by John Bolton
Los Angeles high society is in turmoil following the decision of Brunei’s sultan, owner of the Beverly Hills Hotel, to implement Shariah criminal law in his country, including brutal restrictions against homosexuals and lesbians. Of course, there is nothing really new here. In 2007, then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, asked at Columbia University about Iran’s treatment of homosexuals, said, “We don’t have this phenomenon.” Indeed, since Shariah’s penalty for “this “phenomenon” is death.
Americans nationwide were shocked at Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 276 young girls in Nigeria, and the threat they will be sold into slavery or forced marriage. Their crime was being educated, but sadly was no different from Boko Haram’s many prior indiscriminate attacks against nonbelievers. Under criticism for not designating the group as a terrorist organization until late 2013, despite its well-known, bloody history, President Obama dispatched U.S. personnel to aid Nigeria’s ineffectual response to the kidnappings.
Most recently, President Omar Bashir’s repressive regime in Sudan has condemned a pregnant woman to death for apostasy by marrying a Christian and refusing to reconvert to Islam. The facts are disputed, but the government’s death sentence and its wider implications are not. Lt. Gen. Bashir’s bloodthirsty suppression of Darfur, the long civil war against Christians in now-independent South Sudan, and providing Osama bin Laden asylum in the 1990s are all too painfully evident.
The key point, generally missed by America’s news media, is that these three incidents have a common foundation. For years, there has been a rising tide of Islamic radicalism, starting in the Middle East, providing a hospitable environment in which terrorism grew naturally. This radical wave has been spreading throughout northern Africa, into Asia, and now around the world.
Most immediately threatened, of course, are those who actually live under this extreme, politicized Islam, especially other Muslims. Beyond the radicals’ immediate neighborhoods, though, the rest of the world, particularly America, has already suffered direct attack, and could well be the target again.
The United States and those who share our faith in freedom of conscience have several possible options. We can pretend the threat posed by the radical and terrorist Islamic fury doesn’t exist, hoping not to experience another Sept. 11, 2001. We can express selective indignation at abuses that offend our sensibilities, treating them as discrete offenses to which we react in an ad hoc fashion. Or we can recognize that a distinctive political ideology is at work here, one based on distorted religious precepts rather than a secular authoritarian philosophy like Nazism or communism.
Mr. Obama has largely pursued Option One, mixed, as in Nigeria’s tragedy, with inadequate, ad hoc responses. The fundamental reason for his unwillingness to address the threat directly and candidly, reflected in his 2009 Cairo speech and repeated frequently thereafter, is that so doing would offend the entire “Islamic world,” thereby increasing the terrorist threat.
The president, however, is badly mistaken, both analytically and operationally, as the pending controversies highlight. First, it is patronizing and condescending to refer to a “Muslim world” as if all Muslims robotically think exactly the same, or to imply that Muslims themselves are not acutely aware of the dangers of radicalism and terrorism, which they know first-hand. The idea that individual Muslims cannot distinguish between the legitimate practice of their faith and those distorting it for ideological purposes is breathtakingly wrong. There is no more a monolithic “Muslim world” than there is a “Christian world.”
Second, if we shrink from identifying and naming a palpable threat to our values and very existence, we can hardly protect ourselves effectively. It is manifestly not an assault on Islam to pinpoint the current ideological threat, and trace it to its source. The United States must shape its policies in light of reality, or we remain extraordinarily vulnerable to a manifest assault against both our physical safety and the cornerstones of an open and free society.
Third, the threat is imminent and rising. In just the past two years, North Africa has seen the deadly attack on Algeria’s Tigantourine natural-gas facility, the near collapse of Mali’s government, the destructive force of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and the deadly Sept. 11 attack on our Benghazi consulate. All the while, Hamas and Hezbollah are continuing their deadly terrorist pursuits, Syria has collapsed into a brutal civil war, Iraq is on the brink, and Iran’s ayatollahs are rapidly nearing a deliverable nuclear-weapons capability.
These catastrophes are related, sometimes directly involving close cooperation among terrorist and extremist forces. Our unwillingness to grasp the connections and discuss them rationally will not make them disappear, and certainly will not make them easier to defend against. Seeing the world clearly is not evidence of religious animus. Instead, refusing to acknowledge the obvious is a form of blindness that can be fatal, as we have all too often seen in recent years.
John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
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