In the weeks following the attacks of September 11th 2001, a dominant theme developed in the American mass media. The question on the cover of weekly news magazines and in the columns of the national dailies was: Why do They Hate Us? -- a response to the deadliest terrorist attack in modern history that has the wrong object, searching as it does for an explanation within US culture and not in the ideology and culture of the enemy that al Qaeda embodies.Robert's R. Reilly latest work, The Closing of the Muslim Mind – How intellectual suicide created the modern Islamist crisis (ISI Books, Wilmington, 2010, pgs 244), finally provides a lucid and comprehensive explanation for that deadly day and its aftermath.
"Ideology" is today a dirty word. However, it merely refers to any belief system – a science of ideas – that calls for action.
Reilly locates the root of modern Islamic violence in a grand stand-off over a thousand years ago between two ways of seeing the world and its relationship to God, in a theological difference of opinion that would result in one side losing the argument disastrously, and in the soul of Islam changing forever. On the one hand, we find the Mu'tazalites, Islamic thinkers who appreciated the insights of the Greek philosophers and who were on the side of seeing Man's reason as valuable in and of itself -- as a tool with which to understand God more fully. On the other, we had the Ash'arites and their champion, Imam al-Ghazali. For this elite group of thinkers, reason was the enemy of Islam, a religion defined by Man's submission to Allah, and wherein knowledge of the divine can only be had by way of the immutable revelation that is the uncreated Koran. For the Ash'arites, all was contingent on the will of God, and reason was inconsequential. All that mattered for them was submission. Unfortunately for Islam, the Arab world and the thousands who died on 9/11 (as well as before and since), the followers of al-Ghazali won, and reason was banished from Islam in favor of un-interpretable revelation. Today, Osama bin Laden and his ilk can trace themselves and their ideological evolution directly back to these victorious deniers of reason; and with Jihad -- especially in the form of dying while executing a Holy War -- deemed to be the ultimate submission to Allah's will in the spread of his faith and the word of his one true Prophet, Mohammad.
Those who would today decapitate another human being because of the passport he holds, or detonate an explosives-laden vehicle in the heart of downtown Manhattan, are direct descendants of the first extremists who initiated what Roger Scruton terms in foreword to the book, Islam's "assault on philosophy." As the DC policy elite digests the Obama administration's recently released National Security Strategy and other previous policy prescriptions that call for United States to ameliorate globally the so-called "up-stream factors" of radicalization, such as poverty and lack of education, those who understand the power of ideas may look elsewhere for the best ways to make America safe.
Reilly goes far beyond the conventional wisdoms that have driven the debate over national security since that sunny Tuesday morning in New York, Washington and over Pennsylvania. In this book you will not find the explanations for the killing of thousands of innocent civilians in the "root causes" of deprivation or lack of education in the Middle East, in the consequences of Western colonialism, or even in the supposedly disproportionate US support for Israel and autocratic Arab regimes. Instead, the author has taken a scalpel to the body of Islamic civilization and employed a multidisciplinary approach to identify the cancer within the religion that led to 9/11, Madrid, Bali, and the 7/7 attacks in London.
The remarkable facet of The Closing of the Muslim Mind is that this work of theological archaeology is accomplished while leaving the audience an eminently readable book of just 200 pages. Although not an Arabist or a theologian, Reilly is trained in political philosophy; has an intellectual range, and can wield the written word in ways that are both impressive and even enviable. Perhaps it will not surprise those that take the time to read this priceless work, that the author is not an establishment insider but instead one of a dying breed of renaissance scholars. Perhaps better known for his fine critical work on classical music, Reilly is not a stranger to issues of national security, nor to the question of how to cope with ideologies inimical to Western values and civilization. Formerly on the faculty of National Defense University, after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 he served as the Pentagon's adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Information; and in a previous post, was the director of Voice of America prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Today we face a deadly foe who challenges our post-modernist way of understanding the world by deploying against us an ideology disguised as a religion. Reilly puts this far more eloquently in his closing chapter, when he describes this thought world as a "spiritual pathology based upon a theological deformation that has produced a dysfunctional culture." Ideology is dead. Long live Religious Ideology.
Along with Patrick Sookhdeo's Global Jihad, this book should be compulsory reading at all institutions dedicated to preventing another 9/11.