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Theological Notebook: The Future of Islam

I wonder what the future of Islam is to be. The Bush administration goes out of its way to indicate that our conflict with Al-Qaida and the invasion of Iraq do not indicate a war against Islam in any way, but if enough Muslims decide that this is the case, then does it effectively become such? And from what I can make out, it seems that this is the popular understanding on the "street" of the Middle East. Problematic.

I don't know what to make of Islam, I admit. Two freedoms that I took as necessary for my Christian belief--the freedom to investigate and critique the historical roots and claims of the Christian faith (contrary to Mr. Rushdie's baffling remark), and the freedom to choose to not be a Christian if I determined that Christianity was not true--are not freedoms that are found in Islamic culture. There is essentially no Islamic historical examination of the roots of Islam, probably because Muslims might find some of their beginnings on the fringe of heretical Christianity and Judaism to be problematic. What is, after all, to be made of the fact that some of what Muhammad writes about Christianity is just plain wrong: the results of the limited research or street-level knowledge of a merchant driver? Normally, nobody would find the occasional misreporting of things on hearsay to be terribly significant. What about when your report is inerrant Scripture? Problematic. Then there's the freedom to disbelieve. People in our culture take it for granted that the ability to truly believe something is predicated on the freedom to disbelieve. How many real Muslims are there in the Middle East? How many people believe without the threat?

I noticed two articles discussing the future of Islam that made me have to consider the possibilities. Salman Rushdie, who made his name on attacking the current shape of Islam, gave in today's Times of London a call for a "Muslim Reformation." I don't know that everything in his call would constitute "reformation," as much as the kind of "capitulation" that we're familiar with from the 20th century's liberal Christianity that reduced itself to just a social code reflecting the fashionable thought of its day, but the heart of the matter--that Islam has in no way dealt with modernity, or even the fact of history (and isn't that modernity's main thrust?)--in any serious way. Is "reformation" in this form possible in Islam, or will this be read entirely as a surrender to the mores of the Secularists? Is Rushdie at all capable of being the person to make such a call, or will his articulation here in fact make such reformation even more less likely?

The other article of note that I include here is from the Roman writer Sandro Magister, some of whose essays I found of interest during the conclave in April. Magister is a long-time correspondent for the leading weekly newspaper in Italy, L’Espresso and is also Professor of Contemporary Church History at the University of Urbino. His piece that I copy here discusses Islamic terrorism and the Christian response to it in the light of the "Clash of Civilizations" theory put forward by Harvard's Samuel P. Huntington. This is a more complicated article than Rushdie's straightforward call for a Islamic Reformation. This controversial paradigm--which if you haven't heard of it, you ought to brush up on it through the linked Wikipedia article because it is becoming one of the common catch-phase theories of geopolitics--is here discussed because of the attempts of some to either cast or invite Vatican response (or, less happily, sound bites) that would fit or repudiate the idea. I have less to say on this matter. I've read Huntington and Fukuyama, and I tend to be suspicious of "catch-all" theories that explain human history too easily (remember the Domino Theory?). The human "system" seems a bit too complex for that. Still, I think Huntington's articulation of "civilizations" respects that diverse complexity perhaps more than Fukuyama's too-smooth prediction of the triumph of Western liberalism does. In the Huntington paradigm, though, the inability of Islam to change and adapt seems to obviously be a huge inclination toward such "clash." Is war with Islam inevitable because of the very nature of Islam? Given how much one hears of a "conquest" mentality of Islam (particularly young Islam?) toward the West because of the West's disenfranchisement of its own Christian heritage, which is (mistakenly?) read as a sign of the West's cultural weakness in resisting Islam, the "clash" paradigm continues to have a dreadful sound of inevitability to it at times. That dread, it is here argued, is inappropriate. A significant part of the argument offered is that Islamic terrorism or terrorist organizations do not fit the criterion of Huntington's "civilization." Very likely, in a strict sense. What I think we have yet to see is a true, cross-culture disavowal of these movements. Despite Bush and Blair gushing about the peacefulness of "real" Islam, what reporting I've seen from the streets and preachers of everyday Islam is that the fundamentalist version of Islam we see is mainstream Islam. Perhaps it's a problem of reporting, but without a sense of a strong majority of the Islamic culture denouncing and resisting such action, it feels like we are left to wonder as to whether these groups are or are not the leading edge of their civilization as it faces the West.

Muslims unite! A new Reformation will bring your faith into the modern era
Salman Rushdie

August 11, 2005

WHEN Sir Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, admitted that “our own children” had perpetrated the July 7 London bombings, it was the first time in my memory that a British Muslim had accepted his community’s responsibility for outrages committed by its members.

Instead of blaming US foreign policy or “Islamophobia”, Sacranie described the bombings as a “profound challenge” for the Muslim community. However, this is the same Sacranie who, in 1989, said that “Death is perhaps too easy” for the author of The Satanic Verses. Tony Blair’s decision to knight him and treat him as the acceptable face of “moderate”, “traditional” Islam is either a sign of his Government’s penchant for religious appeasement or a demonstration of how limited Mr Blair’s options really are.

Sacranie is a strong advocate of Mr Blair’s much-criticised new religious hatred Bill that will make it harder to criticise religion, and actually expects the new law to outlaw references to Islamic terrorism. He said as recently as January 13: “There is no such thing as an Islamic terrorist. This is deeply offensive. Saying Muslims are terrorists would be covered [ie, banned] by this provision.” Two weeks later his organisation boycotted a Holocaust remembrance ceremony in London, commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz 60 years ago. If Sir Iqbal Sacranie is the best Mr Blair can offer in the way of a good Muslim, we have a problem.

The Sacranie case illustrates the weakness of the Government’s strategy of relying on traditional, but essentially orthodox, Muslims to help to eradicate Islamist radicalism. Traditional Islam is a broad church that certainly includes millions of tolerant, civilised men and women, but also encompasses many whose views on women’s rights are antediluvian, who think of homosexuality as ungodly, who have little time for real freedom of expression, who routinely express anti-Semitic views, and who, in the case of the Muslim diaspora, are — it has to be said — in many ways at odds with the (Christian, Hindu, non-believing or Jewish) cultures among which they live.

In Leeds, from which several of the London bombers came, many traditional Muslims lead lives apart, inward-turned lives of near-segregation from the wider population. From such defensive, separated worlds some youngsters have indefensibly stepped across a moral line and taken up their lethal rucksacks.

The deeper alienations that lead to terrorism may have their roots in these young men’s objections to events in Iraq or elsewhere, but the closed communities of some traditional Western Muslims are places in which young men’s alienations can easily deepen. What is needed is a move beyond tradition — nothing less than a reform movement to bring the core concepts of Islam into the modern age, a Muslim Reformation to combat not only the jihadi ideologues but also the dusty, stifling seminaries of the traditionalists, throwing open the windows of the closed communities to let in much-needed fresh air.

It would be good to see governments and community leaders inside the Muslim world as well as outside it throwing their weight behind this idea, because creating and sustaining such a reform movement will require, above all, a new educational impetus whose results may take a generation to be felt, a new scholarship to replace the literalist diktats and narrow dogmatisms that plague present-day Muslim thinking.

It is high time, for starters, that Muslims were able to study the revelation of their religion as an event inside history, not supernaturally above it.

It should be a matter of intense interest to all Muslims that Islam is the only religion whose birth was recorded historically, its origins uniquely grounded not in legend but in fact. The Koran was revealed at a time of great change in the Arab world, the 7th-century shift from a matriarchal nomadic culture to an urban patriarchal system. Muhammad, as an orphan, personally suffered the difficulties of this transformation, and it is possible to read the Koran as a plea for the old matriarchal values in the new patriarchal world, a conservative plea that became revolutionary because of its appeal to all those whom the new system disenfranchised, the poor, the powerless, and, yes, the orphans.

Muhammad was also a successful merchant and heard, on his travels, the Nestorian Christians’ desert versions of Bible stories which the Koran mirrors closely (Christ, in the Koran, is born in an oasis, under a palm tree). It ought to be fascinating to Muslims everywhere to see how deeply their beloved book is a product of its place and time, and in how many ways it reflects the Prophet’s own experiences.

However, few Muslims have been permitted to study their religious book in this way. The insistence within Islam that the Koranic text is the infallible, uncreated word of God renders analytical scholarly discourse all but impossible. Why would God be influenced by the socioeconomics of 7th-century Arabia, after all? Why would the Messenger’s personal circumstances have anything to do with the Message?

The traditionalists’ refusal of history plays right into the hands of the literalist Islamofascists, allowing them to imprison Islam in their iron certainties and unchanging absolutes. If, however, the Koran were seen as a historical document, then it would be legitimate to reinterpret it to suit the new conditions of successive new ages. Laws made in the 7th century could finally give way to the needs of the 21st. The Islamic Reformation has to begin here, with an acceptance that all ideas, even sacred ones, must adapt to altered realities.

Broad-mindedness is related to tolerance; open-mindedness is the sibling of peace. This is how to take up the “profound challenge” of the bombers. Will Sir Iqbal Sacranie and his ilk agree that Islam must be modernised? That would indeed make them part of the solution. Otherwise, they’re just the “traditional” part of the problem.

Copyright 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd.

Required Reading: A Brief Catechism on the Clash of Civilizations
Everyone is talking about it, but few know what it is. The Vatican is confusing matters. Pietro De Marco analyzes Islamic terrorism and the Christian response to it in the light of Huntington's theory

by Sandro Magister

ROMA, August 1, 2005 – "There is no clash of civilizations, there are only small groups of fanatics," Benedict XVI responded last July 20 to a journalist who asked if Islamic terrorism shows that a clash of civilizations is underway. The pope had been besieged by journalists during his first public appearance outside the protected solitude of his mountain retreat, at Les Combes in Introd, close to Mont Blanc, and this was one of his fragmentary responses.

But on July 7, a few hours after the terrorist attacks in London, in an interview broadcast by the major television networks, cardinal secretary of state Angelo Sodano expressed himself differently: "I appeal to the many men of good will to be found in all religions. In the name of the same Father who is in heaven, we must end this clash of civilizations."

That same day, in a preview granted to the press of the telegram of condolences for the victims, the Vatican secretariat of state defined as "anti-Christian acts" the terrorist attacks in London, an expression that was modified for the final statement to read "barbaric acts against humanity." The media interpreted this modification as indicating disagreement among the Vatican leadership over whether to accept or reject the thesis of the "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the Christian West.

The following Sunday, July 10, Cardinal Sodano defended the appropriateness of characterizing Islamic terrorism, and indeed any terrorist act, as anti-Christian. And on July 23, he further stated that "terrorism is against man, it is anti-human, but it also goes against the law of God, and thus it is anti-Christian."

Nevertheless, on July 25, again under siege from the journalists as he left the little church of Introd, Benedict XVI gave this response to the person who asked him if the terrorist bombings could be defined as anti-Christian:

"No, on the whole [their] intention seems much more general to me, not precisely against Christianity."

And to the question of whether Islam is a religion of peace:

"Islam certainly contains elements that can favor peace. It also has other elements. We must seek always to find the best and most helpful elements."

* * *
The last spate of terrorist acts carried out by Muslims has reignited the debate over the most famous geopolitical theory of the last decade. It was formulated by Samuel P. Huntington in his 1996 book "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order," and before that in his essay with the same title on "Foreign Affairs," vol. 72, n. 3, Summer 1993, pp. 22-49.

In general, Vatican authorities avoid using the formula "clash of civilizations." But in rejecting that formula they do not clarify whether they also mean to deny the reality that it signifies. The review of Huntington's work published by the semi-official magazine "La Civiltà Cattolica" in its October 16, 2004 edition also remained vague on this point. Nor can the scanty statements that have been pried out of Benedict XVI in recent days be construed as fully elaborated theses.

In reality, the "clash of civilizations" theorized by Huntington – whether it is being praised or, more often, reviled – is, in the first place, a great unknown quantity. It is more a rhetorical weapon than an analytical tool.

Applied correctly, Huntington's theory does not interpret as a "clash of civilizations" the attacks carried out by Islamic terrorism. But this does not mean that these attacks, and their antagonism toward Christianity, are to be considered of little relevance or even to be dismissed outright.

This is the argument of Pietro De Marco, an expert in religious geopolitics and a professor at the University of Florence and the Theological Faculty of Central Italy, in the essay that follows:

On Terrorism, the Cultural Challenge, and the Clash of Civilizations

by Pietro De Marco

"But then, why take the risk of fighting? Is there a war on? My response is yes, there is a war, and I believe that the responsible thing to do is to recognize this and say so." Thus spoke the president of the Italian senate, philosopher Marcello Pera, in remarks that have since become famous, during a "dialogue" in May of 2004 with then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

He continued: "In much of the Islamic and Arab world, groups consisting of fundamentalists, radicals, and extremists […] have declared a holy war against the West […]. Why shouldn't we take note of this?"

At the same time, many in Italy and the rest of the world who take part in the debate over terrorism object that there is no anti-Christian threat and that the West, as a civilization, is not the object of any sort of war. Symptomatically, the opposing sides have tried recently to appropriate the statements of Benedict XVI and at the same time, perhaps, to influence them.

And yet, especially in the countries that have been affected by the recent attacks, one notices a return of the expression "clash of civilizations." The essential question for opinionists and political forces seems to be this: is the terrorist phenomenon of Al Qaeda the armed expression that reveals the reality and seriousness of the clash – the war – going on between Islamic society and Western-Christian civilization, or isn't it? It is a dramatic question to which one should respond in a rigorous manner.

The clash of civilizations is not an opinion. The decision about the appropriateness of adopting this formula publicly is, of course, left to the freedom or constraint of the communicating subject. But in the realm of autonomous judgment, affirming or denying the phenomenon will depend upon a disciplined use of the terms. This usage is and must remain strictly connected to the definition given by Samuel P. Huntington. Introducing different definitions does nothing but increase the difficulties of communication, and it makes it impossible to distinguish divergences of judgment with any success.

Does the phenomenon of terrorism fit the symptoms of Huntington's "clash"? Islamic intellectual and political figures unquestionably and explicitly express themselves in anti-Christian terms, but does this mean that a civilizational "clash," in the true sense, is taking place? Does affirmation of the mutual incompatibility of the world views produced by the intellectual classes constitute acknowledgment of a "clash"?

In strict adherence to Huntington's terms, the answer is no.

In that case, does this mean affirming that the anti-Western component of avant-garde Islamic groups is only a superficial phenomenon? Or that terrorism is a phenomenon with no overall strategy, and thus lacks a civilizational aspect, being motivated instead by political and economic unrest in the Muslim world? Or that antagonism toward Christianity on a universal scale, as is sometimes exhibited by the Islamic intelligentsia, should be considered of little relevance?

Again, the answer is no.

From this we derive an initial methodological note of caution, which I would formulate in this way: it is not necessary to construe an explicit conflict of cultures as a "clash" of civilizations in order to recognize its extreme gravity on a worldwide scale. The continual contrast between the supporters of the "clash" theory, with their dire warnings, and those who, denying that there is a "clash," trivialize the phenomena taking place, indicates how Huntington's formula is frequently used for nothing more than rhetorical purposes.

1. What the clash of civilizations means.

For Huntington, recourse to the category of "civilization" does not mean that the terrain upon which the collisions between worldwide forces takes place can have any sort of form and be localized anywhere, almost as if it were a "liquid" reality after the manner of Zygmunt Baumann.

Quite to the contrary: realistically, it signifies that the battleground upon which political and economic supremacy and the control of peoples have always been contested has been occupied once again for reasons and aims that touch upon the deep identity of major entities, and upon their assertion on a universal scale.

The enormous aggregates that Huntington calls civilizations are "commonalities" of forms of belonging, identities, and objectives that redefine themselves and reinforce their position on a global level.

In "civilizations," nations recognize that they are related to one another, and they arrange themselves in hierarchies on the level of continents and beyond, with effects that are perfectly visible to us:

"In the post-Cold War world, culture is both a divisive and a unifying force. Cultures can change […]. Yet the major differences in political and economic development among civilizations are clearly rooted in their different cultures […]. Cultural commonalities and differences shape the interests, antagonisms, and associations of states […]. Global politics has become multipolar and multicivilizational".

The fault line wars, which are symptomatic phenomena of the clash of civilizations (it should not be overlooked that Huntington is a scholar in international relations), are true armed conflicts. The metaphor appears at the very beginning of Huntington's essay of 1993:

"The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. […] The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future".

The complex war in the Balkans was one of these fault line wars. Another example of a fault line war could be an armed confrontation between the U.S. and China on the border with Taiwan, or between India and China for Asian hegemony.

Huntington brought back to our attention what the liberal and materialistic-revolutionary theory of history, a theory with secularist origins, labored to exclude from modernity: historical and religious origins, the courage and dignity derived from belonging, battles between differing views of ultimate truth. In this context, Huntington's theory was both simple and disturbing, as every brilliant theory is.

A merely ideological and nihilistic group like Al Qaeda, therefore, is not a true civilizational subject. Vital elements of a civilization are states (with borders, capacity for cooperative action, armies) and the reasons of state (which retain this identity even when they incorporate values). Al Qaeda, in its very theological formulation and origin, as also in its organization and extension, is independent of the reason of state (even if it can be used by individual states) and in certain respects it is antagonistic toward it. Besides, the various forms of modernization and indigenization are hardly compatible with the purism of a radical battle.

Paradoxically, if the cloak of neutrality toward terrorism on the part of the Muslim countries were construed as a passive conglomerate hostile toward the West awaiting the results of the assault by Al Qaeda, one would obtain a picture much more consistent with the clash of civilizations outlined by Huntington.

2. The nature of the challenge and the Western-Christian response.

Reference to the clash of civilizations, as applied to terrorism, is therefore outside of Huntington's paradigm. The figure of suicide terrorism is an apocalyptic figure, and certain aspects of its objectives transcend history. Dying and killing for the sake of a cause corresponds to a gnostic-emancipatory model. It is not a clash of civilizations, because what is taking place is not a clash in Huntington's sense in terms of its structural aspect, which must always be a real collision of armies, even if these are guided by cultural motives.

The repeated affirmation that terrorism is the new mode of warfare is mistaken (and it frequently arises from an attitude of comprehension for terrorist combat tactics), as any rigorous student of international relations could argue. The new order in Iraq was instituted through a real war. And it will not be demolished by terrorism, while it could be destroyed, to take an absurd hypothesis, by the intervention of an armed force stronger than the American one.

But if the challenge from terrorism now underway is not a true clash of civilizations, does that mean it lacks power and does not constitute a challenge to the West and to Christianity? No, on the contrary. The challenge from Al Qaeda, whose purism is capable of generating a desire for martyrdom, is a sectarian challenge to all of the forms of Westernization, which are also interpreted as a pervasive Christian universalism.

Like all terrorist strategies, this one also aims at obtaining one of two incompatible results, either one of which Al Qaeda thinks it can use to its advantage. The aim is to either break the opponent or make him more inflexible. In breaking him, the hypothesis is that the adversary is resting upon an order that is always on the verge of collapsing, just as the Twin Towers collapsed. The alternative is to make him more inflexible, for example in terms of public order, provoking internal conflict and revolt.

But as has always been the case before, these are expectations that are bound to be disappointed, because they are ideological-moralistic. No society has the building structure of the Twin Towers. Much less will any society dissolve from within if it is called to close ranks in order to defend itself.

The anti-Christian component of the challenge, beyond the formulas based on the "crusades" worthy of popular propaganda, is found in the challenge to the Christian capacity for endurance. At this point it is a moral confrontation and a confrontation of nerves, but, in the end, of rationality. Unlike a clash between civilizations, the penetration of the extremists counts upon mastering our souls through fear. Thus they are correct who appeal to Christian culture and rationality as the sources of our ability to understand what is happening and resist it.

But it is not the time for us to apologize in the face of the terrorism that strikes us, just as it is not the time to interpret the terrorism of Al Qaeda as representing an entire Huntingtonian civilization at war with the West.

3. Between Huntington and Fukuyama: a symptomatic nexus.

Since the debut of Huntington's theories, it has been objected that the "real" clash of civilizations (in a sense divergent from his from the start) is not between, but within, world cultures. This objection, which bears the stamp of the Enlightenment, is intended to nullify Huntington's innovation and, at the same time, repropose after the upheavals of 1989 an image of the world acceptable for the evolutionist or moralistic ideologies of history, according to which the only clashes worthy of attention are the "progressive" and emancipatory ones.

In reality, the assertion that there are profound cultural collisions – collisions of "Weltanschauung" – taking place within a civilization-continent is not a corrective, and much less a refutation, of Huntington's thesis. It signals something else. The controversy within Western society over biological and genetic technology, as divisive as this may be, is not a conflict or collision between civilizations in Huntington's sense. Clashes between civilizations and within them can coexist quite well, remaining unmistakable.

Just so, Huntington's perspectives and those of Francis Fukuyama, author of "The End of History and the Last Man," also coexist without opposition – no matter what the kneejerk reaction of refined opinion says. Over the course of a few years, Huntington discovered the large-scale return of the timotic dimension (from the Greek thymós: will, anger, the capacity and willingness to assert oneself and challenge the other) that Fukuyama had extensively elaborated, but which he had not foreseen as being capable of opposing the destiny of the "end of history."

The end of history is the annihilation of man in an ultimate fulfilment, in an ecstasy with no possibility of self-affirmation or self-recognition. Fukuyama derived this theory from Hegel, through one of the great philosophers of the twentieth century, Aléxandre Kojève. In a famous text new published in 1968, Kojève had noted that in his final condition, man would live as an animal: an "animal in harmony with nature, or being as it appears," and who would eventually oppose himself and others as mere form, indifferent to the contents.

Fukuyama and Huntington thus converge in a "discordia concors." It is true, in fact, that in the sphere of the confrontation among civilizations the impulse of self-affirmation brings with it conflict and destruction. But at the same time it is also true that the emergence of "the last man" hinges upon the profound transformation of the world as it undergoes Westernization. It is a prophecy that threatens to come true for the West precisely in a full-blown clash of culture and identity.

What is the source of both the overhasty affirmation and the overhasty denial of the clash of civilizations? It arises from an undue reduction, within public debate, of the concept of civilization to that of culture as a system of ideas or customs.

Thus what in Huntington is a total confrontation of armies and economies, of technology and the capacity for mass mobilization or the unification of ethnic groups on a continental scale, is reduced for the purposes of discussion to a clash over "ways of life".

It should be noted that the latter terrain of confrontation is shared by those who sound the alarm over the challenge to Western-Christian civilization and by those who denounce the attack against our values inspired by the Enlightenment and democracy.

The target of the terrorist campaign, it has been written, is ourselves and our daily activities in their liberty and casualness: "to take the bus or the subway, to make love or not, to amuse oneself or not, to feel one's freedom of movement." Some may recall that after September 11 Salman Rushdie wrote in "The Guardian" that the way to respond to this challenge and its effects on our lives was to continue as before: kissing in public places, wearing the latest fashions; with generosity, music, beauty, freedom of thought.

The terrorist challenge has always aimed at striking the manifestations of daily life as such. But precisely for this reason it is intrinsically trans-civilizational. The terrorism that strikes Baghdad does not objectively have the same cultural effects as the terrorist attacks on London or Sharm el-Sheikh. One does not live as a Londoner in the Iraq of today, and far less did one live so in Iraq before the war.

4. Three final points.

The first. It is symptomatic that the notion of civilization is made to coincide with a manner of life consecrated by various freedoms, especially those aimed at safeguarding the individual as such. My opinion on this point is a drastic one: neither the great liberal tradition of the ethical state nor Christian political culture should be afraid if limiting the range of freedom should eventually be made necessary by terrorist attacks.

The experience of "exceptional circumstances," a longstanding tradition in wars among states, has taught the West to impose and lift temporary restrictions on rights as warranted by the circumstances. Complaints in regard to this area are only a symptom of weakness, because our strength consists precisely in our certainty that we will be able to reactivate whatever is temporarily suspended. In other words, if this were the terrain of the clash of civilizations, the war would be won on account of the West's ability to close ranks, not without costs, but without backing down.

The second. The idea that the terrorists want to strike us in the area of our liberties in order to force us to be like them is a misleading suspicion. How can one seriously think that a terrorist action, which gains its advantage precisely from the utmost protection of liberty and the extremely lax defenses found in the democratic order, could be intended to tighten restrictions?

The apocalyptic-negative tension that accompanies the suicide bomber should not be confused with the strategy of the one who sends him on his mission. Terrorism induces terror; terror is the loss of energy, the collapse of one's defenses and ability to make clear decisions; in terror one is at the mercy of the other. Those who plan terror count upon our moral fragility and our inability to tolerate pain and constraint, no less than upon the practical difficulties of responding effectively to the aggression. He is afraid if we are decisive. Even if he is afraid of being contaminated by us, he prefers us to be libertarian and hedonistic. He counts upon the whims that feed his spite, and he hopes the there will be those who will justify them. But he is wrong, and it is simply because the heart of the West is not here.

The third. The fear that the clash of civilizations is an attack against our way of life contains a worse illusion, which provides an ideological weapon for the adversary. The idea that our life, in its variety and informality, is a powerful defense and an effective means for promoting modernization, is an argument that is frequently repeated these days, and it isn't wrong. But as a strategy for confrontation and resistance, it is the equivalent of entrusting oneself to chance, or rather of hoping that the "others" will be weakened by the effect of the corruption they have received from us, by contagion.

Trusting that the confrontation of cultures will corrupt the ethos of the other to the point of discouraging antagonistic violence is an error, in terms not only of ethics but of political reasoning. And this is true for at least two reasons.

It is true above all because the other, who is aware of the strategy, reinforces his own internal cohesion and consistency, creating an impenetrable defense.

Furthermore, our own calculation produces within us a haphazard diagnostic short circuit. Is the "theocratic" control of behavior and freedom of thought (a control that is not so unknown in the West) what produces terrorism? Obviously not. This is in part because terrorism has its own political culture, an anarchical-revolutionary model of European origin. A pretty paradox, that.


English translation by Matthew Sherry
Tags: historical, islam, philosophical, political, theological notebook

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