For those who lived through the prelude to World War II and then the Cold War, the current American dilemma dealing with Islam is all too familiar. Countering Islamic radical infiltration resembles nothing so much as a century of struggle against communism before the Soviet Union, as Lenin would have said, was consigned to history's dustbin.
In the bitter climate of the Great Depression — for younger readers, do go to the marvelous reportage of John Steinbeck — reform was not only fashionable but critical. The movers and shakers of the era were a strange lot, drawn from all parts of American society and all ideologies. An example was the blossoming of the 1930s trade union movement, as a veteran labor leader once told me, that was advanced by three factors: government (the New Deal's Wagner Act), socialists and communists (the "community organizers" of their day).
As the years go by, we old reprobates are handed more and more proof of the incredible penetration of Moscow's espionage. James Jesus Angleton, the CIA's Cold War stalwart, may have been paranoid but, as the saying goes, that doesn't mean he wasn't persecuted. Even more important, the Cambridge University scandals dramatized as no other single episode the widespread subversion of Western thought as well as of institutions by Stalinists flying under the two false flags of reform and anti-fascism.
Why is any of this relevant to dealing with today's Islamist threat?
Muslim "moderates" and their apologists present Islam as another Abrahamic religion not all that different from Christianity or Judaism. Don't the Jewish holy books, too, drip with blood and hatred? The answer, not so simple but enough for this brief apologia: Islam never had its Renaissance, its Reformation, its Counter-Reformation, its Haskalah, its Enlightenment, its scientific revolution.
At the same time, by accident of history and geology, the industrial West has transferred vast resources to primitive Persian Gulf tribal societies. Just oil revenue alone of a half-trillion dollars annually finances fanaticism — bereft of its civilizing Persian (Zoroastrian) and Indian (Hindu, Buddhist) influences — to spread hatred with a "we-they" syndrome so virulent that no Western psychiatrist could have imagined it. In effect, the West nurtures subversion of our civilization — as so often it helped the Soviets through Russian communism's many death-defying crises.
Our problem, then, is not so simple as distinguishing between Islam as a religion and Islam as a political creed. It would be no easier than it was earlier on sorting out communist motivation from true "reformism" — or from simple naivete. Sen. Joseph McCarthy's spot-on denunciations of communist infiltration at the time were difficult to credit when "McCarthyism," the accusation of slander, was flung about, often by partisans of communists appearing before his inquisition who refused to identify their true beliefs and who exploited McCarthy's own excesses.
That dynamic comes to mind now with charges from Muslim organizations, including unindicted co-conspirators aiding terrorists, who scream "Islamophobia" when any attempt is made to ferret the real intent of those seeking to subvert U.S. institutions. For Muslims who take their cue from parts of the Sunna/hadith — the sayings and activities of the Prophet Muhammad — dissimulation is permitted when dealing with nonbelievers, even "People of the Book" such as Christians and Jews. It was so with communists who used Marxist "ethics" even against their sometime "social fascist"/social democratic partners.
That's why the U.S. and state governments have such difficulty sorting out Islamist tendencies. Prisons and the military have succumbed to fanatics posing as chaplains. Our most prestigious universities accept largesse from the Gulf states in exchange for defending their authoritarianism and obscurantism. Mosques and madrassas (religious schools) are often financed and run by radical preachers sabotaging our values. Our crusaders (pun intended) for freedom of the Internet inadvertently enable e-recruiting by terrorists. To a degree, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is right in suggesting we have reaped a whirlwind we sowed — but with petrodollars and technology transfers rather than the geopolitical offenses that Mr. Paul and others condemn.
This has all, of course, been compounded by a president who in his Cairo speech to the Islamic world — written and poorly researched by a very young man without knowledge of the 1,400 years of Islam and eons of Middle Eastern history — serves up misplaced sentiment, logic and politics to further muddle an already critical issue.
• Sol Sanders, a veteran international correspondent, writes weekly on the intersection of politics, business and economics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and blogs at www.yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com.