Acton Institute Powerblog

Weigel on Jihad

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

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