What can be done about Islam?
that liberalism is not as powerful as it seems and can be defeated, if conservatives wake up and seriously resist it, Kristor L. gave as an example America’s grim situation in the late 1970s when no one could have imagined the changes soon coming under President Reagan. Kristor then referenced the 1986 tax reform. When I suggested that the tax reform had been passed in 1982 not 1986, he launched into a long reply describing the features and the effects of the Reagan tax cuts, then moving on to several other issues including the changed nature of the state since 1945 and the vulnerabilty of Islam. Normally I wouldn’t post a 1,700 word desultory comment, but it’s all well-written and interesting, so here goes. However, Kristor leaves unanswered the question: what does he mean by defeating Islam? Is he talking about waging a World War II-type campaign to conquer every Muslim country? (In a second comment or rather full-length essay, Kristor addresses the question of what defeating Islam would entail.)
Kristor L. writes:
There were actually a couple rounds of tax cuts during the Reagan Administration. The first round was indeed enacted soon after he took office, and didn’t take full effect until about 1984, whereupon the Reagan boom really got started (it is still with us, despite the depredations of Bush I and Clinton). But the whopper was the tax reform act of 1986, which was an enormous rate cut; it is what gave us the current basic structure of 15 percent/28.5 percent marginal tax rates. Bush I and Clinton both raised the top marginal rate, introducing additional tax brackets on top of Reagan’s top 28.5 percent rate. But even with their new brackets, the top marginal rate is still less than 50 percent, whereas when Reagan took office it was something like 70 percent. Art Laffer makes the point that during the Roosevelt Administration, the top marginal income tax rate was 95 percent—and this was the compromise position that Republicans couldn’t jaw down any further. !!! No wonder the Great Depression lasted so long.
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The tax reform act of 1986 also closed almost all the existing loopholes, greatly expanding the tax base. Tax compliance got a lot simpler, and more people found it less expensive to just pay the taxes than to try to game the system so as to avoid them.
But the really great thing about the 1986 tax reform was that the top rate of 28.5 percent—and the massive torrent of new tax revenues that ensued—recalibrated everyone’s expectations about how a responsible, successful tax system should work. Before 1986, marginal upticks in brackets were business as usual. 70 percent, 80 percent, what’s the diff? Afterward, there has been a new respect for the idea that tax rates should be kept low so the Feds can make more money; it is hard to imagine even the most rabid Dems succeeding at—or, and this is my point, even wanting to succeed at—raising the top marginal income tax bracket above 45 percent. The social contract between the Feds and taxpayers has been renegotiated.
Much the same thing happened vis a vis Volcker and the money supply. People now expect inflation to stay at about four percent. Back in 1979, the sky was the limit. Ditto for unemployment. In the 70’s, economists thought that six percent was the “natural” rate of unemployment; that if unemployment dropped much lower than that, it was a sign of looming inflation. Now we have had unemployment in the four percent to 5.5 percent range for more than ten years, with inflation under control. Natural, schmatural.
I can remember, working as a financial advisor in 1986, that the new tax code seemed really somewhat miraculous. Only two tax brackets, and the top bracket 28.5 percent? It was a brave new world, after the horrendous thicket of brackets, exclusions, phase-ins and phase-outs, on and on. The feeling was giddy; the only comparable event in recent history, for me, was Christmas Eve, 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, the whole Warsaw Pact was instantly free, and a Romanian lynch mob was hunting down the Ceausescus. It was as if History had started all over again, in a good way, a beautiful, happy, hopeful way. I can remember wrapping Christmas presents far into the morning on that Christmas Eve, with my wife and kids asleep upstairs, a fire going, and the BBC reporting giddily from all over the Warsaw Pact: crowds filling the streets, weeping and laughing for joy. What a night.
Beautiful revolutions are possible. Is the Muslim world anything like so strong as the Soviet world was? Are we anywhere as weak as we were during the Carter Administration? No, to both questions. No. If we were now to wage total war on Islam, as we did on Nazism, Islam would be over within a matter of months. All it takes is a resolution to destroy one’s enemy.
One must first, to be sure, recognize that one has an enemy. We have not, as a society, taken that step. We are still mostly asleep. But we are, perhaps, just beginning to wake up to the danger. It is interesting to me that, with the public discourse apparently beginning a sea change as a result of the forthright discussion of illegal immigration, we are perhaps rediscovering that we are a nation. Nation, from natus, past participle of nasci, to be born, and related to the Greek genos, for race, or family, or tribe. We are perhaps remembering that we are first a people, and that our principles—democracy, liberty, Judeo-Christianity (I would rather we said, “Christian Judaism”), chivalry, and all the other beauties celebrated at VFR—flow from and form us as a people. To have an enemy, one must first exist. We are, one can now hope, beginning to remember that we exist.
One of the more important points Lee Harris makes in Civilization and its Enemies is that the modern liberal democratic international order that has prevailed since WWII has abandoned the old idea of national sovereignty. Prior to 1945, a nation could exist only because it had demonstrated that it was able to defend itself against all comers. There is more to it than that, of course; small states like Belgium have managed to survive. But they do so only as protectorates or clients of Great Powers. As the 19th Century wore on and the Great Powers of Europe got stronger and stronger, the existence of e.g. Belgium could be maintained only via the interlocking mutual defense treaties with Great Powers that proved so disastrous at the beginning of WWI. So, there are some wrinkles that need to be dealt with, as with any phenomenon in natural history. But, in general, it is fair to say that for most of history, the international environment was fairly Hobbesian. It was survival of the fittest, if ever there was such a thing. This need to survive put unremitting pressure on political and military leaders (and, perhaps more importantly, cultural leaders such as artists and intellectuals) to pay attention to things as they really are, call a spade a spade, get it done, get it right.
But since the Bomb, the Great Powers have been so panicked about the possibility of another Great War that they have sought the stability of national borders above almost all else. What has then developed is the concept of the honorific state. Under this concept, peoples are thought to deserve their own states by virtue of their very existence as peoples (Israel, Great Britain and the U.S. would be the exceptions to this rule), rather than because they have so mastered the arts and sciences, and so opened their eyes to reality as it is, and so shown themselves willing to die for their country, that they have become formidable in their own right. Thus the Palestinians are said to “deserve” a state, when they have never won a war, or even fought one; or done anything else of value either, for that matter. They have been given a state, when they have not earned it by being tough, pragmatic, courageous, resourceful realists. The result is the typical outcome of any system of welfare grants: the grantee is freed by the grant to indulge himself in fantasies, and to run his life as if natural selection was no longer operating. The Palestinians are just like the denizens of our urban welfare state ghettos.
Harris thinks that all the states of the Muslim world are merely honorific. They were created by fiat, by the West, in the aftermath of the crushing defeat and occupation of the Ottoman Empire, when we ruled them all, effortlessly; they are maintained in existence by our forbearance, good manners and generosity. We could if we wished destroy them all in a matter of hours. They know all this perfectly well, of course; they are at the deepest level unmanned. Their cultural and religious inheritance has been repeatedly, decisively, utterly defeated. The Christian West has won every sort of contest with them, so much so that the concept of a Crusade is now somewhat irrelevant to us; we’ll go to Jerusalem whenever we like, or to Cairo, or to Baghdad. They cannot stop us. Ever since 9/11/1683, at the Gates of Vienna, they have suffered one defeat after another at the hands of the men of the West. So trivial are they, as foes, that we conquered them—all of them—in the 20th century as a mere sideshow to our own internecine spats; we used their territory as the field of our intramural European battles. They were our lackeys; they served us lemonade and gin. Now we have given them some nice uniforms and set them up as “independent” states; but, really, they are still nothing more than our paid servants. That is why they hate us. That is why they are so desperate to defeat us. Their existence, and their manhood, is at stake.
They are fabulously wealthy, because we pay them for oil that they did not themselves do anything to obtain, and do not themselves know how to extract; oil that, under the old system of international relations, we would, as their imperial masters, simply have taken. So they have lots of money to buy weapons they do not themselves know how to produce, and geopolitical room to indulge their fantasies. This has meant that their economies are deeply dysfunctional, and that, therefore, they have lots of rich, underemployed young men, all of whom are fodder for gangs like al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The parallels with East LA are just uncanny. What would the Crips do, if they could get tactical nuclear weapons? Actually, they’d probably back down, because they are rational, as the Soviets were. The Muslims—at least, the Muslims we really need to worry about—are not.
Will we wake up, and bring the servants to heel, before they murder their master in his bed? I tend to think that we will; it may cost us another 9/11 or two, but eventually we will lose our patience.
Kristor appears to confuse military victories mainly in the 19th and 20th centuries with some sort of permanent supremacy of the West. In this he shares with Victor D. Hanson a kind of blindness to the culture of Islam, which appears to be very difficult to change beyond certain superficialities. Yes, the European powers invaded the entire Mediterranean coastline in the 19th century, as well as up the Nile route, with success. Yes, the European powers casually fought over the entire North African coastline and into parts of Mesopotamia during various phases of the World War (1 & II). But what changes were wrought to the cultures they encountered? Is there any serious vestige of Italian culture in Libya, of French culture in Algeria/Morocco? The traces of British culture in Egypt, Jordan and Iraq are rather faint nowadays.
So it appears that the century to century-and-a-half of European occupation of the Moslem lands had essentially no major effect; like a powerful ship cutting through a stagnant sea, all that has been left behind is some foam of a wake. Islam, the old Islam of 1,000 years ago, is in the process of being recreated in all those places, and such anti-Islamic notions as the French “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” or the English “Common Law / Fair Play” are evaporating.
Yes, at this time Western forces can go anywhere in the Moslem world they are sent, and destroy any organized body that attempts to stand up to them. But they cannot change the culture of those places save in very superficial ways, so the threat/threats that lead said forces to those places can only be put down temporarily. On the other hand, Moslem forces in the form of jihadi cells can likewise go pretty much anywhere in the West o other parts of the world, and create uncertainty, insecurity, and fear. No one jihad attack can bring down the West, but an unending series of pinpricks can create so much friction in Western civilization as to render it sclerotic. Just look at how much effort we must put into screening passengers for airliners; the money spent on machines, infrastructure and security personnel could surely be used elsewhere. The time and treasure spent on just that one process has to be multiplied by some number, because of the increasing security demands that have no end. Look at the British “camera culture” for an example … and as Lawrence Auster has pointed out over and over, this condition is permanent, it’s “forever” so long as Moslems are freely allowed to move around in the West.
Sure, “they” can’t stop “us” from going to any Moslem country and breaking things up; if we wanted to go into the tribal areas of Pakistan, we’d do it, for example. But “we” can’t stop “them” at this time from going to any non-Moslem country and breaking things on a smaller scale. From mall shooters in North America to gang rapists in Sweden to teacher-murderers in Thailand, the jihad can perform an endless series of attacks that slowly reduce the security and stability of non Moslem countries, making them less and less efficient and much less free …
Below, Kristor L. expands on his original post, explaining what he thinks needs to be done with regard to Islam. I’ve asked him to supply a brief summary of the main points of the below essay.
First, a reply to N’s comment:
Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 18, 2007 06:56 AM | Send
I don’t mean to suggest that the West is somehow permanently better than Islam. No creation is permanent; excellence and virtue, and thus survival, are the fruit of struggle. We can defeat Islam, but we’ll have to work at it. If we now roll over and abandon all the principles and habits that make us Westerners—as since 1967 we seem to have been threatening to do—then obviously we won’t any longer be any better. I doubt we will in the end thus wholly abandon our heritage, because our culture is pretty robust, despite the doom and gloom we all enjoy so much at VFR.
Still, the fact that we have vanquished Islam on every field says at least something about which culture is better adapted to Lawrence’s order of being. If we didn’t believe that the West was superior to the alternatives on offer, we’d hardly be complaining about the danger of its demise; we’d welcome it, and we’d be liberals.
Islamic culture must be to some extent robust, too, or it could not have survived. It would be optimistic to think that the extremely brief interludes of European rule in the Muslim Levant could have changed it too much. Unless one takes the path of wholesale genocide, forced conversion, enslavement and rape, it takes far longer than a couple hundred years to root out a vigorous culture. The Moors ruled Iberia for 700 years, and look at it now. The Ottomans ruled Greece for almost 400 years, and left behind little evidence of their presence.
If Muslim culture is going to collapse, it must collapse from within. External pressures can aid this process, as they did with the fall of the USSR. Can such a moment come for Islam? I believe it can. So then, let me answer Lawrence’s question, whether I believe we must engage with Islam in a war of total immolation. No. It may come to that, and if it does, I bet on us. But I pray that it doesn’t come to that. Much cheaper, and better, for Islam’s Potemkin walls to come down on their own, helped perhaps by nothing more than a gust of wind from out of the West.
It has long seemed to me that exclusion of Muslims from the lands of the West—let’s just call it Christendom, shall we?—must be but the first step. The second is containment. We are good at containment; it’s how we beat the Soviets. But containment will not work with Islam quite as well as it did with the Soviets. The Soviets were rational thugs, and interested in living. This is why Mutual Assured Destruction worked to stabilize and quiet our relations with them. Muslims are not rational; they discredit reason. Furthermore, they lust for martyrdom. Ahmadinejad has said that the total destruction of Iran would not be too high a price to pay for the destruction of Israel; he’d take that deal. Pakistan has nukes. So MAD is not going to work with the Muslims.
There is also the problem to which N refers, that we cannot in practice forever prevent all Muslims from sneaking into the West. The threat of briefcase nukes is going to continue for as long as Islam is more than a minor cult, anywhere in the world. The combination of Islam and nuclear weapons is simply intolerable; one or the other element of that combination must be eliminated. Like gunpowder, nuclear weapons will never go away. Our ultimate objective, therefore, must ineluctably be the destruction of Islam as a significant force in history. We’d prefer not to have to bother, of course. We’d prefer to live and let live. But a libertarian foreign policy can survive only in a world wholly composed of libertarian cultures. Islam has defined itself as by nature totalitarian, aggressive, and inimical to any other, leaving us no alternative. The matter which Mohammed initiated must finally be disposed, once and for all, or we will be forever bedeviled. Lawrence often rightly notices, as N has also just done, the enormous price of tolerating Muslims among us; but, really, we shall have to continue paying that price year after year, so long as there are more than just a few Muslims anywhere on the globe.
What, then, are we to do about Islam? Eject Muslims from the West, certainly, and contain them. Then, take away their oil money. This we can do in two ways: the old fashioned imperial way, taking the oil fields for ourselves; or by investing in alternative energy. In some ways the former would be a lot easier, particularly if we abandoned all the care about civilian casualties, hearts and minds, and so forth, that so hobbles and ennobles our efforts in Iraq. A distasteful course, to be sure. So perhaps alternative energy is best. The global warming crowd seem to be doing a pretty good job of bidding up the profits to alternative energy technologists, so there may be no need for us to do anything further politically to promote alternative fuels.
Deprived of the torrent of cash we exchange for their oil, the Muslims would have to start paying attention to productive enterprise in order to make a living. They’d have to run businesses that produce things people want to buy. This should both soak up some of their chronic unemployment and force them to start dealing with things as they really are. In time this should incline them more toward virtuous, sane, orderly public policy. Their lives should grow more rational, and the rewards to economic rationality are great.
[LA asks: Up to this point Kristor has sounded like a Mongol general cooly prepared to wipe out millions of people; now he’s suddenly presenting a multi-step reform scheme by which the world stops buying oil from the Mulsims, and this somehow pushes them into becoming “normal” productive societies. They weren’t normal, productive societies before the discovery of oil in the 20th century, why should they become so now?]
Tyranny and unreason simply don’t work very well, compared to liberty and reason. Tyranny and unreason are the fundamental weaknesses of Muslim culture, and make it vulnerable to free, reasonable cultures like ours. This is why, finally, we can and must convert them.
From a long-term historical perspective, the geopolitical position of Islam is really rather desperate. In military and economic terms, we have simply crushed it, and Muslims continue to exist as such only because we suffer them. Their religion is under threat. Christianity—the religion of the free and rational peoples—is already bigger, and is growing much faster. If current trends continue, China and Africa will be Christian by the end of this century or thereabouts. Christianity is expanding even in Muslim countries like Egypt, where the Coptic Church has revived. If the current global hegemony of the West perdures for even a few more decades, Islam could be demographically doomed, because that hegemony gives Christianity the political and legal room it needs to continue exploding. There is positive feedback between Christianity, democracy, liberty, Anglo-Roman law, enterprise, market economics, science, technology, invention, and prosperity. Positive feedback compounds geometrically, and this makes Christian culture a juggernaut.
Religious conversion is in the end the only way we’ll solve the Muslim problem once and for all. It’s hard to convert Muslims, thanks to the sentence of death their religion imposes for such apostasy. But it can be done, and is being done, right now, in many parts of the Muslim world, and at every point on its perimeter. A Muslim woman showed up for Mass at my California church a couple weeks ago. She was terrified, but she was there. It can be done. Supporting Christian missionaries is perhaps the most concrete, effective thing we can do, aside from joining the Rangers.
Rangers will be needed. Once we have contained Islam, the only way we are going to be able to give all these extremely long term trends time to eat away at Muslim culture from within is to engage in a long war. Not a hot war like WWII, and not a Cold War of containment like WWIII, but a long simmer of a war, with many many insertions of special ops forces into many hot spots for short, intense conflicts: destabilizing regimes, destroying weapons stockpiles and nuclear facilities, assassinating bad guys, sparking internecine feuds. The only way we’ll keep them contained is if we keep them constantly off-balance and unable to mount expeditions of their own. It will be guerilla war, with Predators added to the mix; our own high tech, humane version of destabilizing terror, much less costly, blunt and brutal than the carpet bombing of WWII. No need to kill kids on school buses; just destroy a refinery here, a barracks there.
Nation building it cannot be. Nation building creates honorific states, mere legal fictions plastered upon peoples who have not learned how to be proper nations. To learn to be proper nations—and, thus, to become tolerable—the Muslim peoples will have to learn a different culture. Only then can they become good democrats.
This long term approach of containment and conversion unfortunately has a low likelihood of success. Given the fanatic irrational death wish of the Muslim True Believers, and the fact that Muslims already have nukes, the overwhelming likelihood is that Muslims—contained or not—will launch a nuclear attack on Israel or India. Israel and India would of course respond; and so would the US and the UK, and most likely Russia as well. At that point, the West would take off the boxing gloves and don mailed gauntlets, and it would turn into a pitiless war of total annihilation, just like WWII.
A depressing prospect. The only hope of avoiding it, so far as I can see, is that, like the USSR, Islam is weaker than it seems. There is a chance that if we increase the pressure, as Reagan did with Star Wars, thumping economic growth and huge defense budgets, Islam will collapse like a house of cards. Perhaps the only thing that will be needed, in order for that to happen, is for us to stop sending them money, and let their internecine wars proceed.