Review taken from the excellent Catholic Family News here & below
Faith, Reason, and The War against Jihadism. By George Weigel. Doubleday. $18. 95
Sunday, 15 June 2008
Francis Phillips writes : George Weigel is Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Centre in Washington DC and the author of many books exploring the relationship between faith and culture. Here he brings his voice to the urgent debate that has arisen since 9/11 2001 and the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, asking: what are the right tools for winning the war against terror? In this thought-provoking brief survey he examines the history of jihadism and the weaknesses and strengths of the West in facing it. In this he leans heavily on the work of two scholars of modern Islam, Lawrence Wright and Bernard Lewis. His book is divided into three parts: understanding the enemy, rethinking realism and deserving victory. It should be read by, among others, all thoughtful atheists (not an oxymoron).
The war against jihadism itself reflects a more fundamental war: the war between a faith, Islam, followed by over a billion people around the world, that is usually seen as impervious to reason, and the West, which increasingly trumpets a reason divorced from faith. It is Weigel's contention that the West cannot win the war against terror unless and until it resolves its own internal metaphysical conflicts. This is a battle of ideas as much as one of conventional weaponry. Here the author's potent analogy is the West's approach to Communism after 1945: we believed it was a bankrupt political system compared to ours and we believed that ordinary people behind the Iron Curtain would eventually come to know this if they did not do so already. Confidence, patience and diplomacy were to prove us right.
Critics of this analogy will state that a religion, especially one as ancient and formidable as Islam, cannot be approached like a political system. No, but important lessons can be learnt. At first we need to understand and respect it, which is difficult when the US Government is dominated, as Weigel says, by a 'genteel secularity'. In the UK it is less genteel than aggressive; both are inadequate in facing the problem. 'Islam has given meaning and purpose to hundreds of millions of lives that have been nobly and decently lived', he states. What ideas of nobility and decency can we offer to Muslims when our western societies seem increasingly dominated by secularism, consumerism and moral relativism and when we 'do not take religious ideas seriously as a dynamic force in the world's history'? Where we see 'progress', they are inclined to see decadence - and perhaps they are not entirely wrong.
On a personal note here, I take several Muslim pupils for private English tutoring. During Lent I happened to have my Bible open on my desk. My pupils all remarked on this with interest and approval; they were clearly comfortable in the company of a fellow believer in a transcendental view of life, although recognising the huge differences between Christianity and Islam.
Pope Benedict XVI, in what has come to be seen notoriously as his 'Regensburg Address' but which, not insignificantly, was actually a lecture on 'Faith, Reason and the University' pointedly remarked that 'a reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering the dialogue of cultures.' It is not widely known that, after the immediate and immoderate reaction to his lecture in some Muslim quarters, the Pope received an 'Open Letter' in response to his challenge to dialogue, signed by 38 prominent Islamic leaders around the globe, in which they distanced themselves from jihadism. Western diplomacy, contends Weigel, needs to follow the Pope's lead.
To do this with confidence we need, as the author says, to 'reclaim the history of the West'. We have allowed this history to be hijacked by vehement and articulate atheists who dominate the media and who have persuaded the ignorant (most people) both that the 18th century Enlightenment was the herald of all the modern democratic freedoms we take for granted and that it was preceded by a long 'dark ages' of Christian superstition, religious bigotry and persecution. This is bias on a big scale. Freedom actually began with the coming of Christianity and its emphasis on the intrinsic worth and dignity of every human being. Enlightenment thinkers built on the foundations of Christianity even as they and their progeny were kicking away these foundations.
To appeal to Muslim moderates, of whom there are millions behind the 38 who wrote to the Pope, we have to demonstrate to them that the greatest achievements of the West are not merely technological or scientific, important though these are; they are, as Professor Roger Scruton says, 'works of spiritual grace and high culture.' Some of them, such as the magnificent Gothic cathedrals dotted around Europe, are detailed in the late Kenneth Clarke's fine TV series, Civilisation. What Weigel describes as our 'self-imposed dhimmitude', that is, our self-abasement towards Muslims and our acquiescence to Muslim pressure, such that in the UK we have financed mosques and madrassas that preach contempt for our way of life, must be seen for what it is, moral cowardice, and rejected; we have to believe our culture worth preserving - or, as Churchill so pugnaciously put it during the last War, we have to 'deserve' victory.
Weigel wryly observes that we are not going to 'convert 1.2 billion Muslims into good secular liberals.' As should be obvious by now in Iraq and Afghanistan, we cannot also impose our own democratic systems on people who have never known them and who, at least in Afghanistan, are essentially tribal. What we can and must focus on is respect for pluralism and religious tolerance, respect for the rule of law and commitment to persuasion, not coercion. In Islam the fusion of temporal and religious authority - the theocratic state - is an obstacle; there is no mention in the Qur'an of 'rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and rendering unto God that which is God's' which led in the West, albeit slowly, to an understanding of the distinctive roles of church and state.
And yet the jihadist tradition in Islam, the desire to compel worldwide submission to Allah, an impersonal God of absolute will, is not the only tradition. After 9/11 I was reminded by friends of Islam's one-time intellectual creativity, openness to rational enquiry and to the influence of Greek philosophy. I would remind them that Avicenna and Averroes died over 800 years ago; and Weigel reminds us in these pages that a pitifully few Western books have been translated into Arabic in the last 1000 years; indeed, that the Renaissance, the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment all passed without effect in the Islamic world. Nonetheless, he cites Bernard Lewis who points to a different Muslim history that existed before Arab authoritarianism developed momentum in the 18th century, hardening into jihad in the 20th: a tradition that allowed consultation, limited responsible authority and government under law.
Weigel's book raises the possibility of the jihadists obtaining nuclear power; this alone makes the requirement of dialogue imperative. Commentators such as Alasdair Palmer, reviewing Philip Bobbit's book, Terror and Consent: The Wars for the 21st Century, take a depressingly conventional view of this subject: death, for jihadists, is the point of the struggle; their obtaining nuclear power within a decade is a terrifying certainty rather than a terrifying possibility; and therefore America and her allies must fight violence with (pre-emptive) violence. This book, though supporting the US invasion of Iraq (if not its chaotic, un-thought out aftermath) describes an alternative strategy: to fight flawed and distorted ideas with stronger and more convincing ideas, ideas that do not separate reason from faith and that do not debase the proclamation 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' of the founding fathers of America into life for some but not others, moral licence and the pursuit of hedonism. 1456.18
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