Radical Islam’s Theological Achilles’ Heel

Osama bin Laden

Here is an example of a political mystery in broad daylight: our chances of winning the propaganda wars against radical Islam and the military wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, might significantly improve, if we could attack Radical Islam’s theological Achilles’ Heel. Can you guess what that Achilles’ heel is? Read further to find out…

Amidst the turbulence and travail of a military campaign, it is easy to lose sight of the battle of ideas. America has largely neglected the ideological war, but America’s enemies have been relentless in their propaganda campaign. Keeping pace with technology, they seek recruits through Jihadist websites. Some scholars have traced the beginning of this ideological conflict, between political Islam and the West, to the 1950s, particularly to Sayyid Qutb. He was a prolific author of books about the virtues of Islam and the deficiencies of the Western way of life, condemning everything from capitalism to the relations between the sexes in American society. Qutb became the ideologist for a fanatical group called “the Egyptian Brotherhood,” which morphed into Al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden has been profoundly influenced by Qutb. Ideas can have dangerous consequences, especially when young people — who are searching for meaning and fulfillment — are not offered attractive alternatives.

We, in the West, have done an inadequate job championing our values, virtues, ideals, and way of life. Some critics have argued that notions like democracy, free enterprise, and the rule of law lack the utopian-inspired excitement of Jihadism, or holy war. The same had often been said, in the last century, about our values failing to inspire, when contrasted with the revolutionary and millennial rhetoric of Communism. I shall argue, though, that the essential problem lies neither with our values, nor with the fact that we sometimes fail to live up to them. The essential problem, in this war of ideas, is that we lack an adequate understanding of our values.

Why is this lack of understanding a problem? If we do not understand our highest ideals, we cannot believe in our way of life. Then, we lack faith in ourselves. And if we cannot believe in ourselves, we shall lack the fortitude to endure the protracted social, political, and military battles that must be fought for the survival of our culture and civilization. Nor will we possess the enthusiasm and the self-confidence that wins hearts and minds, and inspires people of other lands to emulate our way of life. As our confidence ebbs, the despairing specter of Neville Chamberlainism appears. Then, we are doomed to defeat. That is why understanding our higher ideals is vital to our survival. It has rightly been said that powerful nations are often most defeated from within. They lose sight of who they are and cease to believe in themselves.

I’ll confine my discussion here to the value of freedom, or liberty. What is true of Islamic fundamentalists is true of totalitarians of all stripes: they abhor liberty, on the grounds that when people are free, they are free to act immorally. They see the overt sexuality expressed in American films, the greed of capitalism, and the moral flabbiness of secularism in general, as indicative of the immorality and decadence of the West. Similarly, Qutb saw the West as soulless in its materialism.

What, arguments, then, do we bring to bear, in our defense? We rightly accuse our ideological critics of exaggeration. After all, the worst excesses of Hollywood is not representative of the rest of our nation. We also argue for all the many amazing cultural and scientific advancements that emerge from a free society. But, if we are to win this ideological war, we must, to a large extent, defeat the enemies of freedom on their own terms. We must, therefore, get to the very heart of the ideological and theological issue. I.E., since our enemies argue morality, we must argue morality.

Here, then, is the essential point: a constrained morality is not a true morality. If I refrain from stealing because I fear getting my hands chopped off, and if I do not commit adultery because I fear getting stoned to death, then I am not truly moral. Similarly, if I keep my faith because I know that infidels are hung, then mine is not a sincere faith. Outwardly, it may seem that I am moral and righteous, but the outward is no more than a sham. According to St. Augustine, God made us free, knowing full well that if we are free, we could sin. Even were we to eventually see the light, it might take years of sinning before realizing the errors of our ways. That is the consequence of being free. As St. Augustine stated, God made us free because He did not want to be loved by puppets. Only love freely given is true love.

There is absolutely nothing good or noble about a people who obey the rules because they are forced, by fear of a draconian punishments, to do so. (The same argument can be rightfully levied against those Christian denominations, who preach eternal hellfire for those who sin.) Legislating morality, through the threat of violence, fosters fear, subservience, resentment, a search for scapegoats, antisemitism, a sense of being victimized by other groups of people, and a host of other psychological and spiritual maladies. Forced morality does not produce goodness, for goodness is inseparable from freedom. Naturally, there have been good and brave individuals, who have emerged from totalitarian societies, but they have been the exception. Here, then, is the essential point that must be driven home in our war against totalitarianism, in both its theocratic and secular forms: the seeds of true morality flourish in the soil of freedom.

Only by understanding our highest ideals, can a compelling narrative emerge, a cogent explanation and justification of why we are at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am not, of course, suggesting that a war of ideas can obviate the need for a decisive military victory. Quite the contrary, victory on the field of battle lends credence to the superiority of one’s ideology. As the military strategist Carl von Clausewitz argued, when the military and the ideological join forces, there is a powerful synergy.

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2 People have left comments on this post

» Neophyte said: { Jul 11, 2008 - 07:07:40 }

I wish the President of our Country could articilate this to the world. I feel like people would have to see the truth of all this, but I showed this article to two co-workers of mine. One is a radical left-winger and the other a radical right. Interestingly they both were offended by different parts of it and negated it as rubbish. When both sides hate what’s being said, I feel even more confident in it’s truth. :)

» mdillof said: { Jul 11, 2008 - 09:07:30 }


Lao Tzu said that if the truth was not laughed at, it would not be the truth. I suppose that its ability to offend people on both extremes of the political spectrum is, as you point out, also a positive sign.
— Mark

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