Earlier this month the Washington Post's Richard Cohen wrote, "As the late Susan Sontag bravely pointed out in a New Yorker essay published right after Sept. 11, 2001, those terrorist attacks were in response to American policy in the Middle East - not, as Bush has said repeatedly since, because Islamic radicals cannot abide freedom."
And Patrick Buchanan - allegedly on the other side of the ideological spectrum - has declared countless times, "Osama bin Laden and his crew up there in Tora Bora did not stumble on a copy of the Bill of Rights and go berserk that Americans are free in the United States."
In short, the notion that America is in a war for freedom over tyranny has elicited bipartisan snickering and guffawing. In the wake of Bush's inaugural, the chorus of complaints intensified. And understandably so, given the fact that his address was the most forceful articulation of his "freedom" vision to date.
But before the cackles could reach their crescendo, the naysayers hit an inconvenient snag. Musab al-Zarqawi, the "prince" of Al-Qaida in Iraq, appointed by Osama Bin Laden, came out and agreed with President Bush. "We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology," Zarqawi declared in a statement. "Democracy is also based on the right to choose your religion," he said, and that is "against the rule of God."
You can almost hear Cohen and Buchanan snapping their pencils "Darn it, stop stepping on my message!"
Zarqawi's declaration came after a statement by Bin Laden himself in December, in which he pronounced: "Anyone who participates in these elections . has committed apostasy against Allah."
Now, this doesn't mean that Bin Laden and Zarqawi aren't motivated by less lofty - or merely different - principles than an Islamist rejection of democracy. To be sure, Bin Laden's initial grievances included America's relationship to Saudi Arabia, Israel and all the usual complaints. But underlying these gripes was an ideology - and remains an ideology - opposed to freedom and democracy. The intellectual founder of Islamism, Sayyid Qutb, wrote in 1957: "In the world there is only one party, the party of Allah; all of the others are parties of Satan and rebellion. Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah; and those who disbelieve fight in the cause of the rebellion."