With the 60th anniversary of D-Day and the nearly coinciding death of Ronald Reagan, Americans have been compelled to reflect on the past, seeing rocky, bloody eras fall into the clean arc of history that appears only in a flash of hindsight.
Looking back on Nazism and communism, we see the seamless succession and demise of totalitarian threats once poised to rob the West of its liberties. In this sweeping history lesson, it becomes clearer still that the rise of Islamism -- or Islamic totalitarianism, or Islamic radicalism, or Islamofascism (we haven't yet settled on a term) -- has now succeeded these vanquished foes. Whatever it is called, this ideology is now the principle menace to freedoms treasured by 21st-century Western civilization, a secular society still rooted in Judeo-Christian tradition.
Totalitarian Islam, however, is totalitarianism with a difference. Unlike both Nazism and communism, it is not godless. I can't help wondering what Ronald Reagan would have done had Marx and Engels been deemed prophets of God. What would he have said had the Communist Manifesto been regarded as a holy book?
Communists always glowed with the zeal of religious fanatics, but communism, of course, is explicitly opposed to religion. Still, imagine that Lenin's tomb had been built as a holy shrine for sacred relics, not a ghoulish mausoleum for a moldering corpse: Would the history of the Cold War have been any different? Would Ronald Reagan have dared to define a religious faith in communism as the evil that launched the empire?
I ask this unanswerable question having just read a brief essay by Islam expert Robert Spencer, author of "Islam Unveiled" (Encounter, 2003) and "Onward, Muslim Soldiers" (Regnery, 2003). Writing in frontpagemag.com, Spencer compares totalitarian foes immediately past and present -- communists and jihadists -- to lament that our age lacks a calls-it-like-he-sees-it leader such as Ronald Reagan, someone to flip the conventional wisdom that once denied the evils inherent in communism and now denies the evils inherent in totalitarian Islam.
"Today's stifling orthodoxy remains largely unchallenged," Spencer writes. "Not just liberal publications and spokesmen, but conservatives who claim to wear Reagan's mantle temporize and dissimulate about our current despotic antagonist in a way that the man himself would have found contemptible. Leaders and pundits must cling to fond fictions about Islam being a religion of peace that has been hijacked by a tiny minority of extremists. They thus pass up the opportunity to call for worldwide reform of Islam."
In other words, "fond fictions" overwrite the urgent truth that Islam requires moderating and modernizing reform if ever it is to co-exist peacefully with Western democracies. The reform starts, Spencer explains, "by identifying the elements of Islam that give rise to violence and extremism." The place to begin is with the twin Islamic precepts of jihad, or holy war, and dhimmitude, the institutionalized inferiority of non-Muslims and women living under Muslim rule. Reform is doomed, however, if these elements are ignored, obscured and denied.
Alas, I can think of no political leader, and precious few historians and commentators, who have made this point. We hear "terrorism" and "murderous ideology" denounced, but we never hear "terrorism" and "murderous ideology" defined. We hear nothing about the religious roots of jihad's bloody violence that must be exposed if they are ever to wither. Ronald Reagan was never reluctant to define the "terrorism" and "murderous ideology" of his day as being specifically communist-driven manifestations of the "evil empire." I like to think he would have identified Islam's evil elements -- jihad and dhimmitude -- and provided a level-headed explanation of why domination and repression, whether serving a secular totalitarian state or a religious totalitarian movement, are forces America opposes.
A profound respect for religious freedom informs our tortured silence -- although "holy" justifications for terror attacks on civilians offered by mainstream Islamic authorities surely deserve no such respect. But there's another angle to consider. Ronald Reagan believed the United States could transform communism through freedom's triumph. The transformation of Islam is necessarily a Muslim affair.
This is all the more reason not to flinch, rhetorically speaking. As Spencer writes, "By vilifying and attempting to marginalize those who dare tell the truth about Islamic radicalism as Reagan did about Communism, today's intelligentsia provides ample cover to radical Islamic terrorists, allowing them to operate under the radar screen of media scrutiny and even law enforcement."
This isn't only terrifying; it's tragic. It's also downright un-Reaganesque.