The following is excerpted from an insightful article entitled, “What ISIS Really Wants”:
“Centuries have passed since the wars of religion ceased in Europe, and since men stopped dying in large numbers because of arcane theological disputes. Hence, perhaps, the incredulity and denial with which Westerners have greeted news of the theology and practices of the Islamic State.
Many refuse to believe that this group is as devout as it claims to be, or as backward-looking or apocalyptic as its actions and statements suggest.
“Their skepticism is comprehensible. In the past, Westerners who accused Muslims of blindly following ancient scriptures came to deserved grief from academics—notably the late Edward Said—who pointed out that calling Muslims ‘ancient’ was usually just another way to denigrate them. Look instead, these scholars urged, to the conditions in which these ideologies arose—the bad governance, the shifting social mores, the humiliation of living in lands valued only for their oil.
“Without acknowledgment of these factors, no explanation of the rise of the Islamic State could be complete. But focusing on them to the exclusion of ideology reflects another kind of Western bias: That if religious ideology doesn’t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Raqqa or Mosul.”
Most of our government officials are intellectual elites, or people who are heavily influenced by elites. Intellectual elites tend to take it for granted that reason carries the day, and always will. The American experiment in individual rights arose in the 18th Century’s Age of Reason and Enlightenment, where the ideas of thinkers such as Aristotle (resuscitated from ancient Greece) and John Locke (who championed the rights of the individual over the state) predominated. By the time America was founded, the terror and barbarism of the Christian Crusades and the suffocating, willful ignorance of the Middle Ages were long over. It was truly a New Age, one where science, material progress, private property and individual freedom were to rise as never before.
Today’s intellectuals tend to assume that barbarism and irrationalism of the kind we now witness with an ascendant Islam cannot ever really take hold. They repeatedly express confusion when attacks against Western cities and targets continue to intensify. Given their politically correct attitudes, they assume it must only happen because of excesses or injustice on the part of Western nations. “We don’t give them jobs. We oppress their people. We don’t send them enough foreign aid,” they whine. It’s not only a “blame America first” policy, but it’s also an attitude that attributes rational intentions and motives to the Islamic-inspired terrorists. “Of course they’re just like us, deep down. While we don’t applaud their methods, we understand their anger and frustration. And ultimately we all want the same things. Give them freedom, give them money, give them jobs, give them economic equality.”
Whether it’s the hapless George W. Bush thinking he can use armies to force reason and individual rights on Iraq, or whether it’s the righteously naïve (or worse) Barack Obama thinking we can bribe Iran into not building a nuclear bomb they openly claim they’re going to build (and use) anyway, the wrong thinking of our most powerful elected officials and the intellectual elites upon whom they rely is too stunning to articulate.
Do we really all want the same things? Look at your own extended family. You will probably find a wide variety of people, ranging from the productive, hardworking and rigorously honest, to the less ambitious and less reliable though probably well-meaning, to the occasional drug addict/alcoholic or criminal. If members of the same family do not usually all want the same things out of life, and do not act according to the same set of principles and values, then why would we assume all cultures and societies want the same things?
As this writer points out, we cannot exclude ideas from the equation. Ideology refers to ideas; ideas matter because ideas are what move individuals in their daily lives, and ultimately move entire societies throughout the course of history.
Reason, logic, science and rational enlightenment — the ideas that dominated America’s founding era —are one form of ideology. The attitudes and actions of the Christian Crusades, the Middle Ages and today’s Islamic terrorists represent various types of ideology. There’s nothing in human nature that makes adherence to reason, or any other ideological attitude, guaranteed. It’s the respect and reverence for reason that gave rise to the ideas and inspiration of people like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Ben Franklin and the other pro-reason, pro-science, pro-freedom individuals who founded the United States.
But those are not the ideas behind today’s Islamist movement.
Just listen to Islamic leaders for yourself. They could not be more explicitly against these ideas. That’s why they detest the United States, most of all, because the United States embodies reason, material progress and freedom more than any other place on the planet. Muslims, at least those running the movement, do not want the same things as Americans, not at all.
When looking at societies, we tend to forget that societies are made up only of individuals. Societies are made up of actual people. Just as individuals can adopt either rational or irrational ideas, so too can whole societies, with respect to the general trends which dominate one society, place or time.
Consider two different individuals. One can be very pro-reason, productive, honest, full of integrity and reliable. Another individual can be seat-of-the-pants, irrational, live as a drug addict, possess low character and be very unreliable.
It’s the same with dominant cultural trends. One society, at one point in time, could be very pro-reason, pro-freedom and rational. Despite some inconsistencies and contradictions (the glaring example being slavery), America, on the whole, started out that way. People were largely self-reliant and self-responsible.
They may have believed in God, but they also had a respect for reality, and didn’t expect anyone to live their lives or handle their responsibilities for them – least of all, an intrusive or paternalistic government. In fact, they fled nations and societies where government attempted to control the people, partly under the guise of taking care of them, or knowing what’s best for them.
Today’s American society is quite different. The government is massive, bloated and expected to do just about everything imaginable. While many still oppose this development in principle, most, in practice, are unwilling to give up most of the functions the government is now expected to provide – health care, health insurance, retirement insurance, corporate bailouts, primary and secondary education, college education, on and on ad nauseum.
The point is: Different dominant attitudes lead to different outcomes. Reason and self-responsibility refer to attitudes, ideas and habitual ways of thinking. Those ideas have waned in America, and as a result, America is no longer the great, prosperous and free place it once was. America certainly has a lot going for it, especially compared to the rest of the world, which is why immigration is such an issue. But it’s not the same, and most agree (or at least sense) that America is in decline. As dominant ideas in a society change, the reality of daily life (including government) changes with it.
Just as we cannot guarantee America will remain a free country if the basic ideas and attitudes of most of the citizenry change, we cannot guarantee that reason will always remain a dominant force in the world.
Our foreign policy demonstrates this ignorance and naiveté as much as our domestic policy. When confronted with Islamic terrorism, the gravest threat to the world today, we continue to elect and support people who promote political correctness.
People like President Obama claim that America is no more or less exceptional than any other country. Obama goes out of his way to praise, and even imply moral superiority, of Islamic countries, despite the fact these countries languish in third world impoverishment and brutal dictatorship. It’s absurd to claim that all forms of government, or all attitudes and ideas, are morally equivalent. The United States did not rise out of the wilderness to become the most prosperous and, for a time, the most moral (i.e., individualistic) society in human history by sheer accident. It happened because of the ideas people held and the actions people took.
The moral and intellectual relativism of today’s leaders (in both parties) makes it impossible for them to understand, much less defeat, the evil of Islamic-inspired terrorism. So long as we keep electing people into office who hold Obama’s views (and yes, Hillary Clinton’s are identical), then we will continue to lose most of the battles – and the war. But the problem is much deeper than that.
The reason people tolerate or even like such morally relativistic people as Obama is they’re afraid to think differently. They worry that it’s mean-spirited or unkind to identify objective differences among individuals or whole societies. America, collectively, is like an individual with no self-esteem. Such individuals are subject to being doormats, victims of abuse, and the like, because they don’t have the deep-seated belief that they’re entitled to live their lives without harm from others. Americans have transferred this attitude to their government and their society. They look around and see that, even today, America is overwhelmingly the best place to live. They feel guilty and apologetic for it. Their doddering professors, media elites and elected officials tell them repeatedly, “America got this way by harming others. America is exploitative and selfish.” So many have internalized this view that it no longer appears controversial to them when their leaders and vapid media celebrities relentlessly push it on them. When their new masters, leftists like Obama and Hillary Clinton who rule them, repeatedly insist, “You all are a bunch of selfish racists. Repent by doing what we say, and all is forgiven,” people humbly bow their heads and comply. The worst of them actually applaud. It would be laughable if it were not true.
And when outsiders say essentially the same thing, the leftist lemmings are morally, psychologically and politically impotent to do anything about it. The only response to Islamic terrorists is to decimate their governments (Iran included) and their camps or bases (ISIS) with every bit of firepower we have. But we’re not doing that; not even close. We barely take even token steps. We keep ground troops in the Middle East, but we have stronger firepower than ground troops. And, with no concern whatsoever for our troops’ lives, we impose rules of engagement requiring them neither to hurt nor in any remote way offend the sensibilities of angry Muslims. It would be laughable if it were not so dangerous.
This mewling, fawning and increasingly dangerous America has no resemblance to the country Jefferson and Madison founded. Jefferson and Madison would not be applauded in 2016, much less be permitted to write a Constitution.
That’s America’s, and the world’s, loss.
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