Thursday, January 8, 2015

Je suis Charlie

A crime as appalling as the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris should make us focus on essentials. Here they are:

1. Jihadism is a malevolent ideology which has to be opposed with force. The word “terrorist” is politicized and contentious, so let’s call these groups by their true name: they are murder gangs. There is no possible justification for acts like this, not even crimes committed against Muslims.

Jihadism is a form of utopian totalitarianism. This is something we have seen before. In the last century, utopian totalitarianism in its fascist and communist incarnations killed millions. Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot showed us all we need to know about where the totalitarian temptation leads. Civilized powers must collaborate, urgently and forcefully, to make sure this century’s version is disarmed and discredited before it gets anywhere near last century’s tally.

2. Jihadism is an Islamic phenomenon, but it is not equivalent to Islam. Another temptation to be avoided is the easy recourse of designating Islam, unqualified, as the enemy. It is useless equivocation to deny that jihadism is an Islamic phenomenon. It does the truth no service to say that the members of the murder gangs are “not Muslims.” But it is ignorant to claim that the practice of Islam is tantamount to promoting jihad.

Muslim society has yet to fully attain modernity, and the modernization of Islamic civilization, including acceptance of secularism and pluralism, is the most urgent task facing Muslims. But there is no better way to repel reformist forces in Islam and drive Muslims into defensive belligerence than to demonize an entire world religion. Millions of Muslims around the world reject jihadism, and we need these people on our side.

3. Murder cannot be justified even as retaliation. A likely response to escalating jihadist violence will be a spike in hostility to Muslims in Western populations with high levels of immigration. Civilized governments, while focusing on the danger posed by Muslim extremism, must also be vigilant against nativist violence. Sadly, some scarce security resources will need to be dedicated to protecting Muslims. The West undeniably holds the high moral ground in this conflict; we must not rush to abandon it.

I never believed in the End of History, and it should be clear by now that the totalitarian temptation is a human constant. But another constant is the desire of most people to mind their own business and get along with their neighbors. Defeating murderous totalitarianism requires singleness of purpose and effective force. The good news is that, given the chance, even most Muslims will embrace a free and tolerant society.

Sam Reaves