A message from Dr. John Lewis
Regarding my article “No Substitute for Victory: The Defeat of Islamic Totalitarianism” in The Objective Standard, readers have brought up several questions that must be confronted. Among them: (1) how can religion and state be separated in Islam, since Islam is a social / political / legal system as much as a religion, and (2) isn’t the enemy stateless, i.e., without the centralized political state as controlled Japan?I will address such issues in the next Objective Standard, in a reply to readers’ comments. Here is a short answer.
The power of a policy that defines the goals of the war as eliminating State Islam is that it defines the threat precisely: those who use force to impose Islam politically. It states exactly what we want from the enemy: an end to his use of force. It has a successful historical precedent, and it is fully consistent with the requirements of freedom. It leads directly to a clear strategy to achieve the policy.
This definition implies several things. First off, since the elimination of the threat is the goal — and not a better way of life for foreign populations — then we could have installed a ruler over Iraq, akin to the Shah in Iran, and told him to do what is needed to control the violence — but never, ever, to attack America, or threaten American interests. We are in a mess in Iraq because we took on the task of bringing freedom and prosperity to them — which never should have been our goal. Altruism led us into such a sacrifice. If we remove an enemy, and the country falls into civil war, that is better than their building nuclear bombs.
Second, since political Islam would be the target, meaning first and foremost wherever Islam has achieved actual political power, then Iran would be first — with the goal of eliminating the theocratic government, installing an America-friendly ruler, and then confronting the Saudis. We would never have ended Iran’s strongest regional opponent (Saddam Hussein) and tried to free his country without dealing first with the main threat next door.
Third, had we stated these goals openly, the way would be clear for other governments to clean house. They’d be less inclined to compromise between Islamic Totalitarians and us, since they’d want to avoid our wrath at all costs. We should never allow ourselves to be seen as equal to them, not morally, not politically, and not militarily. The demonstration of resolve in war is very important, whether Sherman’s burning of Atlanta (which collapsed the southern will to fight) or the atomic bombs in Japan (which made it clear to the Japanese leadership that we had, and would use, them).
To answer another persistent point, we do not, in my opinion, need nuclear weapons in the Middle East (although I am not a military tactician). But we do need to demonstrate the will to remove such a government because it is a threat, without apologizing every time a civilian is hurt. This demonstration would sweep across borders, to be seen by every government in the world, thus transcending the stateless nature of Islam, and eliminating any equality between supporting us and the Islamists.
Islam itself is stateless, meaning that it respects no borders. It was designed precisely to rise above ethnic / tribal / clan groups, to unite all those who submit to Allah. We have to adopt the same attitude, only with freedom and individual rights as our central ideals. By defining the enemy as Islamic Totalitarianism — meaning, government imposition of Islamic Law — we exempt no such state from our reach, and yet allow every state a chance to avoid the title and our action.
As to the claim that Islam, practiced literally, cannot be separated from politics, this is true, by the evidence I know — I see Islam as descending from common roots with Zoroastrianism, the ideology of Ahuramazda, and Manichaeism in the Near East. I wrote a short piece on this, “Notes on the Near Eastern Legacy of Islam,” here, dated May 27, 2006, and others have done a better and more comprehensive job:
Islam is a way of life, not a religion as distinguished from state. But it is not true that Muslims cannot live under non-Muslim laws; the majority in western countries do. If they are compromising their religion, then so be it. Setting the enemy as Islamic Totalitarianism would allow us to end attempts to import Islamic Law into our own country, and to empower our allies to end it themselves in their own countries. It would allow individual Muslims to comply, and would reveal those who refuse. It would also demonstrate the failure of Islam as a political movement, and thus challenge the premise, in the minds of many, that the Islamic Totalitarians are some kind of misguided idealists, right in principle but taken to extremes.
As to the issue of realism: there can be no realistic discussion of a proper “strategy” (a means to attain policy ends) without proper definition of the end that the strategy is intended to achieve. There is nothing more un-realistic than to try to create a plan without knowing where we are going — or to assume that no plan is possible, since reality is “really” always in flux. The realism that we need is the recognition that those supporting Political Islam — meaning, not a type of Islam, but rather Islam considered with respect to its political characteristics — are the real enemy. I’ll gladly listen to someone who has a different strategy for eliminating Islam as a political power all the while ending the threat to us — but I’ve not yet heard it.
In the long run, however, this is an intellectual battle. My stress on integrity means that we must understand the issues, and talk the talk as well as walking the walk. We have not properly stated our own goodness, and why we have a right to defend ourselves. It is the job of the intellectuals to state and defend these truths philosophically. If we do not present an alternative to the Qu’ran, and are unwilling to destroy those building nuclear bombs in order to impose it, then why should anyone re-write it? This may take five generations — but it will never happen if the political success of Islamic Totalitarianism is allowed to continue.