Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Fighting Religion

"How do you wage war against a religion?"

It's a desperate, hopeless cry that marks the end of the line for many discussions of the West's response to 9/11 and Islamist terrorism. It's the blank wall you run into whenever you take the turn down the dreadfully un-PC path of, "what if, after all, Islam itself is the problem?"

Without getting into that, for now, here's an answer to the narrow rhetorical question. Yes, in fact, you can go to war against a religion. But you'd better pack a lunch.

It has been done before -- Islam itself offers an example. It eradicated any number of its rivals so thoroughly that all we know about them is the slander their enemies wrote about them.

You do it by proving the other fellow's religion powerless, and prove that your god is stronger than his god. The conquering Arab armies of the 8th century were not a horde that happened to have a religion: they were the religion. It formed them, it called them into being out of the scatterings of Arabia Deserta. Some of the civilizations they conquered have left testimonies of the chilling psychological effect of realizing you were fighting an army of men who all prayed at once, at the same time, with one voice.

When you set out to erase a religion, you have to get it all. The Muslims overran the Greek Orthodox Church and captured its inner sanctum in Byzantium. But they left a far-flung remnant in Russia that reorganized itself and claimed the mantle of the "Third Rome," improbably, for wooden villages along frozen rivers.

And you have to replace it with something. The Mongols overthrew the caliphate in Baghdad as thoroughly as possible. But they brought no new god in its place. The survivors could see the Mongols as a scourge or a judgment or a curse, but not a more powerful system of belief. Many see the Americans in Iraq today in the same light. The secularism we come bearing won't cut it.

Killing a religion is a work of many generations, requiring miracles, which seem to be in short supply for us, or else an awesome and sustained brutality.

The first step would be the Tancredo-Coulter option: Nuke Mecca. Give them 24 hours warning, so the unwilling could flee and those who want to go up in smoke with the shrines and get straight to paradise can flock in. If their god has any power, if he really intends them to rule the world, as he's said, he'll save them.

Ugly, isn't it? Better, perhaps, to take the patient route of coaxing change, encouraging freedom, and sowing democracy. Better to exhaust the option of believing in those invisible "moderate Muslims," and let your domestic enemies call you a fool.