Talking about the power of faith, with "anonymous" at the CIA

osama_bin_ladenI have been dealing with the side effects of a computer crash for some time now at home, yet another sign that this is a fallen world and that Microsoft may have played some role in events at the Tower of Babel.

But I digress. Several items that I meant to blog some time ago were locked up and I couldn’t get to them. But I still think they are worth noting, because of ties into several ongoing threads here at GetReligion.

The first is a quote appearing near the end of a USA Today interview with Michael Scheuer, who is also known as “anonymous.” Scheuer is a CIA terrorism expert who, at the insistence of the agency, does not use his own name when he writes. This 23-year veteran in the war on terror directed research into the life and work of Osama bin Laden from 1996 to 1999 and his most recent book is entitled “Imperial Hubris.”

It is a book full of scary ideas, both for those who currently run the White House and for those who want to overthrow the current regime in Washington, D.C.

Here is the big idea: Americans cannot seem to accept that the course plotted by bin Laden is logical.

That is, it is logical if he is trying to affect the course of American foreign policy and he is acting on motives that are totally consistent with his faith and worldview. According to “anonymous,” this is precisely what bin Laden is doing and these are also the two crucial concepts that American political, intellectual and media elites cannot seem to grasp.

The policies that the radical Islamists oppose, he argues, are easy to list: (1) Support for Israel that allows the Israelis to dominate the Palestinians. (2) U.S., Western troops on the Arabian Peninsula. (3) Occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. (4) Support for Russia, India and China against the Muslim militants there. (5) Pressure on Arab energy producers to keep oil prices low. (6) U.S. support for corrupt Muslim governments.

And the role of faith? This is where the question and answer transcript ends:

Q: When you talk about the mind-set of the country on the war on terror, where do you think the misconceptions come from? The media, politicians?

A: It’s trite to say, but the idea of political correctness is very, very important in terms of the performance of the intelligence community. How many times has USA TODAY, or The New York Times or The Washington Post discussed the role of Islam as a motivating factor in bin Laden’s appeal in the Muslim world? I can’t remember it very frequently. The director of intelligence and the president say al-Qaeda represents the lunatic fringe of the Muslim world, which, on the face of it, is absurd. But there is no one talking about Islam as a motivating factor for war.

There were times when our ancestors went to war to defend their faith. So, the debate is very constricted, not only in America but certainly within the intelligence community. We do a lot of analysis by assertion rather than by reality. Somehow the argument that someone is fighting for his faith is seen as a negative. So we assert that only gangsters do that. We make bin Laden into a gangster. But it doesn’t get you anywhere.

These are sobering thoughts to say the least. It is so much easier, “anonymous” keeps saying, to assume that one’s enemy is a coward and a lunatic than to assume that he is a powerful and consistent religious leader who has reasons to do what he is doing.

This may also be the case in most newsrooms, where discussions of dangerous religion always involve the word “fundamentalist,” which means lunatic.

But what if bin Laden is not a lunatic and the brand of Islam that he advocates is, in large parts of the world, not a set of fringe beliefs? And what if his beliefs are consistent with the brand of Islam that is being sponsored by Saudi Arabia in some growing sectors of Muslim communities in Europe, North America and elsewhere? In other words, what if our enemy’s actions are rooted in a form of faith that is more discreetly advocated by some who claim to be our allies?

These questions have been bothering journalist Rod Dreher for some time now and he (a friend of this blog) recently explored some of the themes of “Imperial Hubris” in the pages of the Dallas Morning News. He begins by noting that even the 9-11 commission concluded: “The enemy is not just terrorism, some generic evil. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism.” Dreher begins right there:

Golly, ya think? It’s more than a little ridiculous, three years after 19 Muslims flew airplanes into buildings for the greater glory of God, to see a government panel direct Americans to think about the central role that religion plays in this war. But I’m glad it did, because our continued refusal to come to terms with the essentially religious nature of the conflict prevents us from devising effective plans to combat the enemy. …

From a Muslim point of view … Mr. bin Laden can plausibly be seen as a heroic defender of the faith. To be sure, there are many Muslims who don’t accept this view. The point is that bin Ladenism is at least rational within Islam.

The problem, Dreher noted, is not with the worldview of bin Laden. It is with our own worldview, our own culture’s willingness to minimalize the power of religious faith. We cannot grasp what our enemies consider to be real, true and just.

Because we in the secular West have made God a mere hobby, we don’t comprehend how devout Muslims perceive reality. Our materialist-minded leaders prattle on about solving the “root causes” of terror — poverty, illiteracy, lack of democracy and so forth — because we cannot fathom the idea that hundreds of millions of people believe that obeying the God of the Quran is the most important thing in life. … Islam is the issue, not because we want it to be, but because the enemy explicitly says so and is winning more followers by the day by appealing to the religious sense of the world’s Muslims.

That sound you hear is mainstream politicians, intellectuals and media leaders shouting “SHUT UP!”

But surely these ideas can be discussed and debated. Can’t they? Surely they can be reported, along with the views of those who reject them? Right?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • saint

    True, these ideas should be discussed and debated. Some dumb questions though (from a non-American): given these ideas’ incendiary nature – and the fact that many Muslims see a “Christian” imperialist agenda in the “war on terrorism”, how much of this debate should be in the media? And what does one hope to achieve by that? A ban on wahabism? What next? Banning the Baptists who insist their women cover their heads? Political correctness aside, is it perhaps smarter to not play into their hands on this one?

    I am also curious about your image which looks like a book cover – the Greek and Arabic together piqued my curiosity. Any details?

  • jmark

    “But surely these ideas can be discussed and debated. Can’t they? Surely they can be reported, along with the views of those who reject them? Right?” Nope.

    Why? Because we have been duped into believing that freedom of religion actually means freedom from religion. Freedom from religion in all places and forms: freedom in the media, freedom in all public places, freedom in our discussions of ideas – well you get the idea.

    It has actually become not just freedom from religion but freedom from offense. That is – you have no right to offend me (unless, of couse, what I’M saying offends you then freedom of MY speech comes into play).

    “Because we in the secular West have made God a mere hobby.” I say less than a hobby. At least I can discuss my hobbies without enraging others (unless my hobby happens to be killing Bambi with a gun, otherwise known as hunting).

    The secular West has turned any real discussion of God and/or religion into a freedom crime.

    Oh God help us; Lord, save us all.

  • Mary S

    Well, it says in Greek “Osama Bin Laden: Terrorist and Ideologue.” I don’t know what the Arabic says. Below, it may say “Kadmos” publishers in Greek, but I can’t see that for sure.

  • saint

    Thanks Mary. I think the Greek asks a question, “Terrorist or Ideologue?”

    I am curious because I find the popular attitude in Greece rather interesting: a state supported church in the birthplace of ‘freedom and democracy’, which even has to give permission for even a mosque to be built, this staunchly supported by the masses even though most of the younger generation is atheist/agnostic; the popular antipathy towards Albanian immigrants, many of whom are Muslim, and often blamed for increases in crime rates; pro-Palestine; anti-Israel (“because the Jews killed Christ” would be the most frequent answer I would get when asking why); anti-American, or at least not exactly Americaphiles;). It was such a curious mix that I wonder where their heads were at. On a recent trip, I was even chided as an Australian because Aussies are now perceived as Americophiles and somewhat neurotic about security at the Olympics (I am sure there is some politics being played by both our governments on that one).

  • Commentator

    In Britain the liberal-left is sucking up to Muslims, who are present in large numbers in old Labor parliamentary seats. The British government, in the form of Home Secretary David Blunkett, wants to crimnalize ‘hate speech’, so that criticism of Islam would be made illegal. Can’t see Salman Rushdie taking this lying down.

  • http://undergroundbride.com Brahim

    “Well, it says in Greek “Osama Bin Laden: Terrorist and Ideologue.” I don’t know what the Arabic says.”

    It says the same thing in Arabic as does your translation of the Greek. Literally it would be “Osama bin Laden: Destroyer or Thinker?”

    Brahim

  • Mary S

    Thanks, y’all are right. I unconsciously factored in Spanish “y” = “and.”

    Greek for “and” is “kai.”

  • Ed Jordan

    Because the American media feel they can never “privilege” Christianity over other faiths, in order to criticize Islam they will have to in the same breath criticize Christianity. One tack is to criticize not Islam but religious “fundamentalism” of all kinds — branding all as equally bad even though Islamic fundamentalism, at its worst, crushes and incinerates 3000 people at a time, while Christian fundamentalism, at its worst, annoyingly thumps a Bible. (“Ah,” the journalist thinks, “but it REALLY annoys me.”)

  • cbugbee

    Okay, class, time to get real. Or failing that, then at least historical.

    Ed Jordan’s fanciful assertion that Christianity per se is innocent of the lethal impulses, teachings and extreme prejudice of pious intolerance that he assigns to Islam alone simply doesn’t hold water.

    Today’s teachable moment comes to you courtesy of the Heuguenot Wars–you know, the five bloody civil wars that wracked France for most of the last half of the 16th century, which had as their casus belli the efforts of French Protestants (a.k.a. Heuguenots) to gain freedom of worship and the right of establishment.

    As a matter of fact, we’re coming up on the 432nd anniversary of the St. Bartholemew’s Day massacre, which claimed the lives of some 3,000 French Heuguenots in Paris alone (August 24, 1572). By the time the wave of killing ended in October, 70,000 of one kind of Christians had been killed by another kind of Christians. The Pope was happy and issued a special commemorative medal. Protestants were horrified.

    Care to comment?

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