WESTERN CIVILIZATION believes in freedom and tolerance. So why is there such a thing as a terrorism war? Doesn't war take away freedom? Isn't war a powerful demonstration of intolerance? It would seem so at a glance, but a glance can often misread the whole story.
The terrorism war the free world is engaged in is primarily a war against Islamic fundamentalists, otherwise known as Islamists (to distinguish them from Muslims who would like more freedom and tolerance). The Islamists have taken exception to the freedoms and tolerance of the free world, and seek to destroy it. We should take their threat seriously.
The purpose of the terrorism war is to defeat the Islamists. Because of the nature of terrorism, limiting oneself to defensive action is too dangerous. Yes, starting a war (as in Iraq) is an extreme form of intolerance, but to protect and defend tolerance and freedom, it is not at all irrational to be intolerant of the intolerant, and to take away the freedoms of those who would destroy the freedoms of others. This is a fundamental principle of a free society and always has been.
Many people in the West have spent their whole lives in freedom and don't understand the need for a terrorism war. A thorough reading of history, however, can easily clarify the need for military action. Wherever freedom and tolerance have existed, it has required armed defense. Although most people want to simply enjoy freedom and live out their lives in peace, a few will always try to take advantage of the peace and remove the freedoms of others, and those few must be curtailed.
The goal of the Islamists is to make the whole world submit to Islam. This is not guesswork. The Islamists are out in the open about their purpose. Clearly their goal is in conflict with the goals of the free world. A terrorism war was inevitable unless one side was willing to give up their goal. One group wants to enjoy freedom of speech, human rights, freedom of religion, and women's rights. The other group wants the whole world to submit to Islam. These two goals are in complete opposition.
The terrorism war cannot be a partial or halfhearted defense because the Islamists are so committed. They must be overwhelmed. People who want to live in freedom must be in power and they must continually marginalize and defeat the Islamists. The alternative is the Islamists will win. There is no third alternative. Should we try negotiating? They don't want anything from us, they simply want us to cease to exist (or become Muslims). What is there to negotiate? With some people in this world, the normal ways of working things out will never work.
With this enemy, no amount of appeasement could work. The complaints and demands they make are an attempt to 1) give a veneer of public legitimacy to their actions, and 2) ultimately increase the Islamists' power. The fulfillment of their demands would not bring peace or prosperity or happiness to the majority of Muslims — and that is not the Islamists' intention.
If the West pulled all troops out of Arabian lands and out of Iraq, and removed all its support for Israel, the Islamists would not put their weapons away and live their lives in peace. They would use these Western appeasements to consolidate their power. They would take over Muslim countries by force and continue their war against the West. They want the West either completely destroyed or else converted to Islam. Again, this is not just guesswork. Their long term goal and their war strategy (jihad) is written and available to the public (read more about that here).
Any appeasements the West could make would not make people in the free world any safer. We would become most definitely less safe. It wouldn't even be good for the majority of Muslims either (the majority of Muslims want freedom and democracy, but they are being suppressed by the Islamists). All we would accomplish by appeasing their demands is to strengthen the military might of the ruthless extremists. There would be less political freedom for the average citizen of a Muslim country. Any rights women have struggled to gain would be quickly abolished. The Islamists don't keep this a secret either. They count on the apathy and tolerance and wishful thinking of the peace-loving Western population.
religious freedom in a free world
The West believes in religious freedom, in religious tolerance. Here is a difficult question: If people are free to practice their religion, what do we do if part of a person's religious practice is the imposition of their religion on others against their will? This is what happens in "Islamic countries" around the world. In the Koran, the use of force and the threat of death are considered legitimate ways to convert non-Muslims to the faith. Mohammed did it many times, and Islamists follow his example.
If you have one group aggressively promoting its agenda, and another group that doesn't, eventually the aggressive group will dominate. An attitude of live and let live will lose. Especially if the aggressive group is willing to use force. Therefore, to fight the Islamists effectively, the free world must aggressively promote an agenda that is better than theirs. What agenda would that be? What agenda, what goal, should the free world aggressively promote? How about human rights? How about women's rights? How about freedom of the press and freedom of religion? In other words: Freedom.
Really the only possible way to end the terrorism war in the long run is to create a free world. This goal is the perfect counterpart to the Islamists' goal (to force the world to submit to Islam). The free world needs an equally compelling goal, a goal we feel just as strongly about, and we need to be equally committed to it. When all countries on earth are democracies, the Islamists will have very little foothold. The battle against them will probably always exist, but it can be reduced to occasional skirmishes. The terrorism WAR will be over.
This is the best way to ensure the successful defense of our freedom. It is a positive, forward-looking goal. It is not a negative, against-something goal. A free world. The best goal we could choose is to work to make the whole world free — to bring freedom and democracy to every country on earth. Not only is the goal itself worthwhile, but as the goal gets accomplished, terrorism will have a smaller and smaller foothold.
This is a purpose that could potentially unite liberals and conservatives. Conservatives want free trade. Liberals want free speech and women's rights. The two sides can work together and help this world become nothing but democracies. There is a task for everyone and plenty to do.
But hold on. Isn't this a blatant imposition of Western values on other cultures? Not really. Think about this for a minute. To try to create a free world would be to impose more tolerant laws in countries with less tolerant laws. Keep in mind that the laws of politically free countries are manifestations of more universal values than the less free countries. If a country has a repressive, nonrepresentative government, that means the small group that forms their government is imposing its values on the larger population. If it is not a democratic country, those people have not chosen the legal and political values being imposed on them. To "impose" democracy is to allow them to choose their own values — this is not imposing; it is un-imposing. It is de-imposing.
Students around the free world protest against the use of America's military might, even when it is used to help form a democratic country where a brutal dictatorship existed. Why is this? I believe it is somewhat similar to a kid with rich parents who disdains money and thinks its pursuit is beneath him. In other words, the students who are protesting American military action have the luxury and freedom to protest or say what they want largely because of American might, just as the rich kid has the luxury to disdain money because his parents have money — because he doesn't have to worry about money. Put him alone in the world to make his own way with no support and no possibility of support, and his attitude toward money will change completely.
Put our protesting student into a country with a repressive government and his attitude will change completely too (if he lives).
We have all grown up in a free, rich country. Most of our young people have not had to fight in any wars. The United States has been a dominant political and military force our entire lives, and because the people in the free world have been sheltered by the military and political might of the U.S. and its allies, many of us see no need to go and kill other people. Can't we just figure something out? Can't we all just get along? Within the safe cocoon of a free democracy, that is often a legitimate possibility. But in the harsh reality international terrorism creates, that attitude will be crushed underfoot by the ruthless without a second glance. It's too bad it is that way, but wishing for peace won't change it. Those who just want to live their lives in peace will be the victims of Islamists hell-bent on world domination. Those willing to fight and who can fight effectively will help direct the unfolding of history.
"There are some peaces that are worse than war," said Peter Beinart, "There are some things worth fighting for. There are some wars that you need to fight to have a just peace in the end."
Or, as Lee Harris put it, "In a world where others are willing to risk death to get their way, you must be willing to risk death to keep them from getting their way." It's an unfortunate fact of life.
the paradox of war and peace
"In a world full of bluffers," wrote Harris, "the ruthless will rule." It cannot be any other way, unfortunately.
In the terrorism war, the free world cannot rely on bluffing. At some point, someone will call our bluff. Then violence is going to be the only thing that will work. To use violence to attain peace isn't as paradoxical as it seems on the surface. A good example is what happened on Flight 93. It had been hijacked by ruthless men. They intended to fly the plane into a target such as the U.S. capital building. The hijackers killed a passenger to make the rest of the passengers cower. No amount of negotiating would have stopped the terrorists. Appeasement would have done nothing. They didn't care about anything except their mission. They didn't need money or approval or favors. Violence was the only answer. The only way to stop the hijackers was to use force. So they stormed the cockpit and stopped the terrorists.
When you have an enemy who is literally dead-set on killing you, you have very few options. To stop them, you must resort to violence. As the author of Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism wrote, "Even some of the most principled advocates of religious pacifism have come to grips with the irreducible facts of human evil and the need to oppose it by force."
Children in the free world have been indoctrinated with the idea that violence is bad and civilized people handle their conflicts with peaceful dialog. We use conflict resolution strategies and anger management, and that's all great as long as both sides of a conflict agree to this. But the Islamists have nothing to negotiate. They only want an end to our free society. Freedom itself is evil as far as they are concerned. It is against Allah's will, they say, and must be done away with. They will stop at nothing, and therefore are outside the reach of peaceful dialog. They must be stopped by force or they will not stop.
The pacifist youth of the free world are following in a tradition of long standing. George Orwell, talking about the pacifists who protested World War II, said, "Those who 'abjure' violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf." Put those same people in an Islamist state such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, or Iran, and they will be executed summarily. And why would they be so easily killed? Only because they weren't willing to commit violence to protect themselves, or didn't have anyone else (like the military or police) willing to commit violence to protect them.
But what about Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.? They worked for their goals nonviolently, didn't they? So we know it works. Yes, it works, but unfortunately it only works within an already-existing democracy that protects the right to protest. In a non-democracy, dissent can be suppressed by force at any time, even peaceful dissent.
The desire for peace is not new. But, as John Stuart Mill wrote:
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of a moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight — nothing he cares about more than his own safety — is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
the crime of dictatorship
Britons abolished slavery in their own country, and in the 19th century they declared slavery an international crime and punished slave traders wherever they found them.
From this distance in history, Britain's position seems completely right. Even their blatant disregard for the soverenty of other nations seems absolutely justifyable. Slavery is wrong, and it wouldn't have been right to respect borders when it came to stopping it. We can see now that Britain was ahead of its time.
In the same way, at some point governments that haven't been voted in (non-representational governments) should be and probably will be eventually abolished internationally. Dictatorships should be internationally outlawed. And non-representational governments should not have a vote in the U.N. From a little distance in history, that will also seem completely right.
Freedom is right — freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free economies, free trade, etc. — and slavery is wrong. And the repression of freedom by a non-representational government is just as wrong. A population ruled by a non-representational government is itself a form of slavery.
What we're witnessing, what we've named "the terrorism war" is an ongoing battle between the forces of freedom and the forces of repression. The Islamists are repressive. They hate freedom and democracy. Why? Part of the answer is that Islam is a political religion. Most religions are not political — they are about personal action, personal discipline, and personal redemption.
Islam is about personal redemption also, but according to the Koran, one's redemption is achieved through political discipline. Rather than relying on individuals to restrain themselves from committing adultery, for example, Sharia law states that a woman must always be accompanied by a husband or relative outside her home. The religion is practiced by living in a society that practices that religion. Strict Islam can't really work in a democracy — there will be half-naked women running around all by themselves. In a democracy, morality won't be imposed from the outside, and that's how Islam is supposed to work.
That's why there are "Muslim countries" and not "Buddhist countries" or "Christian countries" — because to practice the religion fully the whole country has to submit to Islam. That's why Islam seems repressive. Because it is repressive by necessity. And in just that way, it is against freedom.
So you can see why the Islamists have only one recourse: They must destroy democracies. TTo the Islamist, freedom and democracy are obscene and intolerable.
The Islamists' memeplex (collection of memes) is virulent, vital, and well-defended. It is vigorous and aggressive. It has a top-notch immune system. The Koran contains memes that protect the memeplex of Islam (such as the rule: the penalty for leaving Islam is death). And strict Islam is an invading memeplex. It not only protects itself, but it imposes itself on others, by force if necessary. Mohammed himself gave many of his victims this choice: Either convert to Islam or be killed. No third option. His most fanatical followers today want to do the same to the whole world. Mohammed himself said that is the goal of Islam — the world must submit to Islam. Voluntarily is fine. By force is fine too.
What this means is that for the free world, the only way to attain peace is through war.
Sometimes something that is counterintuitive is nevertheless true. Although it's true, it doesn't seem that it could be true. For example, it seems if you drop a cannonball and a feather, even in a vacuum, the cannonball would hit the ground first. It is counterintuitive that they will fall at the same speed, but it is nevertheless true.
It is also true that the preparation for war, the willingness to fight wars, and the actual fighting of wars is the only way to maintain peace and freedom against an enemy who will stop at nothing to destroy you. You could probably have peace without war, but you couldn't have peace and freedom both.
If no ruthless power-hungry people ever strove to gain political power by the repression of others, war would be unnecessary. But history says and all the information we can gain from psychology and genetics says no matter what you do, ruthless power-hungry people will always exist and seek opportunities to gain power. And they will use whatever cultural myths they can find. Right now some of them are using the cultural myth that Islam's destiny is to become the world's religion. Hitler used the myth that it was the destiny of the Aryan race to rule the world. Mussolini used the myth that is was the destiny of Italy to revive the glory of the Roman Empire.
the new weapon
Memetics is the ultimate weapon in the terrorism war. Terrorists who study memetics will weaken their own fanaticism. The rest of us will be strengthened by studying memetics. And an understanding of how memes work will make it clear what must be done to win the war on terror.
The war on terror is partly a war of memes. In this war, you don't have to be against Islam. In fact, it would be better if you weren't. Being against Islam is a negative goal and would cause more strife than necessary. It would be much better to have a positive goal. Actively work for freedom. Do your part to help create and support democracy around the world. Aim for a free world.
We might be able to go one better and create an even more specific goal — women's rights. If women all over the world attained basic human rights, the Islamists would lose their political force. Wherever women have rights, Islamists will go out of business because if women are voting, you have a democracy rather than a country ruled by Islamists. (Islamists follow the Koran, and the Koran says democracies are man-made governments and should be abolished and replaced by Allah-made governments — following Sharia law.)
If all women in every country were allowed to vote, and their vote was equal to men's, so many positive changes would come about that Islamic terrorism would be chipped down to nothing. There would be very little support for terrorists. Most of the terrorists get their money from rich Islamic dictatorships. An entire country that sits on top of an ocean of oil has an astonishing amount of money at its disposal. In a free world, that source of money would dry up because in a democracy the money would be directed by the votes of the population rather than the fanatical group ruling the country. Islamists would have to find some other way of making a living.
But here we are again at that same moral question. To fight for women's rights around the world, are we imposing "our" values on "them?" Can you even "impose" freedom? If you impose freedom on a person, she is free to remain shackled if she so desires. And if she wants to live in an environment that does not expose her to the temptations of a free society, she can form a group with her fellow believers, as the Amish have done, and do what she wishes, restricting her own freedom voluntarily.
So the answer is, "No. By working for women's rights, you are not imposing your values on other cultures." By working and even fighting for freedom and democracy, you are not imposing your values on others. You are giving people the power to overthrow their repressive government officials who have not attained their position with the consent of the people, and you are allowing the people to choose to live in their own country as free people. The goal is a free world. The whole world should be free. And to work toward that goal is the most effective way we can ultimately defeat terrorism.