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Civilization & Its Enemies

One in a series of publications by the "Thomas Jefferson" of Israel.
First posted 8 January, 2007. Also read The Myth of Israeli Democracy.

More articles are available via http://www.foundation1.org.

Civilization and Its Enemies

Prof. Paul Eidelberg 


    (Time in Jerusalem)

This essay takes its title and basic ideas from Lee Harris’ book, Civilization and Its Enemies (Free Press, 2004). Harris has been dubbed the philosopher of 9/11. As I read it, Civilization and Its Enemies is one the most important books published since the end of World War II, and unless we heed its warnings, we may lose World War III.

Harris reminds us that civilized people forget how much work it took not to kill one’s neighbors, “simply because this work was all done by our ancestors so that it could be willed to us as a heirloom.” Civilized people forget “that there has ever been a category of human experience called the enemy.… The enemy is someone who is willing to die in order to kill you. And while it is true that the enemy always hates us for a reason, it is his reason and not ours. He does not hate us for our faults any more than for our virtues. He sees a different world from ours, and in the world he sees, we are the enemy.”

The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center was only superficially motivated by Islamic hatred of American wealth and power. America is hated because it is the enemy—the Great Satan. The same hatred animates Ha, and Hezbollah vis-à-vis Israel—the Small Satan. Israel, like the United States, is the enemy—the enemy of Islam’s world view.

Muslims are taught that the world is divided into the “Domain of Peace” and the “Domain of War.”  This is the 1,400 year-old mindset of Islam, drilled into Muslims from infancy on. Of course, some Muslims have broken out of this mental strait-jacket, notably Wafa Sultan and Ibn Warraq. According to Dr. Sultan, a psychiatrist living in Los Angeles, Islam can’t be reformed: it has to be “transformed.” But to transform Islam is to transform its view of Muhammad, its Qu’ran, its theology—hence its concept of the enemy.

Mankind has always thought of the enemy as one you must kill or destroy first, otherwise, sooner or later, he will kill or destroy you.  We do not think this way. “We are caught,” says Harris, “in the midst of a conflict between those for whom the category of the enemy is essential to their way of organizing all human experience and those who have banished even the idea of the enemy….”

Americans who uphold the values of the Enlightenment refuse to recognize that those who are trying to kill them are their implacable enemy. “They hope that by pretending that the enemy is simply misguided, or misunderstood… he will cease to be an enemy. This is an illusion. To see the enemy as someone who is merely an awkward negotiator… is perverse. It shows contempt for the depth and sincerity of his convictions, a terrible mistake when you are dealing with [a master of dissimulation] who wants you dead,”

Americans do not understand that if we are the enemy, then we have an enemy. And once we recognize this fact, says Harris, we must change everything about the way we see the world. Thus, if your enemy consists of men who will stop at nothing, who are willing to die and to kill, then you must be willing to do the same. “Only those who have mastered ruthlessness can defend their society from the ruthlessness of others.” Ruthlessness will determine the outcome of World War III, just as it determined the outcome of World War II, when Dresden was napalmed and Hiroshima was incinerated.

Today, however, our intellectuals have been imbuing us with utopian ideals “designed for men and women who know no enemy and who do not take precautions against him. These ideals “are appropriate for a world in which everyone plays by the same rules, and accepts the same standards, of rational cooperation; they are fatally unrealistic in a world in which the enemy acknowledges no rule accept that of ruthlessness.”

Harris dismisses as superficial the view of various liberal-leftists who, in response to 9/11, said, eliminate poverty or pull American troops out of Saudi Arabia or cease supporting Israel and terrorism will cease. He also dismisses the view of various conservatives who said 9/11 was an act of war comparable to Pearl Harbor, and that it’s irrelevant what grievances our enemy may believe it has against us.

Harris states that both err in regarding 9/11 as having had a political objective. Al-Qaeda made no political demands on the United States. “Indeed, it did not even claim to have made the attack in first place.”

The tapes of Bin Laden reveal that the destruction of the World Trade Center was not part of the original terrorists’ scheme. Nevertheless, Muslims saw the collapse of the Twin Towers as a manifestation of divine intervention. The 19 hijackers did not bring down the towers; Allah did. No wonder the Arab street erupted in exultation. 9/11 erased centuries of Islam’s degradation vis-à-vis the West. 9/11 was a victory for Muslims everywhere.  It restored their overweening pride, their sense of superiority over the enemy.

Harris contends that the 9/11 attack was intended to further a “fantasy ideology”: the revival of Islam’s ancient glory. He draws an analogy between this Muslim fantasy and Hitler’s fantasy of reviving German paganism in the thousand–year Reich. When Ahmadinejad calls for a world without America and Israel, he means nothing less than a world without Christianity and Judaism. Such a world would be an unmitigated tyranny, devoid individual freedom, a world in which the sanctity of human life will have perished. In Iran’s war with Iraq in the 1980s, Iran used its own children to explode mine fields.

Harris sees Islamic terrorism, especially suicide, not as a means to an end but as an end in itself.  The Qu’ran praises the Muslim who “slays and is slain” for Allah (Sura 9:111).  To die by annihilating the enemy is the Muslim’s supreme glory. This sheds light on the bizarre behavior of the Palestinian Authority.

The PA was offered statehood by Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 1999. But the transparent and ultimate goal of these Muslim/Arabs is not statehood but annihilation of the enemy, Israel. Israel’s ruling elites can’t face the fact that compromise—the modus operandi of democracy—is foreign to Islam’s world view.

The same error is evident in the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group that recommends negotiations with Iran and Syria to facilitate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.  The concept of negotiations distorts our understanding the culture and mentality of the enemy.

Now, let’s consider what Harris understands by the term civilization. First, he rejects cultural relativism. By civilization he means a standard that can be applied across cultures and across history. He sees civilization as having four prerequisites: a stable social order, the co-operation of individuals pursuing their own interests, the ability to tolerate or socialize with one’s neighbors, and a hatred of violence.

Clearly, Islam lacks three of the four prerequisites of Harris’ view of a civilization. What is remarkable is that Wafa Sultan arrived at the same conclusion. She denied there was clash between the West and Islamic civilization because, in her words, Islam is not a civilization!

Bat Ye’or calls it a “culture of hate.” Last month, in imitation of the Holocaust Denial conference in Teheran, a similar conference was organized in Cairo by Egyptians who share Iran's aspiration to wipe Israel off the map.

Nevertheless, the Cairo conference made no impression on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who met with Egyptian president Mubarak at Sharm e-Sheikh and could heap nothing but praise on Mubarak for his "responsible" leadership of the so-called moderate Arab states. Mubarak is also deemed a “moderate” by president George W. Bush.

There is a fundamental asymmetry here. Arab/Islamic leaders know the enemy; the leaders of the United States do not.  That’s why we may lose World War III. I hope to say more about Harris next week.

*Edited transcript of the Eidelberg Report, Israel National Radio, January 8, 2007.

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