In response to the Islamic terrorist attacks that murdered 76 people in Uganda, Barack Hussein Obama delivered the usual homily about Islam being a great religion, and Islamic terrorism being the work of a small handful of extremists who reject modernity. And while many people have stood up to take issue with the false claim that only a small minority of Muslims view terrorism as legitimate, fewer have tackled the underlying premise behind this liberal critique of Islam, which claims that it is a lack of modernity that is the problem.
The reason why the "Modernity" narrative is so dangerous, is because it has drawn even liberal critics of Islam into a false paradigm, in which Muslim terrorists reject modernity, and therefore Muslims who do not seem to reject modernity cannot be terrorists. That is why Tariq Ramadan can waltz from campus to campus, shielded from accusations of "extremism" by his supposed embrace of modernity. Terrorist groups and terrorist front groups, from the Taliban, which before 9/11 sent an ambassador to Berkeley who delivered lectures explaining that the Buddha statues had been destroyed to protest against global economic injustice, to Hizb ut Tahir, whose spokesmen talk like moral relativists, even as they preach uncompromising Jihad to their followers-- have learned to talk like "moderns", even when their real goals have remained the same since Mohammed and his followers rode down on their enemies.
The inability to recognize terrorism when it is dressed in a suit, totes a blackberry and uses academic language-- is one of the greatest blind spots of Western civilization today. And the idea that Islamic terrorists are people who live in caves and are out of touch with the modern world, is a misguided stereotype. Modern Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood were built by copying ideas from the Nazis. Their terrorist groups copied Marxist terrorist organizations. Osama bin Laden does not write up declarations on parchment, he releases videos which are filled with talking points derived from American popular culture. Al Queda was recruiting over the internet, before most Western armed forces had figured out how to make use of it. Hizbullah has a media analysis department. Hamas has a Twitter account.
Contrary to the liberal narrative-- Islamist groups do not draw their followers from the ranks of the poor and dispossessed, but from the educated middle and upper classes. Terrorists often have college degrees, sometimes from Western educational institutions. They are not poor. They do not sit around all day looking at a goat and wondering what they will eat tomorrow. Not only do they live a lot like Westerners do, but in many cases they are better off than the people they are trying to kill. Mohammed Atta's father was a lawyer. His mother was quite wealthy. Ismail Haniyeh has two wives and thirteen children, and was a dean at the Islamic University.
While Obama blathers on about their failure to modernize, Islamic terrorists use the internet and social media to recruit, maintain contact and plan operations-- piggybacking on a technology that had been meant to allow the United States to continue functioning in the event of a massive disaster. They produce news programs, magazines, children's shows, cartoons and DVD's. Their spokesmen understand how the enemy thinks and how to exploit Western ideas in order to subvert the West. Which is more than our spokesmen understand about them. Islamist groups have incorporated Nazi and Communist tactics that they found useful. They are actually very good at studying us and learning from us. Often they're studying on our own campuses.
Osama bin Laden may or may not be living in a cave, a calculated image meant to romanticize Al Queda, but his followers and backers are more likely to live in mansions. They are anti-Western, but they are quick to learn about, use and exploit Western tactics and technologies. They can sound like professors when they need to and play on Western moral relativism in order to justify anything that they do to Western liberals. Nor are they necessarily opposed to democracy, so long as the end result is an Islamic state.
Hamas and Hezbollah have exploited democratic elections to increase their powers, before of course using heavy doses of violence to suppress the opposition. When Saddam Hussein ruled in Iraq, his Shiite Islamist opposition under Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr developed Wilayat Al Umma, which suddenly decided that the people, not the rulers, have the divine franchise. Democracy is just another useful tool to them, just like their Twitter accounts and blackberries and suits. They are a means to an end. The end is political power under Islamic rule.
To that end they have changed whatever theology needs changing. They have turned women into suicide bombers, despite opposing even basic education for women. They have mixed with infidels and learned from them. When they need to sell pork and alcohol in order to send money back home to terrorist groups, until they are in a position to start forcing the infidels to go without. They have gained exemptions to whatever laws they needed exempting from, or outright ignored the rest. Their fluidity is downright postmodern.
The problem is not that Islam is not modern, it is that it is not civilized. The unspoken liberal assumption that modernity means tolerance and reason, is a slave to a linear understanding of history, an understanding that the rise of Islam has repeatedly discredited, when it first rose in what had been a relatively tolerant and even cosmopolitan region, and today when it rises in the face of Westernized globalization. Being modern does not necessarily mean being better, it means being more sophisticated. And that is exactly what modern Islamic terrorists, they are more sophisticated, even if it is a sophistication borrowed from the cultures they prey upon.
The variants of Islam that are most dangerous to us are both modern and reformed. But neither of those words means secular, which is what liberal Christians and liberal Jews tend to think modern religion means. Modernized Islam has simply learned from rival societies, religions and ideologies. Just as Mohammed learned from Christians and Jews to create a religion that took elements from both, before massacring and enslaving the people whose beliefs he had despoiled.
As a tool of war, a more sophisticated Islam is a more sophisticated weapon. Which is not what any sane person would desire. It is not more tolerant, because its ends have not changed, only the means have. The Islamists have once again taken what they need from other cultures and religions to strengthen and disguise their campaign, without ever conceding any ground. Westerners who apply the European model to the Muslim world are making an unfortunate mistake. While they see history as progressive, Muslims see history as circular. While in the West they think they are climbing a mountain, in the East they know that they are only turning a wheel. Westerners have thrown away their beliefs and their heritage to lighten their way up the mountain, but in the East they tie their beliefs into a noose for Western necks.