The line here is "respect." Everybody's busy professing their "respect": We all "respect" Islam; presidents and prime ministers and foreign ministers, lapsing so routinely into the deep-respect-for-the-religion-of-peace routine they forget that cumulatively it begins to sound less like "Let's roll!" and too often like "Let's roll over!"
Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, gave a typical Western government official's speech the other day explaining that "a large number of Muslims in this country were -- understandably -- upset by those cartoons being reprinted across Europe and at their deeply held beliefs being insulted. They expressed their hurt and outrage but did so in a way which epitomized the learned, peaceful religion of Islam."
"The learned, peaceful religion of Islam"? And that would be the guys marching through London with placards reading "BEHEAD THE ENEMIES OF ISLAM" and "FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IS WESTERN TERRORISM" and promising to rain down a new Holocaust on Europe?
To win a war, you don't spin a war. Millions of ordinary citizens are not going to stick with a "long war" (as the administration now calls it) if they feel they're being dissembled to about its nature. One reason we regard Churchill as a great man is that his speeches about the nature of the enemy don't require unspinning or detriangulating.
If I had to propose a model for Western rhetoric, it would be the Australians...More recently, the prime minister offered some thoughts on the difference between Muslims and other immigrant groups. "You can't find any equivalent in Italian or Greek or Lebanese or Chinese or Baltic immigration to Australia. There is no equivalent of raving on about jihad," he said, stating the obvious in a way most political leaders can't quite bring themselves to do. "There is really not much point in pretending it doesn't exist."
Unfortunately, too many of his counterparts insist on pretending (at least to their citizenry) that it doesn't exist. What proportion of Western Muslims is hot for jihad? Five percent? Ten, 12 percent? Given that understanding this Pan-Islamist identity is critical to defeating it, why can't we acknowledge it honestly? "Raving on about jihad" is a line that meets what the law used to regard as the reasonable-man test: If you're watching news footage of a Muslim march promising to bring on the new Holocaust, John Howard's line fits.
Is it something in the water down there? Listen to Howard's Cabinet colleagues. Here's the Australian treasurer, Peter Costello, with advice for Western Muslims who want to live under Islamic law: "There are countries that apply religious or sharia law -- Saudi Arabia and Iran come to mind. If a person wants to live under sharia law these are countries where they might feel at ease. But not Australia."
You don't say. Which is the point: Most Western government leaders don't say, and their silence is correctly read by a resurgent Islam as timidity.
My worry is that the official platitudes in this new war are the equivalent of the Cold War chit-chat in its 1970s detente phase --when Willy Brandt and Pierre Trudeau and Jimmy Carter pretended the enemy was not what it was. Then came Ronald Reagan: It wasn't just the evil-empire stuff, his jokes were on the money, too. In their own depraved way, the Islamists are a lot goofier than the commies and a few gags wouldn't come amiss. If this is a "long war," it needs a rhetoric that can go the distance. And the present line fails that test.
Monday, April 03, 2006
Unspinning And Detriangulating
Excerpts from the latest Mark Steyn column: