Just after last week’s terrorist attack in Barcelona, a pro-Islamic State website posted video from the scene along with a message in Arabic saying, “Terror is filling the hearts of the Crusader in the Land of Andalusia.”
Let’s unpack that. “Crusader” is a term jihadists use, pejoratively, for Christians. More specifically, of course, it refers to the Christian soldiers who fought a series of wars, beginning in 1095, to recover Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land from the Muslim armies that had burst out of Arabia four centuries earlier.
Andalusia indicates the territories of the Iberian Peninsula that were conquered by Muslim armies from North Africa beginning in 711. The Reconquista, a war waged by Christians to recover those territories, ended in 1492.
Here’s the larger point: To those discomfited by theological or even ideological explanations for most modern terrorism, one alternative explanation is this: The killers are revanchists. Their motivation is to reverse territorial losses.
They have suffered such losses, they believe, in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The want to fill “the hearts” of the “others” now living in such lands with terror in order to drive them out or at least relegate them to inferior status. In other words, these revanchists also are supremacists.
Longer-term, their goal is grander. Finland, which also suffered a terrorist attack last week, was never part of a caliphate or Islamic empire. And the Islamic State publishes an online magazine called Rumiyah — Arabic for Rome which, they believe, must be conquered by Muslims as was the Christian capital of Constantinople (now Istanbul). But priority goes to formerly Muslim lands.
In an odd way, this brings us to Charlottesville. The neo-Nazis and Klansmen who rioted and committed murder there also are revanchists in the sense that they seek revenge (the root of the word) and the restoration of power they believe has been taken from them here, in this land, America.
They are supremacists, too, of course, although they fight for supremacy based on race rather than religion. They are enemies of Americanism, rejecting the Founders’ conviction that “all men are created equal” in the eyes of God and should be equal under the law. They deserve unequivocal condemnation and firm opposition.
The Antifa movement, a collection of anarchists and radical leftists, opposes such white supremacism. (About Islamic supremacism it has less to say.) But Antifa also is supremacist. It seeks to abolish — not least through violence — individual rights in favor of group rights. Members of groups Antifa favors — those they deem victims or oppressed — are to enjoy enhanced rights. “Others,” those they regard as “privileged,” are to have their rights curtailed or eliminated.
So Antifa should be condemned and opposed, too — not least by those who call themselves liberals or progressives. Too often Antifa and its ilk are enabled instead. For example, last week, The New York Times gave space to K-Sue Park, a “Critical Race Studies Fellow at the U.C.L.A. School of Law,” who argues against “a narrow reading of the First Amendment.”
Despite objections from conservatives, she notes, the U.S. government has come to reject “a colorblind notion of the right to equal protection.” On the contrary, the government encourages “consideration of race in university admissions.” So why not apply the same principle to freedom of speech? In other words, she suggests, the First Amendment should fully apply to a person of color. A person of pallor — not so much.
I can anticipate the emails I will receive. They will say such “reverse” discrimination is a necessary corrective. They will remind me of “the legacy of slavery.” To which, I’ll reply: Name an institution more ubiquitous than slavery. Name a civilization that began to view slavery as immoral and then went on to abolish it earlier than the West — which did so based on the Judeo-Christian belief that man is created in God’s image.
That was nothing less than a revolution in the history of morality. Resistance to this revolution was a root cause of America’s Civil War. That led to the emancipation. As for equality, that remains a work in progress. But which non-Western nations are doing better?
I think President Trump blew an opportunity in his impromptu press conference the Tuesday after the riot in Charlottesville. But he was not being hyperbolic when he worried about where identity politics and the sudden furor over old statues is leading.
“This week it’s Robert E. Lee,” he said. “I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really do have to ask yourself: ‘Where does it stop?’ “
It took not a week but only hours before his predictions came true. Among the examples: In Chicago, a monument to Abraham Lincoln was vandalized and James E. Dukes, bishop of Chicago’s Liberation Christian Center, called on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to rename Washington Park and to remove a statue of America’s Founding Father.
What should we call Washington, D.C.? Since we’re on the Potomac, perhaps River City? Because we certainly got trouble with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for the politics of grievance and division; for patriotism replaced by tribalism.
Meanwhile, revanchists, supremacists and jihadists overseas are building nuclear weapons in order, as they put it, to bring “Death to America.” They’re targeting us all — without regard to race, creed, color or party affiliation. At this fraught moment, it would be helpful if we had leaders with both the will and the skill to emphasize Americanism, the principles and the values — many of them incompletely realized — that should unite us.
• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.