I assume that Robert Wright (no relation to Rev. Jeremiah) saw it as an intellectual challenge. If Marie Harf and other members of the Obama administration could not defend their boss’s refusal to utter the words Islamic terrorism, he could.
To do so, he takes on Timesman Roger Cohen and the Atlantic’s Graeme Wood. I have already opined on the views of both men. One should add that Thomas Friedman has also insisted that the Obama administration call the threat by its name.
As have the president of France, the king of Jordan, the president of Egypt, and so on. All have denounced Islamist terrorism for what it is.
The Obama administration stands alone in its refusal to say the words radical Islam.
Wright (no relation to Rev. Jeremiah) wants to refute the notion that the West is at war with Islam, but he especially wants to counter Samuel Huntington’s idea of the clash of civilizations.
To respond to Cohen’s assertion that the West is at war with the Muslim world, Wright responds:
You might ask: How could it be a war against “the Muslim world” if it’s confined to five countries that house only a minority of the world’s Muslims? Or: How could it be a war against “the Muslim world” if most of the Muslims even in these five countries are not the enemy?
The center of the Muslim world lies in the Middle East. Think Mecca and Medina. That culture has fostered and spawned Islamist terrorism. The actions are certainly not limited to that region. There have been Islamist terrorist attacks in China, India, Thailand and in other nations of Asia.
If you have a strong stomach click on the link to this story about Islamist terrorism in Bangladesh.
The point is not whether all or the majority of Muslims are at war with the West. The point is that a significant number are and that the significant number has caused a significant amount of damage, to say nothing of loss of life. It doesn’t take too many Muslim terrorists to make everyone to have to pass through new, improved airport screening measures.
Moreover, as I have often mentioned, the reputation of the Muslim religion and those who practice it has been significantly damaged by the fact that the terrorists are speaking louder and more dramatically than other Muslims. With their beheading videos and their destructive actions, all of which they perform in the name of their religion, they have re-branded the religion as a force, as a power, as a competitor with Western civilization.
You might engage in a close reading of certain religious texts in order to determine whether the terrorists really are following the precepts of their religion. And you would find evidence both pro and con. And yet, life is not an exercise in reading texts.
Ask yourself instead how much time and energy we devote to thinking about Islam. How much time and energy we devoted to it before 9/11.
Many Muslims will insist that their religion does not condone the actions of the terrorists who are acting in its name. Surely, they are right. Yet, a large number of Muslims in Western countries believe that the editors of Charlie Hebdo should have been murdered for their blasphemous cartoons.
If I may say so, actions speak louder than words.
As for Huntington, Wright (no relation to Rev. Jeremiah) suggests that those who believe in the clash of civilizations are responsible for producing said clash. Presumably, if there were no books about civilizations clashing there would be no clashing civilizations.
The thought boggles the mind:
In 1996, when I reviewed Samuel Huntington’s book “The Clash of Civilizations” for Slate, I fretted that Huntington’s world view could become “a self-fulfilling prophecy.” This was before 9/11, and I wasn’t thinking about Islam in particular. Huntington’s book was about “fault lines” dividing various “civilizations,” and I was just making the general point that if we think of, say, Japanese people as radically different from Americans—as Huntington’s book, I believed, encouraged us to do—we were more likely to treat Japan in ways that deepened any Japanese-Western fault line.
This suggest there is no difference between American and Japanese culture, but thinking makes it so. Wright (no relation to Rev. Jeremiah) should read Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.
Do you think that, absent bad ideas like Huntington’s the different civilizations would not even imagine competing against each other? How else do you test the validity of your values but by putting them into practice?
Of course, Huntington’s book is relatively recent. Surely, Wright (no relation to Rev. Jeremiah) knows about the clashes between Protestants and Catholics in Europe and the Americas. He knows about the pogroms launched against Jews and their culture in Europe and the Middle East. He knows of the pogroms against Confucian culture in China. He must know about the clashes between Muslim and Hindu cultures in India. And he knows well that the Muslim war against the state of Israel has been going on for decades now. I imagine that he knows how Islam established itself through military conquest, or how the Mongol hordes spread their culture throughout Asia. Among the causes of the two world wars was the cultural conflict between Germany and Great Britain. And let’s not forget the wars between Rome and Carthage or between Rome and barbarians.
Islam has been at war with Judeo-Christian civilization for as long as it has existed. Why Wright (no relation to Rev. Jeremiah) believes that the clash of civilizations will disappear if we stop talking about it, I have no idea.
After all, we have now seen our ostrich-like president keep his head in the sand about Islamist terrorism for six years. Has that caused peace to break out in the Middle East? If anything, it has emboldened the terrorists and has help them to recruit new converts to what seems like a movement that is causing the greatest power in the world to bow in mute submission.
Obviously, Wright (no relation to Rev. Jeremiah) does not see things this way. He prefers to blame the West, especially people who he opposes politically. He believes that Western actions are the best terrorist recruiting tool. It’s like saying that Gitmo is a great recruiting tool for terrorists… assertion that ignores the fact that terrorists who are released from Gitmo are welcomed as heroes in their world.
He also ignores the fact that the upsurge in Islamist recruiting has been a direct response to battlefield victories, shows of Islamist power and Western submissiveness.
We have been releasing more and more terrorists from Gitmo under the Obama administration. Yet, remarkably, Director of National Intelligence Clapper said yesterday, we have never seen more acts of terrorism.
In any event, Wright (no relation to Rev. Jeremiah) blames it on drone strikes and, naturally, on Israel:
When recruiters for ISIS and Al Qaeda say that the West is fighting a war against Islam, they cite U.S. policies: drone strikes in Muslim countries, the imprisonment of Muslims in Guantánamo, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, perceived U.S. support for Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and so on. Obviously, we shouldn’t abandon any policy just because our enemies criticize it. But, when the policies help our enemies with recruitment, that should at least be added to the cost-benefit calculus.
For those who don’t recognize it, this is recycled Platonism, the kind that assumes that objects in the real world express metaphysical ideas. If you can succeed in changing the way people think they will change their behavior.
Naturally, Wright (no relation to Rev. Jeremiah) believes that the rise of ISIS is the fault of the Bush administration’s Iraq War. John Kerry would happily agree.
And yet, as Victor Davis Hanson pointed out, the only rational way to judge the effectiveness of the Iraq War and the Bush administration management of same is to evaluate the state of Iraq in 2009-2010, a time when Vice President Biden declared Iraq to be one of the Obama administration’s great foreign policy successes.
This does not mean that the Bush administration did a great job, but it does mean that rational debate should examine the facts.
No rational evaluation of the rise of ISIS can ignore the fact that it arose under the aegis of an administration that prides itself on having walked away from the fight and that refuses to call Islamist terrorism by its name.
In Wright’s words:
The more scared we get, the more likely our government is to react with the kind of undiscerning ferocity that created ISIS as we know it—and the more likely Western extremists are to deface mosques, or worse. All of which will help ISIS recruit more Muslims, thus leading to more atrocities in the West, as well as in the Middle East, and making the whole thing seem even more like a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam. And so on.
One suspects that this represents the Obama policy toward Islamist terrorist. Do some therapy, overcome your irrational anxiety about scary Muslims and, presto, they will all go away.
One can only wonder what Wright (no relation to Rev. Jeremiah) would say about George Packer’s remarks, also from The New Yorker:
One thing we’ve learned from the history of such regimes is that they can be stronger and more enduring than rational analysis would predict. The other thing is that they rarely end in self-destruction. They usually have to be destroyed by others.