The Non-War of Civilizations Erupts Again
Within two days of Donald Trump declaring, during his speech to the Muslim world, that the fight against “Islamic terror” is not a war of civilizations, the non-warriors representing the non-enemy civilization have struck again, killing at least twenty-two and injuring many more at a concert in Manchester, England.
To be honest, I can’t quite get my head around what is so inflammatory about calling the abstractly-dubbed “war on terror” a war of civilizations. The aggressors are clearly claiming to represent an identifiable civilization in their attempts to annihilate another identifiable civilization. The only way to avoid the obvious conclusion is to deny that those aggressors are “really” representing their civilization. But what would that even mean in this context, once we wipe away the obfuscations of political correctness?
One civilization, the one in which we find nations governed (to varying degrees) under the tenets of Islamic law, has somehow managed to foster and perpetuate a subculture of murderous hatred for all resistance to the genuine Islamic ideal of a global caliphate. This civilization has coughed up generations of venomous phlegm in the form of ever more radical terrorist factions, alliances, and loose affiliations, which have wreaked havoc on almost every continent on the globe, killing, maiming, and raping untold thousands of victims, while severely disrupting life, liberty, and peace of mind for millions more. The general citizenry of this civilization, though not themselves participating in such violence, have shown remarkably high levels of acceptance of, and sympathy with, the terrorists and their alleged cause — which, after all, is, as I said, a legitimate Islamic cause, the global caliphate.
The other civilization is the prime target of the violence and hatred spewed forth by the first, for the obvious reason that they are perceived as an obstacle, the primary obstacle, to the establishment of the global caliphate.
The first civilization has a well-documented past of violent fanaticism. That is to say, the fanaticism currently dubbed “Islamic terrorism,” “radical Islam,” or what have you, has a long and unbroken history. It is connected to the religion’s holy book, but perhaps even more so to the specific biography of its figurehead, and even to its traditional language, Arabic, which Jean-Jacques Rousseau identified as the tongue of murderous religious fanaticism two hundred and fifty years ago.
The second civilization has its own accusers and critics, its own history of fanatical behavior and violence. But therein lies a significant difference. The fanaticisms of the Judeo-Christian world, or at least the ones that might lead to widespread death cults equivalent to ISIS, are a thing of the distant past. Modernity moderated those urges, as men in this second civilization found the boons of peaceful coexistence to outweigh the compulsion to enforce God’s will with the earthly sword of righteousness. To put this in a way that some Christians may dislike, the modern West arrived at the point of realizing that as much as one may adhere to one’s faith, there are other goods to which one may also adhere, which require a softening of religious extremism in any area where such extremes might compel one to oppression and violence.
Two civilizations, one still partly living in that pre-modern fanatical time and hating all who refuse to do so, and the other seeking to get on with the life of earthly comfort and coexistence. That there are plenty of exceptions on both sides of the argument is beyond doubt. But so is it beyond doubt that this broad brush statement is fair enough as far as it goes. This is a war of civilizations. Not just “Muslim vs. Christian,” but medieval vs. modern, fanatical vs. moderate, dogmatic vs. rationalist.
There are Muslims who wish to modernize their lives and live in peace with the other civilization, even in many cases to embrace it. Likewise, there are Jews and Christians who refuse to accept the moderation of faith in the name of political pluralism and tolerance. But this would be true of any fundamental clash of civilizations. There will be many on both sides who sympathize with the sensibility of the other, or even side with the other. This does not contradict the claim that civilizations are in conflict. Rather, it helps to draw attention to the fact.
And why is this fact so hard to digest or to speak aloud? The “democracy project” fantasists will say it is harmful to the battle for “hearts and minds.” But is it? Since when is identifying a disagreement honestly harmful to the long-term chances of resolving that conflict? Furthermore, when one civilization is under attack by the most radical elements within another civilization, it would seem that the only thing that could come of not identifying the problem openly would be a further brewing of radicalism under the protective cover of the victim civilization’s “diplomatic language.” That has certainly been the case in this particular unacknowledged war of civilizations.
Of course, the real answer to the question as to why the West is so reticent to label this fight a civilizational war (the radical Muslims have no such reticence) has more to do with ourselves than with the war. If, as I believe, there is a human nature, then there is no civilization — no human possibility — that is not latent in the blood of every man, anywhere. Thus, the West as a civilization has transcended the religious fanaticism that stymies societal development and favors dogmatic purity enforced with the sword over the growth of practical knowledge, productivity, and peace. Nevertheless, the temptation to such fanatical devotion, with its tendencies toward intolerance of infidels and coercive dreams of world domination, remains within us, even in our so-called secular modern age.
The West’s own manifestation of this fanatical hatred of everything the modern West represents has risen to such prominence that we have given it a name: progressivism. Perhaps it is for this reason that we are so squeamish about calling the current global conflict a civilizational war. Progressives — both the overt and the indoctrinated — find something inherently agreeable and charming in an Islamic civilization that inclines toward hatred of the West with its moderating inclinations, tolerance, and individual liberty.
Hence, progressives are the ones who insist this is not a civilizational war, and that we must not call it one. In their hearts, they sympathize with the other side, and would hate to see it lose. They would simply like to incorporate the other side into their own paradigm of anti-West destructiveness and their own form of world domination.
Progressives are learning the hard way that fanaticism doesn’t work that way. No accommodation — from arming Islamic rebels against secular Arab leaders to burying police reports of mass sexual assault in Western cities — will ever be enough. The violence will not abate until the victim civilization has the courage to shuck off its progressive identification with the enemy and face the nature of the conflict openly.
This does not mean “hating Muslims.” Nor does it mean disrespecting the power of human belief that leads to fanatical devotion to one’s cause. (All great men, great leaders, and great societies have had a hint of the fanatical in them.) But it means refusing to accept fanaticism as a social norm. It means demanding the moderation of such passions from anyone who wishes to live in, or work alongside, a modern, rationalist, liberty-loving civilization. And if Islam is found somehow incapable of achieving this general “modernizing” effect, so be it — then the necessary and rational conclusion would be that devout Muslims as devout Muslims cannot be assimilated into modern civilization. (I am not saying this will end up being the case in the long run, but if it turns out to be so, then one must face facts as one finds them.)
Of course this is a civilizational war, whether our own neo-religious fanatics, the progressives, choose to acknowledge the fact or not.
(This article originally appeared at American Thinker.)