Cliff May

‘We have seen that the desire for liberty and freedom is, indeed, universal, as men and women in the Middle East rise up to seize it.”

I admire Condoleezza Rice and thought she gave a powerful speech at the recent Republican National Convention. But that line was a fingernail on a blackboard, albeit a familiar one: During the Bush administration, I was privileged to serve on a bipartisan democracy-promotion committee reporting to the secretary of state. A baseline assumption was that everyone everywhere wants to be free.

The reality may be less comforting. While there are many people — not least in what we have come to call the “Muslim World” — who are weary of despots, there are others who are not impressed when they see Americans and Europeans freely picking and choosing their beliefs like diners at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Totalitarianism provides an alternative. In the current century, totalitarianism’s most energetic expression is Islamism. Whereas Nazism and Fascism were predicated on the supremacy of particular races and nations, and Communism on the supremacy of a particular class, Islamism asserts the supremacy of a religion and those who embrace it.

Islamists are inspired by Hassan al-Banna, the Egyptian intellectual who in 1928 founded the Muslim Brotherhood, and who declared, simply and plainly, that “it is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its laws on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.”

Among those laws as the Islamists interpret them: Insulting Islam, its scriptures, or its Prophet is forbidden to everyone everywhere. Infidels may not offend Muslims. Those who violate these laws are to be punished. Islamists find it hypocritical, to say the least, when Americans acknowledge that a video disrespecting Islam is “disgusting and reprehensible,” as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, or assert that it is wrong “to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims,” as a statement from the U.S. embassy in Cairo phrased it, but then fail to bring to justice those responsible, and take no actions to prevent such crimes from recurring in the future.

Islamism is not a monolithic movement. In addition to the Muslim Brothers, there are those who call themselves jihadis, implying that they are Islamic warriors wielding swords — and RPGs, IEDs, suicide vests, and nuclear weapons if they can get them.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.