The "Hood" Over Our Eyes: Are We Doomed As a Country? | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | November 30, 2009 | Ignatius InsightThe "Hood" Over Our Eyes: Are We Doomed As a Country? | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | November 30, 2009 | Ignatius Insight

The day after the killings at Fort Hood, a friend wrote, with some prophetic import: "What could have been the shooter's motive? The FBI is still searching, I know. It's just traumatic stress disorder, even though the man had not been to Iraq, or Afghanistan, even though he shouted 'Allah Akbar' while opening fire. We're doomed as a country."

This action is intelligible to any reasonable person in terms of the killer's statements and deeds. It does not take a genius to understand him. But it does take a genius to come up with a theory that excuses him from responsibility. Our land, even in the highest places, and not only ours, is populated with not a few such geniuses with their exonerating speculations.

This latter phrase—"We are doomed as a country"—is what interests me here. Are we?

Is it possible we have crossed a mental line beyond which we are no longer able to understand the very word "enemy"—even when he acts as one? This line is not military, but one of mind with the theories that swirl through it. Thus, the phrase—"We are doomed—was "haunting." It gets to the real problem. The issue is not Fort Hood as such, or even why this killer was not detected or stopped.

Rather, the problem is the cultural "hood" over our eyes. It prevents us from seeing a quite intelligible thing for what it is.

To change the metaphor, our "minds" are tied behind our backs. Our own philosophy, as it is used to explain such violence, is now itself a useful instrument of the terrorists, as they are inaccurately called. The actions of those who commit these "crimes" we explain in terms of victimhood, sociological categories, economic or psychological depravities. Yet, they are not "crimes" but acts of war. Those who carry out these attacks, at least, are not confused about what they are doing.

With a sophisticated knowledge of our mind and how it works, the enemy knows that he will be free to use these methods with relative impunity and considerable success to further his ends. At the same time, he will be excused by most and praised by many for doing so. Those who commit the slaughters are not the enemy; we are. The theme recurs. The enemy himself insists that it is our existence, our way of life that causes his reaction. He knows how we treat human life when we accuse him of barbarity.

The president, with much of the Congress and media, acts as if these cold-blooded killings are basically a problem of American origin. On reading his comments, it sometimes seems like the only land that the President has not visited is his own. If we could blame the "right" Americans for these violent acts of justly enraged "foreigners," the problem would disappear.

We should not be what we are. It is our existence that causes these opponents. The Muslim army officer is driven to this terrible—but to him, heroic—deed by our culture not, as he himself claims, by his religion. We, on our part, will not take religious motives seriously, especially ones that legitimize the use of force against the innocent.

Suppressing the real reason, we search for some other way of understanding. Since, according to our philosophy, no one could think the way the major did, therefore, we conclude, neither could anyone else. So it was merely irrational or mad. Our leaders cannot wrap their minds around the idea that we may have here a real enemy, an ancient one, in fact, who is not motivated by any of the things modern psychology, economics, or culture regard as motives of human action. Our failure is as much of mind as of will. And even if religion is included as the cause, it is a "religion" that is not really what the average "terrorist" believes. We read his actions through our lenses. We think it must be this way; therefore it is this way.

The Georgetown Philodemic Debating Society recently posed as the topic of their program: "Resolved: The War against Terrorism has been a Failure." The only problem with this formulation is that the "terrorists" do not recognize themselves as terrorists. They witness the depths of their faith. They die for it. The peaceful religious category is how Western thinkers, because of their preconceived ideas, have to think of it.

The Western mind is not allowed to call it what it is, which is a religious crusade designed to "convert" the world to Islam. Its origin is a certain kind of piety. So long as we think of it as anything else, as my friend said, "We are doomed." We may even be doomed if we finally remove the hood to recognize that a war has in fact been declared against us, something we do not acknowledge.

I have often argued that the Muslims themselves need not have to resort to war tactics to win the world, or most of it. They can, if patient, gradually but fairly rapidly, take over each Western country through a higher birth rate. They use Western law principles of freedom of religion, press, and movement to assemble islands of Islamic rule within Western cities and countries. These are quickly or gradually infiltrated by the view of Islam that pursues the holy war as a matter of faith and conscience. Much of this initial expansion is already in place, as we see in Europe. I do not think this approach will disappear. Many Christian shrines will become Muslim by default.

No one doubts that some Muslims would like to modify this fierce side of their co-religionists. Some think that "westernization" or "secularization" will do it. But these notions usually make matters worse. For the most part, the actual Muslim states that stretch across Africa, the Near East, and Asia are family oligarchies and military juntas, but nearly all within them are believers.

But sufficient numbers of Muslims in the world do agree with and follow those who think the time is right to strike. They see a moral weakness of will in post-Christian regimes. The whole world is to pay its homage to Allah as in Muslim states which, once in control, are never open to any real influence from the outside. The pattern of conquest and subjection is long developed and continues unabated unless prevented.

Unless we radically weaken our military development and will to protect ourselves, which we seem to be doing, we can assume for now that no Muslim power or all put together will be a world military treat. This awareness is why we are not witnessing battlefield struggles but what we insist on calling "terrorist" attacks. Jihadist leaders have struck upon a new type of warfare, though it has roots in the old guerrilla operations of previous wars, including early Islamic wars against Byzantium and Europe. It seeks to by-pass formal armies and strike at its enemy's heartland directly with relatively simple weapons used by sacrificing believers.

What must be a fascinating, if not horrifying, transformation is what has happened to the term "martyr" under the aegis of Muslim theology and military practice. The traditional understanding of the martyr was that of someone who could not defend himself. He was killed in the name of affirming the principles of his faith by its enemies. To follow the Socratic tradition, it was better to suffer evil than to commit it. It was on this principle that civilization was built.

The suicide bomber is the secret weapon of those Muslim movements that see the possibility of their ultimate victory in our time. While the Western churches may have a difficult time with attracting religious vocations, those Muslims seem to have an abundance of suicide bombers waiting around the call to action. What are they called to do? Obviously, they might be lone wolves, but mostly they are sent. Which was the case of the Fort Hood bomber remains to be seen. If it was solitary, the government might breathe a sigh of relief. But too much insistence that this is all it was—a single, isolated case—does not ring true. No one believes the 9/11 attack was isolated, however little we know about the ultimate lines of command, which we have presumably been pursuing since the initial air strikes in New York.

The suicide bomber, the one who kills himself, is now said to be a "martyr," especially if he takes with him a significant number of innocent or political "unbelievers" who are unarmed and unprepared for such random attacks. Those killed are not, however, considered "innocent." The very existence of anyone outside inner Islam's zone of "peace" is considered to be in a "war" area.

The existence of non-Muslims in this view is an act of war. They can be attacked if the attack is useful. The one who kills himself is a "martyr." He goes to Muslim heaven. He (and often she) furthers the cause of the expansion of Islam. Notions of "human rights," if the attacker knows how to use them, protect the Muslim potential martyr from too much surveillance and restraint.

Can this form of "martyr" attack be a real danger to that part of the world that is not already Muslim? If taken in conjunction with other factors, birth rates, closed enclaves, use of fear, I suspect it can be. But this success depends on our continuing to think that this threat does not exist as what it says it is: a religious effort to continue a religious mission that charged the Prophet' first military expansions. In this view, rooted in a certain firm piety, the world should and must eventually be Muslim.

Again, not every Muslim holds this position. Actual Muslim states often see themselves under attack from it. On the other hand, either through fear or lethargy, little is done to oppose it. Muslim societies are closed societies and keep themselves so by force. They announce they are at peace and are happy with such an arrangement. The use of any tactics to achieve this purpose or goal can be justified on one or another foundation within Muslim law and experience. The philosophic voluntarism within much Muslim tradition is very adept at justifying any act that works to achieve the end. It is just another form of piety.

Thus, one war is with Islam's own soul about what it is. The other is with our soul. It is not unreasonable that, with our current attitude of mind that refuses to see the belief and nature of the enemy, we are, yes, doomed. We really do not speak clearly about these things.

The Danish and Dutch experiences are warnings. In many liberal countries, event to speculate on these things, as I have, would be called, not a sensible effort to see what is happening but "hate language," subject to severe penalties. Freedom of speech about such issues is under grave threat here. But I speak, in fact, out of grudging respect for the militant Muslims who are convinced that now is their hour. They are often contemptuous of the tepidity of their own fellow believers. We write them off in various ways as either inhuman or mad. I suspect they are neither.

They are believers following clear outlines of legitimate interpretations in their Koran. We would like to think that they can be "dialogued" out of these views. I doubt that is possible. We are more likely to be "dialogued" into them. If their goal looks achievable, nothing in their religious tradition prevents them from inaugurating throughout the world more and more Fort Hoods. That was not really an isolated action if viewed in the context of worldwide terrorist attacks in the past decades.

Can we expect much help from "peaceful" Muslims? I think, in the end, they have to make the same analysis as I did. They have one advantage over us. They already know what it means to live within the "peace" of Islam. They have already seen their share of analogous Fort Hoods in their histories. The only "hoods" that need concern them are those that protect them from the sun. They have already seen the doom.

Related Ignatius Insight Articles and Book Excerpts:

Faulty Dichotomies: Fort Hood and Reverse Racism | Dr. Jose Yulo
Christians and Muslims, Living Together | Samir Khali Samir, S.J. | Preface to English Edition of 111 Questions on Islam
The Ambiguity of Islam | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Martyrs and Suicide Bombers | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
9/11 Revisited | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The Regensburg Lecture: Thinking Rightly About God and Man | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Is Dialogue with Islam Possible? Some Reflections on Pope Benedict XVI's Address at the University of Regensburg | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
Benedict Takes the Next Step with Islam | Mark Brumley
Spartans, Traitors, and Terrorists | Dr. Jose Yulo
On the Term "Islamo-Fascism" | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Plato's Ring in the Sudan: How Freedom Begets Isolation of the Soul | Dr. Jose Yulo
The Echo of Melos: How Ancient Honor Unmasks Islamic Terror | Dr. Jose Yulo

Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.

He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture, and literature including Another Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning, The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006), The Sum Total of Human Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), and The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007). His most recent book from Ignatius Press is The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). His new book, The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays, is now available from The Catholic University Press. Read more of his essays on his website.

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