Knowing the Enemy, Part I

Ships Passing in the Night

We have observed before on this blog that the West is failing miserably to understand ISIS–President Obama failing worst of all.  There are a number of reasons for this.  Firstly, the West is secularist and materialist in its philosophical, ideological and religious outlooks.  It projects its world-view onto other hearts and minds around the globe.  When these folk fail to live up to Western expectations, but rather live other philosophies and religions, Western leaders bemusedly scratch their heads.

Secondly, the Commentariat and the ruling classes in the West (as part of their secularism) despise other religions as ignorance personified.  The West’s “selfie” view is that it has shrugged off the coils of superstition, gods, heaven, hell, and eternity.  There is only matter, which is both brute and blind.  Any suggestion otherwise is regarded as pre-scientific and pre-rational.  Any other view, except the West’s, is ignorance personified.  Thus, the West views religious people (Christians included) as uneducated, untaught, and ignorant.  They are, therefore, primitive and superstititious. 

Thirdly, the West has a confused understanding of “fundamentalism” (which in the present Western lexicon is a term of contempt).
  There are two aspects to the West’s bumbling.  It confuses fundamentalism with extremism.  This is a childish flaw, but there you go.  What else would you expect from such modern primitive Western ideologies.  Moreover, it ignores the inescapable reality that every human being has fundamental beliefs within whatever world view they hold.  These beliefs are beyond challenge, because upon them rests the entirety of their self-awareness.  President Obama is a fundamentalist in this sense.  He–along with all people, including all Western ideologues–have some fundamental ideas and beliefs upon which their entire world view is built. Accusing someone of fundamentalism is as meaningless as accusing them of being human.  True, but oxymoronic.

But a further aspect is this: whilst everyone is a fundamentalist in the sense of having fundamental beliefs that shape everything else in which they live, move and have their being, not all fundamental beliefs are the same or equal.  The content of one’s fundamental beliefs matters.  Fundamental beliefs are either true or false, right or wrong, accurate or mistaken.  It is at this point Western elites also falter–and falter badly.  Western elites assume that the fundamental beliefs of Christianity and Islam, for example, are roughly the same.  Therefore, to label Christians as extremists and fundamentalists is to make them equivalent to Islamic extremists and fundamentalists because the content of one’s fundamental beliefs is irrelevant in the sloppy Western mindset.  For the Westerner, it’s the fact of believing unto death that makes a fundamentalist, not what they believe.

Thus, to Obama and his cohort there are only inconsequential and superficial differences between the fundamentalist Islamic believer who is a suicide bomber and a Christian who sacrifices his life to save another.  Both would live their beliefs unto death: therefore, both are “extremists”; therefore both are fundamentalists; therefore, both alike are ignorant and dangerous. 

Every so often, however, someone amongst the chattering classes has the clarity of mind actually to study the fundamental belief constructs of a group like ISIS, on the one hand, or Christians, on the other.  Stepping outside Western group-think and discursively analysing the orthodoxy and the orthopraxis of ISIS suddenly takes one beyond the empty slogans and the weird ignorance which characterises so many in the West. 

A recent article by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic reflects just such an event.  It has the promising title of “What ISIS Really Wants”.  It takes ISIS ideology seriously on its own terms.  It gets beyond the West’s supercilious slogans.  We will summarise Woods’s data and arguments in forthcoming posts.  But for the present we will conclude by making this observation: the West’s predilection to label ISIS and Islamic believers as extremists and fundamentalists makes no more sense that it would have been to label Hitler or Mao or Stalin or Lenin (and their respective political parties and states) as fundamentalists or extremists.  It is only when one looks at the actual ideology driving such men that their respective actions and beliefs and programmes and pogroms begin to make sense. 

And it is only when we are successful in understanding enemies and opponents on their own terms that they begin to make sense and one is able to take them seriously.  Moreover, it is at that point one can escape the trap of moral and intellectual equivalence that equates all serious religious believers as the same.  That is truly the path to obscurantist ignorance and the West is a long way down the road.

Rarely in the past has such profound ignorance and stupidity held sway–as it presently does in the West.  As one sage put it, “Begin, first, to understand.”  Sadly, Western leaders and elites seem incapable of that first step to wisdom. 
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