President Bush delivered a speech last week to the National Endowment for Democracy. Quoting Ronald Reagan's 1982 address at Westminster Palace in which Reagan spoke of a turning point in history, Bush noted Reagan had argued that Soviet communism had failed "precisely because it did not respect its own people - their creativity, their genius and their rights."
The Bush address understandably came from a Western perspective. But, as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher noted at a U.N. disarmament conference more than two decades ago, we in the West make a mistake when we "transpose" our morality on those who don't share it.
President Bush asked, "Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty?" It depends on the meaning of liberty. What if the Islamic nations of the region define liberty differently from us? Suppose they see our liberty as something corrupting to faith and morals and our culture as something they do not wish to import, but oppose as inimical to a healthy life on Earth and an impediment to an afterlife?
The president asserted that Islam "is consistent with democratic rule," and he listed as examples several states where non-radical Muslims live (Turkey, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Indonesia and Niger). These states are not a threat to the United States. The threat comes from states dominated by extremist Muslim militants, especially the Wahhabi brand. To draw a comparison between atheistic communism and radical Islam and to suggest that what happened to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe can be replicated in the Middle East is dangerous. The New York Times reported last Friday (Nov. 7) that commentators across the Middle East dismissed the president's speech as primarily for domestic consumption.
Secular societies, even those presided over by an openly Christian leader like President Bush, risk lulling their people into complacency when they offer bromides instead of calls to civil defense and appropriate responses during war. As Giuseppe De Rosa, S.I. writes in the Italian publication La Civilta Cattolica (http://18.104.22.168/ESW(underscore)articolo/0,2393,41931,00.html): "all of Islamic history is dominated by the idea of the conquest of the Christian lands of Western Europe and of the Eastern Roman Empire, whose capital was Constantinople. Thus, through many centuries, Islam and Christianity faced each other in terrible battles, which led on one side to the conquest of Constantinople (1453), Bulgaria and Greece, and on the other, to the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the naval battle of Lepanto (1571)."
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