A convention of Democrats who still support the Iraq war could be held, if not in a phone booth, then in a medium-sized walk-in closet.
The argument among congressional Democrats now is just how fast to withdraw the troops. Even many Republicans have turned against President Bush's vision of a peaceful, democratic Iraq, seeing it as a pipe dream. The war is unpopular.
But "unpopular" is not necessarily "wrong." A majority can be mistaken. I ask open-minded people to consider the following points:
The war against Islamism is the single most important issue of our generation. Islamism, also called radical Islam, political Islam, militant Islam or Islamofascism (not Islam itself) is the most malevolent and dangerous political force in the world today. While there isn't yet a generally accepted definition, "Islamism" can be taken to mean a conservative, illiberal reading of Islam, with the desire to impose an Islamist state by force both on other Muslims and on non-Muslims.
As Paul Berman shows in his book Terror and Liberalism, Islamism has two parents: Islam and European fascism. Islamism shares with fascism a fascination with nihilistic mass slaughter. The enemy, one's own people -- it hardly matters. For example, Ali Benhadj, a leader of Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front, said: "If a faith, a belief, is not watered and irrigated with blood, it does not grow. It does not live. Principles are reinforced by sacrifices, suicide operations and martyrdom for Allah. Faith is propagated by counting up deaths every day, by adding massacres and charnel-houses."
During the Iraq-Iran War, the mullahs sent waves of Iranian children into battle as human mine sweepers. Palestinian schools teach that a child's loftiest ambition should be to become a suicide-murderer. Iran is on its way to creating a nuclear arsenal, which it has threatened to use against Israel. Islamists are very open about their desire to obtain weapons of mass destruction in order to kill thousands, if not millions, of Americans and Jews. Only the most suicidally naive would assume that they don't mean what they say.
While some Islamists focus on the "liberation" of "Palestine" (i.e., the destruction of Israel), this is merely the first act of their proposed drama. World domination is the goal of the Islamists, cartoonish as that may sound. They view any land conquered by Muslims at any time in history as an Islamic "waqf" (trust), forever Muslim. Thus, Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood member Yusuf Qawadari issued a fatwa in December 2002, calling on Muslims to reconquer al-Andalus (Spain), the Balkans and southern Italy.
Islamists regard liberal democracy, along with all other non-Islamist philosophies, as illegitimate. They speak openly about replacing the constitutions of the Western democracies with sharia (Islamic law). During the "cartoon intifada" over the Danish caricatures of Muhammad, Islamists marched in London and elsewhere under banners that read, "Freedom go to Hell," "Behead those who insult Islam," and "Be prepared for the real Holocaust."
The threat of Islamism is not marginal or insignificant. There are an estimated 1 billion Muslims throughout the world. Even if only 1 percent of them were committed Islamists (an exceptionally low estimate), that would mean 10 million Islamists willing to use violence to convert Dar es Harb (the realm of war, i.e., us) to Dar es Islam (the realm of Islam).
Nor is the Islamist program simply reactive. It does not depend on particular American or Israeli policies, nor will it disappear should America abandon the Middle East or Israel be destroyed, God forbid. Appeasement is impossible.
This is not a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between civilization and barbarism. Every liberal should be on the side of civilization. It's a puzzle that many self-styled liberals and progressives seem indifferent to Islamism, an ideology so hostile to liberal values. No liberal would want to live in a society where people accused of sorcery or homosexuality are subject to the death penalty, as in Saudi Arabia. No liberal would want to live in a society where women accused of adultery -- actually rape victims, in some cases -- are stoned to death, as in Iran. Liberals ought to embrace the war against Islamism with the same seriousness of purpose we displayed in the war against fascism.
Supporting liberal democracy in the Muslim world is the surest long-term defense against Islamism. Islamist terrorists today enjoy the material and moral support of many Islamist and Muslim states. Without such support, Islamists' freedom of action would be severely impeded, rendering them far less dangerous. Moreover, a person is influenced by his environment. An Islamist society is more likely to produce Islamists; a liberal society, less so. Liberal democracies historically are not dangerous to one another.
Consequently, our policy must distinguish between Muslims and Islamists, and support voices of liberal democracy in the Muslim world. American aid and favorable relations with Muslim countries should be conditioned on steady progress toward liberal democracy. President Bush has adopted this position rhetorically, but has not implemented it consistently.
Some explicitly or implicitly claim that Muslims by culture or history are incapable of becoming democrats. This would be racist, if race were the relevant category. Natan Sharansky notes in "The Case for Democracy" that among the nations formerly seen as unsuited for democracy are Japan, Germany and Italy -- all robust democracies today.
There are already Muslim democracies, such as Turkey. There is movement toward democracy in some Arab countries, such as Kuwait's decision in 2005 to give Kuwaiti women the right to vote and run for office. Such progress must be encouraged, not simply because as liberal democrats we want others to enjoy the same freedoms. It is also a matter of our national security.
The war to liberate Iraq is a battle in the larger war against Islamism. The argument that Saddam was a secular Baathist, and therefore could not have had anything to do with Islamism, is unsophisticated. It's rather like claiming that there never actually was a Hitler-Stalin pact, since Nazis and Communists hated each other and could have no common interests.
The facts are that Saddam's financial support for the families of Hamas suicide-murderers is well known. Investigators in Iraq recently translated documents revealing that Saddam used money from the United Nations' oil-for-food program to fund the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Abu Abbas, the murderer of American Leon Klinghoffer, was living peacefully in Baghdad until American forces captured him in 2003.
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