There are two contrasting points of view in the West on the nature of Islam and the problems it presents. The more prevalent view, adopted by the Bush administration and emphasized by the Obama administration, is that Islam is basically a Religion of Peace and Islamic terror is merely a deviant iteration of Islam. The contrasting view is that Islam itself fosters violent conflict with non-believers and confrontation is inevitable; in this view only by projecting strength and resolution can the West minimize the deleterious results of the clash since Islam accepts as part of its core doctrine the need for coexistence where Islam cannot achieve supremacy.
The two contrasting approaches are on display in an article from Tom Barnett and a recent book review linked by Zenpundit.
Tom Barnett has advanced the idea that Iran can be managed and eventually co-opted if only we use our soft (economic) power to its utmost:
Beginning with the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the West has viewed the Middle East and North Africa primarily through the lens of radical fundamentalist political movements. That perspective has narrowed our strategic vision ever since, conflating Shiite with Sunni, evangelicals with fundamentalists, Persians with Arabs, Islamists with autocrats, and so on. But recent events in Tunisia and Algeria remind us that the vast bulk of history's revolutions are fueled by economics, not politics. In this, the struggle for Islam's soul is no different than that of any other civilization in this age of globalization's rapid expansion.
All of the world's major religions grew up under the same Malthusian conditions, in which population growth and wealth creation duked it out in a zero-sum contest. That contest ended with the Industrial Revolution, which allowed the West to free economic growth from the limits of organically achieved accumulation.
My apologies; unfortunately the rest is now behind a pay wall and I cannot find the link to the open source copy of the article. However, if you are familiar with his work, the rest follows; essentially, he proposes that were we to open up to Iran (increase connectivity) it would inevitably lead to its people growing wealthier, effectively becoming more middle class, and that eventually, though sometimes only after 2, 3, or more generations, that leads to moderation.
Jean-Pierre Filiu’s book, Apocalypse in Islam (University of California Press, 2011) makes a crucially important contribution to our understanding of current events – it illuminates not just one but a cluster of closely-related blind-spots in our current thinking, and it does so with scholarship and verve.
Al-Qaida’s interest in acquiring nuclear weapons — and Iran’s – and the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear materiel – and the situation in Jerusalem – depending how you count ‘em, there are a half dozen or so glaring world problems where one spark in the Mahdist underbrush might transform a critical situation. And yet as Ali Allawi put it in his talk to the Jamestown Foundation on Mahdism in Iraq a few years back, Mahdists ferments still tend to be “below our radar”.
People are always talking about unintended consequences: might I suggest that blind-spots are where unintended consequences come from – and offer some background on apocalyptic, before proceeding to discuss Filiu’s contribution?
We already have a tendency to dismiss religious drivers in considering current events, having concluded in many cases that religion is passé for the serious-minded types who populate diplomatic, military and governmental bureaucracies world-wide – and we are even more reluctant to focus on anyone who talks about the Last Days and Final Judgment, despite the presence of both in the faith statements and scriptures of both Islam and Christianity. We think vaguely of cartoons of bearded and bedraggled men with sandwich boards declaring The End is Nigh, and move along to something more easily understood, something conveniently quantitative like the number of centrifuges unaffected by Stuxnet in Iran, or purely hypothetical, like the association of Taliban and Al Qaida in Afghanistan.
And yet, as I’ve argued before, apocalyptic belief can be a potent force-multiplier – because as Timothy Furnish puts it bluntly in the opening paragraph of his book, Holiest Wars (Praeger, 2005):
Islamic messianic insurrections are qualitatively different from mere fundamentalist ones such as bedevil the world today, despite their surface similarities. In fact, Muslim messianic movements are to fundamentalist uprisings what nuclear weapons are to conventional ones: triggered by the same detonating agents, but far more powerful in scope and effect.
Even if that’s somewhat overstated, it should give us pause.
The review is long and interesting; this quote caught my attention:
Indeed, Jessica Stern, was taken aback at first by the apocalyptic intensity of the terrorists she studied, writing in Terrorism in the Name of God (Harper/Collins, 2003):
I have come to see that apocalyptic violence intended to “cleanse” the world of “impurities” can create a transcendent state. All the terrorist groups examined in this book believe — or at least started out believing — that they are creating a more perfect world. From their perspective, they are purifying the world of injustice, cruelty, and all that is antihuman. When I began this project, I could not understand why the killers I met seemed spiritually intoxicated. Now, I think I understand. They seem that way because they are. [Emphasis mine-SW]
Read the whole thing; you will learn something about Islam and the place of Millennialism in the religion.
The place of Millennialism, the Islamic concept of the Mahdi, and the "love affair" with death that is a part of Apocalyptic Islam are typically discounted and ignored by commentators in the West. Any "talking head" who would have the temerity to discuss religious fervor (except, of course, for the religious fervor among the troglodyte Christians who present a much greater threat than any Muslim terrorists, in the world according to our elites) among Muslims would be unlikely to be invited back; in some places he or she would be brought up on charges of propagating Islamophobia and/or hate speech. It has become the most conventional of conventional wisdom to believe, with a fervor approaching that of those they mock, that G-d is not only unnecessary but an outmoded concept with neither explanatory power nor the ability to move men. Rather than believe that Ahmadinejad, among others, might actually believe in the nonsense he professes, Iran's behavior can only be explained in economic terms. It would be irrational for Iran's ruling elite to risk their comfort and wealth for a war with the West so therefore, since they are rational men, such a war will never occur unless we miscalculate because of our irrationality.
Dennis Prager, in an article about tonight's SOTU address, makes a point which reinforces this idea in unexpected ways:
Here is the one thing you will not see and probably have never seen. You won't see what is behind the president and above the vice president and the speaker of the House. And because you won't see it, you won't know that you are missing something of surpassing importance.
Think about it for a moment. Why do television cameras never pull back and give a wide-angle view of the president delivering his speech? That is certainly routine for TV: It is considered uninteresting to TV viewers to have a fixed view of a subject.
Why, then, have almost no Americans ever seen what is located above the president, the vice president and the speaker of the House?
I discovered the answer when I attended President Obama's speech on health care to a joint session of Congress.
I saw chiseled in the marble wall behind the speaker and vice president, in giant letters, the words "In God We Trust."
My immediate reaction was to wonder: Why had I never seen that before? I have, after all, been watching presidential State of the Union addresses for about 40 years.
Here is my theory -- and I say "theory" because I cannot prove it.
A generation of Americans has been raised to regard any mention of God outside the home or church as a violation of the deepest principles of our country. To the men and women of the left-leaning news media, in particular, "In God We Trust" is an anachronism at best, an impediment to moral progress at worst. The existence of those giant chiseled words so disturbs the media that, consciously or not, they do not want Americans to see them
Our elites, of both parties, have become so removed from any knowledge of the power of faith to move people that they are trapped in a massive miscalculation with potentially dire consequences. Men have always been moved more by the irrational than any rational evaluation of risks and benefits. Even if you believe that religion is merely a human invention designed to corral our irrationalities (as most "sophisticated" people now believe) the fact that you no longer believe and are unaware of your own irrationalities does not mean that others also do not believe.
[The apotheosis of sophisticated irrationality today resides in those radical environmentalists who believe that people should be murdered for transgressing against their carbon limitation schemes. However, we also see similar irrationalities in those who profess admiration for authoritarian regimes or believe we should send people to re-education camps. It is easy to see the irrationality in those who openly profess racist and anti-Semitic ideas on the Right, but the irrationality on the Left is at least as pronounced.]
Our narcissism and arrogance, combined with disdain for the power of any God to move people, is problematic. We can still confront Islam and limit the impact of its irrationalities without such recognition but we make our job much more difficult and blind ourselves to the nature of the task when we imagine they are really just like us and forget that we can be just like them.