Classics professor Bruce Thornton is a courageous rarity within the academy — an unabashed conservative public intellectual. Rarer still, even when one considers the full universe of conservatives overall, is Thornton’s willingness to expound upon Islam in a scholarly but uncompromised manner.
In The Wages of Appeasement, Thornton combines his training as a classicist with singular intellectual honesty to interweave three historical case studies of appeasement: Athens (primarily) and the other Greek city-states that Philip II of Macedon sought to conquer in the 4th century B.C.; England confronted by Nazi aggression in the 1930s; and the contemporary United States and broader West, subjected to the global hegemonic aspirations of resurgent Islam and particularly its most aggressive jihadist state sponsor, Iran.
Professor Thornton elucidates his thesis with elegant and remarkably compendious arguments. But prior to describing the salient features of Thornton’s presentation, given the sorry if prevailing state of jihad denial amongst our academic, policymaking, and media elites — the trahison de clercs of our era — I feel compelled (as a working academic physician) to proffer an esteemed “second” (albeit chronologically “first”) opinion by another intrepid academic, the late political scientist professor Samuel Huntington.
Huntington’s mid-1990s paradigm of Islam’s “bloody borders” adduces convincing hard data in support of his contention: “Wherever one looks along the perimeter of Islam, Muslims have problems living peaceably with their neighbors.” These germane observations by Huntington were confirmed — one could argue even amplified — subsequently in the wake of the cataclysmic acts of jihad terrorism against the U.S. on September 11, 2001, and their aftermath, punctuated by almost 17,000 additional jihadist attacks worldwide since 9/11:
The overwhelming majority of fault line conflicts … have taken place along the boundary looping across Eurasia and Africa that separates Muslims from non-Muslims.
Intense antagonisms and violent conflicts are pervasive between local Muslim and non-Muslim peoples.
Muslims make up about one-fifth of the world’s population, but in the 1990s they have been far more involved in inter-group violence than the people of any other civilization. The evidence is overwhelming. There were, in short, three times as many inter-civilizational conflicts involving Muslims as there were between non-Muslim civilizations.
Muslim states also have had a high propensity to resort to violence in international crises, employing it to resolve 76 crises out of a total of 142 in which they were involved between 1928 and 1979. … When they did use violence, Muslim states used high-intensity violence, resorting to full-scale war in 41 percent of the cases where violence was used and engaging in major clashes in another 39 percent of the cases. While Muslim states resorted to violence in 53.5 percent, violence was used the United Kingdom in only 1.5 percent, by the United States in 17.9 percent, and by the Soviet Union in 28.5 percent of the crises in which they were involved….
Muslim bellicosity and violence are late-twentieth-century facts which neither Muslims nor non-Muslims can deny.
Thus 15 years ago Samuel Huntington concluded appositely, and with a candor which, like Bruce Thornton’s, is now almost absent:
The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture.
Thornton’s three case studies, beginning with ancient Greece, build upon one another seamlessly. He introduces the reader to eternal “verities of the human experience” as seen through the prism of Greek historian Thucydides’ analysis of the major causes of conflict — fear, honor, and interest — and how these factors also influence appeasement. What Thornton finds most intriguing: “The fear of an enemy to whom a state is militarily superior or at least equal, an enemy intent upon significantly reducing his state’s power and autonomy or destroying it outright.” He then highlights the dire consequences of not overcoming the inertia induced by this fear as a unifying thread across his three case examples:
Athens and the other Greek city-states had many opportunities to stop Philip before Cheronea in 338 B.C. [a decisive victory for Philip’s Macedonian army over the Greek city-state forces, especially Athens and Thebes], and even then the battle was a “close-run thing,” as Wellington said of Waterloo. England and France, the latter possessing the largest army in Europe, could have destroyed the miniscule force with which Hitler had re-occupied the Rhineland in 1936. And today, the military might of the United States dwarfs the combined power of Middle Eastern states such as Iran and Syria that support and harbor Islamist terrorists.
Thornton’s second case study — the appeasement of Nazi aggression in the decade before World War II — demonstrates how modern “utopianism” and the accompanying malaise of cultural self-loathing exacerbate the timeless, siren temptation of appeasement firmly rooted in the human psyche. Case study three — the contemporary West’s largely supine response to resurgent global jihadism — reveals the grotesque persistence of post-World War I era delusive utopianism and destructive self-flagellation despite the still tangible horrors inflicted by 20th century Nazi and Communist totalitarianism.
The first and second case studies feature two orator-statesmen: the ancient Greek Demosthenes, and Winston Churchill. These men recognized what was (and remains) at risk, as described by Thornton:
[T]he continuation of political freedom and autonomy, with all their attendant goods — human rights, rule by law, consensual government, equality, personal freedom, and a political system that benefits all citizens rather than the interests of a tyrant or an illiberal regime.
Demosthenes argued that the corrosion of political virtue, evident, Thornton observes:
… in the reluctance of citizens to serve in the army, their unwillingness to forgo the public dole, and the corruption of some politicians by bribery — stands out as the premier cause of the Greeks’ failure to resist Philip and defend their freedom.
Although tarnished by modern “revisionist mania,” which Thornton dismisses, Demosthenes remains for the author (consistent with an earlier continuum of appraisals “from Cicero to French statesman Clemenceau”) the paragon “of resistance to tyranny and the defense of freedom.” Demosthenes warned his fellow citizens of Athens:
[Philip did] not want to have the Athenian tradition of liberty watching to seize every chance against himself.
He implored them to resist Philip’s aggression:
[Philip is] the inveterate enemy of constitutional government and democracy, for unless you are heartily persuaded of this, you will not consent to take your politics seriously.
Over two millennia later, in defense of the same foundational Western freedoms articulated by Demosthenes, Winston Churchill had to grapple additionally with what Thornton aptly refers to as “all of the interwar cultural pathologies” which enervated England in the 1920s and 1930s:
Pacifism, “war guilt,” internationalist idealism, hostility to the military, all the delusions that made a policy of appeasement seem not just expedient, but a moral imperative.
Churchill decried this mentality as suicidal when confronting the “bands of sturdy Teutonic youths marching through the streets and roads of Germany, with the light of desire in their eyes to suffer for their Fatherland.”
He reiterated the existential threat posed by such “utopian” cultural self-hatred during a 1933 address to the Royal Society of St. George:
Our difficulties come from the mood of unwarrantable self-abasement into which we have been cast by a powerful section of our own intellectuals. They come from defeatist doctrines by a large proportion of our politicians. But what have they to offer but a vague internationalism, a squalid materialism, and the promise of impossible Utopias?
Churchill concluded the same speech with this moral lesson:
Nothing can save England if she will not save herself. If we lose faith in ourselves, in our capacity to guide and govern, if we lose our will to live, then indeed our story is told. If, while on all sides foreign nations are every day asserting a more aggressive and militant nationalism by arms and trade, we remain paralyzed by our own theoretical doctrines or plunged into the stupor of after-war exhaustion, then indeed all that the croakers predict will come true, and our ruin will be swift and final.
The West, in large part due to Churchill’s courageous and clear-eyed leadership, belatedly rallied to overcome the Nazi menace. Soviet Communist totalitarianism — a threat Churchill also identified with prescience — was subsequently thwarted. But as Thornton points out:
A new threat has arisen to challenge the free West, one that has been nurtured by the same “spirit of Munich” that at times had put in doubt the eventual victory over communist totalitarianism. This new challenge is in fact an old one, a descendant of the West’s most powerful historical enemy, Islam, which in the seventh century burst forth from the Arabian peninsula to challenge and eventually destroy the Christian Byzantine empire, and to repeatedly attack Europe for another millennium until the Ottoman army was turned back at Vienna in September 1683. After that defeat, the world’s greatest Islamic empire faced serial retreat and piecemeal reduction from a resurgent West and a newly expansionist Russia. For the next three centuries, the European powers that once trembled at the approach of Allah’s warriors increasingly dominated the Ottomans and the Middle east until the final “humiliation and disgrace,” as Osama bin Laden called it, came after World War I, when Kemal Ataturk’s abolishing of the caliphate in 1924 ended thirteen hundred years of Islamic imperial domination.
Writing in 1916, C. Snouck Hurgronje, the great Dutch Orientalist, underscored how the jihad doctrine of world conquest and the re-creation of a supranational Islamic caliphate remained a potent force among the Muslim masses:
It would be a gross mistake to imagine that the idea of universal conquest may be considered as obliterated … the canonists and the vulgar still live in the illusion of the days of Islam’s greatness. The legists continue to ground their appreciation of every actual political condition on the law of the holy war, which war ought never be allowed to cease entirely until all mankind is reduced to the authority of Islam — the heathen by conversion, the adherents of acknowledged Scripture [i.e., Jews and Christians] by submission.
Hurgronje further noted that although the Muslim rank and file might acknowledge the improbability of that goal “at present” (circa 1916), they were:
… comforted and encouraged by the recollection of the lengthy period of humiliation that the Prophet himself had to suffer before Allah bestowed victory upon his arms.
Thus even at the nadir of Islam’s political power, during the World War I era final disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, Hurgronje observed:
The common people are willingly taught by the canonists and feed their hope of better days upon the innumerable legends of the olden time and the equally innumerable apocalyptic prophecies about the future. The political blows that fall upon Islam make less impression … than the senseless stories about the power of the Sultan of Stambul [Istanbul], that would instantly be revealed if he were not surrounded by treacherous servants, and the fantastic tidings of the miracles that Allah works in the Holy Cities of Arabia which are inaccessible to the unfaithful. The conception of the Khalifate [Caliphate] still exercises a fascinating influence, regarded in the light of a central point of union against the unfaithful (i.e., non-Muslims).
A Sunni Islamic revival was already underway when Hurgronje made his prescient observations. This movement began in the late 19th century under the tutelage of al-Afghani (d. 1897) and his successor Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905) — both of whom were deemed, appropriately, “cultural Wahhabis” by Ignaz Goldziher, another great scholar of Islam who studied their work as a contemporary during the late 19th and early 20th century. Indeed Abduh’s pupil Rashid Rida, who co-published with his mentor the influential political journal Al-Manar (The Beacon or Lighthouse), would go on to write (in 1922-23) a “modern” blueprint for the formal restoration of the Caliphate while championing the Wahhabi leader Ibn Saud as the most worthy Caliph in 1926. Rida’s torch was passed to Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna, who several years after Rida died in 1935 proudly began republishing Al-Manar.
Comparable trends within Shiite Islam produced the great ideologue and eventual religio-political leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, following the retrograde “Islamic revolution” of 1978-79 which simply reestablished the pre-Pahlavi era norms of the Iranian Safavid and Qajar dynasty Shiite theocracies (of 1502-1724, and 1795-1925, respectively). Khomeini, as Thornton notes, was remarkably forthright and consistent in his calls for jihad to subjugate the infidel, dating back to at least this 1942 statement:
Those who study jihad will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. All the countries conquered by Islam or to be conquered in the future will be marked for everlasting salvation. For they shall live under Allah’s law (Sharia). … Islam says: “Kill [the non-Muslims], put them to the sword and scatter their armies.” Islam says: “Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to paradise, which can be opened only for holy warriors (jihadists)!” There are hundreds of other Koranic psalms and hadiths (sayings of the prophet) urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all that mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim. … Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless.
Khomeini, Thornton emphasizes, reiterated these views upon assuming power:
The great prophet of Islam carried in one hand the Koran and in the other a sword; the sword for crushing the traitors and the Koran for guidance. … Islam is a religion of blood for the infidels but a religion of guidance for other people. … We shall export our revolution to the whole world. Until the cry “There is no God but God” resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle.
Historian Robert Conquest identified a salient feature of the delusive mindset of apologists for Soviet-era Communist totalitarianism shared by useful idiots for totalitarian Islam since 1979 — willful blindness:
[A] con job needs a con man and a sucker. In their case many suckers even managed not to take in what they saw with their own eyes, or rather somehow to process unpleasantness mentally into something acceptable. … Mind-set seems too strong a word: these were minds like jelly, ready for the master’s imprint. … [T]his was an intellectual and moral disgrace on a massive scale.
An eternal written testament to this triumphal idiocy was published in the New York Times February 16, 1979. The very title of Princeton University international law professor Richard Falk’s op-ed, “Trusting Khomeini,” is pathognomonic of two devastating Western maladies — cultural self-loathing and jihad denial. Indeed these trends have worsened over the intervening three decades, as the civilizational war waged by Shiite and Sunni jihadists — consistent with Islam’s classical jihad theory — has intensified. Falk’s February 1979 “conclusions” — 180 degrees from the ensuing and eminently predictable reality — were as follows:
Despite the turbulence, many non-religious Iranians talk of this period as “Islam’s finest hour.” Having created a new model of popular revolution based, for the most part, on non-violent tactics. Iran may yet provide us with a desperately needed model of humane governance for a third-world country. If this is true, then indeed the exotic Ayatollah may yet convince the world that “politics is the opiate of the people.”
Tragically, President Jimmy Carter was influenced by such dangerous academic nonsense. Thus as Thornton points out:
Carter’s belief that rational negotiations and compromise could establish peaceful relations with the infant Islamic Republic was as delusional as Chamberlain’s notion that Hitler’s grand aims for a German empire based on racial purity would be satisfied by the negotiated sacrifice of Czechoslovakia.
Thornton concludes that deliberate, stubborn “downplaying of the religious roots” of jihad — analogous to ignoring Hitler’s openly avowed goals in his Nazi manifesto, Mein Kampf — have characterized failed American and broader Western policies to counter Shiite and Sunni jihadists, from Khomeini’s seizure of power in 1979, to al-Qaeda’s attacks on September 11, 2001, through the present:
Just as British indifference to Hitler’s plans outlined in his memoir Mein Kampf paved the way for the debacle of Munich, so too a failure to take seriously Khomeini’s religious motivations and publicized jihadist doctrines facilitated the wave of terrorist assaults against Americans in the 1980s, 1990s, and beyond. … [T]he damage to American prestige that followed the failure to punish attacks on American interests, the continuing force of a foreign policy based on American self-doubt and moralizing internationalism, and gutting of the CIA had all set the stage for the sequence of jihadist attacks in the 1990s and the rise to prominence of al-Qaeda. The trajectory of appeasement that had begun in Saigon in 1975 and then proceeded through Tehran in 1979 and Beirut in 1983 was now pointing to New York in 2001.
While President Obama certainly represents the apotheosis of jihad appeasement for Thornton, the author excoriates all recent presidents — Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, and Bush 2 — for their individual and collective failures to address the jihadist threat by similar appeasing policies and actions.
Ominously, the preponderance of contemporary mainstream Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia apparently share with their murderous, jihad terror waging co-religionists from al-Qaeda the goal (if not necessarily supporting the gruesome means) of reestablishing an Islamic Caliphate. Polling data released April 24, 2007 — from a rigorously conducted face-to-face University of Maryland/WorldPublicOpinion.org interview survey of 4384 Muslims conducted between December 9, 2006 and February 15, 2007, of 1000 Moroccans, 1000 Egyptians, 1243 Pakistanis, and 1141 Indonesians — reveal that 65.2% of those interviewed desired this outcome (i.e., “To unify all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or Caliphate”). This included 49% of “moderate” Indonesian Muslims. The internal validity of these data about the present longing for a Caliphate is strongly suggested by a concordant result: 65.5% of this Muslim sample approved a proposition: “To require a strict application of Shari’a law in every Islamic country.”
Viewed with objectivity, the present much ballyhooed “Arab Spring” expresses these longstanding Islamic sentiments, not some sui generis movement for true Western-style Jeffersonian democracy — the antithesis of jihad-imposed Sharia governance. As Thornton warns, we must not continue to act as self-flagellating “volunteer dhimmis” — afraid to speak plainly about living Islamic doctrine and history — discretely ignoring how the “Arab Spring” ferment is rooted in jihad.
If these self-abasing behaviors vis a vis Islam are not quickly reversed, America and the West will implode along exactly the lines described in a remarkably candid assessment by the 18th century Moroccan Sufi “master” Ibn Ajibah from his Koranic commentary (a work I was made aware of by my colleague, Dr. Mark Durie).
Describing unabashedly the purpose of the Koranic poll tax (as per Koran 9:29) of submission for non-Muslims brought under Islamic hegemony by jihad, Ibn Ajibah makes clear the ultimate goal of its imposition was to achieve what he called the death of the “soul” through the dhimmi’s execution of their own humanity:
[The dhimmi] is commanded to put his soul, good fortune and desires to death. Above all he should kill the love of life, leadership and honor. [The dhimmi] is to invert the longings of his soul, he is to load it down more heavily than it can bear until it is completely submissive. Thereafter nothing will be unbearable for him. He will be indifferent to subjugation or might. Poverty and wealth will be the same to him; praise and insult will be the same; preventing and yielding will be the same; lost and found will be the same. Then, when all things are the same, it [the soul] will be submissive and yield willingly what it should give. [Tafsir ibn ‘Ajibah. Commentary on Q9:29. Ahmad ibn Muhammad Ibn `Ajibah]
At stake is nothing less than our nation’s survival, in body and soul.