This is important to note because it gives one a clearer picture of the type of the person the Islamist is. We have here a level of moral primitiveness unknown elsewhere in the human race. There are bad people in every religion, in every country, and in every group. But we do not know of any group, let alone millions of people, who believe that murder is a proper response to an affront to their religion (or to their country or to their ethnic group).
This is in the context of a column about the American Left’s tendency to see “moral equivalency”—to say, blame the satanic pastor Terry Jones for the murders he incited in Afghanistan last week—between immoral American acts and Islamist atrocities. This (predominantly) right-wing complaint has been around since the very early days after 9/11, when anyone who dared discuss the political context of the attacks might as well have pronounced themselves a Bin Laden supporter.
Jones did a despicable, damnable thing, but however wicked it may have been, it justifies neither Islamic violence nor the tossing aside of his legal rights in this country. In trying to make the point that Islamists, and not American fundamentalist Christians, are responsible for the murders committed in Afghanistan, Prager reiterates the worst bit of that deliberate post-9/11 blindness about why Islamic terrorism exists and how the West should respond to it.
The core of the conservative argument against what they call “moral equivalency” is the pathologically murderous, morally primitive Islamist, the type of person whose evil is, as Prager put is, “unknown elsewhere in the human race.” I honestly don’t know how Prager could type that clause without immediately realizing its outrageousness. On the contrary, that kind of moral primitiveness has been on display everywhere else in the human race throughout history—history is nothing if not a long parade of people who believed in killing those who affronted their identity, from Sir Thomas More to the American colonists to the CIA. To acknowledge the fact is not to defend Islamists, it’s to realize that they hardly represent an unprecedented low in human morality.
(However sickened one is by the illegal torture, renditions, killings and support for despots that have happened at the hands of Western powers, I would like to hold onto some tenuous distinction between the actions of “legitimate” state agents and straight-up mob violence. That almost no modern society has proved itself incapable of producing hateful, deadly mob violence should make plain that Islamic hardliners are no exception.)
I bring up the demonization of Islamists by people like Prager to point out, once again, the blatantly anti-theoretical bent of an American right that wants to put Islamic grievance with the United States in a “fascist” or “psychopathic” box and promptly commence blowing it up. The examples are innumerable: Victor Davis Hanson calling Islamists “fascists” and saying the only response is “military defeat”; Jonah Goldberg calling Islam a “religion of war and bigotry”; Joseph Loconte in The Weekly Standard saying “radical Islam is the philosophical cousin to European fascism,” with which it shares a “nihilist rage.” Any attempt to understand the enemy we’re confronting, which Sun Tzu might say is one of the first tasks of conflict, is greeted by these people as “appeasement,” or “Islamoschmoozing” or “American weakness.” And they call the Islamists the blinded warmongers.
The Afghan mob murders that followed Jones’ Koran-burning should be thoroughly condemned, but they did not happen in a vacuum. Prager, like many a conservative before him, wants to prove Islamists’ inhumanity so that the West can wash its hands of its responsibility for them. In fact, these horrific murders happened within a complex historical and political context, one in which the United States is deeply, profoundly culpable. Without Western meddling—which includes the deliberate, systematic creation of the militants we now call our nihilist enemies—Islamic terrorists as we know them might well not exist. Prager and others are suggesting that we declare them “moral monsters” and substitute the real political events that sparked their acts with an almost farcical denial of history. Frankly, I expect more from an ideological tradition that prides itself on its realism.
No American individual, not even Terry Jones, is personally responsible for the people who died in Afghanistan last week. But people “who believe that murder is a proper response to an affront to their religion (or to their country or to their ethnic group)”? If Prager doesn’t see that type of people anywhere outside the Muslim world, then he isn’t looking very hard.
David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol. He covers religion for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and is a graduate student in the Draper Program for Humanities and Social Thought at New York University. He can be reached at hdavidsessions at gmail dot com.
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