George Weigel usually has something interesting to say, and it is the case with his latest book Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism. The book has such a title because Weigel looks at the faith in Jihadists and the lack of it in the West and the role reason currently plays in each camp and how the lack of faith in the West and the distrust of reason on both parties feeds the fires of Jihadism. The book is divided into three sections and subdivided through the length of the book into fifteen lessons.
Section one is titled “Understanding the Enemy”. In this section he presents the case that America, and possibly the world, has misunderstodd the enemy. We know not who we fight because Americans have not bothered enough to look into it and have forgotten history enough to realize that the struggle between the West and Islamic Jihadism is nothing new. Weigel does mention the rich philosophical tradition that Islam once had, after all it was the Muslims that preserved the writings of Aristotle and other learners from being forgotten, and points out that at one point in history faction of Islam became distrusting of reason and those factions eventually grew in number until nearly all reason was squeezed from the faith. The basic argument goes that without right reason, anything might be deemed permissible. This would allow for contradictions such as murdering innocents in the name of a God who has a commandment about not killing.
Weigel also points out that the sweeping assumption that the God of Judaism and Christianity is the same God as that found in Islam. He says this is not the case as both groups have very differing views of God. The latter party allows God to contradict Himself, as if God can be both being and not being (and I don’t mean ‘not being’ in the apophatic sense). In other words, Jihadism is the result of poor theology. So the war America is fighting is not so much a war on terror as it is a war on bad theology -- perhaps America should put some theologians on the front lines, if that be the case. I think Father James Schall sums it up well in this interview.
The current struggle with the Jihading Muslims, according to Weigel, is the struggle between Islam and modernity. Islam did not want modernity to invade its culture so they simply ignored it, and like the ignoring of a bad infection it only gets worse.
The second section of the book is called “Rethinking Realism.” I did feel like I was reading a laundry list of mess-ups from America on the war in Iraq because America failed to see the world as it is. Weigel discusses the misappropriation of funds, the openness of Iraq’s boards that allow in more terrorists and therefore more terror upon US troops, and the uncertainty on the part of the American government. Also in this section are the follies of not taking into account another country’s culture and religion when rebuilding the country and allowing for a style of democracy that is unique to a culture and not trying to force an American style of democracy on another country. In this section he mentioned that the war on terror and the war in Iraq are very different than most other wars in that it is not really contained within a state. It is a war without boarders. This is one of the reasons he sees the war going on for much longer than most people want it to, and it would do American good to develop the virtue of patients on this matter.
The last section of the book was titled “Deserving Victory.” In it Weigel was very blunt in his critique of America, other countries, and Islam. He questions how a country can fight a war against an enemy who views both defeat and victory as positive, the need to rethink and overhaul how countries deal with each other, and the necessity of scrapping the politically correct agenda for the safety of the world. Also in this section are suggestions for limiting the funding from America that goes to terrorism. Two suggestions were to go become oil independent and make alternative fuel sources for travel.
Although I do not know where in the book he mentioned it, but the idea that I found most interesting is that Weigel proposes that Bin-Laden wants America in Iraq and to leave prematurely would send a message of weakness, which would then be interpreted by the terrorists as a victory for them. The terrorists then viewing America’s premature withdrawal from Iraq would then result in an onslaught of more terror attacks on America. If America can be defeated once, she can be defeated again. He used the USSR/Russia as his example.
I found the book an easy read and a very quick read, only 157 pages of text. I do recommend the book to anyone unfamiliar on the issue at hand. The book seems more like a quick overview of the topics and often I found myself asking, “Did this book really need to be written?” I did not find the book to be as clear and concise as some of his other writings, as I found it vague at times, and I often found the people he quoted to be more interesting and insightful than what Weigel had to say. The strongest section of the book was the last section where he critiqued a number of different issues: American dependency on oil, indifferentism, and a loss of history. Weigel did not dive as deep into some of the issues as I would like; for instance, I was expecting much more on the relation between faith and reason and the necessity of each and how one complements the other but the text was nearly vapid on the subject.
I do give a word of caution. There were times when I was uncertain as if Weigel was speaking only of those Muslims who practiced a violent Jihadism or if he meant all of Islam. Though he mentioned only Jihadism, I would not be surprised if he meant the latter but bit his tongue out of prudence.
Books is available December 26, 2007.