EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Michael Ledeen’s newly releasedAccomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West. Radical Islam inspires mass murder and individual martyrdom for its cause, just as fascism and Communism did in the last century. Osama bin Laden and his ilk rage against the democracies, just as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. Iranian leaders promise to wipe Israel off the map with nuclear weapons, and to dominate or destroy the Western world, just like their totalitarian predecessors in Russia, Italy, and Germany. Muslim politicians and holy men alike blame the free peoples for the failed societies that define the Middle East. The fanatics who rule in Tehran routinely call the citizens of free countries decadent, corrupt, self-indulgent infidels, worthy of destruction. Just as Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini planned wars of expansion and gradually built their military power, so the mullahs have become so powerful and so aggressive that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak told his political followers in mid-December, 2008, the Persians are trying to devour the Arab states. This came less than a week after demonstrations in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Tehran, where the chanting mob added “Death to Mubarak” to the usual cries of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.”
As in the last century, the evil is obvious. Left to their own devices, the mullahs will kill as many of us as they can. As in the last century, we flinch from the necessity of confronting evil, until it becomes so powerful it threatens our very survival. Mubarak has neither our power nor our margin of safety; all he can do is warn his friends, and hope they do something about it.
Time will tell, probably quite soon, whether we are going to do something, or wait for our Iranian enemies to strike at us yet again at a time and place of their choosing, as they did in August 2008, against our embassy in Yemen. Evidence of their role in the attack emerged later in the year, in the form of a letter from al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to the leaders of the Revolutionary Guards, thanking the Iranians for their invaluable help.
Thus far, having forgotten how close we came to losing the Second World War, we are repeating our past errors. We could lose this war against the Iranian terror masters; our traditional strategic buffer — the oceans — is no longer effective, and our land borders are porous. Moreover, we cannot always identify our enemies by looking at their passports or birth certificates. Some of them are Americans. We should have learned last century that evil people and evil movements can develop inside highly cultured and religious societies, including our own.
That the killers who attacked London on July 7, 2005, were native Brits surprised a lot of people, which is testimony to our capacity to forget our own history. The 7/7 terrorists were not the first British terrorists (take Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, for example, or Omar Sheikh, the executioner of Daniel Pearl), nor the first citizens of a Western democracy to embrace the cause of jihad. It is quite easy to compile a long list of native American, British, French, German, Spanish, and Italian terrorists, suicide and otherwise. Mohammed Bouyari, the assassin of Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh, was born and bred in the Netherlands. Our own Johnny Jihad (John Walker Lindh) was the product of wealthy families in a stylish neighborhood in San Francisco; he went to Afghanistan to kill fellow Americans.
These facts were relegated to that part of the spirit that shelters active thought from unpleasant truths. The knowledge that our societies contain people ready to kill us has still not penetrated the awareness of the British people, and, with them, countless Europeans and Americans.
Freedom and democracy do not protect us against such people; indeed, in the past century, free nations elevated them to power, and kept them there until we shattered them on the battlefield. The evil can’t be explained by economic misery, or social alienation, or even by the doctrines adopted by the terrorists. The problem lies within us.
Nasra Hassan, who interviewed more than 200 would-be suicide terrorists and their families, noted in the London Times that
none of the suicide bombers — they ranged in age from 18 to 38 — conformed to the typical profile of the suicidal personality. None of them was uneducated, desperately poor, simple-minded, or depressed. Many were middle-class and held paying jobs. Two were the sons of millionaires. They all seemed entirely normal members of their families. They were polite and serious, and in their communities were considered to be model youths. Most were bearded. All were deeply religious.
To be sure, the terrorists Nasra Hassan is talking about came out of Palestinian camps and cities — not from London or San Francisco or Amsterdam — but their profiles are not dramatically different from the terrorists within our own societies. Most of them are not misfits or sociopaths. They are people who find it fulfilling to kill us and destroy our society. This sort of evil cannot be fixed by some social program or suitably energetic public affairs strategy, or by reaching out to them.