The Agony of Defeat

In her most recent column at the Wall Street Journal and reacting to the terror attacks in Brussels, Peggy Noonan weighs in on defeating radical Islam:

There are said to be 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Most are and have been peaceful and peaceable, living their lives and, especially in America, taking an admirable role in the life of the nation.

But this is a tense, fraught moment within the world of Islam, marked by disagreements on what Islam is and what its texts mean. With that context, the child’s math: Let’s say only 10% of the 1.6 billion harbor feelings of grievance toward “the West,” or desire to expunge the infidel, or hope to re-establish the caliphate. That 10% is 160 million people. Let’s say of that group only 10% would be inclined toward jihad. That’s 16 million. Assume that of that group only 10% really means it—would really become jihadis or give them aid and sustenance. That’s 1.6 million. That is a lot of ferociousness in an age of increasingly available weapons, including the chemical, biological and nuclear sort.

My math tells me it will be a long, hard fight. We will not be able to contain them, we will have to beat them.

This is a widely-held view and a lot of policy is predicated on it. I also think it’s wrong. It assumes a steady state system.

Quite to the contrary I think that, since Islam is sola scriptura and lacking in a magisterium (teaching authority) which means that anybody’s interpretation of the sacred texts is as good as anybody else’s, there will always be idiots who give those sacred texts literal and bloody interpretations, something to which Islam lends itself distinctively because of the high incidence of bloody prescriptions in its sacred texts compared with, for example, the Christian New Testament. The New Testament isn’t without bloody prescriptions and historically there have been literal and bloodthirsty interpretations of it but a difference in degree is a difference in kind and objectively the Muslim sacred texts are considerably more violent than the New Testament. My point here is not that all Muslims are violent radical jihadists; it is that violent radical jihadism is in a sense endemic in Islam.

The choices then are extermination of the good with the bad, something I think that any right-minded person should reject, containment which will be painful, difficult, and go against the grain of most liberal Westerners (liberal in the old sense rather than liberal in the sense of progressives), or acceptance of risk in a world of increasing individual empowerment in which a handful of jihadis can do more damage than a regiment could have a couple of centuries ago.

Those aren’t appealing alternatives which explains why we’ve been so reluctant to select one. Grasp the nettle, as me auld mither used to say.

6 comments… add one
  • jan Link

    Such “alternative” choices are further handicapped via the incessant political infighting between R and D’s. Somehow winning elections has become far more important than reaching a doable consensus in addressing these growing problems. It’s almost like extinguishing the flame of this country is a better choice, in lieu of the possibility of losing power in Washington DC .

  • Guarneri Link

    So I guess nuking Raqaa is out. I’m not sure I see anything to unsteady the steady state.

  • steve Link

    “The choices then are extermination of the good with the bad”

    Not possible. How do you find them all? If we knew where they all were, we would have killed them a long time ago. We also know from prior experience (see Iraq and Afghanistan) that when we kill innocents, even accidentally, it breeds new jihadists.

    Your comparison of Muslim teachings with the NT is very correct, however, compared with the OT it is not so clear cut.


  • michael reynolds Link

    We’re doing a good job of coping with ISIS in the middle east, despite the fecklessness of some of our “allies.” They’ve been degraded if not contained. They’ve lost about a third of what they once held, they’re not on the offense, they’ve lost the initiative.

    The problem is ISIS in the West. But beyond that it’s ISIS 2.0, and Al Qaeda 3.0 and Bader Meinhoff Rebooted and Son of Bolsheviks and so on. The techniques of terrorism exist, the disproportion between effort and effect is going to be a problem for along time.

    So long as we persist in the irrational but superficially moral approach of proportional response we can expect to get hit again and again forever. The temptation will exist for non-state actors and states as well to use terrorism against us. So long as communities can sponsor these people at very little risk to themselves they will.

    Part of the answer must be to pose a disproportionate, intolerable risk to terror-sponsoring nations or proto-nations like ISIS. In the wake of 9-11 we could have and should have demanded that Saudi Arabia shut down all radical madrassas and mosques, arrest and imprison any Saudi citizen who contributed financial or other tangible support to Al Qaeda. And if they refused destroy their military forces and withdraw our military protection, leaving them open and vulnerable to Iran.

    The essence of the problem is not the Koran or Islam but the fact that terrorism magnifies the power of individuals and small groups. Right now terrorism is extremely profitable for these folks. We need to make terrorism a sure loser for them. We need their sponsors to understand that we will destroy everything they have or care about.

    The foreign sponsors, trainers, etc… can be dealt with. Remove them and we are down to police and intelligence work against folks who will not have the benefit of combat exposure or explosives training. On that front we can start by passing laws against anyone who knows of but does not report a terror plot, with serious prison time. I guarantee you half a dozen people at a minimum knew about San Bernardino ahead of time. They should all be in prison now.

  • In the wake of 9-11 we could have and should have demanded that Saudi Arabia shut down all radical madrassas and mosques, arrest and imprison any Saudi citizen who contributed financial or other tangible support to Al Qaeda.

    IMO all foreign-born non-citizen imams in the United States whose mosques receive funding from overseas should be ejected as unregistered foreign agents. I would bet money that would be scorned as radical but it’s actually quite mild.

  • michael reynolds Link

    It’s certainly milder than shooting them.

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