"Muslim Opinion" Be Damned
By Alex Epstein (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Sept. 12, 2005; Providence Journal, Sept. 22, 2005)
As Muslim groups express outrage and issue death threats over cartoons depicting Mohammad, many Western leaders are responding, not with condemnations of the death threats, but with condemnations of the cartoons--and of the newspapers that published them.
This is the latest example of the apologies and hand-wringing that occur anytime there is any widespread display of Muslim anger. To listen to most of our foreign-policy commentators, the biggest problem facing America today is the fact that many Muslims are mad at us.
"Whatever one's views on the [Iraq] war," writes a "New York Times" columnist, "thoughtful Americans need to consider . . . the bitter anger that it has provoked among Muslims around the world." In response to Abu Ghraib, Ted Kennedy lamented, "We have become the most hated nation in the world, as a result of this disastrous policy in the prisons." Muslim anger over America's support of Israel, we are told, is a major cause of anti-American terrorism.
We face, these commentators say, a crisis of "Muslim opinion." We must, they say, win the "hearts and minds" of angry Muslims by heaping public affection on Islam, by shutting down Guantanamo, by being more "evenhanded" between free Israel and the terrorist Palestinian Authority--and certainly by avoiding any new military action in the Muslim world. If we fail to win over "Muslim opinion," we are told, we will drive even more to become terrorists.
All of this evades one blatant truth: the hatred being heaped on America is irrational and undeserved. Consider the issue of treatment of POWs. Many Muslims are up in arms about the treatment of prisoners of war in Iraq and at Guantanamo--many of whom were captured on battlefields, trying to kill Americans. Yet these same Muslims are silent about the summary convictions and torture--real torture, with electric drills and vats of acid--that are official policy and daily practice throughout the Middle East.
Or consider "Muslim opinion" over the United States' handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which the United States is accused of not being "hard enough" on Israel--a free nation with laws that protect all citizens, Jew and Arab alike--for Israel's supposed mistreatment of Palestinians. Yet "Muslim opinion" reveres the Palestinian Authority, a brutal dictatorship that deprives Palestinians of every basic freedom, keeps them in unspeakable poverty, and routinely tortures and executes peaceful dissenters.
So-called Muslim opinion is not the unanimous and just consensus that its seekers pretend. It is the irrational and unjust opinion of the world's worst Muslims: Islamists and their legions of "moderate" supporters and sympathizers. These people oppose us not because of any legitimate grievances against America, but because they are steeped in a fundamentalist interpretation of their religion--one that views America's freedom, prosperity, and pursuit of worldly pleasures as the height of depravity. They do not seek respect for the rights of the individual (Muslim or non-Muslim), they seek a world in which the rights of all are sacrificed to the dictates of Islam.
The proper response to Islamists and their supporters is to identify them as our ideological and political enemies--and dispense justice accordingly. In the case of our militant enemies, we must kill or demoralize them--especially those regimes that support terrorism and fuel the Islamist movement; as for the rest, we must politically ignore them and intellectually discredit them, while proudly arguing for the superiority of Americanism. Such a policy would make us safe, expose Islamic anti-Americanism as irrational and immoral, and embolden the better Muslims to support our ideals and emulate our ways.
President Bush, like most politicians and intellectuals, has taken the opposite approach to "Muslim opinion": appeasement. Instead of identifying anti-American Muslims as ideological enemies to be discredited, he has appealed to their sensibilities and met their demands--e.g., sacrificing American soldiers to save Iraqi civilians and mosques. Instead of seeking to crush the Islamists by defeating the causes they fight for--such as Islamic world domination and the destruction of Israel--he has appeased those causes, declaring Islam a "great religion" and rewarding the Palestinian terrorist Jihad with a promised Palestinian state. Instead of destroying terrorist regimes that wage war against the West--including, most notably, Iran--he has sought their "cooperation" and even cast some as "coalition partners."
Such measures have rewarded our enemy for waging physical and spiritual war against us. "Condemn America," they have learned, "and American leaders will praise your ideals and meet your demands." "Attack America via terrorist proxy," terrorist states and movements have been taught, "and America will neither blame you nor destroy you, but redouble its efforts to buy your love."
Every attempt to appease "Muslim opinion" preserves, promotes, and emboldens our enemies. Every concession to angry Muslim mobs gives hope to the Islamist cause. Every day we allow terrorist regimes to exist gives their minions time to execute the next Sept. 11. America needs honest leadership with the courage to identify and defeat our enemies--"Muslim opinion" be damned. They should begin by declaring that militant groups and states that threaten anti-Western violence in response to free speech will be met, not with appeasement, but with destruction.
Alex Epstein was a writer and a fellow on staff
at ARI between 2004 and 2011.