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Islamic militants have a cause they believe in. Do we?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 15, 2015

Newt Gingrich, of all people, should be familiar with the lesson that I was taught as the First Law of Politics: You can’t beat somebody with nobody. So I’m surprised that in a column appearing in today’s Wall Street Journal, on why we’re losing the battle against radical Islam, the former Speaker of the House doesn’t acknowledge the corollary: You can’t beat ideas without ideas.

Gingrich begins with the observation that we—that is, the West—are at war with radical Islam. However, he notes, the West “doesn’t have a strategy for victory in this war.” Correct. He adds an important insight here: “It is extraordinary that the political correctness of Western elites has discouraged the study of what inspires those who dream of slaughtering us.”

So far, so good. Gingrich goes on to say that Congress should hold hearings to explore the plans, the history, and the motivations that have given rise to the jihadist menace. Then, once we understand our enemies, we gather the smartest policy experts we can find, and “charge them with designing a national strategy for winning the global war against radical Islamists.”

Although he sees the problem, then, Gingrich does not offer a solution. He recognizes that we need a strategy, but he is not ready to offer one. Since he suggests forming a blue-ribbon commission for the task, it would appear that he doesn’t think anyone else has a plausible strategic plan ready to put into place.

Well, I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a plan for defeating the Islamic militants, either. But I do think that I know what crucial ingredient is missing from our plans. The jihadists believe in something. The West believes in nothing. And that’s where the First Law of Politics comes into play: You can’t beat something with nothing.

You may say that the jihadists’ beliefs are dangerous, backward, toxic, benighted. So they are. Yet the followers of radical Islam believe in them, and that shared belief gives them a cause, a sense of mission. They sneer at the West because as they see it, we have no cause, no faith, and therefore do not have the moral strength to resist them.

Respectable Muslim leaders say that the jihadists are wrong. “Islam is a religion of peace,” they insist. But the militants sneer at them, too. The imams who speak of peace appear to them as pawns of the West, whose faith has been watered down by contact with a decadent consumer society. They, the militants, are the ones who take Islam seriously and live out their faith with the same militant spirit that Mohammed showed.

Do you think Muslim militants would be worried by the creation of a blue-ribbon committee to devise a strategy for the West? Not likely. They know that the West has money and influence and technical expertise. They still believe that they can defeat us, because they have something more powerful: a cause.

Do we? Gingrich suggests that we need a much better understanding of the forces we are fighting against. I think we need a better understanding of what we are fighting for.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - Jan. 16, 2015 8:36 PM ET USA

    But how is the evangelization to be done if we are more concerned with inter religious dialogue, and also, by virtue of prudence, with the lives of the faithful in Muslim countries? How, if we are even reluctant to allow Muslims to be baptized (e.g., Joseph Fadelle)? I am not saying that it should be otherwise, I suppose one has the right to put oneself in harm's way but not his brothers - but aren't we one body? Evangelize them, only if we had another Pentecost, methinks.

  • Posted by: phil L - Jan. 16, 2015 5:26 PM ET USA

    Bruno, I'd suggest a 3rd way: Evangelize them!

  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - Jan. 16, 2015 5:14 PM ET USA

    How does one fight Islam? You don't. Islam is the lion and the body of Christ is the lamb. I am no Menonite but am no crusader either. There are two ways to deal with Islam - one is isolation and ultimately elimination (victory in the flesh) and one is forgiveness and martyrdom (victory in the Spirit), and elimination is no choice for Christians.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jan. 15, 2015 2:07 PM ET USA

    The tensions appear to increase not so much with growing religious "radicalization" but with progressing atheisation in the West.