islam protest

Michael Gerson’s September 11 column in the Washington Post can’t be read without calling to mind Talleyrand’s description of the restored Bourbon dynasty, “They have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing”. The title, Republicans’ fringe tone on Islam shows a sharp turn since 9/11, tells you much of what you need to know about the column.

In Gerson’s view, nothing has really changed since 9/11 and Bush’s decision to shift the blame from the real enemy, which is Islam as is practiced in most of the Middle East, onto some group that no one belongs to,

“The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics — a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.”

That seemed reasonable at the time. In fact, at the time it might even have been an inspired tack to take as we needed the assistance of quasi-rogue regimes, like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to prosecute our war. Gerson goes on to blast everyone who doesn’t believe the way he does:

During the last two presidential nomination cycles, Republican candidates, at various points, have proposed requiring a loyalty oath for Muslims to serve in government; ruled out Muslims serving in their Cabinet; called sharia law “a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States”; raised alarms about the “creeping attempt” to “ease [sharia] law and the Muslim faith into our government”; warned of “no go” zones where sharia law rules; described Muslim immigration as “colonization” and warned that immigrants “want to come and conquer us”; said there were only a “handful” of “reasonable, moderate followers of Islam”; described Islam as “a religion that promotes the most murderous mayhem on the planet.”

What Gerson doesn’t understand is that “that was then, this is now.”

While in the aftermath of 9/11 we were justified in giving Muslims, in general, the benefit of the doubt we have enough data to make a different decision now. Since those days we have learned a lot. We’ve learned that the “vast majority” of Muslim clerics in the Middle East do not disavow the more-medieval-than-usual form of Islam (heaven knows, Saudi Arabia with its public beheadings and amputations and stonings is really no different that ISIS) practiced first by al-Qaeda and now by ISIS. We know there is really not a peaceful component of Islam that applies to the non-Muslim world. We’ve seen that Muslim military officers don’t see a huge problem with gunning down American soldiers. We’ve seen the Boston Marathon bombed. We’ve seen that Muslims dominated communities seem to acquiesce to rape being used as a spectator sport. We’ve seen that basic human rights, like freedom of expression, are in jeopardy in any nation that has a measurable number of Muslims. In the Netherlands, in France, and here in the United States we have seen violent attacks carried out for no other reason that a case of wadded panties over disrespect directed towards a man that is perceived as a prophet. This page of links to public opinion polls in the Muslim world is an eye-opener and it demonstrates that “fringe movement” is only “fringe” if that term is stretched to include one-third of the population.

He goes on to say:

Bush believed that we will win if the world regards this conflict as civilized humanity versus murderers who use religion as an excuse for hatred, tyranny and the will to power.

 Perhaps seven years without presidential authority has left Republicans unfamiliar with presidential responsibilities. But this contest of narratives remains the most important ideological struggle of our time. And Republicans should engage that debate, not complicate it.
 Bush was right. This is a struggle between civilized humanity and murderers who use religion as an excuse. Where Bush was wrong (understandably in 2001) and where Gerson is wrong (through willful blindness today) is in the assumption that the there was very much civilized humanity facing us in the Arab world, or at least assuming that the uncivilized part was small and manageable.

If there is a fringe belief anywhere in this story it is the one held by Gerson that the analysis of 2001 has borne the test of time. It hasn’t.

To continue to claim that Islam is peaceful and only its name has somehow been hijacked by a handful of psychopaths demands that we overlook ISIS, and al-Qaeda and Boko Haram and Rotherham and the Tehran regime and Charlie Hebdo and the Spain and Madrid bombings and Fort Hood and Chattanooga and the beheadings of Christians on a Libyan beach. To do so is to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome. And we know what that is called.