Andrew C. McCarthy and I are allies over the long term, fighting the Islamist scourge in the same trench for two decades. But alliance does not mean singlemindedness and he responded critically over the weekend on NRO in “Can Islamism Evolve?” to my earlier NRO article, “The Growth of ‘Moderate’ Islamism.”
I wrote there that while Islamism — the radical utopian movement aspiring to a consistent and global application of Islamic law under the rule of a caliph — remains in large part violent and tyrannical, developments in several countries suggest the slight possibility that this ideology will evolve in a more benign and decent direction. To which, Andy responded with three main observations, which I shall briefly answer:
1. Andy observes: “Western democracy is regressing away from a culture of individual liberty protected by limited government. If it now seems conceivable that Islamism could democratize, it can only be owing to modern democracy’s accommodation of more centralized and intrusive government.”
I reply: Indeed, democracy is a flexible concept and recent developments have mostly been negative; think of the pseudo-democratic nature of the European Union. But I am not so much talking about a debased form of democracy as an evolution toward something civilized; I am not being technical about democracy but political about freedom and the rule of law.
2. Andy disagrees with my statement that “Islamism has significantly evolved over the past 13 years,” moving away from violence in favor of working within the system. He finds that Islamism has not “materially changed at all” but there is simply more awareness today of non-terrorist Islamists.
I reply: I knew 13 years ago of non-violent Islamists; indeed, this was implicit in my 2001 assertion that while “peaceable in appearance . . . they all must be considered potential killers.” I now find that “these words ring archaic” because I now recognize that some Islamists are not potential killers. Some of them are truly political with no intention to use force. Andy has not come to this conclusion but I suspect he eventually will.
3. Andy takes up a topic I did not discuss, namely the policy implications of the possible decency of Islamism. He argues there are no implications, stating that there is no worse choice than to “see a small ray of hope that Islamism could improve as a rationale for further collaboration with and concessions to Islamists. Islamism is the ideology of our enemies and . . . needs to be defeated, not brought around.”
I reply: We agree. My seeing “a small ray of hope” does not mean Western states should go haring after Islamist movements, hoping they will moderate. No, this is indeed the ideology of our enemies that needs to be defeated and marginalized, as were fascism and Communism in earlier eras.