We are the worst enemy of the West. Or, to put it a bit differently, the most serious adversary is born and bred within the gates of the West. Thus, the battle against mortal danger to our civilization ranges among the denizens of our cultural and political sphere and it must be won here before we can proceed to victory outside. This is a phenomenon which James Burnham called “Suicide of the West” as reflected in the inability of liberal intelligentsia to comprehend the evil of Communism. A neat illustration of the civil culture war can be the sustained leftist campaign of hatred and ostracism against Yale’s Professor G. Warren Nutter who, in the 1950s, dared to suggest that the Soviet economy was inefficient. He thus violated the obligatory Sovietophilia of America’s chattering classes and their socialist prejudices.
Now seven distinguished experts, including two who are my friends and colleagues, Brits and Yanks, demonstrate in Fighting the Ideological War: Winning Strategies from Communism to Islamism, how the culture war phenomenon has survived to cripple our response to the radical Muslim challenge. “The result is an unwillingness to engage in the battle of ideas and a widespread confusion, even doublespeak, in the way policymakers talk about Islam.” But take heart. The experts also show, plain and simple, how Communism was overcome and propose to apply the same strategy and tactics to Islamism. They give us trenchant definitions, vivid analysis, and bold solutions to lead us to victory.
Make no mistake. “Radical Islam… has declared itself at war both with the West and with moderate or secular Muslims… [and] is well organized, well funded, and grounded in the authority of religious texts.” The enemy uses modern forms of organization and communication, including the Internet, but its aims are singularly retrograde. Stephen Ulph compares Islamism to totalitarianism because both posit “the rebirth of a new type of individual subordinated to a homogenized collective purpose, in a society that is conceived as a spiritual one that has been imposed by conquest which denies legitimacy to all other forms of belief or social structure.” Sebastian Gorka qualifies this: “We are not at war with communists, Fascists, nationalists, or eco-terrorists, but with religiously inspired mass-murderers who consistently cite the Qur’an to justify their actions. Denying this fact, simply out of a misguided sensitivity to other Muslims, will delay our ability to understand the nature of this conflict and delegitimize our foe.”
Aside from its totalitarian and reactionary features, Islamism is a rebellion against rationalism. Logocentrism is rational and Western. Departure from it allows the Islamists to spin their poisonous yarn without much attention to the rules of elementary logic. Thus, they are consistent in their rejection of the West. Further, as mentioned, Islamism’s mode of organization is totalitarian but its goals are reactionary. Although Islamism’s goals are incompatible with any progressive project, many Western leftists support the Islamists because of the revolutionary potential. They hope to use the Islamists to destroy the West so that the progressives can step in and build a better world. There are also temperamental similarities between the two provisional allies. Leftists tend to be defensive of Marxism. Muslims are defensive of Islam. To the tune of “right or wrong, my ideology/faith” virtually all leftists protect the Communists and the bulk of the followers of Allah condone the Islamists. However, many a Western leftist has not met an Islamist he dislikes, but the opposite is not true.
According to Patrick Sookhedo, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was the trigger of our current troubles. Islam provided the main frame of reference in the war, making the jihad mostly a religious affair, rather than a political one. When faced with Islamism, our response was to differentiate between the allegedly wholesome religion and the dastardly acts committed in its name. “The strategy set first by George H.W. Bush and maintained by [Bill] Clinton, that of segregating terrorism from Islam and maintaining a pristine image of Islam, has remained consistent.” This is both because of political correctness and self-deception. And it is to the detriment of our self-defense and national security. “The inability of western politicians to see the links between radical Islamism, gradual Islamism and traditional Islam makes it difficult for them to recognize what kind of ideological counterattack is needed.” Couple this with political decisions verging from tragic (a woeful miscalculation in Iraq and Afghanistan) to silly (beaming pop music to the Muslims) and we will see a deeply flawed policy of the West, the United States in particular, against Islamism. “In a war of ideas performing a lobotomy on your enemy might be a good move. It is almost unheard of to perform a lobotomy on yourself and then to declare it a success.” Robert R. Reilly’s remark on the misuse of public diplomacy in this conflict equally applies to the failure to deploy properly other tools of statecraft.
What do we do? As mentioned, at least a few of the experts prove the utility of the totalitarian model to understand Islamism. Several argue for the necessity to fight it with methods developed during the Cold War. Lesson number one, according to John H. Moore, we should eschew central planning. It is relevant because the war against the Islamists is very costly and we need to maintain an efficient economic system, capitalism, to sustain our effort. Yet, soft socialism persists in the West, undercutting our endeavor.
Second, we must pursue an integrated strategy employing all tools of statecraft against the Islamists: public diplomacy, covert actions, military pressure, and propaganda. As John Lenczowski demonstrates, it led to the collapse of the USSR through “the combination of external pressure, external inspiration, internal resistance and the impossible dilemma faced by Gorbachev: whether to liberalize… or crack down.” Third, we should call a spade a spade. Not only do we expose the nasty Salafists but we must take a long and honest look at ourselves: “The first thing the United States needs to do is address the moral critique of America as a godless, secular, sex-obsessed society immersed in materialism.”
Fourth, we’d better take religion seriously. The enemy is dead serious about that. If we lack our own faith, we should at least take the adversary at his word. Fifth, the free world needs leadership. Obama’s “leading from behind” just does not cut it. Sixth, we should discard the smelly pieties of multiculturalism and all it entails to fight the threat efficiently. Seventh, according to Thomas Joscelyn, since the suspicions of the dissidents in the CIA that the Soviet Union supported non-state leftist terrorists globally are now proven right, we should apply the same methods to detect whether “the jihadist states,” in particular Iran and Pakistan back the Islamist terrorists. Eighth, as Gorka stresses, “in a fashion similar to how America delegitimized the Soviet Union ideologically, we need to bankrupt transnational jihadist terrorism at its most powerful point: its narrative of global religious war. For the sad truth is that for the majority of the last ten years the narrative of the conflict has been controlled by our enemy… Our ability to fight… will depend in the first place upon our capacity to communicate to our own citizens and to the world what it is we are fighting for and what the ideology of the jihad threatens in terms of the universal values we hold so dear.” Ultimately, “Western discourse must discredit arguments that Islam is under attack from the West while delegitimizing Islamism by presenting it as a totalitarian political ideology detrimental to Muslims.”
As compelling as Fighting the Ideological War is, a serious lacuna remains. When discussing an ideological war, it behooves us to provide an in-depth exegesis of Islamism. And that is missing to the detriment of our struggle. All Salafi fingers point to Wahabbism as the source of inspiration. One can argue that Wahabbism has emerged globally thus because of Saudi money. According to The Golden Rule, “He who’s got the gold makes the rule.” Saudi Arabia simply supplies the funds and demands that its severe brand of Islam be emulated. It then acquires its ideological underpinnings and totalitarian cohesion in the movements like the Al Queda, which is supranational but with foundational and financial roots firmly planted in the Saud Kingdom. Unfortunately, unlike Pakistan and Sudan, Saudi Arabia is not mentioned among the jihadist states covered by Thomas Joscelyn. Thus, it would have been extremely useful had the editors invited two more scholars to the symposium. In addition to a serious theological discussion of the links between Wahabbism and Salafism and their morphing into a modern totalitarian ideology, one should like to hear about the logic of money. For example, Norman Bailey would have been superb to compare the financial networks of the Soviets and the Saudis.
At any rate, now we know what to do. The basic principles remain the same. Know thyself. Be aware that you fight to preserve the millennial continuity of Western tradition. Faith helps in the struggle. Know thy enemy. Understand that sometimes it is less of a clash of civilizations than, as Ulph argues, “a Clash of Chronologies, that is, an issue of civilizational development.” Things are the way they are and not the way we want them to be. Do not mirror image, i.e., avoid explaining the unfamiliar with the familiar. For example, Osama bin Laden is NOT a religious figure just like Queen Elisabeth or the Pope. Avoid false analogies. “Unlike communism, Islamism is not likely to burn itself out through faulty economic policies.” Beware of flawed perceptions. There is no such thing as non-violent Salafists; most simply indulge in violence indirectly by aiding and abetting those involved in direct action. Accordingly, arm yourself with knowledge against the enemies of our civilization, both foreign and domestic. Fighting the Ideological War fits the bill indispensably. Read it. Otherwise, we shall have “a global Caliphate under shari’a law.” And we shall prove, once again, to be the worst enemy of ourselves.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is a Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, A Graduate School of National Security and International Affairs in Washington, DC, Where he also holds the Kościuszko Chair in Polish Studies. Professor Chodakiewicz is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.