On August 24, 1572, St. Bartholomew's Day, the Huguenots, the Protestants of Paris, were massacred by the soldiers of the French crown, by the nobles of the Guise faction, and by their own neighbors. The death toll reportedly ran into the tens of thousands. The then-Pope had a medal struck to celebrate and commemorate the downfall of the Huguenots: in public, at least, the Vatican then showed the same glee over the megadeaths as Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants showed over the mass-murder of more than 5000 people who happened to be in the World Trade Center at the wrong time. And of course, there were the atrocities on the other side: consider the systematic slaughter by Protestant English garrisons in Ireland of castaways from the wreck of the Spanish Armada of 1588; consider the rapes and murders committed by the largely Protestant landsknechts in 1527 during the sack of Rome; consider the Protestant Roundhead soldiers who used the stained-glass windows of Canterbury Cathedral for target practice--spiritual brothers of the members of the Taliban who destroyed the more than a millennium-old Buddhist rock sculptures of Bamiyan for sport.
If we have thought about it, we have given thanks that we have been spared the burden of living in the Age of the Protestant Reformation. But now we fear that we have been doomed, instead, to live in the Age of the Islamic Reformation. The parallels are striking: a dominant clergy and aristocracy that seem to have lost their way and succumbed to materialism; a rising literate middle class; the mass distribution of personal copies of the Holy Book so that people can read it and think for themselves; and then terror, as those who have convinced themselves that they bear the will of God take action, and people fight and die. In Europe it lasted for more than 120 years--with one third of the population of Germany dying in the 30 Years War--before nearly everyone learned that reading ones private copy of the Holy Book did not make one the vessel of the will of God, and that waging Holy War was not a way to save the souls of others, but a way to lose ones own.
So what can be done to accelerate the process of social learning? If the parallel with Europe's Reformation holds true, the process will take four full generations. What can be done so that it will take onlyone generation before those who would otherwise become our latter-day Puritans and terrorists recognize that the ideology of "Believe in a loving God, infidel, or die!" is no way to approach the world? The U.S. and other governments seek to establish the principle that governments that sponsor wholesale terrorism that creates megadeaths do not long survive. This is a principle worth establishing, but to properly establish it requires military power and intervention forces that can carry out their missions with minimal cost in civilian lives.
All governments are stepping up their systems of surveillance and security, trying to guard and shield those places in our societies that are particularly vulnerable to mass terror. All governments should seek to diminish potential flashpoints: if there were only 1/10 as many Israeli settlers on the wrong side of the 1967 border, there would be fewer potential suicide bombers--1/100? 1/10? 1/3?--and the pit out of which we must climb would be less deep. But to those who know that the will of God requires the abolition of Israel as well as of the successor states of the Ottoman Empire, the root offense would remain.
Thus military and political solutions--which must be pursued--are unlikely to be complete or comprehensive. Osama bin Laden is probably correct to think that his struggle will outlast him, and that there are dozens if not hundreds prepared to step into his shoes. In the final analysis, the same forces will bring an end to the current atrocities that brought an end to the atrocities of the Age of the Reformation in Europe: despair at the awful consequences of the past generation of religious war, contact with others who think differently to bring about a recognition that ones own interpretation of the Holy Book is quite probably wrong, and is surely not cause to kill anyone, growing economic prosperity, and wise and tolerant leadership.
On the political side it is clear what we need. We need an Italian Prime Minister who will remember the role played by Medieval Islam in the development and transmission of the knowledge of Classical Antiquity. We need a U.S. president who will remember the root meaning of "crusade" before he uses the word, and will have a wiser approach to dealing with the aftermath and consequences of U.S. military operations than that contained in the offhand remark that "we don't do nation-building." Political and military action needs to prevent future atrocities, punish criminals, and deter states, but not to declare war on entire peoples or to wage crusades.
On the economic side it is equally clear what we need. In Europe, the descendants of the fanatics of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation were offered a stake in a developing, more prosperous, expanding world. The more tolerant states were magnets drawing migrant craftsmen and merchants in. The less tolerant lost productive workers and entrepreneurs by the hundreds of thousands with the expulsion of the Jews and Moriscos from Spain, and of the Huguenots from France. As Albert Hirschman has pointed out, the eighteenth century was full of observations from Voltaire, Johnson, and others that increasing commerce made people "sweet"--that it led to a broadness of mind and a focus on how each could benefit from successful trade that did not fit with the denial of others' humanity necessary to wage holy war.
Today, however, it is not clear to many just how they benefit from the world's economic and political order. The gaps between rich and poor across the world are far greater than in any previous generation, and there are only a few muddied indications that the world will draw together over the next few generations. It is conventional in the industrial core today to blame development failures on the corruption and the incompetence of developing-country governments, and possibly on cultures badly aligned with the requirements of modern machine production. But this is at best a half-truth. Developing-country governments have on balance done a very bad job of climbing the cliff, but the industrial core has not let down many ropes for them to grasp.
For example, consider that in the 1970s Bangladesh was viewed by many as a country whose economic development was bound to be unsuccessful. By the start of the 1980s, however, Bangladesh had a thriving and rapidly-growing export-oriented textile industry. How long did it take before the Reagan administration slapped quotas on the importation of textile from Bangladesh? Five years. Today--fifteen years later--the economic development of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and many others continues to be hobbled by first-world quotas on textile exports that create unemployment and depress incomes.
As WTO head Michael Moore said more than a year ago, it is now the turn of the industrial core to deliver on its promises of market access to the developing world. The industrial core has obtained the safeguards for overseas investment, the rights of its firms to national treatment, and the protection of its intellectual property that it sought. Now it must fulfill its part of the deal: to provide demand for the products of the farms factories of the rest of the world world as it develops.
That, however, has been slow in coming. Where is the willingness of the industrial core to accept--to encourage--the large-scale imports of agricultural and textile products necessary for economic development to succeed in the next generation, and not four generations from now? Where is the recognition that the successful economic development of the world is essential for the long-run national security of even the strongest nation in the industrial core?
When governments cannot provide the very basics--law and order, education, hospitals, famine relief, the promise of a job, the promise of a standard of living better than ones parents saw--false prophets who promise a Puritan paradise and the imminent arrival of the reign of God have an easy time finding followers for their message. Nation-building cannot be something we "don't do." Nation-building and economy-building must be at the very heart of the long-run enterprise.
As Harvard's Jessica Stern put it in her testimony last September in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Governmental Reform: "When we talk about Pearl Harbor, we should also be thinking of a Marshall Plan."