How the West must win

If the West expects to defeat radical Islamist terrorism, it cannot rely solely on the language of secularism, Elizabeth “The Anchoress” Scalia argues in a Pajamas Media column today.  To the extent that the West relies on its post-Enlightenment institutions, the radical Islamists will adapt and pervert them; to the extent that the West offers secular arguments and ecumenical bromides, the radical Islamists will ignore us.  In order to make progress, the West will have to relearn how to speak the language of faith — and to value its own heritage:

The West loves its court systems, its bureaucracies, its diversities, but jihadists use these tools to further their ends. They will not be legislated, jailed, sued, or celebrated out of existence. Appeasement and the stodgy language of diplomacy will not stop them, either, because “diplomacy” is not the language being spoken in these attacks. The fundamentalists who endorse and commit terror believe they are heaven-bound heroes. First and foremost, they “believe.” Their rhetoric of jihad rides the language of faith.

It is with the language of faith that Islamic terrorism must be engaged and defeated, and therein lies the disconnect for the diplomatic West. Having reasoned itself out of faith, its incomplete arsenal is fit for battle, but not for victory. The West can speak only of borders, boundaries, markets, and measurement. Faith exists beyond boundaries and borders; it defies markets and measurement. The negotiables of the West are worldly and “the world” means nothing in the face of paradise. Islam, like all faith, is not of this world but of the world to come. Islam’s extremists, like all extremists, would like to speed their agenda along.

Jihad is not interested in acquiring land, or money, or even control, which faith understands to be illusory. What these extremists want [13] is submission. To their book or to their sword.

We should consider that Islamic terrorism may not be defeatable, except on its own terms, [14] on the battlefield of the supernatural.

To secularists and avowed agnostics who work to expunge all religious language from governments, that idea is anathema. I doubt it makes many Christians or Jews happy, either. But the war on terror is as much about ideas and ideals as about security and strategy. If one side’s ideas are mayhem in service to transcendence and the other side is thinking about meetings and signed papers, then secular Western diplomacy is boxing with one glove.

Elizabeth makes an interesting argument.  In past conflicts between Islam and Western civilization, both sides felt equally comfortable making religious arguments for their own side.  The West did not indulge in moral relativism (and neither did the Islamists).  Europe under siege did not aspire to rid itself of its religious underpinnings and never allowed itself to believe that such a development would bring mercy from their foes.

Of course, in many ways, the conflict has changed.  No longer do entire Muslim nations want to march across Western nations and replace spires with minarets.  Their descendants have dwindled to a tiny minority among Islam.  However, they retain the sympathy of millions if not tens of millions of their co-religionists for their aims of imposing Islam around the world, as we can see whenever they take offense at editorial cartoons and the like.

If the West has put God on the sidelines, as Elizabeth argues, the Islamists have put him at the center of their offensive.  Talking as if God doesn’t exist or is irrelevant to the distance between the Muslim workd and the West obviously has not done much for the West’s credibility.  But it’s worth asking whether a religious debate would help much, either.  The radicals won’t listen, and the rest of the Muslim world might get even more antagonistic.

In the end, power will be the final arbiter, as it is in almost all human conflict.  Until the risk/reward ratio gets to the point where supporting the radical Islamists costs more than it’s worth, we can discuss scriptures until we’re blue in the face without impacting the sympathy and support the terrorists receive from their co-religionists.  That doesn’t mean we should keep God on the sidelines — I agree that we have to stop being afraid of our own heritage in this conflict — but that Napoleon’s famous axiom about the Almighty favoring the side with the most battalions will have more application.