Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism

April 19, 2008

In this provocative analysis of the West and its relationship, or lack thereof, with Islam, George Weigel, the biographer of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, drafts what he describes  as  a  call to action to address jihadism. Weigel, a conservative Catholic theologian based in Washington, rejects the commonly used term “Islamic fundamentalism” in favour of jihadism, which he defines as the ideology that requires Muslims to employ all means to eliminate other faiths as dominant influences. “The great human questions,” he writes, “including the great questions of public life, are ultimately theological.”

In his step-by-step analysis of the West and Islam, Weigel  notes  that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are not three similar monotheistic belief structures as commonly described.  Weigel argues that Judaism and Christianity share many common characteristics, including the Old Testament, as the basis of faith. Although Islam acknowledges the prophets of Judaism and Christianity, Weigel notes that Muhammad believed that the revelation of Islam superseded these earlier religions. In the Qu’ran, Weigel maintains, Muhammad indicated that Judaism and Christianity were false or at least badly distorted faiths. Therefore, it should not be surprising that Islam found itself in conflict with Judaism and Christianity. Weigel believes the outlook is for a long battle between the West and the jihadis.

The author makes four main points. First, the West needs the equivalent of a plan similar to National Security Council Paper directive 68, the document that described the Soviet threat and prescribed policies to combat it. Weigel believes that two pillars of an anti-jihadist strategy should be decreasing the power of Iran and continuing support for the Iraqi government. He contends that even a perceived defeat in Iraq would embolden the jihadis. Second, the West should make religious freedom a priority throughout the world, arguing jihadis would not tolerate such tolerance. Third, the West, particularly the United States, must find alternative fuels for cars to reduce the flow of petro-dollars to the Middle East, some of which funds the jihadis. Lastly, the United States cannot shirk its leadership in the battle against the jihadis. Also, the non-jihadis of Islam, Weigel insists, must isolate the radicals before they take over as the mainstream.

Many people disagree with Weigel, but his manifesto defines his view of the religious differences among Judaism, Christianity and Islam to demonstrate his understanding of their cultural and political differences. That should make this book useful to those seeking to understand the contemporary relationship between the West and Islam.

Reviewer: Christopher Harper worked as a reporter for the AP, Newsweek, and ABC News  in Washington,  Beirut, Cairo, Rome, and New York.  He currently teaches journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia.