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The Unrepentant Traditionalist
July 15, 2009

Living in a Dangerous World
by Frank Creel

ARLINGTON, VA — My two brothers and I used to pester our mother with the complaint, “We’re bored!” She eventually came up with the perfect response: “The dishes still need washing.”

Later, when I was toting my CAR-15 assault rifle and watching out for booby traps in Vietnam, I discovered boredom is not so bad after all. Beats the dickens out of a sniper round crackling by. Thanks to Robert McNamara and Lyndon Johnson, I experienced the Chinese curse of living in interesting times.

Peace? Boredom? Ah, it’s a very fine line. Strangely, there are a lot of people who have no appreciation of either.

This month, the month in which McNamara at age 93 went to his reward, our times have suddenly become even more interesting than the 1960s.

Michael Ledeen, arch-neocon and contributing editor to National Review Online, has long considered Iran the center of what he calls Islamo-terrorism; he recently called for the elimination of Iran’s nuclear capabilities by Israeli bombs.

Binyamin Netanyahu got himself elected prime minister of Israel in February on essentially the same platform.

Then, the day after our Independence Day, Vice President Biden “seemed to give Israel a green light for military action to eliminate Iran’s nuclear threat,” saying in an interview broadcast by ABC News that Israel is a sovereign country that is free to make its own decisions even if we do not agree with them. Quite true, but what need was there to say it out loud?

On January 12, 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave a speech from which it was reasonable to infer that South Korea lay outside of the U.S. “defensive perimeter.” Barely six months later, the North Koreans crossed the 38th parallel. More than 30,000 Americans died outside of our defensive perimeter.

Just weeks before his own assassination in 1963, John Kennedy gave the green light for the violent coup in which South Vietnam’s President Diem was murdered, opening the door to the chaos that followed. Almost 60,000 Americans died.

We can pray that historians some decades hence will not point to Biden’s flapping jaw as the immediate cause of a general catastrophe in the Middle East. We should, however, supplement the prayer with some clear thinking about the interesting times in which we live.

Islam, for one thing, is no monolith. The Sunni-Shiite divide dates from soon after Muhammad’s death in 632 A.D. It appears to be incurable, even a chronic spawn of more and more segmentation. Broadly speaking, Sunnis emphasize the legal and textual view of Islam, with a tendency toward fundamentalism. Shiites have a more apocalyptic view of their religion and tend toward mysticism and syncretism over legalism. Islam has no priesthood, but Shiites are more deferential to religious authority figures.

Similar observations can be made about the divisions within Christianity, of course, but Catholic Christianity has both a priesthood and a papacy. In Christianity, at least, there is an abiding aspiration for eventual unification of all believers. I do not think any scholar can reasonably assert to have found a similar aspiration in Islam, except perhaps in purification movements seeking to expel, forcibly convert, or kill those who do not hold to “pure” Islam. As things stand now, Sunnis think their Islam is pure, while Shiites think theirs is. Ne’er the twain shall meet, methinks.

Moreover, inside Sunni Islam, the ultimate purification movement arose in the 18th-century Arabian peninsula: Wahhabism. This new sect condemned “innovations” in Islamic belief and practice after approximately the end of the 10th century. Wahhabis (who prefer to be called Salafis, or followers of the first few salaf (predecessors) after Muhammad’s generation) regard just about everybody except fellow Wahhabis as infidels or heretics.

Osama bin Laden is Wahhabi. In his mind, it is just as legitimate to wage jihad against Iranian Shiites as against American “crusaders” occupying Muslim lands and supporting oppressive Arab tyrants.

Michael Ledeen and people who think like him do not make distinctions like this. It is unimportant to Ledeen and his crowd that Islam, writ large, can be seen as a Christian heresy, almost as an Arab recrudescence of the ancient heresy of Arianism, which denied the divinity of Christ. Wahhabis, in fact, have been called the “Unitarians” of the East because of their insistence on the absolute unity (tawhid) of God.

In view of all the theological diversity, if not chaos, within Islam, it is at least imprudent and perhaps certifiably insane to flirt with global catastrophe over the “threat” that Iran, the aspiring leader of the Shiite minority, might someday come into possession of a few nuclear weapons.

We have recently seen the lengths to which the mullahs will go to preserve their legitimacy in the eyes of their own people. The notion that they would risk everything, including the physical existence of Shiite Islam’s historical center, on a nuclear roll of the dice with Israel is laughable. They know along with the rest of the world that Israel has long possessed a formidable nuclear arsenal and the means to deliver it. However provocative their rhetoric, the mullahs, like all human beings with a survival instinct, can be deterred from suicidal behavior.

Our policy makers should keep one fact uppermost in their minds: Left to themselves, without the boots of the “Great Satan” tramping about their neighborhood, Muslims in general will turn their attention and energies to cultivating their half of the great Sunni-Shiite fissure in Islam, a tradition now well into its 14th century of vigorous expression.

Christians, in turn, should keep this fact uppermost in their minds: Large parts of the world remain un-Christian mainly because previous generations of Christians did such a mediocre job of reflecting the light of Christ into the world. Our own generation must now, at long last, realize that our only worthy endeavor is to conduct spiritual warfare, to proclaim the Gospel, as St. Francis said, constantly — with words, if necessary. Not many Muslims will be converted looking up the muzzle of an M-16, any more than the Vietnamese, looking up the muzzle of my CAR-15, were inclined to abandon their resistance to foreign occupation.

Meanwhile, our Vice President should flip the green light to red and use what influence his government has to restrain Israel’s Rambos. Considering its roots, Israel’s paranoia is forgivable. But it remains paranoia. That it causes American observers to start beating the war drums is unforgivable.

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The Unrepentant Traditionalist is copyright (c) 2009 by Frank Creel and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.

Frank Creel, Ph.D., has been a columnist for the Potomac News, Woodbridge, Virginia. His op-ed articles have been published in the Northern Virginia Journal, the Washington Examiner, The Washington Times, and the New York City Tribune. In 1992, his A Trilogy of Sonnets was published pseudonymously by Christendom Press.

See a complete biographical sketch.

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