Monday, May 1, 2006

Only two of the world’s religions believe they will come to dominate global allegiance: Christianity and Islam. The Crusades lasted so long and were so bloody because these religions were at odds for what each considered worldwide dominance.

With this as a backdrop, it is worth asking why there were so many riots and chaos across the globe over cartoons that caricatured Prophet Muhammad and every real or perceived slight against Islam. After all, in the “Divine Comedy,” Dante meets Muhammad suffering in the fires of hell. The Cathedral of Bologna has shown frescoes of Muhammad in an unfavorable light for centuries.

Why then the extreme reaction to seemingly innocuous events?

In my judgment, Islamic clerics have decided “the final solution,” the triumph of Islam over Christendom is near. Here is the contemporary Crusades fought on a new stage. There will be many battles fought over trifling issues, an insult or perceived incident, that triggers riots.

Why now? A belief is circulating in the Islamic world that a secular West no longer has the will to resist Islamic jihad. In fact, the compromises and willingness to accommodate Islamic factions in European societies are recognized as signs of weakness. The more open and liberal the society, the more likely it is a target for jihad. It is not coincidental that Denmark now faces daily riots or the Netherlands was where a filmmaker, Theo Van Gogh, was murdered on the streets.

For Islamists the moment for a triumphalist campaign has arrived, a moment not unlike the jihad Muhammad launched against the three Jewish tribes in Arabia in the seventh century.

That the West considers this Islamic fanaticism a form of acting out over deplorable conditions faced by Muslims within their borders also plays to Islam’s strength. Believing there must be a rational explanation for seemingly irrational behavior, Western leaders bend over backward to make accommodations. Rarely do leaders conclude the violence is fomented by religious zealotry no liberal concessions can mitigate.

The riots are aimed at breaking Western will. They are a tactic to test the fortitude of the West, to see if there is any religious devotion that can withstand the onslaught. If one considers the feeble response from European capitals, you would have to believe Islamic clerics are right.

Rather than treat the riots as a frontal attack on Christianity, most leaders describe the incidents as aberrational, a function of high unemployment rates or poor housing conditions. Blinded by their liberalism, they cannot appreciate the nature of the assault.

I have heard European analysts say that the rantings of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should not be taken literally. But as I see it that is precisely what we should be doing. His call for martyrdom is in fact a plea for Armageddon. What he says is precisely what the mullahs believe.

With Europe now in disarray on the policy front, with Hamas installed in the Palestinian territory, with Iran on the brink of nuclear weapons acquisition, the signs for the final solution are emerging.

Though the West chooses to deny this clash of civilizations, it is here and all the economic concessions will not make it go away. In fact, any concession is perceived as a reward for violence.

There is a civilizational fatwa metastasizing around the globe in mosques from Hamburg to Tehran, from Nablus to Malmo and from the streets of Copenhagen to the streets of Islamabad. For Muslims, jihad is in the air and the more it manifests itself in orchestrated street theater, the more it will show the weakness of Christianity.

This is fast becoming the test of our age; the challenge to our civilization is now well into Act 1 of a three-act play. How it unfolds remains to be seen. But if the West cannot marshall the spiritual strength to resist, these contemporary Crusades will assuredly end in disaster.

Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of “Decade of Denial” (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2001) and maintains a Web site,

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