The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Fanaticism of Reason

In Sunday’s NYT book review, Ayaan Hirsi Ali discusses Lee Harris’s new book, The Suicide of Reason. In his book, Harris argues that Islam, when it is driven by Islamist elements, is inherently imperialist and that history indicates that wherever it makes headway (think: Pakistan or Indonesia or Europe) “there has occurred a total and revolutionary transformation in the culture of those conquered or converted.”

Ali summarizes one element of Harris’ argument:
In describing the imperialist nature of Islam, Harris suggests that it is distinct from the Roman, British and French empires. He views Islamic imperialism as a single-minded expansion of the religion itself; the empire that it envisions is governed by Allah. In this sense, the idea of jihad is less about the inner struggle for peace and justice and more about a grand mission of conversion. It should be said, however, that Harris’s argument is incomplete, since he does not address the spread of Christianity in the Roman, British and French empires.

Those who argue that books like Harris’s engender unjustified fear and that “the spread of Christianity in the Roman, British and French empires” had it’s own concomitant horrors miss a key point. Again from Ali:
The Romans, the British and the French went about annexing large parts of the world more for earthly or material gain than for spiritual dominance. Under these empires, the clergy was allowed to propagate its faith as long as it did not jeopardize imperial interests.

But under Islamist imperialism, things are quite different. The primary goal of Islamists is to preserve the faith as it was a millennium ago and at the same time, to convert those who they encounter to the faith and subjugate those who refuse to convert.

If Islamic fundamentalism was the only problem faced by the West, it would not be an existential threat. Disruptive—certainly. Deadly—undoubtedly. But potentially triumphant—never!

Harris identifies a second fanaticism that, when coupled with Islamist fanaticism, could lead to Islam’s triumph over the next century. It’s important to note that the timelines here are long. If we fall prey to the second fanaticism, our culture and freedoms will erode in tiny increments that will become larger and more profound as time passes. Hersi Ali describes this second fanaticism:
The second fanaticism that Harris identifies is one he views as infecting Western societies; he calls it a “fanaticism of reason.” Reason, he says, contains within itself a potential fatality because it blinds Western leaders to the true nature of Islamic-influenced cultures. Westerners see these cultures merely as different versions of the world they know, with dominant values similar to those espoused in their own culture. But this, Harris argues, is a fatal mistake. It implies that the West fails to appreciate both its history and the true nature of its opposition.

Today we hear potential leaders of our country (Barack Obama comes to mind) fall prey to a fanaticism of reason. He argues (and he is far from alone in this argument) that we need to talk with leaders of Islamofascist regimes. But about what? Andrew Sullivan once noted (paraphrasing) that “you can never reason someone out of an extreme position that they never reasoned themselves into in the first place.” But many in the West simply cannot accept this.

Hersi Alli comments:
The West has variously tried to convert, to assimilate and to seduce Muslims into modernity, but, Harris says, none of these approaches have succeeded. Meanwhile, our worship of reason is making us easy prey for a ruthless, unscrupulous and extremely aggressive predator and may be contributing to a slow cultural “suicide.”

I have often noted that tolerance in the face of intolerance is a prescription for the demise of those who are tolerant. I have also noted that appeasement of those who desire your downfall leads not to peace or calm or prosperity, but rather to chaos and death.

Hersi Alli disagrees with Harris, arguing that our problem “is not too much reason but too little.”

I would argue that many in the West are so concerned about tolerance (even when it flows only one way) and about moral relativism in all of its multicultural aspects, that they view their adversaries through a distorted filter. With hubris that is uniquely western, they self-flagellate, arguing that it must have been something we did, and if we’d change, the behavior of our adversary would change. But past and recent history indicate that Islamists have no intention or desire to change, regardless of the actions of the infidels.

Those on the Left who argue that “war is not the answer” are right, but not in the way they think. Even if we succeed militarily in places far removed from our shores, the real conflict will be waged considerably closer to home. And if, through our own misguided view of our moral position, our uncritical application of tolerance, and our blind acceptance of multiculturalism, we allow incremental changes that slowly erode our freedoms, we may slowly change.

And for those who think that such change would be cleansing, keep in mind that it would, over time, eradicate everything you and the generations that follow hold dear.