So what is all the mob angst over the Koran?
by Bruce S. Thornton
The images of Muslims rampaging over rumors and unproven allegations of “Koran abuse” are troubling — but not because of the behavior of the mobs. What else should we expect from fanatics whose religion justifies a toxic combination of arrogant superiority, spiritual entitlement, and corrosive resentment over history’s repudiation of their inflated estimation of their world-historical role? Their minds addled by this brew, they find it perfectly reasonable to believe gratifying fantasies in which 9/11 was the handiwork of Zionist agents, the United States has spent lives and treasure liberating Iraqi Muslims in a scheme to acquire oil, and Jews are the masterminds of a sinister plot to oppress Allah’s darlings.
No, what should trouble us is our own response. For the past week high-ranking officials of the United States government have been falling all over themselves assuring the rioters that we really, really do respect their “holy Koran” and would never, never sanction such disrespect. We like their religion, we really do; we respect and honor it and its marvelous contributions to civilization. And what have we received in exchange for all these protestations of respect and esteem? More riots and more contempt.
I don’t know if this behavior expresses the administration’s true belief or if it is a PR tactic. Either way it’s a huge mistake that reflects the failure to understand what and who we are dealing with. The idea that everything the Islamists do is a reaction to what we do is a dangerous delusion. They have their own reasons grounded in their religion and its history, a history of aggressive expansion against the infidel that confirmed Islam’s superiority and Allah’s sanctioning of it as the one true faith. Persisting in that expansion and reversing its centuries-long contraction are not options for the faithful — as taking the cross and going on crusade were for medieval Europeans — but spiritual imperatives.
The jihadists may be irrational, but they are not stupid. They know that the traditional means of expanding Islam, conquest and colonization, are impossible given the West’s overwhelming military superiority. So we have “jihad by other means” — terrorism, of course, but also the manipulation of the West to make it behave in ways that demonstrate its spiritual bankruptcy and the jihadists’ power.
They know, for example, that the West has been corrupted by a self-loathing cultural relativism masquerading as cosmopolitan tolerance and respect for the “other.” They know too the various psychological springs of this attitude: guilt over a presumed history of colonial and imperial crimes; indifference subsidized by wealth, comfort, and leisure; a sentimental obsession with suffering and wounds to self-esteem; and a spiritual corruption that privileges the material and sensual over the transcendent. The highest good for many in the West is simply to be comfortable, entertained, gratified, and untroubled by any thought that somebody somewhere may be suffering, even if he deserves it.
The riots over the alleged abuse of the Koran are, as much as is the homicide bomber’s disregard of his own life and the lives of the innocent, a way of starkly illustrating the jihadists’ spiritual superiority and our own spiritual decadence. They know, as we should, that Muslims have desecrated thousands of Korans and mosques, and that Muslims have desecrated Bibles and churches, most recently when Palestinian Arab murderers occupied the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. They know that Muslims in the West are free to practice their religion, while Christians and Jews in many Muslim countries are subjected to restrictions and often persecution. And they know they don’t apologize for any of this blasphemous, intolerant behavior. But the double standard is precisely the point: it expresses power, the power of their spiritual belief to compel us to sanction and tolerate such obvious hypocrisy.
So too with our abject apologies, for to the mind of the jihadist those who are spiritually correct do not need to apologize; only the infidel weakling does precisely because he is weak and an infidel. Did any Muslim clerics apologize for the terrorists who desecrated the Church of the Nativity? Do any of them protest against the persecution of Christians and Jews that goes on every day in many Islamic states? Has Turkey apologized for its genocidal jihad against the Armenian Christians? Do we ever hear Muslim clerics — talking when Westerners aren’t around, that is — express the same respect and tolerance for Christianity and Judaism that they demand for Islam? No, because what we consider virtues they consider signs of spiritual exhaustion, proof that they are right and in the long run will prevail, for military and economic power can not compensate for a lack of belief in something that transcends the material and so is worth dying and killing for.
We, of course, think that we’re expressing our higher values when we tolerate this double standard, for we fancy ourselves so much more sophisticated in our knowledge that economics, politics, and psychology are the true cause of things, and so we can be cavalier with our own spiritual traditions. Thus eventually, by the force of such examples of sophisticated understanding and good deeds, those millions of incipient jihadists will see the light and prefer freedom, democracy, and prosperity to spiritual certainty and obedience to Allah.
And here is our gravest error: thinking that the material will always trump the spiritual, just because it has for many of us in the West. That’s why we are puzzled when our good deeds for the Muslim world are ignored. Millions of Iraqi Muslims are free to rebuild their own society subsidized by billions in U.S. dollars, millions are free of a murderous psychopath who tortured and plundered them, millions are free to practice their religion without facing persecution and murder, and yet a few instances of “mishandling” of the Koran bring on riots, while all those benefits bought with our blood and treasure are met with indifference or simply ignored.
In fact, all our good deeds, all our attempts to show how much we esteem Islam are considered signs of spiritual weakness, and so are merely invitations to more aggression. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Israel, for half a century the front line of the modern jihad against the West. Time after time Israeli concessions, most obviously those following the Oslo agreements, have been met with more murder of Israelis. The withdrawal from Lebanon led to a propaganda coup for Hizbollah and a terrorist army independent of any state authority sitting on Israel’s northern border; the withdrawal from Gaza may achieve the same thing to the southwest. Meanwhile Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas — a published Holocaust denier who is said to have sent the ’72 Munich terrorists off to their work with kisses on their cheeks — is invited to the White House and promised millions in aid, even as the Israeli army continues to intercept homicide bombers trying to cross the border to blow up more Jews. The jihadist long-term goal to destroy Israel is still on track, pursued for the present by tactical moves designed to placate and dupe blinkered Westerners.
This behavior smacks of the modern version of what Bat Ye’or calls dhimmitude, a psychological submission to Islam that accepts one’s own cultural inferiority. If we do not start recognizing the current conflict for what it is, another episode in the 14-century-long jihad against the West, we will end up like Europe, in a state of full-blown psychological dhimmitude characterized by abject submission to hypocritical double-standards that validate Islam’s superiority and the West’s inferiority. What else explains the Italian judge who indicted journalist Oriana Fallaci for “defaming Islam” in her book The Force of Reason? The quintessential Western political and intellectual good of free inquiry and speech is subordinated to Islamic sensibilities, an action that to the jihadist proves their beliefs are right and ours are wrong.
If we are serious about winning what has been misnamed the “war on terror,” we need to start by renaming it the “war against jihad” and taking seriously the millions and millions of Muslims who have made clear their passionate support for jihad against the West, including those Palestinian Arabs who cloak jihad in the Western camouflage of nationalist aspirations. We need to stop pretending that what we call Islamism is some sort of deformation of Islam instead of the modern expression of its jihadist traditions. We need to take seriously those spiritual motives and their power and stop reducing them all to our own material causes. And we need to understand that only those actions and statements unequivocally displaying our firm belief in the value and superiority of our own culture — the culture that has made us so free and rich that we can afford the luxury of despising it — will help us prevail.
©2005 Victor Davis Hanson