Two weeks ago, I made a speech in London insisting that America and our European allies deal forthrightly with the threat posed by the rise of radical Islam. It was to be expected that this call for candor and strength would be met with derision from the relativists on the left. This unfortunate criticism has also come from a few in the soft middle of professional American politics, most prominently on the pages of the Washington Post by columnist Michael Gerson.
Gerson says my blunt assessments of the threats facing the free nations of the West are a “disaster for democratic discourse.” With no irony at all, he uses loaded words such as “cartoon,” “extreme,” “corrupt,” “fraud,” and “hoax” to describe them in what he ostensibly presents as a call for more nuanced language from me.
A decade prior, this same Mr. Gerson spared no rhetorical edge in describing the existential threat of radical Islam and other rogue totalitarian regimes. In fact, that was his full-time job as a speech-writer in the war-time administration for President George W. Bush. Mr. Gerson, now a self-appointed ambassador for verbal restraint, actually coined the phrase “axis of evil” to describe our most dangerous enemies
One of President Bush’s strengths as a leader was his fearlessness in calling out right and wrong. His refusal to place modern culture’s lurch to contrived equivocation ahead of his sworn obligations to defend a nation built on clearly defined values will be his most enduring legacy. His wordsmith Mr. Gerson helped him communicate that core leadership in plain terms, and the nation was better for it.
To borrow a slur from his column about me, I have to conclude that based on Mr. Gerson’s own old “apocalyptic” rhetoric regarding the same threat, he has either changed his mind about the threat we face, or he is now appeasing the communal standards of Washington’s salons.
Mr. Gerson is too smart to have changed his mind given the fact that Islamic radicals continue to behead innocents, denigrate women, flog civilians, sacrifice children — just as they did when he was willing to speak more honestly. Too many self-styled radical Islamic groups and even strongmen in Middle Eastern nations still want to wipe Israel off the map. Too many governments in the region still pursue the world’s most dangerous weaponry. Too many Islamic militants intentionally threaten civil society in Europe’s largest cities. Mr. Gerson, a learned man, knows well that these are facts and not merely rhetoric, apocalyptic or otherwise.
In addition to his hypocrisy, Mr. Gerson lodged some false charges against me that need to be corrected. At no point in my speech or in any subsequent comments did I charge that there was a “Muslim fifth column” or say anything about the Muslim Americans who patriotically live their lives in Louisiana or any other state. In fact, I specifically said, “I have no interest in assigning the maniacal acts of radical Islamists to millions of Muslims worldwide.” Mr. Gerson is the writer guilty of using conspiratorial hyperbole, not me. Instead, many of my remarks in London focused on the great melting pot that made our country, with people of all faiths assimilating into a sum stronger than its parts.
It is amazing that it only took weeks for Mr. Gerson’s ilk to move past the fact that journalists were slaughtered by radical Islamists for merely exercising the freedom that we, in this great nation, enshrine as an unalienable right of all people. How quickly the paid-pundit class has slipped back into an insulated life of comfort and commentary, separated by numbing denial from the impending consequences of not acting to meet our enemies.
Republicans are about to embark on a process that is vital to the future of America and our allies abroad. Eight years of President Obama’s squishy commitment to the advancement of freedom and his abandonment of our nation’s leadership role in an increasingly dangerous world will hand the next president a job with no margin for error.
The likely Democratic nominee in 2016, Hillary Clinton, shares the blame for this predicament and would make it worse. She said we need to show respect for our enemies and “empathize with their perspective and point of view.”
It is essential that we, as Republicans, pull no punches in responding to this violent foreign threat to freedom. It is also imperative that we insist on a return to the melting-pot ethic at home, a drive that insisted on assimilation by new Americans to strengthen our country and not balkanize it. Europe’s toleration of cultural separatism has left its leaders with unacceptable choices and impossible compromises on core values such as equality and justice.
As the son of immigrants myself, and as the governor of a state whose population has a rich and diverse heritage, I have more than a theoretical understanding of the power of the melting-pot paradigm. Assimilation is not only a concept that coincidentally worked in our country, it is at the very core of what it means to be an American.
It is not fashionable in the polite company of the cocktail party circuit that includes so many of Washington’s elite to be completely candid on this topic.
We have a president who even refuses to acknowledge the Islamic component of violent, radical Islam and it seems too much of this White House’s political correctness has infected commentators like Mr. Gerson. We cannot choose a president in 2016 who shares Mr. Obama’s failed philosophy or Mr. Gerson’s brake-pedal social sensitivity.
Our nation, and free people everywhere who believe in basic human rights, have too much at stake to bite our lips. We must speak honestly and act bravely to reach the day when radical Islam no longer threatens our nation, our allies, and our shared values.
— Bobby Jindal is governor of Louisiana.