the last word

By Woody West

Militant Islam’s Long Memory of History

Silvio really stepped in it — Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister of Italy. Not long after the terror attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, he said of the West: “We must be aware of the superiority of our civilization, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and — in contrast to Islamic countries — respect for religious and political rights.” The only thing Berlusconi might have said to draw more hostility from the politically correct was that smoking is great fun and cigarettes should be distributed as liberally as condoms in schools.
       The prime minister — variously described in news reports as one of Italy’s wealthiest men, a former nightclub singer and a right-winger, none of which is intended to convey stature — wobbled when return fire got hot, even asserting that the pressies had “put words in my mouth.”
       Typical of the righteous scoldings of the prime minister was an editorial in the Washington Post, toasted throughout the known world as the prescriptive voice of correct thought. Berlusconi “humiliated his nation … with his deeply dangerous rantings about Islam,” preached the Post. His remarks were made, the editorialist ranted, “in a climate in which reprisal attacks against Arabs and Muslims … are disgustingly common.”
       That last assertion is mendacious — or, as the boys in the back room would put it, a lie. That there have been so few such “reprisals” in this country is remarkable when measured against the anger after the slaughter of more than 5,000 innocent civilians.
       It is appropriate, of course, for Western leaders to contend that the war launched by Osama bin Laden is not a war against Islam but against terror. That is accurate, so far as it goes. Islam, however, is not a faith that recognizes the Western distinction between the religious and the political. The religious subsumes the political in Islam, and theocracy is the prescribed form of governance.
       Thus the liberal democracies that predominate in the West cannot be other than anathema in the feverish frontal lobes of Islam’s zealots. It appears also that there is ambivalence on the part of many Muslims who condemn the bombing but are not so sure that the West didn’t have it coming.
       There is little individual liberty in nations where Islam is the official creed. Most are one-party states, which usually translates as repressive rather than consensual governance. All citizens are not equal before the law, especially females, though many feminists in the West don’t seem to grasp this. Islamic lands are far from technologically or economically dynamic, nor is the prosperity that does exist widely shared. The list could be extended. Suffice it to say that, in those respects, Berlusconi was accurate.
       And, in the matter of war, an ominous case is that influential segments of Islam are at war with the West, not the reverse. Bin Laden, who evidently is revered or at least admired in much of the Muslim world, has been explicit about the Islamic claims against the West. As John Derbyshire has pointed out in National Review, the fanatical leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist network has proclaimed that “we shall never accept that the tragedy of Andalusia would be repeated in Palestine.” Bin Laden is referring to the loss 509 years ago of Moorish southern Spain.
       Recovering “lost territories” and nattering seriously about historical grievances circa 1492 represent “irrational … responses to a sense of cultural humiliation, coming under the scope not of political science but of psychopathology,” as Derbyshire puts it.
       The historical memory of militant Islam is long and intense. The aggressive imperialism of Islam penetrated deeply into Europe to be variously checked at Poitiers (or Tours, as the battle often is called) in 732 A.D. in Charles Martel’s defeat of the Moors; in the climactic sea battle at Lepanto in 1571 in which the Ottoman fleet was crushed by the Holy Alliance; and in 1683 when the Turks were stopped at the gates of Vienna.
       Obviously there is sufficient sentiment within Islam — as in bin Laden’s bitter reference to Andulsia — to be concerned about a “clash of civilizations,” as one prominent historian fears might define the conflicts of the future. The nations of the West must hope that this perilous bin Laden mentality infects only the most fanatic elements of the Islamic world and that most Muslims are faithful to a less sanguinary doctrine than the theocratic thugs of the Taliban and its doctrinal camp followers.
       Can there be the least question that, first and last, the West must unreservedly prosecute by force and diplomacy the war unleashed against the liberal democratic sovereignties?
       Responding to the Post’s sanctimonious editorial, Nobel laureate James M. Buchanan demanded in a letter to the editor, “Must Western liberalism deliberately blind itself before the reality that exists? The blinded Samson lost much defensive strength. Must this folly define our destiny?”
       A humane and liberal civilization that is doubtful of its superiority will be short of antibodies to resist a potent virus.
       Woody West is an associate editor for Insight magazine.       

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