“Relentlessly and Thoroughly”
The only way to respond.
By Paul Johnson, historian and journalist
From the October 15, 2001, issue of National
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
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.
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.