Diana West

Not surprisingly, then, Dionne thinks conservative concerns over mere "extremism" are a political liability that Democratic presidential candidates -- in their appeal to Americans bent on a leader "righting a jittery economy" and "rolling back extreme inequality" (did I miss the socialist takeover?) -- should exploit. Examining John McCain's stated belief that "radical Islamic extremists," or plain "extremists," pose the "transcendent challenge of the 21st century," Dionne argues that Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama should be knocking this contention, which seems to strike the liberal columnist as fantastic. He writes: "Does (McCain) mean that in the year 2100, Americans will look back and say everything else that happened in the century paled in comparison with the war on terrorism?"

Well, who knows? If, for example, Europe has become an Islamic continent by century's end, as predicted by the oft-cited Bernard Lewis, they just might. They might also wonder why in tarnation their post-9/11 forbears (us) failed to note the obvious connection between "extremists" like Bin Laden and the millions of ordinary Muslims who Islamized the European continent, which is a roughly shared devotion to Islamic law.

What's notable here is that Dionne, and, presumably some significant swath of liberal thought, don't see the war on terrorism as the stand-out priority even now. That's why he wants Democratic candidates attacking McCain on it. "If McCain's `transcendent challenge' claim falls apart on close examination," he writes, "the best rationale he has for his election would disappear."

In a way, he's right again. There is a transcendent challenge facing Americans, but we can't rise to it if our leaders can't explain it. President Bush certainly hasn't. To date, what should be a momentous civilizational debate -- liberty versus Sharia -- has fizzled into politically correct hemming and hawing over "extremism." This poses a transcendent challenge to McCain. Can he make it clear that such "extremism" is only a part of the problem? Does he even believe that? We urgently need to understand that Western-style liberty -- freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, women's rights, equality before the law -- requires vigilance and protection in an era of advancing Sharia. And there's nothing "peculiar" or "odd" about that.

Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).