The world is often forced into prisms of black and white or good and evil. Long before history can provide its final analysis, bystanders of international affairs group world events into these simplistic categories. We anatomize and examine every word and bullet flung to arbitrary standards, lay judgment of right and wrong, and press on like busy ants building a colony.
But before I begin to sound too nihilistic here, let me make this one truism clear: there is an unambiguous moral distinction between radical Islamists, and “the West,” and the debate that this distinction spurs is critical to our national security. It is without question that a small segment of the largely peaceful Muslim population has strategically and purposefully instigated an all-out war deeply rooted in religious grievances. Yet I don’t wish to argue that this movement – this sect of militaristic Jihadists – acts and speaks as a unified, coherent entity; that it indeed is a nebulous group of people who think globally and act locally. This reality is the hallmark of the enemy we face today. It needs not a leader, or bureaucracy, nor state, rather only a goal; and a goal it certainly has.
The anatomization of this new enemy is not an effort in vain. Understanding why radical fundamentalists hate us is crucial in designing a counter-strategy to defeat them. According to Osama bin Laden’s own accounts in his book Messages to the World, the Islamic historical argument goes something like this: In medieval times, Islam was great, but since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, it has suffered greatly. Nationalism and secular thought have poisoned the ummah (the Muslim world). To return to the good-ol’-days, there must be a return of “true” Islam, not disillusioned by modernity’s notions of the individual, feminism, or the rule of man-made laws. Because of this, radical Islamism is vehemently opposed to liberal forms of government. They believe globalization is an aggressive western push to keep the ummah divided and impure. Elections, representative government, popular sovereignty are the “essence of infidelity and deviation from the true path,” as the late leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abbu Masab al-Zarqawi, once put it.
As John Stuart Mill once said, “a man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature.” I would hope and pray that the leaders of the free world and of “the West” realize that this is a clash of more than just ideologies, like the clashes before it (i.e. Nazism, communism, and totalitarianism). It is a bitter struggle that needs to be fought. There are notions worth dying for, and they’re the same notions that radical Islamists, if left to their own devices, would toss aside with satisfaction and glee.
For those reasons I cannot join those who cry peace. This war must be fought in responsible means which maximizes liberty, and minimizes totalitarianism. It must be fought economically, ideologically, and with much restraint and regret, militarily. There must be an informational outreach to moderate segments of the Muslim population. They must be rewarded, and extremism punished. Negotiation and concession are not options to those who wish to do away with value pluralism. Their goal is to reestablish the ummah and institute strict sharia law over its land. If successful, the social and political struggle for equality that has eclipsed most of human history will be eradicated by the discharge of a weapon. Those who counsel for peace at all costs do not understand the dynamics of radical Islamists and the belief system upon which they are based.