I must be on to something if The New Republic, Cliff May, and Daniel Larison all disagree with me.
I posted at The Corner recently that radical Islam will only be defeated when Muslims see for themselves the bankruptcy of Islam as a modern political ideology by living under Islamic regimes, like that of Iran. So our widely shared strategic objective of discrediting political Islam is undermined by our tactical efforts at preventing the establishment of Islamic regimes.
The least serious critique of my posting was from Josh Patashnik at The New Republic, who latched on to my overstatement that “Our long-term strategy, then, should be to create two, three, many Islamic republics, each one inevitably an example of Islam’s bankruptcy” — the verb should have been “allow the establishment of,” as France should have done in Algeria in 1991, for instance. But his serious point draws on the analogy to Communism when he says that “somehow I don’t think conservatives were all that eager to let countries go Communist in order to demonstrate what a bad ideology it was.” True, but that’s where the analogy fails — Marxism wasn’t rooted in any particular civilization, so countries could be prevented from being taken over by Marxist gangs. But we don’t have the option of preventing countries from “going Islamic,” since that work was completed centuries ago, and the explosion of radicalism we’re now facing is simply how traditional Islam reacts to modernity.
NRO’s Cliff May wasn’t criticizing me directly, but rather a Washington Post op-ed that makes a similar point to mine, if less provocatively: containment of radical Islam is needed to allow time for “discrediting misguided dreams,” causing it eventually to join communism on the ash heap of history. Cliff’s point is that interventionist policies on our part can help the Islamic world work its way through the appeal of Islamism so it will finally stop having bloody borders and bloody innards.
Daniel Larison, a columnist at The American Conservative, objects directly to me, making precisely the opposite point from Cliff. Larison argues that the “misguided dreams” of Islam will never and can never be discredited, no matter what we do, because fundamentalism is a reaction to modernity, and more modernity will simply breed more fundamentalism.
I think they’re both incorrect. Islam will change, but only (or at least sooner) if we pursue some variation of what Larry Auster calls “separationism.” “Separationism” is the isolation of Islam from the rest of the world through military action, restrictions on immigration, and other means, presumably including a radically more aggressive search for alternative automobile fuels.
But even Auster misunderstands the strategic goal of “separationism”; he writes that
The most the West can do is to create “end-of-their-tether conditions” in which Moslems themselves recognize the utter hopelessness of Islam, thus triggering the emergence of Kemal-type leaders who will de-Islamicize their countries.
The first part of this sentence is correct, but the second part is not — the result of Muslims recognizing the “utter hopelessness of Islam” will not be a Kemalism with Arab characteristics (i.e., a suppression of Islam by a secular state) but rather a fundamental change in the Islamic faith itself. The reason Kemalism is unraveling is that it couldn’t bring about such a fundamental change — it was an example of premature anti-Islamism. After WWI, Turkey’s elites were about the only people in the Islamic world who understood the utter hopelessness of Islam, but that understanding didn’t percolate down to the people as a whole, thus allowing today’s resurgence of Islam.
Farthest along the process is Iran, whose people have had quite enough of Islam. Reuel Marc Gerecht summed it up nicely in Know Thine Enemy:
The Iranian revolution, like fundamentalist movements elsewhere, was not a rebirth of spirit and faith … but the tremors of a dying body torn apart by modern life. Iran, always on the cutting edge of Islamic history, was perhaps taking Muslims where they’d never gone before — to a permanent rupture of church and state, that awkward division of heart and mind that becomes inevitable when God’s earthly representatives demand, and promise, more than they can deliver.
Here’s the way it will play out: When Iran’s Islamic regime finally unravels, some significant number of nominal Muslims will quickly become apostates, embracing Bahai or Zoroastrianism or Christianity (or Buddhism or even Judaism). As this becomes a more widespread and public thing, some of the many remaining fundamentalists will start beheading newly Christian school children and raping newly Zoroastrian women and blowing up newly constructed Bahai temples, intensifying the existing popular disgust with the Islamic faith and thus accelerating conversions to other faiths.
Eventually, as the number of former Muslims begins to constitute a large percentage of the population, the various keepers of Islam will see the need for a new version of the faith that people won’t abandon — thereby ushering in the long-awaited but ever elusive “moderate” Islam, where jihad really does mean nothing more than spiritual struggle, where the many problematic suras and hadiths are explained away as historical artifacts. Muslims won’t make this change if they don’t have to, but they will when the only alternative is the disappearance of Islam.
Thus there will still be hundreds of millions of Muslims, now living side by side with large new non-Muslim communities, but their Islam will be qualitatively different from anything that has gone by that name in the past. It will take a lifetime to work its way through the Islamic world, and we must do our best to ensure that relatively few of our own people are killed in the inevitable tsunami of violence that is coming, but there really isn’t any alternative.