Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A copy of "Choosing Words Carefully: Language to Help Fight Islamic Terrorism" by Dr. Douglas E. Streusand and LTC Harry D. Tunnell IV, May 23, 2006, was handed me by my commander who was curious to know what my thoughts on it might be. I have read and reread it and find it takes a view diametrically opposed for instance to that of Mary Habeck's, who's book I discussed briefly in a post below. I find it useful therefore in engaging this topic further and wrestling with the truth in the matter.

At the risk of doing injustice to the paper as a whole I have identified what struck me as keypoints and here reiterate them, with comments interspersed:

"We cannot win widespread support throughout the Muslim world if we use terms that, to them, define the behavior of our enemies as moral."

This is the main point of the article. Further the claim is made that the terms being promoted are the most accurate. "Because the Global War on Terrorism- or more precisely the war against Islamic totalitarian terrorism- includes a war of ideas, leaders, h journalists, authors and speakers must use the most accurate terms to describe those ideas."

Pause for a moment. The authors are revealing their approach to the conflict here in their choice of terms. "Islamic totalitarian terrorism". The authors will go on to explain that totalitarianism originated in the West first with the National Socialists and then with the Communists, a generalization indeed, and one suggesting that the problem we face is one originating in the West and rooted in Western influence. Is this accurate? The authors make it further clear that they intend to frame the struggle as being one against a "political ideology" and would like this to be viewed as the most accurate perspective: "To refute challenges to the new context surrounding these expressions, any user of these terms must be able to define the words in order to defend their accuracy and the appropriateness of their use. Otherwise anyone who dares to define the enemy using its own Islamic language can be challenged by a variety of 'pundits' who still see the struggle in terms of religion or poverty rather than political ideology..." Recall Mary Habeck's point in my earlier post:
"The consistent need to find explanations other than religious ones for the [jihadist] attacks says more about the West than it does about the jihadis. Western scholars have generally failed to take religion seriously. Secularists, whether liberals or socialists, grant true explanatory power to political, social, or economic factors but discount the plain sense of religious statements made by the jihadis themselves. To see why jihadis declared war on the United States and [try] to kill as many Americans as possible, we must be willing to listen to their own explanations. To do otherwise is to impose a Western interpretation on the extremists, in effect to listen to ourselves rather than to them."

By viewing the conflict we are in as being against merely a political ideology with religious frills, "Islamic totalitarian terrorism" with a definition of Islamic (along with jihad) that conforms to our interpretation of the U.S. Constitution as opposed to taking seriously the religious element in our faces, are we imposing "Western interpretation on the extremists, in effect to listen to ourselves rather than to them"?

The stress on the term "accuracy" and its cognates in this essay especially catches my attention. Just what are they trying to be accurate about? The authors make it clear what they are not trying to be accurate about: "We need not concern ourselves with the identification of the original or legally correct meaning of the term; individual Muslims will make up their own minds.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

"There is no longer a Christian mind." -Harry Blamires

So begins Harry Blamires in The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think?. This book came out in 1963. "If Christians cannot communicate as thinking beings, they are reduced to encountering one another only at the shallow level of gossip and small talk. Hence the perhaps peculiarly modern problem- the loneliness of the thinking Christian."

The following resonated with me, especially after reading Alisdair MacIntyre's book on Edith Strein and her phenomenologically trained apprehension of the necessity of community in development of the full identity:

"You cannot enter these spheres as a thinking Christian, for there is no one to communicate with christianly. There is no field of discourse in which your presuppositions can be understood, let alone accepted and discussed. With these fields you will find yourself inevitably, by acquiescence, sunbscribing to the furtherance of aims of which you deeply and christianly disapprove." What fields? Political, cultural, social and commercial life.

This seems somewhat pessimistic. To be sure the situation has changed since the 1960s when he wrote, yet his words do not strike me without an element of unction. He recognizes the need for the Christian intellectual dialogue and the graveness of its loss among us.

He writes about the pitfalls of being merely an efficient organizer or a scholar in contrast to the thinking Christian, and cogently delineates how the worldy paradigm has often invaded in the former kind, with seeming good intent, but nefarious, excacerbating the bad, prolonging the toil, ostracizing the Spirit of God.

One thing that I am reminded as I am reading through this book is of the importance of cultivating real Christain thought, even on so measly a scale as this backwaters blog that apparently no one ever reads. Understanding and employing the mind Christianly is no small task. Lord, may I do this!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Who Is Teaching Darwin? : My Take on the Intelligent Design Controversy

ID is characterized by a philosophically based, nonrevelational inquiry that is legitimate but only appears illegitimate because we have lost our epistemological childlikeness and are unable to consider the whole. ID is legitimate so long as the definitions of science in society are schizophrenic to the extent they are (because science is asked to carry an epistemological burden that is crushing its back and can only restlessly live with that unrealistic identity) because it consistently addresses evolutionary theory within the parameters of science as recurringly but fitfully, defined. If ID is overwhelmingly theist, it is philosophically theist and not revelationally theist, it seems to me. In fact there is no way to show that ID is Creationist in the traditional revelational sense. It deals with the question of what is the reasonable inference of the complexity and information in natural phenomena, and the inability to recognize that (as well as the apparent failure to recognize the same question is being addressed by Darwin and Dawkins, etc. in what is at least a meeting point of the two sides) seems to me to weaken the credibility of the opposition to ID. The attempt to marginalize the reasonable inference of the majority of mankind by secondary argumentation instead of addessing the questions raised strikes me as highly unacceptable. ID is also appropriate because it recognizes the inadequacy of modern compartmentalization of knowledge and works off the basis of that realization.

In fact Darwin's Origin of Species cannot be adequately taught without addressing its treatment of special creation on almost every other page of the book. But if his treatment of special creation were addressed since it deals with the inference from natural phenomena it seems quite fair to argue that where Darwin levels a case against special creation special creationists should be allowed to respond unless we are to accept an authoritarian position that dictates that where Darwin speaks we must be silent. We would not accept that from special creationists, why should we accept that situation from those who teach Darwin's theory? Yes I am fully aware of the epistemological bias that supports Darwin and Dawkins expositing on matters touching on religion and suggests that they are still doing this within in the framework of science but that assumes all religion is epistemologically vacuous, without anything but subjective content, but this is not the way many religious people see their viewpoint and where their interpretation and inferences touch on and derive from the common ground of natural inquiry they should be allowed to respond. Obviously quoting their Scriptures is not permittted as an authoritative scientific proof but the institutionalization of a view of religions as vacuous subjectivity is hardly fair and religious people should not be expected to support it. In fact, considered in the grand sweep of history, teleological inference from observed order, though religious, has been informed and derived from natural inquiry. Questions about the origin and sustainment of complexity (such as rare earth, anthropic principle arguments) deserve to be heard. If science, in this case Darwin, addresses religion, then what is called religion should be given the opportunity to reply. Darwin addresses "special creation". Shouldn't special creationists be allowed to respond? But this is the case all the more so, it seems to me, if the address to Darwin's argument is done within the bounds of what is repeatedly if fitfully accepted as science, supposing we are delimiting our focus to science. ID permits Darwin's argument in his seminal book to be addressed in its fullness (his address of special creation can hardly be viewed as a marginal matter by anyone familiar with the book) while at the same time keeping the focus still on natural phenomena. It does so by avoiding an authoritarian constriction on thought that does not allow for a critical fullness of evaluation of questions clearly raised or addressed in Darwin's argument. So who is teaching Darwin?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Mary Habeck's "Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror"

Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror by Mary Habeck, Yale University Press, 2006.

The consistent need to find explanations other than religious ones for the [jihadist] attacks says more about the West than it does about the jihadis. Western scholars have generally failed to take religion seriously. Secularists, whether liberals or socialists, grant true explanatory power to political, social, or economic factors but discount the plain sense of religious statements made by the jihadis themselves. To see why jihadis declared war on the United States and [try] to kill as many Americans as possible, we must be willing to listen to their own explanations. To do otherwise is to impose a Western interpretation on the extremists, in effect to listen to ourselves rather than to them.

Richard John Neuhaus correctly cites the above passage from the book as Habeck's central argument.

Habeck's approach to the Jihadist ideology I find good in that she strives to listen first to what they are saying before drawing her conclusions. This allows her to see past the secularist blindspot, increasingly decried by many today, including Madeline Albright in her new book The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs . The Washington Post's Book World comments Albright's book:

In his introduction to Madeleine Albright's surprising new book on religion and foreign policy, Bill Clinton writes that his former secretary of state chose her subject "against the advice of friends." Those friends are left unnamed, but they surely include colleagues who helped Albright craft U.S. foreign policy in the Clinton years -- and maybe even President Clinton himself. The cause of their trepidation must have related to the most important -- and bravest -- point that Albright makes here: that on her watch, U.S. foreign policy made every effort to ignore religion.
To a new generation of foreign policy thinkers who must now deal with jihadist terrorism, it seems absurd that America's leaders self-consciously pretended that religion was not an important world force. But according to Albright -- and it is hard to see why she would overstate the case -- the Clinton team insisted privately, not just publicly, that the Balkan crises, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, yes, al-Qaeda's August 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa were "not about religion."

Given that the participants in all these events said that their conflicts were precisely about religion, it is worth wondering how our best and brightest could have remained so obstinately in denial. The cause, according to Albright, was the legacy of foreign policy "realism" -- the view that nations' actions could be predicted by assuming that they would rationally pursue their own interests. This theory, which is "almost exclusively secular," taught diplomats to ignore religious rhetoric and zeal and to look instead for familiar, interest-based motives. (The rest in the comments section at

Richard John Neuhaus of First Things provides an excellent treatment of Mary Habeck's book here.

I here offer the first of only informal notes on my reading of the book. I found true to report Habeck's book was very well documented although I had some trouble accessing the internet links cited in the voluminous chapter notes in the back.

The title of the book seems to a hit a nerve in the liberal secularist take on conflicts. Rather than identify individuals as enemies they would prefer to redirect through distraction and through herding of the religious, it would seem to me. However, the cost of their approach is to some extent a selfblinding and naivete.

Neuhaus observes this as well:
Knowing the Enemy will strike some as an excessively belligerent title. But when a formidable force declares itself to be your deadly enemy, and is effectively acting on that declaration, it is the better part of wisdom to recognize it as an enemy and try to understand what it is up to, and why. That recognition does not provide clear answers on how to counter or defeat the enemy. Certainly every resource of honest dialogue and negotiation should be employed to persuade people that they need not and should not be our enemy. But a careful reading of Habeck—along with the likes of Huntington, Ajami, and Lewis—leaves no doubt that millions of people possessed of lucidly lethal intentions in obedience to what they believe to be the commands of God have declared war on us, and therefore we are, not by our choice, at war. It is deeply troubling that so many Americans have not yet come to recognize that sobering reality.

I noticed this when I announced the title of the book I was reading to an intellectual liberal minded friend. It is hard to hide that palpable emotional response representatve of so much that has been taught about the way the world is among intellectuals in our country.

But it is strange. I do not wish really to tirade about the need for militancy against Islamic jihadists. If I am a true disciple of Christ knowing the enemy in the end must be only part of loving the enemy. What vexes me rather is what I percieve as a suppression of truth, not exactly direct in nature but ignoble and foolish and in the end suicidal. World deceptions in codependent leagues despite mutual hatred.

Bat Ye'or's commentary relates.
Ever since she was forced to leave Egypt Bat Ye’or has lived in Europe. She does not intend to leave. She feels old and tired, but she urges young people to continue resisting dhimmi status. “We should not ask the moderate Muslims to save us. We have to change the present situation ourselves. That is our duty to our children and our ancestors.” Her study have made her aware that the destruction of Christian societies by Jihadists has always been brought about by the Christian leaders and churches themselves. “I think that we will not be able to act responsibly so long as we do not understand the dynamics, the spirit, and the functioning of Eurabia, a concept that has been conceived in Europe and by Europeans, and has not been imposed upon us from outside.”

For the whole article.

Also, in the new book Londonistan, by Melanie Phillips:

On the day that four Islamist suicide bombers blew themselves and more than fifty London commuters to bits, the Met’s [Metropolitan Police] deputy assistant commissioner, Brian Paddick, stood before the television cameras and made the noteworthy comment: “As far as I’m concerned Islam and terrorists are two words that do not go together.”

He amplified this by saying that, while the bombers may have been Muslim, the crime was not Islamic because Islam forbids the taking of innocent life. That may well be so; but across the world hundreds of thousands of innocent lives have been ended by terrorists who are doing so under the banner of Islam, find justification in Islam for their deeds, and are told by Islamic religious authorities that such actions are a religious duty. At a stroke, therefore, this senior British policeman had denied not only the nature of the atrocity on British soil but the whole basis of the war against the West.