September 11, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his biweekly feature for National Interest online, the web edition of the foreign policy journal The National Interest, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, argues that six years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the nature of the challenge to both the security of the nation-state and the structure of the international system is still poorly understood because most analysts fail to grasp the religious dimension of the terrorist phenomenon, as evidenced by messages like the video from Osama bin Laden last week.

The article observes:

The course of America’s global War on Terrorism—as well as our standoff with the nuclear ambitions of the Iranian mullahs—will be heavily influenced by powerful religious currents operating below the radar screens of most conventional diplomatic and security analysis. These currents—unlike political dilemmas that might be remedied by governmental action, security challenges that might be met by appropriate force or socioeconomic difficulties that might respond to the appropriate stimuli—are, as Edward Luttwak put it, “an intractable force that can be quite unresponsive to all the normal instrumentalities of state power, let alone the instrumentalities of foreign policy.” And it is this force that motivates the jihadists that America and its allies now confront in the Middle East as well as closer to home.

Dr. Pham concludes:

[This] This brings us back around to Bin Laden and his belief that the “greatest of plagues and most dangerous of threats to the lives of humans” is the fact that “the world is being dominated by the democratic system” which “exists on [Allah’s] earth and property without His commandments and without obeying Him” and “legislates in contradiction to His law and methodology.” From Bamako to Baghdad to Bali, similar “faith-based” ends—no matter how apparently irrational, no matter how much they may offend religious orthodoxies or secular sensibilities—are just as likely to be the objectives of international conduct as promoting national interests, attaining security and stimulating economic development. Realists need to adapt our analytical toolkit to account for these aspirations if we are to continue providing relevant strategic insight in the post-9/11 world.

 The full text of Dr. Pham’s essay, “Religion and Realism Six Years after 9/11,” can be accessed by clicking here.