A ris­ing tide of fury

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Tony Blank­ley

When­ever I re­fer to the threat of rad­i­cal Is­lam, I am in­un­dated with emails chastis­ing me for un­jus­ti­fied alarmism (that is the po­lite de­scrip­tion of the mis­sives). Last week, even the es­teemed and of­ten ac­cu­rate Bri­tish Econ­o­mist ac­cused me, by name, of over­es­ti­mat­ing the threat and be­ing alarmist on the topic.

Not only do I hope they are right, but I reg­u­larly mon­i­tor the news for ev­i­dence of my er­ror; for I have long taken to heart and ap­plied to my­self the ad­vice that Oliver Cromwell gave to the Scot­tish Pres­by­te­ri­ans: “I be­seech you in the bow­els of Christ think it pos­si­ble you may be mis­taken.”

None­the­less, while Mus­lim at­ti­tudes across the world are dy­namic, and sub­tle in­flec­tions of thought are not eas­ily cap­tured by polling, the news con­tin­ues to be not en­cour­ag­ing.

Two weeks ago the re­spected Univer­sity of Mary­land Pro­gram on In­ter­na­tional Pol­icy At­ti­tudes (PIPA) re­leased its most re­cent sur­vey of Mus­lim at­ti­tudes on Amer­ica, ter­ror­ism and re­lated top­ics (www.pipa.org). It sur­veyed at­ti­tudes in four rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mus­lim coun­tries: Egypt, Pak­istan, In­done­sia and Morocco.

On the ques­tion of Amer­ica’s in­flu­ence in the world, from a low of 60 per­cent in In­done­sia to a high of 89 per­cent in Egypt, re­spon­dents an­swered that most or nearly all of what hap­pens in the world is con­trolled by the U.S. And how do the world’s Mus­lims see (what they be­lieve to be) our allpow­er­ful ob­jec­tives?

From a low of 73 per­cent in In­done­sia to a high of 92 per­cent in Egypt the Mus­lims be­lieve that Amer­ica’s goal is “to weaken and di­vide the Is­lamic world.” Fairly as­sum­ing that th­ese four coun­tries’ pop­u­la­tions rep­re­sent world­wide Mus­lim views in Is­lamic coun­tries, in other words, about 80 per­cent of the 1.4 bil­lion Mus­lims (or about a bil­lion souls) see Amer­ica as hos­tile or an en­emy to Is­lam.

Be­tween 61 per­cent and 67 per­cent of the polled Mus­lims also thought that Amer­ica’s goal was to spread Chris­tian­ity in the Mid­dle East. Given that Is­lam teaches that Mus­lim con­verts to other reli­gions must be ex­e­cuted, this pur­ported Amer­i­can ob­jec­tive is prob­a­bly not well re­ceived.

What do they think is our pri­mary goal in the war on ter­ror? Be­tween 9 per­cent and 23 per­cent be­lieve it is to pro­tect our­selves from ter­ror­ism. Be­tween 53 per­cent and 86 per­cent be­lieve it is to weaken, di­vide and dom­i­nate the Is­lamic re­li­gion and peo­ple.

What per­cent­age of the polled Mus­lims are in fa­vor of ter­ror­ist at­tacks on civil­ians — and note the ques­tion doesn’t say Amer­i­can civil­ians, which pre­sum­ably would be more pop­u­lar than at­tacks on even Mus­lim civil­ians, as the gen­eral form of the ques­tion sug­gests?

To vary­ing de­grees, 27 per­cent of Moroc­cans, 21 per­cent of Egyp­tians, 13 per­cent of Pak­ista­nis and 11 per­cent of In­done­sians ap­prove of ter­ror­ist at­tacks on civil­ians — and not just Amer­i­can civil­ians. Ex­trap­o­lat­ing those per­cent­ages to the world Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion, roughly 250 mil­lion Mus­lims may ap­prove, un­der some cir­cum­stances, of ter­ror­ist at­tacks on civil­ians gen­er­ally. One might rea­son­ably guess a some­what larger num­ber would fa­vor it if lim­ited to Amer­i­can vic­tims.

Of course, as the study points out, “Large ma­jori­ties [57 per­cent to 84 per­cent] in all coun­tries op­pose at­tacks against civil­ians for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses and see them as con­trary to Is­lam.” We must be grate­ful for such mer­cies. But when, to fairly ex­trap­o­late th­ese num­bers, about a quar­ter of a bil­lion Mus­lims are in fa­vor of civil­ian ter­ror­ist at­tacks, I think pru­dent peo­ple are en­ti­tled to be alarmed at the mag­ni­tude of the threat.

It should be re­mem­bered that a ma­jor­ity of Ger­mans never voted for Hitler. His high-wa­ter mark was about four in 10 — and that prob­a­bly over­stated his true level of sup­port. In­deed, only a mi­nor­ity of Amer­i­can colonists sup­ported our noble revo­lu­tion.

Any­time a revo­lu­tion­ary cause — and par­tic­u­larly one that is cul­tur­ally and vi­o­lently ag­gres­sive — reaches a cer­tain crit­i­cal mass, its tar­get runs the risk of los­ing the sup­port of the ma­jor­ity who are not revo­lu­tion­ary, but are sus­cep­ti­ble to be­ing in­tim­i­dated by the revo­lu­tion­ary mi­nor­ity.

Whether the rad­i­cal per­cent­ages mea­sured in this re­port con­sti­tute a crit­i­cal mass or not is cer­tainly con­jec­tural (please see the full re­port on­line for other in­trigu­ing data that are gen­er­ally in line with th­ese sam­ples). Im­por­tantly, at­ti­tudes can shift ei­ther way over time.

And most im­por­tantly, we have not had — even re­motely — a na- tional de­bate on what poli­cies are best judged to re­duce rad­i­cal sen­ti­ment in the Mus­lim world, while also pro­tect­ing us from po­ten­tially im­mi­nent ter­ror­ist at­tacks. Rather, we are still hav­ing a jolly old time de­cid­ing who among us to skin for our past mis­takes.

The pres­i­dent’s crit­ics are fond of point­ing out that Amer­ica’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in World War II was shorter than the cur­rent Iraq strug­gle. Of course it is also true that given the longevity of our cur­rent fin­ger point­ing, if this were World War II, it would be 1946 and we would still be try­ing to fig­ure out who to fire over Pearl Har­bor.

Let us, at least, now be re­solved to not per­mit any can­di­date for pres­i­dent — Repub­li­can or Demo­crat — to get away with merely crit­i­ciz­ing past de­ci­sions and poli­cies or of­fer­ing sim­plis­tic slo­gans on the war on ter­ror (or what­ever other term peo­ple pre­fer for the global ji­had threat to the West). Let’s in­sist that they each dis­cuss in depth their un­der­stand­ing of the threat and their con­sid­ered and de­tailed strat­egy for pro­tect­ing us in the fu­ture.

Win­ston Churchill warned when he took over gov­ern­ment in 1940: “If we open a quarrel be­tween the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the fu­ture.”

And, as an of­fi­cial alarmist, let me as­sert that the data, such as above, sug­gest that our fu­ture is quite los­able if we per­sist in ig­nor­ing the re­gret­table re­al­i­ties preg­nant within it.

Tony Blank­ley is edi­to­rial page ed­i­tor of The Wash­ing­ton Times. He can be reached via e-mail at tblank­ley@wash­ing­ton­times.com.

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