October 29, 2002

JAMES Q. WILSON ON ISLAMIC REFORM:

We are engaged in a struggle to defeat terrorism. I have no advice on how to win that struggle, but I have some thoughts as to why it exists. It is not, I think, because Islam is at war with the West or because Palestinians are trying to displace Israelis. The struggle exists, I think, because the West has mastered the problem of reconciling religion and freedom, while several Middle Eastern nations have not. The story of that mastery and that failure occupies several centuries of human history, in which one dominant culture, the world of Islam, was displaced by a new culture, that of the West.

Interesting piece. Wilson notes that the West had the same problem, and that its success is a result of successfully addressing it:

Freedom of conscience has made the difference. In an old world where knowledge came from libraries, and scientific experiments were rare, freedom would not be so important. But in the new world, knowledge and all that it can produce come from the sharp challenge of competing ideas tested by standards of objective evidence.

Worth reading. Much of it will be old news for Blogosphere readers, and some of it will be cause for disagreement. But not the conclusion: “If the Middle East is to encounter and not merely resist modernity, it would best if it did this before it runs out of oil.”

UPDATE: Reader Tom Holsinger emails:

IMO we’re at war with the Saudi form of Wahhabism, which is using Saudi oil funding to propagate its particular nastiness. We’ll find out what kind of legs it has after it loses that funding.

Another major question is whether that will happen before the American people get so angry that they run over the Bush Administration to intern or expel (a) non-citizen Arab Muslims or (b) all non-citizen Muslims. My next Strategy Page article will touch on this.

Many different things could happen. The deafening silence of non-Wahhabis means a lot.

Yes. One reason I want a vigorous effort now is that I fear the nastiness of a protracted low-level conflict. The good news is that the non-Wahhabis are starting to speak out.