Fellow Patriot:

The voluntary financial generosity of Patriots — people like you — keeps our doors open. Please support the 2021 Patriots' Day Campaign today. Thank you for your support! —Nate Jackson, Managing Editor

Jonah Goldberg / Nov. 13, 2015

Netanyahu’s Framing of Middle East Situation Is Spot-On

Americans could learn a thing or two from Bibi Netanyahu. The Israeli prime minister was in Washington this week to receive the American Enterprise Institute’s Irving Kristol Award. He made some controversial remarks — at least controversial at AEI, where I am a fellow, and where the freedom agenda is alive and well — about the need to be realistic about what’s going on in the Middle East. Sometimes, he said, brutal dictators are better than the real-world alternatives: even more brutal Islamist movements hell-bent (or, if you prefer, paradise-bent) to conquer the world.

Americans could learn a thing or two from Bibi Netanyahu.

The Israeli prime minister was in Washington this week to receive the American Enterprise Institute’s Irving Kristol Award. He made some controversial remarks — at least controversial at AEI, where I am a fellow, and where the freedom agenda is alive and well — about the need to be realistic about what’s going on in the Middle East. Sometimes, he said, brutal dictators are better than the real-world alternatives: even more brutal Islamist movements hell-bent (or, if you prefer, paradise-bent) to conquer the world.

Less controversial but more intriguing was his description of the turmoil in the Middle East. “The core of the conflicts in the Middle East is the battle between modernity and early primitive medievalism,” Netanyahu explained.

Everyone understood what he meant, of course. The Islamic State believes the Muslim world took a wrong turn more than a thousand years ago.

The Taliban, the Wahhabis, al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood and all the other Islamists share this same worldview to one extent or another. Not every Islamist believes in crucifying Christians or throwing acid in the face of little girls going to school. But they all reject modernity, pluralism, secularism, democracy and, in many cases, even science.

“Medievalism” isn’t a perfect word, but it’s a better word than “terrorism” or “Islamism.”

President George W. Bush settled on “the war on terror” to describe our fight with Islamic terrorists. But there are problems with using “terrorism” as a euphemism for Islamic radicals. I’ll give you three.

First, terrorism is a tactic. If North Korea launches a nuclear missile at the United States, we will not declare war against intercontinental ballistic missiles. We will declare war against North Korea.

Second, in a war, tactics are secondary. Let’s imagine the Islamic State kept growing and became a major military power. If it replaced typical terror tactics with tanks, ships and armies but continued to make war against the U.S. and our allies, that wouldn’t change the fact that we’d still need to destroy our enemy.

Last, there are many terrorist groups that are not Islamic at all. The self-described “Real IRA” is certainly a terrorist outfit, and I have no problem with it being crushed, but it is not a strategic threat to the United States.

This is why many conservatives prefer terms like “jihadism” or “radical Islam” — for the simple reason that it is more accurate. Conceptual clarity is essential to national security strategy.

Still, one can understand why Bush didn’t want to declare war on Islamism or jihadism. Put simply, such labels create a propaganda problem because they make it easier for the radicals to claim we are at war with Islam itself. There are more than a billion Muslims in the world, and while far too many are sympathetic to the jihadists, there are still hundreds of millions who reject terrorism. It does not help us with our Muslim allies when we sound like we are at war with their faith.

Israel certainly can’t afford to sound like it’s at war with Islam, not when it needs to work with Muslim countries like Egypt and Jordan. Hence the term “medievalism.” While not perfect, the term is far more clarifying and accurate than “terrorism.” It also helps to illuminate why the left is so wrongheaded in its knee-jerk tendency to condemn criticism of Islamic radicalism as intolerant.

At the core of progressive ideology is the Whiggish idea that modernity is preferable to the customs of the past. As a conservative, I think progressives often go too far — way too far — in applying and misapplying this thinking. But they are right on the big picture. Modernity — by which I mean tolerance, pluralism, equality, democracy — is preferable to absolutism.

In February the U.N. issued a report chronicling how the Islamic State was burying alive, beheading and crucifying children. The next day, President Obama went on a tear about how we in the West shouldn’t get on our “high horse” about it because Christians did terrible things a thousand years ago.

I’d still rather live under medieval Christians than under the Islamic State, but that’s beside the point. The reason Obama’s statement was so morally obtuse is that he was comparing medieval Christians from a millennium ago to monsters who proudly videotape their crimes in the here and now. If we can’t get on our high horses about that, what use is there in having high horses at all?

And that’s what I like about the term “primitive medievalism.” It highlights the real divide not just between modern Westerners and the barbarians, but between modern Muslims and the barbarians.

© 2015 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC

Start a conversation using these share links:

Who We Are

The Patriot Post is a highly acclaimed weekday digest of news analysis, policy and opinion written from the heartland — as opposed to the MSM’s ubiquitous Beltway echo chambers — for grassroots leaders nationwide. More

What We Offer

On the Web

We provide solid conservative perspective on the most important issues, including analysis, opinion columns, headline summaries, memes, cartoons and much more.

Via Email

Choose our full-length Digest or our quick-reading Snapshot for a summary of important news. We also offer Cartoons & Memes on Monday and Alexander’s column on Wednesday.

Our Mission

The Patriot Post is steadfast in our mission to extend the endowment of Liberty to the next generation by advocating for individual rights and responsibilities, supporting the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the judiciary, and promoting free enterprise, national defense and traditional American values. We are a rock-solid conservative touchstone for the expanding ranks of grassroots Americans Patriots from all walks of life. Our mission and operation budgets are not financed by any political or special interest groups, and to protect our editorial integrity, we accept no advertising. We are sustained solely by you. Please support The Patriot Fund today!

★ PUBLIUS ★

“Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!” —George Washington

The Patriot Post is protected speech, as enumerated in the First Amendment and enforced by the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, in accordance with the endowed and unalienable Rights of All Mankind.

Copyright © 2021 The Patriot Post. All Rights Reserved.

The Patriot Post does not support Internet Explorer. We recommend installing the latest version of Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome.