In 1938, the year of Anschluss and Munich, a perceptive British Catholic looked beyond the continent over which war clouds hung and saw another cloud forming.
"It has always seemed to me ... probable," wrote Hilaire Belloc, "that there would be a resurrection of Islam and that our sons or our grandsons would see the renewal of that tremendous struggle between the Christian culture and what has been for more than a thousand years its greatest opponent."
Belloc was prophetic. Even as Christianity seems to be dying in Europe, Islam is rising to shake the 21st century as it did so many previous centuries.
Indeed, as one watches U.S. armed forces struggle against Sunni insurgents, Shia militias and Jihadists in Iraq, and a resurgent Taliban, all invoking Allah, Victor Hugo's words return to mind: No army is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.
The idea for which our many of our adversaries fight is a compelling one. They believe there is but one God, Allah, that Muhammad is his prophet, that Islam, or submission to the Quran, is the only path to paradise and that a Godly society should be governed according to the Sharia, the law of Islam. Having tried other ways and failed, they are coming home to Islam.
What idea do we have to offer? Americans believe that freedom comports with human dignity, that only a democratic and free-market system can ensure the good life for all, as it has done in the West and is doing in Asia.
From Ataturk on, millions of Islamic peoples have embraced this Western alternative. But today, tens of millions of Muslims appear to be rejecting it, returning to their roots in a more pure Islam.
Indeed, the endurance of the Islamic faith is astonishing.
Islam survived two centuries of defeats and humiliations of the Ottoman Empire and Ataturk's abolition of the caliphate. It endured generations of Western rule. It outlasted the pro-Western monarchs in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Ethiopia and Iran. Islam easily fended off communism, survived the rout of Nasserism in 1967 and has proven more enduring than the nationalism of Arafat or Saddam. Now, it is resisting the world's last superpower.
What occasioned this column was a jolting report in the June 20 Washington Times, by James Brandon, alerting us to a new front.
"Arrests Spark Fear of Armed Islamist Takeover" headlined the story about the arrest, since May, of 500 militants who had allegedly plotted the overthrow of the king of Morocco and establishment of an Islamic state that would sever all ties to the infidel West -- to end the poverty and corruption they blame on the West.
The arrests raised fears that Al Adl wa al Ihsane, or Justice and Charity, was preparing to take up arms to fulfill the predictions of the group's mystics that the monarchy would fall in 2006. Though illegal, Al Adl wa al Ihsane is Morocco's largest Islamic movement, which boycotts elections, but has hundreds of thousands of followers and has taken over the universities and is radicalizing the young.
Its founder is Sheik Abdessalam Yassine, who has declared its purpose is to reunite mosque and state: "Politics and spirituality have been kept apart by the Arab elites. And we have been able to reconnect these two aspects of Islam -- and that is why people fear us."
And, one might add, why people embrace them.
If Morocco is now in play in the struggle between militant Islam and the West, how looks the correlation of forces in June 2006?
Islamists are taking over in Somalia. They are in power in Sudan. The Muslim Brotherhood won 60 percent of the races it contested in Egypt. Hezbollah swept the board in southern Lebanon. Hamas seized power from Fatah on the West Bank and Gaza. The Shia parties who hearken to Ayatollah Sistani brushed aside our favorites, Chalabi and Iyad Allawi, in the Iraqi elections. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the most admired Iranian leader since Khomeini. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is staging a comeback.
This has all happened in the last year. And where are we winning?
What is the appeal of militant Islam? It is, first, its message: As all else has failed us, why not live the faith and law God gave us?
Second, it is the Muslim rage at the present condition where pro-Western regimes are seen as corruptly enriching themselves, while the poor suffer.
Third, it is a vast U.S. presence that Islamic peoples are taught is designed to steal their God-given resources and assist the Israelis in humiliating them and persecuting the Palestinians.
Lastly, Islamic militants are gaining credibility because they show a willingness to share the poverty of the poor and fight the Americans.
What America needs to understand is something unusual for us: From Morocco to Pakistan, we are no longer seen by the majority as the good guys.
If Islamic rule is an idea taking hold among the Islamic masses, how does even the best army on earth stop it? Do we not need a new policy?
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