It is an oft-stated meme in certain circles that Western Civilization is currently engaged in a great religious war -- without being willing to admit the fact. There is, I think, I certain degree of truth to this, though it's often vastly overstated. It's true that the roots of the 'war on terror' are religious more than they are political. And certainly, that's a fact that no Western leader wants to admit out loud, assuming they understand it in the first place.
What I'm less clear on is whether there lies in the hearts of Islamist leaders a desire to overtly attack Western religion as well as Western secular culture. Certainly, historically there had. If there isn't now, it's probably not because of any desire for ecumentical dialogue so much as out of a belief that Western religion has curled up and quietly died in the face of the 'great satan' of secular culture.
The other day a friend was worring out loud that an Islamist assassination attempt against Benedict XVI might not be far off. I pray not. But if it happened, I can't help wondering what would follow. (Harry Turtledove, call your office.)
I remember sitting up at 2am local time watching the inauguration mass of Benedict XVI, seeing so many world leaders assembled in St. Peter's Square and wondering: Does some fanatic out there have access to ballistic missiles that work better than the ones North Korea has to sell? What would happen to the world if fire rained down on St. Peter's square, taking the pope, nearly all the cardinals, and a wide assortment of world leaders off the face of the earth in one fell swoop. (It seems like I read somewhere that before 9-11 one of the various ideas that was discussed by Al Qaeda was destroying the Vatican.)
Nothing happened, of course. But I can't help wondering what would happen if it did. Or if some Al Qaeda-affiliated group assassinated the pope in less spectacular fashion. However many thousands of millions of us were willing to sign up, would any major country be willing to take that as a pretext for a war? And, even if so, whom would we wage war against -- in a Middle Eastern political landscape where all real governments carefully maintain plausible deniability about such things, however much they may approve of them.
One prays we'll never find out.
But in the meantime I've got a copy of An Introduction to Persian lurking in my Amazon cart, and try to keep my physical fitness up to enlistmen standards... As the boy scouts always told us, it never hurts to be prepared. Maybe the Knight of Malta will become a military order again before all is said and done...