Blind Faiths

By 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 holy warriors.

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 United States.

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.

By 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 process.

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.

Transformative 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.

Equally 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 out.