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"Head-in-the-Sand" Liberals and Conservatives

I've seen this referenced on a variety of blogs: an editorial yesterday for the Los Angeles Times by self-described liberal Sam Harris, the author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason. The editorial's title? "Head-in-the-sand liberals: Western civilization really is at risk from Muslim extremists":

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that "liberals are soft on terrorism." It is, and they are.

A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world -- for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. The truth is that we are not fighting a "war on terror." We are fighting a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise.

This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims. But we are absolutely at war with those who believe that death in defense of the faith is the highest possible good, that cartoonists should be killed for caricaturing the prophet and that any Muslim who loses his faith should be butchered for apostasy.

Unfortunately, such religious extremism is not as fringe a phenomenon as we might hope. Numerous studies have found that the most radicalized Muslims tend to have better-than-average educations and economic opportunities.

Given the degree to which religious ideas are still sheltered from criticism in every society, it is actually possible for a person to have the economic and intellectual resources to build a nuclear bomb -- and to believe that he will get 72 virgins in paradise. And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, liberals continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from economic despair, lack of education and American militarism.

I don't disagree with Harris' points here. Radical Islamism is a serious threat to the Western way of life. But let's not delude ourselves that liberals have a monopoly on head-in-the-sandedness. The last sentence above would be just as accurate if it read:

And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, conservatives continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from a lack of democracy.
Iran is a democracy and its leader wants to wipe Israel off the map. Palestine is a democracy and elected Hamas as its government. Lebanon is a democracy and openly tolerated a rocket-armed Hezbollah militia within its borders. But conservatives would have us believe that Iraq will be different, that somehow, democracy there will lead to something other than extremism. Where is the evidence for this belief?

I've come to believe that Islamic terrorism springs not from economic despair, nor lack of education, nor American militarism, nor the absence of democracy (though some or all of these issues might aggravate the problem). I have my thoughts on what it does spring from, but I'll keep them to myself until I'm better able to articulate them.


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