To say yes to our question, one assumes that there are aspects of being Muslim and faithful to Islam, that can coexist peacefully with liberty, tolerance, and equality. The strategy that follows is one of identifying the groups and sects within Islam that adhere to these notions of their religion, and then encouraging them, favoring them, propagating them, and splitting them off from the elements of Islamic practice that are all too incompatible with the portions of modernity that invigorate men's souls: free inquiry, free association, free commerce, free worship, or even the freedom to be left alone.
To answer no, one states that Islam itself is fundamentally irreconcilable with freedom. This leads to a wholly different set of tactical moves to isolate free societies from Islam. They might include:
-detention of Muslims, or an abrogation of certain of their rights;
-forced deportation of Muslims from free societies;
-rather than transformative invasions, punitive expeditions and punitive strikes;
-extreme racial profiling;
-limits on the practice and study of Islam in its entirety
And even some extreme measures if free societies find the above moves to be failing:
-forced conversion from Islam, or renunciation;
-extermination of Muslims wherever they are found.
These last are especially ghastly measures. But a society that thought Islam incompatible with freedom might in the long term slip towards them.
As he points out, President Bush has been acting on the basis of a YES answer to the question and our entire strategy in the Middle East is based on it. What is astonishing about this essay is that the author unflichingly looks at the logical consequences that are inherent in answering NO to the question-- and finds them pretty frightening for any civilized person or nation.
This is why Bush has insisted on formulating our strategy based on YES. This is why he has been very circumspect in what he says about Islam and how he characterizes the war. This is why he is so adamantly supportive of the Dubai ports deal -- because the opposition to it does reflect a "tipping point" in which people no longer believe that a moderate, reasonable Islam is possible.
I think the insane reaction of the Muslim world to a bunch of inoffensive Danish cartoons has crossed a threshold; and the free, mostly-tolerant people of the world are finally digging a line in the sand, jutting out their chins, and more or less defiantly daring Muslims to cross it. This explains the inexplicably moderate response of the White House to the cartoons. They must negotiate a path that will still answer YES to the strategic question.
I don't think Muslims will like what they discover about the West if they decide to cross that threshold. They will not be safe behind the PC rhetoric and blustery resort to cries of "victimization" that have protected the extremists thus far in acting out their fantasies of worldwide domination.
As evidence, look at who is doing the most protesting about the Dubai deal. While there are some Republicans in congress who object to it, most of the anger and temper is coming from the Democrats and the left--who fail to see the logical extension of their position (which Chester does).
It may eventually be the case that the West becomes convinced that Islam is unable to change and is completely incompatible with freedom. We are well on our way to that eventuality, sadly. Time and again there have been opportunities for the moderates in the religion to pull it back from its suicidal historical course.
Personally, I am not convinced that Islam can change, but I hope it can, given time.
Time is not on Islam's side, however. Leaders like the Mullahs and Ahmadinejad in Iran and Hamas in Gaza are acting in ways that will facilitate a confrontation. They foolishly believe that the West will back down--if not because of a belief in the superiority of Islam; then from doubts about the superiority of Western values and from a reluctance to act decisively and ruthlessly.
The psychopathic elements in Islam believe this is our fundamental weakness; but they are wrong. This is actually our fundamental strength. President Bush has bet that Islam can be changed if it is infused with some democratic opportunities and freed from some of the political and religious tyranny that has dominated the Middle East. If such a democratizing process had been started--and carried through-- a decade or two earlier, well who knows how much the situation might have changed by now?
And, contrary to the infantile imaginings of the antiwar and so-called "peace" movements, Bush's strategy actually represents the Best. Possible. Hope. For. Peace.
It is a strategy that faces the grim reality of Islamic contradictions and historical brutality; yet has enough optimism and goodwill in it to be genuinely worth the price we are paying. If it works, millions of deaths might be prevented. And if the peace crowd really cares about peace, then they would do well to reconsider their own antics.
Because, if the left succeeds in its determination to undermine American policy as it is now formulated; or if the extremists succeed in eliminating any voices for moderation and tolerance; then there will be only one strategic option open.