Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Warlike God-fearing People

A "senior administration official", according to the Weekly Standard, is responsible for this:

The idea that the jihadists would all be peaceful, warm, lovable, God-fearing people if it weren't for U.S. policies strikes me as not a valid idea. [Democrats] do not have the understanding or the commitment to take on these forces. It's like John Kerry. The law enforcement approach doesn't work.
George Will, who quoted this in a Washington Post column titled "The Triumph of Unrealism", rightly calls this a "farrago of caricature and non sequitur". The implication that any significant fraction of the opposition to the Bush Administration actually seriously entertains this idea is nothing more than a straw man. And, Will points out, the law enforcement approach does work, as the foiling of the recent plot in the U.K. demonstrates.

But this is par for the course; I'm more interested in the idea of turning jihadists into "peaceful, warm, lovable, God-fearing people." I can't speak to their warmth, and surely "peaceful" and "lovable" would be improvements. But "God-fearing"? Isn't part of the problem specifically that the terrorists are "God-fearing people" to a degree most of us can't really fathom? Surely we'd all be better off if Osama bin Laden and his crew were a little less convinced that they are Allah's warriors, carrying out His holy purpose and earning an eternal reward in the hereafter. (I suppose it's not inconceivable, but it's hard to imagine an al Qaeda of agnostics.)

Perhaps the "senior official" merely wanted to contrast "peaceful, warm, lovable God-fearing people" with "warlike, cold, detestable God-fearing people", and in this case I certainly prefer the former. On the other hand, I'd also gratefully accept "peaceful, warm, lovable God-denying people".

Of course there's a longstanding popular identification of religiousness with niceness; you can find scores of newspaper articles where neighbors are quoted describing a crime victim, say, as a "good, upstanding, God-fearing family man". But why hasn't al Qaeda (not to mention the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition) shattered forever the notion that love of God is incompatible with merciless violence against one's fellow man?