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In a Time of War
FIRST THINGS (THE EDITORS)
Bernard Lewis of Princeton, one of the most astute students of Islam, has long been urging us to understand that, when Muslims speak of the West, they mean the Christian West. They mean Christendom. Many in the West want to believe that ours is a secularized culture, but Lewis reminds us that most Muslims view secularization itself as a form of specifically Christian decadence. More and more, as this war continues, we may come to recognize that we are, however ambiguously, who they think we are, namely, the Christian West.
This is war. Call it a sustained battle or campaign, if you will, but the relevant moral term is war. It is not, as some claim, a metaphorical war. Metaphorical airplanes flown by metaphorical hijackers did not crash into metaphorical buildings leaving thousands of metaphorical corpses. This is not virtual reality; this is reality. This is, for America and those who are on our side, a defensive war. The aggressor leaves no doubt that this is war. Osama bin Laden and his like do not head a sovereign state but they speak for many of our declared enemies. "We are steadfast on the path of jihad," bin Laden declares. Of the terrorists he says, "We hope that they are the first martyrs in Islam’s battle in this era against the new crusade and Jewish campaign led by the big crusader Bush under the flag of the cross." Bin Laden and his counterparts lead a shadow state or, more precisely, a parasite state that lives off the states that provide them refuge and aid. As we have now learned to our remorse, the terrorist parasite state also lives off the freedom and hospitality of the nations it attacks, including the United States of America.
Steadfast clarity about this historical moment and the obligations attending requires our recalling President Bush’s address to Congress of September 20. "On September 11," he said, "enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country." It is claimed by some that terrorist attacks are not acts of war but crimes to be punished by international tribunals. To which President Bush answers, "Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done." The inescapable fact is that they are our enemies, and the rule of justice is that it is the first duty of the State to protect its citizens. There are no credible instruments of international force that can fulfill that duty or see that justice is done. The United States must lead, in the hope that those who understand that an attack on us is an attack on them will follow. "Every nation in every region now has a decision to make," said President Bush. "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."
In response to aggression, America does not appeal to the so-called court of international opinion. Rather, by its response, and invitation to others to join in that response, it intends to create a court of international opinion — and a coalition for international action. More than two centuries ago, in another time of testing, Americans declared that "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them [to action]." We have again declared the causes, and the response to this declaration is revealing who does and who does not have not only a decent respect for the opinions of mankind but a decent respect for mankind. Determined hostility to a parasite state bent upon the mass murder of innocents is a minimal definition of decency.
"Our enemy," said President Bush, "is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them." Congress, with but one dissenting vote, has given him authority to prosecute this war to its end, which almost certainly will not be soon. "It will not end," the President declared, "until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated." That is the declared aim of the war. Then these bold words: "We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail." In the coda of that historic speech, boldness is touched by humility: "The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war. And we know that God is not neutral between them. We will meet violence with patient justice, assured of the rightness of our cause and confident of the victories to come. In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom and may He watch over the United States of America."
A Nation Under God
In such words some claim to detect not humility but hubris, an uncritical identification of our purposes with the purposes of God. Let them make the case that between freedom and fear, between justice and cruelty, God is neutral. Let them make the case that those who have declared war against us do not intend to instill fear by inflicting cruelty. Assured as we are and must be of the rightness of our cause, the President submits that cause in prayer to a higher authority. In a time of grave testing, America has once again given public expression to the belief that we are "one nation under God" — meaning that we are under both His protection and His judgment. That is not national hubris. Confidence that we are under His protection is faith; awareness that we are under His judgment is humility. This relationship with God is not established by virtue of our being Americans, but by the fact that He is the Father of the common humanity of which we are part. Most Americans are Christians who understand the mercy and justice of God as revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Recognizing the danger that the motto "For God and country" can express an idolatrous identity of allegiances, most Americans act in the hope that it represents a convergence of duties. All Americans, whatever their ultimate beliefs, have reason to hope that reality is not neutral in this war against the evil of terrorism.
We have witnessed a remarkable upsurge of a patriotism that some thought was lost beyond recovery. Many thought its loss a very good thing. If patriotism can be the last refuge of a scoundrel, and it can be, contempt for patriotism can be the refuge of gnostics who, in their presumed superiority to the particulars of time and place and people, would evade their duty. Planted in the beginnings of Christianity is a distinction that its adherents will probably never get just exactly right: "Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s." It is agreed by all that the emphasis falls on the second injunction — do not render to Caesar what is God’s. Whether with respect to patriotism, wealth, family, or anything else, it is always a matter of the right ordering of our loves and loyalties. The meaning of that is set forth by the anonymous author of The Letter to Diog netus, written in the second century to explain to a pagan reader the way it is with these odd people called Christians:
Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by either country, speech, or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they use no peculiar language, they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. They reside in their own countries, but only as alien citizens; they take part in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their homeland, and every homeland a foreign country. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go beyond the law. In a word: what the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world. The soul dwells in the body, but does not belong to the body; just so Christians live in the world, but are not of the world.
Over the centuries, these "alien citizens," still far from their true home in the New Jerusalem that is history’s promised consummation, have followed the course of Christian fidelity in accepting responsibility for the well-being of what is their home in time before the End Time. One product of that fidelity is the doctrine of just war associated with St. Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries and further developed in what is aptly called the Great Tradition of Christian thought to the present day. In this teaching, just war, although occasioned by evil, is not itself an evil; nor is it even, as is commonly said today, a necessary evil. It is, if just, a positive duty, the doing of which, while it may entail much suffering, is to be counted as a good.
A War That Is Just
In this Christian teaching, the criteria of just war are divided into two categories — ius ad bellum and ius in bello. The first have to do with the reasons that justify going to war, the second with how a just war is to be conducted. According to the first set of criteria, a just war is defensive, aimed at protecting the innocent against unjust aggression. It must be undertaken with the right intention of establishing a just peace, and a reasonable expectation that the means employed will be proportionate to the ends sought. A just war is a last resort, undertaken when it is reasonably determined that there are not alternative ways to resolve the conflict, and when there is a reasonable probability of success in achieving the aims of the war. Such, all too briefly, are the criteria pertinent to the decision to go to war — ius ad bellum. By these criteria, the decision of the United States to wage war against terrorism is amply justified.
The second set of criteria, ius in bello, is quite distinct, and must be kept so. Distinctions can be multiplied, but the ius in bello criteria are essentially two: proportionality and discrimination. The first requires the use of no more force than is necessary to vindicate the just cause. The second pertains to what is called "noncombatant immunity," meaning that there must be no intentional killing of innocent civilians. Put differently, ius ad bellum deals with the "cause" of war and ius in bello with the "conduct" of war. The present war is just in its cause and, we may reasonably hope, will be just in its conduct. A war against the parasite state of terrorism will, we are told, be conducted in an often furtive and secretive manner. It seems likely that unjust acts will be committed, also by our side, and when they are known they must be condemned. Known or unknown, they are wrong.
The duty to engage in just war is undertaken in the awareness that its conduct and costs cannot always be anticipated or controlled. The decisions pertinent to ius ad bellum are reasoned and principled. The decisions pertinent to ius in bello, while they are to be held accountable to reason and principle, are contingent and sometimes improvised under severe pressures. Those who do their duty in waging war to protect the innocent should have no illusions. Even the most just war entails great horror. The words of General Sherman must be kept ever in mind: "It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell." Just war teaching never countenances the cry for blood, vengeance, and desolation. That is the cry of our enemies who have forced this war upon us. Blood, vengeance, and desolation is their aim, as is now evident to all but the willfully blind. They are our enemies. They have repeatedly declared so in venomous words and murderous deeds. We must pray that one day they will not be our enemy. At present, and perhaps for a long time into the future, it is our moral duty to see to it that they are "found, stopped, and defeated." If we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the uncertainties entailed in the conduct and outcome of war, we surrender to the certain triumph of great injustice.
Coalitions and Moral Legitimacy
Toward that end, America must unapologetically take the lead. In recent years, the idea has spread that unilateral action is not morally legitimate. That idea is not grounded in sound moral reasoning. Sometimes the choice is between unilateral action or no action at all. In every dimension of prosecuting this war — diplomatic, policing, intelligence, financial, and military — the U.S. will of course welcome the cooperation of others, but there is no moral requirement for necessary action to be held hostage to the veto power of a coalition in which the most timorous member calls the plays. From the beginning, Britain once again vindicated its claim to a "special relationship" with the United States. While the cooperation of Europe must be cultivated, it may be less certain in the long term. If the current fertility level continues, Europe’s population of 727 million will plummet to 556 million by the year 2050, requiring more than three million immigrants per year for the next fifty years if Europe is to remain economically viable. Such immigration will be, for the most part, from Islamic countries, thus profoundly transforming a continent that has been almost entirely Christian. In building international cooperation, the U.S. may also have to make temporary alliances of convenience with repugnant tyrannies such as Sudan and Syria. The hard-won American resolution to oppose the domestic terror of such countries in violating human rights, especially religious freedom, must not be permanently sacrificed for their temporary cooperation in the war against international terrorism.
The statement of a war aim signifies not only a purpose but also a terminal point. When will we know that it is over? President Bush has declared, "It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated." After September 11, we are or should be in a permanent state of heightened vigilance, but we must not resign ourselves to being in a permanent state of war. Not immediately, but in due course, we need a clear statement on how we will know that the war is over and a just peace is reasonably secured. There may never be, and there should never be, a return to the last decade’s delusory holiday from the vicissitudes of history, but it seems probable that a democracy cannot survive and flourish in a permanent state of emergency.
Because we are a democracy, we will tolerate a large measure of dissent from our national purpose in this war — some of it honorable, much of it contemptible. Our morally debilitated professoriat in particular often seems to be a breed apart, going on endlessly about how violence breeds violence and how we must address the root causes of resentment, etc., etc. They are inveterate complexifiers, offering detailed analyses of the seven sides of four-sided questions while declaring their achingly superior sensitivities that make them too sensitive for decent company. They test the patience of ordinary Americans who view reality from the moral pinnacle of common sense, but so far Americans have passed the test and they will likely continue to do so.
Then there are the pacifists, real and fraudulent. The refusal to resist aggression, and thus the refusal to participate in war, has a long and venerable history in the Christian tradition. That refusal, along with the discipline of celibacy and poverty, is institutionalized in monasticism. Among the other services rendered by monastics, their pattern of radical discipleship is a powerful reminder of the call to be "in but not of the world." Such communities of heroic virtue are proleptic outposts of the Peaceable Kingdom that is not yet. Among Protestants, too, there are, for instance, the Mennonites, followers of the sixteenth-century Menno Simons, who are pledged to nonresistance as an article of faith. Our laws make provision also for those individuals who, for reasons they find compelling, decide that they cannot in good conscience participate in war. We rightly respect their decision, even as we may be unpersuaded by their reasons.
Fraudulent pacifism, which is now making a noisy reappearance, is something else. Proponents of "nonviolent resistance" are not pacifists. Pacifists embrace not nonviolent resistance but nonresistance. Nonviolent resistance to the aggression we face is simply a proposed tactic that most sensible people find implausible. The proposal that aggression should be resisted by hugging a terrorist is not idealistic; it is simply dumb. The "pacifist" proponents of nonviolent resistance do not, as many seem to think, occupy the moral high ground while the rest of us are prepared to get our hands dirty in "the real world." They live in an unreal world of utopian fantasy that has no basis in Christian faith. Yes, they may be intensely sincere, and that can be touching, but they are also monumentally wrong. The difference is not between idealism and realism, nor between moral purity and moral compromise. The difference is a disagreement in discerning one’s duty in the face of a challenge not of one’s choosing. In a time of patriotic fervor, it may take a measure of courage to be in a minority advocating nonviolent resistance, but the advocates of that course are also comfortably refusing the call to service with its risk of killing or of being killed.
Some ask, What would Jesus do? Can you imagine, it is asked, Jesus flying a stealth bomber or joining in a commando raid? One might as well ask if you can imagine Jesus driving a bus, editing a magazine, or being a tenured professor in a religious studies department. The question is not what Jesus would do but what he would have us do. Real pacifists answer that question one way. Other faithful disciples answer that, in obedience to the command to love the neighbor, it is their duty to defend the innocent by engaging in a just war against a murderous aggressor. One matter that has been morally muddied in recent decades should now be clarified: those who in principle oppose the use of military force have no legitimate part in the discussion about how military force should be used. They only make themselves and their cause appear frivolous by claiming that military force is immoral and futile, and, at the same time, wanting to have a political say in how such force is to be employed. The morally serious choice is between pacifism and just war. Here, too, sides must be taken.
In the aftermath of September 11, we have witnessed an astonishing surge of neighborly caring and national solidarity, along with a buoyant patriotism unprecedented in living memory. The yellow ribbons of the Iran hostage crisis of more than twenty years ago — too often a symbol of self-pity and maudlin sentimentality — were suddenly displaced by the flag. Nobody decreed that it should be so; it just happened, and its happening is likely of great significance. The surge of patriotism has sometimes spilled over into jingoism, which is not surprising in view of the brutality of the assault upon the security of what now, quite suddenly, people are calling our "homeland." As with all passions, patriotism is subject to excesses and does not lend itself to fine tuning. But the new patriotism is, all in all, a very good thing. The ultimate allegiance of Christians is to Christ and the Church, which is universal. But the idea of political citizenship in the universal is chimerical. If we do not recognize our own, and are not willing to stand up in their defense, it is doubtful that we are capable of caring for others.
If there is such a thing as a national character, and we think there is, the character of America is now being tested as perhaps it has not been since 1941, and an awful lot has happened to us as a people over those sixty years. The question everyone is asking is whether the current level of national resolve can be sustained for the duration, which is likely to be a long time. Obviously, nobody knows. In a country that is said to be bent upon entertaining itself to death, the media have to date, with few exceptions, been commendably steady in their focus on the war. But in the absence of televised spectacles of great successes or great defeats in battle — or, God forbid, of new and more terrible attacks on the homeland — interest may wane. It is neither possible nor desirable to maintain a sense of crisis at fever pitch. Yet the country is, perhaps unavoidably, being subjected to confusing messages: be vigilant but not afraid; be prepared to sacrifice, but do your patriotic duty by going on a shopping spree; everything is different now, but defy the enemy by returning to business as usual. It is much too early to say how all this will sort itself out in the months and years ahead.
Many have remarked on the spontaneous resurgence of religion in public life. Some who had managed to convince themselves that ours is a secular or rapidly secularizing society expressed surprise. There is no reason for surprise. Whether this is, as some claim, the portent of another Great Awakening we do not know. More likely, the resurgence is simply giving public expression to what has been there all along in an overwhelmingly Christian nation rooted, albeit sometimes tenuously, in the Judeo-Christian moral tradition. It is noteworthy that, following the attack, the first gathering of national leadership and the first extended, and eloquent, address by the President was in a cathedral. And that Irving Berlin’s "God Bless America" is getting equal time, at least, with the less religiously explicit national anthem. And that children in public schools gather in the classroom for prayer. And that the fallen beams of the World Trade Center, forming a cross, are blessed as the semi-official memorial to the victims. Intellectuals are forever in search of "the real America." The weeks following the attack of September 11 provided one answer to that search. It is an America that Tocqueville would recognize, even if it surprised, and no doubt offended, many intellectuals.
World Politics Reconfigured
September 11 did not change everything, but it did reconfigure world politics. That reconfiguration has already happened, and there is now no undoing of it. At the center of that reconfiguration is the world-historical role of Islam. For more than a decade, a few prescient scholars have been warning about the coming conflict, now commonly referred to by Samuel Huntington’s phrase "the clash of civilizations." This journal has been attacked by Muslim organizations for drawing attention to that warning. This touches on questions of daunting delicacy and complexity. President Bush has repeatedly said that this is not a war with Islam and that the Muslims among us are not to be held responsible for what has happened. That is exactly the right thing for him to say, even though it is not the whole truth. The American war strategy is to split off the terrorist fanatics from the great majority of Muslims in the world. That is exactly the right thing to attempt, even though it may not succeed.
Returning from their holiday from history, Americans are surprised to discover that there are a billion Muslims in the world, most of whom, if they do not hate us, resent us very deeply. Nobody should have been surprised. It is not simply a few Palestinian teenagers who danced in joy as they watched the hijacked aircraft fly into the twin towers. Throughout the Muslim world, and not only in the Middle East, there were expressions of supreme satisfaction that America was at last getting what it deserved. It is not only the Osama bin Ladens who speak of a world divided into two camps, "the camp of the faithful and the camp of the infidel," or of America as "leading the crusade of the infidels." That is the fevered language heard daily in newspapers and broadcasts, frequently under government auspices, in large parts of the Muslim world. It is, for instance, the language of the main government newspaper in Egypt, a country that the U.S. supports with three billion dollars per year.
In the last ten years, the Islamist regime in Khartoum has killed or enslaved more than two million Christians and animists in its declared war against the infidels. In Nigeria, Muslims are fomenting a brutal civil war in order to establish Sharia as the law of the land, and similar movements are to be found as far away as East Timor and parts of the Philippines. Samuel Huntington does not exaggerate when, surveying conflicts all over the world, he speaks of "the bloody borders of Islam." Then there is the Middle East itself, where, in one of the exquisite ironies of history, radical Muslims view the State of Israel as the forward salient of Christendom and make no secret of their determination to drive it into the sea. Perhaps we will succeed in splitting off the fanatics from their host culture, or in simply crushing their networks of global reach, but that does not necessarily mean the culture will be transformed. More likely, angry Muslims will temporarily back off to seethe in impotent rage until an opportune time for vengeance. We must brace ourselves for the duration, and the duration is a prospect that stretches far into the future.
There are not in our homeland "many millions" of Muslims, as President Bush has mistakenly said, but, aside from African-American Muslims, there are about two million, and he is certainly right in saying that those who are here legally must be treated with the respect that we accord other immigrant groups. On this score, too, Americans have, with a very few exceptions, demonstrated their fundamental decency. At the same time, Muslims in this country, including those who are citizens, must make it clear beyond doubt that they have chosen our side. The several organizations that claim to speak for Muslims in this country must condemn without qualification the terrorist attacks and break decisively their ties to the network of terrorist organizations responsible. This they have not done to date. There has been a rash of interfaith services in this country, and it is fine to be assured that Islam means peace (in fact, the word Islam means submission), and to have Christian and Jewish clerics, along with non-Muslim academics, tell us that the problem is with a few marginal fanatics and not with Islam. Americans are notoriously nice and want to think well of others, and are therefore eager to believe such assurances, even if they are not true.
It is for Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims to call for tolerance and understanding toward Muslims in this country. It is not for them to explain what is and is not "authentic Islam." That is a task for Muslims; not for secularized academics who happen to be Muslim by background but for Muslims who can speak believably from the heart of Muslim faith and life. It may seem unfair that Muslims, especially those who are American citizens, are required to demonstrate that they have really chosen our side, but then there are those terrorists who are aided and abetted by Muslims in this country, and there are those bodies that were buried, and some still buried, beneath the towers only a mile or so south of here, and there is a jihad declared and prosecuted by Muslims in the name of Islam, all adding up to yet another occasion for observing that life is unfair. When Islam is believably interpreted as a religion compatible with, and even supportive of, democratic freedoms and justice for all, there will no doubt be great relief in this country and the world. We may expect a boom in Islamic studies on our campuses, and a new generation inclined to a sympathetic understanding of Islam. That is a welcome prospect, provided the Islam that is presented is not Islam as we would wish it to be but Islam as believed and practiced by the Muslims of this country and the world.
Islam and the War of Centuries
President Bush is right to insist that this is not a war of religion, even if that may be more wish than fact. We of the West definitively put wars of religion behind us with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. But that was a piece of the story of the West of which Islam was not part and for which Islam has no counterpart. Like it or not, and we decidedly do not like it, we are engaged in a war that can be defined in many ways, but is also and inescapably a war of religion. After September 11 many American pundits and editorialists asked, Why do they hate us so? One after another, they answered that they hate us because "America is free, rich, powerful, and good." There is something in that, but for the most part it is smug self-delusion. They hate us because they believe that the West, now indisputably led by America, has marginalized, exploited, and oppressed them for centuries. They hate us for the cultural decadence that we export and that many of them hate themselves for enjoying. They hate us because we have troops on their sacred soil, and they hate us because we support what they view as the alien State of Israel on their land. Intertwined with all the reasons they hate us, they hate us because we are the infidel who has for years beyond numbering in ways beyond numbering humiliated the chosen people of God.
Bernard Lewis of Princeton, one of the most astute students of Islam, has long been urging us to understand that, when Muslims speak of the West, they mean the Christian West. They mean Christendom. Many in the West want to believe that ours is a secularized culture, but Lewis reminds us that most Muslims view secularization itself as a form of specifically Christian decadence. Today many in the West are asking, Who are they? We cannot ask Who are they? without also asking Who are we? More and more, as this war continues, we may come to recognize that we are, however ambiguously, who they think we are, namely, the Christian West.
The memory of wars of religion, and the fear of their revival, make some commentators understandably hesitant to emphasize the religious dimension of the contest in which we are engaged. A few acknowledge that the contest is most importantly about religion, but then go on to trivialize that reality by saying we are at war with all forms of "fundamentalism," including the "religious right" in this country. There are many things wrong with that, not least the use of "fundamentalist" to describe any belief system we do not like. Fundamentalism refers to a very specific form of Protestantism that arose in America in the early twentieth century and has thoughtful, if theologically wrongheaded, proponents both here and elsewhere. Its use as a term of general opprobrium only confuses ourselves and those whom we should be trying to understand. Bin Laden and his like are not fundamentalists. Scholars urge upon us the distinction between Islam and Islamism, the latter denoting the militant faith and theocratic aspirations now arrayed against us. Call them militant Muslims, radical Muslims, monistic Muslims, or even fanatical Muslims. They call themselves faithful Muslims.
They are other. A welcome consequence of the war may be the collapse of the multiculturalism that has dominated the academy in recent years. The doctrine of multiculturalism is that all cultures, except our own, are equal, and we should celebrate the otherness of the other. In fact, multiculturalism in most of its forms refuses to let the other be other. They are not just like us. With respect to freedom, human rights, and the dignity of the person, their difference is not a diversity to be celebrated but a threat to be opposed. The terrorists have now unmistakably underscored their otherness, and with it the otherness of Islam. Ten years ago in the Atlantic, Bernard Lewis published an article, "The Roots of Muslim Rage," that now seems eerily prescient. "Islam," he wrote,
Lewis described the fourteen centuries of history apart from which we cannot begin to understand the conflict of today. He ended on the note that not all Muslims conflate their faith with hatred of the West. "There are others, more tolerant, more open, that helped to inspire the great achievements of Islamic civilization in the past, and we may hope that these other traditions will in time prevail. But before this issue is decided there will be a hard struggle, in which we of the West can do little or nothing. Even the attempt might do harm, for these are issues that Muslims must decide among themselves." That was ten years ago. Ten years later, we do not have the option of doing little or nothing. We are at war. Pray that our cause will prevail. Pray that those other traditions in Islam will in time prevail. Pray that the one outcome does not preclude the other.
The editors. "In a Times of War." First Things 118 (December 2001): 11-17.
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