ScrWest 03-3-31




Globalization and The Terrorist Threat


Roger Scruton

Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2002, 187 pp.


ISBN 1-882926-81-1


Roger Scruton is a prominent English philosopher and writer.  This little book offers profound insight into the conflicts of our day. 


“In this book I explore the vision of society and political order that lies at the heart of ‘Western civilization.’  And I try to show how the apparent conflict with Islam is fed by the decay of that vision, and the loss of the political loyalty on which it depends.”  (x)


“If all that Western civilization offers is freedom, then it is a civilization bent on its own destruction.  Moreover freedom flaunted in the face of religious prohibitions is an act of aggression, inviting retribution from those whose piety it offends.” (viii)


“Islamic civilization…defines itself in terms not of freedom but of submission.”  “The muslim is the one who has surrendered, submitted, and so obtained security.  In that complex etymological knot is tied a vision of society and its rewards far different from anything that has prevailed in modern Europe and America.”  (viii)


“…while no Western citizens are fleeing from the West, 70 percent of the world’s refugees are Muslims fleeing from places where their religion is the official doctrine.”  “…having arrived in the West, many of these Muslim refugees begin to conceive a hatred of the society by which they find themselves surrounded…”  (ix)


Ch 1.  The Social Context

Western societies are governed by politics; the rest are ruled by power. (7)


“Contracts are the paradigms of self-chosen obligations….  …obedience to the law is simply the other side of free choice.  Freedom and obedience are one and the same.”  (8)  “There cannot be a society without this experience of membership.  For it is this that enables me to regard the interests and needs of strangers as my concern; that enables me to recognize the authority of decisions and laws that I must obey, even though they are not directly in my interest.”  (13)


In Muslim eyes the intricate laws and maxims of the Koran give legitimacy to the political order: a thought which has the disturbing corollary that the political order is almost everywhere illegitimate, and nowhere more so than in the states where Islam is the official faith.”  (15)


“Where there is no political process, everything that happens is of interest to those in power, since it poses a potential threat to them.”  (17)


In a region of creed communities, there was no alternative to empire.  Legal systems installed by the European powers crumbled before feudal despotism, hereditary monarchy, or the peculiar combination of gangster terrorism and Leninist one-party rule imposed through the Ba’th party of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. (29)


There is little more to Arab political unity than a shared antipathy to Israel.  The real unity remains today is the unity of a creed community with a common language sanctified by a holy text.  And the only unity that the people really believe in is also an unrealizable fiction whose political enactment entails bloodshed, tyranny, and war.”  (34)


“…the history of the Middle East reminds us of a far more important legacy of Christianity, which is the extolling of forgiveness as a moral virtue.”


“The Muslim faith…is defined through a prayer, …a declaration: There is one God, and Muhammad is his Prophet.  To which might be added: and you had better believe it.  The Christian prayer is also a declaration of faith; but it includes the crucial words: ‘forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.’”  (36)  “There is no coherent reading of the Christian message that does not make forgiveness of enemies into a central item of the creed.”  (38)


“If I am attacked and turn the other cheek, then I exemplify the Christian virtue of meekness.  If I am entrusted with a child who is attacked, and I then turn the child’s other cheek, I make myself party to the violence.  That, surely, is how a Christian should understand the right of defense, and how it is understood by the medieval theories of the just war.  The right of defense stems from your obligations to others.”  (38)


“The Christian injunction to forgive is therefore compatible with defensive warfare.  But it is incompatible with terrorism, and inimical to those visceral antagonisms that lead one group into a war of extermination against another.”  (39)


Ch 2.  Enlightenment, Citizenship, and Loyalty

National loyalty requires a common language.  “And it is threatened by too great an attachment to exclusive ways of life, to militant religions, and to customs that invade the public space and privatize it….  One of the great difficulties facing Western societies today is that of integrating immigrant communities into a form of life that perceives exclusion, militancy, and public displays of religious apartness as threats to the experience of membership.  And the perception here is self-confirming.  That which is perceived as a threat becomes a threat.  Such is the nature of home.”  (51)


Traditional Muslim Arab societies are stiff with obligations: obligations to family, to friends, to tribe….  And over these obligations is laid the supreme mantle of a divine law, which must be obeyed not because of human choice but in spite of it.”  Interests of strangers are comparatively disregarded and the law is incompetent to deal with people who do not subscribe to the official religion.  (52)


“A modern democracy is a society of strangers.  Strangers…act upon obligations to those they don’t know.”  “The comparative absence of this disposition from the Islamic countries in the Middle East has had catastrophic consequences, as attitudes shaped by religion and family ties try to adapt themselves to a world made by strangers.”  The desire to seek refuge in family, tribe, or religion invites the dictator to take charge.” (53)


“Democracy…depends upon maintaining the public spirit of the citizens if it is not to degenerate into a battleground for special interests.”  (54)  There are “three paramount virtues of the citizen: law-abidingness, sacrifice in war, and public spirit in peacetime.”  (55)  It involves rising above the present moment and adopting the long-term view.  (58)


The three virtues that sustain citizenship in Muslim societies are abiding by the shari’a, sacrificing oneself if needed in jihad, and paying a tenth to the zakat.  “But these are duties owed to God, not to strangers, and the meticulous fulfillment of them may sometimes heal society, and sometimes blow it apart.”  (60)


Nations must be renewed and they can be renewed from many sources: youth movements, education, marriage and family, a patriotic culture.  “The weakness of the national idea is that all those ways of renewal are tentative when not endorsed and protected by a single overarching religion.”  (61)


“When the news came of the September 11 attacks, many immigrant communities in France, Germany, and Britain took to the streets in rejoicing.  It became suddenly apparent…that the loyalties on which the European Rechstaat are founded are not automatically shared by those who come from elsewhere to enjoy their protection.”  (62) 


Why do Western governments permit representatives of minorities to express hatred and belligerence of this kind (like the mad Mullah in Britain who is recruiting and sending fanatics to murder British citizens overseas – for which an Englishman would end up in jail)?  “The answer is simple: a loss of national identity and of the old experience of membership that goes with it.” (62) 


“The official view in most Western countries is that…cultures should be allowed complete freedom to develop in our territory, regardless of whether they conform to the root standards of behavior that prevail here.  As a result, the ‘multicultural’ idea has become a form of apartheid.  All criticism of minority cultures is censored out of public debate, and newcomers quickly conclude that it is possible to reside in a European state as an antagonist and still enjoy all the rights and privileges that are the reward of citizenship.”  (63)


“…we in the ‘West’ enjoy a single political culture, with the nation-state as the object of a common loyalty, and a secular conception of law, which makes religion a concern of family and society, but not of the state.  People who see all law, all social identity, and all loyalty as issuing from a religious source cannot really form part of this political culture, and will not recognize either the obligation to the state or the love of country on which it is founded.”  (63)


“This does not mean that religion should be excluded entirely from the affairs of state, or that we should endorse the kind of fanatical expulsion of faith from public institutions that has recently been practices in America.” (64)  “Nevertheless, even the most religious of ordinary Americans will recognize that the state itself should not be subject to religious control.  …the Constitution and the rule of law take precedence over all religious loyalties.”  (64)


“The American people stand and fall together as a nation; and it is as a nation that they are hated by the extremists.”  (64)


“Christians will agree that obedience to the secular law is impossible when that law conflicts with the law of God.  But there is a great difference between the Christian and the Islamic interpretation of what this means.  For the Christian the law of God coincides with the moral precepts laid down in the Ten Commandments, which were reduced by Christ to just two—namely, to love God entirely and to love your neighbor as yourself.  These commandments do not replace the secular law but constrain it.  They set limits to what the sovereign can command: but so long as the sovereign does not transgress those limits, the secular law retains absolute authority over the citizen.”  (65-6)


“Islamic jurisprudence does not recognize secular…jurisdiction as a genuine source of law.”  (66)


“The ruling problem of Western societies today, then, is this: the experience of membership required by the Enlightenment idea of the citizen is dwindling, and a ‘culture of repudiation’ is coming in its place.  Young people gain nothing from this culture save bewilderment and the loss of any sense of identity.  If they come from immigrant backgrounds that preserve the memory of a religious law, they will often enthusiastically revert to a religious experience of membership in opposition to the territorial jurisdiction by which they are ostensibly governed.”  (67-8)


The Culture of Repudiation

“…rights must be paid for by duties, and the call to duty is effective only in the context of a common loyalty.”  When loyalty erodes…”the political process becomes a scramble to claim as much from the common resources as they will yield….”  (68)


The old loyalties to our history, our traditional values, our religion, our traditional lifestyles, etc. are being shattered by aggressive and intolerant multi-culturalism, feminism, advocacy of alternative lifestyles, political correctness, and denunciation of Christianity, in academia and the media, etc.  “The culture of the elite has undergone a kind of ‘moral inversion’.  Permission turns to prohibition, as the advocacy of alternatives gives way to a war against the former orthodoxy.”  (71)


“The ‘down with us’ mentality is devoted to rooting out old and unsustainable loyalties.  And when the old loyalties die, so does the old form of membership.”  (73)


“The spirit of free inquiry is now disappearing from schools and universities in the West.  Books are put on or struck off the curriculum on grounds of political correctness; speech codes and counseling services police the language and conduct of both students and teachers; many courses are designed to impart ideological conformity rather than to inspire rational inquiry….”  


“When the experience of membership can no longer be obtained in such a way, a new kind of inquiry takes over, one explicitly directed towards a promised social goal.”  “A single theme runs through the humanities as they are regularly taught in American and European universities: the illegitimacy of Western civilization….”  (79)


“The Enlightenment displaced theology from the heart of the curriculum in order to put the disinterested pursuit of truth in its place.  Within a very short time, however, we find the university dominated by theology of another kind—a godless theology, to be sure, but no less insistent upon unquestioning submission to doctrine, and no less ardent in its pursuit of heretics, skeptics, and debunkers.”  (80)


“The ‘non-judgmental’ attitude towards other cultures goes hand-in-hand with a fierce denunciation of the culture that might have been one’s own….”  “The assault on the old cultural inheritance leads to no new form of membership, but only to a kind of alienation.”  (81)


Why does this culture define itself negatively?  “The answer lies surely in the mounting religious deficit in modern societies….”  (81)


“People are being brought into connection who have no real way of accommodating one another, and the spectacle of Western freedom and Western prosperity, going hand-in-hand with Western decadence and the crumbling of Western loyalties, is bound to provoke, in those who envy the one and despise the other, a seething desire to punish.”  (83)


Ch 3.  Holy Law

“The unsatisfied religious need of Western societies coincides with a process of globalization that spreads the message of Western decadence around the world.  In this chapter I try to understand the impact of that message on the Muslim conscience, and the impact of Islam on people now living in the West.”  (85)


Only 20% of Muslims are now Arabs.  5-10% of Arabs are Christians.  (85)


Law is fundamental to Islam.  Law is the will of God and sovereignty is legitimate only in so far as it upholds God’s will.  This involves “a confiscation of the political.”   The judgments of an authority can always be questioned by a rival authority.  (88, 91)


The whole life of a community is a set of absolutes, no law clearly more important than others.  Everything is owed to God and nothing to Caesar.  (92)


The Koran sees society as people bound by family and tribal ties but answerable to God alone.  Institutions are not within its scope.  There is no foundation for an impersonal political order.  The office of imam is assumed but has no institutional authority.  Authority is bestowed directly by the power of God.  (93) 


“Those who rule in the Prophet’s name seldom satisfy their subjects that they are entitled to do so….”  “Islamic revivals almost always begin from a sense of corruption and godlessness of the ruling power….”  (94)


Since much of the Koran was written after the Prophet was exiled, “In the eyes of the Koran the place where we are is not the place where we belong, since the place where we belong is in the wrong hands:  Our law therefore does not issue from our present place of abode, and gives special privileges only to the other place, which may one day be reconquered.”  (97)


The shari’a governs only Muslims, so other communities are “outside the law” and must either convert or be protected by treaty or covenant.  (99)

“The Muslim city is explicitly a city for Muslims, a place of congregations in which individuals and their families live side-by-side in obedience to God, and where non-Muslims exist only on sufferance.”  (100)


Muslims are apt to feel both wonder and rage at the God-defying arrogance that has so completely eclipsed the life of piety and prayer” (in a Western city).  “When he led the attack against the World Trade Center, Atta was assaulting a symbol of economic, aesthetic, and spiritual paganism.”  (101)


Islam experiences “the intense longing for that original and pure community once promised by the Prophet but betrayed over and again by his worldly successors and followers.  Like every form of nostalgia, this longing involves a turning away from reality, a refusal to accommodate or even to perceive the facts that might undermine it, and an endlessly renewable anger against the Other who refuses to share in the collective dream.”  (102)


“Islam has an unrivalled ability to compensate for what is lacking in modern experience.  It rationalizes and validates the condition of exile….”  “Islam…is less a theological doctrine than a system of piety.  To submit to it is to discover the rules for a trouble-free life and an easy conscience.”  “It has the singular advantage…of clarity.”  (104-5)


“In the context of Western anomie and self-indulgence, therefore, Muslim immigrants cling to their faith, seeing it inevitably as something superior to the surrounding moral chaos, and therefore more worthy of their obedience than the law that permits so much sin.”  (105)


An Islamic education teaches piety, consideration, and respect for age; it offers a clear rite of passage into the adult world; it presents the student at every point with certainties rather than doubts, and consolation rather than anxiety.”  “In short, it is an education that provides what the liberal systems of education in Western states have, disastrously, despised—authority.”  “The education offered by our schools does not impart a common culture; it gives little guidance for life, few certainties, and unequal skills.”  (106) 


For governing a large society, shari’a is radically deficient.  Every ruler must lay down laws of his own to guarantee his power, facilitate administration, and collect taxes.  But since there is no legitimacy for secular laws, he must maintain his rule by power.  (107)


Turkey has been the only durable democracy in the Muslim world, maintained by frequent interventions by a loyal army.  In the process Turkey has been severed from its classical culture.  In the search for a modern identity, young people are attracted to radical and destabilizing ideologies, both Islamist and utopian. 


The al-Qua’eda organization is one significant result.  (109)  It derives from three pre-existing sociopolitical forces: the Wahhabite movement in Saudi Arabia; the Muslim Brotherhood that emerged in modern Egypt; and, finally, the technological education now available to disaffected Muslims throughout the Middle East.”  (110)


“The Wahhabis preached purity of lifestyle and absolute obedience to the Koran….”  (111)  “The search for that original purity…continues to exert its subterranean influence in the heartlands of Islam, breaking out in acts of violence and rebellion.”  (113)


“The Brotherhood (1928) was to be a return to the militant Islam of the Prophet, the goal to re-establish the reign of purity and piety.”  Within a decade it had become the best-organized indigenous political force in Egypt.  After WWII, it ran a campaign of terrorism to ‘bear witness’ to Islamic truth against the infidel.  By 1949 the Brotherhood had trained more than 100 terrorists from other Islamic countries.  (114-15)

Many of the ideological leaders are graduates in technical or scientific subjects.  Their scientific training opens to them the secrets of Western technology while revealing the emptiness of a civilization in which only technology matters.  (117)


The virtues of Western political systems are viewed in the Islamic mind as hideous moral failings.  Human rights and secular governments display the decadence of Western civilization.  (119)


Khomeini is important because 1) he showed that an Islamic government is a viable option and Westernization and secularization are not inevitable, 2) the Islamic Revolution was the cornerstone of his foreign policy, and 3) he made martyrdom a central part of his Islamic revival strategy.  Khomeini’s call to sacrifice (martyrdom) was enthusiastically received by many young people, and even by their parents! (120-21)


The Shi’ites are convinced that the powers of the world always corrupt Islam and that it must constantly be returned to its original purity.  (121)


“The cult of death seems to make sense of a world in which evil prevails; moreover it gives unprecedented power to the martyr, who no longer has anything to fear.  The cult is both a protest against modern nihilism and a form of it—a last-ditch attempt to rescue Islam from the abyss of nothingness by showing that it can still demand the ultimate proof of devotion.”  (122)


“It is not too great an exaggeration to say that this new confluence of Sunni orthodoxy and Shi’ite extremism has laid the foundations for a worldwide Islamic revival.  For the first time in centuries Islam appears, both in the eyes of its followers and in the eyes of the infidel, to be a single religious movement united around a single goal.  Nor is it an exaggeration to suggest that one major factor in producing this unwonted unity is Western civilization and the process of globalization that it has set in motion.”  (123)


Ch 4.  Globalization

“Where Islamists succeed in gaining power—as in Iran, Sudan, and Afghanistan—the result is not the reign of peace and piety promised by the Prophet, but murder and persecution on a scale matched in our time only by the Nazis and the Communists.  The Islamist, like the Russian nihilist, is an exile in this world; and when he succeeds in obtaining power over his fellow human beings, it is in order to punish them for being human.”  (127)


“Globalization…means the transfer of social, economic, political, and juridical power to global organizations,…that are located in no particular sovereign jurisdiction, and governed by no particular territorial law.  The growth of such organizations is, in my view, a regrettable by-product of our addiction to freedom.  …these organizations pose a new kind of threat to the only form of sovereignty that has brought lasting (albeit local) peace to our planet.  And when terrorism too becomes globalized, the threat is amplified a hundred-fold.”  (127)


 “With al-Qu’eda, therefore, we encounter the real impact of globalization on the Islamic revival.  To belong to this ‘base’ is to accept no territory as home, and no human law as authoritative.  It is to commit oneself to a state of permanent exile, while at the same time resolving to carry out God’s work of punishment.”  (128)


“Islamism is not a cry of distress from the ‘wretched of the earth.’  It is an implacable summons to war, issued by globetrotting middle-class Muslims, many of them extremely wealthy….”  (131)  “It may be hard to sympathize with these spoiled and self-indulgent advocates of violence.  But it is not hard to sympathize with the feelings upon which they depend for their following.”  (132)


“In the eyes of its critics [globalization] means the loss of sovereignty, together with large-scale social, economic, and aesthetic disruption.  It also means an invasion of images that evoke outrage and disgust as much as envy in the hearts of those who are exposed to them.”  If you believe that “…happiness resides not in freedom but in submission to God’s law, the impact of pornography is devastating.  No less devastating, for pious Muslims, are what they see as the indecent clothes and behavior of young women in the West—clothes and behavior that are in no way modified when those women travel on business or as tourists to Muslim countries, there to presume on a toleration which they are willing to reciprocate but do little or nothing to earn.”  (132)


“Western habits, Western morals, Western art, music, and television are seen not as freedoms but as temptations.  And the normal response to temptation is either to give in to it, or to punish those who offer it.  Many Muslim muhajiroun do both.”  (133)


“Globalization…concentrates the resolve of the believer and offers him a sword with which to prosecute God’s will.”  (133)


The principal target al-Qa’eda wants to destroy is the U.S.  “It is not the American people who are the enemy.  It is the American state, conceived as an autonomous agent acting freely on the stage of international politics, and so calling on itself the wrath of God.”  “The Great White Satan” – literally.  (134)  A nation-state is not merely a collection of individuals.  It is a moral and legal person. 


“There is no such entity as Iraq, only a legal fiction erected by the U.N. for the purpose of dealing with whichever individual, clique, or faction is for the moment holding the people of that country hostage.” “The states of the non-Western world are impersonal states, machines in their rulers’ hands.”  (135)


The 9/11 attacks were assaults on the person of the United States….  “The difference between ‘the West and the rest’ is captured in this idea of the corporate person….”  (136)  “Personal states have an inherent preference for negotiation over compulsion, and for peace over war.”  “And they foster the growth of a national loyalty and a territorial jurisdiction in which the absolute demands of religion are tempered by the overarching need for toleration and common obedience to a secular power.”  (137)


“The personal state is answerable to its citizens….”  By contrast, outside the ‘West’, we have the one-party state, the religious state, individual tyranny, and anarchy.  None of these has full corporate personality.  They lack effective internal opposition.  Decisions are made by an unanswerable minority and imposed willy-nilly on the country.  (138)


“Any conflict with a non-personal state is therefore a conflict with some faction or individual within it.  There cannot be victory in such a conflict unless the faction or individual is destroyed.”  “The formal defeat of Iraq was the defeat of a legal fiction.  The real victory was that of Saddam, who retained control over his subjects in the face of an alliance of nation-states that proved powerless to unseat him.”  (139)


Israel is surrounded by tyrannies, factional groupings, and terrorist movements that have only a fictitious personality.  Arafat has recognition but no authority to pursue accommodation with Israel or to lead the Palestinans in all-out war.  Nor can he control the terrorists. It is pointless to either destroy Arafat or negotiate with him since he does not represent the people.  All negotiation is futile and all force unfocused.  It is nearly impossible to make peace when there is no accountable agent with whom to negotiate.  (141-2)


“It is Israel’s relation to America that makes Israel the target of militant Islam.  The Palestinians have a legitimate grievance.  But the Muslim states of the Middle East have done little or nothing to support them in this grievance.  Instead they have exploited it for their own imperial ends….”  “When Israel became the target for the Islamic militants of Hizbullah it was not in order to achieve some settlement favorable to the Palestinian people.  It was in order to punish Israel as an outreach of the West in the dar al-islam.  The Islamic militants can therefore be satisfied with nothing short of the total destruction of Israel.  For Israel is a nation-state established where no nation-state should be—a place where the only law should be the shari’a, and the only loyalty that of Islam.”  (143)


“While it is possible to bring pressure to bear on individual states that harbor terrorists, this pressure is ineffective against a failed state, or against a state like Iran, which is happy to ignore requests from Satan.”  (144)


Re terrorists:  “Similarly the French have refused to police the entrance to the channel tunnel, knowing that the best way to rid themselves of illegal immigrants is by passing them on to Britain, where the welfare deal is more attractive.”  (153)


The European Union is rapidly destroying the territorial jurisdictions and national loyalties and therefore offers a breeding ground for Islamic terrorists.  “All the principal actors in the atrocities of September 11 had resided in Europe, and received there both training and indoctrination through the local cells of al-Qa’eda.  The plot to attack America was not hatched in any Muslim country, but on the continent where the West began.” (154)


Ch 5.  Conclusion

“Many terrorists are nihilists, who wish to vent their disappointment by destroying the sham society by which they are surrounded.”  “The death of God leaves only one remaining absolute, which is Nothingness.  The duty to annihilate is the last remaining glimpse of the transcendental in the heart of the one who has lost all belief in it and who cannot live with the loss.”  (157)


“Globalization has plunged the Islamic world into crisis by offering the spectacle of a secular society maintained in being by man-made laws, and achieving equilibrium without the aid of God.”  At the same time it has re-awakened the age-old nostalgia for a reign of goodness in which the corrupt are destroyed.  “In the Muslim territories themselves, however, possibilities for organized political action are limited or non-existent.  Only in the West….”  (158)


“Unable either to organize opposition in their country of origin, or to join the society in which they live, they are therefore drawn to religious violence as the only proof of their identity.” 


In the West we must reinforce the nation-state.  We must reexamine some of our assumptions:

  • Immigration must be limited to the number we can integrate
  • We must learn the taboos elsewhere before we travel
  • We must stop our habit of denigrating our political culture
  • We must rethink multiculturalism as a goal
  • We must reconsider compelling countries to remove their trade barriers, erected to defend their local interests
  • We must reexamine the multinational corporation
  • We must rethink our devotion to prosperity and consumption which has made us dependent upon foreign raw materials  (160)


“Terrorism is not, after all, an enemy, but a method used by the enemy.”  The enemy is the tyrant dictator and the religious fanatic whom the tyrant protects.  “To act against the first is feasible, if we are prepared to play by the tyrant’s rules.  But to act against the second requires a credible alternative to the absolutes with which he conjures.  It requires us not merely to believe in something, but to study how to put our beliefs into practice.”  (161)