There is a reason why the aphorism “politics makes strange bedfellows” has been a favorite since Shakespeare’s time. It describes a common phenomenon. We can all come up with a list of favorite instances.
Some might point to our wartime alliance with Josef Stalin against Nazi Germany, or to the coalition of northern liberals and southern segregationists that gave the White House to the Democrats for many decades in the last century.
The war in Iraq is giving us some new examples. We find Patrick Buchanan, Charley Reese and Joseph Sobran lining up with leftists such as Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore, arguing that the war has been a tragic mistake into which we were dragged by “neo-conservatives” overly committed to Israel’s interests. On the other side, we have Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the editors of National Review taking the same position as Christopher Hitchens and the editors of the New Republic, describing the war as a necessary and noble crusade against Islamic fanatics hell-bent upon our destruction.
The recent bombings in London brought out both sides in full force. Rich Lowry of National Review argued the bombings illustrate the extent to which we “are facing a global insurgency of Islamic militants who will hit anywhere, from Mosul to London. Their goal is totalist. They want, first, to drive us from the Middle East, then, to establish a caliphate there, and finally to absorb the West into their theocracy.” Cal Thomas maintained the bombings were part of a war “against all things Western, Jewish, and Christian” being promoted “in who knows how many mosques in Britain and the US.”
The other side was expressed in July 18th issue of The American Conservative, in an interview with Robert Pape, author of Dying to Win: The Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Pape sees no Islamic war against Western civilization: “Suicide terrorist attacks are not so much driven by religion as by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces form the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.” He argues that if we were to withdraw from the Middle East, “the homeland of the terrorists,” the attacks would “stop on a dime.” Patrick Buchanan agrees: “The 9/11 terrorists were over here because we were over there. They are not trying to convert us. They are killing us to drive us out of their countries.”
Who is right? Maybe both sides. A recent (July 23rd) essay in The Wall Street Journal by Caleb Carr, the author The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness (page-turning novels depicting life in the underbelly of late 19th century Manhattan) illustrates how that might be the case. Carr has no dog in this fight between the neo-cons and paleo-cons; he is not a movement conservative.
Carr maintains that, if we look objectively as the “motivations and perversities” of the “dangerous Islamist clerics and terrorist organizers who sought out” the “youthful pawns” who carry out suicide bombings around the world, we can see a calculated strategy. He maintains they are looking to use Islamic communities in the Western world as “human instruments” in a “demented campaign to turn History’s clock back.” Because of liberal immigration policies in Western Europe and the United States they now have many such communities to draw upon.
Carr examines the record of terrorist strikes in the United States and Western Europe and finds a clear-cut pattern. In each case the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States, the Madrid bombings in March of 2004, and the recent bombings in London he maintains that there were signs of “a weakening public determination to aggressively meet the rising challenge of Islamist terrorism.” Let’s take them one at a time.
9/11? President Clinton, says Carr, had confined “his responses to occasional and counterproductive bombings even as the death toll from al Qaeda attacks on US interests abroad rose dramatically. Correctly sensing that the new president, George W. Bush, was treating the terrorist threat with a similar attitude of denial, al Qaeda’s Hamburg-based subsidiaries launched the 9/11 operation.”
Madrid? As Spain approached an election in March of 2004, its citizens were given a warning by an Islamist group associated with al Qaeda that they would be attacked if they failed to elect a candidate who would withdraw Spain’s troops from Iraq. Their railroad was bombed to underscore the warning. In its wake, the newly-elected Socialist leader of Spain pulled the country’s troops out of Iraq.
In Britain, says Carr, it is likely that al Qaeda reacted to the strident denunciations of Britain’s role in Iraq by that country’s celebrities and left-wing intellectuals in full force at the demonstrations at the G-8 summit meetings and the Live 8 rock concerts against world hunger as “final proof that that nation’s will to fight terrorism had become mortally compromised” and that the “long-sought-after moment when a seemingly retreating Britain could be fully separated from the US had finally arrived.” But how can it be said that Carr’s analysis is a synthesis between the neo-con and paleo-con view of world terrorism? Clearly, he is on the side of those who see Islamic terrorism as a war against Western civilization, an effort to, as he says, “turn History’s clock back.” In fact, he wrote his essay in the Wall Street Journal to warn against any “wavering” that will “cause the scent that emerges from our own communities to become that of fear,” an “odor inside our borders” that will only lead to more attacks such as the London and Madrid bombings.
Yet consider what Carr has pointed out. Facts are facts. He has illustrated how Islamic groups now have both the will and the capacity to use radicalized young Islamic men, citizens of the democracies of the West, to carry out missions designed to further the cause of radical Islam. Liberal immigration policies have brought about that reality for us. At this moment, the goal of radical Islam is to end the West’s presence in the Middle East in Iraq, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The paleo-cons are right about that.
But they will use the same tactics in the future to further the demands of the rapidly growing Muslim populations in Western Europe and the United States on matters not tied directly to the Middle East. The neo-cons are right about that. Islamic radicals are attacking the West now because of Israel and Iraq. If those attacks bear fruit, they will resort to the same tactics to support the calls for Muslim triumphalism we hear from radical Muslim leaders such as Anjem Choudray, the spokesman for the Al-Muhajiroun, a radical Islamic movement in Britain. Choudray, you may recall, told British reporters that “one day the black flag of Islam will be flying over Downing Street. Lands will not be liberated by individuals, but by an army. Eventually there'll have to be a Muslim army. It's just a matter of time before it happens.”
It can be argued that it was a mistake for the Western World to commit itself to the cause of Zionism in 1948. There is no reason to restate the case. The point just now is that, whatever your position on Israel, it does not change the situation that Carr describes a world where militant Muslims are dedicated to bringing the Western world to its knees and are now convinced that terrorist strikes and suicide bombings are an effective way to achieve that goal.
(This article originally appeared in The Wanderer and is reprinted with permission. To subscribe call 651-224-5733.)