April 29, 2009


'How to Win a Cosmic War' by Reza Aslan: The author contends that the conflict between the Arabic world and the West can be solved only by addressing finite, rather than rhetorical, issues.: a review of How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror by Reza Aslan (Gideon Lewis-Kraus, April 26, 2009, LA Times)

In the essay "Movements and Campaigns," a tribute to the literary critic Irving Howe, the late philosopher Richard Rorty wrote that Howe's take on literary and artistic modernism was true of any political movement: "namely, that it 'must always struggle but never quite triumph, and then, after a time, must struggle in order not to triumph.' If the passion of the infinite were to triumph," Rorty explains, "it would betray itself by revealing itself to have been merely a passion for something finite." A "campaign," in contrast to a movement, makes explicit its limited aspirations. It is "something finite, something that can be recognized to have succeeded or to have, so far, failed."

Reza Aslan's "How to Win a Cosmic War" recognizes the struggle between Global Jihadism and the war on terror as an insolubly infinite one. He proposes, instead, that we'd be better off if we replaced the rhetoric of the absolute obligation, which characterizes movements, with the campaign's rhetoric of the finite aim.

"It is time," Aslan writes in his introduction, "to strip this ideological conflict of its religious connotations, to reject the religiously polarizing rhetoric of our leaders and theirs, to focus on the material matters at stake, and to address the earthly issues that always lie behind the cosmic impulse."

Aslan goes on to devote much of his book to distinguishing the earthly grievances of Islamists from the cosmic grievances of Global Jihadists, and to detailing how the former are pressed into service of the latter. Islamists, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, are "religious nationalists"; they seek specific domestic redress, through Islamic political parties, of political and economic deprivation. Global Jihadists, like Al Qaeda, are "religious trans-nationalists." They plait together stories of specific injustice -- Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, the corruption of decades of secular Egyptian and Saudi leaders, the dispossession of Muslim minorities in Europe -- into a "master narrative" of universal Muslim humiliation. They are purists; they prefer the unspecific glory of the struggle to the disheveling imperatives of regency. For nationalists who despise some foreign patriotism, war is the health of the state. For religious trans-nationalists who despise all infidels, jihad is the bloom of the believers.

Actually, the key to the Cosmic War is the recognition that whereas the Christian West (and to some degree Judaism and Shi'ism) is founded upon the understanding that Man can not triumph because so fundamentally flawed, the Sunni Islamic world believes that perfection can be achieved by humanity in the here and now. In this sense, as well as in its disregard for theology generally, it resembles the many failed secular movements. Likewise, the inevitable defeat in the temporal world causes extreme psychoses because the failure indicts the entirety of their beliefs. Every ism is discombobulated by reality, where perfection proves unattainable, while the Messianic faiths are confirmed by that same reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 29, 2009 10:53 AM
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