Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Dangerous Power of Radical Islam

Some time back, I read Paul Berman's penetrating treatise on the challenge of post-9/11 Islamist extremism, Terror and Liberalism. It's a must read.

Berman, who's intellectually to the left of the spectrum, woke up to the terrorist challenge like many other liberal hawks after the collapse of the Twin Towers.

He's got an essay today at the New York Times, "
Why Radical Islam Just Won’t Die." Check it out:

THE big surprise, viewed from my own narrow perspective five years later, has taken place in the mysterious zones of extremist ideology. In the months and weeks before the invasion of Iraq, I wrote quite a lot about ideology in the Middle East, and especially about the revolutionary political doctrine known as radical Islamism.

I tried to show that radical Islamism is a modern philosophy, not just a heap of medieval prejudices. In its sundry versions, it draws on local and religious roots, just as it claims to do. But it also draws on totalitarian inspirations from 20th-century Europe. I wanted my readers to understand that with its double roots, religious and modern, perversely intertwined, radical Islamism wields a lot more power, intellectually speaking, than naïve observers might suppose.

I declared myself happy in principle with the notion of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, just as I was happy to see the Taliban chased from power. But I wanted everyone to understand that military action, by itself, could never defeat an ideology like radical Islamism — could never contribute more than 10 percent (I invented this statistic, as an illustrative figure) to a larger solution. I hammered away on that point in the days before the war. And today I have to acknowledge that, for all my hammering, radical Islamism, in several of its resilient branches, the ultra-radical and the beyond-ultra-radical, has proved to be stronger even than I suggested....

The entire sequence of events [since the invasino of Iraq] may suggest that America is uniquely destined to do the wrong thing. All too likely! But it may also suggest that America is not the fulcrum of the universe, and extremist ideologies have prospered because of their own ability to adapt and survive — their strength, in a word.

I notice a little gloomily that I may have underestimated the extremist ideologies in still another respect. Five years ago, anyone who took an interest in Middle Eastern affairs would easily have recalled that, over the course of a century, the intellectuals of the region have gone through any number of phases — liberal, Marxist, secularist, pious, traditionalist, nationalist, anti-imperialist and so forth, just like intellectuals everywhere else in the world.

Western intellectuals without any sort of Middle Eastern background would naturally have manifested an ardent solidarity with their Middle Eastern and Muslim counterparts who stand in the liberal vein — the Muslim free spirits of our own time, who argue in favor of human rights, rational thought (as opposed to dogma), tolerance and an open society.

But that was then. In today’s Middle East, the various radical Islamists, basking in their success, paint their liberal rivals and opponents as traitors to Muslim civilization, stooges of crusader or Zionist aggression. And, weirdly enough, all too many intellectuals in the Western countries have lately assented to those preposterous accusations, in a sanitized version suitable for Western consumption.

Even in the Western countries, quite a few Muslim liberals, the outspoken ones, live today under a threat of assassination, not to mention a reality of character assassination. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-Dutch legislator and writer, is merely an exceptionally valiant example. But instead of enjoying the unstinting support of their non-Muslim colleagues, the Muslim liberals find themselves routinely berated in the highbrow magazines and the universities as deracinated nonentities, alienated from the Muslim world. Or they find themselves pilloried as stooges of the neoconservative conspiracy — quite as if any writer from a Muslim background who fails to adhere to at least a few anti-imperialist or anti-Zionist tenets of the Islamist doctrine must be incapable of thinking his or her own thoughts.

A dismaying development. One more sign of the power of the extremist ideologies — one more surprising turn of events, on top of all the other dreadful and gut-wrenching surprises.
I'd like to see Berman elaborate his points further, particulary with regard to the United States in Iraq.

You see, Berman took the entire foreign policy establishment to task Terror and Liberalism. National security elites, in his view, have not taken new threats as seriously as they should, and while he suggests here that we've perhaps made mistakes in Iraq - even, let's say, stoked the hornet's nest - he illustrates that it's not essentially U.S. policy that is the danger, but Islamist fundamentalism outright.

That's a point the radical left cannot accept. To them the greatest danger is the U.S. and America's alleged neo-imperialism. Consequently, some activists on the hard-left work to aid the forces of Islamist terror in the destruction of our country.

So in that sense, there remains some of that "ardent solidarity" Berman mentions, a solidarity on working toward the utter annihilation of the world's leading liberal capitalist state.

For more to that effect, see my previous post, "Where's the Revolution? Wait Until November".