Ever since the attacks of September 11, 2001 Americans across the political spectrum have been seeking to “understand” terrorism. We’re very good at this sort of thing. It’s a part of our national character commented on by such diverse intellects as de Tocqueville and Winston Churchill. We are a nation of problem solvers, tinkerers, do-it-yourselfers; we’re good at taking things apart to get at the nub of a problem be it a faulty condenser or where to build a railroad.
What we’re not so good at is “understanding” the motivations underlying human behavior for which most of the evils of this world both past and present can be ascribed. In truth, understanding the nature of evil has not been one of our strong suits. We have either hugely simplified it using “the devil made him do it” explanation or more recently, refused to acknowledge that evil even exists. That doesn’t stop us from trying to catalog, chart, ponder, pontificate on, and generally make an intellectual mess of trying to explain and understand the historical and philosophical forces that are responsible for the connection between modern Islam and terrorism.
The problem is that Islam itself resists such scrutiny. Caught up in a world where the basic tenets of their religion clash with the reality of life confronting its nearly 1 billion adherents, Islam is in need of some serious introspection. The old verities are no longer adequate comfort for young Muslims who see the rapid pace of change in non-Muslim countries and ache to participate in some meaningful way in the adventures available to their 21st century counterparts. This is especially true in Europe where segregated immigrant societies seethe with discontent over being left off the train pulling the engine of progress both in their adopted homeland and back home where their extended families – extremely important in Arab culture – waste away in poverty and bitterness.
For us, it becomes too easy to overgeneralize when looking at Islam as it’s dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. It is this resistance that forms the basis of terrorism.
When talk show host and NRO contributor Michael Graham took a stab at trying to describe this resistance by Islam to modernity by claiming that the religion itself was a terrorist organization, he was fired for his trouble. Mr. Graham had just returned from an emotional first hand look at the War on Terror in Iraq and I wish his detractors would have cut the man some slack for that reason. He was, after all, not saying anything that can’t be found in many comment threads and discussion forums on the net. The fact that he’s a radio talk show host with many thousands of listeners should not have made much of a difference. After all, the great advantage of living in a free society is that when one hears something they disagree strongly enough with on the radio or television, they can switch the infernal machine off or change the channel to something more agreeable.
I do it all the time. Whenever I hear the Reverend Al Sharpeton start talking, I generally either switch off or switch over. Sharpeton’s hate-filled rants appeal to both a certain segment of the African American population as well as the mainstream press. He does not appeal to me. Hence, the Reverend’s rants are cause enough for me to tune him out.
If enough people do that, Mr. Graham then gets fired for poor performance, not for saying what he thinks, even if many believe what he said was wrong. However, in Mr. Graham’s case, his employers – who initially stood by him – eventually caved in to pressure from the professional victimhood society of CAIR. The Council on American Islamic Relations – several members of which have been indicted and convicted for aiding and abetting terrorists – has proven its power with the media many times in the past. The Fox TV show “24” was actually forced to change a story line so that Muslims wouldn’t be portrayed in a purely negative light. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in some of these meetings between CAIR and network execs just to see how the terrorist apologists frightened a major network so much that halfway through filming their number one hit series, they changed the plot to accommodate them.
In Mr. Graham’s case, there was an organized attempt to boycott advertisers for the station. This tactic is as American as apple pie and proves that when it comes to apologizing for terrorists, CAIR will even invoke the tactics used by its putative enemy.
What CAIR or any other so-called “moderate” Islamic group cannot do is to refute Mr. Graham’s thesis point by point. To recognize that there is even a discussion about whether Islam itself is the problem would open the door to introspection. And at the present time, this is something that Islamic culture simply is incapable of doing.
It was much the same with the United States regarding the issue of slavery. For four score and seven years, the issue colored politics in the US the same way that terrorism now colors any discussion of Islam. And like our ancestors – both North and South – we couldn’t deal with the fundamental issue that was both the reason and moral justification for slavery; that our Constitution codified it, made it legal, indeed burned it into the soul of the democratic process by assigning a value of 3/5 of a human being to those held in servitude for purposes of Congressional representation. The way that power itself was exercised depended on slavery.
So like a beetle enmeshed in a spider’s web, there simply was no way out. The threads that bound slavery to our political process also precluded any discussion of getting rid of the spider. To do so would open doors to changing too many things. The South had developed both an economy and a culture that wound the spider’s threads so tightly around it that only the radical surgery of civil war could break them. That surgery took almost 100 years to recover from and to this day still colors some of our politics.
So it is with Islam. The spider has woven a web that has enmeshed its adherents in bloody resistance to change both for the religion itself and for the societies where believers live. The justification for the blood can be found in their “Basic Law” of the Koran. Unlike our Constitution which has a process for amendment, the Koran being the word of Allah does not have the same luxury. Hence, there is no way to approach the problem from a purely religious point of view. In fact, any re-interpretation of the Koran will only exacerbate the problem as the resulting schism will serve to further radicalize those who refuse to accept the change.
This is why our current policy of trying to reform the political societies where terrorism is nurtured has a chance of succeeding. By modernizing politics in those benighted countries, there’s a chance that eventually people will stop looking for justification to kill from their Holy Book and instead look for reasons to live. The medieval Christan church found plenty of justification in the Bible for burning witches, killing Jews, and torturing heretics. It wasn’t until the rise of nation states in Europe with the subsequent loss of power by the Church that people stopped looking for justifications to punish and instead looked to the Bible for a way to live in a modern world that these practices mostly died out.
We can only hope for something similar to happen with Islam. When I hear people say that what Islam needs is a Martin Luther King, Jr. I have to disagree. They don’t need a King: They need a Martin Luther to nail 95 reasons to live to the door of a mosque.
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