More Precision in this War, Post-Haste!

Friday, December 03, 2004

And I'm not talking about precision-guided bombs, either.

I'm referring to language. It fails to amaze me, but only because our education system is so poor, that in a society where we have ample testimony to the power of language, from the saying that "The pen is mightier than the sword" to cautionary tales like Orwell's 1984, that the ideology of multiculturalism holds the sway that it does. If there can be gleaned a silver lining from the cloud of Islamofascism, it may just be this: They are such barbarians that they will fight until killed, thereby slowly unmasking all the excuses people make in certain quarters for what they do.

One way of excusing terrorism has been discussed quite a bit in the blogosphere: the ridiculous insistence by the mainstream news media on using euphemisms for the murderers themselves, as if the circumstances of butchering innocents can magically transform the act. Daniel Pipes gives the laundry list of words that the media use instead of the more accurate term "terrorist" here. This is indeed a step in the right direction: naming the perpetrators. Notice that I did not say that we finally got around to naming the enemy, though. There are many kinds of terrorists besides the Islamofascist variety. Terrorism is merely a method of waging war. While it is important that we quit calling terrorists by respectable names, it is a life-and-death matter in times of war to identify the enemy properly.

Enter Sam Harris. A recent issue of TIA Daily pointed me to an editorial by Sam Harris that does just this.

It is time we admitted that we are not at war with "terrorism." We are at war with Islam. This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran. The only reason Muslim fundamentalism is a threat to us is because the fundamentals of Islam are a threat to us. Every American should read the Koran and discover the relentlessness with which non-Muslims are vilified in its pages. The idea that Islam is a "peaceful religion hijacked by extremists" is a dangerous fantasy — and it is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for Muslims to indulge.

I am still becoming familiar with Sam Harris as a thinker. Some time ago, September I believe, I saw him being interviewed on Fox News about his book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. He made good enough points that when my mother asked me for ideas for a birthday gift, I asked her to purchase the book for me. Since Harris is a fellow neuroscientist, I figured that he might hold more rational views about the mind than most other philosophers. Indeed, the fact that he shifted from the study of philosophy to that of science after he earned his baccalaureate probably bodes well, considering the state of mainstream philosophy today. However, he brings in ideas from Eastern thought, which makes him suspect. Indeed, my worst fear for this book is that he'll rip up religion merely for being doctrinaire, but will champion some new version of revealed truth as a means of knowledge. He would then end up aiding religion while appearing to champion reason. But that is why we read books. I'll discuss Harris more once I have completed his book. Having said all that, I am optimistic on balance that the book will be fundamentally a good one.

What is nice about Harris's editorial is this: we have someone making a secular case that we are mired in a religious war. To do so requires a moral judgment about religion as religion. In our dominant intellectual culture, the nonjudgmentalism of the multiculturalist holds sway in secular circles while religion is the sole purveyor of morality in the eyes of the man on the street. The fact that a secularist is making a moral judgment at least shows that there are alternatives to religion. This is a very important development because it is not just the Islamic faith that threatens our society, but religion as such. Our society will just as surely die whether Christian or Islamic fundamentalism becomes dominant. Neither is any friend to independent thought or unfettered intellectual inquiry. In this respect, Harris does a great service by moving discourse about the war from a mere squabble between Christians and Muslims over which ghost we should die for to whether we should believe in ghosts at all. And that is, in fact, what this war is all about.

If you don't believe me on that point, here's a gem from early in Harris's book:

Without death, the influence of faith-based religion would be unthinkable. Clearly, the fact of death is intolerable to us, and faith is little more than the shadow cast by our hope for a better life beyond the grave.

We are at war because the barbarians are implicitly told, "You will die!" every time they are confronted by our refusal to follow their religion. The barbarians are particularly desperate this time, not because Christ is on our side, but because our amazing civilization far surpasses theirs in every conceivable field of endeavor. Rather than taking this as a lesson to be learned from their wiser brothers, they react with violent hatred. Why? Because they would have to admit that it is this world in which they truly live. (And this mean that they will die.) And even though they refuse, our efficacy in this world tells what is left of their minds that it is we who are right. To quit hearing this terrible message, they kill the messenger.

The only way to rid the world of Islamofascist terror is to fight it ruthlessly, and the only way to do so is to be clear about what we are fighting. The pen is mightier than the sword because it orders the sword around. This is why political correctness or a fear of offending Muslims is deadly to civilized men in this day and age. But this is also why the words of men like Sam Harris and Theo Van Gogh, who speak out against the evil inherent in religious fanaticism, will ultimately prove deadly to the Islamofascists. The sooner we are clear about who the enemy is in this world war against Islamofascism, the better. Faster, please!

-- CAV

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