In the so-called “war on terror,” which is really a war of attrition between two competing civilizations, the dilemma that confronts us is that we don’t have the time to wait for a possible Islamic Enlightenment: we are not living in the 18th century but in the calamitously weaponized 21st. The crisis we are now facing does not allow for that species of adjournment we call diplomacy or the illusion of “dialogue” with an interlocutor who does not abide by its formative assumptions.
On the one hand, Western diplomacy is a Rube Goldberg machine that engages tortuous complexities to produce insignificant results. On the other, Middle Eastern “dialogue” is a variant of a form of communication that resembles what literary critic Clayton Koelb in The Incredulous Reader called “lethetic fiction,” in which speakers do not believe what they are saying and do not suppose that the untruth spoken is merely a surface behind which some sort of truth lies hidden. The truth is off to the side, part of another taxonomy of discourse; the purpose of “dialogue” is to keep it there. There is no doubt whatsoever, for example, that Iran is plying a nuclear filibuster and that terror-sponsoring Syria is a past master at stalling. But time is running out.
What the situation cries out for today are deeply educated and farsighted statesmen and courageous national leaders. Democracies are notoriously slow, fractured, and cumbersome in reacting to threatening events and are thus always at an initial disadvantage against their enemies — this is why intelligent and determined leaders are needed, those who are capable of foresight and not, like Maginot Line generals, only of hindsight.
Instead, our fate is now in the hands of one-dimensional, small men and women without vision, knowledge of history, or the courage to act, except insofar as they are prospecting for votes. It is not only, as Joe Klein contends in Politics Lost, that the political process has been trivialized by the burgeoning tribe of “marketing professionals, consultants, and pollsters,” but that the subjects of the “pollster-consultant industrial complex” are themselves devoid of moral and intellectual substance to begin with.
Indeed, some may even be devoid of valid legal identity: the evidence that President Obama’s birth certificate, as posted on his website, is a forgery is frankly disturbing. One would hope otherwise; nevertheless, Obama, who appears to be all things to all men and nothing in himself, seems like a virtual media projection, a kind of William Gibson “Idoru,” who blurs the lines between the real and the simulated, character and rhetoric, being and seeming. As he himself wrote in The Audacity of Hope, “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.”
What we have here is only the latest UFO to bedazzle large numbers of true believers: an Unidentified Flying Obama the electorate swears by. A man without a discernible core identity has been given a free pass by a majority of bedazzled Americans whose need for a messiah has induced them to embrace a state of excitable fatuity and comfortable ignorance.
The American public seems at times casually indifferent to the complexities of their own politics. This fact was recognized by Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who in a 1993 meeting in Philadelphia said: “When I speak with the American, I speak with someone who doesn’t know anything.” Add to this sorry spectacle of political vapidness and acedia the editorial vaporizings of a philistine press, the parlous state of journalistic ethics, and the rites of left-wing academic indoctrination, and we have, to put it mildly, a big problem.
Yet it does not take a mantic expertise to discern the probable future should we continue to sit back, swallow the sedatives of standard political thinking, and let events take their course. The secular democracies of the West are under sentence; the benefits they have enjoyed, however intermittently, of peace, prosperity, and common egalitarian values are in grave danger of subsidence. As Will Durant wrote in The Story of Civilization, “eternal vigilance is the price of civilization. A nation must love peace, but keep its powder dry.”
This is what all too many in the West, including its power-holders and influence-peddlers, refuse to understand. Broadly speaking, a cultural distance of 1,000 years separates Western man from Islamic man (or, as some will prefer, “Islamist man”), although the distance is closing fast as Western man (or, as some will prefer, “European man”) regresses toward the naivety of the child and the infancy of thought. We really do seem to have lost the plot. For we are truly in a war, different from any war we have fought in the past, waged on many different fronts from fifth-column infiltration to an expanding demographic to incendiary physical assault to “dark web” terror attacks on basic cyber infrastructures to the introduction of Sharia-compliant finance in the fiduciary world, but a real war nevertheless that will persist well into the century.
In its militant dimension, it is a war that is once again approaching our shores — 9/11 was only the opening salvo — and which will have real consequences in physical suffering, civil disruption, cultural prostration, and economic breakdown. It is not a war we can spend on the golf course while our soldiers take casualties on foreign battlefields. It is a war that, in the long term, we may well lose if we do not awaken to the peril which confronts us.
It is not by the pricking of our thumbs that some of us fear a generations-long tumult but by a sober study of the historical archive, the absorption of the relevant literature, and an informed and commonsense alertness to the current scene. Those of us who insist that we are not facing a significant external threat to our nation, culture, and civilization but only adjustments, however unsettling, to a new world order have simply not read the signs, the literature, the proclamations, or the entrails. And those of us who are sounding the alarm will naturally be accused by the droves of sleepwalkers shuffling in the public domain of exaggeration and even of war-mongering in our turn. As Proverbs 26:13-14 tells us, even when there is a lion in the streets, the slothful man turns upon his bed.
But when these contemporary Rip Van Winkles are finally jarred awake by events, they will likely find themselves living and dying in a very different world from the one in which they fell asleep. We are now challenged as never before as the 21st century unfolds toward the seismic event of civilizational conflict between a messianic world-faith and a secular world-view. The modern, secular state is centered on the idea of a “social contract” between man and state; the Islamic system of governance is inherently medieval, built around the concept of a man-God relationship. There are no atoms of compatibility between two such global systems of culture and belief.
Let us listen to the music before we have to face it. We have the authority of the major players in the Islamic world, from Hamas chieftain Mahmoud Zahar to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that a different political anthem is coming our way. For the theme song of the Islamic adversary may be regarded as a modification of the famous Leonard Cohen lyric: first we take Jerusalem, then we take New York.