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Recognizing Radical Islam as Our Enemy: Lessons From the Cold War

Let us no longer speculate about the motive for the actions of the Tsarnaev brothers: despite growing up in the United States, both became adherents of radical Islam. This truth, in our politically correct age, we are not supposed to mention. To do so in liberal circles is to be accused of Islamophobia. Ignoring the truth, however, is no protection against the consequences of an extremist radical ideology.

The most interesting tidbit on Sunday's 60 Minutes was an interview with the late Tamerlan’s neighbor, who revealed a conversation he had with him about Islam. Tamerlan told the young man that the Bible was nothing but a warmed-over Koran, and that the United States was an oppressor of not only Muslims, but of Africans and Third World peoples. America, he said, was a “colonizing power.” This point of view, as we all know, is not only held by Islamists, but is commonplace among many living in Cambridge, MA, affectionately known as “The People’s Republic of Cambridge.” Growing up in the most radical of American communities, that point of view was an accepted shibboleth among many of the Tsarnaev brothers’ friends and associates. Combined with a growing attachment to Islamic tenets, it became a lethal one.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey (2007-2009) warns that our FBI, now in charge of the interrogation of the surviving younger brother Dzhokhar, “has blowdlerized its training materials to exclude references to militant Islamism.” Mukasey wonders whether this “delicacy” has also infected the FBI’s top-level interrogation group.

Let us not forget that when radical Islamist Major Nidal Hasan went on his rampage at Fort Hood in November of 2009, the government report called his action “workplace violence,” refusing to even term it a terrorist action. With the Tsarnaev brothers, it will be much harder to repeat this error. Due to diligent reporting, the world now knows about their social media sites, their visiting of jihadist websites, and their growing radicalization at home in our country.

With all we know now, there are lessons to be learned via comparison to the Cold War and how the United States faced up to dealing with the Soviet threat, and also the ways in which KGB (then NKVD) agents stationed in the United States diligently worked to undermine our security and to engage in espionage.

The key point: like today, our nation’s security service was not up to the challenge then.

We now know that the top levels of the U.S. government during FDR’s presidency were infiltrated by Soviet agents, the most important of whom was Harry Dexter White, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, who made actual policy as he tried to tilt our country’s actions to favor the Soviet Union. As Benn Steil has written, from the 1930s on, White “acted as a Soviet mole, giving the Soviets secret information and advice on how to negotiate with the Roosevelt administration and advocating for them during internal policy debates.” Steil goes so far as to argue that White “was arguably more important to Soviet intelligence than Alger Hiss.”

To those few like the liberal anti-Communist Sidney Hook -- who from the earliest days on tried to alert the liberal community and the media to the actual Soviet threat -- the need to be alert and to have our country face up to the Soviet threat at home and abroad was met with disdain. When Joe McCarthy came along and exploited the failure to face reality by leveling exaggerated charges -- such as calling the vigorously anti-Communist editor of the liberal New York Post, James Wechsler, a secret Red -- those who were actually guilty were able to hide their actual betrayal of our country by proclaiming themselves innocent victims of McCarthyism.

I recall listening to a lecture in my college years by the then-famous dean of American historians, the late Henry Steele Commager, who told students at the University of Wisconsin “there is no Communist threat.” He received round applause.

As in the 1950s, so many of our liberal elites today refuse to acknowledge that there exists a real Islamic threat, an ideology whose adherents reveal that they can swiftly drift into a commitment to wage jihad against the inhabitants of the country in which they live and which gave them opportunities to assimilate and to advance personally.