“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
—Walt Kelly’s Pogo
Some months before the invasion of Iraq, a well-known neocon stopped by my office to stump for war. It would all be very easy, he said coolly. We just needed to eliminate a handful of people in Saddam Hussein’s government, and all resistance would crumble. He was so casual about such dirty work that I was moved to ask, in the words of an old western, how many people in Iraq “needed killin’.” He shrugged matter-of-factly and answered, “Two or three thousand.”
Well, we’ve killed many times that, and still more come at us every day with the same idea of driving the infidel Crusaders and Jews from the land of Islam. Ideas, after all, have consequences. Yet many books urging us on to an even wider war tell us less about the ideas of our enemies than about all the people who need killin’. When they do discuss ideas, they offer only ludicrously narrow refutations of terrorism or insanely broad attacks on traditional culture. Witness Michael Ledeen’s paean to “creative destruction” in Against the Terror Masters:
Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace. Seeing America undo traditional societies, they fear us, for they do not wish to be undone. . . . They must attack us in order to survive, just as we must destroy them to advance our historic mission.
My good friend (full disclosure) Dr. Srdja Trifkovic is more precise, to say the least. In both his highly successful Sword of the Prophet and his newly published Defeating Jihad, he names one particular tradition, Islam, as the source of the problem. That is enough to get him jailed in half a dozen European countries, where ethnic insult is officially more offensive than mayhem and murder. In his latest work, however, Trifkovic actually advocates a saner and more humane stance toward Islam than the escalating clash of civilizations currently under way.
Instead of trying to root out every angry Muslim in Mesopotamia, Trifkovic advises a defensive war of exclusion at home and disengagement abroad, a strategy requiring less killing of Muslims but more candor about Islam. “The victory will come not by conquering Mecca for America,” he writes, “but by disengaging America from Mecca and by excluding Mecca from America.”
The problem with Islam is that the religion is essentially a political ideology, albeit one with a metaphysical base. “Politics is not ‘part of Islam,’ a separate sphere of existence which is then eventually amalgamated with Islam,” Trifkovic writes. “Rather, politics is the inherent core of the Islamic imperative of Allah’s sovereignty.” The very word Islam means submission to Allah and sharia, an elaborate legal code based on the Koran and the sayings of Muhammad (Haditha). Sharia claims universal jurisdiction over believers and unbelievers everywhere. It requires unbelievers to submit to Muslim rule and believers to fight for that submission.
There is therefore no possibility of separating church and state in Islam. Indeed, there is no Islamic “church” at all in the Christian sense, no institutional structure of the Muslim umma or community besides the Muslim state. There is also no possibility of accommodating Islam to American democracy, for “Islam itself is a radical, revolutionary ideology, inherently seditious and inimical [to] American values and institutions.”
To meet the threat, Trifkovic recommends a strategy much along the lines of the American response to international communism. Abroad, the United States should oppose the spread of Muslim influence in the Balkans and Caucasus but not meddle directly in Muslim countries. At home, she should subject the Muslim presence to intense scrutiny, as she did the Communist Party in the early 20th century.
Here, Trifkovic does not mince words. He bluntly advises us that spying on Muslims in America is both “justified and necessary” and that mosques should have to register with the attorney general and submit to government supervision like any other “hate group.” Law-enforcement officials should not be discouraged from profiling Muslims, and Muslim Americans should not be granted security clearances. Muslims activists should be deported, whether citizens or not, and immigration of Muslims should be all but ended.
Trifkovic expects that most Americans would welcome such measures, and I suspect that he is right. The public has not been too bothered by revelations of warrantless eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, and a likely reason is that most people believe that the NSA is not listening in on average Americans but on Muslim immigrants phoning home.
There are a lot of things that are very popular with the people but absolutely impossible for their elected representatives, however, and a crackdown on Islam is one of them. It isn’t that Muslims are already so influential in America that our pols must pay them attention. Rather, our own political principles make it virtually impossible to define Islam as an alien influence.
If the “War on Terror” must be compared with the Cold War, we should see ourselves not as the hard-core anticommunists of the pre-McCarthy era but as the desperate Soviet ideologues trapped in their own failing system. Trifkovic himself makes the connection:
The problem of centrally planned economy could not be solved because the solution remained outside the ideological parameters of the decision-making community. To consider capitalism as an option was illegitimate, as it would have demanded a paradigm shift that could not stop short of altering the system as a whole.
“The debate on Islamic terrorism in the United States has the same Soviet quality,” Trifkovic continues. “It rarely touches on the fundamentals of policy or history” but merely quibbles over possible applications of our obligatory assumptions. Judging by the long lines at airport-security gates, we can only conclude that our soviets are working harder to save our assumptions than to save our selves.
The first fatal assumption is the belief that religion does not really matter, that wealth and freedom can fully satisfy the yearnings of the human heart, and that people only need religion when they do not have iPods. Reasoning in this manner, we must conclude that Islam is not to blame for our present conflict, and pointing out that our enemies are all Muslim (and not all poor or uneducated or even Arab) is therefore divisive, unhelpful, and un-American.
A second assumption is that any conflict between Christianity and Islam is Christianity’s fault. Only historical ignorance and anti-Christian animus can account for this assumption, but our ruling elites lack neither. It is telling that the first major film to capitalize on post-September 11 passions (Kingdom of Heaven) depicted the Christians as the villains.
From these assumptions come liberal Europe’s odd tolerance of illiberal Islam and sense of moral obligation to Muslim immigrants. The combination amounts to a civilizational death wish, unprecedented in history. “No other race subscribes to these moral principles,” writes Jean Raspail, “because they are weapons of self-annihilation.”
The evidence Trifkovic adduces for this death wish is appalling. Shortly after September 11, British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed Muslim leaders to 10 Downing Street to tell them, “What happened in America was not the work of Islamic terrorists, it was not the work of Muslim Terrorists. It was the work of terrorists, pure and simple.” Imagine Winston Churchill assuring Oswald Mosley that the Blitz was not the work of German aviators or even Nazi aviators, but aviators, pure and simple.
Europe’s sympathy for Islam has deeper roots than most Americans might imagine. Enlightened libidos eager to cross the bounds of Christian morality were attracted to the legendary licentiousness of the harem and the Turkish bath. (Trifkovic reports that, in England, homosexuality became known as the “Persian” or “Turkish” vice.) At the same time, Islam itself was admired for its simplicity and austerity, in contrast to Christian weakness and decadence. Gibbon openly sympathized with the manly Muslim Turks against the effeminate Christian Byzantines caricatured in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-88), while Montesquieu assumed a Persian perspective to satirize French society in his Persian Letters (1721).
Trifkovic relates this early anti-Christian, pro-Muslim bias to the sympathy of such European leftists as Bernard-Henri Levy for Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo. The Jewishness of Levy and many other European intellectuals only adds to the left’s chronic Christophobia. Even amid a surge in attacks on Jews by Muslims in Europe, European leftists have preferred to point the finger at the usual suspects—“young, disaffected white Europeans, often stimulated by extreme right-wing groups,” according to Beate Winkler, head of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.
Recently, in the wake of attacks in Europe by outright terrorists, European nations have taken modest steps to defend themselves. But simple demographics appear ready to finish what Europe’s feminist, multicultural, anti-Christian elites have started. Birthrates of Europeans throughout Europe are barely half of what is needed for replacement, while the Muslim population of Europe, now 50 million, is expect to double in 20 years. By 2025, Muslims will account for one third of all births in the European Union.
The situation in the United States is more hopeful. There are far fewer Muslims in America (less than two million), and there are many more Christians. Trifkovic writes that, in France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany, more people worship in mosques on Friday than in churches on Sunday, whereas over 80 percent of Americans still call themselves Christians. He does stress the negative, noting that Christians totaled above 90 percent in 1990, while the number of Americans professing no religion doubled between 1990 and 2000. It is true that nominal Christians raise non-Christians nowadays, but it is also true that committed Christians raise more children. Others have argued, on the basis of red-state population growth and recent electoral trends, that the country is becoming more Christian.
Unfortunately, we Americans have our own useful idiots eager to absolve Islam of any blame. There are the editors at Houghton Mifflin who (by my own count) tell schoolchildren ten times in a two-volume set that Muslims are “tolerant,” and ten times in the same set that Christians “persecute” people. There are the producers at PBS who do not question Muslim claims in the miniseries Mohammad: Legacy of a Prophet but make skepticism toward the central tenets of Christianity the basis of the documentary From Jesus to Christ. And there are the politicians (some actually in politics) whose only hope is to con us all, Muslims included, into believing that Islam is a religion of peace and that jihad is only for heretics.
It is an indication of how bad things are that Trifkovic himself at times adopts the rhetoric of the left to make his point, assuming for the reader’s sake that liberal democracy is good and religious discrimination is bad, then carving out an exception that justifies treating this one particular religion illiberally. “No court in a democratic country,” he writes, “should uphold the constitutionality of any measure targeted at a particular religion.” He goes on to say, in the same paragraph, that “the First Amendment should not extend to Sharia because of its inherently discriminatory nature.”
In the course of his book, Trifkovic moves from telling it like it is according to an older Christian understanding of the world to recommending a modern American rationalization of religious discrimination. He insists that Islam itself is “inherently seditious” but recommends action against only “Islamic activism,” defined as
the political act of propagating, disseminating or otherwise supporting “Jihad” . . . , discrimination against Christians, Jews and other “infidels,” discrimination and violence against women and sexual minorities, anti-Jewish bigotry, sanction of slavery, etc.
Trifkovic knows, of course, that the Koran propagates all these things and that there can be no Islam without the Koran. His point seems to be that the Constitution empowers us to ban Islam because of its politics and not because of its religion. “We do not need new legal theories, or a different conception of the First Amendment,” he writes. “[W]e need an educational campaign.”
He might be right about the law. As Justice Jackson pointed out, the Constitution is not a suicide pact, and there is certainly no overestimating the willingness of American jurists, when provided enough political cover, to argue around inconvenient legal obstacles.
It seems to me, however, that a paradigm shift sufficient to get us honestly out of our ideological box would require us to admit that the First Amendment’s Anti-Establishment Clause is a large part of the problem. Any schoolboy can see that, if some religions are inherently seditious, a constitution tolerating all religions invites its own overthrow. Our educational campaign must therefore teach two truths: that Islam is seditious, and that the Founding Fathers were wrong. Teaching the former and not the latter will cause confusion and keep us thinking inside the box.
There is also the danger that the prosecution of “Islamic activism” alone, especially when clouded by the requirement of unrestricted religious freedom, will not protect us from “moderate” Muslims who disavow the seditious aspects of their religion only until they are too strong to oppose. Trifkovic indeed warns that moderates cannot be trusted because Muhammad’s doctrine of taqiyya sanctions dissembling for the sake of Allah. He also warns that nominal Muslims, when demoralized by Western culture, sometimes sincerely rediscover their own true faith—with violent consequences.
What is needed to strengthen this book’s recommendations for a practical response to Islam is a more thorough theoretical treatment of the problem of Popper’s Paradox, which says (in words too plain for Karl Popper himself) that even open societies, if they are to remain open to some, must remain closed to others. A society such as Israel seeking to remain open to all Jews must remain closed to some Gentiles. Likewise, a society such as Belarus seeking to remain open to Orthodox Christianity must remain closed to the likes of George Soros and Michael Ledeen. And if Srdja Trifkovic is right about Islam, a society seeking to remain open to average Americans must remain closed to all Muslims.
This is a difficult truth for politically practical Americans today, but the danger of denying it was foreseen by farsighted Antifederalists such as the Rev. David Caldwell of North Carolina, who complained, at the state convention on ratification, that the Constitution would leave the country open to “Jews and Pagans of every kind,” who might “at some future period . . . endanger the character of the United States.” History has proved Caldwell correct, and the time has come to admit it.
[Defeating Jihad: How the War on Terror May Yet Be Won, in Spite of Ourselves, by Srdja Trifkovic (Boston: Regina Orthodox Press) 335 pp., $22.95]