Getting Warmer

Writing in today’s Times, Tom Friedman shows encouraging signs of coming around to a more realistic position on Islam and jihad, though he still stops well short of grasping the nettle.

He remarks on the spread of jihadi rabble-rousing on the Internet — or, as he calls it, “Virtual Afhganistan”.

Whatever threat the real Afghanistan poses to U.S. national security, the “Virtual Afghanistan” now poses just as big a threat. The Virtual Afghanistan is the network of hundreds of jihadist Web sites that inspire, train, educate and recruit young Muslims to engage in jihad against America and the West. Whatever surge we do in the real Afghanistan has no chance of being a self-sustaining success, unless there is a parallel surge — by Arab and Muslim political and religious leaders — against those who promote violent jihadism on the ground in Muslim lands and online in the Virtual Afghanistan.


The Obama team is fond of citing how many “allies” we have in the Afghan coalition. Sorry, but we don’t need more NATO allies to kill more Taliban and Al Qaeda. We need more Arab and Muslim allies to kill their extremist ideas, which, thanks to the Virtual Afghanistan, are now being spread farther than ever before.

Only Arabs and Muslims can fight the war of ideas within Islam.

Well, he’s got that right: we kafirs certainly aren’t going to talk any jihadis out of their vests. He actually seems to be admitting that Islam is, as far as the West is concerned, an intractable problem, one that only some sort of “civil war” within the Ummah itself can solve.

Friedman goes even further: he breaks ranks with the Left by rejecting the view that it’s all our fault, that the poor pious Muslims have been so cruelly beaten down by capitalist Western colonialism that they can’t be held accountable:

A corrosive mind-set has taken hold since 9/11. It says that Arabs and Muslims are only objects, never responsible for anything in their world, and we are the only subjects, responsible for everything that happens in their world. We infantilize them.

Arab and Muslims are not just objects. They are subjects. They aspire to, are able to and must be challenged to take responsibility for their world. If we want a peaceful, tolerant region more than they do, they will hold our coats while we fight, and they will hold their tongues against their worst extremists.

This is refreshing. What is missing, however, is the next step: a realistic measure of pessimism, based on an understanding and acceptance of the real structure of Islam. Mr. Friedman writes the following with evident surprise:

What is really scary is that this violent, jihadist minority seems to enjoy the most “legitimacy” in the Muslim world today. Few political and religious leaders dare to speak out against them in public. Secular Arab leaders wink at these groups, telling them: “We’ll arrest if you do it to us, but if you leave us alone and do it elsewhere, no problem.”

How many fatwas — religious edicts — have been issued by the leading bodies of Islam against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda? Very few. Where was the outrage last week when, on the very day that Iraq’s Parliament agreed on a formula to hold free and fair multiparty elections — unprecedented in Iraq’s modern history — five explosions set off by suicide bombers hit ministries, a university and Baghdad’s Institute of Fine Arts, killing at least 127 people and wounding more than 400, many of them kids?

Not only was there no meaningful condemnation emerging from the Muslim world — which was primarily focused on resisting Switzerland’s ban on new mosque minarets — there was barely a peep coming out of Washington. President Obama expressed no public outrage. It is time he did.

What does he expect? Look, for example at this passage:

[Islam] has a violent minority that believes bad things: that it is O.K. to not only murder non-Muslims — “infidels,” who do not submit to Muslim authority — but to murder Muslims as well who will not accept the most rigid Muslim lifestyle and submit to rule by a Muslim caliphate.

The scare-quotes are revealing here. What he misses is that we here in the West aren’t “infidels”; we are infidels. And so, by any coherent interpretation of Islam, are the modernizing, secular, tolerant Muslims he is counting on to extirpate their fundamentalist brethren — and most of them, I think, know it. At the very least enough of them do that whatever Friedman is counting on here is not going to happen.

Mr. Friedman began today’s column with the soundest advice of all:

Let’s not fool ourselves.

Ha! Yes, by all means, let’s not. But — do forgive me — what makes you think we can we manage it? After all, we’ve been doing it so well, for so long.

But all right, then, let’s give it a go. Why don’t we start by not fooling ourselves about this: it is not this or that group of Muslims that are the problem — it is Islam itself.

Right, sorry. I was afraid that one might be too difficult. That awful realization, I think, is still a few columns away.

Read Mr. Friedman’s essay here.

One Comment

  1. When I saw the heading, Malcolm, I first thought that you were coming around to accept the fact of human-caused global warming.

    But in fact, the days are getting cooler as we approach Xmas, and the season is right for a jolly song: “Infidels.”

    Enjoy the mood of this ‘gorious’ holiday season!

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    Posted December 17, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

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