President George Bush delivered his last State of the Union address this week over a backdrop of the 2008 Presidential primary season. Eight years of the Bush doctrine in the misnamed “War on Terror” is being ushered out. Yet, neither the President nor any of his potential successors have been effectively challenged by the media, Congress, or the voters on the contest of ideas in this global “War on Terror.” A review of the Presidential candidate websites demonstrates how little depth most candidates exhibit in their discussions of the central ideological conflicts in the “War on Terror.” It remains an enigma how one of the most profound concerns on the minds of American voters in the 21st Century – fear of militant Islamist terror attacks – can be so obviously dismissed as we narrow the field of candidates in the next few weeks.
In the President’s SOTU address, he reaffirmed the Bush doctrine stating, “We trust that people, when given the chance, will choose a future of freedom and peace.”
This mantra has always been the right ideological stage for an eventual defeat of the Islamists. Yet again, after seven years of a Bush administration, the stage remains empty and the idea is left for dead. Listening only to President Bush and others in his administration (including the likes of former Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes) supposedly leading the contest of ideas, one would never understand what the other side, the Islamists, were actually all about or what they were actually saying. They presented the Islamists with no open challenge, debate, or critical engagement.
Mr. President, your intentions of an ideological liberation of the Muslim world are on the mark. But an effective execution in this contest of ideas has yet to even begin. A national and, more importantly, a global, critical engagement of American ideas against Islamist ideas has yet to take place in any measurable fashion. How can we speak about bringing liberty and freedom to the Muslim world when the Islamist mindset remains effectively unchallenged by mainstream media and politicians in our public arena? How can we liberate ideas we never engaged?
Sadly, our nation was left Monday evening without a clue about the ideas which separate secular liberal democracies from Islamist movements. The core ideological conflict between Americanism and the militant Islamists remains inferred, rather than in front. It is time to bring it to the fore. It is time to expose Islamists – domestically and on foreign soil – who exploit our protections of religious freedom in exchange for the toxic advocacy of their own theocratic political agenda.
If the President will not lead and address these ideological chasms, one would have thought that the Presidential candidates vying for change would have been challenged to gain more clarity on them. Much to the contrary, they are even more evasive and dismissive of Islamism.
This tactic of terror we are fighting will continue to exponentially regenerate itself as long as its fuel remains. The fuel is political Islam – Islamism. Islamism is effectively incubated in a culture like ours in the United States which stubbornly (to our own detriment) refuses to engage political Islam because of its invocation of a faith. The American people need leadership that not only understands the need to bring freedom and liberty to the world, but leadership ready to confront our Islamist enemies with the pathologies of their own ideas – leadership which can separate personal spiritual Islam from political Islam and genuinely engage liberty-minded anti-Islamist Muslims.
This war is about listening to the words of our enemies. It is about the ideas of our enemies which make them repel from freedom. In this debate season where vagaries are shunned and specifics lauded, it is time for the candidates to get specific. Here are the questions which will probably never be asked in this year’s debates but whose answers would separate real leaders from demagogues.
President Bush has stated in his SOTU address that, “We are engaged in the defining ideological struggle of the 21st Century. The terrorists oppose every principle of humanity and decency that we hold dear. Yet in this war on terror, there is one thing we and our enemies agree on: In the long run, men and women who are free to determine their own destinies will reject terror and refuse to live in tyranny. And that is why the terrorists are fighting to deny this choice to the people in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Palestinian Territories. And that is why, for the security of America and the peace of the world, we are spreading the hope of freedom.”
1. How would you seek to spread the hope of freedom?
2. Why hasn’t the Bush administration succeeded in this pursuit of spreading the hope of freedom? Will your administration identify the incompatibility of political Islam with true freedom? Can we spread the hope of freedom without identifying the great obstacles within political Islam and its theocratic ideology which impedes freedom?
3. The Public Diplomacy program for all intents and purposes has failed to both spread the ideas of freedom and improve the image of America in the West. How would you execute a more effective PD program?
4. Have al-Hurra TV and Radio SAWA been effective in their mission? Why not? Would it not be more effective to take on the Islamists in their own media and challenge their ideas on their turf rather than our own media which none of them watch?
5. Is the War on Terror appropriately named? If not, what should it be named?
6. What is the relationship between secular dictatorship and monarchies in the Muslim world and radical Islamism? Shouldn’t both heads of the snake be equally condemned in this war of ideas?
7. What will you do to defend anti-Islamist Muslims in the Muslim world? Will you make a promise now to unwaveringly defend the rights of liberty-minded dissidents in the Muslim world? For example, how would you have responded to the jailing of Egyptian blogger Abdelkarim Soliman by the Mubarak regime in February 2007?
8. Will you support liberty-minded Muslims in Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or Iran? Or will your administration continue to appear to lift up the Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood?
9. Will you remain silent about the global scourge of Wahhabism and its source – Saudi Arabia – while performing photo-ops with the Kingdom? Will we allow oil supply to dictate our ideological confrontation (or lack thereof) with the Islamists, Salafists, and Jihadists.
10. On the domestic front, how will you hold American Muslim organizations accountable for their stances on Islamism and their dangerously vague and non-specific condemnations of terrorism and terrorist organizations? Where does political correctness end and the security of our nation begin? Will you challenge American Muslims to join our nation in this ideological battle and take on the responsibility of leading an anti-Islamist movement from within the Muslim consciousness?
11. International Islamist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood are now conveniently condemning terrorism in order to mainstream themselves and fit into the Western construct of anti-terrorism. Is anti-terrorism enough? Shouldn’t anti-Islamism be a more defining litmus test for the organizations and networks we positively engage?
12. Should we remain dangerously silent under the false guise of political correctness? Why would you not critically engage countries which enforce medieval laws against their populations in the name of Islam? Sudan tried to enforce medieval blasphemy laws against a British teacher. A Saudi court turned a rape victim into a criminal and an Afghani court tried a citizen for apostasy laws after he left Islam. At what point is it incumbent upon the President of the United States to set the stage for the contest of ideas between the west and our United Nations Declaration of Human rights and the Islamist world?
For anti-Islamist Muslims, the answers to these questions are obvious: never compromise the principle of freedom in the name of political expediency and fear of our enemies.
The tactic of terrorism is employed for the furtherance of radical political Islam. If radical political Islam is our enemy, non-violent political Islam is certainly not our friend. Muslims who believe in and advocate universal liberty, freedom, and pluralism should hear us honestly advocate for them and help them succeed against the Islamists. Playing both sides will further hurt our credibility and undermine our security. Muslims who believe in and advocate political Islam should hear us articulate a national strategy to discredit and disavow their ideas in the ideological market place of the Muslim world.
Will the candidates for leadership of the free world ever be tested on these questions going into Super Tuesday and into the conventions and beyond? Probably not.
Americans have not forgotten about terrorism. Quite to the contrary. It is still a primary concern among voters. But rather, the politics of victimization and the minority politics of political correctness have trumped reason in this most vital debate of the 21st Century.