Friday, January 16, 2009

Defining the enemy

Edmund Burke once observed that "I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against an whole people." In the Wall Street Journal James Taranto argues that we are not in a "war on terrorism" or even on terrorists, and certainly not on Islam—but on specific people who adhere to a particular ideology:
.... There are strains of Islam that are ideologically moderate, and the vast majority of Muslims are far more moderate in their behavior than the terrorists of al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and other such movements.

So, how does one describe these movements? "Terrorist," as we have noted, is too imprecise, a reference to tactics, not ideology. What we need is a term that acknowledges that they are Islamic movements without implying anything invidious about Muslims who do not belong to such movements.

The answer: Islamic supremacy. The analogous term, white supremacy, is in no way offensive to whites, Indeed, condemnations of white supremacy generally succeed at shaming whites into shunning groups like the Ku Klux Klan, just as the West hopes to shame Muslims into shunning Islamic supremacist groups.

We would define Islamic supremacy as follows: a doctrine that seeks to subjugate or exterminate non-Muslims, or convert them to Islam by force. This is slightly different from white supremacy, in that there is no such thing as a racial conversion—but we think the analogy is close enough to be useful.

One might argue that supremacy is inherent in Islam, inasmuch as it claims to be the one true religion and (unlike some other faiths, such as Judaism) seeks converts. But the same is true of Christianity, which has largely made peace with secular modernity and religious pluralism. Reconciling Islam with religious pluralism is a task for Muslims. Combating Islamic supremacist movements is one for non-Muslims and nonsupremacist Muslims alike. [more]
It would indeed be helpful to find a way to acknowledge the reality of the religious motivations of the terrorists without indicting an entire religion.

'Islamic Supremacy' -

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