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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Can an Atheistic Society Survive a Religious War?

That is a serious question being raised today by the Clash of Civilizations between a secularized West and a fanatically religious Middle East. While the Western nations are far from atheistic, they have secularized and liberalized their beliefs. Moreover they have replaced those beliefs with a worship of tolerance and diversity for its own sake.

Religion is far from any certain immunity in war. Indeed in technological armed conflict, the sort of destructive fanaticism displayed by Muslims tends to be self-destructive. But while America, Europe and Israel can easily defeat the enemy on the battlefield, in the clash of civilizations themselves they continue to recede backward while the Islamic enemy advances.

They key missing element is righteousness. Not merely morality for morality can exist apart from religion. But a sense of righteousness is what enables a nation to maintain itself in the face of enemies who fervently believe in their own rightness.

The problem is not that the West consists of atheistic societies. If that were the case, we would be far better off than we are today, for naked atheism is itself a fundamentalist ideology. Instead what we have are watered down, liberalized and secularized fragments of religion, tamed and harnessed to be good neighbors. Such faint beliefs make for faint hearts and faint spirits when it comes to telling Ahmed that he had better stop killing his daughters and that if his mosque doesn't stop playing footsie with terrorism, there will be beheadings and they won't be the heads of infidels.

The problem with that missing sense of righteousness is that as religion has become watered down, people have lost that essential clear belief in right and wrong in a black and white sense. We have grown too used in the West to thinking in gray areas, in finding the non-aggressive middle ground of compromise. Little wonder then that when elections come around and we choose the candidate that best seizes the middle ground, that we accordingly lack the leaders to fight a real war. Compromises make for poor warriors. The sort of man who sees both sides of every issue is not the sort of man to say No and make it stick.

Much of the achievements of modern civilization are indeed due to the art of compromise, but in compromising our belief systems we have also compromised our sense of right and our ability to decisively reject and resist that which is wrong.

Belief serves as an immune system warding us from that fatal doubt which causes us to hesitate when the knife is plunged toward our throats. For decades now we have stood hesitating, as nations and societies, while the curved blade sweeps ever close. It is close enough now that we can read the arabesque writing on its flat. We can make out words such as "Sharia", "Jihad" and "Dhimmi" and yet still we stand there seeing both sides of every issue, when in truth all we are seeing are the sharp and flat sides of the knife.

Like every virtue tolerance must be governed by a higher belief. In abandoning ourselves to the logic of compromise, we have also betrayed our own sense of self-worth, turned our backs on the mentality that proclaims, "I would rather be right than be President." We have become societies that sincerely believe in very little and this leaves us vulnerable in the face of enemies that believe a great deal. Though our competence may exceed theirs, their confidence exceeds ours. To regain the edge, we must also regain the absolute vision of belief and righteousness, the sword and armor with which any religious war is tested and with which such war must be ultimately decided.


  1. I've been considering the question in the title of this post for some time.

    Outstanding post!

  2. Execellant article.

    From the moment Bush switched the name of Operation Infinite Justice to Operation Iraqi Freedom I knew the US would be fighting this war without focus or a sense of righteousness.

    When the battle begins by being overly concerned about hurting the enemy's feelings or insulting them something is terribly, terribly wrong.

  3. Anonymous20/7/08

    Excellent post. The West has taken its eye off the target-we have closed one eye while hoping everything is burning around us.
    This is the reason I am not a proponent of "bipartisan" politics.
    I am pleased to be, as Jonah Goldberg put it, a "happy warrior"
    standing up for what is right. Great photos in this post.

  4. On further reflection and a little more on topic...can an atheist society fight terrorism? I don't believe so. Without G-d there is no right or wrong, everything is about personal preferences, what seems and feels right; what is the least inconvenient.

    We've become a society of Rodney Kings whimpering "can't we just get along?"

  5. I have believed for quite some time that we are in a religious war. Those who lack religion are unarmed and will be victims to their own lack of belief. Also, those who believe that G-d is a pacifist will end up being canon fodder for those doing battle. Both those non-belivers and pacifists are too willing to compromise and in the end will be sacrificed by their own ignorance.

  6. Anonymous22/7/08

    Very interesting. I wrote a review of Efraim Karsh's "Islamic Imperialism" a while back. Karsh challenges the "clash of civilizations" thesis in this text.

    Here is a bit:

    In the Summer of 1993 Samuel Huntington published his influential essay 'Clash of Civilizations?' in the journal Foreign Affairs. A book followed, minus the question mark, in 1996. His central thesis: many contemporary conflicts are expressions of an underlying clash of competing civilisations - in particular a clash between the West and the Islamic world. This was vehemently rejected on the radical left for whom George W. Bush's 'War on Terrorism' is merely a ruse to control Middle-Eastern oil, and Islamists are not reactionary aggressors but revolutionary victims of transnational capitalism.

    But what if neither view is correct? What if the present conflict is best viewed as a straightforward contest between rival political aspirations? So argues Efraim Karsh, historian at King's College and director of its Mediterranean Studies program, in Islamic Imperialism: A History. Contentious imperialisms, he suggests, 'should not be misconstrued for a civilisational struggle between the worlds of Islam and Christendom.' Karsh is no stranger to controversy. Two of his previous works, Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery of the Middle East, 1789-1923 (1999), and Fabricating Israeli History: The New Israeli Historians (2000), came under attack in The British Journal of Middle East Studies, The International Journal of Middle East Studies, and Journal of Palestine Studies.

    Re-reading Islamism

    Islamic Imperialism: A History is a refutation of the commonly held notion that Islamism developed as a reaction to Western historical imperialism. In a recent Commentary article ('Islam's Imperial Dreams', April 2006) Karsh contends,

    To intellectuals, foreign-policy experts, and politicians alike, 'empire' and 'imperialism' are categories that apply exclusively to European powers and, more recently, to the United States. In this view of things, Muslims, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere, are merely objects—the long-suffering victims of the aggressive encroachments of others …This perspective dominated the widespread explanation of the 9/11 attacks as only a response to America's (allegedly) arrogant and self-serving foreign policy, particularly with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

    Karsh seeks the 'internal, autonomous dynamics' of Islamism. Muhammad's impetus for seeking imperial expansion from Arabia, in Karsh's telling, was material as much as ideological. First, the creation of the Muslim religious community (umma) created a sharp dichotomy between Muslims and 'infidels' and presupposed a permanent state of war between them. But from this militant doctrine followed an important material interest.

    Here's the whole thing:




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