Ayaan Hirsi Ali
New York Times, January 6, 2008
Edited by Andy Ross
The Suicide of Reason
Radical Islam's Threat to the Enlightenment
By Lee Harris
Lee Harris considers the very worst possibility — the destruction of the
West by radical Islam. There is a sense of urgency in his writing.
Harris distinguishes between two kinds of fanaticism. The first is
Islamic fanaticism, a formidable enemy in the struggle for cultural
survival. Harris views Islamic imperialism as a single-minded expansion
of the religion itself. The expansion of Islam is perhaps more potent
than the expansion of the Christian empires because the concept of
separating the sacred from the profane has never been acceptable in
Islam the way it has been in Christianity. The weapon of fanaticism
obligates each member of the umma to convert infidels and to threaten
those who attempt to leave with death.
The second fanaticism
Harris calls a fanaticism of reason. Reason blinds Western leaders to
the true nature of Islam. Harris argues that fanaticism is the basic
principle in Islam. The collective is emphasized above the individual
and his freedoms. A good Muslim must forsake all: his property, family,
children, even life for the sake of Islam. Boys are taught to be
dominating and merciless, which has the effect of creating a society of
By contrast, the West has cultivated an ethos of
individualism, reason and tolerance. This ethos rejects fanaticism.
Enlightenment thinkers argued that human reason is fallible. They
understood that reason is a process of trial and error, the ability to
learn from past mistakes. The Enlightenment cannot be fully appreciated
without a strong awareness of just how frail human reason is.
Harris takes a Darwinian view of the struggle between clashing cultures,
criticizing the West for an ethos of selfishness, and he follows Hegel
in asserting that where the interest of the individual collides with
that of the state, it is the state that should prevail. This is why he
attributes such strength to Islamic fanaticism. Each Muslim is a slave,
first of God, then of the caliphate.
Harris extols American
exceptionalism together with Hegel as if there were no contradiction
between the two. But what makes America unique is its resistance to the
philosophy of Hegel. It is the individual that matters most in the
I was raised with the code of Islam. Yet I have
adopted the values of the Enlightenment. And I am not alone. Muslims
have been migrating to the West in droves for decades now. They are in
search of a better life. Yet their tribal and cultural constraints have
traveled with them. And the multiculturalism and moral relativism that
reign in the West have accommodated this.
Harris is correct that
many Western leaders are woefully uninformed and often unwilling to
confront the tribal nature of Islam. The problem, however, is not too
much reason but too little. Harris also fails to address the enemies of
reason within the West: religion and the Romantic movement. It is out of
rejection of religion that the Enlightenment emerged; Romanticism was a
revolt against reason.
Both the Romantic movement and organized
religion share a hostility to modernity. Moral and cultural relativism
are the hallmarks of the Romantics. To argue that reason is the mother
of the current mess the West is in is to miss the major impact this
movement has had, first in the West and perhaps even more profoundly
outside the West, particularly in Muslim lands.
It is not reason
that accommodates and encourages the persistent segregation and
tribalism of immigrant Muslim populations in the West. It is
Romanticism. Western leaders are squandering a great opportunity to
compete with the agents of radical Islam for the minds of Muslims. But
to do so, they must allow reason to prevail over sentiment.
Jihad Then and Now
By Lee Harris
Hoover Institution, Oct-Nov 2006
Edited by Andy Ross
The Legacy of Jihad
Edited by Andrew Bostom
In our current climate of political correctness, there has been a
reluctance to acknowledge the most obvious facts about the nature of
jihad. Some have argued that the true meaning of jihad is the struggle
within the soul of each Muslim to overcome his own failings and sins.
Bostom demonstrates that the historical institution of jihad did not
mean a personal and individual struggle against evil or the nonviolent
pursuit of a just cause, but rather a violent struggle by the entire
Muslim community against those outsiders who were not Muslims.
European standards, a just war is a war of self-defense or a war fought
to preserve a stable balance of power. The concept is dependent on the
acceptance of the legitimacy of a pre-existing status quo. Islamic jihad
refused to recognize the legitimacy of any status quo other than that
achieved in Dar el-Islam, or the domain of peace. Outside the domain of
peace there was only the domain of war, and here no entity could hope to
be treated as representing a legitimate order. It is the goal of jihad
to destroy the status quo of those outside the ambit of Islam in order
to expand its realm.
Bostom devotes a large segment of his book
to accounts of various historical jihads and provides overwhelming
evidence of the fanaticism, brutality, and ruthlessness of the Muslim
holy warriors. In the case of jihad, there was always an alternative to
subjugation and extermination — you could convert to Islam. If those who
choose to convert are looked upon as members of the community of the
faithful and no longer as infidels, then there will be a powerful
incentive to convert. Jihad was a devastatingly effective institution.
For the Arab philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun, when a civilization
becomes too sedentary, it becomes ripe for conquest by those who are
still warlike and driven by a fanatical sense of mission. Superior
wealth and superior civilization were no guarantee that those who
possessed them could hold on to them in the face of small but determined
bands of fanatics united by a sense of what he called group feeling.
If jihad were being used simply as a means of conducting
Clausewitzian warfare, it would be a relic of the past. If Muslim
civilization only decided to clash with ours, we could clash back, and
with overwhelming military force. But the jihadists are not interested
in winning in our sense of the word. They can succeed simply by making
the present world order unworkable.
The chief strength of any
established order is order. It is always in the interest of the
established order to avoid risking disorder. In the
clash-of-civilization paradigm, the enemy of a particular established
order needs only to make the established order reluctant to act out of
fear. This fear of anarchy can be used to paralyze the political
Al Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology
By Lee Harris
Hoover Institution, Aug-Sept 2002
Edited by Andy Ross
On September 11, 2001, Americans were confronted by an enigma so
baffling that even nomenclature posed a problem. An act of violence on
the magnitude of 9-11 can only have been intended to further some kind
of political objective. Surely people do not commit such acts unless
they are trying to achieve some kind of recognizably political purpose.
The composer Karlheinz Stockhausen called 9-11 "the greatest work of
art of all time". It was the enactment of a fantasy. For the fantasist,
the other is always an object and never a subject. A subject has a will
of his own. And anyone who is aware of this fact is automatically put at
the disadvantage of knowing that other people have minds of their own
and are not merely props to be pushed around.
belief is the secret of fantasy ideology. Its purpose is not to describe
the world, but to change it. The terror attack of 9-11 was crafted as a
spectacular piece of theater. The targets were chosen by al Qaeda
entirely because they stood as symbols of American power universally
recognized by the Arab street. The purpose of 9-11 was not to create
terror in the minds of the American people but to prove to the Arabs
that Islamic purity, as interpreted by radical Islam, could triumph.
What al Qaeda and its followers see as central to the holy pageant of
9-11 is the heroic martyrdom of the 19 hijackers.
In the fantasy
ideology of radical Islam, suicide is not a means to an end but an end
in itself. Seen through the distorting prism of radical Islam, the act
of suicide is transformed into that of martyrdom. The symbolic drama
enacted by al Qaeda on 9-11 was a great ritual demonstrating the power
of Allah, a pageant designed to convey a message not to the American
people, but to the Arab world.
If this interpretation is correct,
then it is time that we reconsider some of our basic policy in the war
on terror. First, if our enemy is motivated purely by a fantasy
ideology, it is absurd for us to look for the root causes of terrorism
in poverty, lack of education, a lack of democracy, etc. Such factors
play no role in the creation of a fantasy ideology.
absurd is the notion that we must review our own policies toward the
Middle East in order to find ways to make our enemies hate us less.
There is no political policy we could take that would change the
attitude of our enemies — short, perhaps, of a massive nationwide
conversion to fundamentalist Islam.
Second, we need to reconsider
the term "war" as it is currently deployed in this case. We are fighting
an enemy who has no strategic purpose — whose actions have significance
only in terms of his own fantasy ideology. It matters not how much
stronger or more powerful we are than they — what matters is that God
will bring them victory.
The fantasy ideology of radical Islam is
a form of magical thinking. Our "real" world is utterly secular, a
concatenation of an endless series of cause and effect. But the "real"
world of radical Islam is different — its fantasy ideology reflects the
same philosophical occasionalism that pervades so much of Islamic
theology. If God is willing, the United States and the West could
collapse at any moment.
In the initial aftermath of 9-11,
President Bush continually spoke of al Qaeda not as terrorists, but as
evildoers. Combat with evildoers is not Clausewitzian war. You behave
with them as you would deal with a fatal epidemic — you try to wipe it