ISIS Demands a Foreign Policy for Grownups
Instead of an evil empire, we face a Jihadi death cult.
They come so thick and fast, the horrors committed by the Islamic State. It is hard for those of us far away to avoid becoming numb. Yesterday, our friends among the hunted Assyrian Christians of the region sent us desperate updates: ISIS has attacked the Christians of the villages around the Khabour river in Syria. Just as Serbian nationalists did to Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s, the terrorists marched off the men and boys to remote locations and an unknown fate. (Mass murder? Forced recruitment? Their families may never know.)
The women and girls were kidnapped and dragged some 25 kilometers to the Abdulaziz Mountain, where they are still being held. Will they be sold into slavery, like the victims of ISIS’s Nigerian allies, Boko Haram, or the Yazidi and the Assyrian Christians in Iraq? There are centuries of Islamic precedent for doing exactly that. As Graeme Wood documented in The Atlantic, Islamic scripture and history are cited for every atrocity ISIS commits — from crucifixions to beheadings.
Why won’t President Obama call Islamist terrorism what it is? He trumpets the fact that the Crusades were Christian. What stops him from admitting that the Islamic State is Islamic? The terrorists ruling ISIS’s new empire — now larger than the United Kingdom — are not supporters of some secular ideology, like Qaddafi’s crackpot populism or Saddam Hussein’s pan-Arab fascism.
ISIS’s words and deeds are just one more violent form of politicized Islam, no different in kind from the Wahabism that our “ally” Saudi Arabia is using mosques to spread to the banlieues of Europe — or the Salafism that goads Islamic radicals in Egypt. The goal of ISIS is the same as that of the Muslim Brotherhood: the revival of the Caliphate, a kind of Islamic Politburo with the authority to issue fatwas (death edicts) and declare wars of jihad that will morally bind more than one billion Muslims worldwide.
Does Obama really believe that his grade-school education in an Indonesian madrasa qualifies him to tell all these Muslims that their actions are un-Islamic? What convinced him that poverty and unemployment are what goads people into burning their fellow Muslims alive in cages? Did he somehow miss the fact that many leading jihadists are highly educated and come from prosperous backgrounds? Surely the president knows better. What’s going on in his head?
Some, such as the brilliant scholar of Islam Robert Reilly, have speculated that Obama crippled himself by openly aiding the radical Muslim Brotherhood, whose political program could rightly be called “ISIS in slow motion.” Reilly is right to highlight Obama’s ominous enthusiasm for the Muslim Brotherhood, but we think that deeper motives are at work.
Obama is engaged in the same strategy that French and British appeasers tried in the 1930s, which “peacenik” liberals maintained toward the Soviet Union right up till 1989: Give evil a soothing name, repeat it like a magic spell, then hope for the best. It’s easier than paying the price in toil, blood and treasure, and more popular in the short run. Denial is a basic human response, as each of us will remember. We were all children once. Faced with something scary, we covered our eyes and murmured comforting words to ourselves. (“There’s no place like home. . . .”)
Today those consoling words include “extremists” and “perverters of religion,” swaddled in fuzzy ideas about jobs programs and community centers, where midnight basketball games will deter future suicide bombers. In the 1980s, the code words were “Finlandization,” “eurocommunism,” and “peaceful convergence.” But such words always mean the same thing: We lack the will to fight this evil, so we will refuse to name it or even see it, and we’ll label those who shame us as extremists, warmongers and bigots.
Calling things by their true names requires moral courage, but it exerts enormous power. Those who defend a great evil will shroud it in euphemisms and evasions. The frightened and squeamish will clutch at such weasel words, to postpone the day of reckoning.
The greatest moment of such truth-telling in our lifetimes came in Ronald Reagan’s epochal 1983 speech, where he ripped off the mask of the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” to reveal . . . an “evil empire.” This speech was so controversial that Reagan’s staff used elaborate ruses to try to water it down or quash it. It was duly mocked by sophisticates around the world, who claimed that Reagan was plagiarizing Star Wars.
But countless survivors of that empire, which really was evil, have come forth since its collapse to credit Reagan for giving them the courage to organize human rights lobbies and independent labor unions, such as the Solidarity movement which finally hammered at that leviathan’s feet of clay. Ex-Soviet leaders have also admitted that Reagan’s speech put the fear of God into them, and signaled that the era of Western denial was at an end. Take a few minutes to sample the speech yourself:
We need a Western leader to speak the same kind of truth today, to call the Islamic State what it really is: a jihadi death cult, spawned in the same moral sewer as the drug-fueled cult of Assassins. Whatever is noble and elevating in Islam, ISIS betrays and rejects, while seizing on long-standing, intolerant Muslim traditions and beliefs that are inhuman and plainly evil. Someone unable to say that has no business leading anyone, anywhere.
Anyone who sees and speaks the truth can grasp the policies necessary to answer it: A worldwide, covert and overt war against intolerant political Islam, as comprehensive and aggressive as Ronald Reagan’s campaign of counter-insurgency aimed at the Soviet Union. Such a war will claim Western lives and cost a lot of money.
It won’t be fought in the name of “democracy,” since democratic majorities in many Muslim countries would outright oppose it. No, this war will be fought in the name of simple decency and freedom, in defense of the safety and peace of Western nations, and the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries. It will drop the appeasement rhetoric and use harsh words for harsh realities. Only a foreign policy conducted by adults can really protect the children, like the girls up on Abdulaziz Mountain, whom we may never see again.