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The War With No Causes

Indeed, many of the young men attracted to Islamist terrorism might easily, had they been born in different circumstances, been drawn to, say, the Red Brigades or the Brownshirts. For we are dealing with an ideology rooted in a violent critique of liberal values. Its adherents are few, but this has never been a war about numbers, any more than it is a war about the status of Israel, or the garrisoning or Iraq, or the form of government of Saudi Arabia. It is a war, rather, between the Enlightenment and what was once called Irrationalism: a belief that violence and blind faith are truer and nobler than reason. ~The Daily Telegraph

There are assuredly a few ironies here.  First, there is the fact that the alleged partisans of Enlightenment seem to put a lot of stock in the power of violence to solve problems.  Second, one of the leaders of the side of “Enlightenment” seems committed to operating ideologically and in a manner consistent with what critics of all stripes might reasonably call blind faith (Bush might as well say, “God wants everyone to be free–so let it be written, so let it be done!”).  Third, it becomes difficult to tell the difference between Jacobins and jihadis in their commitment to the violent export of their creed, which suggests that reasonable people find ourselves pinned between a secular, irrational rationalism and an impious religious fanaticism.

The other problem with this formulation, besides the de rigueur comparisons with Nazis and commies, is how it writes off any and all proximate causes of the conflict as just so much fluff.  No policies could have had anything to do with this–they hate us for our Voltaire!  I would be happy to get rid of Voltaire, if it would satisfy their resentments, but somehow I don’t think that’s really what is bothering them.

Isn’t it interesting how ideologues can compartmentalise things so impressively?  When Bin Laden et al. say that American and Israeli politics are the causes of his terrorism, anyone who points to these statements as indications of what caused Al Qaeda to attack us is shouted down or run out of the room.  To use Bin Laden’s words to advance an argument, it was said then, is perverse.  Now Mr. Bush and his supporters point to Bin Laden’s statements about Iraq to “prove” that it is a “central front” in the war with Al Qaeda–we must believe Mr. Bush because of what Bin Laden says.  But when he said that the attacks were because of our presence in Saudi Arabia, our support for Israel and our embargo of Iraq, we must discount all of this and reduce the entire conflict to a simple struggle of Light and Darkness, an elemental struggle that has no intelligible causes or reasons and which has no rational solution via policy changes.  Now remind me again, who is on the side of the Enlightenment?

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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