Myth of the “War of Ideas”

Recently on Facebook, I read an article that portrayed the idea of the “minority of radical islamists” and basically lambasted the US for fighting a “war of ideas” with violence.    In short, this article is more of the same modern liberal ideas that all the troubles in the world are that of the US and that we should limit our responses due to the myth that radical islamists  are a minority.  I wish to counter this article point by point.

Judging from the comments on my most recent post, a non-trivial number of IVN Facebook followers believe that the United States should lead the way in eradicating Islam from the earth—preferably with nuclear weapons. Whatever the merits of such a proposal may be, let’s assume for the sake of argument that it’s just not going to happen. We are not going to commit the crimes of 200 Hitler's and incinerate a fourth of the world’s population in a single afternoon. Practical considerations and (one would hope) moral qualms will get in the way.

I do not know Michael Austin and I do not know what his followers are saying.  He provides no proof or evidence to his claim that a “non-trivial” number of his followers wish nuclear war upon the Muslim population, but I will assume for a minute that he is speaking the truth and not expounding the responses in an effort to make his ideological point.

With that assumption, I would be among the first to say that, while the idea of bombing those who kill our brothers and sisters till they glow and then shooting them in the dark has a non-rational elegance, it is not something that I, or others like me, wish for.  As we are a people that inherently believe in freedom, and as such, we believe that freedom should extend to everyone.  Annihilation of a people is simply not something that we seek, nor is it something we practice.  You need only to look at the world wars, or really any conflict we’ve been involved in to see that this is not true.  We use violence to the point of stopping violence against ourselves, and once solved, we have rebuilt the nations we warred against. 

Barring such a cataclysmic response, we must acknowledge that the “War on Terror” is a war of ideas that cannot be won with military force. Wars of ideas are won with persuasion. This does not mean (as it is often reduced to in political discourse) that we should persuade the terrorists to stop bombing us. That’s just silly. Radical Islamicists constitute a small percentage of the Islamic world, and they are trying to convince the rest of that world to adopt their ideas. It is the billion or so Muslims who are not terrorists that we have to win over. To do this, we must persuade them that we have better ideas than radical Islamicism.

I understand the point that he is trying to make here, but it is a false point.  Every war is based upon a “war of ideas”.  The idea that Nazi’s were a superior race destined to rule the world, that communism is a better political/fiscal system that free markets/democracy, that countries have a right to invade others based on a difference of opinion, etc.  All of these were “wars of ideas”.  The turning point in these wars is when one side attempts to use force of violence to promote their held ideas upon another.   When that happens, the “war of ideas” moves beyond that of simple speeches and conveyance of beliefs to that of physical action.

Also, let us be done with this myth of a “small percentage of the Islamic world” that is radical.  Terrorists, which is what the author is referring to, is but a small percentage of those that are considered radical.  Terrorists receive their funding, support, and abilities from those that are equally radical even if they do not strap a bomb to their chest.  Those that take to the streets, in every nation, to celebrate and support the killing of innocents are no less radical than those that did the killing.  Those that support Shariah law are no less radical.  Ben Shapiro addresses this myth in his Reality Check segment “The Myth of the Tiny Radical Muslim Minority”.  While I do not agree with all of his figures that he uses to justify radical, the facts are clear that a majority of Muslims adhere to the tenants of the radical Islamist.  To claim otherwise is a blatant falsehood or requires a large suspension of belief.

This means is that we are involved in an ideological contest with radical political Islam. We have to try to understand what this means. The big idea that we bring to the contest is the set of beliefs about human liberty, individual rights, and fundamental equality that we group together and call “the Enlightenment.” It is, I believe, a very good idea, but that does not mean it is guaranteed to win. We still have to present the case. There are a lot of ways to do this, none of which involve bombing stuff.

For the most part, I agree.  We need to present the ideas of freedom and liberty to others and argue the merits in political ways.  However, when the other side resorts to acts of terrorism and/or war to counter political speeches, when the use of force is used to subjugate people to a belief, specifically when that use of violence is used to silence our “ideas”, then we are duty bound to subvert that violence and protect our own by any means necessary.  As is the general practice of our system of government, we first attempt to do so with embargos and other political means, but when that is unsuccessful in the protection of our, and other freedom loving people, then we must meet force with force.  

It does involve, however, living by our ideas, even when doing so is hard. One of the persistent problems of the Enlightenment has been the tendency of its most vocal advocates to try to keep it in the family. This is how we got the unfathomable hypocrisy of a group of slave owners coming together to create a nation dedicated to the “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal” (women, not so much).

This is simply an ignorant statement that is devoid of actual knowledge of our founding.  Yes, there were those in our founding that believed in slavery, but it was not a commonly held belief by our founders.  In order to create a nation, compromises were required.  Compromises that were repugnant but necessary to the creation of a country and done so under the belief that the people would grow a conscience with regards to the practice.

I do not wish to devolve this into an article about slavery, but it must be mentioned to counter a intellectually dishonest statement by the author aimed to create a bias.  First and foremost, the practice of slavery existed long before our revolution.  It was common place practice that our founders were born into and one that, even though they owned slaves, our founders publicly disagreed with.  Quote upon quote could be issued that proved that our founding fathers disagreed with the practice, and the simple fact that they protested the practice publicly, was incredibly radical for their time.  However, they knew that the public conscience would not change in their lifetime, so compromises were made to ensure the birth of a nation.  Compromises written to lead the people in a direction of abolition.  Any statements to the contrary are ideological drivel meant to distort and bias the reader to the contrary.

We are guilty of a similar hypocrisy when we abandon our Constitutional protections of due process in order to engage in torture, or when we conduct war with drone missions that rack up high rates of “collateral damage” (dead and injured people who have nothing to do with terrorism) without putting a single American life at risk. Actions like these send a fairly easy-to-understand set of messages to the very audience we are supposed to be trying to persuade. It tells them that our big idea is compatible with the theory that our lives are more important than theirs.

Again, a valid emotional point is being made here, but facts are being left out.  First is the definition of torture.  The cutting off of heads is not the same as pouring water over someone’s face to simulate drowning.   Playing loud music to disrupt sleep is not the same as physical beatings and breaking of bones.  The “torture” that the author speaks of is drastically different that that used against us, but for the sake of argument, I will concede the point.

However, where the author loses the argument is in the case of due process for those that fight against us.  Like it or not, it is still a physical war.  As such, due process is generally not offered to enemy combatants.  It is impossible to try, convict, and issue judgment against those that are firing upon us.  There is no time or ability for this on the battle field.  This has been accepted in all wars, from the Great Wars on.  To try and claim lack of due process during a time of war is naive and illegitimate.  Again, it is an effort by the author to create an ideological point by complete suspension of common sense.  As to the collateral damage, anyone with military experience knows that our military does everything in it’s power to limit collateral damage, but in short, shit happens.  Our weapons are designed with pinpoint accuracy, but when the enemy sets itself up in hospitals and similar civilian establishments, it is by their doing that civilians are put at risk, not ours.  Additionally, compare that to the actions of those who engage in this “war of ideas”.  They target civilians, non-combatants, and innocents in an attempt to create “terror”. These are acts of cowards that must be met.  To not do so, to allow such acts and not counter them, is nothing more than a recipe for extinction.  You are unable to promote your “ideas” when your population is decimated by violence with no response.

As Professor Jacob Levy pointed out after the bombings, there is a related (but by no means as glaring) hypocrisy in the French law banning face coverings, which was primarily aimed at Muslims. “What this ends up saying, Levy argues, is “‘you have to accept that editorial cartoons blaspheming Mohammad will be published. But if you wish to express your religious identity in public by women covering their faces, that is too offensive to French civic identity. . . and so we will prohibit that act of expression.” This pretty much keeps with the theme: “we have the right not to be offended, but you don’t.”

Again, we see a deliberate act of intellectual dishonesty.  First and foremost, the entire article is about the American view of Islam, with constant references to our constitution and views, but then portrays a law in France as if it were an American view.  We (America) cannot be responsible, nor held liable, for the laws of another state.  To intend that we are guilty because of what another country does is simply pandering at best.  Secondly, it ignores the purpose and the letter of the law as passed.  The law does not specifically target Muslims, but instead targets head coverings of all religions, including Christian veils, Sikh turbans, etc.  Instead, it was progressed as a security measure in that hides the identity of a person which presents a security risk to the public and law enforcement, not because it “offended people” as the author disingenuously attempts to persuade the reader. 

Regardless, it has no consequence to the article.  America has no such ban and I would oppose if it was suggested.  We are a country of religious freedom, and agree with the religion or not, I will stand by those that wish do so.  If the author has issue with what the French are doing, then take that up with the French, do not attempt to use subversive attempts to correlate the actions of a foreign government with our own.

Additionally, if the author wishes to take this tactic, why not go into the tenants of Islam that are arguably more cruel than the banning of head coverings?  Why not preach against the practice of honor killings that a majority of Muslims see as appropriate?  Why not argue that Islam should change it’s policy on the murdering of homosexuals for being immoral?  Genital mutilation, suppression of religious rights, etc?  All of these are far more invasive than the banning of covering your face, yet not a mention of this is made in the article?  Where is your condemnation of “brute force” in these tactics?

These sorts of double standards are simply not good ways to persuade the millions of Muslims who are not terrorists that the values of the Enlightenment are superior to the values of radical Islam. The message that it communicates is that the “big idea” of Western Civilization—the Enlightenment—is not capable of handling hard questions. When things really get tough, we have to ditch this idea and go with brute force instead.

Again, it was not us that decided to go to brute force.  What the author is suggesting here is not comparison of ideas but the capitulation to the ideas of one over the other.  While you may think that the French banning head coverings is egregious and demonstrably cruel, I imagine that the homosexual living in the area would have a higher concern for their life.  That the Christian in the Muslim world would consider being stoned for their beliefs as much more harming.  That those subjugated to Shariah Law fear in a greater amount of fear than those forced to identify themselves by removal of a head covering.  Lastly, what of the innocents that are placed in harms way by having terrorists base operations within their midst?  Seems that scale of atrocity is a problem for this author, or maybe, it’s just that none of the above meets his ideological, progressive stance, so it is just ignored?

This is why nearly everything thing that radical Islamicists have done since 2001 has been designed to goad Western nations into abandoning the core values of the Enlightenment. They want us to be brutal, to devalue human life, and to deny human rights. They are trying to convince us that we have to be barbaric in order to defeat the barbarians (a role that they are only too happy to play). And if we do this–if we take the bait and become the thing we are fighting against–we must concede the point that barbarism is a better idea than Enlightenment.

Again, to allow the wholesale murder of our people, to allow the targeting of civilians, to do nothing to counter the acts of terror created by these animals is nothing more than a move to extinction of our society.  Turning the other cheek is a noble, and commendable, action, but when the other cheek is also struck, action must be taken.  If you aim to kill, maim, or otherwise harm another, then those actions must be met with overwhelming response.   To do nothing but counter violence with words destines you to defeat and threatens your existences.  However, maybe that is what the author ultimately wants.

And conceding the other guy’s main point is not a good way to win a contest of ideas.

Agreed, but then again, neither is allowing undeterred violence.


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