Bret Stephens sits on the editorial board of the Wall St. Journal, a prestigious rank reserved for acute political acumen. In March he sat down with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mullen at Columbia University where Mullen was to give a lecture. The topic of Petreaus’ admonishment regarding linkage to Jewish settlements, the Palestinians and the status of Peace throughout the Middle East dominated conversation between the two. Stephens’ reformed insight from the encounter was written about on March 30. Its significant for two reasons. One, the vast majority of those in the West simply cannot grasp how the Great Satan is viewed throughout the Near East. Second, its even worse for those inside the Beltway, those who have a responsibility to know are blinded by near term political gain. This is lethal political craft unbecoming of the servants of this great Republic.
Mullen barked, ‘what does more to galvanize radical anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world: (a) Israeli settlements or (b) a Lady Gaga video?’
If your answered (b) congratulations. Your grasp of the historical roots of modern jihadism is sufficient. If however, you answered (a) then congratulations you are perfectly in synch with the conventional wisdom that dominates those serving in political positions througout Washington.
The origin of Jihadism can be traced to an Egyptian Islamist writer named Sayyid Qutb. He spent time in the United States throughout the 1950’s. His is considered to be the intellectual force behined the birth of Al Qaeda from his 30 volume exegesis titled “In the Shade of the Quran”. This is canonical in jihadist circles and accounts for much that consumes those in the Near East.
His 1951 essay “The America I Have Seen” is an account of his travels throughout the States. He understood how the Enlightenment as pursued by contemporary liberalism has totally eclipsed revelation. If Qutb had stopped there he’d have a thread of thought linking him to many orthodox thinkers that midwifed the Second Vatican Council (Romano Guardini, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri De Lubac). Instead Qutb, like most monolithic idealists of the 19th and 20th centuries demanded a primitive adherence to critical speculative thought that destroyed the quotidian. All in the name of fidelity.
Modern Catholic thinkers throughout the West have weighed in against this line of thinking. Perhaps the best non-Catholic was Edmund Burke. Nevertheless, Qutb’s insight against the West echos Thucydides insight into the relation between geography, custom and personality development. Qutb: “I fear that a balance may not exist between America’s material greatness and the quality of her people.” Not bad insight, just wrongheaded idealism.
Bear in mind that Qutb’s insights were long before the liberal crackup that became the 1960’s. Qutb never got around to Elvis, the Pill, women’s lib, gay rights or even Studio 54! His simple dystopic rhetoric reveals a humanism at odds with reality itself. This is the contemporary challenge if the West is to succede against the murderous idealisms that rage throughout the Muslim world. The battle is to be joined intellectually first, yet the timid West presents a pretense of disinterestedness in any recognition of how to culturally engage the Muslim world.
The Near East continues to stage grievances that are merely the latest politically convenient cover behined which a lethal murderous ideology clings to for legitimacy.
The enemies of the West have taken their measure of us. We continue the delusion in affirming the premise of such grievances.