Iraq’s Election and the Clash Of Civilizations

As most of my readers know, I opposed Gulf War II for a fairly simple reason: I could not and cannot square it with the Church’s teaching on Just War.

At the same time, I believed then and believe now that the United States, having begun the war and effectively made Iraq a state completely dependent on it for survival, was now obliged to finish the job it began and leave Iraq a state capable of survival on its own.

The elections are now past, and the moving spectacle of thousands of Iraqis going to vote, despite the threats of the savage Bronze-Age fanatics who wish to make Iraq into another despotism, is something to give free people everywhere a sense of awe and admiration. I, too, was moved by the gutsiness of the Iraqis.

Who wouldn’t be? Americans have to overcome the risk of missing a Simpsons rerun in order to get to the polls. And very often that’s a challenge we are not up to. These Iraqis faced and defied the threat of bombs and assassination for voting.

Of course, proponents of the war are basking in triumph, as is only natural. And some of them are looking at people like me and asking what I think, now that this splendid spectacle of democracy in action has unfolded. I hope the paragraphs above make it clear that I think it a very good thing. But I hope it is also understood that good ends, even when they are achieved, still do not justify bad means and the war was, by any reasonable reading of Just War teaching, a bad means.

Yet the good end cannot be denied. God writes straight with crooked lines. And only a churl would want to deny the Iraqis their glory in the hour of the elections. But we must also be aware that, as Americans in the TV age, we have the attention span of gnats. It will be tempting to say, now that the elections are past, “And they lived happily ever after, to the end of their days.”

But political freedom, though good and very good, is indeed not the ultimate good. Political freedom, untethered from other and greater goods, can be a quick road back to slavery.

Weimar Germany, liberated from the monarchy of Kaiser Wilhelm in the War to Make the World Safe for Democracy, freely and democratically elected Hitler. Algeria freely and democratically elected a bunch of Islamic thugs a couple of years ago, and the only thing that kept that country from becoming another Taliban-like regime was that the military staged a coup and voided the election.

At present, in Iraq, we have a great number of factions who are in a roiling ferment of post-war and post-Saddam jockeying for power. People who have lived under terror regimes frequently have a lot of old scores they want to settle. They also frequently have the notion that the main problem with the old regime was that somebody besides themselves held all the guns, had all the money, pushed all the buttons and signed all the death warrants. And in a religious culture that does not believe “Love your enemies” to be divine revelation, it’s remarkably easy to see the devastation of the secular regime of Saddam as a signal from God that now is the time to do some serious damage to the infidel and bring back that Old-Time Religion.

So we should not be too hasty in regarding a single election as Mission Accomplished.

Still, the elections must be acknowledged as a very good thing. The key, of course, will be to crown them with even better things: things that will make political freedom the way to virtue and not simply a quick road to a freely-chosen culture of death, Western style. For the problem we face over the long haul is a clash of religious visions — both of them at profound odds with the gospel of Jesus Christ — and that is something contemporary American society does not want to face.

We want to believe that a global Islamic culture, which broadly lionizes men willing to both die and kill for their vision of heaven, can be bought off with home entertainment centers and a McFun economy that denies the transcendent. In other words, the long-term story of our clash of civilizations is of an increasingly soulless West moving away from the only thing that can really make a dent in radical Islam: serious Christian faith.

Is it possible the Islamic world is ready to exhale medieval despotism — only to inhale deeply the air from the United States and Europe, where we are pumping out the stench from 1.5 million annual abortions, from Terri Schiavo’s death chamber disguised as a “care facility” and from the multi-Oscar winning Million Dollar Baby’s ode to murdering the disabled?

If so, the secular West may get its wish. Whether we will like it when we do is another matter.

Author Mark Shea writes

from Seattle, Washington.