Watching (and participating in) the intense Iraq war and war on terror debate both in the United States and in Europe and the politics that flows from it, a sense of futility is increasingly hard to resist. Our nation and Europe seem to have hardened in their divisions on those topics.
It would appear that the great divide in both public opinion and between politicians is not Republican-Democrat, liberal-conservative, pro- or anti-Bush or even pro- or anti-war (or, in Europe: pro-or anti-American).
Rather, the great divide is between those, such as me, who believe that the rise of radical Islam poses an existential threat to Western Civilization; and those who believe it is a nuisance, if episodically a very dangerous nuisance.
For those in the latter category, the great thrust of modern history exemplified in Francis Fukuyama’s concept of “The End of History” continues onward. The great secular triumph of (more or less) free markets, a world economy, democracy, individual rights, socialized economic security and their management by merit?based technocrats will be an inevitable continuity in human affairs. The episodic terrorist violence, so far killing far less people than die in car crashes or from lung cancer each year, does not justify re-ordering our social priorities. It does not justify any significant intrusions into civil liberties. It does not justify a major shift of tax revenues from social spending to war and homeland security programs. It certainly does not justify fighting wars on the other side of the world that kill and grievously wound painful numbers of American and European soldiers — and even greater numbers of local residents in the war zones.
For the people holding that view, George Bush and Tony Blair (and their supporters) are not only seen as wrong, nor merely incompetently wrong — but are seen as cynically exploiting an obvious lie to crassly enhance their political power and enrich their corrupt friends. Conceptual opposition has evolved into personal contempt for the antagonist (as it often does in fights over big issues — e.g. the fight between capital and labor of the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries).
For those of us who support the great struggle against radical Islam, the world reality could not be plainer. The threat of radical Islam is not merely a few thousand terrorists using small explosives to kill a few dozen people at a time — usually in the far away Middle East. Rather, it is an historic recrudescence of a violent, conquering old tradition of Islam that almost overwhelmed the world from the seventh century until as recently as 17th century. It is radicalizing the minds of increasing numbers of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims to be very aggressive culturally, as well as violent — from Africa to Indonesia, to Cairo to Ankara, to Paris, to Rotterdam to London to Falls Church, Va.
Funded by Saudi petro-dollars, it is capable of acting on a worldwide scale and will eventually get its hands on biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. While it probably will not be able to find sufficient unity to form a caliphate, it clearly has the capacity and intent to create violent chaos, to wreak digital havoc on our computer-based world economy and to intimidate Western governments to give up the very values and methods that have made our civilization so vibrant and free. Free speech in Europe is already being curtailed to protect radical Islam from even verbal criticism. The flying imams’ lawsuit attempts to intimidate American citizens from even reporting possible terrorist activity to the authorities. Iran’s nuclear ambitions are being appeased. How dare the media call it “Bush’s war on terror.” It’s our war — and it was started by the radical Islamists — not by us. Where will it all stop?
To us, no fair and objective assessment of the state of radical Islam can deny these implications. One must not see the denouement of the Iraq war outside that context. To those who disagree with our view of reality, we are quite ready to impute anything from ignorance, to willful ignorance, to moral cowardice to treason. Those who disagree with us find our alarmism as noxious as we find their willful blindness to reality.
And so the debate stands. Every political decision from the Iraq war appropriation vote this week, to the Patriot Act, to the status of Guantanamo prison, to NSA intercepts, to the presidential election is seen through our conceptual squint of the threat or non-threat from radical Islam.
Neither side seems remotely capable of persuading the other of the accuracy of our respective foresights. Two years ago, I wrote a book on the subject. I have talked to thousands and thousands in speeches and millions on radio and TV as have so many authors these last five years). But the net effect seems to be to reinforce the opinions of those who already share my view, rather than persuade others to change their mind.
Thus, while I and others will continue to make our case in public, it seems probably inevitable that the correctness or incorrectness of our views will only become persuasive to the multitude when history teaches its cruel, unavoidable lessons. It was ever thus, which is why history is strewn with broken nations and civilizations that couldn’t read the writing on the wall. Of course, it is also strewn with sad hulks of false predictors of doom.