Mar 28, 2004
Americans are pragmatists. We are interested not only in how things work, but how we can improve them. We are fascinated with cars and with every kind of machine and gadget that make our lives easier as well as entertaining us with the leisure time they provide. If you want to find Americans, go to the mall.
Despite this, however, Americans can surely be rated as among the most religious people. The success of the film, "The Passion of the Christ", is ample testimony to that. The debate raging over the morality of same-sex marriage, the outcry against the removal of a monument depicting the Ten Commandments from a courthouse, and the continued opposition to abortion attest to the deep concern Americans have for moral issues.
America and other nations of the West are, however, locked in a cosmic battle with Islamic fundamentalists around the world who view Western civilization as a form of idolatrous barbarism. The attack on the World Trade Center was symbolic of the great battle being waged against us. To the Islamists, the towers represented the worship of materialism, of money and greed. To Islam's true believers, there is no validity in Judaism, Christianity, or any other religion. To them, idolatry is the most heinous sin and, if they must die to destroy us, they will do so.
Ian Buruma, the Luce Professor at Bard College, and Avishai Margalit, the Shulman Professor of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explore this battle in a book. It is "Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies" published by The Penguin Press ($21.95). It is a relatively short book, but one so packed with insight that the mind lingers over every sentence.
As the authors note, "Wars against the West have been declared in the name of the Russian soul, the German race, State Shinto, Communism, and Islam." The present "war on terrorism" should more accurately be called "the war on Islam" because we have been forced to defend ourselves again a large number of Islamic organizations waging this war. While we focus on al Qaeda, the creation of Osama bin Laden, there are dozens of comparable Islamic groups wreaking havoc in various parts of the world, from Israel to Indonesia, from Saudi Arabia to Morocco, from Spain to Iraq, from Afghanistan to Turkey, from Kenya to Russia.
It is a cosmic war pitting their belief that Islam is the only true religion and therefore the salvation of mankind against Western values of individual freedom, human rights, Capitalism, and Democracy. Those fighting this battle feel called by Allah, their god, to save the world.
Why? "When people are not only humiliated by foreign forces, but oppressed by their own government, they often retreat to the 'inner life' of the spirit, pure and simple, where they can feel free from the corruption of power and sophistication," say the authors of "Occidentalism." Most certainly, the Arabs of the Middle East fit this description. So do Muslims in many other areas of the world. Though Islam has spread widely throughout the world, representing an estimated 1.3 billion people, not all Muslims subscribe to the battle being waged in its name, but all find in Islam the comfort of absolute certitude.
An earlier commentary of mine, "The Decline and Fall of Islam", is rebutted on an Internet site in Bangladesh. A Muslim who called my attention to it wrote, "ISLAM is the real truth, and truth never dies." I replied to him that Islam is his truth. And neither the "truth" that the Earth was the center of the universe is in fashion, nor the gods of ancient Greece and Rome. Religions do die.
Islam literally means "submission" to the will of Allah. As a religion, it controls all aspects of life down to the minutest details when practiced by the true believer. Throughout Islam, there is a widespread belief that Islam is under attack. This is ironic in that it is the West that has come under actual attack through a long series of bombings. What I believe is that Islam, unable to adapt to the modern world---a world dominated by Western thought and achievement---instinctively senses it must either conquer the world or eventually lose its grip on its adherents. In some countries, apostasy, leaving Islam for another religion, is punishable by death.
"The attack on the West is among other things an attack on the mind of the West," say the authors. They describe how Islamists and others see it. "It is a mind without a soul, efficient, like a calculator, but hopeless at doing what is humanly important. The mind of the West is capable of great economic success, to be sure, and of developing and promoting advanced technology, but cannot grasp the higher things in life, for it lacks spirituality and understanding of human suffering."
This may seem incomprehensible, given that Christianity is based on the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus, and Judaism's history is millennia of suffering for its worship of a single, universal God of mankind. However, unless you understand the mind of those who are pitted in war against America and the West, you will never fully grasp why they are willing to sacrifice their own lives to win it.
"Self-sacrifice for a higher cause, for an ideal world, cleansed of human greed and injustice, is the one way for the average man to feel heroic. Choosing to die a violent death becomes a heroic act of human will. In totalitarian systems it might be the only act an individual is free to choose." Muslims have lived in totalitarian systems for centuries. When the Islamic revolution seized Iran in 1979, it imposed yet another totalitarian system.
If the last century gave us the kamikaze pilot, willing to give his life in a futile effort to protect the emperor and Japan, this new century has given us the holy warrior of the Islamic jihad. In the words of the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical movement founded in Egypt in 1928, "God is our objective; the Koran is our constitution; the Prophet is our leader; struggle is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations."
We face, individually, as a nation, and a civilization, the Islamic holy warrior and our only defense will be to capture or kill him before he does the same to us.
Alan Caruba is the author of “Warning Signs” and his weekly commentaries are posted on www.anxietycenter.com, the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center.
© Alan Caruba 2004
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