It is now five years since September 11, 2001–and since that horrific day we have witnessed numerous additional attacks by Islamic terrorists against the West. In the face of a seemingly never-ending supply of suicidal killers, many still do not understand the motivation of the terrorists. Commentators are eager to offer a bevy of pseudo-explanations–poverty, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc.–while ignoring the motivation the terrorists themselves openly proclaim: Islam.
The near silence about the true role of Islam in motivating Islamic terrorists has two main causes: multiculturalism and religion. Multiculturalism asserts that all cultures are equal and therefore none may criticize another; intellectuals and politicians are therefore reluctant to declare the obvious superiority of Western culture to Islamic culture. And the strong commitment to religion of many Americans, especially conservatives, makes them reluctant to indict a religion as the cause of a massive evil. But if we are to identify the fundamental cause of the terrorists’ actions, we must understand at least two fundamental premises of the religion they kill for.
First, Islam, like all religions, rejects reason as a means of gaining knowledge and guiding action; it holds that all important truths are grasped by faith in supernatural beings and sacred texts. The Koran explicitly states that knowledge comes from revelation, not thinking. (Christianity in pure form entails a similar rejection of reason, but it has been heavily diluted and secularized since the Renaissance.) Islam advocates the subordination of every sphere of life to religious dogma, including the legal system, politics, economics, and family life; the word “Islam” means literally: submission. The individual is not supposed to think independently but to selflessly subordinate himself to the dictates of his religion and its theocratic representatives. We have seen this before in the West–it was called the Dark Ages.
Second, as with any religion that seeks converts, a derivative tenet of Islam is that it should be imposed by force (you cannot convince someone of the non-rational). The Koran is replete with calls to take up arms in its name: “fight and slay the Pagans wherever you find them . . . those who reject our signs we shall soon cast into the fire . . . those who disbelieve, garments of fire will be cut out for them; boiling fluid will be poured down on their heads . . . as to the deviators, they are the fuel of hell.”
These ideas easily lead to fanaticism and terrorism. In fact, what is often referred to as the “fanaticism” of many Muslims is explicitly endorsed by their religion. Consider the following characteristics of religious fanatics. The fanatic demands unquestioning obedience to religious dogma–so does Islam. The fanatic cannot be reasoned with, because he rejects reason–so does Islam. The fanatic eagerly embraces any call to impose his dogma by force on those who will not adopt it voluntarily–so does Islam.
The terrorists are not “un-Islamic” bandits who have “hijacked a great religion”; they are consistent and serious followers of their religion.
It is true that many Muslims who live in the West (like most Christians) reject religious fanaticism and are law-abiding and even loyal citizens, but this is because they have accepted some Western values, including respect for reason, a belief in individual rights, and the need for a separation between church and state. It is only to the extent that they depart from their religion–and from a society that imposes it–that they achieve prosperity, freedom, and peace.
In the last year, there has been more and more of a call for a “War of Ideas”–an intellectual campaign to win the “hearts and minds” of the Arab world that will discourage and discredit Islamic terrorism. Unfortunately, the centerpiece of this campaign so far has been to appeal to Muslims with claims that Islam is perfectly consistent with Western ideals, and inconsistent with terrorism. America has,with little success, groveled to so-called moderate Muslim leaders to strongly repudiate terrorism. (Those leaders have focused little energy on damning Islamic fanaticism, and much on the alleged sins of the U.S. government.) Such a campaign cannot work, since insofar as these “moderates” accept Islam, they cannot convincingly oppose violence in its name. A true “War of Ideas” would be one in which we proclaim loudly and with moral certainty the secular values we stand for: reason, rights, freedom, material prosperity, and personal happiness on this earth.