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Winning This War Requires Language of Faith

The West's abandonment of religion has left it unprepared to defeat a foe that's driven by spiritual concerns.

by
Elizabeth Scalia

Bio

December 12, 2008 - 12:00 am
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It is with the language of faith that Islamic terrorism must be engaged and defeated, and therein lies the disconnect for the diplomatic West. Having reasoned itself out of faith, its incomplete arsenal is fit for battle, but not for victory. The West can speak only of borders, boundaries, markets, and measurement. Faith exists beyond boundaries and borders; it defies markets and measurement. The negotiables of the West are worldly and “the world” means nothing in the face of paradise. Islam, like all faith, is not of this world but of the world to come. Islam’s extremists, like all extremists, would like to speed their agenda along.

Jihad is not interested in acquiring land, or money, or even control, which faith understands to be illusory. What these extremists want is submission. To their book or to their sword.

We should consider that Islamic terrorism may not be defeatable, except on its own terms, on the battlefield of the supernatural.

To secularists and avowed agnostics who work to expunge all religious language from governments, that idea is anathema. I doubt it makes many Christians or Jews happy, either. But the war on terror is as much about ideas and ideals as about security and strategy. If one side’s ideas are mayhem in service to transcendence and the other side is thinking about meetings and signed papers, then secular Western diplomacy is boxing with one glove.

Silencing the language of faith in public discourse and policy weakens the West’s ability to engage and defeat an enemy entirely motivated by relentless theology. By failing to speak in the same language, it has no weapons for victory, short of destroying whole cities.

President-elect Barack Obama, with his Muslim roots and confessed Christianity, may be about to learn what President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair seemed always to have understood — that a vocabulary of faith must be deployable in the war on terror, or that war will never be won. Jihad does not care about the vaunted compassion, consensus-building, or tolerance of the West; it will use all of those things against the West, in pursuit of its very soul.

Radical, fundamentalist Islam “knows” it has God on its side. The West, like a leery coach unsure what to do with a controversial player, has put God on the sidelines during a most crucial playoff.

*It goes without saying — and yet, because of the visibility of the extremists among them, always must be said — that the majority of Muslims throughout the world are peaceable people who, as evidenced by this council’s refusal to bury the bodies of Mumbai terrorists, do not condone the terrorist ideology of their extreme co-religionists. They just want to live their lives, do their jobs, and raise their children, like anyone else, and are poorly represented by the fundamentalists among them.

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Elizabeth Scalia is a contributing writer to First Things Magazine and the blogger known as The Anchoress.
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