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Radical Islam

“Relentlessly and Thoroughly”

The only way to respond.

By Paul Johnson, historian and journalist
From the October 15, 2001, issue of National Review
Bold and uncompromising words were spoken by American (and British) leaders in the immediate response to the Manhattan Massacre. But they may be succeeded by creeping appeasement unless public opinion insists that these leaders stick to their initial resolve to destroy international terrorism completely. One central reason why appeasement is so tempting to Western governments is that attacking terrorism at its roots necessarily involves conflict with the second-largest religious community in the world.

It is widely said that Islamic terrorists are wholly unorthodox in their belief that their religion sanctions what they do, and promises the immediate reward of heaven to what we call "suicide bombers" but they insist are martyrs to the faith. This line is bolstered by the assertion that Islam is essentially a religion of peace and that the very word "Islam" means "peace." Alas, not so. Islam means "submission," a very different matter, and one of the functions of Islam, in its more militant aspect, is to obtain that submission from all, if necessary by force.

Islam is an imperialist religion, more so than Christianity has ever been, and in contrast to Judaism. The Koran, Sura 5, verse 85, describes the inevitable enmity between Moslems and non-Moslems: "Strongest among men in enmity to the Believers wilt thou find the Jews and Pagans." Sura 9, verse 5, adds: "Then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them. And seize them, beleaguer them and lie in wait for them, in every strategem [of war]." Then nations, however mighty, the Koran insists, must be fought "until they embrace Islam."

These canonical commands cannot be explained away or softened by modern theological exegesis, because there is no such science in Islam. Unlike Christianity, which, since the Reformation and Counter Reformation, has continually updated itself and adapted to changed conditions, and unlike Judaism, which has experienced what is called the 18th-century Jewish enlightenment, Islam remains a religion of the Dark Ages. The 7th-century Koran is still taught as the immutable word of God, any teaching of which is literally true. In other words, mainstream Islam is essentially akin to the most extreme form of Biblical fundamentalism. It is true it contains many sects and tendencies, quite apart from the broad division between Sunni Moslems, the majority, who are comparatively moderate and include most of the ruling families of the Gulf, and Shia Moslems, far more extreme, who dominate Iran. But virtually all these tendencies are more militant and uncompromising than the orthodox, which is moderate only by comparison, and by our own standards is extreme. It believes, for instance, in a theocratic state, ruled by religious law, inflicting (as in Saudi Arabia) grotesquely cruel punishments, which were becoming obsolete in Western Europe in the early Middle Ages.

Moreover, Koranic teaching that the faith or "submission" can be, and in suitable circumstances must be, imposed by force, has never been ignored. On the contrary, the history of Islam has essentially been a history of conquest and reconquest. The 7th-century "breakout" of Islam from Arabia was followed by the rapid conquest of North Africa, the invasion and virtual conquest of Spain, and a thrust into France that carried the crescent to the gates of Paris. It took half a millennium of reconquest to expel the Moslems from Western Europe. The Crusades, far from being an outrageous prototype of Western imperialism, as is taught in most of our schools, were a mere episode in a struggle that has lasted 1,400 years, and were one of the few occasions when Christians took the offensive to regain the "occupied territories" of the Holy Land.

The Crusades, as it happened, fatally weakened the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire, the main barrier to the spread of Islam into southeast and central Europe. As a result of the fall of Constantinople to the ultramilitant Ottoman Sultans, Islam took over the entire Balkans, and was threatening to capture Vienna and move into the heart of Europe as recently as the 1680s.

This millennial struggle continues in a variety of ways. The recent conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo were a savage reaction by the Orthodox Christians of Serbia to the spread of Islam in their historic heartlands, chiefly by virtue of a higher birthrate. Indeed, in the West, the battle is largely demographic, though it is likely to take a more militant turn at any moment. Moslems from the Balkans and North Africa are surging over established frontiers on a huge scale, rather as the pressure of the eastern tribes brought about the collapse of the Roman Empire of the West in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. The number of Moslems penetrating and settling in Europe is now beyond computation because most of them are illegals. They are getting into Spain and Italy in such numbers that, should present trends continue, both these traditionally Catholic countries will become majority Moslem during the 21st century.

The West is not alone in being under threat from Islamic expansion. While the Ottomans moved into South-East Europe, the Moghul invasion of India destroyed much of Hindu and Buddhist civilization there. The recent destruction by Moslems in Afghanistan of colossal Buddhist statues is a reminder of what happened to temples and shrines, on an enormous scale, when Islam took over. The writer V. S. Naipaul has recently pointed out that the destructiveness of the Moslem Conquest is at the root of India's appalling poverty today. Indeed, looked at historically, the record shows that Moslem rule has tended both to promote and to perpetuate poverty. Meanwhile, the religion of "submission" continues to advance, as a rule by force, in Africa in part of Nigeria and Sudan, and in Asia, notably in Indonesia, where non-Moslems are given the choice of conversion or death. And in all countries where Islamic law is applied, converts, whether compulsory or not, who revert to their earlier faith, are punished by death.

The survival and expansion of militant Islam in the 20th century came as a surprise. After the First World War, many believed that Turkey, where the Kemal Ataturk regime imposed secularization by force, would set the pattern for the future, and that Islam would at last be reformed and modernized. Though secularism has — so far — survived in Turkey, in the rest of Islam fundamentalism, or orthodoxy, as it is more properly called, has increased its grip on both the rulers and the masses. There are at present 18 predominantly Islamic states, some of them under Koranic law and all ruled by groups that have good reason to fear extremists.

Hence American policymakers, in planning to uproot Islamic terrorism once and for all, have to steer a narrow path. They have the military power to do what they want, but they need a broad-based global coalition to back their action, preferably with military contributions as well as words, and ideally including such states as Pakistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. To get this kind of support is not easy, for moderate Moslem rulers are far more frightened of the terrorists than of Americans, and fear for their lives and families. The danger is that they will insist on qualification of American action that will amount, in effect, to appeasement, and that this in turn will divide and weaken both the administration and U.S. public opinion.

It is vitally important that America stick to the essentials of its military response and carry it through relentlessly and thoroughly. Although only Britain can be guaranteed to back the White House in every contingency, it is better in the long run for America to act without many allies, or even alone, than to engage in a messy compromise dictated by nervousness and cowardice. That would be the worst of all solutions and would be certain to lead to more terrorism, in more places, and on an ever-increasing scale. Now is the ideal moment for the United States to use all its physical capacity to eliminate large-scale international terrorism. The cause is overwhelmingly just, the nation is united, the hopes of decent, law-abiding men and women everywhere go with American arms. Such a moment may never recur.

The great William Gladstone, in resisting terrorism, once used the phrase, "The resources of civilisation are not yet exhausted." That is true today. Those resources are largely in American hands, and the nation — "the last, best hope of mankind" — has an overwhelming duty to use them with purposeful justification and to the full, in the defense of the lives, property, and freedom of all of us. This is the central point to keep in mind when the weasel words of cowardice and surrender are pronounced.

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