Kathryn, thanks for the plug. While I think reading Willful Blindness might help, I have to admit that the book these ninnies should drop everything and read is George Weigel’s wonderful Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism (which I personally want to thank George for resisting any government insistence that he call it Faith, Reason, and the War Against Shhhhhhh!!!). It’s short and trenchant. If pressed for time, they can start with Lesson 3 in Part One, called, “Jihadism is the enemy in the multifront war that has been declared upon us.” In pertinent part (which is not to say it’s not all pertinent), George writes:
There are many forms of Islam. Some of them, often called “fundamentalism” or “Islamism,” stress the need for a deep religious and moral reform within the House of Islam and the reestablishment of Islamic political power. The specific form of Islamism that threatens the West — and with which we are engaged in an unavoidable contest to define the human future — is best described as jihadism. Jihadism is distinguished from other forms of Islamism or the ill-named “Islamic fundamentalism” by its distinctive views on Islamic reform, by its political methods and goals (which are messianic and involve nothing less than a global Islamic state), by its concept of its enemies, and by the methods it legitimates for dealing with those enemies.
Jihadism has been defined distinctly and well by Richard John Neuhaus: “Jihadism is the religiously inspired ideology [which teaches] that it is the moral obligation of all Muslims to employ whatever means [are] necessary to compel the world’s submission to Islam.”
As George goes on to observe, this is “naming the enemy correctly: those who hold this view are, de facto, in a state of belligerency against the rest of the world.”
Of course it is true that Islamic reformers are trying to redefine the very troubling concept of jihad as a positive: viz., an internal struggle for personal betterment. Much as I’d love them to succeed, it is a well-intentioned folly — largely because of modern culture, which puts such a premium on authenticity. If you want to encourage the reformers, then encourage them to drop the concept of jihad altogether. As a matter of history, jihad is a military obligation. As long as it is accorded a central place in Islam, the militants are always going to be deemed more authentic, more true to the faith of Mohammed, than the reformers.
Let’s remember folks, the issue is not whether non-Muslim Western intellectuals and Pollyannas can nuance jihad into something it’s not. It’s whether the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims — many of whom live in pockets of illiteracy where jihadist imams are incredibly influential — can be convinced that the reformers are credible. If we want the reformers to have credibility, it would be much more intellectually honest for them to argue that jihad should be abandoned because it worsens the Muslim condition in the modern world than that jihad is something other than jihad.