Sullivan has a lot of goodies this week and this is a big one:
I hope Hitch's reported descent into "bomb-them-into-submission" mode is not a growing theme on the anti-Islamist front. But atheism combined with anti-Islamism can erase some important distinctions. The Reason Hirsi Ali interview is disconcerting in that context [....] Is she just an Amis-style liberal? Or a purveyor of misinformation? More discussion here. I hope the forces against Islamism don't begin to degenerate into Steynian fear and loathing. I should add that I favor rescuing Islam, not crushing it. But then I'm not an atheist; I'm a secularist believer. Maybe that makes a difference in the end.
Lots of heavy points to make here. If we take Augustine to've been right about the soul -- in the same way that Hobbes and Tocqueville and others were -- then it's in the nature of our spirit (slash psyche) to oscillate between two emotional (slash psychological, etc.) poles: call them optimism and pessimism, enthusiasm and despair, feverish activity and brooding melancholy. Call them all those things. Now consider how the three figures of the Secular Humanist, the Muslim Apostate, and the Secularist Believer would, in light of the nature of our soul/psyche, consider the fortunes of the West in its developing confrontation with Islam.
It seems to me not surprising if the Secular Humanist swings most wildly in this circumstance between violent optimism and violent pessimism. Larison would recognize this as a fundamental, maybe even self-evident truth about atheists. Regardless, a certain type of Secular Humanist wants freedom for individuals, uses coercive power to that end, falls into a rage when it doesn't work, and uses coercive power to scourge the embarrassment of failure.
Jumping quickly to the Secularist Believer, the vacillation would be between hopeful engagement and doubting distrust: on one hand the possibility of interfaith dialogue, risen to a commandment; on the other the inescapable recognition that the dogmatisms of Islam do appear to be more essential to that religion in its more notorious present configurations than those of Christianity, which the Secularist Believer sees as bad enough to begin with. The result of this tension is for the Secularist Believer to seek to 'rescue' Islam -- no less than the Secular Humanist or the Muslim Apostate wants to rescue Muslims from their own religion. Naturally the Secularist Believer would incline toward the appreciation of near-bloodless wars as a means to that rescue, and plunge into a deep bout of shame when those near-bloodless wars would turn out to be protracted and squalid examples of every failing of his own culture's secular government and Christian faith. The urge to 'rescue' flies, chastened, even further into the fantasyland of hope.
The Muslim Apostate seems like the most interesting figure to consider here because the nature of a war on Islam, straight up, can take on a variety of forms -- dependent on whether the aim is to fight off a perceived attack or attain total victory, unconditional surrender, and complete eradication, Allies-over-Nazis style. I don't have time to crack this code right now, and for the record I don't think a war on Islam is a very bright idea because it's unnecessary (and a war on immigration would be more effective by far anyway). But I do think the Augustinian soul model tells us a lot about how a lot of us are taking the current collision with Islam.