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The elephant in the mosque: Thoughts on the New Cold War

By John Bush
web posted November 18, 2002

After a decade-long sabbatical from history, the West again finds itself in a protracted struggle with armed ideology. Orwell's grim faced men who "think in slogans and talk in bullets" might now do their sloganeering in Arabic rather than Russian, but the threat is fundamentally the same. As with Communism, the clash with Islamism is global in scope and religious in nature. One key question remains unanswered -- Does sufficient vigor remain in the West to answer this challenge?

In the previous Cold War, most people understood the comprehensive nature of the problem. Revolutions, genocide and invasion weren't isolated events, but rather the fruit of an animating ideology. In this new manifestation, the problem seems most often to be approached anecdotally, as if the daily occurrence of terror bombings and assassinations arises ex nihilo. PC-orthodoxy constrains us from ever mentioning this elephant in the mosque.

This thinking leads to a piecemeal approach. We seek to pluck the poison flower of terrorism, while leaving the root of Islamism festering below the soil. President Bush seems nearly alone among Western leaders in understanding this, and in the face of near-universal criticism he's actively working to eliminate terrorist greenhouses like Iraq and Afghanistan

Some might think the equation of radical Islamism with Communism is overstated, but consider some of the parallels. Both inhabit a dichotomous world: Workers vs. Capitalists; Islam vs. Infidel. Both are offshoots of Christianity -- one tracing its origins through Judeo-Christianity, the other a secularization of millennial expectation. In both systems Christendom is viewed as the primary obstacle to a terrestrial Paradise of either Worker or Muslim persuasion. In Czarist Russia, Communism came to prominence because peaceful means of protest were stifled. In the Middle East, radical Islam is the only permissible outlet for public unrest in the face of repressive theocracies. As in the previous incarnation, this new war is an ongoing low-intensity conflict with periodic hot wars flaring up.

They share a common approach to democracy as well. Mock elections are held at home (both the Communist party in the USSR and Saddam in Iraq received an unsurprising 100 per cent of the vote.) Meanwhile, in areas where they're a minority they clamor for participation in the democratic process. Once allowed into this process, they inevitably seek to undermine and destroy it. A country's days were numbered once the Communists became part of a "coalition" government. Likewise in Nigeria, the Islamists have voted for sharia law in the northern states, and are now using these Islamic courts to persecute non-believers. Islamism is every bit the harbinger of mass murder, totalitarianism and cultural stagnation that Communism ever was.

Both ideologies are intensely evangelical. Cadres from Russia established influential Communist parties in countries from Indonesia to Mexico. In this era, extremist Wahabi clerics and literature flood out of Saudi Arabia to virtually every nation on the globe. In addition to winning converts like sniper John Allen Muhammad, they're radicalizing mainstream Islam in a way few in the West realize. Ponder this: a Gallup poll found that 82 per cent of Muslims in Pakistan believe that bin Laden is a holy warrior rather than a terrorist, and only 12 per cent believe he was actually responsible for 9/11. Pakistan is, of course, our ostensibly stalwart ally in this war on terrorism. How can we restrict our focus to the tiny handful of active terrorists when so much of mainstream Islam supports them? With bin Laden carrying a higher approval rating in Karachi than Bush in Crawford, how can we go on mouthing platitudes about Islam being a religion of peace?

Another parallel between Communism and radical Islam is in methodology. In very few instances did Red Army soldiers fire upon their American counterparts. The Politburo much preferred to work through proxy states like Cuba and Vietnam, all the while speaking the language of world peace and diplomacy. Similarly, Saudi Arabia remains our "strategic partner" and Saddam manipulates world opinion, while both funnel moral and material support to terrorism.

Once again, much of the developing world is caught up in the conflict, with active revolutionary groups operating from the GIA in Algeria to Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines. And as before, America stands largely alone. With one hand she props up anti-Islamist governments around the world, while with the other she tries to keep a weak-kneed Western Europe from fainting out of the fight entirely. Mass demonstrations have greeted her every decision, from deploying Pershing IIs in the last Cold War to invading Afghanistan in this new one. An impotent Europe, with the exception of doughty England, once again shelters behind the American military, peeking its head out only to offer criticism. Plus ca change, as the French say. Of course, the cravenness and self-seeking of the French in this new Cold War is matched only by their cravenness and self-seeking in the last one.

Not much has changed on the home front, either. Just as moral equivalency between the US and the USSR was an article of faith among leftish intellectuals during the Cold War, a "blame America first" mentality continues to predominate in many quarters. Lincoln Steffens reported back from Soviet Russia that he had "seen the future, and it works." Hollywood feted dictators like Daniel Ortega, while blasting Reagan's attempts to foster democracy in Nicaragua. Similarly, Gore Vidal announced the other day that Bush was actually complicit in September 11th. Sting sang about the Russians loving their children too; while on a regular basis these days, deep thinkers like George Michael and Tom Cruise denounce America as corrupt and imperialistic. In line with Hollywood's recent trend toward sequels, notables like Barbra Streisand and Susan Sarandon are reprising their roles as apologists for genocide and terror. The nostalgia is enough to make one a little misty.

During the Cold War there were few open Communists in the West, but the phenomenon of anti-anti-Communism was extremely influential. It was fashionable to attack anyone articulating anti-Communist views -- Whittaker Chambers and Barry Goldwater spring to mind. A similar mentality prevails in the contemporary media. Internal debates in the Bush administration are transformed into a morality play, with hawks like Deputy SecDef Wolfowitz cast as warmongering antagonists to a saintly and dovish Colin Powell. Iraqi government sponsored anti-American protests are given page 1A treatment, while anti-Fundamentalist demonstrations in Tehran are largely ignored. Nowhere is this tendency more obvious than at Howell Raines' New York Times, which seems lately to have moved its anti-war editorials to page 1 and disguised them as real reporting.

As much as the two Cold Wars resemble each other, there are dissimilarities that make this new one even more threatening. Most obviously, we didn't depend on the Soviets for a healthy percentage of our oil supply. Secondly, the enemy is ensconced within a major world religion, forcing its opponents into verbal PC contortions.

Most significant though, is that Mutual Assured Destruction was a viable deterrent in the last Cold War. Both the Americans and Soviets viewed the other as rational. Radical Islam not only lacks this instinct for self-preservation, but actually pushes an incentive program for suicide. MAD cannot work when one of the parties is mad. Further, because of the decentralized nature of the threat, we don't necessarily have a territorial enemy to retaliate against if a suitcase nuke does turn Manhattan into a glowing parking lot.

Foreign-policy debates during the Cold War often split into two camps -- those favoring containment, and those pushing to roll back Communist control. A near-identical discussion is taking place today. The old Truman Doctrine of containment is pushed by the doves, while the realists support pre-emptive action -- the Bush Doctrine. In the previous war advocates of containment were guilty of timidity. In this new world, where the West is faced with soon-to-be nuclear fanaticism, support for containment borders more on malignant stupidity.

Any system contrary to human nature will prove abortive. The contradictions of Communism led to its self-destruction. In time, Taliban-style Islam will likewise crumble. Cracks are already appearing in places like Iran. But it's a fool's wager to sit idle and gamble that they'll fall apart before laying hold of weapons of mass destruction.

America was clear-eyed and steadfast last time, outfighting and outlasting the Soviet system. Europe remained at our side despite a strong inclination toward appeasement. But a great ambivalence still clouds much of the debate as we enter this new struggle with extremism. Here's hoping that more people will awaken to the real nature of this second Cold War, both stateside and across the Pond.

John Bush is a Presbyterian Church in America missionary serving in Kiev, Ukraine. He has previously worked full-time on both the Katherine Harris and Phil Gramm campaigns.

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