Thoughts in Solitude - Thomas Merton

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” † † †
-Thoughts in Solitude
© Abbey of Gethsemani
"Your way of acting should be different from the world's way"...Rule of St. Benedict.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Jihad- Part II

America and Jihad-A Gathering Storm?
An interview with Rick Santorum

June 10, 2008

9:00 AM EST

In last week's column, I reflected on the often starkly contrasting interpretations of America's situation in the world vis-à-vis militant Islam. I raised a number of troubling questions which we as a nation must continue to grapple with, most especially as we poise ourselves to elect a new president. I recently shared my uncertainties with Rick Santorum.

Most people remember Rick as the Republican Senator from Pennsylvania who served three terms in the U.S. Senate from 1995 to 2007. Rick was also a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to 1995. Today he is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. where he established and currently directs the Program to Protect America's Freedom. Rick is currently writing a book on what the EPPC website describes as the "gathering storm" of the 21st century: the challenges posed by radical Islam throughout the world.

I was delighted when Rick accepted my invitation to be interviewed. Here's what he had to say.

Berg: How would you assess the current state of American security against terrorist attacks? Is America safe?

Santorum: Had someone suggested in late 2001-02 that America would not have seen a major terrorist incident on our soil over the next seven years, he would have been dismissed as delusional. We all were quite convinced that another major terrorist incident was nearly certain. It was not a question of "if" but "when." While the Bush administration certainly deserves criticism on many issues related to national security, it has not received sufficient credit for preventing another attack.

How do we account for this? Quite simply, following 9/11 we decided to play offense against Al Qaeda and associated jihadist networks, most obviously in Afghanistan, but also in the Philippines, and in the Horn of Africa. We made the jihadis play strategic defense as we went on the strategic offense.

Also, it seems that when Al Qaeda chose to mount a counter-offensive, they decided to confront us in Iraq. They decided that Iraq would be the central front of the "war on terror." And now, by all accounts we have them on the run there as well. Just last week, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden told us that al Qaeda was approaching strategic defeat in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and is on the defensive in much of the rest of the world. And Ryan Crocker, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, has told us, "You are not going to hear me say that al Qaeda is defeated, but they've never been closer to defeat than they are now."

In addition to playing offense militarily, our success on this score is without question due in part to much more aggressive surveillance (spying) on their communications network and in attacking their financial networks. Of course, the "defensive" security tightening efforts here in America are important, and we need to continue those efforts to secure the homeland, but I think that we have been spared a future attack primarily because we have been playing offense. Of course, as they say in the stock market, past performance is no guarantee of future returns and we must remain vigilant.

Berg: Is it an exaggeration in any way to continue to believe that the US is in a state of war with world-wide Jihadism? Do most Americans believe this? What about the millions of Americans who simply reject this outright? Where does that leave us in terms of preparedness?

It is not an exaggeration. It is a simple fact of life in the 21st century. The Islamists have declared war on us and defend their attacks on the West with appeals to Koran and other classic canonical Islamic texts and with Sharia reasoning. This is not to say that all Muslims are terrorists or that all Muslims agree with the arguments and justifications of the Islamists. But it is important to recognize that the jihadists are making a claim to represent authentic Islam and that they have a great many sympathizers and supporters throughout the Islamic world.

One of the great failures of this administration is precisely on this point, and I have been speaking out on this for the past few years. We have failed to properly identify and name the enemy. As a result, our greatest failure has been in the "war of ideas." The administration continues to talk about a "war on terror." But terror is a tactic and we are no more at war with "terror" than we were with submarine attacks or "blitzkrieg" in WWII. Because we have not been clear about defining the enemy, we have not sufficiently educated the American people as to the nature of the long term threat at home. The language about the "war on terror" misleads the American public to think we are at war with a band of terrorists who have no driving ideology or theology.

Finally, I think I should add that it is a mistake to say, as President Bush says, that "Islam is a religion of peace." With all due respect, that is a theological pronouncement, and the President should refrain from theological pronouncements. He is not the 'theologian-in-chief'. There is, in fact, a serious debate in the Islamic world over whether the jihadis have a claim to "authentic Islam." Americans obviously have an interest in how that internal theological debate will be decided. But that is for the Islamic world to resolve. Our task is to fight and defeat the Islamo-fascists regardless of the outcome of that theological debate.

Berg: In hindsight, do you now believe that it was a mistake to invade Iraq?

Santorum: It depends on what you mean by "hindsight." If we knew at the time that Saddam did not have WMD, it would have seriously changed the calculus on when and if to confront the Iraqi regime with military force. Even without WMD, however, Saddam would have remained a serious threat and would have to be dealt with eventually.

But hindsight is twenty-twenty, and such Monday-morning quarterbacking is not constructive. Given what we knew at the time, it was the correct decision, not to mention that it had overwhelming bi-partisan and public support. The big lie perpetrated by the left (which has gained too much public traction) is that the administration knew that Iraq did not have WMD, and yet they lied about it. But we all saw the same intelligence and there was no deliberate deception. The Director of the CIA told the President it was a "slam dunk." Even allies who opposed the use of military force did believe that Saddam had WMD. That wasn't a lie, it was an intelligence failure.

Berg: Let me ask you the same question I asked George Weigel a few months ago in a similar interview: We grew accustomed to Pope John Paul II reiterating the need to get at the "roots" of terrorism, which he identified as various forms of injustice. For instance:

History, in fact, shows that the recruitment of terrorists is more easily achieved in areas where human rights are trampled upon and where injustice is a part of daily life. This is not to say that the inequalities and abuses existing in the world excuse acts of terrorism: there can never, of course, be any justification for violence and disregard for human life. However, the international community can no longer overlook the underlying causes that lead young people especially to despair of humanity, of life itself and of the future, and to fall prey to the temptations of violence, hatred, and a desire for revenge at any cost (Address to new British ambassador, Sept. 2002).

Do you find in this notion--particularly as it is insisted on today--at all naïve or misguided?

Santorum: I don't doubt that poverty and injustice leads many young Muslims to take up the cause of violent jihad. And I am certainly a big supporter of taking measures to alleviate such poverty. But this is far from the entire story, and faithful Catholics who believe that theology and religious conviction matter beyond our private spiritual lives should be particularly suspicious of such "reductionist" explanations of violent jihad. They simply do not account adequately for the jihadists' own justifications for their jihad against the West.

Let me recommend one very helpful scholarly book published by the Hoover Institution titled Warrant for Terror: The Fatwas of Radical Islam and the Duty to Jihad by Shmuel Bar. Bar examines fatwas, which are rigorously written legal opinions declaring whether certain actions under Islam are obligatory, permitted or forbidden. They serve as a major instrument by which Islamic religious leaders influence Muslims to engage in acts of violent jihad. The crucial point is that these fatwas should not be dismissed as merely a cynical use of theology and religious terminology in the service of political propaganda. The violent jihadists themselves believe they are acting in accordance with the precepts of Islam and in accordance with Islamic (sharia) law. In short, we must take far more seriously the jihadis' own stated theological-jurisprudential justifications for their jihad.

Berg: Magdi Allam, the high profile Italian convert from Islam to Catholicism affirmed in a letter to his editor at Corriere della Serra that: " I am absolutely convinced that it is possible to dialogue and that we should dialogue with all Muslims who share a respect for the fundamental rights of the human person... and foster the common pursuit of civility." Are you optimistic about such dialogues, for example, the dialogues that have initiated at the Vatican with Islamic intellectuals?

I'm not opposed to talking with Islamic intellectuals, but I would want to cut through the typical cant you often find in such "dialogue." One way to do that is to focus on the issue of religious freedom in general, but more particularly on a basic issue - such as legal sanctions in Islamic regimes for apostasy and blasphemy. If our Islamic "dialogue partners" are not willing to publicly and officially defend the rights of individuals who live in Islamic regimes to change their religion from Islam to some other faith, then I think we ought to question whether they are really committed to "a respect for the fundamental rights of the human person." If they are not willing publicly and officially to defend the right of Christians to print and distribute Arabic language Bibles in Islamic countries, then I think we ought to question their "respect for the fundamental rights of the human person." If they will not publicly and officially embrace Article 18 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights, which reads, "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance", then we are right to question whether they indeed have "a respect for the fundamental rights of the human person."

After discovering just where our "Islamic dialogue partners" really stand on these and related issues, we should ask them when they will allow Protestant, Catholic and Jewish churches to worship openly and freely without fear in places like, say, Riyahd, Saudi Arabia. And if they're not willing openly and publicly to support such a minimal request, then perhaps we can question their "respect for the fundamental rights of the human person."

And then perhaps we can seek out "Islamic dialogue partners" who are true reformers, such as my friend Tawfik Hamid. Born into a secular Muslim family in Egypt, Dr. Hamid joined an extremist group called Jamma's Islameia while still a medical student. In class he was learning how to heal the sick, but his thoughts, he says, were to "die for Allah and share in terrorist acts." Today he is seeking to build a new way of thinking within the Islamic world. Hamid writes:

"It may seem bizarre, but Islamic reformers are not immune to the charge of 'Islamophobia' either. For 20 years, I have preached a reformed interpretation of Islam that teaches peace and respects human rights. I have consistently spoken out - with dozens of other Muslim and Arab reformers - against the mistreatment of women, gays and religious minorities in the Islamic world. We have pointed out the violent teachings of Salafism and the imperative of Westerners to protect themselves against it. Muslims must ask what prompts this "phobia" in the first place. When we in the West examine the worldwide atrocities perpetrated daily in the name of Islam, it is vital to question if we - Muslims - should lay the blame on others for Islamophobia or if we should first look hard at ourselves."

Berg: Do you hold that Islam itself is intrinsically flawed in any way?

Santorum: I'm a Christian. I believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity and all the other truths affirmed in the Apostles Creed, Nicean Creed and other classic creeds of Christianity. So, if in a "dialogue," a Muslim were to claim, as he must, that these beliefs are false, that Jesus is not really the Messiah, not really the Son of God, not really the Second Person of the Trinity, that the Trinity is a form of polytheism that should be rejected and so forth, then by definition he thinks that my theology and religion are "intrinsically flawed." I'm not particularly "offended" by that. But, for the same reason, because he denies what I hold to be true, I am logically bound to believe that his theology and religion are "intrinsically flawed." Needless to say, this isn't being "Islamophobic" and my "dialogue partner" is not being "Christophobic;" it is simply recognizing the law of non-contradiction. It is logically possible for us both to be wrong in our truth claims about the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, whether Mohammed was a true prophet and such. The atheist and secularist would say we are both wrong. However we can't both be right. In short, it would seem to me that any Christian worth his salt must conclude that Islam is "intrinsically flawed" just as any Muslim must conclude that Christianity is "intrinsically flawed."

The question, then, is how do we live together peaceably given our theological differences. How do we openly, freely, and peacefully seek to persuade each other of the truth of our deepest theological and religious convictions? But it is here that the issue is joined. Can an Islamic state permit the free expression of religious ideas and disagreement? Is this compatible with any recognizable understanding of Sharia law? If not, then that would seem another reason for Christians to think that Islam is "intrinsically flawed."


Rick writes a bi-weekly column for the Philadelphia Inquirer. I invite you to keep an eye on his columns. For instance, you might want to take a look at a column he wrote a few weeks ago in which he addresses the recommendations on "Terminology to Define Terrorists," that nine-page, "Official Use Only" memo issued in January by Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties-the topic of my column last week. Rick Santorum is a profound, provocative, and timely thinker. He is also a wonderful human being, a husband and father, a person I am proud to call a friend. Thanks for taking the time, Rick.

Rev. Thomas V. Berg, L.C. is Executive Director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person.

Copyright 2008 The Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person.

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