Will the Muslim Hedgehog Defeat the Western Fox?

By Raymond Ibrahim Published on October 14, 2023

One of the reasons that so many Muslims around the world, who ostensibly have nothing to do with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, are so exuberant at Hamas’s savage slaughter of Israelis is that Muslims have a sense of collective “purpose.”

As strange, or even offensive, as this claim may seem, allow me to explain.

Muslims around the world are inspired by the otherwise atrocious deeds of Hamas precisely because “most Muslims, unlike most Americans, have an intense historical awareness and see current events in a much deeper and broader perspective than we normally do,” to quote historian Bernard Lewis.

Centuries of Victories Over a Sleeping West

Indeed, for millions of Muslims, Hamas’s victorious jihad falls squarely in line with centuries of victorious jihads, all the way back to the prophet of Islam, Muhammad.

Added to the strong Muslim sense of history is the equally strong Muslim understanding that Islam — meaning “our tribe” — seeks power and supremacy over all that is un-Islamic (meaning, “the other”). Conversely, being under “infidel” authority, with Palestinians under Israeli rule being the prime example, is an insufferable humiliation that must end and be avenged.

Needless to say, such impulses are intuitively understood by even the most ignorant or illiterate Muslim because they accord with the basest human instincts, which naturally seek to grab power and avoid subjugation.

Thus, Muslims are motivated by their strong sense of history — one of nonstop, jihadist conquests — and their instinctive, all too human, desire for power (with the one complementing the other).

We Apologize for Existing

Then there is the West. To say that Muslims “have an intense historical awareness and see current events in a much deeper and broader perspective than we normally do” is to put it very mildly. If Muslims are aware of and regularly celebrate their jihadist past, the West does everything to forget and whitewash over a millennium of Muslim atrocities. Instead, we highlight, pull out of context, and continuously condemn the deeds of our own ancestors, such as the Crusaders.

This inability to appreciate true history, including its continuity, at least from the Muslim side, has naturally spilled into how the West understands — that is, completely misunderstands — current events. The West has insisted on a lie: that Islam was historically a peaceful and tolerant religion. So it naturally cannot understand the ideology that fuels modern day jihadist aggression. Instead it always allots it to something else, “grievances” being the default pretext.

Fill in the Grievance

Thus, Hamas’s true motivation consists of “grievances” against Israel. So, too, al-Qaeda: the 9/11 strikes were fueled by “grievances” against America — absurdly including the U.S.’s failure to sign the environmentalist Kyoto protocol.

Most recently, thousands of Muslims in Pakistan rioted and attacked Christians and destroyed and/or torched over 25 churches and 400 Christian homes because a random Christian was (falsely) accused of burning a Koran. Before that, in France, thousands of Muslims rioted, destroyed property, and attacked churches, because they were aggrieved that a policeman shot and killed a Muslim lawbreaker.

In short, a “narrative” — something “new” — is needed to present each and every outburst by Muslims, which number in the hundreds or thousands every year.

“His Motive May Never Be Known”

As for those many other acts of Muslim violence that are too difficult to chalk up to “grievances” — such as the persecution (sometimes genocide) of Christians in virtually every Muslim nation; systematic, daily attacks on European churches; and sexual assaults on or grooming of infidel women — these are simply not discussed because they are, for historically amnesiac Westerners, “inexplicable.”

This, incidentally, is also why every single Muslim terror attack — most recently, Hamas’s on Israel — is seen as something “new,” a disparate phenomenon to be understood on its own, with an endless supply of media talking heads “explaining” (often wrongly) what should otherwise be commonsensical.

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Much of this dichotomy is captured by a fragment from the ancient Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Discussing the significance of this obscure aphorism in his The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953), Isaiah Berlin, wrote:

There exists a great chasm between those, on one side, [Hedgehogs/Muslims] who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel – a single, universal, organising principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance – and, on the other side, those [Foxes/Westerners] who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related to no moral or aesthetic principle.

An online article offers a more simplistic definition:

If you adopt fox-like thinking you rely on various pieces of information to form your view on an issue and think about it from different angles. You’re also willing to admit when you’re uncertain. But if you have more of a hedgehog mindset, you develop your world views and predictions with a central, overarching principle in mind and talk about your views with more confidence.

Thus, the Muslim’s “hedgehog” strength lays in the fact that he sees the world, and his place in it, according to one big idea — namely, Islam. As for the Western “fox,” nothing is connected. There is no overarching understanding; everything is “nuanced” and often understood in a vacuum — hence why everything is “new” and presented as the news — never part of an inevitable continuum.

From here, it should be clear why the hedgehog ultimately prevails — unless, of course, the fox gets his act together in time.


Raymond Ibrahim, author of Defenders of the West and Sword and Scimitar is the Distinguished Senior Shillman Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and the Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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