There seems to be a bipartisan political consensus not to examine the subject of political Islam publicly. It is the most verboten of foreign policy subjects. But like other "open secrets", its exclusion from formal discussion doesn't banish it from public consciousness. It merely pushes it underground, like Barack Obama's middle name.
The key problem with subjecting the question of political Islam to debate is that every other conclusion except that of regarding it as a "religion of peace" implies consequences no one dares face. Concluding that Islam is a 'religion of war' would precipitate a revolution in diplomacy, energy policy and military strategy. It's a bottle of nitro nobody wants to shake; it's a can of worms nobody wants to open: not a Republican administration and most especially not a Democratic one.
Explosive questions such as this are as likely to be resolved by events as by debate. To a very great extent the West is genuinely hoping that Islam is a "religion of peace"; and I suspect many Muslims are too. Unfolding events will resolve the issue -- and perceptions -- one way or the other. Ten years from today we'll have a better understanding of the truth.
Wretchard refers to himself as an "agnostic" on the subject, willing to let events unfold so that the truth (as it usually does) will out. [Read it all].
Some time back, The Adventures of Chester took a long hard look at this very issue--which is really the key strategic issue of our times, if you will. Chester phrased it thusly: Is Islam compatible with a free society?
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.
Chester points out that President Bush has been acting on the basis of a YES answer to the question and our entire strategy in the Middle East is contingent upon it. What is most astonishing about the 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.
It is no wonder that the "bipartisan political consensus" chooses to flinch for the time being. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that it is part of the unconscious appeal of a candidate like Barack Hussein Obama who--whether he likes it or not-- appeals on many levels to the hope that we can all get along.
Bush has consistently formulated our strategy in Iraq, Afghanistan and the larger war on terror 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 never even mentioned the word "Islam" in his SOTU address and why he does things like dancing with the Saudis that enrage both conservative and leftist. His entire Presidency has aimed at preventing a "tipping point" beyond which people no longer believe that a moderate, reasonable Islam is possible.
It is maddening to those who believe that there is probably no such animal.
Post 9/11, the first hint of that was the insane reaction of the Muslim world to a bunch of inoffensive Danish cartoons. Repeatedly, the larger Muslim world--in Palestine, in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Iran, in Indonesia-- crosses that threshold where reasonable people can separate Islam from its growing number of fanatics; and many in the free 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 many of Islamisms greatest obscenities in the last seven years. . Bush stubbornly believes that he must negotiate a path that will still answer YES to the strategic question.
I don't think Muslims around the world 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.
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, Hezbollah in Lebanon; and the remnants of Al Qaeda and the Taliban all seem to desire catastrophic 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.
As events in the middle east unfold; as we witness the desperate suicide bombers and mindless hate that daily disrupts any kind of a normal life for Iraqis in Baghdad; as we witness the Frankenstein-like rise of the fanatical and murdering Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan--it is hard not to conclude that the answer to the strategic question is NO.
Islam itself seems more and more incompatible with Western values; even antithetical to them. But still, we could live with that if they were not hell-bent on converting us to their medieval religion or alternatively, killing all infidels who refuse their path. The Mullahs and Imans; the fanatics and barbarians; the petty despots and tyrannical kings of Islam around the world-- are all united in their evil vision for all of mankind--and no olive branch; no amount of appeasement; and no appeal to reason and good will seems capable of bringing them into the fold of humankind.
Andy McCarthy voiced many people's frustration when he wrote:
We've been told for some time now — against common sense and the weight of our own national experience — that the way to defeat international jihadism is to spread democracy.
So now the Lebanese democracy can't control Hezbollah (which has been freely elected and controls about a fifth of its legislature), while the Palestinian Authority IS Hamas (the Palestinian people having democratically put them in power).
How much do we figure that Israel is hoping democracy breaks out in Egypt, with the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad waiting in the wings? All it needs right about now is yet another democratic neighbor.
Democracy has many enduring benefits, but it doesn't stop terrorists from operating — and in many ways, it makes life easier for them. When are we going to stop talking about it as a national security cure-all?
We have to kill al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and the rest. This is harder work than the administration's rhetoric is preparing the nation for. We are not going to democratize these savages into submission.
America continues to find homegrown terrorists on our own free soil. Some of these pathetic people have had the benefits of freedom and choice for their entire lives--but the poison of Islam is strong, and they are determined--along with their Islamic brothers--to destroy any free country that stands in the way of their vision.
They hate America because, where there is freedom, their oppressive beliefs can never be more than in the minority. When people are free to choose, and not killed for apostasy for not choosing Islam, they will be unable to force their beliefs on others. Until Islam itself comes to terms with that reality, it will only be just another thuggish totalitarian ideology. Just as socialism and communism were the 20th century's worse nightmare, so Islam is set to become the 21st century's.
After two world wars, humanity had pretty much rid itself of the bane of socialism and its more immature sibling communism. Only to see it rise up again, hanging on the coattails of Islam.
I hope I am wrong about all this, because many lives are in the balance. I am open to a debate about these issues. But, every day that passes seems to give more and more credibility to the NO answer.
Even the dhimmist bulb in the EU; the most deliberately and consciously delusional member of the international peace crowd cannot fail to see the lack of good will; the perverse determination to provoke war; and the genocidal glint in the eyes of Islam's brightest stars.
It is possible that the introduction of the seeds of democracy and freedom will make a difference in the years to come. There are some hopeful signs--in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example. Like Wretchard, I will wait and see.
Will it be enough? I don't know yet. But I will give President Bush full credit if it works out; and a great deal of credit even if it doesn't. Because his audacious vision was and is still the only one that may bring the hope of freedom and the promise of prosperity to a dysfunctional, barbaric and backward part of the world.