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The One War, The Real War | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | July 8, 2005
The London subway and bus bombings of July 7 killed some forty people
and injured seven hundred others. Such acts are yet another wake-up call
to people in every country who evidently need constant graphic reminders
that a real war is being fought against them on a world-scale.
Public life will not go on "as usual" so long as militant, aggressive
Islam, however statistically and comparatively small in numbers, is active
throughout the world. Its analysis of the moral decadence in the West
encourages it to think it can undermine the will of particularly its most
effective military and principled opponents. They are not yet proved wrong.
They think, with such methods, that they have a winning formula.
Just at a moment when many liberal western media and political sources
insisted that this war was "caused" by overreaction on the part
of President Bush to 9/11, the Islamic militants oblige us with another
graphic incident. They will not go away until actually defeated. They
do not negotiate or give advanced warnings. They kill the innocent, in
cold blood, precisely because they are innocent and unprepared to defend
themselves. They see and justify this arbitrary killing as a legitimate
means to their religious and political end, the conquest of the world
If there is widespread, active opposition to these forces within the Islamic
world today and there is some it is either too afraid or
too silent to be particularly effective. Western Muslim spokesmen, whose
position is rarely echoed within Islamic countries, generally deny any
responsibility and seem to worry mostly about reaction, not about causes.
On prudential grounds, we cannot expect Islam to cure itself by itself.
The Presidents program of setting up a "democratic" government
in Muslim states when possible has an outside chance of succeeding, but
probably no more than that.
Religious public opinion in Muslim states needs to be much more condemnatory
against such attacks. Certainly some not insignificant percentage of Muslim
opinion throughout the world approves these terrorist methods and their
goals, especially when they seem "effective." This conquest
mentality is not something new but has a long and recurrent history that
needs to be more clearly recognized.
The purpose of such sporadic attacks, from Bali to Moscow to London to
Madrid to New York and elsewhere, is to undermine any effective will to
use force in the West. It seeks to stop military opposition to terrorism
in their political foundations. Till now, the forces defining "what
Islam really is" are not the so-called "non-terrorist"
Muslims. These latter themselves become targets when they manifest coherent
and effective opposition.to these same Islamic radicals. We see this in
Iraq almost every day.
There are not "two" wars one in Iraq and one against
the terrorists. There is but one war, wherever it is fought, including
in London or Baghdad. The terrorists are fully capable of being everywhere.
They are invariably Muslim radicals intent on a world mission at least
claiming a religious duty. They are not primarily "caused" by
poverty or any of the usual ideological reasons given to justify terror.
In fact, such Islamic apologists for this terrorist system see nothing
wrong with what we habitually call terror. It is a legitimate means to
their end to be deliberately and efficiently used. I have long considered
suicide and other terrorist bombing initiatives to be cumulatively far
more dangerous to world population than any threat once associated with
nuclear war or other kinds of war. But I do not doubt that some of these
terrorists would use nuclear weapons if they had them and were capable
of delivering them. So this eventually must also be taken into consideration.
In the long run, the terrorists will kill more people and cause more economic
destruction and chaos than war, but it will be piecemeal, a little at
a time, not easily noticed or calculated.
The London bombings, unlike 9/11, were apparently not suicide bombings.
But it is probably just a question of time before we, as in Israel, see
them in our streets. They are just too effective a propaganda and terrorist
means. Suicide bombers are not needed against easy targets. I am, in fact,
struck by how relatively little moral attention is paid to suicide and
terrorist bombings as expressions of a religious purpose and what this
view does to any truth claim. Pope John Paul II several times remarked
on this incompatibility.
The main battlefield of the war is not Iraq or even London tubes. It is
in the media and public opinion in the United States and Europe about
whether the will to do what is necessary to prevent these attacks is firm
enough over a long period of time. Civilian and suicide bombings have
a political purpose and a religious purpose.
The political purpose is a calculated risk that continued bombings would
show that Western powers cannot defend their own populations. Consequently,
they should cease trying. They should rather, in return for "peace,"
submit to Islamic neutralization of their territories, a kind of compromised
second-class citizenship. Likewise, they should withdraw from any effort
to prevent such attacks in Muslim lands themselves
The religious purpose of this war, in the minds of its advocates, is to
succeed in subjecting the world to Allah. This purpose, no doubt, sounds
preposterous. But I think that we misunderstand the problem if we do not
disassociate what these terrorists themselves say from our theories of
"terrorism." The problem is not caused by fanaticism or some
political, sociological, or psychological derangement.
The fact that not all Muslims in practice agree with this end is, in a
sense, irrelevant. The more terrorism succeeds, the more it will seem
that the Islamic radicals were right. Even in its own terms, however,
a failure to conquer on a world scale causes widespread doubt within Islam
because it seems that its world mission is defeated.
British leaders naturally see this bombing in the light of the attacks
of World War II and the IRA of the more recent past. They know that within
the bosom of every Western nation today are sufficient numbers of organized
Islamic militants ready to carry out serious disruptions and killings
of the citizenry.
We forget, however, that many, many bombings of various kinds have been
prevented since 9/11. A prevented bombing makes no headlines. But we are
wrong to think that effective security and military forces have not been
in place. The terrorists themselves know that they are more and more under
surveillance and pressure.
Al-Qaeda forces may have seen their reputation so questioned by the effects
of the Afghanistan and Iraq phases of the war that they felt it absolutely
necessary to show some flashy sign of strength. If so, this too is in
effect a sign of their weakness. They revealed themselves for what they
are once more. It has been taken as a truism that it is better to fight
these forces on their own grounds and not in London or New York or Madrid.
The war overseas does not prove that it is not effective, but that it
is. But the latter three cities, however orchestrated, are part of the
In this sense, we can be grateful that the Islamic terrorists in London
again called our flagging attention to the real war, the one against those
who first declared war against us in the name of their religious and political
mission. The first effort has been and still is to undermine any effective
opposition. Whether this purpose can be achieved by terrorism and its
effect on public opinion remains to be seen.
I suspect that the Islamic radicals still think they are on target. In
the end, they will see the London bombings as a stunning "success."
But if it finally makes us see the real scope and nature of the one war,
they will have miscalculated both our understanding of what they are about
and our will to do something about it.
Other recent IgnatiusInsight.com articles by Fr. Schall:
On Saying Mass (And Saying It Correctly)
We Had a "Liberal" Pope
On Being Neither
Liberal nor Conservative
Is Heresy Heretical?
Commencements: A Time for Truth to Be Honored
On The Sternness
the Important Things
James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture,
and literature including Another
Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, On the Unseriousness of
Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing,
Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing, and A Student's Guide to Liberal
Read more of his essays on his
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