After almost every shooting involving a Muslim perpetrator, from 9/11 to Fort Hood to San Bernardino, we hear, from the President on down, some version of the following on-going narrative: “We are horrified by this inexplicable, horrendous act. Our hearts go out to the victims. This atrocity again proves the need for more gun laws.” We then have a statement from some Muslim group; its spokesmen, often women, are also horrified. They had nothing to do with it; they knew nothing about it. They are concerned with retaliation. Next we have a solemn admonition from some government official assuring us that the Muslim community is peaceful, that we depend on loyal Muslims. This shooting, it is explained, was the product of a loner or two, usually a citizen of the place where the killings occurred. This insane action requires the attention of psychological health experts; ideology is mostly or entirely ignored.
Then ISIS or Al Qaeda announces that it is responsible for the killings, whether that is actually true or not. We almost always are led to conclude that this event is just another irrational act. As with earthquakes, no real explanation exists. Such things just happen; some human beings are nutty. Since similar acts now happen every other week, if not sooner; we have to be ready for them. We need to call in the FBI, federal agencies, more militarized police, community organizers, religious leaders, and psychiatrists. But the bottom line is that, though all religions are prone to violence, we are told these particular happenings have nothing to do with religion, especially not Islam. They are caused by “terrorism” and “violence”, as if these acts are somehow themselves independent ideological positions with no relation to the organizations that use them to foster their ends.
Is there another conceivable way to look at these events that comes closer to a more plausible explanation? The first step is that these atrocities all have a single ultimate origin. I do not mean some central command post in Syria ordering operatives today to go to Paris, tomorrow to San Bernardino, the next day you name it, though there may be that too.
The ultimate origin is found in the history of Muslim conquests from its beginning in the 7th and 8th centuries and confirmed by many passages in the Qur’an. Muslim scholars know that this jihadist approach is found within the religion. It is not an outside import; it is not an aberration. It may not be the only position found in this rambling book, but it is one that is there. This same force of spirit to convert all to Islam has abided for twelve hundred years. Yet, instead of grudgingly acknowledging it and dealing with it, we deny it exists.
Islam has no central authority. Passages in the Qur’an and its commentaries advocating holy war may be interpreted literally, symbolically, or poetically, but they are there. The reason why this jihadist inspiration always comes back to incite some Muslim believers is because it is found in the sources as the only true interpretation of Islam. ISIS members insist that their religious motives be taken seriously. This earnestness is what motivates them. We insult them, while at the same time playing into their hands, by refusing to understand what they say and, indeed, give witness to with their lives. It is those Muslims who have died killing in western cities–not those who are murdered–who are considered to be, yes, martyrs.
The so-called “Muslim terrorists”, then, do not think of themselves as “Muslim terrorists”. They consider themselves to be the only real followers of Mohammed.
They see themselves as doing exactly what he and his first followers did in the saga of a rapid conquest of much of the African, Arab, and Middle Eastern worlds.
The conquest of Europe would complete the stymied efforts at Tours and Vienna, victories that allowed Europe to remain Europe and not become Muslim much sooner. Moreover, jihadists have a perfectly intelligible explanation for what they are doing and how they are doing it. It is a sophisticated intellectual theory deftly designed to explain exactly why these “terrorist” acts are both legitimate and indeed praiseworthy in the eyes of Allah. The voluntarist metaphysics behind such reasoning is by no meant unfamiliar to western thinkers. And it is this intellectual battle that we are unwilling to or unable to fight.
Briefly, the assigned mission of Islam is to conquer the world for Allah. Submission to Allah is the highest human good. Any means to carry it out is good if it is successful. Carrying out this mission, in this view, is a Muslim’s vocation. With the re-establishment of the caliphate, this mission can now recommence. No other religion or its symbols, including ones more ancient than Islam, are allowed within its conquered territories. The fact that many individual Muslims may not agree with this interpretation is irrelevant. There are millions that do agree. But numbers are not the key factor.
Fear rules both the Muslim and western cultures that oppose the jihadists or are its victims. This fear is kept alive by methods of warfare, shrewdly applied, that utilize modern technology but rely on old and reliable techniques. Muslims fighters learned some time ago that modern weapons are not particularly effective against them. Slitting the throats of ten Christians on international TV is more effective than weapons of mass destruction, which they would also like to possess. We see that trucks and cars are often feared means of their warfare.
Thus, tanks and bombs are not particularly effective against individual and seemingly random attacks on enemy homelands. With local passports and cell phones, small arms, home-made bombs, and knives, any large western city can be brought to its knees for several days. It is something of a joke now to think that such things as the Transportation Safety mechanisms we have in airports make much difference.
The downing of a Russian passenger plane may still happen, but attacking schools, buses, trains, churches, or just random individuals anywhere in the world will instantly be on international news with the usual disclaimers. Bringing down passenger planes may be an obsolete means in terms of effectiveness.
As long as we choose (and it is a choice) not to identify the problem the more it is successful and the more it will grow. That growth may indeed be the reason it is not identified. The deeper problem lies in the truth of Islam’s mission to conquer the world for Allah. If it is true, that is, if the Qur’an is a revelation of God, then it will eventually win. Even if it is not true or from God, as I do not think that it is, even in Christian apocalyptic terms, it may well win. If our view of the world is cast in terms of relativism, of diversity theory, of pacifism, we really have no clue about that is happening. One cannot but admire the logic and abiding persistence within Islam to continue its centuries-long, Allah-given mission to conquer the world.
One can speculate about why we cannot locate the problem, and therefore not face its real attraction for its millions of followers within Islam. In no actual Muslim country is there any real freedom of religion. Whenever and wherever possible, all or part of Muslim law is established as civil law. Many Muslim countries are “peaceful” only in the sense that their governments, usually military dictatorships, keep down that radicalism that would overthrow them and is overthrowing them in many places. Muslim masses wait to see who is winning. They know even within Islam that they cannot afford to be on the losing side.
The present strategy of ISIS and its followers seems clear enough. The following steps or remarks seem most plausible:
1) Gain control of governments and armies within present Islamic states.
2) Eliminate all Christian, Jewish, and related elements, including their buildings and records, from within existing Muslim states.
3) Place as many Muslims, especially young males, in European countries and other countries as possible.
4) Continue to produce large numbers of children so that demographic and democratic processes will provide increasing majorities on towns, cities, and nations.
5) Make every city and area on earth, from Mumbai to San Bernardino, the object of incidents of terror both on a systematic and random basis, preferably both.
6) Already more than enough followers are found in most western countries that are willing to sacrifice their lives to carry this project out in the coming years.
7) Create an atmosphere that makes it difficult to stem the Muslim conquest.
8) Undermine and convert to your use all police, and military operations left remaining to oppose a final conquest.
Granted the speed of the success, the confusion, and deliberate blindness of its opposition, ISIS and its sympathizers have a reasonable hope of final success at least in Europe and possibly America. Russia, China, and India may take longer. They will ultimately have to be dealt with. All three of these countries already have met Muslim invasions or turmoil. Their own nationalist or religious unity may prove more difficult to counter. They are, when provoked, less likely to stand by confused and relatively helpless.
And one last caveat, from Howard Kainz’ essay “Christians As ‘Soft Targets’”: “The combination of the surrender to modernism in the ‘developed world’ and Christians’ helpless exposure to violence and subjugation in Muslim-dominated regions leads to a possible alternative vision of Armageddon and victory: a final martyrdom of the Church.” The Church has no armies. Who will defend her?
James V. Schall, S.J.
James V. Schall, S.J. taught political philosophy at Georgetown University for many years until recently retiring. He is the author of numerous books and countless essays on philosophy, theology, education, morality, and other topics. His most recent book is Reasonable Pleasures: The Strange Coherences of Catholicism (Ignatius Press). Visit his site, “Another Sort of Learning”, for more about his writings and work.