Monday, April 17, 2006

Jonathan Rauch on Jihadism -- Not "Terror"

This essay is about more than semantics. It is about substance, and how that substance is understood (or misunderstood) by both/all sides of the conflict. Virginia Postrel points to this important piece in National Journal.

Just look at the messy string of terms being tossed carelessly about as to what this war is about and who the enemies are...

Terrorism...terrorists...terrorist networks...a terrorist enemy defined by religious intolerance...Islamic radicalism...militant jihadism...Islamo-fascism, and so on.

"Whatever it's called," said the president, "this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam," and its adherents "distort the idea of jihad."

"I think defining who the enemy is is a real problem in this war," says Mary Habeck, a military historian at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. "If you can't define who's a real threat and who's just exercising free speech, it's a problem." As it happens, Habeck is the author of one of three new books that, taken together, suggest the time is right to name the battle. It is a war on jihadism.

Jihadism is not a tactic, a temperament, a political pathology, a mental pathology or a social pathology. Rather, it is a religious ideology, and the religion it is associated with is Islam.

Fine, you say. So what's the big deal?
Here is the big deal... is by no means synonymous with Islam, which is much larger and contains many competing elements. Islam can be, and usually is, moderate; Jihadism, with a capital J, is inherently radical. If the Western and secular world's nearer-term war aim is to stymie the jihadists, its long-term aim must be to discredit Jihadism in the Muslim world.

Get that? Islam usually is moderate, whereas Jihadism, with a capital J, is radical.
There is more worth reading, but the following sentence jumped off the screen at me:

"Western scholars have generally failed to take religion seriously."

This has been my complaint from the time I first became aware of politics. It does not mean that politicians and scholars have ignored religion. No, quite the opposite. They have generally regarded religion as one of the compelling variables, along with age, gender, income and the like. But that is not the same as taking religion seriously.

There is no metric to assess religion in terms of priority. For shelter, food, medical care, and most of the rest of life's variables there might be a range of options. We can drive a second-hand car or go in debt for a new one. We can put the family into a big house or a small one, wear designer clothes or not, take a vacation or through and find extra work for income.

But when it comes to religion the choices tend to be more limited. You may count yourself among the faithful or identify as an infidel. But attendance at services or monitary support is not part of the equasion. Pushed to the wall, even the most retrograde individual becomes defensive about religion. At some level there is a deep appreciation, even among athiests and agnostics, that matters of faith (or non-belief in these cases) there is not room for negotiation.

Just because I'm not a good [fill in faith name here] you have no business messing with what I (purport) to believe in!

How many parents have told their children, "Don't do as I do; do as I say do. The importance of this idea cannot be overlooked. There may be a gap between belief and behavior, but it that gap does not in any way reflect poorly on our highest aspirations.

With these thoughts in mind,

Jihadists... are not merely angry about U.S. policies. They believe that America is the biggest obstacle to the global rule of an Islamic superstate. Ultimately, in the Jihadist view, "Islam must expand to fill the entire world or else falsehood in its many guises will do so." Violence is by no means mandated, but it is assuredly authorized.

And always has been. The point that Bush, Blair, and others understandably finesse is that the ideology of Jihadism traces its lineage to the very beginning of the religion of Islam. It has "roots in discussions about Islamic law and theology that began soon after the death of Muhammad and that are supported by important segments of the clergy (ulama) today," Habeck writes.

Now go read the rest.
There is more ground to cover.

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