The Michigan Catholic
February 6, 2015
Two weeks ago, I asked a crowd of 650 educated Catholic CEOs and their spouses if they had ever seen Osama bin Laden’s 1998 Declaration of War, in which he quotes the Qur’an against U.S. actions in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Not a single hand went up. This result would be repeated in almost every gathering of American Catholics in spite of the easy access we have to these documents online or in print.
Fourteen years after 9/11, we remain stunningly ignorant of what former British Prime Minister and Catholic convert Tony Blair regards as our greatest security threat since the fall of Soviet communism. The problem has metastasized. Blair describes thousands upon thousands of Jihadists training in North Africa. These jihadi warriors commit roughly five deadly attacks every day. Few are sensational or close enough to generate news coverage.
These Jihadists, Islamists, Salafists — the names are interchangeable — form different, sometimes competing, groups, organizations and movements. Yet they share a common ideology rooted in the authoritative sources of Islam: the Qur’an and the Hadith. While all Muslims are not terrorists, Islamic terrorists are serious Muslims, deadly serious. They regard the current Muslim world as lukewarm, cowardly and compromised. Are they high-octane Islamic revivalists or rank, lying heretics? Muslim leaders, not Catholic observers, will decide.
After 9/11 everyone asked “Why do they hate us?” Everyone had an opinion. The one voice missing was that of the terrorists themselves. We didn’t listen, so 14 years later, the American people remain stunningly ignorant and incapable of mature discussion about the religious war that has been declared upon us.
Thankfully, we now know from many reputable analysts like Dr. Mary Habeck at Johns Hopkins University, author “Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror” and the terrorists themselves online and in volumes like the Al Qaeda Reader that they are laboring and killing to establish a new international order based on Sharia, the Islamic rule or law rooted in the Qur’an and the Hadith. But who interprets these revelatory documents?
Today, a billion and a half Muslims are sheep without a shepherd. There is no authority comparable to the Catholic papacy or ecumenical councils. This vacuum of authority is what undergirds today’s Islamic terrorism.
From Muhammad’s death in 632 until 1924, the caliph was the political, military and religious successor to Muhammad. He never had the precise doctrinal authority of our popes and internal squabbles often limited his authority. He did, however, function like a papal generalissimo. In principle, he was Islam’s authoritative voice.
This changed in 1924. Mustafa Kemal sought to transform the Ottoman Empire into a modern secular nation state. He claimed that Islamic leaders’ irrationality and rigidity held the Muslim world back from the education, technology and progressive culture of the democratic, capitalist, putatively Christian, West. To jolt the Muslim world into the 20th century, Mustafa Kemal abolished the caliphate. Islamic orthodox leaders fought back. Mustafa Kemal had committed, in their words, “the mother of all crimes.”
But he prevailed and received the honorific title, Ataturk or “Father of all Turks.” Since then, the Muslim world has been ruled by repressive mostly secular dictatorships. For example, the Ba’ath party with Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Asaads in Syria, Shah Reza Pahlavi in Iran, Habib Burghibab in Tunisia, Sukarno in Indonesia, Qadaffi in Libya, Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, and now, Sisi in Egypt, etc.
To tamp down Islamic dissent, these secular rulers grew more repressive and opposition grew more reactionary. Islam became the language of the Muslim opposition because even dictators had to pay lip service to it or risk losing all legitimacy. Personally, these secular rulers retained varying degrees of Muslim identity. They rejected, however, a civil government based on Sharia.
By the mid-1960s, the secular revolution was failing. In 1979, Islamists drove the Shah out of Iran and the Ayatollah Khomenei established the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Since then Jihadists, often in tandem with leftist revolutionaries, have deposed secularists like Mubarak in Egypt and the Soviets in Afghanistan. The Yemeni regime fell a few weeks ago and for two years, Asaad in Syria has been under Islamist threat. The United States took out Saddam Hussein and supported the rebellion against Qaddafi in Libya but Islamists quickly tried to govern based on Sharia. Thus, the Jihadist conflicts in Algeria, Palestine, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, Somalia, Sudan, Philippines et al.
We know why they hate us? Ultimately, it’s not Israel, poverty, imperialism, globalization, arrogance, or hopelessness in the Muslim world. It is, finally, because the cultures formed by Classical and Judaeo-Christian ideas, resist Islamic expansion. Like the secular left in America, Islamists could chant, “Hey, hey, hi-ho, Western culture’s got to go.” But we won’t go.
To bring the world into submission to Allah and his law, the Islamist agenda can be summarized in four points.
1. Restore the caliphate (or other Islamic religio-political authority) by toppling secular leaders.
2. Implement the rule of Sharia law in Muslim-dominated countries.
3. Drive out Christians and Jews.
4. Retaliate against the corrupt West and reclaim lands once controlled by Islam, e.g., the Iberian peninsula, Palestine.
This is, above all, a conflict of ideas. Communism fell because it wasn’t properly ordered to human flourishing. It treated people shabbily. Islamism too, trivializes the human person. Bullets and bombs can help protect the innocent but they can’t kill false philosophies. This requires persuasion and conversion, our expertise. The Church is a specialist in humanity. Study, pray for our enemies and learn to repeat our opponents’ ideas in ways that they would recognize as fair and accurate. That’s not utopian; it’s simply long term. The Church thinks in terms of centuries.
Al Kresta is president and CEO of Ave Maria Communications in Ann Arbor. His radio program, “Kresta in the Afternoon,” can be heard from 4-6 p.m. daily on 990 AM-WDEO and EWTN.