Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

THE PRESIDENT’S LOOKING-GLASS ISLAMIC WORLD

Obama may have forgotten about “war with Islam,” but war with Islam has not forgotten about him.

by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

rfrPresident Obama recently gave a speech at the Pentagon about our efforts against ISIS that confirmed he has little awareness of the real world our enemies inhabit. The talk reprised the usual received wisdom and unchallenged orthodoxy that comprise most of the foreign policy establishment’s ideas about Islamic jihadism and how we should fight it. Consider the following particularly egregious examples:

Ideologies are not defeated with guns; they’re defeated by better ideas–– a more attractive and more compelling vision.

This statement is a classic either-or fallacy. Anyone familiar with history would have added the adverb “just” before “with guns.” Obama is indulging stealth pacifism, a variation on the “violence doesn’t solve anything” and “use your words” mantras of the junior high playground monitor. Such a stance is politically convenient when the voters are against the use of force, and a leader doesn’t have the will or ability to convince them why force is necessary.

In general, the superior quality of what men fight for is indeed a force-multiplier, as the Greeks proved at Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea. But significant force still has to be applied to kill a critical mass of the enemy. And even with the best ideas, more often it is the “guns” that in the end make the difference. Those victorious Greek hoplites and rowers had weaponry and tactics superior to the Persians’, as well as the better ideals of freedom and autonomy. World War II was another battle of freedom against tyranny. But Nazism was ultimately defeated by the U.S.’s ability to produce armaments at a rate Germany could not match––just in one month of 1944, America produced more Sherman tanks than all the tanks the Germany produced in a year. If the U.S. hadn’t entered the war, the “better ideas” of English civilization, despite their expression in the soaring oratory of Winston Churchill, would not alone have led to Hitler’s defeat.

So yes, “better ideas” are critical for winning a war. As Napoleon said, morale to the material is as three to one. But the importance of “ideas” like political freedom, confessional tolerance, and individual rights lies not, as Obama suggests, in their power to make our enemies change sides or reject the ideas they are fighting for. Rather, their power lies in the way they motivate and inspire those who fight for their own superior ideals because they are confident that they aresuperior. Obama in contrast is alluding to the power of mere example when he mentions “a more attractive and more compelling vision,” a phrase vague to the point of emptiness. I think he means that if the jihadists or potential jihadists could understand and experience the freedom, peace, and prosperity we enjoy, they would reject their own motivating beliefs, particularly the doctrines of traditional Islam, which they so passionately believe are superior that in their service they will murder innocents and blow themselves up.

This naïve belief in the attractive power of our ideals has been the big mistake of our war against jihad, one made by both parties. To traditionalist Muslims, the ideals we cherish are not self-evidently superior to those of Islam. What we call freedom, for example, pious Muslims like Ayatollah Khomeini understood to be license: it is the “freedom that will corrupt our youth, freedom that will pave the way to the oppressor, freedom that will drag our nation to the bottom.” Similarly, al Qaeda theorist Ayman al-Zawahiri wrote, “The freedom we want is not the freedom to use women as commodities . . . it is not the freedom of AIDS and an industry of obscenities and homosexual marriages.” Of course, our idea of political freedom is much different from these social practices, but the biggest example of Western freedom that most Muslims see is the degrading spectacles available on satellite television, Hollywood movies, and the Internet.

Likewise with democracy, tolerance, separation of church and state, sex equality, and all the other goods that define the Western civilizational paradigm but are contrary to shari’a law and Islamic doctrine. For a Muslim who takes those doctrines seriously––and poll after poll shows that hundreds of millions do–– none of these goods is worth risking his eternal soul. Indeed, they are seductive temptations for the pious, the subtle weapons the infidels use to weaken the faithful and bring about their spiritual destruction. That’s why the mullahs call us the “Great Satan”: not just because in Muslim eyes we are evil, but because we are tempters who addle the minds of the faithful with what the Iranian political activist Al-e Ahmad in 1962 called “Westoxification.”

Our strategy recognizes that no amount of military force will end the terror that is ISIL unless it’s matched by a broader effort — political and economic — that addresses the underlying conditions that have allowed ISIL to gain traction.

The assumption that ISIS exists because of a lack of political and economic opportunity is founded on a similar misunderstanding of jihadists’ motivations. This simplistic explanation of terror has been with us since 9/11, when Bill Clinton said, “These forces of reaction feed on disillusionment, poverty and despair,” and leftist “activist” Barbara Ehrenreich blamed the attacks on “the vast global inequalities in which terrorism is rooted.”

But if poverty or a lack of democracy is the cause of terror, then why aren’t the billions of poor, disenfranchised young men across the globe committing acts of terror at the rate of young Muslim men? Why do so many jihadist leaders and theorists come from affluent backgrounds, like Osama bin Laden, or lucrative professions, like the surgeon Ayman al-Zawahiri? Why do Muslim immigrants in the affluent West, with a level of material existence and citizen rights far beyond those of their cohorts in the Third World, murder their fellow citizens or flock to join ISIS?

This economic or political determinism ignores the powerful and passionate reality of religious belief among Muslims, whose faith commands them, “O believers! Fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness” (Koran 9:123). But having reduced religion to a life-style choice, Western materialist determinism cannot imagine that violent acts can be motivated by sincere faith and obedience to Allah’s commands. So like Obama, we search for causes that suit our own materialist, secular world-view, such as poverty or lack of political freedom. But as Ayatollah Khomeini said in refutation of this received idea, “We did not have a revolution to lower the price of melons.”

We’ll constantly reaffirm through words and deeds that we will never be at war with Islam.  We’re fighting terrorists who distort Islam and whose victims are mostly Muslims.

This hoary cliché has done the most damage to our war against jihadism.  And its patent falsity can be easily documented in 14 centuries of Islamic scripture, jurisprudence, history, and practice.  As the Egyptian critic of Islam Ahmed Harqan said recently, “What has ISIS done that Mohammed didn’t do?” Behead captives? In 627, Mohammed beheaded 600-900 males of the Jewish Banu Qurayzah tribe, in line with Koran 8:12: “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”

Enslave the defeated? Mohammed enslaved the women and children of the Banu Qurayzah, and following his model Islam has been one of history’s great slaving civilizations.  Just between 1500 and 1800, the Muslim kingdoms of North Africa took 1.5 million European slaves. These depredations were in line with Islamic doctrine, as the representative of the pasha of Tripoli explained to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1785. It was “written in the Koran,” he explained, “that all nations who should not have acknowledged their [Muslim] authority were sinners, that it was their [Muslim] right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find.” And as Mohammed showed, taking slaves is the just reward for those who, like ISIS, prevail in battle.

Nor is ISIS’s goal of restoring the caliphate some fringe distortion of Islamic doctrine. Since its final dissolution in 1922––the “catastrophe” bin Laden mentioned after 9/11–– the caliphate has remained a potent dream for many Muslims, for whom secular nationalism is an alien Western idea contrary to the unified political-religious polity of Islamic doctrine. Thus as pan-Arab theorist Nuri al-Said wrote in 1943, Arab Muslim nationalism “springs from the Muslim feeling of brotherhood enjoined on them by the Prophet Mohammed . . . Although Arabs are naturally attached to their native land their nationalism is not confined by boundaries. It is an aspiration to restore the great tolerant civilization of the early Caliphate.”

We can hear the larger import of this same “aspiration” in Islamist theorist Sayyid Qutb’s claim that  “Islam came into this earth to establish God’s rule on God’s earth” and to form “a Muslim community in which individuals . . . have gathered together under servitude to God and follow only the Shari’a of God.” So too Ayatollah Khomeini’s boast: “We shall export our revolution to the whole world. Until the cry ‘There is no God but Allah’ resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle.”

Contrary to Obama and others willfully blind to the reality of Islamic doctrine and history, neither the aims of ISIS nor their methods “distort” Islam. Rather, the soldiers of ISIS are the latest in a long tradition of Muslim warriors inspired by Islamic precept and practice. They are a manifestation of Muslim Brothers theorist Hassan al-Banna’s traditional belief that “It is the nature of Islam to dominate not to be dominated, to impose its laws on all nations, and extend its power to the entire planet.” Obama may have forgotten about “war with Islam,” but war with Islam has not forgotten about him.

Just repeating the mantra “nothing to do with Islam” or “religion of peace” or “moderate Muslims” will not change reality. Neither can the other great illusions of modernity like pacifism, disarmament, or the diplomatic settling of disputes that are created by irreconcilable ideologies and conflicting beliefs. The reality of history teaches us that only mind-concentrating, overwhelming force can convince the passionate aggressor to change his ways. The alternative is this administration’s slow-motion appeasement that has left the region a shambles and is escorting Iran to possession of nuclear weapons.

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

14 Thoughts on “THE PRESIDENT’S LOOKING-GLASS ISLAMIC WORLD

  1. Marc Wilson on July 13, 2015 at 7:29 am said:

    The true distorters of Islam are the so-called ‘Moderate Muslims’. If in fact they do exist, it is only their personal accommodation to survive in or with a foreign, non-Muslim culture. In the end, the term Moderate Muslim in an oxymoron.

  2. If we turned our swords into plows, the head-choppers would plant our heads like potatoes.

  3. libra on July 13, 2015 at 8:06 am said:

    Kudos for a great history lesson.. Too bad–the govt. schools no longer teach history. the history of slavery and enslavement would help the young American minds to understand the world around them.. Maybe they do not realize the Muslims brought the fight to the gates of Vienna Austria.. Maybe they do not realize the crusade were fought to stop the kidnapping of Europeans to be sold for or used as sex slaves–especialy the blonde blue eyed Europeans. The only thing these thieving ,marauding, murderers understand is greater force than they can muster.. They must be destroyed as one would a rabid dog. No matter the sugar coating the Muslim president adds to his views of the world today… The Islamic world is at war with the civilized world. I just hope we can hold out until this Islamist president leaves office–the sooner the better. He is a quisling..

  4. You forgot the Arab Spring, which Islamophiles and internet moguls both agree smells much better than the soap by the related name, Irish Spring. Not.

  5. Roy Digliani on July 13, 2015 at 10:35 am said:

    What exactly are Obamas “Ideals”?
    The one that he seems to express or exhibit consistently is lying.
    Lying is something that he continually does and seems to believe is ok, an ideal that he believes in.
    Another is circumventing the law or not abiding the laws of our country.
    Breaking the law is something that he does constantly whether it’s health care waivers or GM bailout payoff preferences.
    Those are two pretty interesting “Ideals”, lying and law-breaking.
    I wonder: If we could get ISIL to adhere to those ideals would they stop fighting?
    Of course this might take a generation but it seems to have worked in our country.
    Obama and his “Ideals” have made inroads of sorts.
    The next election will show if these “Ideals” have taken root or whether Americans in the main have different “Ideals”.
    I’d put my money on Americans with different “Ideals” than Obama’s.

  6. David Park on July 13, 2015 at 10:48 am said:

    So, if my neighbor claims that god told him the same things he supposedly told Mohammed, claimed Mohammed was wrong and needed superseding, my neighbor could rape, rob, pillage, plunder, murder, and steal? He can have someone write it all down any way he wants, and in a few years, decades, centuries others will be taught at the end of a string of teachers who have only read and regurgitated the writings that those writings were the words of god? And then , it would be called a religion, given a holy aura and used to control the minds of the new batch of religiously insane? This type of believer actually worships the devil reflected in the mirror he or she uses to see their own reflection. If one uses another’s mouth for talking, one is probably mute. If an ultimate deity has to do the same thing, that deity is either powerless or more probably a mere figment of human imagination. If god is really great, perhaps he could skip the present and unconvincing buffoonery of certain middlemen.

  7. garretso on July 13, 2015 at 11:28 am said:

    It would be a greatly improve our chances for survival if the general public were to refer to ISIS and their ilk as “Fundamentalist Muslims”.

  8. David N on July 13, 2015 at 1:22 pm said:

    Perhaps the leftist success in their ‘march through the institutions of the West’ has left them highly overconfident that they can crack a tough nut like Islam as well. Immigration trends in Europe show a leadership seemingly confidence they can absorb this culture into their global therapeutic managerial state. However the Islam resistance to the social engineers is seemingly much greater than that of the Christian West. That coupled with an overconfidence in Democracy as the grand path to Utopia…

  9. John on July 13, 2015 at 1:37 pm said:

    Now we are getting to the point. The reason that Islamists truly hate us is because we are liberal. Not because we are warmongers. They denounce us as warmongers because they hate our ideals of freedom. Freedom of speech, Freedom of information, Freedom of religion, etc… Islamists know such values will follow our military successes.

    They don’t want Madonna concerts in Baghdad. They don’t want homosexual marriage in Iran. They don’t want Freedom of religion in Mecca. They don’t want us in the Middle East at all because they are afraid of the liberal ideas that Obama and Bush have been promoting.

    We are not going to turn Islamists into Western liberals. Obama knows this, but his base will rally around him when he talks this nonsense. A real solution could mean doing things that would hurt Obama’s popularity and he will never let anything get in the way of that. So we are stuck on stupid…

    • David N on July 13, 2015 at 2:29 pm said:

      “Islamists know such values will follow our military successes”

      While this is very true , their ideals lead to much better demographic success, as all our playing with alternate lifestyles is essentially causing us (the West) to no longer reproduce. Its only a few generations to their ultimate victory.

      • True, but immigration keeps our population growing. I am not saying that we need illegal immigration. Legal immigrants can do the job just fine.

        For the time Islamists cannot beat the US militarily. They can score many victories in the media, but there is a stalemate overall.

        The problem is how to figure out the way to beat Islamists in the media when the Democratic Party is eager to use Islamists’ grievances against the Republican Party.

        Islamists do not view the Democratic Party favorably, but they understand the dynamics of the partisan war that is waged in Washington DC and the media. They know how to speak to the American Left as much as the North Vietnamese did when they invaded Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam.

  10. Herb Clark on July 13, 2015 at 2:24 pm said:

    A critically important article. Too bad the man in the Whitehouse is a sympathizer. Let’s pray his successor is wiser and stronger. We need a modern Rodrigo de Vivar, our own Cid. The line has been drawn. Our President pretends it is not there.

  11. zygote314 on July 13, 2015 at 3:06 pm said:

    What a sobering article.

    Obama and the rest of the “Looney Left” are so blinded by their own anti-Western, anti-American ideology that they just cannot not ever imagine Jihadism as being a malignant force that threatens the West. Our ancestors, perhaps motivated by their own religious hubris, had no trouble finding the will to fight the Islamic hordes at Tours in 732, Vienna in 1529 and again in 1683, and Lepanto in 1571. Will 2015 be the year the tables change for the West and Iran finally gets the ultimate Jihadist tool of death and submission?

    Just like everything else Obama has tried to change (healthcare, the economy, race relations, etc.) his foreign policy appears to be one more spectacular failure whose effects could be detrimental to our nation for many years to come. What a peculiar man he is, where on one hand he has no qualms about ratcheting up targeted drone assassinations of terror suspects – remember the ‘baseball cards’ that supposed tough guy Obama would use capriciously to mark Jihadis for death? – and on the other, his willfull ignorance of the psychopaths of ISIS he stupidly helped to empower as they burn, smash and decapitate at will. As I write, Obama’s arrogance and stupidity is coming again into sharp focus as we see his Secretary of State crawling around on all fours in the hopes of appeasing the number one source of Jihadist terror, Iran. If Kerry succeeds at any cost to get a deal he can wave around in Chamberlainian fashion to the Administration’s critics, then one will only shudder at the potential nightmarish consequences.

  12. Art Hippler on July 21, 2015 at 1:35 pm said:

    The selection of B. Obama first as President then as re-elected president is a classic exposition of the weaknesses of democracy as a process, especially when it is used to weaken a republican form of government. But underlying all these matters is the decline in moral standards so egregiously shown over the last half century. While these conditions of decline started asa small set of moral defects and their damage seemed so slight for several decades,they, as is true for most avalanches, sped up as their mass and dangerousness increased. Now we are more than likely past the stopping point. What will come..will come and what will emerge is unseeable except that if history guides us, it will be terrible before it gets better
    You can only erode the moral basis of a society by denigrating religion, elevating untrammeled belief in entitlements, and laughing at the traditional virtues, especially those of manliness and fathership as a vocation, as childish, old fashioned and superstitious for so long. Then when the traditional virtues are needed, those who posses them no longer exist in numbers sufficient for the task Our children and grandchildren will curse us.

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