One of the more debilitating cognitive blind spots of progressives is their belief that pathological behavior is always the result of privation: If only people were rescued from poverty, or ignorance, or hopelessness, the progressive mind reasons, they would cease doing terrible things. But in the case of Islamic terrorism, which is a pathological behavior, such an analysis is off the mark. On the contrary, the psychic justifications for Islamic terrorism can be found in an intellectually accessible and, in its own way, profoundly moving philosophy that stands in direct opposition to the liberal democratic institutions and Enlightenment values of the West.
The key figure, according to many scholars of recent Islamic history, is the Egyptian fundamentalist thinker Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), whose writings form the basis for radical Islam’s struggle against Western ascendancy. Qutb’s signature contribution to Muslim thought was to update the concept of jahiliyya. For centuries, jahiliyya had signified the state of ignorance in the world prior to the advent of Islam; according to Qutb, however, jahiliyya should also be understood as the underlying spirit of decadence and corruption which exists in all times and all places–and which true Muslims are duty-bound to combat. There can be no compromise with jahiliyya. “The mixing and co-existence of truth and falsehood is impossible,” Qutb wrote. “Command belongs to Allah or else to jahiliyya.” What was required, for Muslims, was to live under the strict Islamic code of laws called the sharia. It was the only way to ensure that they were living the way Allah intended.
Despite the sharia’s rigidity, Qutb argued that it was the sole source of genuine liberation since the sharia came from God. Either human beings were ruled by God, or else they were ruled by other human beings; there was no distinction, on this level, between an absolute dictatorship or a representative democracy. Both amounted to the rule of men over men–which, according to Qutb, was always a form of oppression. (It’s worth noting that Qutb reserved many of his most virulent criticisms for secular-minded Muslims.) Only the rule of God provided people with freedom. Thus, Qutb rejected out of hand the entire Enlightenment project which sought to separate church from state.
Whatever else might be said of Qutb’s worldview, it represents a straightforward, coherent, easily understood system of beliefs–a system which has been vastly influential among Islamic radicals, including Osama bin Laden. (Osama’s mentor and co-jihadist, Ayman Zawahiri, was a student and follower of Qutb; while studying at King Abdulaziz University, Osama attended weekly lectures by Qutb’s brother, and fellow students recall Osama as deeply drawn to Qutb’s thought.) Jihad is legitimized, in the radicals’ eyes, as the struggle against jahiliyya. The only question is how far jihad is aimed. The short-term project would consist of casting out the infidel Jews and Christians from Islamic holy lands and recapturing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina from the jahiliyya-tainted Saudi regime; the long-term project would consist of subjugating the non-Islamic West, which means defeating the United States, in order, first, to keep its corrupting influences out of Islam, and, ultimately, to liberate the West itself from the suffocating darkness of Enlightenment secularism.
It is a totalitarian movement in the truest sense.
The war against Islamic totalitarianism, on a fundamental level, is therefore a struggle between Enlightenment and anti-Enlightenment forces. To overlook this first truth–as progressives are wont to do–is to misapprehend the nature of the entire conflict. To be sure, there are other element involved. Ethnic rivalries. Nationalist movements. Regional and tribal loyalties. Religious schisms. Historical grievances. Natural resources. Global economics. The war is a witches’ brew of divided allegiances and score-settling. But at its bottom, beneath the claims and counter-claims, the war is between two irreconcilable visions for the future of mankind. The forces of liberal Enlightenment, committed to rational inquiry, socioreligious tolerance, and individual human rights, manifest in democratic rule, versus the forces of anti-Enlightenment, committed to faithful obedience to a divine will, manifest in sharia rule.
It is Thomas Jefferson versus Sayyid Qutb.
From our perspective, to be sure, it seems fantastic, even absurd, to talk about the defeat of the United States by the terrorists–which is the only path to the realization of their totalitarian goal. But our perspective is not the perspective of Osama and his ilk, who take a much longer view of history, a view in which even the most devastating setback is merely temporary and in which compromise is, literally, worse than death. Their hearts and minds are fixed against us, their struggle for our destruction is what gives their lives meaning, and they’re not going to be won over to our view . . . any more than you could be won over, say, to abandoning the welfare of your children. Muslim radicals ask nothing of us save our submission to Islam or our extinction. If we take them at their words (and what reason do we have to doubt them?) then they despise America as much for our traditions as for our policies, as much for who we are as for what we do–since we are, in effect, the cultural, intellectual and military vanguard of jahiliyya. Osama himself spelled this out in his November 2002 letter to the American people. After a pro forma rant about alleged wrongs perpetrated by the United States on Muslims worldwide, Osama outlined his demands: “. . . we call on you [Americans] to stop your oppression, lies, immorality and debauchery . . . we call on you to be a people of manners, principles, honor and purity; to reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling, and trading with interest.”
Osama’s bullet points follow. They’re worth quoting at length:
*You are the nation who, rather than ruling by the Sharia of Allah in its Constitution and Laws, choose to invent your own laws as you will and desire. You separate religion from your policies, contradicting the pure nature which affirms Absolute Authority to the Lord and your Creator. You flee from the embarrassing question posed to you: How is it possible for Allah the Almighty to create His creation, grant them power over all the creatures and land, grant them all the amenities of life, and then deny them that which they are most in need of: knowledge of the laws which govern their lives?
*You are the nation that permits Usury, which has been forbidden by all the religions. Yet you build your economy and investments on Usury. As a result of this, in all its different forms and guises, the Jews have taken control of your economy, through which they have then taken control of your media, and now control all aspects of your life making you their servants and achieving their aims at your expense; precisely what Benjamin Franklin warned you against.
*You are a nation that permits the production, trading and usage of intoxicants. You also permit drugs, and only forbid the trade of them, even though your nation is the largest consumer of them.
*You are a nation that permits acts of immorality, and you consider them to be pillars of personal freedom. You have continued to sink down this abyss from level to level until incest has spread amongst you, in the face of which neither your sense of honor nor your laws object.
*Who can forget your President Clinton’s immoral acts committed in the official Oval office? After that, you did not even bring him to account, other than that he “made a mistake,” after which everything passed with no punishment. Is there a worse kind of event for which your name will go down in history and be remembered by nations?
*You are a nation that permits gambling in its all forms. The companies practice this as well, resulting in the investments becoming active and the criminals becoming rich.
*You are a nation that exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools calling upon customers to purchase them. You use women to serve passengers, visitors, and strangers to increase your profit margins. You then rant that you support the liberation of women.
*You are a nation that practices the trade of sex in all its forms, directly and indirectly. Giant corporations and establishments are established on this, under the name of art, entertainment, tourism and freedom, and other deceptive names you attribute to it.
*And because of all this, you have been described in history as a nation that spreads diseases that were unknown to man in the past. Go ahead and boast to the nations of man that you brought them AIDS as a Satanic American Invention.
Such were Osama’s grievances. The sum of them is what makes us, in Osama’s words, “the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind.” Or, in other words, satanic. But Satan, as the historian Bernard Lewis has noted, does not conquer. He seduces. America, in the minds of Muslim radicals, is not merely the worst civilization in history but the most seductive because we are jahiliyya, unveiled. And we are up in their faces. In a worse way than the ancient giant statues of Buddha in Bamyan, Afghanistan were up in their faces when radicals dynamited them in March 2001; in a worse way than Paddy’s Pub nightclub in Bali, Indonesia was up in their faces when radicals detonated a suicide bomb inside, and then a car bomb outside, killing 202 civilians and wounding another 200 in October 2002; in a worse way than the Miss World Pageant in Nigeria was up in their faces when radicals rioted to protest the contestants’ immodesty, killing 100 and injuring over 500 in November 2003 . . . on television, radio and the internet, in glossy magazines, news journals and paperback books, on movie screens, home videos and CDs, Americans are absolutely everywhere, defying the sharia, acting out in every conceivable manner to seduce the next generation of Muslims away from the path of righteousness. We are bombarding them with the flotsam and jetsam of our pop media, from Eminem’s potty mouth to Britney Spears’s gyrating pelvis, from the Rock’s arched eyebrow to Brandi Chastain’s sports bra, from the brawling on the Jerry Springer Show to the mincing on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Such ephemera are tolerated by us, the lowbrow excretions of our dedication to highbrow ideals like individual liberty, artistic expression and free enterprise. For Muslim radicals, they are the toxic images of a steady spiritual genocide being wrought upon them.
The radicals were striking back at us, albeit with mosquito-like forays, since the era of disco music and leg warmers; on September 11th, 2001, they finally got our attention.
From that morning on, our task in the war against Islamic totalitarianism became axiomatic: Kill or imprison-for-life every Muslim radical in the world. It’s a different kind of war since it cannot end with the surrender of a collective entity; no white flag will ever be respected by our enemies. Prosecuting the war on terror is more like prosecuting hundreds of thousands of miniature wars in which our enemies are individual persons, determined to fight to the death. This is crucial. Even if every Islamic regime in Asia and Africa were to embrace liberal democracy and Enlightenment values, the United States would remain at war with Ahmed, Samir, Abdul, et al.
The radicals must be neutralized, one by one.
The difficult question is how to neutralize them without creating more radicals to take their place.
The name that has yet to arise in our discussion of the war against Islamic totalitarianism is Saddam Hussein. It is altogether legitimate, given the foregoing, to ask whether George W. Bush’s decision to end Saddam’s regime in Iraq was justified as a response to the September 11th attacks on the United States–attacks in which Saddam, as any rational observer must now concede, had no part.
The answer is a roundabout yes: President Bush’s decision to oust Saddam was justifiable. But to make sense of it, we have to set aside the strong emotions that decision conjures up even now. For progressives, this means letting go, for a moment or two, their visceral distrust of the Bush Administration. For traditional conservatives, this means letting go their reflexive desire to support the prerogatives of the Commander in Chief during a time of war. Rational inquiry, rather than political passion, is required to draw the connection between the attacks of September 11th and the decision to oust Saddam. Step one in such an inquiry returns us that miserable Tuesday morning in 2001, that miserable Tuesday morning of warm sunshine and perfect blue skies when the world changed.
From the radicals’ standpoint, the sight of the Twin Towers crumbling to dust, the sight of their ashes rising up to blot out the sun over Manhattan, must surely have seemed like an act of God–an unforgettable, historic blow against jahiliyya. Beyond what the moment meant to the radicals, however, a perilous message went out to the rest of the world. Since the end of World War Two, America’s national security had rested, to a substantial degree, on the belief that a sudden, concerted attack on the United States would be answered by retaliation on a biblical scale. That belief, it turned out, was false. Osama called our bluff. He hit us in a horrific way, and we didn’t lash out in vengeance. We investigated, determined who was behind the attack . . . and even once we knew it was Osama, and that he was operating out of Afghanistan, even then we did not incinerate the Kabul. Rather, we only demanded that the Taliban government hand over Osama “dead or alive.” In doing so, we inadvertently, and unavoidably, provided our international enemies with an easy-to-follow formula for making war against America: Just work your mayhem through non-state surrogates and, after the next 9/11, if America again connects the dots, hand over a few corpses to satisfy Washington’s demand for justice.
Saddam Hussein seemed the most likely candidate to capitalize on that formula.
It’s important to recall that regime change in Iraq had been an official policy of the United States since the Clinton Administration–which was empowered by Congress in 1998 to use any means short of a military invasion to remove Saddam. (Which is the reason President Bush sought and received Congressional authorization to use military force prior to the invasion of Iraq.) The attacks of September 11th, and our measured response to them in Afghanistan, shifted Saddam from back-burner annoyance to front-burner threat–notwithstanding the fact that his pan-Arabism was hard to square with the radical Islam of Osama’s crowd. Still, Saddam and Osama were both consumed by totalizing visions of the future of Islamic peoples, and both saw the United States as the chief impediment to the realization of their visions. More ominously, if a freelance thug like Osama managed to kill 3,000 Americans, what might a resolute sociopath like Saddam, with the financial resources of an oil-drenched country, accomplish?
Now put yourself in President Bush’s position. Here are the facts as you know them in the immediate aftermath of September 11th:
1) You’ve got the head of the C.I.A., a holdover from the Clinton Administration, telling you emphatically that Saddam possesses weapons of mass destruction.
2) You’ve got an overwhelming consensus of foreign intelligence agencies concurring that Saddam possesses WMDs.
3) You’ve got documented evidence of Saddam’s willingness to use WMDs on his enemies, both domestic and abroad.
4) You’ve got a decade of Saddam jerking around weapons inspectors, thwarting their inquiries, and intermittently kicking them out–thereby incurring further United Nations sanctions–which makes little sense unless he’s hiding WMDs.
5) You’ve got a British intelligence report that Saddam recently sought to buy uranium from Niger.
6) You’ve got a history of Saddam supporting international terrorism, including, as his own foreign minister has acknowledged, doling out $25,000 “grants” to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers who kill Israeli civilians (and, occasionally, American tourists).
7) You’ve got a possible Saddam-Osama connection cited in a 1998 sealed indictment of Osama from the Clinton Justice Department, which reads in part: “al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the government of Iraq.” (The charge, you’re informed, was later dropped from the final version of the indictment for lack of corroborating evidence… but of course you’re aware of it. It’s another piece of the puzzle.)
8) You’ve got a personal warning from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is in a position to know, and who himself opposes an invasion of Iraq, that Saddam is planning terrorist strikes against the United States. As reported by CNN on June 18, 2004, here are Putin’s own words: “I can confirm that after the events of September 11, 2001, and up to the military operation in Iraq, Russian special services and Russian intelligence several times received . . . information that official organs of Saddam’s regime were preparing terrorist acts on the territory of the United States and beyond its borders, at U.S. military and civilian locations.”
9) You’ve got a 1996 report from the World Health Organization of the United Nations claiming that 4,500 Iraqi children under the age of five are dying each month as a consequence of the U.N. sanctions. You know the number is a grotesque exaggeration, based on data provided to the W.H.O. by the oxymoronic Iraqi Ministry of Heath (which hasn’t stopped the W.H.O. from putting out the statistic as gospel truth). But even if the actual figure is one tenth of the W.H.O. number, that’s still 450 children perishing each month under the status quo.
10) You’ve got a theory, espoused by several prominent members of your administration, that standing up a liberal democracy in the heart of the Islamic world will encourage Enlightenment values among Muslims and thus blunt the homicidal/suicidal edge of radical Islam; it’s just a theory, and will be devilishly hard to execute, but it represents a hopeful alternative to an endless cycle of Islamic terrorism and ad hoc measures culminating, seemingly inevitably, in a massive WMD attack on the United States and a necessarily disproportionate response.
Are there dissenting voices? Yes, to be sure. Hans Blix, Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector, is telling whoever will listen that Iraq has no WMDs. But his history of evaluating Iraq’s WMD capacity is checkered; as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency during the 1980s, he praised Iraqi cooperation with inspections–at the very moment Saddam was building up his WMD arsenal to its highest levels. Blix’s assessment of Iraq’s WMD capacity is echoed by another U.N. weapons inspector, Scott Ritter. But there are questions of Ritter’s reliability as well. On August 31, 1998, for example, just after he resigned his position as weapons inspector due to what he perceived as lack of support from the U.N. Security Council, he said:
Iraq still has proscribed weapons capability. There needs to be a careful distinction here. Iraq today is challenging the special commission to come up with a weapon and say where is the weapon in Iraq, and yet part of their efforts to conceal their capabilities, I believe, have (sic) been to disassemble weapons into various components and to hide these components throughout Iraq. I think the danger right now is that without effective inspections, without effective monitoring, Iraq can in a very short period of time measured in months, reconstitute chemical biological weapons, long-range ballistic missiles to deliver these weapons, and even certain aspects of their nuclear weaponization program.
Yet almost a year after he had left Iraq, in June of 1999, Ritter told an interviewer:
When you ask the question, “Does Iraq possess militarily viable biological or chemical weapons?” the answer is no! It is a resounding NO. Can Iraq produce today chemical weapons on a meaningful scale? No! Can Iraq produce biological weapons on a meaningful scale? No! Ballistic missiles? No! It is “no” across the board. So from a qualitative standpoint, Iraq has been disarmed. Iraq today possesses no meaningful weapons of mass destruction capability.
So you’re George W. Bush: Are you willing to gamble the collective security of the American people on the erratic track records of Blix and Ritter? Setting aside their dissents, however, you’ve also got more pragmatic concerns. Secretary of State Colin Powell is sounding alarms over the potential hardships of a postwar occupation of Iraq; “You break it, you bought it,” he is saying.
On the other hand, you’ve got a copy of the Presidential Daily Briefing from August 6, 2001 sitting on your desk titled “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” The intelligence it contains is sketchy–sketchier by far than the intelligence you now possess about Saddam’s capabilities and intentions–but the title haunts you nevertheless. If only you had acted preemptively in August 2001, if only you had taken out bin Laden. . .
Again, you’re George W. Bush. What do you do about Iraq?
We know, of course, what the real George W. Bush decided: Saddam had to go. Given the strategic reality that we could no longer depend on the threat of a cataclysmic response to deter him, the decision seems altogether reasonable. Not necessarily right. But, at minimum, reasonable. Ousting Saddam, moreover, would present hostile regimes elsewhere with a show of American force, a signal that they might be next if they provoked us–as deterrents go, not exactly on par with the prospect of sudden annihilation, but in reality the best we could do. The fact that Saddam was in violation of the surrender terms which kept him in power in 1991 provided either a legitimate casus belli or a useful fig leaf, depending on your point of view, acquitting America of the charge of disregarding international law.
If the decision itself was altogether reasonable, and it was, Bush must nevertheless be severely faulted for resting the entire public case for invading Iraq on Saddam’s WMDs. In so doing, Bush retroactively undermined the rationale of the invasion when no stockpiles of WMDs turned up. His error in judgment here is especially egregious when we recall that the more compelling reason to go after Iraq was always the opportunity to stand up a liberal democratic government in the heart of Islam. The fact that Bush shifted emphasis only belatedly, after not finding WMDs, was an unforgivable blunder. From the outset, he needed to make the public case that overthrowing Saddam’s regime was a phase in the greater struggle to spread Enlightenment values throughout the Islamic world.
It’s a transformation which, in the long run, might even point towards an endgame for the war against Islamic totalitarianism.
There is no doubt, none whatsoever, about the final outcome of the war against Islamic totalitarianism. The Islamic world will embrace the Enlightenment values of rational inquiry, socioreligious tolerance, and individual rights. Such values are no longer optional, not in the twenty-first century. One hundred years ago, this wasn’t the case. One hundred years ago, a dozen fanatics, armed with a death wish and the latest technology available, could perhaps have razed a village. But in the twenty-first century, a dozen fanatics, armed with a death wish and the latest technology available, could slaughter millions and set off an economic panic that might bring down the governments of powerful nations.
Enlightenment values, again, are no longer optional. Rational inquiry, socioreligious tolerance, and individual rights are the glue of modernity. The Islamic world will either embrace them or perish. Their predicament is sketched, with dire poetic flair, by the essayist and philosopher Lee Harris in book Civilization and Its Enemies:
There is a sense of Greek tragedy, with its dialectic of hubris and nemesis, to what has been unfolding in the Islamic world. If Muslim extremists continue to use terror against the West, their very success will destroy them. If they succeed in terrorizing the West, they will discover that they have in fact only ended by brutalizing it. And if subjected to enough stress, the liberal system [of the West] will be set aside and the Hobbesian world will return, and with its return, the Islamic world will be crushed. Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.
Properly understood, the war on terror is less like a war than like a race. On the one hand, it’s certain, even as you read these words, that Islamic radicals are conspiring to stage another assault on the United States to equal, or perhaps surpass, the carnage of September 11th. On the other hand, it’s certain, even as you read these words, that American intelligence agencies and military services are working to kill or capture as many Islamic radicals as they can get their hands on. The race boils down to this: Can America effectively dismantle al Qaeda and its allied organizations before the terrorists manage to strike again, in a major way, on American soil?
The answer is likely no. Tragically no. The difficulty is that it’s not a fair race. As former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once pointed out, al Qaeda is actively recruiting Muslims to their cause at least as rapidly as the American military is thinning their leadership ranks. Notwithstanding the heroic efforts of Homeland Security officials and intelligence agencies to thwart another attack, it’s virtually certain–as our elected leaders keep reminding us–that the terrorists will eventually succeed.
We will take another hit.
Harris’s insight is that each al Qaeda success hastens the demise of Islamic terrorism. Not because the United States will eradicate it; that will never happen. The United States will never eradicate Islamic terrorism. Islamic terrorism will end only when an overwhelming majority of Muslims turn decisively against it. For it is Muslims–generally not a majority but in many nations a plurality–who currently serve as its psychic enablers, fellow travelers, and tacit sympathizers. They must turn against it. But in several prominent Islamic countries, this will entail their turning against their own governments, which continue to sponsor terrorism. And people do not engage in civil wars just because foreigners, especially despised foreigners, think they should.
There are, in fact, only two conceivable scenarios by which the requisite pan-Islamic upheaval will happen. The more humane scenario is the one initiated by President Bush. That scenario is to establish a liberal democracy in Iraq, in the heart of Islam, and hope that it inspires moderate Muslims in the vicinity to embrace Enlightenment values and reject the radical elements among them. The cost of this more humane scenario, if it eventually succeeds, will surely be hundreds of thousands of Muslim lives.
But what if democracy in Iraq fails outright? Or what if it survives but fails to inspire the overwhelming majority of Muslims to reject the radicals? In that case, Islamic terrorism continues unabated. What follows then is the “Hobbesian” scenario Harris sketches: Sooner or later, the United States will take one hit too many, or one hit too catastrophic, and the American people will set aside their natural aversion to promiscuous bloodshed and demand a disproportionate response. They’ll elect a government which promises to end the threat, permanently, whatever the cost–and the cost will likely be millions, perhaps scores of millions, of Muslim lives. Like the German and Japanese civilians in 1945, Muslim civilians from North Africa through the Persian Gulf and down into Southeast Asia will at last feel their absolute defeat. They’ll accept that the fundamentalist struggle against the West has been lost. They’ll dig out from the ruins of their cities and recognize that they cannot allow the radicals to make martyrs of them all. Then, with our assistance, both military and financial, they’ll set out to purge themselves of the terrorist cancer.
Tragically, the Hobbesian scenario is the more probable of the two. Muslims, collectively, have spent the last five centuries making one disastrous decision after another. That’s the unvarnished truth. The idea that liberal democracy in Iraq, if indeed it takes hold, will inspire Muslims throughout the region to do what needs to be done ranks as a long shot. Still, it’s worth a try.
Again: the outcome of the war against Islamic totalitarianism is not in doubt. The forces of Enlightenment will, one way or another, eradicate the forces opposed to Enlightenment. It may take years, or even decades, but Islamic totalitarianism is doomed. Keeping in mind that geopolitical truth, as well as the self-evident truth that all persons are created equal–and that the killing of any person therefore represents an equally irreparable tear in the human fabric–we must ask ourselves one basic question about the war against Islamic totalitarianism: How can we hasten its end with the lowest body count? It’s a gruesome question, but a moral one, haunted by the likelihood that more deaths sooner might mean fewer deaths in the long run. The deadlier the weapons the radicals acquire and use, the more viciously and indiscriminately the war against them will eventually be waged. The scalpel, if necessary, will surely give way to the terrible swift sword. But there is no evidence, none whatsoever, that the blood-drenched currents of history can be managed, any more than they could be managed in the twentieth century, or nineteenth or eighteenth or seventeenth centuries, no evidence that the mass bloodletting by which history baptizes generation after generation, against the wills of even the most powerful leaders, is a thing of the past.
For that reason, it’s crucial not to misunderstand how we wound up here. The war against Islamic totalitarianism is not the result of George Bush’s response to September 11th, 2001. It’s not the result of Bill Clinton’s decision not to assassinate Osama bin Laden, or his decision to pull out of Somalia after the Mogadishu massacre. It’s not the result of George H. W. Bush’s decision to leave Saddam in power following the first Gulf War. Or Ronald Reagan’s withdrawal of marines from Lebanon when their barracks were bombed. Or Jimmy Carter’s dithering during the Iranian hostage crisis. It’s not even the result of America’s steadfast support for a Jewish state in the heart of the Islamic Middle East.
The war against Islamic totalitarianism, on the contrary, is the culmination of a chain of events set in motion centuries ago, back when the social evolution of humanity hit a fork in the road. Down one path lay the Enlightenment . . . and beyond it the goods and, yes, even the excesses of modernity. That path was taken by predominantly Judeo-Christian peoples. Down the other path lay a return to the Middle Ages, to stagnant theocracies and cultural wastelands in which the only relevant question became Who did this to us? That path was taken by predominantly Islamic peoples. They are history’s abject losers. And they’re not happy about it.
But abject losers are the deadliest enemies to engage since they have so little left to lose. They can face down a much greater military power with the most terrifying of all demands: Either submit to us, or kill us. The war against Islamic totalitarianism, as it’s currently being waged, amounts to an effort by America and its allies to stave off the lunacy of terrorist jihad long enough for moderate Muslims to disassociate themselves from it . . . and then to kill off the terrorists themselves.
There’s still time. But the clock is ticking.
(Compiled, edited, and expanded from columns in the New York Post, National Review Online, the American Spectator and Frontpage Magazine, 2002-2004.)