In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, every effort has been made to distinguish Islam from violence. Every statement from the media or the government has come with a disclaimer. “This is not a clash of civilizations. We know that Islam is a religion of peace. Terrorism is the work of a small minority.”
Modern America has come to view religious pluralism as a fundamental pillar of civilization. It is impossible for most Americans today to conceive of any group of individuals basing themselves on the teachings of a major religion who do not accept this ecumenical dogma. In the comfort of an America distant from the clash of irreconcilable opposites, it has been easy to sit back with a superior attitude and watch the immature and the un-evolved fight their petty battles.
Insulated as we were, we did not need to ask difficult questions, or for that matter, question our own deeply held beliefs. That is no longer the case. “War is merely the continuation of politics by other means,” Clausewitz observed. Today, terrorism has become the continuation of a religious polemic by other means. We may not see the attacks on America as episodes in a great clash of religion and ideology, but much of the world does. Is our denial of this very real dimension of terrorism an aspect of our strength or is it our weakness?
“Fight those who believe not in Allah,” says the Koran (sura 9:29). There are many passages in the Koran, the Muslim holy book, which lay out the rationalization for an Islamic “apostolate” of the sword. It is true that there are those that do not give these passages their most obvious interpretation. The problem is that this attitude is a-historical, ignores nearly 1400 years of history and, for a religion that professes a literal adherence to a book, abstracts from the clearest meaning of such texts.
Yes, it is now the time to face up to the fact that not every rational man accepts religious tolerance as the best means to promote peace and well-being. Tolerance, in fact, only works when the “tolerant” have the upper hand or when there is a balance of fear in which everyone implicitly agrees that it is better to put up with one another for the sake of prosperity. When an ideology, be it secular or religious, arises that cares not about prosperity or peace, the myth of a tolerant society crumbles.
Militant Islam believes it has a chance to strike a blow at the remaining edifice of Christian civilization. For the fanatics, having a vulnerable enemy is a great advantage. They need to unite the less fanatical who might not want to risk all in their cause. They use the powerful human impulses of fear and hatred and rationalize their actions to give them coherence, direction, and a goal.
The terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon have escalated the conflict. They have proven to militant Islam that it has the outreach to have a profound historical impact that could just possibly win. If these attacks have given Americans a new sense of unity because of the unimaginable tragedy, they also give Islam a sense of unity and possible victory that comes after centuries of failure.
We must face up to the fact that this is not just the work of a few deranged individuals. It is an attack on the Christian world at a time when it has been weakened to an almost unimaginable degree by secularism and moral decay. But our world is still worth fighting for. Its foundation is sound and one could even say holy. It is what remains to stand on after centuries of internal and external assaults. It is time then to face reality, consider uncomfortable facts, and prepare for a long, directed struggle. This is not merely a “policing action,” but perhaps a clash of civilizations.