Wednesday, September 13, 2006

On Sept. 12 the “Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher was honored in the U.S. as she announced the establishment of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, to be administered in the United States by the Heritage Foundation.

During her administration, then-Prime Minister Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan led the free world to vanquish the tyranny of our Cold War enemies. Establishment of the Thatcher Center in the U.S. is an outstanding occasion to reflect on how together the United States, Britain and our freedom-loving allies defeated a common enemy — an evil empire that threatened our nation’s safety and global security and sought to replace freedom and democracy with tyranny and oppression.

In doing so, we can gain a better understanding of the nature of the threat we face today and the commitment that is necessary in our current struggle against Islamic fascism.

It is difficult to derive anything positive from the destruction wreaked on New York and Washington five years ago by adherents of radical Islam. But past experiences often give wisdom for meeting future challenges.

The thwarting of another unspeakable plot last month by British antiterrorism officials in collaboration with our own U.S. intelligence is evidence that allied forces have the capacity to connect the dots to distill some of the important lessons of the September 11 tragedy.

Assimilating seemingly disparate chains of events, wherever they occur, is our best defense against the transnational enemy against whom we fight. This process, both in Britain and in the United States, was driven by the events of September 11, and the July 7 bombings in London. Just as both nations faced and defeated common enemies in the global conflicts of the last century, so too will we prevail together in the fight against extremism.

So, what are these lessons learned for the United States, for Britain, and for all of those who stand with us against Islamofascism? First, the victory over terrorism that resulted in the foiling of last month’s plot to blow up commercial airliners between the United Kingdom and the United States is the supreme example of connecting the dots. Joint intelligence resulting from the synthesis of multi-sourced data and intelligence sharing on both sides of the Atlantic, along with the exemplary skill of British officials, impeded agents of extremism from carrying out a subsequent catastrophic mission.

Second, certainly in the United States and Britain, and with hope that eventually continental Europe will follow suit, there is a realization that threats do not come exclusively from abroad, but that, in the implementation of the jihadist agenda, the threats can come from within and are home grown.

The tentacles of Islamic extremism have slithered unnoticed into our own communities where apprentice suicide bombers train domestically to fly planes and make explosives. At the same time, carnage was being spread by extremists in far-away places in East Asia and Africa, but we did not feel its impact directly. Horrific and regrettable, the September 11 attacks on our nation were a necessary wake-up call alerting us to the nature and reach of the enemy that seeks our destruction and world domination. The response required an intertwining of foreign and domestic policies here in the United States and a similar response in the U.K. that are proving effective in making us safer.

Third, we are now better informed about the true components of our borderless enemy: extremist Muslim fanaticism and its national and organizational components: These include, among others, Iran, Syria, the Taliban, Hezbollah and Hamas. Those who say this is a war between the Arab world and the West get it wrong, for they ignore the many Muslims and moderate Middle East nations who abhor Islamist extremism as much as the United States, Britain and our other Western allies.

As such, our approach has not focused on short-term goals of removing the immediate threat but fomenting freedom and promoting democracy over despotism.

Critics will say we are trying to impose our way of life where it is not welcome. These naysayers should reflect for a moment that no human being, no matter what system he has grown up under, prefers autocracy to liberty. Misguidedly, many in Britain, who are quick to blame Prime Minister Tony Blair, join their voices with the anti-U.S.-apologist crowd.

What will it take for the world to believe that one cannot appease or negotiate with these Islamist extremists or their state sponsors, those fanatics who scream “Death to America” and “Bomb the U.K.”, who threaten to wipe entire countries off the map and who incite others to jihad against all those who refuse to bow to their ideology of hatred?

What will it take for all freedom-loving nations to undertake the necessary sacrifices, to join forces and to focus on defeating this enemy? Lady Thatcher recently said in a statement released during her visit accompanying President Bush and the first lady at the September 11 remembrance ceremony: “That heinous attack on America was an attack on us all.” Indeed, we are bound together by the extremists’ hate of our noble values.

We must be encouraged by and continue to learn from the successes with which we have collaboratively thwarted events like the foiled air plot, and must not waiver in our collective mission to overcome the fanatics. Our very survival depends on it.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, serves as co-chair of the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus and as chair of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia.

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