Andrew McCarthy’s Guide for the Perplexed
Do you wonder what the hell happened in Libya? Right after our ambassador and three other Americans were murdered by that “spontaneous” uprising in Benghazi by people who just happened to be armed with RPGs, know the layout of our safe house, and who congregated on — let’s see, oh, right, it was on September 11, what do you know! — right after that, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed surprise: after all, hadn’t we helped “liberate” the Libyans from the monster Gaddafi and made way for . . . for what? Oh, right, for the “Arab Spring”!
I think that the administration’s response to the crisis in Libya might be the coup de grace for Obama’s reelection bid. In my view, Romney would have won anyway. I’ve been saying that for months. The president’s record on the economy is just too catastrophic to win him another term. And this, remember, is the first time in his life that this president has had to run on his record, on what he has actually accomplished, as distinct from his “charisma.” But what happened in Libya — and, more to the point, how the administration has twisted, turned, equivocated, and lied about what happened and what its initial response to the crisis was — that is likely to put the final nail in the coffin of Obama’s reelection bid. As Mark Steyn pointed out in a devastating column:
In those first moments of the attack, a request for military back-up was made by U.S. staff on the ground but was denied by Washington. It had planes and Special Forces less than 500 miles away in southern Italy – or about the same distance as Washington to Boston. They could have been there in less than two hours. Yet the commander-in-chief declined to give the order. So Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods fought all night against overwhelming odds, and died on a rooftop in a benighted jihadist hell hole while Obama retired early to rest up before his big Vegas campaign stop.
How do you spin that, Mr. President?
But I digress. I brought up Libya in the first place because it presents yet another example of what is one of the biggest foreign policy, nay, existential challenges the West faces: the challenge, that is to say, of Islam.
At the end of his book America Alone, Mark Steyn suggests that, when it comes to its encounter with Islam, the West has three choices: acquiescence, annihilation, or enlightenment. We can acquiesce and become good Muslims or dhimmis; we can engage in armed conflict with a theocratic Islam; or we can work to segregate the secular currents that buoy many Muslims from the ideological imperatives that direct so much of the Muslim population. The only palatable alternative, it should be clear, is the last. But in order to pursue it, we have to be clear about what it is we are dealing with.
There is a great deal of nonsense spouted about Islam, from the corridors of Western power just as much as from the opinion columns of the commentariat. The Bush administration’s insistence, for example, that Islam was fundamentally a religion of peace was misguided public-relations claptrap. Nor does it help, as Andrew McCarthy forcefully points out in a must-read column today, to suggest that Islam is “not a religion,” as some conservatives have done. The real issue, as Andy notes, “ is ideology, not religion.” He goes on to make a critical point:
The distinction is worth drawing because, for the most part, Islamist terror is not fueled by Muslim zealousness for Islam’s religious tenets — for instance, “the oneness of Allah.” We Westerners recognize such beliefs as belonging to the realm of religion or spirituality. To the contrary, Islamist terror is driven by the supremacism and totalitarianism of Middle Eastern Islam — i.e., by the perception of believers that they are under a divine injunction to impose all of Islam’s tenets.
We in the West are puzzled by Islam because, having been brought up to believe in religious freedom, we are confronted by this specious syllogism:
- We believe in religious freedom;
- Islam is a religion;
- Ergo, we must respect and protect that which goes under the name of Islam.
This is a version of the fundamental antinomy of liberalism, which moves from a belief in tolerance to an acceptance of ideologies (like communism, say) that demand tolerance for the “point of view” that we should be destroyed and replaced by a different way of looking at the world.
Christianity at its core makes room for the secular realm (“render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”) in a way that Islam does not (everyone and everything always and everywhere is subject to the will of Allah). That difference is critical. It does not mean that we in the West deny the pertinence of religious and moral tenets for everyday life. As Andy puts it, “the fact that we separate church and state in the West does not mean our moral sense is without influence — indeed, profound influence — over how we conduct secular affairs. But in the West, we reject the notion that any religious belief system’s tenets should control those affairs. In the United States, we reject the establishment of a state religion — such official primacy would suffocate freedom of conscience, a bedrock of liberty.”
The operation of this fundamental moral economy works in a very different way in Islam. “By contrast,” Andy points out:
The foundation of Middle Eastern Islam is submission to Allah’s law, not individual liberty. This interpretation of Islam thus rejects a division between the secular and the spiritual. Its sharia system contemplates totalitarian control. That makes Islamist ideology (i.e., Islamic supremacism, or what is sometimes more elliptically called “political Islam”) just another totalitarian ideology, albeit one that happens to have a religious veneer.
There are thus two things to bear in mind:
- “Islamist ideology . . . [is] just another totalitarian ideology."
- Islam’s theological tenets “are every bit as deserving of the First Amendment’s guarantees as any other.”
The price of that guarantee, however, is assimilation:
Muslims must accept that, in America and the West, it is not Islam but our traditions — especially the separation of church and state — that set the parameters of religious liberty. This way, Islam, the religion, is protected, but Islamic supremacism, the totalitarian ideology, is not. The latter undeniably draws on Islamic scripture, but it is categorically akin to Communism or National Socialism, not to religious creeds.
It is often said that the first step towards solving a problem is acknowledging that there is a problem and having the courage to call it by its real name. We Western liberals have a difficult time doing that. We habitually extend to others the benefit of the doubt, the latitude of tolerance, the dispensation that assumes all are, at bottom, freedom-loving creatures with domestic concerns akin to our own.
This is dangerously naïve and wrongheaded. Exactly how wrongheaded can be summed up in a single word: sharia, i.e., Islamic law. They — hundreds of millions of Muslims — want it, we do not. Al-Qaeda wants to impose sharia the world over. But it is not just al-Qaeda. “Non-violent Islamists also want to impose sharia, “ as Andy notes, “that’s why they’re Islamists.” Moreover:
These reputedly non-violent Islamists are not a “small minority” — they may be a majority of the world’s Muslims, and they are certainly a majority of the Middle East’s Muslims. They are al-Qaeda’s ideological allies, and, truth be told, they’re not really all that non-violent: They generally disagree with al-Qaeda’s attacks on Muslims and on non-Muslim countries, but they are supportive of violence against what they take to be non-Muslim aggressors in what they consider Islamic territories. Indeed, the sharia to which they adhere requires financial support (zakat) for those fighting in Allah’s cause.
The bottom line? “Sharia is the tie that binds terrorists to all other Islamists.” We in the West will never get a handle on the problem of Islam — the problem that this deeply illiberal ideology poses for our civilization — until we acknowledge the true dimensions of the problem we’re dealing with. Neville Chamberlain thought that Hitler was a man he “could do business with.” He was wrong about that, with unfortunate consequences. Had he straight off acknowledged the true nature of the threat Hitler represented, he might have saved the world, and not least the Germans, a great deal of unpleasantness.
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