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Are jihadis “losers”?

Islam must undertake a far-reaching internal reform, which purifies the faith and leads Islam to develop, from within its own resources, a case for religious tolerance and political pluralism.

( Seleznyov)

When I first visited Israel in 1988, my friend Professor Menahem Milson, a distinguished Arabist at Hebrew University who was Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s military aide during Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem in 1977, told me that “you have to meet my friend, Colonel Yigal Carmon.” Carmon worked in the Israeli Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv; I had a very busy schedule in Jerusalem and around Galilee; so I tried to decline. Menahem insisted and I finally agreed to spend a morning in Tel Aviv. It was one of the most fruitful surrenders of my life.

It turned out that Yigal was the advisor on counter-terrorism to the Israeli Prime Minister, and when I went to his office in what I remember as the basement of the Ministry of Defense, he was handling three telephones simultaneously; on each of them, he made life-and-death decisions, daily, sometimes even hourly, about reported terrorist plots: Was the report reliable? What could be done about the threat? Who was to be put in harm’s way? We talked for over an hour, during which the phones interrupted us several times. I left deeply impressed by his remarkable calm, his fluent Arabic (a trait he shared with Milson), and the extraordinary nature of his job, to which, in that pre-9/11 world, there was no real analogue, save perhaps in an MI-5 office dealing with Northern Ireland.

Two years later, I was in town for what turned out to be the last meeting of the Jerusalem Committee, an international advisory panel to Mayor Teddy Kollek.  Our meetings ended and, as Yigal had a rare day off, he invited me to go with him to Masada, Herod the Great’s massive fortress.

It was September 1, 1990, and tourists had fled Israel in droves, Saddam Hussein having helped himself to Kuwait a month previously. When we got to Masada, the parking lot was empty, save for a bus carrying tourists from American evangelicaldom. We rode up the funicular to the top of the great plateau together and then went our separate ways. Yigal, unfamiliar with the ways of some goys, asked me in a puzzled voice, “What are they doing here? Everyone else has left.” I explained that these good folk probably thought that, with war imminent, they’d lucked into a front-row seat at the Battle of Armageddon. So they were staying put.

Over some three decades of friendship and collaboration, I’ve come to think of Yigal Carmon as the contemporary reincarnation of an ancient Stoic. He is completely tone-deaf religiously: not hostile to religious belief, perhaps even admiring it in others, but incapable of it himself. Yet he is a man of the utmost moral seriousness, determined to see things as they are and to live in an ethically rigorous way, according to the norms of justice we can know by reason. So in a world increasingly dominated by irrationalism, he is very much worth listening to.

Since 1998, Yigal has been the driving force behind MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, whose self-defined goal is to “bridge the language gap between the Middle East and the West” by providing translations of materials originally appearing in the Arabic, Farsi, Dari, Urdu, Pashto, Turkish, and Russian media into English, French, Polish, Japanese, Spanish, and Hebrew.

In a recent MEMRI Daily Brief, Yigal, taking exception to one of President Trump’s bombastic characterizations of terrorists, wrote that “the jihadis who perpetrate these horrific crimes are neither losers nor nihilists….these perpetrators, by the standards of their own belief, are virtuous people…” That means that the only long-term answer to the bloody borders between “Islam and the rest” – borders than now reach deeply into Western societies – is for Islam to undertake a far-reaching internal reform, which purifies the faith and leads Islam to develop, from within its own resources, a case for religious tolerance and political pluralism: “a Muslim aggiornamento…along the lines of the reforms introduced by Pope John XXIII.”

Thus informed by both his Stoic ethic and his long experience in trying to thwart terrorist violence while helping the West understand it, my friend Yigal Carmon has come to precisely the same conclusion as Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis – Islam must develop and propagate an Islamic case against terrorist violence. It won’t be easy. But it must be done.

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About George Weigel 478 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. Not a chance; the massive contradictions in Islam and reason rejected for the last fourteen centuries.

    As the defensive Crusades found out in defeat, the Muslims really do mean “convert or die” and are indifferent to historical evidence or methods of practice regarding their faith.

    • The funniest example of delusion is the occasion when Pope Francis invited a rabbi and an imam to the Vatican to say prayers for peace. Sadly, this touchy-feelie exercise in love and brotherhood went wrong when the imam departed from the script and prayed for the triumph of Islam. He was being entirely logical; true peace will reign only when the whole world submits to Sharia law.
      I don’t know how many appeals for the reform of Islam I have read. Sometimes they come from well-meaning and sincere westernised Muslims who really believe that you can have an Islam which allows freedom of religion, freedom of speech, equality for women, etc. Then you get some party pooper like el-Tayeb, the Chief Imam of Al-Azhar in Cairo. After assuring Pope Francis that Islam is a religion of peace, he went home to Cairo and repeated the ancient call that unrepentant apostates be put to death. And this guy is allegedly a “moderate”, with a PhD in Islamic Philosophy from Paris. Check out some of the graduates of Pakistani Islamic schools to see how much moderation Christians can expect in other parts of the world.

  2. Mr. Weigel is an naive as the popes he venerates. This article can be summarized: “Islam must cease being Islam.” This ridiculous, wishful thinking puts the burden on Muslims for saving us from the scourge of Islam. The reality is that the preservation of Western Culture depends on us. Muslims must be converted. Islam must be defeated. Christianity must be lived and preached. The Vatican today – and especially Bergoglio – will be of no help with this program.

  3. How about simply Islam must convert?

    Why on earth do we even have a pope and a Vatican, if they can’t even get that right?

  4. A Muslim aggiornamento? Wouldn’t it be better to drop the Catholic aggiornamento and return to the faith of the Church, the faith of the “Church Militant” as it was before the distortion and craziness known as Vatican II fell upon us? The Islamization of the West will not be stopped by secularists or the cafetaria Catholics of Vatican II and their inverted Mass.

  5. So who is saying Islam needs an updating like Vatican II? The analogy is more than half-baked…pre-conciliar Catholicism was not a terrorist outfit. What an insult to the Faith!

  6. What is hilarious and tragic is that this Yigal fellow’s base premise (which Weigel implicitly accepts) is that the aggiornamento of Vatican II transformed the true Catholic faith into something else — something stripped of its essence and more palatable to the non-Catholic world.

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  1. Are jihadis “losers”? - Catholic Daily
  2. Are jihadis “losers”? - Catholic Crossing

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