The 2010 midterms have not happened yet, but the 2012 campaign is under way. For that we can thank Newt Gingrich. Not because Gingrich is a candidate, though he almost certainly is. And not because he can win, because that is by no means certain. We should thank Gingrich because he has crystallized the essence of our national-security challenge. Henceforth, there should be no place to hide for any candidate, including any incumbent. The question will be: Where do you stand on sharia?
The former speaker of the House gets the war on terror. For one thing, he refuses to call it the “war on terror,” which should be the entry-level requirement for any politician who wants to influence how we wage it. Gingrich grasps that there is an enemy here and that it is a mortal threat to freedom. He knows that if we are to remain a free people, it is an enemy we must defeat. That enemy is Islamism, and its operatives — whether they come as terrorists or stealth saboteurs — are the purveyors of sharia, Islam’s authoritarian legal and political system.
This being the Era of the Reset Button, Gingrich is going about the long-overdue business of resetting our understanding of the civilizational jihad that has been waged against the United States for some 31 years. It is the jihad begun when Islamists overran the American embassy in Tehran, heralding a revolutionary regime that remains the No. 1 U.S. security challenge in the Middle East, as Gingrich argued Thursday in a provocative speech at the American Enterprise Institute.
The single purpose of this jihad is the imposition of sharia. On that score, Gingrich made two points of surpassing importance. First, some Islamists employ mass-murder attacks while others prefer a gradual march through our institutions — our legal, political, academic, and financial systems, as well as our broader culture; the goal of both, though, is the same. The stealth Islamists occasionally feign outrage at the terrorists, but their quarrel is over methodology and pace. Both camps covet the same outcome.
Second, that outcome is the death of freedom. In Islamist ideology, sharia is deemed to be the necessary precondition for Islamicizing a society — for Islam is not merely a religious doctrine, but a comprehensive socio-economic and political system. As the former speaker elaborated, sharia embodies principles and punishments that are abhorrent to Western values. Indeed, its foundational premise is anti-American, holding that we are not free people at liberty to govern ourselves irrespective of any theocratic code, that people are instead beholden to the Islamic state, which is divinely enjoined to impose Allah’s laws.
Sharia, moreover, is anti-equality. It subjugates women and brutally punishes transgressors, particularly homosexuals and apostates. While our law forbids cruel and unusual punishments, Gingrich observed that the brutality in sharia sanctions is not gratuitous, but intentional: It is meant to enforce Allah’s will by striking example.
On this last point, Gingrich offered a salient insight, one well worth internalizing in the Sun Tzu sense of knowing one’s enemy. Islamists, violent or not, have very good reasons for the wanting to destroy the West. Those reasons are not crazy or wanton — and they have nothing to do with Gitmo, Israel, cartoons, or any other excuse we conjure to explain the savagery away. Islamists devoutly believe, based on a well-founded interpretation of Islamic doctrine, that they have been commanded by Allah to kill, convert, or subdue all who do not adhere to sharia — because they regard Allah as their only master (“There is no God but Allah”). It is thus entirely rational (albeit frightening to us) that they accept the scriptural instruction that the very existence of those who resist sharia is offensive to Allah, and that a powerful example must be made of those resisters in order to induce the submission of all — “submission” being the meaning of Islam.
It makes no sense to dismiss our enemies as lunatics just because “secular socialist” elites, as Gingrich called them, cannot imagine a fervor that stems from religious devotion. We ought to respect our enemies, he said. Not “respect” in Obama-speak, which translates as “appease,” but in the sense of taking them seriously, understanding that they are absolutely determined to win, and realizing that they are implacable. There is no “moderate” sharia devotee, for sharia is not moderate. Gingrich noted that in response to global outcry against the prospect of death by stoning for an Iranian woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, convicted of adultery, the mullahs’ great concession appears to be that she will be hanged instead. Islamism is not a movement to be engaged, it is an enemy to be defeated.
Victory, Gingrich said, will be very long in coming — longer, perhaps, than the nearly half-century it took to win the Cold War. Invoking JFK, he urged that the survival and success of liberty will still require an unwavering commitment to pay any price and bear any burden, for as long as it takes. Will that entail an ambitious project to democratize Islamic countries — notwithstanding that sharia dictates waging jihad against Westerners who try? Gingrich’s embrace of President Bush’s second inaugural address suggests that he may think so.
How we go about it and whether we use our military to spearhead a “forward march of freedom” are matters the former speaker did not flesh out. He also wondered aloud why, after nearly nine years in Afghanistan, we had not tasked military engineers and contractors to blanket that backward land with highways, the roads to advancement and prosperity. But we haven’t defeated the enemy yet. One can agree wholeheartedly with the former speaker that, having taken on a war against Afghan Islamists, it is imperative that America win. But in World War II, which Gingrich invoked repeatedly, and to great effect, we had our priorities straight: unambiguous victory first; then, and only then, the Marshall Plan’s ambitious reconstruction of Europe and Japan.
Debate over all of this is essential. The crucial point is that we must have the debate with eyes open. It is a debate about which Gingrich has put down impressive markers: The main front in the war is not Afghanistan or Iraq but the United States. The war is about the survival of Western civilization, and we should make no apologies for the fact that the West’s freedom culture is a Judeo-Christian culture — a fact that was unabashedly acknowledged, Gingrich reminded his audience, by FDR and Churchill. To ensure victory in the United States we must, once again, save Europe, where the enemy has advanced markedly. There is no separating our national security and our economic prosperity — they are interdependent. And while the Middle East poses challenges of immense complexity, Gingrich contended that addressing two of them — Iran, the chief backer of violent jihad, and Saudi Arabia, the chief backer of stealth jihad — would go a long way toward improving our prospects on the rest.
Most significant, there is sharia. By pressing the issue, Newt Gingrich accomplishes two things. First, he gives us a metric for determining whether those who would presume to lead us will fight or surrender. Second, at long last, someone is empowering truly moderate Muslims — assuming they exist in the numbers we’re constantly assured of. Our allies are the Muslims who embrace our freedom culture — those for whom sharia is a matter of private belief, not public mission. Our enemies are those who want sharia to supplant American law and Western culture. When we call out the latter, and marginalize them, we may finally energize the former.
It’s that simple. Not easy, but simple.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.