2002 October 20 Sunday
Mark Steyn Reflects On Bali: We Are All Infidels

Mark Steyn says we can easily understand the Islamists if we just take them at their word:

The French were supportive for about ten minutes after 11 September, but for most of the last year have been famously and publicly non-supportive: throughout the spring, their foreign minister, M. Védrine, was deploring American ‘simplisme’ on a daily basis. The French veto is still Saddam’s best shot at torpedoing any meaningful UN action on Iraq. If you were to pick only one Western nation not to blow up the oil tankers of, the French would be it.

But they got blown up anyway. And afterwards a spokesman for the Islamic Army of Aden said, ‘We would have preferred to hit a US frigate, but no problem because they are all infidels.’

No problem. They are all infidels.

Unlike Mr Fisk, I don’t have decades of expertise in the finer points of Islamic culture, so when people make certain statements and their acts conform to those statements I tend to take them at their word. As Hussein Massawi, former leader of Hezbollah, neatly put it, ‘We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you.’ The first choice of Islamists is to kill Americans and Jews, or best of all an American Jew — like Daniel Pearl, the late Wall Street Journal reporter. Failing that, they’re happy to kill Australians, Britons, Canadians, Swedes, Germans, as they did in Bali. We are all infidels.

There are Leftist apologists in the West who insist upon believing that the Islamists do not really mean what they say. The apologists argue that Islamists are angry over legitimate grievances and that if we would just try harder to redress their grievances then the appeal of radical Islam would recede and we would have peace with the Muslim countries. This interpretation is in a sense condescending to the Muslims because it stuffs them into a Western Leftist intellectual category that ignores their own professed beliefs and motives. Western standards of fairness and justice (albeit of a Leftist variety) are applied to the Muslims to try to puzzle out exactly why they might be mad. The Leftists impress their own reasons for anger at their own societies onto their image of Muslims. The Leftists advance these arguments so much that some of the more secular Muslims latch on and parrot them back again. But our hardest core enemies among the Muslims describe their anger and contempt using very different language. It is language we need to listen to even as we reject their values.

We can understand the radical Islamists but only if we are willing to take a less rosy view of humanity and of politics. Are the Islamists simply reacting to poverty and oppression in anger and frustration? That's a nice explanation in many ways. Just lift them out of poverty, support democracy in their countries, and our fight with them would be over. The description of the problem suggests a solution and the solution is one that can be solved by lots of money and legions of workers willing to help in political and economic development. In this view all people would be really nice and tolerant if only they were not themselves oppressed. This dangerously naive belief is a myth whose delusive influence on our thinking we can no longer afford. We can not effectively fight our enemies unless we are willing to admit that we differ with them on questions of basic values.

Why don't more people admit there is a clash of values between civilizations ala Samuel P. Huntington? Because that admissions requires one to accept a more bleak and pessimistic view of human nature. The acceptance of a pessimistic view results in one seeing the world as a much more dangerous place and the world's problems as much less tractable. It means giving up on dreams of utopia in this life. It is therefore not surprising that many resist believing the reasons why our enemies oppose us.

The acceptance a more pessimistic outlook is not our only need if we are to understand the nature of our enemies. Humility is also needed. We need to accept that we can't always reason with those who oppose us in order to find common ground and a mutually acceptable solution. We need to accept that we can't solve the problems of the world and can't make everyone happy and peaceful. We need to accept that we haven't created a civilization with universal appeal.

Just because our values are not universally held is not a reason to think any less of them. Also, a more realistic view does not require that we walk around feeling perpetual gloom. If we can accept the depth of the differences that divide us from our enemies we will be more intellectually equipped to reduce the size of the threat that our enemies pose to us. If an increasing number of Westerners develop a more realistic view of the nature of our enemies that would be reason for optimism for our ability to meet the threats we face.

What are the prospects for a more realistic view of our enemies? With each new terrorist attack launched at different locations around the globe and with more Westerners lying dead and injured all the Western peoples are receiving painful and tragic reminders of how much they share in common and how much sets them apart from their enemies. One of the consequences of terrorist attacks directed at all Westerners is going to be an increased awareness by Westerners that they share a common civilization. The recognition the Islamists have of the West as a distinct culture is one which the Islamists are, perversely, teaching to the West. It is possible (though, unfortunately, by no means certain) that the Islamists may end up triggering a revival in the minds of Westerners of an appreciation of the unique and valuable elements of Western culture. If this happens then the Western peoples will finally become willing to think clearly about their enemies and to take the steps necessary to defend Western Civilization from them. I am sufficiently optimistic about this to predict that future historians will come to see the Bali attack as a turning point in Western Civilization.

On why Islamic contempt can not be appeased see my previous post on Jeffrey Golderg's experiences in the Middle East.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 October 20 01:32 PM  Civilizations Clash Of


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