National Security & Defense

A War of Ideas

The Charlie Hebdo massacre should remind us that Islamists have made freedom their target.

By savagely attacking and murdering writers and cartoonists as well as Jewish shoppers, French Islamists have clarified something that many in the West have deceived themselves about — that the war we are engaged in is a war of ideas. Islamists have once again reminded us that freedom itself is their target.

This discomfits the Left. They prefer to pretend that Islamist violence (when they acknowledge it at all) springs from unemployment, poverty, or most frequently, colonial oppression. Most leftists, and some on the libertarian right, believe that American responses to Islamist attacks — ranging from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to NSA wiretapping — are the causes of the murderous rage that has claimed thousands of victims on every continent (10,000 in 2013 alone), and has in the past three months plunged Australia, Canada, Israel, Pakistan, and now France into agonies as civilians (including children) have been coldly massacred in the name of Allah.

George W. Bush was mocked for saying, “They hate our freedom.” Salon magazine sneered, “The utter absurdity of people halfway around the world being angered by another nation’s self-proclaimed ‘freedom’ further adds to the meaninglessness of Bush’s statement.”

At the Paris demonstration, protesters carried enormous pencils and pens, symbols of the press freedom that the Islamists would extinguish by law if they could, and through murder and intimidation in the meantime. Bush’s statement doesn’t look “meaningless” today, does it?

Liberals and the Left similarly disarmed themselves morally and intellectually during the Cold War. That was a battle of ideas between two post-Enlightenment ideologies — the freedom-embracing democracies versus the tyrannical Marxist-Leninists. Throughout that 75-year struggle, the Left consistently failed to defend the values of the West (including freedom of thought and speech) preferring to see the conflict as a “misunderstanding.”

Just as they frequently gave the Soviets and other Communists the benefit of the doubt during the Cold War, the Left today refuses to grapple with the meaning of Islamist ideology. They see only bigotry in Western concern about such fanaticism. This blinds them to the struggles within Islam.

Islam has been ravaged over the course of the past century by the rise of radical extremists. Such views always existed, but the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928 transformed the ideas into a movement, while the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia permitted that regime to proselytize similar radicalism worldwide. Extremist Islamists (those who reject the separation of mosque and state) now comprise significant minorities in every Muslim country on the globe, rule Shia Iran, and have friendly governments or quasi governments in Turkey, Gaza, Tunisia, and many other nations.

Islamism is a paroxysm of rage by extremist Muslims determined to make war on all (including Muslims) who believe differently. They’ve attacked Christians throughout Europe, Africa, the Americas, and the Middle East, Jews worldwide, Hindus in India, and Buddhists in Thailand, Myanmar, and China, among other places.

What are self-respecting democratic pluralists to do in the face of this threat? In the first place, acknowledge the reality of the problem rather than making it politically incorrect to mention it. Second, make common cause with Muslim people and leaders who are battling the Islamists. As the Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes has argued for decades: “Radical Islam is the problem. Moderate Islam is the answer.”

Rather than align with the forces in the Muslim world that reject extremism, President Obama has seemed eager to ingratiate himself with them. He leant support to the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, and has alienated his successor, President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, though President Sisi has taken the most significant step of any Muslim leader in the world, calling for a “religious revolution,” and cautioning that radical Islam, “that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the centuries, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world!”

Queen Rania of Jordan too has spoken up, urging that moderate Muslims create “a new narrative.” A group from Morocco has founded “Not in my name,” a website that condemns the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. The Kurds are on the front lines fighting the Islamic State. Israel battles terrorists on a daily basis. All need and deserve vigorous U.S. support.

Instead, the Obama administration waits, hat in hand, in Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s anteroom, hoping for a nuclear deal. Robert Frost said it best: “A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.”

— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. © 2015 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

Most Popular

White House

Trump’s Disgraceful Endgame

President Trump said the other day that he’d leave office if he loses the vote of the Electoral College on December 14. This is not the kind of assurance presidents of the United States typically need to make, but it was noteworthy given Trump’s disgraceful conduct since losing his bid for reelection to ... Read More
White House

Trump’s Disgraceful Endgame

President Trump said the other day that he’d leave office if he loses the vote of the Electoral College on December 14. This is not the kind of assurance presidents of the United States typically need to make, but it was noteworthy given Trump’s disgraceful conduct since losing his bid for reelection to ... Read More
Elections

How Trump Could Have Reacted to the Election

It was predictable, and widely predicted, that Donald Trump would respond to an election loss, particularly one by as narrow a margin as this, with claims of fraud, efforts to delegitimize the outcome, and increasingly implausible attempts to find some lever to overturn it. Handling setbacks without grace or ... Read More
Elections

How Trump Could Have Reacted to the Election

It was predictable, and widely predicted, that Donald Trump would respond to an election loss, particularly one by as narrow a margin as this, with claims of fraud, efforts to delegitimize the outcome, and increasingly implausible attempts to find some lever to overturn it. Handling setbacks without grace or ... Read More
Culture

Our Real Systemic Problem

America’s got a problem that’s systemic in nature. This problem has less to do with individual intentions than the structure within which our intentions are formed. That structure explains a great deal about observed disparities in wealth, and other advantages, between various racial and ethnic groups. It ... Read More
Culture

Our Real Systemic Problem

America’s got a problem that’s systemic in nature. This problem has less to do with individual intentions than the structure within which our intentions are formed. That structure explains a great deal about observed disparities in wealth, and other advantages, between various racial and ethnic groups. It ... Read More