Acton Institute Powerblog

Weigel on Jihad

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The extraordinarily prolific George Weigel has another book out: Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism. Weigel’s books are without fail thought-provoking and clearly stated, though the force, clarity, and breadth of his thought will likely result in at least one or two points of disagreement with any reader.

Another source of Weigel’s controversial character is also one of his most praiseworthy attributes: his willingness to make concrete political and practical recommendations (or, sometimes, exhortations). He is a smart and sophisticated thinker, but his thought does not remain at the level of the ethereal. It is in constant interaction with realities’ limits and deficiencies, rendering it both more convincing and more useful.

His burden in Faith is to demonstrate that Islamic jihadism (no, Marc, not climate change) is the single most urgent problem requiring the attention of civilized folk of all persuasions (Christian, agnostic, Muslim; right, left). I worried temporarily that the book would be in large part an apologia for the current war in Iraq, but it is not. Weigel argues that it is necessary to see the thing through at this point, but his catalogue of errors in the preparation for and waging of the war (82-86) is well done. What he lefts unsaid is that the mistakes he enumerates basically add up to a failure to attain an adequate understanding of the political, religious, and cultural factors at play in Iraq, and therefore to underestimate the difficulty of the task left after the main combat aim had been achieved. But is this not a persistent and perennial (inevitable?) problem attending such military interventions and, therefore, does it not suggest greater reluctance to embark on them?

That question aside, Weigel builds a formidable case. His treatment of the situation in Iran (100ff.) and his warning against the dangers of “self-imposed dhimmitude” (125) evident not only throughout Europe but also in the United States, are indeed bracing and should be wake-up calls to anyone who has slumbered through 9/11, the Madrid and London bombings, Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address, and the Danish cartoon controversy, to cite only a selection.

It is rare that a call for bipartisanship rises above the level of cynical and rhetorical, but Weigel’s effort does so. The small government conservative and the global warming lefty should be able to agree that the world’s dependence on a handful of nations’ oil reserves (and those nations’ consequent dependence on oil income to the neglect of any broader engagement with a global trade in goods and ideas) is not healthy and we must find ways to overcome it. The believer and the secularist should be able to agree that religion is not going away anytime soon and so we better find a way to live in a religiously pluralist world without resorting to violence. (If you smugly think that we Americans already have and religioius pluralism isn’t going to cause any trouble here, then you better read this book.)

It’s a book well worth a look, and a bit of reflection.

Kevin Schmiesing Kevin Schmiesing, Ph.D., is a research fellow for the research department at the Acton Institute. He is a frequent writer on Catholic social thought and economics, is the author of American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895-1955 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2002) and is most recently the author of Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II (Lexington Books, 2004). Dr. Schmiesing holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in history from Franciscan University ofSteubenville. Author of Within the Market Strife and American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895—1955 (2002), he serves as Book Review Editor for the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also executive director of


  • Marc Vander Maas

    Sounds like a good read – and just to be clear, I absolutely agree with Weigel on the fact that Islamic Jihadism is the single most important issue facing us today. Climate change hysteria is little more than a regrettable – if entertaining – diversion.

  • Kevin

    I know, Marc. Just joshing with you.

  • fundamentalist

    A real danger exits in overstating the threat from jihad. During the cold war, we allowed people to exagerrate the threat from communism and allowed our government to do some disgusting things in the name of fighting communism.

    Jihadi muslims cannot defeat or destroy the US. All they can do is kill large numbers of people once in a while. We should be vigilant and aggressive, but not get so carried away with the threat that we expand the power and reach of the government.

    Socialism, imposed from within, is still the biggest threat to Americans.

  • John

    Hi, Im from Melbourne Australia.

    Please find a completely different understanding of the origins and consequences of the current universal fear based and generated insanity.

    A quote from the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad

    “It is from the other that fear arises”.

    Meaning that the moment you presume any kind of difference or otherness to anything whatsoever, you are in a state of hell deep fear. Or put in another way, the other is always a threat to you, and as such you are always fundamentally at war with anything that you either presume of perceive to be other to you.

    All monotheistic religions( and scientism)share the same three operative presumptions about Reality altogether, namely that we are inherently separate from:

    1. The Divine Reality which is always defined as the always other (and objectified) great relation—therefore because “god” is other, “god” is your enemy, and you are always at war with the Divine Reality—contrary to any pious intentions.

    2. The world process is always the objectified other. Therefore the world altogether is your enemy and you are always at war with the world process.

    3. All sentient beings, including of course human beings, are entirely objectified others. Therefore all other human beings are your enemy and you are always at war with all other human beings.

    And what is more any and everything that we either individually and collectively objectify, is thus (inevitably) made the subject of human control, and ultimately human destruction.

    Altogether then we are each and all saturated with a hell deep fear and trembling and the collective culture (inevitably) created in our image is thus saturated with fear and trembling.

    And we are all involved in a world wide process of control (of the other), and inevitable destruction (of the other).

  • Kevin

    That’s a grim vision, John, remarkably similar to the views of post-Christian Westerners such as Jean-Paul Sartre. Christianity offers a more hopeful alternative: peaceful human cooperation and toleration of the other in a common quest for truth. Unfortunately those bent on destruction of the other make peace a condition that is always tenuous and transitory.