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.

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