Know those cute little snow globes—souvenirs of cities in northern climes? Don’t think about carrying one onto a plane. A few weeks ago, I saw a no-snow-globes sign in the New Orleans airport. New Orleans!
But I don’t downplay the Islamist threat. Bombs hidden in shoes or underwear or vehicles where crowds gather pose real dangers. Yet the struggle that involves us isn’t between Islam and the West. It’s within Islam.
A civil war is raging, and we’re caught in the crossfire. Islamists want to retreat to the seventh century and the time of the Prophet. Other Muslims wish to be part of the modern world, adapting Islam to it without rigid religious and cultural standards imposed by those who would establish a new caliphate.
America and the West stand in the Islamists’ way, and they fear us mightily. Why? I have to admit that President George W. Bush—whose administration harmed this nation terribly—hit the nail on the head. If only once.
After 9/11, Mr. Bush stated that terrorists (he couldn’t manage to say Islamists) hate us not for what we’ve done but for who we are. I agree. If Islamists took issue with America’s activities in the Middle East, as well as past European colonialism, they would be expressing political anger. But political conflicts can be overcome through negotiation and mutual concession. One’s enemy can become one’s friend. Been to Germany or Japan lately? Much more is involved.
Islamists fear the West’s commitment to democracy, capitalism (sensibly regulated), separation of church and state, and human rights. These values influence what we do because they define who we are.
If we withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan tomorrow, if we leave our bases in the Persian Gulf, if we abandon Israel, they’ll still hate us. After all, Western values—our weaknesses as well as strengths—make themselves known on the Internet and television, in films, music, art and fashion. We offer Muslims choices. Islamists loathe choice.
Read Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations (1996)? Those who believe that everyone in the world thinks the same way vilified it. The planet seems to have gone global. But differences among peoples exist. Thus the West interprets “justice” as finding agreed-upon solutions that end hostilities. In the Middle East, justice often equates to revenge. Theocracy—rule by God—creates a very different worldview among many in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Gaza. The West, which experienced centuries of religious warfare, rejects theocracy save for the fringe on the Christian and Jewish far right.
That being stated, let’s remember that many Muslims wish to be part of the global society and responsible citizens in Western nations. They must stand against Islamism. We in turn must engage them with respect. Otherwise, America and the West cannot uphold our cherished values and continue to be what we are.