Mark Steyn reminds us that “only Reagan could have stood there and declared without embarrassment: Tear down this wall!” In the warm glow of this week’s encomia it’s easy to miss the reason why anyone might have felt embarrassed at all. With the dreaded wall long made into paperweights, it’s easy to forget that before (and during, largely) the age of Reagan, the idea that Communism was evil, and the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” was, among the intelligentsia in America and Western Europe, in the worst possible taste.
It should be remembered today that the vicious caricature of the amiable dunce that dogged Reagan throughout his political career originated in great part not from any bumbling or forgetfulness on his part, but from what the media and political establishment regarded as the sheer outrageousness of his political views. In the eyes of the elite, Reagan was primitive and limited primarily because he lacked the sophistication and intelligence necessary to see that the United States and the Soviet Union were essentially the same; talk of good and evil, or of the rights of man, was only rhetorical fodder for the lumpenproletariat, nothing more. No one, the pundits huffed, with even a rudimentary grasp of the subtleties and necessities of realpolitik would dare use such moral language to describe the Cold War. How dare he depart from the gospel of moral equivalence that the media establishment had dinned into the ears of the reluctant faithful for decades? You just couldn’t say the things that Ronald Reagan said, and his success so stunned and enraged his opponents that all they could do was try to smear him as a puppet and a fool.
The same scenario is playing out today. America is once again locked in a death struggle with a relentless totalitarian foe about which most people are reluctant to tell the truth. Substitute “Islamophobe” for “Red-baiter,” and you can adapt learned political analyses from the 1970s by the ton for use today.
Except for a few small details. It is a great failing of our age that there is no Ronald Reagan on the scene. Today’s stifling orthodoxy remains largely unchallenged. Not just liberal publications and spokesmen, but conservatives who claim to wear Reagan’s mantle temporize and dissimulate about our current despotic antagonist in a way that the man himself would have found contemptible. Leaders and pundits must cling to fond fictions about Islam being a religion of peace that has been hijacked by a tiny minority of extremists. They thus pass up the opportunity to call for a worldwide reform of Islam that starts by identifying the elements of Islam that give rise to violence and extremism and finishes by repudiating those elements, so that Muslims and non-Muslims can live in peace as equals.
“How do you tell a Communist?” Reagan asked in 1987. “Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin.” How do you tell a jihadist? Well, a contemporary Reagan might say, it’s someone who reads the Qur’an and Sunnah. How do you tell an anti-jihadist? It’s someone who understands how these Islamic texts are used to recruit and motivate terrorists — and who is willing to call upon self-proclaimed moderate Muslims to face this fact and initiate an honest, definitive and thoroughgoing reform. And if they will not? Then at least they should know that the lines have been drawn, and that the lovers of freedom are not going to stand for more mayhem wrought by those who would enclose non-Muslims and women behind a wall of oppression.
If Islam is no part of the problem, such reform cannot be part of the solution. By vilifying and attempting to marginalize those who dare tell the truth about Islamic radicalism as Reagan did about Communism, today’s intelligentsia provides ample cover to radical Islamic terrorists, allowing them to operate under the radar screen of media scrutiny and even law enforcement.
Freedom is under attack by the warriors of jihad; the battle lines do indeed resemble those of the Cold War. “There are very useful analogies to be drawn between communism and Islam,” says Ibn Warraq. “Communism has been defeated, at least for the moment; Islamism has not, and unless a reformed, tolerant, liberal kind of Islam emerges soon, perhaps the final battle will be between Islam and Western democracy.”
This is the war we’re in now. If only we had a Reagan to fight it.