The real existential threat of radical Islam

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The real existential threat of radical Islam

How much should we fear militant Islam?

This is a crucially important question that countries and citizens throughout the West need to ask themselves. Will Wilkinson’s recent contribution to answering it should be required reading for those looking to reflect […]

 

How much should we fear militant Islam?

This is a crucially important question that countries and citizens throughout the West need to ask themselves. Will Wilkinson’s recent contribution to answering it should be required reading for those looking to reflect on the question intelligently, because his answer is both smart and wrong — and because its error is one commonly made by otherwise sensible liberals.

Writing in response to those in and around the Trump administration who are convinced that radical Islam constitutes an existential threat to the United States and the West — including White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, senior adviser Stephen Miller, deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka, and CIA director Mike Pompeo — Wilkinson powerfully rejects the contention, arguing that it comes nowhere close to constituting a threat to the existence of the U.S. or any Western country.

On one level Wilkinson is quite right: Muslim-majority nations, whether individually or collectively, are far too weak to threaten the U.S. and the West militarily in any serious way. And there are far too few Muslims living within Western nations for them to have any chance at all of transforming these societies from the inside (by imposing Sharia law, for example). Add in the fact that the West is allied with a number of countries in the Islamic world, not to mention the additional fact that most Muslims living within most Western countries are committed to upholding liberal political norms, and we’re left with the distinct impression that those who consider radical Islam an existential threat are badly deluded and more than a little paranoid.

Yet there is one respect in which Wilkinson misses a crucially important aspect of the danger. Radical Islam doesn’t constitute a threat to the existence or territorial integrity of the United States or any other Western nation. But it does constitute a realistic existential threat to our liberal democratic form of government.

Consider the consequences of a single morning of terror in New York City and Washington nearly 16 years ago. The 9/11 attacks provoked the U.S. to: invade two countries on the other side of the globe (starting wars that linger on to this day); form a new Cabinet-level department devoted to thwarting future attacks (Homeland Security); vastly expand foreign and domestic surveillance; institute a covert policy of torture; and significantly loosen the legal obstacles to presidents assassinating terrorist subjects abroad, even when they are American citizens.

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