My review essay “The Koran and Jihad” appears in the latest Claremont Review of Books, America’s premier journal of conservative thought and the only publication I read cover to cover. CRB has generously unlocked the essay from its paywall for PJ Media readers.
I review two book on Islam, including the estimable Robert Spencer’s new History of Jihad. If jihad were just an ideology, it could be eliminated, at least in theory. But it’s something worse, I argue: it’s a manifestation of tribal barbarism assaulting civilized society:
Some kinds of war produce a snowball effect: war destroys the infrastructure of civilization and with it the livelihood of the civilian population, and the survivors swell the ranks of the army. Something like this happened during the collapse of Bronze Age civilization around 1200 B.C., and during Europe’s Thirty Years’ War. It may have happened, too, when the collapse of the Byzantine and Persian empires in late antiquity began the great wars of Islam, which lasted with brief respites from its first wave of jihad in the early 7th century to the death of Tamerlane on the frontier of China in 1405.
Although the Muslim world has decayed into a geopolitical backwater, jihad remains a threat to Western civilization, though opinions differ about the extent of the threat. If jihad is the expression of an ideology, it could be thwarted by changing (exactly how is another question) the ideology. But if jihad is the consequence of economic and demographic dislocation, it will almost certainly continue to afflict the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims, most of whom live in conditions of economic backwardness and political instability. In this case jihad cannot be extinguished, but only contained.
Our problem is our own refusal to accept the horrifying fact that some societies cannot turn back from a path that leads them to ruin,
It is not difficult to control migration, which also limits the access of prospective terrorists to the West. To the extent that a Muslim country such as Iran threatens the West with weapons of mass destruction, the West—if it had the will to do so—could destroy its capacity to make war with a day’s aerial bombardment. Contrary to Polk, we do not confront the prospect of another Mao Zedong in the form of ISIS. As Robert Spencer warns, we are our own worst enemies. We lack the will to draw a bright line between the West and failing societies that we could not fix even if we spent another $7 trillion.
Paradoxically, the most powerful weapon in the hands of the jihadists is their own failure. We cannot absorb the idea that some remnants of tribal society will not modernize, but instead move directly from infancy to senescence without passing through adulthood. The best thing you can do for failing societies is: don’t become one.