For more than 10 years now, I have lived with the notion that what I once believed was a more or less cohesive block of nations and peoples, sometimes referred to as “The West” or “Western Cultures”, are fighting the “War on Terror“. And for the most part, I have also lived with the perception that this war is fought well, mainly as a military conflict. But after the recent events in Paris, where the offices of the French satirical weekly “Charlie Hebdo” were the scene of a shooting, I have spent quite some time thinking about what we (and whoever it is on the other side) are actually fighting over, and consequently how this fight can and ought to be fought.
One of the main provisional conclusions I have drawn is that, contrary to many other past conflicts fought with military and guerrilla tactics, this war is not primarily about resources. As much as those behind it may also want to protect the riches they hold, it seems to me that even if there was a way to (plausibly and believably) guarantee to the people who have taken up arms against “The West” that their resources will not be taken from them, this would only have little impact on the ferocity with which this war is fought–on the side of what has been hastily and summarily judged as Islam or Muslim countries and occasionally been named the “Axis of Evil”.
What then is this evil? Some immediate notion might be the entire religion of Islam, but I hope that I can make an argument that this may very well not be the case. As a disclaimer, I am no expert on Islam or any other major religion, although I believe I have had sufficient exposure to all of them to understand that all of these major religions–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alike–have aspects in their respective creeds that, at least when regarded from a secular and scientific point of view, seem extremely unlikely to be true. No, I don’t think it’s the religion itself, but something that is claimed to be based on the religion.
I can make out at least three major points–all of which I believe are somewhat linked–in which the perpetrators of violence (in the name of Islam) differ from the Western world that from a cursory reading of Islamic scripture seem either unsupported or shaky in their foundation at best:
- a violently achieved dominance of the male over the female in all aspects of relationships linked to power, influence, and decision making; and while not necessary the same, I believe that “honor killings” (when men in a family take the life of a woman to remove a “stain” of dishonor) stem from a common notion: the superiority of men over women; to my knowledge, there haven’t been any women directly linked to any of the attacks, which I find highly suggestive–but it seems also the case that all major religions seem to consider the male as more important or at least strongly differentiate between genders, as a photoshopped front page in an Israeli newspaper recently demonstrated deftly, but moderate Christians, Jews, and Muslims no longer suppress women with physical force
- the denial of capitalist ideas, that decision making power comes with owning financial resources and that, if one wishes to attain power, activities in life therefore must include or even be dominated by the pursuit of financial wealth; instead the other side seems to hold the values of fighting and warfare prowess as far more appealing–which may in part explain why even relatively well-off (but mainly younger and physically able) males from European countries and the U.S. are joining this cause
- and finally a much more general reattribution and re-prioritization of the values that make up the meaning-of-life, which in Western cultures originally was dominated by ideas of Puritan and Enlightenment ideals, but has over time more and more shifted towards values such as (feelings of) pursuit of happiness, personal security, freedom of expression, general equality of all human beings and, in terms of meaning, pursuit of intellectual perfection and increase in knowledge–something which unfortunately has become more and more lost in the claws of a capitalist notion that values life and individual growth of one’s personality as less important than the improvement of wealth (of only a select few)
As far as I can tell, this war cannot be won with physical weapons. In fact, fighting this war with bombs, drones, or other military “solutions” plays into the hands of those we call terrorists, as it corroborates the notion that our ideals are worthless once put to the test. What are their weapons, really?
My contention is that as much as each attack costs lives, the true damage is not a physical one, but an ideal one. This war is a war of ideas and ideologies, and as such the weapons ought to be thoughts, opinions, and strong voices–which is exactly what this last attack has demonstrated: the target was not one representing our interests in the oil resources that exist in the Middle East, such as the headquarter of Shell or B.P., but rather a small newspaper that mocked and tainted the ideas on the other side of the argument.
Insofar I believe that our response should equally one based on ideas and this can be summarized in two separate but equally necessary “weapons”:
- strengthening our defenses, our own ideas and ideals, by not allowing small-scale attacks to completely unravel the progress that our cultures have seen over the past centuries; part of this will require to instill security in the people we live with, rather than sowing fear–and this is the crux, as the powers that we have delegated into our governments, but that truly are given to each one of us, do not have a strong interest in our sense of security, as they themselves thrive in times of fear and terror
- weakening the enemy’s arsenal and power, their ideas and ideals, by revealing the true nature of the consequences if those ideals were to be reality everywhere; the choice between a liberal and civil society–albeit currently an imperfect one with many flaws–and a society built on force wielded by violent, powerful men, used to suppress women and all those who are (physically) too weak to object should be clear as day to everyone
And as a quick hint: we have become experts in fighting enemies with “thoughts and ideas”… During most elections, candidates simply dig up all the dirt about their opponent, and once made public, this is usually sufficient to bury him or her. Why not deal with this situation equally and finally put the information gathering services that were built in the name of our protection to good use?