Though the bombs failed to detonate, this week's attacks in London have exploded persistent myths about Islamic terrorism. These myths—perpetuated by the politically correct, the unreasonably optimistic, and the willfully ignorant—have crippled the West's ability to adequately confront the Islamic threat. Unless the West finally wakes up and faces reality, our chance for long-term survival is questionable. Hopefully the bombs of London will be our wakeup call.
The first myth to go up in smoke after this week's failed attempts at terror is that radical Islamic theology is the result of poverty and illiteracy. Some commentators would have us believe that terrorism would cease if all Muslim children were educated and affluent, and therefore, America's foreign policy should focus on economic aid and education. It is increasingly clear, however, that many of the men behind the London bombings were physicians. Highly educated with well-paying jobs in a prosperous nation, these men certainly do not fit the profile so often painted of Islamic terrorists. One thing is clear: it is not poverty or ignorance that drives Muslims to terrorism. Even those who are highly educated and trained to "cure" were willing to kill in the name of Allah.
A second myth, which has dominated the thinking of some fellow conservatives, is that democracy is the surefire antidote to terrorism. They maintain that if Muslims lived in freedom and were able to elect their leaders in a democratic way, then our terrorist enemies would lose their desire to kill innocents. President Bush said in his Second Inaugural Address, "The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies' defeat." It now seems clear, however, that even those who enjoy freedom and democracy can be won over by radical theology. The medical professionals implicated in this week's attacks were living miles away from tyranny and were enjoying all of the benefits of modern Western Democracy. But, it was not enough to blunt their impulse to inflict terror. Their interpretation of Islam inspired them to bomb the very nation which offered them freedom. We must not deceive ourselves into thinking that once men and women live in democracy, then terrorism will cease. It is not that simple.
These terrorists are not just retaliating against unpopular policies overseas. Even if every last Westerner left the Middle East, these radicals would still pursue their worldwide Islamic State. Their goal stems from a particular understanding of Islam that has won adherents around the world. These Muslims believe that it is God's will for them to conquer the whole world, by violence if necessary. In light of the violence they have perpetrated, can there be any doubt that ideas have consequences? It is past time to confront the violent ideas of many Muslims.
One of the most obvious differences between Islam and Western Christianity is the relationship between politics and religion. Mohammad, in addition to being a religious leader, was a military commander and political ruler. From the beginning, there has been little distinction between religion and politics in the Muslim world. For Islamic radicals, the differences between evangelizing and conquering are inconsequential, because politics and religion go hand-in-hand. This is in obvious contrast with the example of Jesus Christ, who pursued no worldly political ambitions and who even surrendered himself into the hands of political leaders to be crucified. As Christ continually reminded his disciples, his kingdom was not of this world. He did not offer his disciples a political agenda. Though the Christian faithful have always seen it as their duty to pursue justice in the political arena, it has also been recognized that, ultimately, the Church and the state are two separate entities.