Is the West or the Islamic World at Greater Existential Risk?

Responding to Shannon Love, Lex wrote:

If the West wants to survive, it could destroy this threat with a small amount of physical exertion. The moral and intellectual energy are what is missing. Or, missing from most of Europe, much of Britain and far too much of the United States.

I think the energy is there, but the activation threshold has not, for a large part of our population, been crossed. All it would take to cross that threshold would be another one or two big attacks a la 9/11, or several years of smaller attacks in which many people are killed and westerners become demoralized and cautious about daily life. Either way it is likely that voters would eventually insist that their leaders deal with the problem no matter what, which is essentially what happened in Israel. And either scenario is ominous for the Muslim world in general and Arab Muslims in particular.

On this last point I agree with what I take to be the positions of Wretchard and of Jim Bennett. By responding forcefully abroad to terrorists and their patron states, and by sincerely encouraging development in those states of robust new democratic political cultures, George Bush has substantially weakened our enemies. Ironically, by doing so he has also reduced domestic political pressure for a radical response to terror to such a low ebb that many Americans refuse to accept that we are at war. However, as I suggest above, further jihadist attacks could provide the political impetus for a much more brutal response on our part.

It is a mistake to assume that the proportion in our population of “Jacksonians” who favor annihilating our enemies is static. In reality, further terror attacks would probably radicalize many Americans who now consider themselves moderate accommodationists, just as the Intifada and bus bombings transformed many Israeli leftists into Sharon voters. Indeed the irrepressible prevalence in our society of speculations about nuking Mecca and the like shows how close the Jacksonian undercurrent flows to the surface of our polite discussions. So whose society is in mortal danger? I don’t think it’s ours.

UPDATE: See also this. (via Hugh Hewitt)

18 thoughts on “Is the West or the Islamic World at Greater Existential Risk?”

  1. It strikes me that we already had the attacks a la 9/11 back in the 90’s. Unfortunately the administration we had then chose to treat them as crimes rather than terrorist attacks and without the support of the media changing this situation will be difficult. I think we need to have this point emphasized by the media and have them accept that the Islamofascists mean what they say. Then maybe the media will get the news out and people who do not read blogs might open their eyes as to what is really going on in the world.

  2. Your article is interesting and I have commented on blogs elsewhere that that Muslim terrorists and, probably more importantly, those who shelter and support them are making a disastrous error of judgement if they believe western society is a decadent pushover. The terorists are probably beyond reason but their supporters, I suggest, are not. These people should understand the lessons of WW2 and be fearful: Dresden, Hiroshima, Stalingrad and more. The west is capable of fearsome, and in my view justifiable retaliation, if we see our survival threatened.

  3. I suspect that if that ‘triggering effect’ ever does create a Jacksonian America it will not only be very ugly for the Islamics, but also their apologists and allies within the American population. Its not going to be pretty. However, America survived the exodus of large numbers of crown loyalist shortly after the United States was created. I suspect it will survive a similar disporia.

  4. I don’t buy that there is a “trigger” somewhere – as if some set amount of attacks will put in motion a straightforward and definable reaction by Americans and the West. I think there are a lot of possible courses of action, among them, many courses amounting to nihilism, to a greater or lesser extent. Would a couple big attacks, like WMD attacks on our business and social centers, do the trick? Maybe. There’s always a possibility tho, that we have an accomodationist government in place that starts from the presumption that it must have been something we did, to cause NY to get nuked. Such a government would take every step in its power to avoid retaliation against the wrong people (i.e. Muslims in general) and probably work pretty hard to avoid retaliating against the people surely responsible (i.e. some combination of Saudi, Iran, and Syria). Likewise, a long series of relatively low level actions, along the lines of what Israel has suffered, might not be drastic enough to catalyze anything. In fact, in Israel, there is a substantial chunk of the population that doesn’t appear capable of fighting, no matter how bad the bloodshed gets. “Relax, Irving, I’m sure they have good reason to herd us into these cattle cars.”

    This makes me think that the political fight to save the west’s character – our confidence and moral fiber (in the general sense of adhering to a judeo Christian (and moderate Muslim) ethic is really more critical than we’ve thought. Regaining a foothold for the west in the Universities may be one really important battlefield we’ve completely overlooked. It’s not that all students come out of the colleges hating the west, but enough are talked into it, and enough are talking into the multi-culti “all cultures are equivalent” crap, so that we may be reaching a critical mass of people who can’t see the justification for trying to save ourselves. I am thus much more downbeat in my assessment of the future, than are you.

  5. I don’t think we are in any danger of losing a “clash of civilizations” with the Islamist. The power asymmetry is simply to great. In the grand scheme of things, the damage that the Islamist could ever inflict on the West is relatively trivial. The scale of destruction to date would not even have made the papers if it occurred in the middle of WWII. Radical Islam is not the danger.

    The danger to our civilization lies in the very real possibility that mass-casuality terrorism will become widely viewed a legitimate means of armed struggle. Once the belief becomes widespread that a tiny group or perhaps even solitary individuals have the right to murder as many random individuals of any population as they are technically capable of doing based on any perceived injustice then society is headed for either chaos or a police state.

    It is terrorism as a tactic that we must “defeat” not any particular ideology. From the 60’s through the late 80’s terrorist were overwhelmingly Marxist disguised as ethnic nationalist. Today they are primarily Islamist. Tomorrow they could be environmentalist, anti-globalist or some other ideology not yet born. We can’t stop terrorism by destroying this or that ideological movement. We can only stop it by delegitimizing it as a tactic.

    We need to get people world wide to stop saying that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” and get them to recognize that there are some tactics that are simply forbidden regardless of perceived justice of one’s cause.

    Only then will the threat disappear.

  6. As you correctly pointed out in the previous piece, terrorism is generally ineffective in pursuit of a domestic agenda, as the perpetrators isolate themselves from domestic sympathy. I believe that is as true of British Muslims as it is of the US militia movement you referred to.

    Terrorism from abroad is also limited because of the power imbalance, as you say here. That power cannot effectively be brought to bear on a domestic enemy, however.

    Terrorism can survive where there is a large domestic movement that is so extreme it is willing to tolerate an extended terroist campaign. That was the case of the IRA, whose leadership gave the order to disarm on Thursday, not exactly victorious but having achieved a negotiated settlement. I think this indicates that a democratic society cannot exist where a substantial minority within it is prepared to take up arms against it. Northern Ireland is the rare case where this situation exists.

  7. People forget that one of the real risks of behaving passively in the face of future attacks is that we will be perceived as weak by OTHER nations.

    Say, China…

    THAT perception — even if a miscalculation — would be disastrous for the whole world.

  8. During the last election, I argued on the Grinnell College 76 listserv that Kerry’s doctrine of only fighting “Wars of Last Resort” meant fightening wars of anniliation. Wait, and do nothing, a the result would be anniliation of the Arab world by the United States, just as we waged wars of anniliation against the Germans and Japanese. Kerry’s isolationism would turn out to be far more brutal then Bush’s Democtratic revolution. We’ve been here before with the America Firsters and Henry Ford and Charles Lindberg.

  9. The Israelis are actually a bunch of pacifist wusses. If Americans were subject to what Israel has been subject too, we’d wipe out all Muslims all over the world.

  10. Bill Baar – I agree.

    Half Sigma – While I don’t think the Israelis are wusses, there is some truth to your remark about how Americans respond to extreme provocation. I hope it doesn’t come to that.

  11. The power asymmetry is simply to great. In the grand scheme of things, the damage that the Islamist could ever inflict on the West is relatively trivial.

    I’m not so sure, Shannon. Admittedly, the Islamacist gnats can’t kill us with a thousand stings.

    However, I’m with Gibbon in believing that great societies are rarely killed off by outside forces. Rather, they decay internally, and commit suicide (either actively, or by simply stopping doing the things that make them great).


  12. A thought experiment. Imagine that in 50 years, Italy, Spain and France have been taken over by a violent minority of jihadists who are imposing a Sharia state. Conceivable, if current trends continue. Britain? Virtually inconceivable. The USA? No way. The European countries, especially the latinate ones are plausible candidates for this fate because they have the worst demographic disaster ongoing. The local population will be old and afraid, those few who are young and competent will have emigrated to the Anglosphere, or some other haven, if there is any, and quite possibly those remaining will be unable to generate the will to resist a large number of ruthless young men to whom killing is a religious duty who don’t care if they die. They will end their lives as dhimmis or forced converts. The cathedrals, formerly places of worship, now museums, will be mosques. Smug middle aged European women who jeer at Bush will spend the last years of their lives being whipped in the street in their own hometowns if their heads and faces aren’t completely covered.

  13. Pingback: Isaac Schrödinger
  14. Dear God, Lex, you make me hot when you talk that way. Hell, I know people who would pay good money to whip a bunch of European women. Especially if it involved chocolate sauce.

    In spite of the pleasure your sublime imagery gives me, I still think we’re in grave peril across the west, due to this nihilistic urge that is so well embodied in leftism, and to a lesser extent in neo-liberalism. The Brits are reacting in a spasm to a violent stimulus right now. Let’s see if they step up, in a prolonged manner, to reclaim their heritage. It’s true, no great empires in Europe and West Asian simply disintegrated – all of them had their ups and downs on the way out – but the historical trends do not favor a sick society finding a cure. The reason I fear this is that the Islamacists are not a superior empire. Rather, they are the embodiment of nihilism in our time. As Osama pointed out, they love death more than most of us westerners, love life. On the balance, that’s close to being true in a lot of places in the west, and especially on the university staffs and in the media. The fact that the Beeb was calling them “attackers” and “bombers” instead of terrorists within 12 hours of the 7/7 attacks, should tell you something.

  15. Current trends are not likely to continue. They rarely do. Look back at what people feared at various points in the past — how often were the extreme fears of the day realized? Keynes was right: “The inevitable never happens. It is the unexpected always.” I don’t know what the future will look like but I am certain it will not closely resemble our current projections. This statement is almost a law of human nature.

  16. Jonathan, I agree. But we had better see the Europeans get serious about current trends NOT continuing. I agree also that nothing is inevitable, or almost nothing. Demographic trends in Europe are set in stone, because people who are out of child-bearing years who never had children, or had one, are not going to miraculously produce children. But otherwise, lots could be done, and maybe it will be. I hope so. I like the West. A “West” composed only of the overseas Anglosphere is much weaker than one which still incorporates Europe.

    Al, I have no schadenfreude at the prospect I described.

Comments are closed.