The Corner

Unwilling to Come to Grips with a Religion-based Threat

Since this is Melanie Phillips Day on the Corner — would that it were Melanie Phillips Day at the White House or Foggy Bottom! — I thought it appropriate to offer this excerpt from Londonistan (pp. 49-50), which is a perfect explanation of why we are losing.

She is talking, of course, about the Brits, but she would equally well be describing us. Having lost the capacity, or at least the willingness, to come to grips with an existential threat catalyzed by religious conviction, we delude ourselves into believing we instead face merely episodic problems — treated as crimes or political disputes — that can be prosecuted or negotiated (or, I would add, democratized) away. This self-delusion pervades government, as well as the academy and the media.

Bottom line: the jihadists are true believers; we, to the contrary, having lost any sense that religious belief can animate a revolution, refuse to accept that there is a revolution … while looking for any explanation other than religion to explain what little we allow ourselves to see. Here is how the peerless Melanie Phillps explains it:

To understand the depth of this reluctance and incomprehension in Britain [to acknowledge a threat based on religious belief], … it is necessary first to bear in mind one of the most deeply rooted of all aspects of the British character. This is its belief in the rational, the everyday and what is demonstrably evident, and its corresponding suspicion of the abstract, the theoretical and the obscurantist.

Wars of religion, when different kinds of Christians burned each other at the stake in post-Reformation England, are seared into the British historical memory but belong to a premodern period of savagery upon which the country has long resolutely turned its back. The liberal settlement that followed the Enlightenment in Britain put religion very firmly back into its box and elevated reason to pole position as the supreme national virtue. This sturdy empiricism lies at the very core of the British love of liberty, and has bequeathed to them their deep skepticism of all forms of extremism. Presented with a ranting ideologue, the British are less likely to succumb than to scoff.

But the downside of this robustly down-to-earth approach is that the British now find it very hard to deal with religious fanaticism. They no longer recognize it – or want to recognize it. Presented with a patently ludicrous ideological ranting, they refuse to believe that anyone can take it seriously. So when Islamist clerics … were loudly trumpeting their hatred of the West and their calls to holy war against it, MI5 regarded them as little more than pantomime clowns, shooting their mouths off in the open where everyone could hear them and laugh them to scorn. Except, of course, a number of impressionable young Muslims did not laugh at all. Such ranting incited them instead to enlist in that holy war against the West which Britain refused to accept was an actual and lethal reality.

As one foreign intelligence source put it: “During the 1990s, many attempts were made to enlighten the British about what was happening. But they refused to see this problem as having a religious character. If this was a religious problem, it became a religious confrontation – and the specter of a religious war was too horrendous. A religious war is different from any other war because you are dealing with absolute beliefs and the room for compromise is very limited. Religious wars are very protracted and bloody, and often end up with a very high toll of lives.

“So Britain turned a blind eye to the fact that freedom of religion for Muslims means freedom to propogate their faith in every possible way. There was almost a conscious psychological suppression of this subject. Politicians didn’t want to think about it at all. The official class wanted to think about it in as narrow a way as possible by dealing with individual incidents as they occurred, but no more than that. They were very concerned about social unrest among Asians in cities like Bradford, but they treated it more as a criminal matter. There was a conscious and subsconscious effort to deracialize and depoliticize it and distance themselves from the religious aspects. After 9/11, they woke up in principle but not in practice. They still thought that the UK wasn’t in the front line, and if they continued with their policy of ‘benevolence’ the same thing wouldn’t happen to them.”

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