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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Islamic Supremacy

The solution to a conundrum of language and policy.

Does President Bush's departure from the White House mark the end of the "war on terror"? Britain's foreign secretary hopes so. Voice of America reports that he "is calling for democracies to rethink their strategy against extremists, saying the notion of the 'war on terror' is misleading and mistaken":

David Miliband said in the Indian city of Mumbai Thursday that the U.S.-led "war on terror" was an attempt to build solidarity by portraying a fight against a single shared enemy.
But, he said, the forces of violent extremism are diverse. Miliband said that by grouping various terrorist organizations together and drawing battle lines as a simple struggle between good and evil, extremists are aided in their effort to unify groups with little in common.

Barack Obama is sure to hear more such calls once he becomes president, and he seems more likely, at least, to give them a respectful hearing than President Bush has--although in 2007, when candidate John Edwards repudiated the war on terror as a mere "slogan," Obama pointedly did not follow suit. The new president seems to understand that it is a war, and that denying that it is will not dissuade the enemy from waging war on us.

But there is a serious conceptual problem with the idea of the "war on terror" (or, more precisely, on terrorism--the tactic rather than the emotion): It utterly fails to identify the enemy. We pondered the conundrum in our Weekend Interview with Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders:

Since 9/11, American political leaders have struggled with the question of how to describe the ideology of the enemy without making enemies of the world's billion or so Muslims. The various terms they have tried--"Islamic extremism," "Islamism," "Islamofascism"--have fallen short of both clarity and melioration.

Wilders's answer is that there is no distinction, no such thing as moderate Islam: "I see Islam more as an ideology than as a religion." But whatever its theological merits, this view is empirically false. There are strains of Islam that are ideologically moderate, and the vast majority of Muslims are far more moderate in their behavior than the terrorists of al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and other such movements.

So, how does one describe these movements? "Terrorist," as we have noted, is too imprecise, a reference to tactics, not ideology. What we need is a term that acknowledges that they are Islamic movements without implying anything invidious about Muslims who do not belong to such movements.

The answer: Islamic supremacy. The analogous term, white supremacy, is in no way offensive to whites, Indeed, condemnations of white supremacy generally succeed at shaming whites into shunning groups like the Ku Klux Klan, just as the West hopes to shame Muslims into shunning Islamic supremacist groups.

We would define Islamic supremacy as follows: a doctrine that seeks to subjugate or exterminate non-Muslims, or convert them to Islam by force. This is slightly different from white supremacy, in that there is no such thing as a racial conversion--but we think the analogy is close enough to be useful.

One might argue that supremacy is inherent in Islam, inasmuch as it claims to be the one true religion and (unlike some other faiths, such as Judaism) seeks converts. But the same is true of Christianity, which has largely made peace with secular modernity and religious pluralism. Reconciling Islam with religious pluralism is a task for Muslims. Combating Islamic supremacist movements is one for non-Muslims and nonsupremacist Muslims alike.

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I am a cantankerous man living and working in the Silicon Valley where reading books is an abomination that is virtually unheard of, frowned upon and may be detrimental to one's career. I avoid censure by never conceding that I ever read or owned a book in my life. If anyone accidentally glimpses my scant proficiency in any subject matter, I immediately accredit it to having glanced at DrudgeReport that day.

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