You’re having a tough time in what our president likes to call The Muslim World, I know that. Even in Egypt, where you’re 12 or 13% of the population, and where you’ve been living since long before the creation of Islam. Your churches are being torched, your faithful are being killed, your people are headed for exile.
I care a lot about the Copts. Barbara and I — two American Jews — were introduced by a Coptic fashion designer in Rome, a beautiful woman named Isis. She performed a miracle for us; she thought we’d get along well…and we sure have. So my support for you is not just political. It’s personal as well. Romantic, even.
You’re asking for the support of the West against your killers and oppressors. You want American help, and you would like Jewish help too, although not too publicly, lest your killers cite it as additional justification for their acts. We’ll try to help. But we’d be in a stronger position if you’d fought on our side when the same gang of thugs threw us out of Arab lands. But you didn’t. Not you Copts, not your hundreds of millions of Christian brothers and sisters. You know the famous Bonhoeffer quote, don’t you? It’s all too appropriate for you today:
First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.
So there you are. Bonhoeffer joined the failed conspiracy against Hitler, and was executed. His terrible confession can be echoed by a sea of new victims, all guilty of an awful sin of omission, the sin of remaining silent while others are being mudered or brutalized. That sin, as you and your brethren know all too well today, has terrible consequences, that go far beyond feelings of guilt and expressions of remorse. It costs even more lives.
We hear echoes of Bonhoeffer in the words of Maziar Bahari, a one-time Newsweek contributor in Tehran, when he was thrown into the ghastly prisons of the Iranian tyrants:
I thought I had done everything I could to avoid the suffering that Maryam, and my father before her, went through as political prisoners, and yet the authorities came for me shortly after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial reelection in 2009.…I had taken every precaution to stay below the radar. But my time had come, and they tortured me for 118 days before I was released because of a global campaign spearheaded by my wife….
Bahari lived to write his prison memoirs, even as his employer, Newsweek magazine, often pumped out all manner of anti-American disinformation, as the infamous libel according to which American soldiers threw a Koran down a toilet.
Notice why Bahari’s life was spared: “a global campaign spearheaded by my wife.” She, at least, fought back, and she found others willing to fight alongside her. That’s the way it works. It’s easier to find allies when they can see you’re on the battlefield. It’s a lot harder if you’re just making the “moral case” and begging to be saved.
There is every reason to believe that your — our — current fight will end well, because our enemies are hollow bullies who aren’t very brave and have mastered the art of declaring victory while retreating. Remember Moshe Dayan’s line shortly after the 6-Day War, when someone asked him to compare the victorious Israeli armies with the great armed forces of the past, including Caesar and Alexander? “Nobody knows,” he dryly remarked, “we only fight Arabs.”
It’s politically incorrect to say such things, current sensibilities (according to which all cultures are entitled to the same quantum of respect) being what they are, and the same goes for what I’m about to say. But we’re in a war, and it behooves us to see the battlefield as clearly as possible. So hold on tight:
–The “Arab Street” doesn’t exist, and the Arab world — especially those parts of it that are calling for our decimation — is largely a collection of failed states. It’s hard to see how your country, Egypt, can survive, for example. Just listen to Spengler.
–It’s not just Arabs clamoring for our blood; other Muslims are playing the same deadly game. The Persians are pounding their chests and inveighing against the Great Satan (America) and his lesser demons (Israel, Christians, Jews, Bahai’i, et. al.). But when somebody gives them a push, they run for the safety of Great Mother Persia. Just look at what happened in Bahrain: the Saudis (hardly a military superpower) sent some troops to defend her neighbor against an Iranian-inspired insurrection. The Iranians promised blood in the streets. And then they ran away.
–The Iranians don’t send their own men to fight; they send Arabs to die for them (a great example of “leadidng from behind,” by the way). They only show “courage” when it comes to slaughtering their own democratic protesters, and that’s the phony courage of the bully. The regime is a collection of losers, men who have wrecked their country, who were defeated — alongside their al-Qaeda proxies — in Iraq, and who have masterfully provoked a remarkable unity of condemnation from a normally squabbling “international community.”
–Nobody really likes them. Those who say they do are either frightened of being blown up or climbing on what they perceive to be the chariot of the winners.
–Finally, despite their once-impressive cultural heritage, the Muslims have a unique capacity for screwing up their attacks on us. A lot of Americans and Europeans are alive today because of the blessed incompetence of would-be terrorists. These are people who set THEIR OWN UNDERWEAR on fire, who can’t get a car bomb to explode in Times Square, no matter how much training they get in Iran or Pakistan.
So we can win this thing, and the really good news is that we don’t have to take up arms to do it. Our greatest weapon is your greatest dream: freedom. Your freedom is linked to the freedom of the Syrians and the Iranians. If those regimes come down, their successors are not likely to pursue jihad against infidels like us; indeed the Iranian opposition has said just that. With Assad, Khomeini, and Ahmadinejad off the board, the terror armies will shrivel up. Their training camps will be gone, along with their primary source of lethal weapons, not to mention their money. Quo vadis, Hezballah? What are you going to do, Hamas and Islamic Jihad? Where will you go now, all you bin Ladens?
We can win a war by political means. We did it at the same time the maniacs took power in Iran, the fateful year of 1979. Just ask Comrade Gorbachev, whose mighty Soviet Empire expired without so much as a cannon fired in either anger or despair.
So when you talk to those cautious men and women in Congress and the executive branch, say to them that we must win the war in order for you to survive, that it’s a big war, not just a matter of Copts in Egypt, that the United States can bring down the terror masters in Damascus and Tehran (yes, and in Islamabad too, but that will get a lot easier after the downfall of the Syrian and Iranian tyrants) far more easily than it brought down the Soviet Empire, and that you will engage in this war, you will not just pray for victory. You’ll fight for it.
Good luck. To all of us.
UPDATE: I am pretty well convinced that the “first they came for the Communists” quotation came from Niemoller, not Bonhoffer. Like so many bons mots, it is maddeningly difficult to pin down, because in all likelihood is was something Niemoller said–not wrote–after the war, on a visit to Dachau in 1946. Later on, it took on a more elegant poetic form, but both the actual words and the author are still in some dispute. Its relevance to the current unpleasantness is manifest, whoever said it or wrote it. Many thanks to many readers who took the time to write; I’ve had several enjoyable conversations with scholars as a result of the commenters’ prodding.