If you look at the history of our western culture, at its heart is Christianity. And if you look at the history of Christianity in western culture, you have to see that over the many centuries, uncounted thousands after thousands have died for their religion or have killed others for their religion. We have a bloody past. But what has grown out of this bloody history is a culture, driven by need and greed and acceptance of technology, in which people can live relatively comfortably and safely, and relatively luxuriously. How can this be?
I think that maybe we grew to see that just because someone does not believe as we believe, we are not obliged to do anything of a drastic nature to them. If I find that you are a member of some filthy, profane cult that believes in secretly transporting a potato around in your underwear (in the back, not the front), I am not compelled to torch you and your house by the light of the moon. I am willing to leave you to fester in your ignorant state, provided you will do me the courtesy of not interrupting while I worship the great and merciful Chlorox. (And if I should happen to say that you could use a little more Chlorox in your gene pool, think of it as mere words of blessing. Okay?)
We have developed cultural tolerance.
Of course, tolerance in our culture is not not practiced perfectly. Just recently I got stuck playing golf with a couple of -- well, they called themselves pastors -- who felt obliged to encourage me repeatedly to repent and be reborn in the blood of the Lamb. This is something I might even have been willing to do as a seven foot putt for a birdie was at risk, but I felt it might be wrong somehow to bargain with the almighty over the matter. I didn't want to think as they did, and they certainly thought I was a sinner. They told me so. Nevertheless, none of us felt obliged to take a divot out of anybody's forehead with a pitching wedge. We were tolerant. Nobody came to harm. (And I made the putt.)
And if you think about it, much of our world is like that. We constantly find ourselves confronted with others whose notions of proper conduct are just wrong -- like wearing a baseball hat backwards for example, or voting stupidly, or having loud children, or driving like a maniac. Or cursing in public. Or being fat. Or smoking. Or tatoos. Or protesting -- well, anything. We don't approve. We are annoyed, offended, and we don't approve. We wish they would stop doing what they shouldn't be doing, or start doing what they aren't. But we don't, by and large, start blowing things up. Well, nearly all of us don't. Some do. But we have a cultural and legal bias forbidding such conduct, and so Eric Rudolph, our most recent example of a home-grown terrorist, is going to spend the rest of his days sitting alone for about 23 hours a day, thinking thoughts about how great a hero he is for fighting for the unborn by killing somebody, anybody, just killing it doesn't matter who.
Our cultural and legal bias against the agressively narrow-minded comes from experience. We've figured out that it's dangerous being around such people. For the safety of all, we encourage and enforce a social contract that says, I get to putt my putts in safety, and you get to watch naked ladies dancing in bars, if you want to. I get to drive a sedan, and you can continue to drive a slow, loud, and above-all stinky diesel truck (invariably referred to as a "rig" by its owner, a mighty hairdresser or social worker by trade.) And you can drive it in front of me and I won't shoot at you.
See how this works? Western culture has gone beyond the narrow strictures of its religious cultural inheritance. Tolerance.
And that's where the problem with Islamic terrorism is rooted. What I would call intolerance, is idealized as a virtue. What do you get? You get places where, if anything identifiable as female about a person shows in public, the female person showing it must be punished -- and so the only safe public female posture is to do one's best to look like a shapeless black shadow. You get, rape is invariably the woman's fault and she must die for having caused a man to rape her. You get, sexual conduct not approved by the mullah must be punished, and the punishment amounts to being tied in a sack which will be turned into an unhuman-shaped bloody mass after a frenzied mob throws fist sized stones at it until -- too long later -- the sack stops moving. You get, leaving Islam is apostasy, punishable by death. You get jihad.
I know there's a question about whether jihad is an intellectual matter, or if it really requires actual subjugation of the world. I know there's a question of whether Islam means peace, or submission. I know there's a question about whether the sword of Islam is metaphoric or literal. But I don't see, on either end of the spectrum, where tolerance is much valued. Sure, I know that many Muslims all over the world are not blowing people up, and don't much want to. But my understanding is that Islam is all about becoming universal. To the faithful in Islam, it isn't a matter of whether we will convert to Islam, it's a matter of when. Or if we will live that long. There remains, even if un-bloody, the jihad.
So, I think we are involved in a holy war. I don't think we want it, and we certainly don't want it to be a religious war. But I think we are in it and it is a religious war, at least on their side. And I think much of the 21st century is going to be taken up in fighting this war. One part of the reason the war will take up so much time is that we haven't committed ourselves to winning the war. A war is not won after a certain percentage of people die. A war is won when one side is beaten, conquered, vanquished. Just killing a bunch of people isn't the same thing. And until we have won this war, the radical Islamists are going to keep blowing us up.
I also think we will win the war, for two reasons.
First, all the effective weaponry comes from the west. That's not a matter of luck. Our culture is such that innovation is encouraged by wide adoption and proliferation and financial reward, and the complete infrastructure is in place to support innovation. For example, it took just about twenty-five years for personal computers to go from idea to what we have now. It wasn't a fluke; the idealists at the beginning envisioned and intended the wide-spread distribution of personal computers - and I'll bet even they are astonished at how rapidly the idea was deployed. More importantly, we haven't yet even mobilized for war. The vast majority of us westerners, American and European, are contentedly going about our happy civilian chores, entertaining ourselves and our friends by sticking superfically clever bumble (like this) stickers on our vehicles.
We could be much more lethal. In WWII, we stopped producing civilian automobiles and tires, altogether, just so we could build tanks. We rationed food, so that more labor efforts could be spent winning a war. We fire-bombed whole civilian cities to eliminate the enemies' ability to manufacture weaponry. We drafted an entire generation. We dropped a couple atomic bombs. We, today, are nowhere near as pi--ed-off as they were back then. Think what could happen if we were.
Second, I think that in the long run, "regular" Muslims are going to marginalize the radical Islamists. I think that Muslims are coming to recognize, as most westerners do, that it is just dangerous being around the radical, aggressive, militantly narrow-minded killers. (I suspect that, in the last thirty years, the radicals have killed more Muslims than westerners, anyhow.) I think that there will be a growing awareness that us "regular people," both westerners and Muslims, have need to join in common cause to protect one another from terrorists, some few of whom are western, and a whole bunch are, at least for now, Islamic.
I think that the notion of tolerance is already infecting the Muslim world. Why? Take a look at Iraqi blogging. Iraq the Model is one of the old blogs in English - which has improved over the months. But notice what he is saying -- there's a lot of blogging going on, and exchanges of views. Blogging is crossing the borders and people are communicating with one another as neighbors, without regard to the borders or the authorities.
I think it is a matter of patience, persistence, and time.