The West can’t defeat Jihadists with secularism

The West can’t defeat Jihadists with secularism December 16, 2008

According to Elizabeth Scalia of the Anchoress blog, argues that Winning This War Requires Language of Faith:

It is with the language of faith that Islamic terrorism must be engaged and defeated, and therein lies the disconnect for the diplomatic West. Having reasoned itself out of faith, its incomplete arsenal is fit for battle, but not for victory. The West can speak only of borders, boundaries, markets, and measurement. Faith exists beyond boundaries and borders; it defies markets and measurement. The negotiables of the West are worldly and “the world” means nothing in the face of paradise. Islam, like all faith, is not of this world but of the world to come. Islam’s extremists, like all extremists, would like to speed their agenda along.

Jihad is not interested in acquiring land, or money, or even control, which faith understands to be illusory. What these extremists want is submission. To their book or to their sword.

We should consider that Islamic terrorism may not be defeatable, except on its own terms, on the battlefield of the supernatural.

To secularists and avowed agnostics who work to expunge all religious language from governments, that idea is anathema. I doubt it makes many Christians or Jews happy, either. But the war on terror is as much about ideas and ideals as about security and strategy. If one side’s ideas are mayhem in service to transcendence and the other side is thinking about meetings and signed papers, then secular Western diplomacy is boxing with one glove.

Silencing the language of faith in public discourse and policy weakens the West’s ability to engage and defeat an enemy entirely motivated by relentless theology. By failing to speak in the same language, it has no weapons for victory, short of destroying whole cities.

President-elect Barack Obama, with his Muslim roots and confessed Christianity, may be about to learn what President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair seemed always to have understood — that a vocabulary of faith must be deployable in the war on terror, or that war will never be won. Jihad does not care about the vaunted compassion, consensus-building, or tolerance of the West; it will use all of those things against the West, in pursuit of its very soul.

Radical, fundamentalist Islam “knows” it has God on its side. The West, like a leery coach unsure what to do with a controversial player, has put God on the sidelines during a most crucial playoff.

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  • Perhaps we can give them Kant followed by Kierkegaard instead of religion and gut theirs too? perhaps by agreement with the federal bailout of the university system we can transplant the universities to Baghdad and give everyone who wants a free deeducation.
    I do get a fair kick out of people, though, who think we can win the war on terror by corrupting the Muslim youth with Britney Spears etc. I imagine that too often that approach would send a group of guilty feeling teenagers to the frontlines of the war on terror to make up for their earthly sins. And then the plus side is they get all those virgins in paradise, so where it is a guilty pleasure here on earth, when they make up for it with a bomb belt, they get exactly what they wanted in the first place. No, our plan of attack has to be drastically different than that.

  • Kirk

    I’m going to have to disagree with the above comment and the post. Judging by the number that secularism has done on our own, formerly fundamentalist society, I think that it has a fair chance against Islam. The problem is not in its efficacy as a weapon against extremism, the problem is in the conclusion that it leads its defeated enemies too. Can secularism transform radical Islamists? Yes, but it will transform them into secularists.

  • CRB

    I believe Scalia is “right on!” However, since Islam is of the devil and the Word of God is the only thing that can and, indeed, does drive the devil away, and our nation believes in separation of church and state (rightly so!) how does one go about doing battle with such an enemy when secularists are on the devil’s side for the most part. I believe that Islam will be the last scourge against the church, but then I also pray for the Lord’s return soon!

  • Kirk,
    Before secularism can defeat an ideology like Islam, the foundation of Islam needs be gutted. That is what Kant and Kierkegaard ended up doing to western Christendom, both in their own ways.
    Until then the joy of listening to Britney Spears and watching her videos, will tend to have the effect of creating insatiable guilt amongst the teens especially as they get older. Far from softening their radicalism it will radicalize them, especially in a religious system that does not know forgiveness. Many many of these extremists are actually nothing more than pious Muslims trying to make up for their failures in the same way Catholics take pilgramages etc to make up for theirs. The difference is Jihad replaces the pilgrimage.

  • Michael the little boot

    “… a vocabulary of faith must be deployable in the war on terror, or that war will never be won.”

    Why does anyone think this is a war that can be won? Terrorists are like the hydra. And we are without Hercules and his buddy with the torch.

  • Peter Leavitt

    The West will defeat the Jihadists with neither secularism nor the language of faith in that the savage terrorists are interested in establishing Sharia Law under a Caliphate; they will be defeated, as they have been in Iraq, by strong political will under Pres. Bush, hard fighting and smart counter insurgency warfare.

    At best a language of faith will help at the margins by influencing peaceful, moderate Muslims, though the reality is that most moderate Muslims lack the courage to stand up against the savage Jihadi terrorists that have given their religion a bad name.

    The fight against “enlightenment” secularism is a crucial domestic one in the West. Should we continue to lose it, the Islamic radicals and assorted other savages will manage to take over the West, leading probably to some sort of domination by assorted Asians.

  • Don S

    I guess my problem with the post, as I understand it, is that we are talking, largely, about two utterly opposed faiths. The language of Christian faith, by our government leaders, in and of itself, will do nothing to sway or change a Muslim’s heart. It will be so much cross-talk, much as we have today, with our secular words and value system opposing their Muslim words and entirely different value system.

    To truly influence and change the heart of Islam, and particularly radical Islam, will take a moving of the Holy Spirit. We need to pray for that. Short of such a working of the Spirit, the only faith talk that could potentially have an effect, on the margins, would be a concerted effort by moderate, peace loving Muslims to work in a concerted way to win the hearts of the young in radical Middle East cultures. But, we don’t seem to see much effort on the part of moderate Muslims, even in this country, to speak out against the perverted views of their radical counterparts. Maybe it’s fear?

  • FW


    1) the biggest recruitment tools for jihad have been guantanamo e abu gherab.

    2) the best inteligence we have gotten so far was from a prisoner who was not tortured, realized from that that the americans were not the devils he was lead to believe they were, and so started cooperating because of that.

    3) the recent levin-mccain report on our government´s use of torture was approved UNANIMOUSLY by the senate committee that wrote it. that report says unambiguously that our president and high ranking officials approved the use of the exactt same torture techniques used by the communists and the fascists.

    If we would stick to our principles as we did in WWI and WWII, we would not need to discuss the role of religion i do not think. morality IS morality. and torture is immoral. always.

    We must be perceived as treating our prisoners according to the highest and most humane civilized standards. and afford them all the legal niceties of due process as well (just as we did in the nuremburg war trials which were NOT show trials…). The idea then was to honor the Rule of Law. now we are lost……

    to legalize torture base on some sort of twisted logic is to pervert the rule of law in a satanic way. ALL men can be made to do inhuman things. we ALL need the rule of law to restrain us.

    the senate report tells us that those pictures of sgt england holding a leash with a prisoner on the other end and sexual humiliation techniques were approved by the highest level of our government (the presidency). we were told that it was “a few bad apples”. now we know from the BIPARTISAN senate report that that was simply a lie.

    and the press drones on about the Ill governor….. it seems this issue threatens the very soul of our country.

  • Peter Leavitt

    FW, in WW II, Pres. Roosevelt tried civilian enemy combatants with military courts; most of them were executed.

    The terrorist civilian enemy combatants for the most part have been treated well in
    Guantanamo and even mostly in Abu Gherab considering that they don’t have the rights of proper uniformed warriors. Some of the worst of them have been subjected to aggressive, though legal, interrogation techniques that, according to George Tenet, yielded very valuable evidence.

    It is rather a myth that we have “legalized” torture against this bunch of savage mass murdering terrorists. Could you cite any specific evidence of this? I’m afraid you have been smoking too much of the hard Left dope.

  • Michael the little boot


    What about suspending habeas corpus? And what about making things legal – such as the actions you describe – in order to permit things we feel are inhumane?

    I think the real question is, how far are we willing to go to protect ourselves? If we are willing to go as far as we’ve gone, one wonders if we would rather lose our “soul” as a nation than simply accept we live in this uncertain and unsafe world.

  • Michael the little boot

    And I realize Lincoln suspended habeas corpus as well. I’m not as huge a fan of his as history has been so far. So that’s not an answer that holds water for me. Not that it doesn’t hold water, just not with me. I’m willing to admit my bias. I’m definitely in the minority in this opinion.

  • Frank writes :”If we would stick to our principles as we did in WWI and WWII” Hmm those world war 2 principals that led to the fire bombing of Dresden and Tokyo and the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagisaki? Thank God that we moved away from those vicious principals. Nothing we have done in this war on terror, and I am not in favor of agressive interogation techniques, nothing compares to the atrocities we commited in WWII.

  • Michael the little boot

    Greg, I’m not trying to single you out. I am curious why it is there are fans of aggressive interogation techniques at all. There doesn’t seem to be evidence the information gathered from these techniques is all that accurate. I’m looking for answers to this question from whoever would like to answer.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Greg, it’s rather easy from the perspective of over sixty-years, after winning a severely hard-fought war against brutally dangerous fascist enemies that sought to dominate Europe and Asia, to talk about American “atrocities” during WWII . It’s interesting to me that so many American pacifists and isolationists of late have climbed so high on their moralistic hobby horses.

  • FW

    #13 Greg Devore

    I agree Greg. wwii was a real turning point. it was also when we decided that the enemy of our enemy is our friend and allied with one J stalin who committed atrocities that make even the ones you mention seem pale. from that came our cozying up to some rather ruthless dictators in an effort to stop communism and creating the taliban to fight the russians. ends do not justify means.

    having said that, truman was faced with trying to invade japan after seeing what happened in okinawa. he calculated, probably correctly, that many many more lives would be lost, civilian and military, by trying to invade Japan. I am not sure that the moral calculation of that meant it was right to bomb civilians deliberately, there or in dresden, but, as with torture, those are moments when our real morality is exposed huh?

  • FW

    #15 peter

    for the record I am not a pacifist nor an isolationist. and I do not oppose war. I do oppose really dumb wars, of which, the one we have in iraq is a prime example.

    Our president recently in an interview, agreed that our reason for entering that country were proven to be unfounded and his retort was “so what?!”

  • FW

    back to the original post….

    it is very very unclear to me exactly what this post is proposing. should we put stuff like “in god we trust” into greater circulation? would the god-talk in the usa include muslims talking about their god as well? are we talking about prayer in public schools or making christianity somehow the unofficial or implicit religion of the land? what in the heck is she proposing in concrete terms? any idea dr vieth???

  • Michael the little boot

    FW @ 18,

    I agree with Don S on this one, at least to a point. Talking about God from a Christian perspective, or about Jesus as God, is not going to have a positive effect on the Muslims of the world. As Don said, these faiths – Christianity and Islam – are utterly opposed to each other. Also, Jihadists are a radical faction within Islam. I mean, all Muslims might wish for whatever their “end-of-the-world” scenario might be – their version of the “end times” – but most don’t strap bombs to themselves. I have a hard time believing most Muslims support that kind of extremism in any way. The average Muslim yearns for the end of the world in the same way the average Christian does; but neither does anything to hasten it, other than maybe pray. Which is not terrorism, IMO. 😉

    Unfortunately, I have nothing to offer as an alternative. Mostly because I’m not sure there is one. We can only hope people who wish to bring about the end of the world are compelled in a different direction.

  • Don S

    FW @ 9: is your post relevant to the discussion of this thread? Regardless of the issues of treatment of terrorist prisoners, in Guantanimo, Abu Graib, or wherever else, the atrocities of 9/11, The Cole, WTC 1993, Achille Lauro, Pan Am 103, TWA 847, etc. all pre-dated 9/11. So to suggest that our treatment of prisoners is the causation for current terrorist recruitment in the Middle East, or has worsened such terrorism against Americans is nonsense. Nor will the reversal of these practices make it go away. We have had fewer threats to our safety since 9/11 because of our aggression toward terrorists, and our vigilance. Nothing else has been ever proven to work. They hate us because of our status, not because of our actions.

  • Michael as I said I am not in favor of agressive interrogation techniques. I believe those who favor them believe that information gleaned from them can be used to save lives. It is simply another end justifies the means argument. We all fall into such arguments at one time or another the question is where do you draw the line.

  • Peter You are correct that I am an isolationist. You are also correct that given the choices our war leaders face at that time I might have made the same choice. My point is that we can’t idealize the past. We haven’t behaved in this war in a more treacherous manner then we have in previous wars. Wars produce difficult choices and do not always bring out the best in people. I am not passing judgement, I have the same corrupt nature as others.

  • Michael the little boot


    I totally agree. I missed the “not” when reading your comment, so I thought you said you were okay with aggressive interrogation. Apologies! I think, as you said, we should always be careful when talking about something in terms of the ends justifying the means.

  • john

    For another perspective on terrorism and torture listen to and click on Wednesday,Dec 17 edition of show. Dec 15 is interesting as well.