It is a pretty rare day when I find myself agreeing whole heartedly with what a liberal has to say. But in this case, that is exactly what has occurred. Paul Berman, the 'Philosopher of Islamic Terror', has written an extremely insightful piece for the New York Times (23 March, 2003)
In this piece he briefly expounds the philosophical origins of some of the most prominent Islamic terrorist organisations of the 20th century. Berman's take on the 'war on terror' is not so much that it is a 'clash of civilisations', or races, or even cultures, but rather a clash of ideas, a war of worldviews.
Much of the inspiration for modern fundamentalist Muslims may be traced back to Egyptian philosopher Sayyid Qutb. Qutb provided the philosophical interpretation of the Koran that has inspired Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisation. Qutb the thinker, was the Karl Marx of Al Qaeda, to paraphrase Berman.
So what we are experiencing with Islamic terrorism is not just a simple clash of civilisations, but rather a clash of ideas, a clash between western liberalism and Islamic fascist philosophy; clearly something that transcends national and cultural boundaries.
Qutb's strategy was to work out a philosophy of Islam that is able to permeate the personal and public life of all Muslims. Sharia law was to be applied to every personal detail of one's life, including severe punishment for sexual crimes. The believer's heart and mind was to be so suffused with love for the Koran that it would be expected of them, if necessary, that they be killed for the cause of God. Berman quotes Qutb
"But the death of those who are killed for the cause of God gives more impetus to the cause, which continues to thrive on their blood."
Berman comments on the writing of Qutb
"To read is to glide forward toward death; and gliding toward death means you have understood what you are reading."
There was no advocating of separation of church and state like we have in the west. No divide between sacred private and secular public life. A ruling Caliphate was the only option, hence Qutb expresses outrage when in 1924 Turkey embraces a secular state. Islam becomes relegated to the private and loses true influence.
Thus Qutb would divide the world between Muslims and non-Muslims, and those Muslim countries that accepted American influence were traitors to the cause. Qutb also saw a world-wide effort on the part of "Crusaders and Zionists" to destroy Islam. Much of his Koranic commentary is dedicated to the Jews, he describes their "perfidy, greed, hatefulness, diabolical impulses, never-ending conspiracies and plots against Muhammad and Islam". We witness here the seeds of Jewish hatred that would blossom amongst future fundamentalist Muslims.
Qutb's writings were deep and extensive, he wasn't just some simple minded extremist blurting out bigoted epitaphs against Jews and Christians. He taught and lived out (and eventually died for) an all encompassing worldview.
And so here we have an account of the philosophical origins of modern Islam. Berman would argue that this provides much of the impetus to wage war against the secular west and Israel. Berman's unfolding of the true source of Islamic terror puts the Left's simplistic "its the fault of American foreign policy" argument to shame. How condescending and ignorant is the Left when they implicate that Muslim extremist actions are nothing but reactions to American hegemony. As if the terrorists themselves are less like rational, moral, autonomous individuals with free choice, and more like billiard balls knocked around the table by western cue sticks!
No, far from it. These people are acting according to their beliefs and they hate the west because of who we are and not so much because of any injustice that we have committed. Thus Berman recommends we fight with more than just tanks and bombs. We must wage an ideological war, we must put forward cogent arguments in defence of western ideas and western liberty.
Better advice on the 'war on terror' I have not heard. The west would do well to heed the words of Berman and start putting forward forceful arguments for our worldview instead of resorting to politics and military efforts that does not strike at the heart of the conflict.