Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Bernard Lewis on the lesson of history

Ron Paul needs to read this. Here’s a snippet:

the Muslim perception there has been, since the time of the Prophet, an ongoing struggle between the two world religions, Christendom and Islam, for the privilege and opportunity to bring salvation to the rest of humankind, removing whatever obstacles there might be in their path. For a long time, the main enemy was seen, with some plausibility, as being the West, and some Muslims were, naturally enough, willing to accept what help they could get against that enemy. This explains the widespread support in the Arab countries and in some other places first for the Third Reich and, after its collapse, for the Soviet Union. These were the main enemies of the West, and therefore natural allies.

Now the situation had changed. The more immediate, more dangerous enemy was the Soviet Union, already ruling a number of Muslim countries, and daily increasing its influence and presence in others. It was therefore natural to seek and accept American help. As Osama bin Laden explained, in this final phase of the millennial struggle, the world of the unbelievers was divided between two superpowers. The first task was to deal with the more deadly and more dangerous of the two, the Soviet Union. After that, dealing with the pampered and degenerate Americans would be easy.


From the writings and the speeches of Osama bin Laden and his colleagues, it is clear that they expected this second task, dealing with America, would be comparatively simple and easy. This perception was certainly encouraged and so it seemed, confirmed by the American response to a whole series of attacks--on the World Trade Center in New York and on U.S. troops in Mogadishu in 1993, on the U.S. military office in Riyadh in 1995, on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000--all of which evoked only angry words, sometimes accompanied by the dispatch of expensive missiles to remote and uninhabited places.

Stage One of the jihad was to drive the infidels from the lands of Islam; Stage Two--to bring the war into the enemy camp, and the attacks of 9/11 were clearly intended to be the opening salvo of this stage. The response to 9/11, so completely out of accord with previous American practice, came as a shock, and it is noteworthy that there has been no successful attack on American soil since then. The U.S. actions in Afghanistan and in Iraq indicated that there had been a major change in the U.S., and that some revision of their assessment, and of the policies based on that assessment, was necessary.

More recent developments, and notably the public discourse inside the U.S., are persuading increasing numbers of Islamist radicals that their first assessment was correct after all, and that they need only to press a little harder to achieve final victory. It is not yet clear whether they are right or wrong in this view.

Read the whole thing.

Discussions - 11 Comments

An excellent, concise essay. The current conflict really isn't about dmeocracy, or oil, or even payback -- it's a symbolic war and a test of strength. How many times does history have to teach that Muslims in general and Arabs in particular respect only strength? We really can't afford to pull out of Iraq, but how to convince dunderhead Americans of this simple fact?

Giuliani's performance was shameful, disgraceful demagoguery. That America's policies in the Middle East contribute to Muslim and Arab resentment of the US is a fact. That is akin to asserting the sky is blue.

I often disagree with the folks here, but you are serious minded and thoughtful people. Will anyone go on the record and say that Muslim animosity has NOTHING to do with America's foreign policy in the Middle East. That would be a patently absurd position.

It is another thing to say that because of that we should change policy. Paul obviously believes that, and so do I. People can disagree on that. But it is not credible to maintain that our policies have nothing to do with the resentment and subsequent terrorism. Does anyone really believe that? It is possible to disagree about the degree to which they contribute, but not that they don’t contribute at all.

So Rudy was guilty of either colossal ignorance or intentional deceit. He was also guilty of word twisting of the crudest sort. In discussing the Rudy vs. Paul exchange words like “caused,” “blamed,” “asked for” (Carl Cameron, the shameless shill, actually used those words), etc. are deliberately inflammatory word twisting. The guys at NRO, with the honorable exception of Sullivan, Derbyshire, and maybe a few others are acting like a bunch of school children. “Ron Paul said a bad word.” The fact that our policies “contribute to” (probably the fairest characterization of what Paul said) anti-US sentiment is self-evidently true. That does not necessarily inevitable lead to the conclusion that we should change policy, but it should at least be acknowledged.

Also, there is a chicken or the egg issue here. Do we withdraw from the Middle East because it is causing animosity, and then the simpleminded demagogue can say we are "giving in to the terrorist," or do we withdraw from the Middle East because our presence there is causing entirely predictable results, and we want to reverse our present wrong course?

Yea, and I suppose it was "our policy" that accounts for the Battle of Tours, or the fall of Constantinople, and "interfering" with Muslim interests at the gates of Vienna in the 1600s? Mostly, they have victimized themselves, or have brought trouble down upon themselves by their refusal to leave their neighbors in peace. And exactly what did we do to the Afghans that aggrieved them so much that they sheltered/aided Al Qaeda (other than helping them fight off the Soviets, that is)?

Yes, we have supported regimes friendly to our interests...who doesn't do that? And yes, we supported the founding of Israel. If this is acceptable grounds for mass murder, then I guess 9/11 pretty much gives us the right to nuke 'em at will.

I've seen a lot of policy debates. When we intervene (as the British did in Iran in the 1950s) we are blamed. If we fail to intervene (as we did in Afghanistan after the Soviet pullout), we are blamed. Indeed, if we used their logic, we should be pushing them out of Northern Africa and Mesopotamia altogether.

No, what you have here is a culture that illogically blames everyone for its own problems except the true culprit...itself.

"Mostly, they have victimized themselves, or have brought trouble down upon themselves by their refusal to leave their neighbors in peace."

dain, you help make my point. WE AREN'T THEIR NEIGHBORS.

Are you suggesting, as I asked, that our foreign policy has nothing at all to do with their animosity toward us? I don't think you are because that is not a credible position, and you are a smart guy.

I think our policies play a role here, but mostly it's an interaction between our policies and their crazy culture. We have had stupid policies toward many peoples around the world (governments, East and West, make a habit of stupid policies, I'm afraid), but few of these other peoples have kamikazed airliners into our buildings. Policy plays a pretty small role, in my opinion.

I agree with Professor Lewis (I've read a few of his books) -- we are dealing with a strange form of cultural narcissism. They seem incapable of seeing their own flaws and, having failed to take over the world (as was promised, I guess), must have a scapegoat. Israel is extremely convenient in this regard, and globalization has made our country convenient as well.

As Professor Lewis suggests, strength is about all they will respect. All this talk about withdrawal from Iraq is ill-conceived -- it begs for yet another 9/11-style disaster. We should be discussing how best to win, thereby saving lives and treasure in the long-term.

So if our policies "play a role," even a small one, wasn't Rudy out of line?

On Wolf Blitzer, Ron Paul just told Rudy to read the government's own 9/11 report which says our policies did contribute. Does Rudy disagree with the report? He should apologize to Ron Paul.

I think the evidence suggests that our policies played a huge roll.

This article seems to indicate a renewed tradition of appeasement. Maybe not even renewed, but the continued tradition of western democracy to deal with tyrants and despots first with diplomacy and rhetoric and then unleash the sleeping giant only after being pushed too far. After watching last night's debates I see the issue of how to best deal with this threat more important than any other in '08. The Republicans seeing the danger (with the exception of whats his name from Texas) and the Democrats continuing the Vietnam War comparison. The larger question here is if the latter win will that give the U.S. its Chamberlain?

Dan, you seem to be one of these Jeffersonian decentralize-government mind-our-own-business-and-borders kind of guy. That's fine - I share some of these sentiments, but expecting American ca. 2007 to morph into that kind of (rather idealized) society isn't likely to happen. We are the major economic and political engine of the current world, our interests are widespread, and we have to attend to realpolitik. And, if you will only look, you will see that the Muslims are at war with everyone around them...policy just doesn't enter into it. They are fighting with themselves, other Islamic sects, Hindus, Sikhs, EVERY variety of Christian (including Copts!), Jews, African animists, and anyone else who gets in their way. Islam is resurgent, and if you think that the combined effect of minding our own business and our ocean-moats will insure our safety, you are fooling yourself. We are witnessing the latest totalitarian wave, and we can't ignore it any more than we could have ignored Hitler or Stalin.

Dan, the al-Qaeda types want to restore an Islamic caliphate. It's that simple. Whether or not we were "over there" doesn't matter; OBL and his ilk have the end goal of uniting the Islamic world from Moroco to the Phillipines. In no way would our leaving the Middle East change their plans.

And dain is exactly right in his understanding of the majority of the Islamic world ("cultural narcissism" - perfect). I highly recommend reading whatever you can about Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual godfather of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Qutb studied (education?) here in America in some hilljack town in the Middle-of-Nowhere, Colorado. He deplored American music and the fact that no one knew how to provide a "proper haircut", and the dancing, free-spirited girls and the large-muscled football players (he refers to them as apes or something like that). My point being, he was not exposed to the truly decadent aspects of American culture (he stayed in a dry county, I believe), he witnessed the simple life here in America and found it deplorable.

I bring that up because I agree with dain in that the al-Qaeda types are incredibly proud and want what they believe to dominate everything else. They hate America because they think they're better than us but yet we're more powerful. Because they think our great civilization is essentially a fluke, they think they can easily bring us down (no moral fiber). This is necessary because they believe that since they're obviously superior to us, the only way we could possibly have achieved our superior position over them is by unfairly holding them down. Ergo, the radical Islamists want to topple American power and restore the caliphate (or mullah-run Islamic state in the case of Iran) so that their superior culture can once again dominate the globe as Allah intended. So our being in the Middle East really has nothing to do with it. It's our military power, our booming economy, our standard of living, our cultural dominance, etc., etc.

What is ironic is that we initially did not support the founding of Israel and it took many years for us to publicly support her.

Actually, Truman was persuaded to support Israel because he needed to carry NYC (and thus the State), and of course NYC's Jewish population was critical to the election. Sad, but that's how it happened.

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