Saturday, February 12, 2005

Naming Ourselves

Ever since the 9/11 attacks the center-right blogosphere has resounded with calls to name our enemy: Islamic fascism. The Bush Administration is reluctant to do so, preferring as an opponent the more sanitary “terrorism”. It is not necessarily political correctness at work here; for the indefinite future the United States has to make common cause with regimes in very ardently Islamic countries such as Pakistan and Jordan. To include “Islamic” in the naming of our enemy would make the work of our diplomats that much harder.

But there is no denying that we are in a religious war, and that our enemy is Islamic. The enemy has decided to war on us for religious reasons, because we are infidels. Our enemy is Islamic, even if it is not all of Islam, and our enemy is at war with anyone who does not submit to Allah. He is even at war with those fellow Muslims who reject his narrow Wahabbist brand of Islam.

But who are we? 

If we do not answer this question ourselves, we allow the enemy to define us. We are the infidels, the heathens, the agents of Satan, the tools of the Jews, the spawn of apes and pigs, cowards who wallow in hedonistic filth and prostitution. Our enemy has a very clear idea of his adversary.

But who are we? 

We are not only Americans, we are Britons and Australians and Indians and Czechs. We are not only Christians, we are Jews and Hindus and Buddhists and atheists. We speak many languages, though English seems to be our common tongue.

But who are we? 

We believe in human liberty, in the inherent dignity of each human being. We acknowledge the right of each person to choose his own path in life, as constrained by the equal right of his fellows. We do not believe that being born to a particular race, nationality, or sex confers any special limitations or privileges upon a person.

We treasure the accumulation of the products of the human intellect across all time and cultures, and value the thorough education of our young.

We believe in the sanctity of private property, and acknowledge that the right of the individual to hold and trade his property as he sees fit contributes to the common good. We believe that the various forms of consensual government, in which rulers are chosen by the ruled, are, though imperfect, the best models for a humane polity that have yet been devised.

But who are we? 

We are people who never deliberately inflict torture and death upon innocent civilians. We are people who do not believe that God directs us to behead a helpless victim and record the act on video. We are people who do not blow up a busload of children to make a political point or express a grievance. We are people who do not find in indiscriminate slaughter of fellow humans any kind of political solution.

We are a humane people, one that goes the extra mile to accommodate those with whom we disagree. We are also a people who, when our children are threatened with harm, respond with unprecedented, unquenchable, and tireless ferocity.

But who are we?


Anonymous said...

Powerful, Baron. That is an excellent question. We are good at saying WHAT we are, but we do not know how to say WHO we are collectively, in the same sense as radical muslims say they are the chosen of Allah or that we are infidels.

Now we see one of the failures of secularism. It does not bind us emotionally to any self-definition. The closest thing I can come up with to what is needed is to say we are freedom-lovers. but not all people can respond emotionally to the concept of general freedom.

I await the additional comments with impatience.

Baron Bodissey said...

Those of us in the West not paralyzed by self-loathing do believe in something, but sometimes it is hard to define. It grows out of Christianity, but it is not limited to Christianity, and it is powerful enough that young men are willing to die for it.

What is it that we believe? That will tell us who we are.

hank_F_M said...


Good Question!

First who is we and non-we.

Everyone who is not Al Quaida?

West Europe and the US?

? ? ?

Baron Bodissey said...

You have to include the Aussies and India. And definitely the Czech Republic, after Havel did such a good job of shaming the EU over Castro.

Graf von Salm said...

Western civilization is the product of Greco-Roman, ancient Hebraic, Celtic, Germanic and other barbarian cultures, just for a start. This is not a trivial point, it is crucial.

As the Baron pointed out elsewhere, individuation is much more pronounced in the West. There is more to this than meets the eye, though. The ancient Greeks were clearly individuals, and one must at least read the work of V. Hanson to appreciate this. Likewise the Romans were not at all clan based. But both the Greek polis and the Roman emperors had no limits upon their powers beyond those of reality. A Greek polis could decide to send forces to kill all the men of a city that had been an ally. The whims of the Roman emperors are well known.

But the Germanic and Celtic tribes would not give their chiefs nor their councils such powers, and the descendents of the Franks, Lombards, Normans and other groups wrote such things as the Magna Carta. Nowhere in Islam, or China for that matter, is there any equivalent to the Magna. The group, be it clan or empire, takes natural precedent over any individual, including the caliph or emperor.

There is no right to criticize in a rational fashion the actions of a caliph or emperor. In the West, the continual tension between the law and ruler has resulted in at least the concept that law is bigger. Such concepts do not hold in the East.

The oriental despot, be he calipih, emperor or other, may be approached with fear and trembling by the lowest beggar, but he is in no way obligated to reply. Allah, as an aside, bears a strong resemblace to the oriental potentate in his ways.

The Western king, emperor, governor, etc. at least in theory must submit to the Law of God and the law of man. Furthermore, religious authorities are not above reproach in the West, unlike the East. No mullah or monk or priest ever nailed 47 concrete criticisms to the door of a mosque or shrine. To do so would likely be suicide, but beyond that there's no evidence they would even think of such an act.

"We" are thus the people strong enough to limit the powers of ourselves and those to whom we entrust government office. "We" are also the people who acknowledge that humans are fallible, and must be corrected, even when they hold a religious office. "We" are those that demand all must submit to the law, but the law itself must have limits. All these things flow from the perception of God that inheres to the Torah and Gospels, but also the Greek perception of gods as well.

Unhappily, I am no closer to distilling this down than when I started. Well, more thought is required.

Baron Bodissey said...

Graf, we seem to be in basic agreement. For some reason the Germanic and Celtic tribes of Europe seemed to form naturally the structures of proto-democracy, as I mentioned in King of America.

Perhaps it's a quality common to all the Indo-European tribes, including the Hellenes and the Lati. Are the Vedic Aryans in India able to sustain a democracy because of this?