Professor Fouad Ajami, who teaches at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington and concurrently holds the post of senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution in California, penned a provocative opinion piece last Monday in The Wall Street Journal titled ‘Islam's Nowhere Men'. For the erudite scholar America was in "a long twilight war, the struggle against radical Islamism", which it cannot "wish away". He foresaw the need to abandon the "strategy of winning ‘hearts and minds'", ostensibly because men like Faisal Shahzad, Nidal Malek Hassan and Anwar Awlaki, among others, were "a deadly breed of combatants in this new kind of war".
In Ajami's disturbing analysis, American modernity attracted such individuals because the West apparently acted as "the object of their dreams and the scapegoat onto which they project their deepest malignancies". Although Ajami offered no recommendations on how best to stop renegade terrorists, he nevertheless identified how "millions like Faisal Shahzad [were] unsettled by a modern world they can neither master nor reject".
The provocative essay elicited dozens of responses from Journal readers, and while several found the original thesis helpful, most posted angry, bigoted and dangerous statements that should not be ignored.
For one group of readers, Muslim integration into "modern society" was next to impossible because Islam was, allegedly, incompatible with western society. "People need to wake up and understand that Islam is not a religion of peace," wrote one. One quoted US-Dutch-Somali writer and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who famously described the faith she was born into as "a dangerous, totalitarian ideology masquerading as a religion". Another wanted "to deal with the Islam problem now" by registering and monitoring all Muslim immigrants that arrived in the US within the last 15 years "as born-members of a hostile regime".
An equally disturbing theme in these comments identified Islam as "the world's largest Satanic cult", whose adherents apparently were "determined to convert or kill everyone". Beyond the superb ignorance level such discourse illustrated, the irony that Muslims did not convert or kill everyone in Spain when they ruled the Iberian Peninsula literally escaped the confused. As far as it is known, Spain is still a largely Catholic nation. Likewise, when Muslims ruled over the Indian subcontinent, they did not kill all Hindus, as India still has a few left. A reading of Two Faiths, One Banner: When Muslims Marched with Christians across Europe's Battlegrounds, an extraordinary book by Ian Almond, would have enlightened our ignoramuses, but why study when one knows it all?
The most annoying theme in Journal letters focused on the recommendation to nuke — yes blast into oblivion — the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. One reader opined that the US was late in doing so because "destroying [Makkah] and [Madinah] right after 9/11 might have taught them to not attack us". Ajami's use of the term "radical Islamism" was seemingly redundant because "Islam [stood as] an obsolete, cultish fantasy, hopelessly mired in the 7th Century". The commentator thought that the world would only be "safe when the last Muslim is tracked down and converted or terminated".
Those who argued for "nuking [Makkah] and [Madinah] because it [was] the intellectual and ideological [centres] of Islam and [that] without it Islam would cease to exist" were not only displaying arrogance, but they did not seem to realise that Judaism was not destroyed after its enemies twice shattered the temple.
One could make the argument that the demolitions made the Jews much stronger, with a nuclear Israel emerging as a consequence. Few would remember it, but it may be useful to recall that the holy Ka'aba in Makkah was smashed several times and Islam survived, too.
As a Shiite, Ajami did not blame terrorism on Islam, only on certain Muslims. Yet, by provoking this kind of reaction among relatively educated Americans who want to kill all Muslims, preferably by dropping nuclear bombs, one should not be very surprised when equally literate but oblivious Muslims hiding in caves harbour similarly murderous intents.
The most natural sentiment that most people everywhere have is an aversion to being blown up.
Most of us prefer to leave our respective demises to the Almighty — at a time of His choosing. What is now needed is for smart police officers in the East and the West to work together to arrest and bring to justice criminals who have little respect for life itself — though we must also try politicians who launched perpetual wars and thinkers who pretended to add value by opining that our civilisations are doomed to clash.
Unlike the 20th century, when such challenges were peripheral, we now live in a period of re-emergence of destabilised societies reawakening to their sorry conditions, and whose elites are behaving precisely like many of their revolutionary predecessors.
Our duty is not to get too excited or too panicky. Shahzad and folks of his ilk cannot rattle democracy nor deny us our freedoms since there are a lot more of us. We can put an end to barbarism — but only by not becoming savages ourselves.
Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is a commentator and author of several books on Gulf affairs.