Monday, July 9, 2007

Nothing galvanizes the public like the threat of terrorism. London escaped carnage for several reasons, beginning with the amateurish construction of the bombs, but the credit for averting tragedy goes first to an ambulance attendant who saw something suspicious and called police. Two men who crashed their car though the entrance to Glasgow airport were caught by a policeman with the help of bystanders.

This wasn’t Dunkirk, where thousands of British soldiers were rescued from French beaches by an armada of private boats, but it wasn’t bad. These were strong defensive actions in a new kind of war. The fear raised by the Islamic versions of Manny, Moe and Curly will lead to greater vigilance. Citizens of the West, who are way ahead of their timid leaders, understand that this was merely one small battle against evil men and women who hate our freedoms and are dedicated to destroying our way of life. These enemies have the potential to inflict deadly harm far out of proportion to their numbers. It’s not merely a war emanating from a lunatic fringe of Islam, but a modern outbreak of an ancient grudge.

Only Islam, once a great influence of culture and philosophy, alone of the three great religions seems to have retreated as time moves inexorably forward. Rogue elements of Judaism and Christianity are not difficult to find in the sweep of history, but both of those religious faiths have moved forward, if unevenly, to separate church and state and reconcile with the modern world by recognizing the importance of the rule of law and allegiance to human rights.

But when the Ottoman Empire collapsed and with it Muslim prestige and influence, Islam made a U-turn toward the past. Moderate Muslims have had a hard time since then. That’s what wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are all about — trying to encourage moderates with the idea that they could make a transforming impact on the satrapies of the Middle East. It might work, and it might not. An Islamic reformation first requires modernization. The power to abuse women and keep them hidden, uneducated and out of the work force, fusing religious law and state authority, is something evil men will not easily give up.

Paul Belien, editor of the Brussels Journal, who follows Islamic issues in the Netherlands, tells of a Muslim apostate, a local politician and councilor, who wants to establish an international committee to bring ex-Muslims together to talk about what’s wrong with their religion. “If Mohammed were alive today,” he told a Dutch newspaper, “he would be in the same league as Osama bin Laden.” This is enough to make his head rest uneasily on his shoulders, but it’s only what Osama himself would say.

By 2020, more than half of all Dutch births will be to women from outside Europe. As in the rest of Europe, native Europeans are nowhere close to replacing themselves. Muslims are not easily assimilated in open secular societies, and it’s possible, maybe probable, that Europe will slip backwards, too. Germans, with 2.7 million Turks living amongst them, are finally debating whether Muslims can adapt to their secular society.

The pop culture, which traditionalists are quick to malign, could be a surprise regenerating factor for positive Western values. Through television and the Internet, young men and women are bombarded not only with Western music and images, but with the freedoms that accompany values. The older mullahs may not be able to compete.

Herb Meyer, an assistant to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the Reagan administration, calls Iran “the country to watch.” In a speech in Seattle, he reminded a conference of American business executives that 70 percent of the Iranian population is under 30. The West rightly worries that young Muslim men are becoming terrorists, but Iranian young men and women, who are Muslims but not Arabs, are mostly pro-Western. “The problem isn’t so much the weapons, it’s the people who control them,” he says. “If Iran has a moderate government, the weapons become less of a concern.” That’s an enormous “if.” We have to hold up our end in the culture wars, with neither apology nor faint heart.

The very things that make us targets for terror makes us magnets for imitation. “We are becoming the last holdouts of the traditional Judeo-Christian culture,” Mr. Meyer says. “There is no better place in the world to be in business and raise children. The only people who can hurt us are ourselves, by losing our culture. If we give up the Judeo-Christian culture, we become just like the Europeans. The culture war is the whole ball game it. If we lose it, there isn’t another America to pull us out.”

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