By Lauren Gillespie
In what may come to be regarded as a low point in his presidency, Obama admitted at a press conference last week that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with ISIS. It’s bad enough to witness the leader of the free world golfing and fundraising while barbarians are beheading American journalists, persecuting Christians, and clearly signaling their intent to strike the homeland. The thought that he would do so in the absence of a clear strategy to defeat (degrade? contain?) them is beyond comprehension.
Much could and has been written about the shocking level of incompetence necessary to produce such words. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that our problem with Islamic supremacism in general and ISIS in particular goes beyond having a clear strategy to defeat them (though this is certainly important) and cuts to the very core of our identity. It’s not enough to oppose the mission of ISIS; we need to have a greater one of our own.
This starts with recognizing what it is that makes radical jihad appealing, even to certain segments of our own population. This is necessary not to excuse or emulate their ideology, but rather to understand it. Something attracts young men in particular to their cause, or else 100 Americans (that we know of) and 1,500 Britons would not be fighting alongside an enemy that has sworn our destruction. It’s not wealth. It’s not the promise of a long, comfortable life. So what is it?
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a George Orwell review of Mein Kampf from 1940. In it, he rightly condemns Hitler as a lunatic, but also notes the underlying appeal of Nazism. Orwell observes that Hitler “has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude” and the progressivist view that “human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security, and avoidance of pain.”
Like Nazism, Islamic extremism offers neither comfort nor security — the ostensible goals of the welfare state — but rather sacrifice in the name of a sacred mission. In the end, the differences between Aryan supremacism and Islamic supremacism are minor. Both are fascist, as they meld religion and government into one and the same thing. Both call their members to fight for a glorious cause, to be part of something greater. Both view themselves as liberators from an enemy that is both decadent and despicable, grown weak and soft in nature and yet wielding a power disproportionate to its merits. In other words, the jihadists view us the way the Nazis viewed the Jews.
ISIS is a militant ideology. To defeat them, we need both a better military (check) and a better ideology. What do we stand for? What are we willing to die for?
These questions are perhaps not as easy to answer as they once were. We seem to lack even the language necessary to frame such a cause, so afraid are we to give offense. Diversity and tolerance are good to a certain degree, but who would lay down their lives in the name of multiculturalism, or even libertarianism? No soldier ever charged into battle crying: “I risk my life for the right of everyone to do whatever they want, no matter how perverse, so long as they don’t directly harm anyone else!”
This is not to say that our culture need be monolithic. The Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War and the brave men who stormed the beaches of Normandy had ancestors who hailed from Ireland, Germany, Italy, and West Africa. But while their backgrounds and origins were diverse, the vast majority accepted Judeo-Christian principles of freedom, inclusiveness, and the intrinsic value of human life. Like our Founding Fathers, they acknowledged the existence of good and evil, as well as the human temptation to choose the latter. You don’t have to be a Jew or a Christian to share these values, but it helps to recognize that they arose in a specifically Judeo-Christian context.
In Turkey, Obama famously declared: “We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation.” A few days ago, Alveda King called him out on this, asking that he bring us back to God and supply some righteous indignation. This goes beyond politics. When it comes to rallying a population in the face of an existential threat, even the dollars and cents capitalism favored by so many fiscal conservatives falls short. If we are all just here by accident, if our goals in life are merely material and temporal, then what does it matter if a community thousands of miles away is tortured, displaced, and persecuted?
Like Orwell observed, people desire more than material comfort. On a fundamental level, we yearn for a higher purpose– for truth and justice. But in the place of our traditional values, new beliefs have seeped into our culture that divide Americans by class, gender, and race, eschewing the very notion of a common purpose. In order to ignore the gross injustices that abound in the world and our own society, we seize upon the slightest perceived offense. We waste ink and breath debating the name of the Washington Redskins and the existence of a “war on women” while studiously ignoring the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East and the unborn in our own communities. Western feminists do nothing to address the atrocities committed against women in Africa and Asia, including genital mutilation, acid attacks, and rape, while devoting themselves to the causes of free birth control and unlimited access to abortion. It’s embarrassing.
Many Americans today, especially in my own generation, would rather adopt an attitude of “don’t judge me and I won’t judge you” than expose themselves to increased scrutiny and charges of hypocrisy. But multiculturalism, consumerism, and moral relativism will not be enough to defend ourselves against Islamic supremacism and other fascist incarnations. Neither will adopting our own “convert or die” extremist mentality. We defeated Nazism and Soviet communism in large part because we believed our values of freedom and democracy were worth fighting for. We need to figure out how to fight ISIS. But we also need to remember why.