The Suicide of Reason
BOOK FORUM
About This Event

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In The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam’s Threat to the West, Lee Harris delivers a daring argument about the inherent conflict between Western civilization and Islamic fanaticism. Radical Islam, he argues, is not a social pathology or “failure to modernize,” but rather a robust, internally consistent social order. It is resistant to conventional Western methods of conflict resolution such as negotiation, economic sanctions, and conventional armed confrontation. Indeed, the Western devotion to reason, by which the Enlightenment overcame religious fanaticism in an earlier epoch, may become self-defeating in the current struggle. Can liberal internationalism devise new strategies to defend itself without becoming a mirror of the forces it seeks to defeat?

At this book forum, Mr. Harris will summarize the argument of his book, followed by commentary from AEI resident fellow Ayaan Hirsi Ali and AEI president Christopher DeMuth. Mr. Harris is the author of Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History, and he is a frequent contributor to Policy Review, OpinionJournal, and other publications.

Agenda
9:45 a.m.
Registration
10:00
Speaker:
Lee Harris, author of The Suicide of Reason
Discussant:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, AEI
Moderator:
Christopher DeMuth, AEI
12:00 p.m.
Adjournment
Event Summary

September 2007

The Suicide of Reason

In The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam's Threat to the West, Lee Harris delivers a daring argument about the inherent conflict between Western civilization and Islamic fanaticism. Radical Islam, he argues, is not a social pathology or "failure to modernize," but rather a robust, internally consistent social order. It is resistant to conventional Western methods of conflict resolution such as negotiation, economic sanctions, and conventional armed confrontation. Indeed, the Western devotion to reason, by which the Enlightenment overcame religious fanaticism in an earlier epoch, may become self-defeating in the current struggle. Can liberal internationalism devise new strategies to defend itself without becoming a mirror of the forces it seeks to defeat?

At a book forum held at AEI on September 26, 2007, Mr. Harris summarized the argument of his book, followed by commentary from AEI resident fellow Ayaan Hirsi Ali and AEI president Christopher DeMuth. Mr. Harris is also the author of
Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History, and he is a frequent contributor to Policy Review, OpinionJournal, and other publications.

Lee Harris
Author, The Suicide of Reason

After 9/11, Americans returned to two pre-9/11 theories--namely, Francis Fukuyama's "End of History" and Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations"--in an attempt to analyze the terrorist attacks and devise a way forward. Attempting to fit the struggle between Islam and the West into these frameworks is futile and counterproductive because both theories assume that relevant parties will act rationally within the status quo. Islamists, however, intend to break down the current system rather than operate within it. This presents a unique problem for the West and causes division between those who want to preserve the current order by fighting and accepting temporary chaos in exchange for long-term stability and those who deny the existence of a long-term threat. The inaction that often results from this tension is the Achilles heel of the West that Islam seeks to exploit.

The term Islamofascism is misleading because it equates Islam with fascist movements in Europe in the twentieth century. Those European movements were doomed to fail because they were inherently, though not ostentatiously, atheist ideologies imposed on Christian societies. By contrast, the concept of jihad originated with the establishment of Islam as a faith.

The United States' problem is that it falsely assumes other players operate under an American concept of order and rights. What seems irrational or unfair from an American perspective may be perfectly natural to a Muslim. This is perhaps what makes the Islamic threat more dangerous than any other the United States has faced.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
AEI

The collectivist nature of Islamic theology promotes a tribal mindset. What distinguishes the West from the non-West is individualism.

Culture is influential, but individuals are not entirely constrained by it. Individuals make history, culture, and faith. Individuals of all cultures employ rational tactics while facing the struggles of daily life, and when it comes to the universal struggles of daily life, the modern Western world is more fulfilling and appealing than the world of tribal Islam.

For decades, Muslims have been immigrating to the West in droves in search of a better life. But the West's own multicultural policies have encouraged these communities to stay segregated in their own collectivist tribal enclaves.

By adopting the romantic notions of multiculturalism and moral relativism, the West is currently squandering a vital opportunity to win the minds of Muslims.

AEI research assistant Yael Levin prepared this summary.

View complete summary.
Event Materials
The Suicide of Reason
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