Before Sept. 11, the course of events in the 21st century appeared reasonably predictable. Western culture -- political, economic and social -- seemed well on its way to conquering and transforming the world. If Francis Fukuyama was a bit overheated in hailing this as heralding "the end of history," it certainly seemed to indicate the direction of future developments. Insofar as there were dangers ahead, they involved rivalries among various contenders for leadership of the globe -- notably China. But for the time being American dominance was indisputable. The idea that the whole general direction of civilization might come under serious challenge was practically unthinkable. (Let us pause here to acknowledge the prescience of Samuel Huntington.)
On Sept. 11, the world awoke to the existence of a menace from a quite unexpected direction. It turned out that we had overlooked the threat from well over 1.2 billion people, concentrated in the Middle East but with outliers as distant as Indonesia, grouped under the general sobriquet of "Islam" and calling themselves "Muslims." This vast segment of humanity gives its allegiance to the prophet Mohammed, and in the seventh and subsequent centuries had made a determined and nearly successful bid to overthrow the West and establish domination of the world. But the effort was beaten back, and in recent centuries Islam had become a cultural backwater, dominated by various local tyrannies that professed to rule in obedience to "sharia," the comprehensive and unchanging laws laid down by the Prophet. In such societies, the concept of "democracy" was simply irrelevant; "the people" didn't need to govern affairs, because all necessary governance was already provided by sharia.
Insofar as the Western world thought about Islam at all, it assumed that the processes of acculturation by the West would gradually overtake and transform it, as they had overtaken all other rival systems. It was, therefore, a tremendous shock when Sept. 11 revealed that a relatively small, but nevertheless formidable proportion of the world's Muslims (if we guessed 1 percent, that would still constitute well over 12 million people) were by no means ready to be rolled over by the West. On the contrary, by equipping themselves with such Western conveniences as plane travel, cell phones and bombs, they were prepared to strike back at their Western tormentors, and ultimately (or so they told themselves) to conquer them. Matters were not made any easier by the fact that many Western nations had grown soft, failing even to reproduce themselves in numbers sufficient to maintain their population.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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