- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come, unless it’s the current that washes an idea past its prime out into a sea of forgetfulness big enough and deep enough to swallow a lot of ideas past their sell-by date.

Only yesterday — no more than a fortnight ago — John Kerry and the Democratic acolytes in the dominant media were having a high old time making sport of the notion that terrorism is a grim threat to life as we have known it. Terrorists, if there really were any, could be dealt with as “a law-enforcement problem.” Pretty soon the cops would relegate al Qaeda and the Ba’athists in Iraq, the train bombers in Madrid and Islamists everywhere else as merely fodder for another episode of “Law & Order.” Carey Lowell, the dishiest of the succession of “L&O;” prosecutor babes, could have put Saddam Hussein in the jug all by herself. George W. was advised to please shut up about his terror-fighting credentials.

But then along came Richard Clarke, who would have saved Western civ with very little muss and almost no fuss if only someone at the Bush White House had directed him to a telephone booth to change into his Superman duds. Overnight, with Mr. Clarke’s smack on the president, the pundits and the correspondents discovered that those really were bad guys, and there were a lot of them and they were trying mightily to destroy us. That was George W. asleep at the wheel.

A talent for recollection is not a characteristic of our present age, when the world is created anew with every fresh front page, so almost nobody remembers that on September 10 (in the way of a certain December 6), a president couldn’t have led the nation into a war if evil men had sent an invitation engraved in American blood.

“What administration could, before 9/11, have sent American boys to fight a regime in Afghanistan because it was implementing the ideas of an old man with a long white beard sitting cross-legged in the mountains talking about Satan America?” asks Barbara Amiel in London’s Daily Telegraph. ” … Eardrums would have exploded all over Capitol Hill from outcries of racism and imperialism if there had been serious efforts, pre-9/11, to round up suspected Muslim militants in the United States and tighten security on Muslims entering the country. As it is, the post-9/11 sensitivity to racial profiling makes travel hazardous for white-haired grannies who dislike body searches.”

In fact, more than two years after September 11, we still can’t have an honest discussion about the actual size of our dilemma. Dr. George Carey, who as the archbishop of Canterbury was until 2002 the head of the worldwide Anglican Church, set off a storm of recriminations in London the other day, when he remarked, mildly, that “moderate” Muslims throughout the Islamic world have not done all they could do, and should do, to condemn unequivocally the evil of Islamic suicide bombing. The good doctor has worked hard in the past to bring faithful Muslims into the religious life of Britain, and last week, he reminded Christians and Jews that most Muslims are peaceful and that it is a sin to demonize the Islamic faith for the perversions of the radicals amongst them.

Nevertheless, he said, we’re foolish to underestimate the implications of the differences between Western democracies and Islamic societies. “Throughout the Middle East and North Africa we find authoritarian regimes with deeply entrenched leadership, some of which rose to power at the point of a gun and are retained in power by massive investment in security forces. Whether they are military dictatorships or traditional sovereignties, each ruler seems committed to retaining power and privilege.”

The difficulties in pacifying Iraq suggests to some of the weary in the West that Islam and democracy are inherently incompatible, but Turkey is an example that in Dr. Carey’s view suggests otherwise.

“Although we owe much to Islam handing on to the West many of the treasures of Greek thought, the beginnings of calculus, Aristotelian thought during the period known to the West as the dark ages, it is sad to relate that no great invention has come for many hundred years from Muslim countries. This is a puzzle, because Muslim peoples are not bereft of brilliant minds.”

The history of Christianity and Judaism is marked by vigorous and often painful argument and self-reflection, and Islam must be challenged to similar examination.

But facing challenges is too painful for our malingerers to bear. Better to find someone — George W. is handy and it’s an election year — to blame for not having prevented the inevitable. Once we mark a villain, the rest of us can retire from the war and not have to think about evil until the next time. But it’s later than we think.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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