Last month, the great scholar of Islam Bernard Lewis gave the Irving Kristol Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. Mr. Lewis’s subject was Islam and Europe, and we thought it worth sharing some central bits of his sober assessment. Noting the many troubling signs of “a return among Muslims to what they perceive as the cosmic struggle for world domination” between Christianity and Islam, Mr. Lewis pointed out the extent to which recent U.S. actions—or rather inactions—confirmed radical Islamicists such as Osama bin Laden in the belief that America was a “soft” power unwilling to defend itself. “This belief was confirmed in the 1990s,” Mr. Lewis wrote,
when we saw one attack after another on American bases and installations with virtually no effective response of any kind—only angry words and expensive missiles dispatched to remote and uninhabited places. The lessons of Vietnam and Beirut were confirmed by Mogadishu. “Hit them, and they’ll run.” This was the perceived sequence leading up to 9/11. That attack was clearly intended to be the completion of the first sequence and the beginning of the new one, taking the war into the heart of the enemy camp.
In the eyes of a fanatical and resolute minority of Muslims, the third wave of attack on Europe has clearly begun. We should not delude ourselves as to what it is and what it means. This time it is taking different forms and two in particular: terror and migration.
And what has been the West’s response to this threat? In some ways, Mr. Lewis’s answer to that question is even more troubling than his assessment of radical Islam’s resurgence:
In Europe, as in the United States, a frequent response is what is variously known as multiculturalism and political correctness. In the Muslim world there are no such inhibitions. They are very conscious of their identity. They know who they are and what they are and what they want, a quality which we seem to have lost to a very large extent. This is a source of strength in the one, of weakness in the other.
A term sometimes used is constructive engagement. Let’s talk to them, let’s get together and see what we can do. Constructive engagement has a long tradition. When Saladin re-conquered Jerusalem and other places in the Holy Land, he allowed the Christian merchants from Europe to stay in the seaports. He apparently felt the need to justify this, and he wrote a letter to the caliph in Baghdad explaining his action. I would like to quote it to you. The merchants were useful since “there is not one among them that does not bring and sell us weapons of war, to their detriment and to our advantage.”
Lenin famously predicted that capitalists were so venal that they would sell Communists the rope with which they, the capitalists, were destined to be hanged. That didn’t happen. It remains to be seen whether the West will resist this latest compact with the devil. “They know who they are and what they are and what they want.” Do we?
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 25 Number 8, on page 3
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