- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As we start the seventh year since the September 11 attacks, the people of the world and our governments seem largely baffled and conflicted as to the nature of the world in which we live.

In the Muslim fifth of the world, probably about a quarter of the population wishes to be in conflict with America and the West. Probably more than half do not wish such conflict but wrongly suspect that America is out to divide and suppress Islam.

Meanwhile, much of the Muslim Westernized elite (no more than 5 percent of the total population) both in Muslim countries and in America and the West rather desperately hope radical Islam and the Western response it has induced would just go away. They would prefer to live and prosper peacefully in the globalized Western political world.

Muslim governments in the Middle East and elsewhere are playing a dangerous double game — cooperating with Western intelligence and covert military efforts and jailing some of the terrorists, while at the same time giving rhetorical and sometime financial support to much of the deranged paranoia about Americans and the Jews that further inflames the radical instincts of the Muslim masses.

In fairness to those governments, most governments — West or East — live in the short term. In the long term, the Muslim regimes would be overthrown if the radicals gain power, but in the short term they would risk further inflaming the radicals if they didn’t rhetorically support their madness. So the Muslim governments increasingly risk losing tomorrow for the sake of staying alive today.

Russia and China, which logically might have seen an interest in fighting radical Islam, seem to have judged instead that their strongest short-term self-interest lies in letting the United States get more deeply entangled in the struggle against radical Islam. Permitting America to carry the burden alone allows Russia to more effectively rebuild her influence on her former empire and allows China to build her economy and regional hegemony.

Overwhelmingly in Europe, and to a lesser but still large extent in the United States, the vastly unpopular Iraq War has been conflated with the broader war against radical Islam. This regrettable conflation has been compounded by the world hatred of President Bush that has flown from the Iraq war that he has prosecuted with such personal determination. Mr. Bush’s own rhetoric has contributed to the confusion.

As a result, six years after the September 11 attacks, there is no consensus in the United States or in Europe as to the nature and magnitude of the threat. Many people — government officials, experts and the general public — believe there is little material danger to fear from radical Islam and its terrorists.

These people — perhaps two-thirds of Europeans and 30 percent to 40 percent of Americans — believe the terrorists can be dealt with merely with law enforcement just as previous European 20th-century terrorists had been. People who hold this view are likely to wrongly see George W. Bush, Tony Blair and people, such as me, who agree with them as exploiting the fear of terrorists for crass political advantage.

Thus, much of the ferocious controversy over electronic intercepts, Guantanamo, CIA renditions, semi-secret foreign-based CIA prisons, coerced interrogation methods and the Patriot Act provisions is a product of not seeing a sufficient threat to national security to justify such tough wartime intrusions into civil liberties.

If we can’t agree on the nature and magnitude of the threat, we aren’t likely to be able to agree on the means of protecting ourselves from it.

Until we can convince the other half that we face an existential threat from radical Islam, virulent political strife in Washington will continue to delay the start of designing and implementing an effective, united national defense.

In Europe, its large and growing Muslim population is inducing an ever-growing fear and distaste of Islam in the indigenous peoples. But several of the governments (Britain, Holland, Sweden and the European Union generally) have responded with a politically correct concern for the Muslims instead of their own cultures. The failure of those governments to respond to justifiable fears of their people is increasingly alienating their own citizens.

France and Denmark, however, are making tentative steps to more firmly deal with the excesses of Muslim culture. And even the British are beginning to consider tougher immigration and deportation procedures.

With America’s smaller, less geographically concentrated, more prosperous and perhaps better integrated Muslim population, we are not yet experiencing to at all the same degree the culture clash Europe is now suffering.

But we should not be complacent on this matter. Europe is very much the canary in the mine shaft regarding cultural stress between Muslim and indigenous culture. All the same trends and instincts are beginning to emerge in America. If we permit unmanaged cultural drift, in five to ten years we will be approaching where Western Europe is today — in the throws of violence inducing inter-cultural stress.

In the days following that terrible attack six years ago, I realized that not only America, but the world was in for a test of our strength and our will and our capacity to persist for decades in a harrowing task. I certainly didn’t expect that we would bring things right in a half a decade.

But I never imagined that six years into the ordeal we would be so utterly confused and divided in the face of a rather obvious — if unique — threat and enemy.

That failure constitutes, on the part of our government, the partisan opposition and the media, a collective act of abdication of duty without parallel in our long history. We live in much greater jeopardy than we need to because we remain divided and confused.

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