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.
December 12, 2008 - 12:00 am
As the world processes the horrific events in Mumbai, secular Jews wonder how their secularism relates to their Semitism. Governments speak softly while reconsidering what sticks may be used in war. Elites, echoing the post-9/11 left, ask, “Did Mumbai deserve it?” The decrepit news media, determined to forget everything that ever happened prior to the Iraq war, wonders why terrorism still exists, since Barack Obama won the election.
These groups are stymied by their own enlightenment. As the West evolves into a post-faith society — disdainful of religion and confident in the primacy of reason alone — it is rendering itself ineffective and mute. Mute against an enemy that, for better or worse, communicates solely in the language of the supernatural and belief.
Increasingly, we see Western societies serving the interests of Muslims (both moderate* and extreme) in government (Britain’s first Sharia court has quietly opened), public buildings, and even public and private schools, in ways that — in those same societies — are unthinkable for other faiths.
These unprecedented social and political accommodations owe much to terrorism’s ability to intimidate. Thus is a perverse idea reinforced; the jihadist can see that bomb belts and AK-47s “work.” We may anticipate, then, more attacks in dubious service to the fastest growing religion in the West.
The West loves its court systems, its bureaucracies, its diversities, but jihadists use these tools to further their ends. They will not be legislated, jailed, sued, or celebrated out of existence. Appeasement and the stodgy language of diplomacy will not stop them, either, because “diplomacy” is not the language being spoken in these attacks. The fundamentalists who endorse and commit terror believe they are heaven-bound heroes. First and foremost, they “believe.” Their rhetoric of jihad rides the language of faith.
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.