing with barbarians, civilized nations have historically had some advantages.  Technology has usually been on the side of civilization, and it is so today (for now).  On the other hand, civilized people have also suffered from some disadvantages, among which has been, frankly, an enervating hedonism.  When the chief concern of a people is obtaining more leisure at government expense, like those Europeans who are demonstrating against a rise in the retirement age, we should immediately question whether that people possesses the wherewithal to confront the energy of barbarism.  Hedonism breeds a lethargic, willful blindness to unpleasant facts.  How much easier to hope that pacifism and tolerance will show the barbarians we mean them no harm.  In fact, barbarians have historically found such responses to be proof of weakness, and weakness has always invited pillage.  We must acknowledge the barbarity in much of the Muslim world and give the barbarians no reason to doubt our resolve.

     At the same time, the vast majority of Muslims in their daily lives are no more violent or barbaric than anyone else.  They are behaviorally moderate, whatever is in their hearts, and we must do what we can to encourage them.  The math is simple:  We have to live with Muslims in the world.  This conclusion, in turn, makes it obvious that we must be active in distinguishing between radical and moderate Muslims.  We cannot yield to the radicals, but we cannot ignore the moderates.  Only a moderate imam is likely to talk a radical out of suicide bombing or the like.  Moderates must carry our messages of reconciliation to the radicals.

     The worst approach, however, would be to combine military irresolution (see this post) with pointless provocation.  Unfortunately, that is very close to what we are doing at present.


  1. You said: "It is also widespread, from Afghanistan to Indonesia"

    I lived in Indonesia and one thing that I want you to know is Indonesian Muslim was different to Afghanistan's Muslim.

    I agree with you that we must distinguish between radical and moderate Muslims. This is a matter of each individual's skill to understand and filtering the things of their religion wisely or perhaps with the same way as you are.

  2. tikno, I checked out your own blog, and I am glad I did. You urged your readers not to react to the Koran-burning, which we now know thankfully did not happen. You urged them to consider it just the act of a tiny group trying to gain popularity, by which I think you meant media attention (you write much better in English than I could in any other language!). Your approach is exactly the kind of moderate voice I wish we heard more. I have been concerned that there may be many, many moderates whom we do not hear in the West. Thank you for speaking on their behalf. You give us all hope.