Defeating Jihadists but refusing their religious war  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , , , ,

Reza Aslan has published two books. Both are well written (not for nothing does Aslan teach creative writing at the University of California), clearly accessible to any interested reader. Both address topics of great importance at the beginning of the 21st century. Both allow most Americans (or Westerners) insight into a world that is usually outside their daily existence. Both challenge some assumptions that tend to be held by many Americans. And for many Americans, both are written from a perspective that they seldom hear expressed with such care and thoughtfulness.

Aslan (love that name!) ethnic heritage is Persian, though Americans often mistake him for being an Arab. His family moved from Iran to the U.S., where they became proud citizens of America. Reza Aslan is also a Muslim, concerned that the West not only understand the beliefs and practices of Islam but be able to distinguish the vast majority of mainstream Muslims from the Jihadist thugs that draw the most attention in the media.

Aslan’s first book, No God But God: The origins, evolution and future of Islam is must reading.

In his second book, How to Win a Cosmic War, Aslan does three things. First, he traces the development of the Jihadist movement which gave rise to 9/11, the War on Terror, and so much more that dominates the daily news. Second, he helps us see the Western, especially the U.S. response through Muslim eyes. And third he argues that we must refuse the most basic assumption of the Jihadists, namely that this is a cosmic religious war, a war between Islam and Christianity. If we fail at this, Aslan argues persuasively that we will needlessly alienate the vast majority of Muslims who are repulsed by Jihadist terrorism, we will inadvertently reinforce Jihadist recruitment among young disaffected Muslims, and we will make it more difficult to bring these criminals to justice.

But I’ll let Aslan speak for himself:

This book is, above all else, a proclamation: the War on Terror, conceived by the previous American administration as a cosmic contest between the forces of good and evil for the future of civilization, is over. It is time to strip this ideological conflict of its religious connotations, to reject the religiously polarizing rhetoric of our leaders and theirs, to focus on the material matters at stake, and to address the earthly issues that always lie behind the cosmic impulse. For although the grievances of the hijackers may have been symbolic, though they may have been merely causes to rally around, to the hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world who watched the towers fall—who were, in fact, the intended audience of that theatrical display of violence—they are nonetheless legitimate grievances and must be addressed as such. The Palestinians really are suffering under Israeli occupation. Arab dictators are in fact being propped up by U.S. policies. The Muslim world truly does have reason to feel under attack by a “crusading” West. Addressing these grievances may not satisfy Osama bin Laden and his fellow cosmic warriors, whose sights are set beyond this world. But it will bring their cosmic war back down to earth, where it can be confronted more constructively. It will take away the appeal of the Global Jihadist movement and loosen the ties that have bound so many young, disaffected Muslims together under a master narrative of oppression and injustice. Most of all, it will deny Jihadist ideologues their principal argument that the War on Terror is, in fact, a war against Islam. Because in the end, there is only one way to win a cosmic war: refuse to fight in it.

Aslan’s argument needs to be heard, discussed, and seriously considered. Even at those occasional points where I disagree with Aslan I am extremely glad I have listened to him.

Source: How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror by Reza Aslan (New York, NY: Random House; 2009) p. 11.

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