The attack on Charlie Hebdo reminds us that Islamic terrorism remains a very dangerous phenomenon in the world. The reaction to the attack, and particularly the expressions of support for freedom of speech, are cause for some hope, but attitudes about Islamist doctrine and the terrorism it spawns still range from dangerously naïve to frighteningly sympathetic. We can see the former attitude in the widespread view that the murder of “blasphemers” is somehow unconnected to the Islamic beliefs of the attackers; the latter is on display in the view that the editors at Charlie Hebdo “provoked” the attack. Regrettably, elements of both attitudes are even present in Charlie Hebdo’s first issue following the attack, which features a picture of Mohammad along with the caption, “All is forgiven.”
All of this should serve as a reminder that while freedom of speech is indispensable to a free society, the right is not terribly valuable if you don’t have something worth saying when you exercise it.
With that in mind, I’d like to invite you to take advantage of the many resources we have here at ARI. Our foreign policy page features many articles and op-eds on Islamic totalitarianism and the West’s approach to it. And on YouTube you will find videos of ARI intellectuals and other scholars discussing all aspects of the issue. Some highlights include my interview with Elan Journo on what we have learned since 9/11, a panel discussion on free speech and the Danish cartoons, and Yaron Brook’s talk on America's response to the Islamist movement .
But for an excellent, concise summary of the nature of Islamic totalitarianism and the reasons the West has been unable to deal with it effectively, I can’t think of a better place to start than Elan Journo’s book, Winning the Unwinnable War: America’s Self-Crippled Response to Islamic Totalitarianism. The book’s seven chapters, written by Elan and others, are organized around a central theme: the primary cause of our inability to wage an effective campaign against Islamic totalitarianism is not that the war is unwinnable, but that we are choosing not to fight it. The cause of our failure, the book shows, is philosophical — and, specifically, moral. America has intellectually disarmed itself in this battle by following moral ideas that lead us to sacrifice our own interests and to appease our aggressors.
There’s much to recommend in Elan’s book — from chapters criticizing just war theory and the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 to those explaining the genesis of the attacks, where we have come since 9/11, and the proper response going forward — but my personal favorite is chapter 2, “What Motivates the Jihad on America.” In it, Elan explains the essential tenets of Islam that lead jihadists to loath the western world and especially America and how their views fit within the Muslim world.
I should note that two of the chapters are available on our website for free. Chapter 2 is not, though, so you should buy the whole book. The Kindle edition is available for only $10. That’s a small price to pay for a better understanding of one of the most momentous issues in our time.