The real world, it is often said, is not tidy. It would do much better if reality were more like fiction, when enemies took their turns in threatening us and waited patiently in line. One threat would be defeated, and a decent interval would pass before the next would arise.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t tend to happen. Threats rise and fall on their own, and the overlap between them tends to lead to “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” evolving into “defeating today’s foe by creating tomorrow’s.”
During the 30’s and 40’s, three strains of totalitarianism arose around the world to threaten the democracies. Imperialism in Japan, Fascism in central Europe, and Communism in the Soviet Union all vied for supremacy. Eventually two allied and sought to prevail against all comers, then the third joined. Shortly thereafter, the Fascists turned on and attacked the Communists. The Western democracies saw the Fascist/Imperialist axis as the greater threat, and chose to ally with and bolster the Communists for sheer survival. That led to the eventual defeat of the Fascists and the Imperialists, but led to over 40 years of the Cold War and sentencing a large portion of the world to suffer under the Communist yoke.
During the Cold War, we once again found ourselves with allies of convenience, as we backed some truly unsavory governments and factions against the Soviets’ puppets and client states. Among those whose flaws we chose to overlook were the Islamists, as we on several occasions backed them in opposition to the Communists. It was, like our alliance with Stalin, a matter of choosing to oppose the very real threat today and accepting the risks of creating another threat for tomorrow.
Today, the Soviet Union is literally, as Ronald Reagan so eloquently, been relegated to the ash heap of history. Today’s college students have no recollection of its existence – it’s like Nazi Germany, a thing of yesterday, never a frightening reality. And the hard decisions we had to make when fighting for our very survival are coming home to roost.
I am not arguing that the choices we made at the time were wrong, or even ill-considered. That is a matter for historians to argue, and it is still far too close to those events, and the consequences not fully played out, for such a judgment. But it is indisputable that those choices came with prices, and those are coming due.
We, as a nation, chose to defer concerns about the rise of militant Islam from the 1970’s onward in the face of the threat of Communism and global nuclear annihilation. While we worried about that big threat, the lesser threat grew largely unchecked. And today, 15 years after the final, formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, we find the greatest threat is the same militant Muslims who served as such useful pawns of both sides.
Now, I do not see militant Islam as the existential threat that the Soviet Union posed. They do not hold the potential to destroy America, and are not likely to develop such power any time soon. But they are strong, and the stronger they grow, the greater the butcher’s bill will be to finally stop them.
Some time ago, I stumbled across the metaphor of militant Islam as a small child in your neighborhood. The child is a holy terror – loudly threatening you, committing small acts of vandalism, even sometimes openly hitting you. Each time, we have sent the child home – sometimes with a swat across his fanny, often with a threat to involve his parents. But the pattern remains unbroken – he keeps coming back for more mischief.
The situation seems unpleasant, but tolerable. Stable, even – and “stability” is a very popular word these days, and “destabilizing” is hurled around as an insult. So the child is left alone to continue.
The problem is that no child stays a child forever, and bad behavior left unchecked worsens. That child is growing larger and stronger, and their acts more and more violent. Yesterday’s 3-year-old kicking at our fence is today’s 10-year-old pitching rocks at our window – and tomorrow’s 15-year-old throwing bigger rocks at our heads. The fully-grown adult capable of seriously injuring or even killing us is years away – but he is coming, make no mistake about it. Such behaviors and patterns must be recognized and stopped as soon as possible; it is the kindest thing for both the child and the adult.
In the excellent movie “Manhunter,” based on Thomas Harris’ novel
“Black Dragon,” “Red Dragon,” the hero is an empath; he can capture within himself the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of the serial killer he is hunting. When his boss accuses him of feeling sorry for the killer, the as-yet-unknown Francis Dolarhyde, Will Graham replies:
“As a child, my heart bleeds for him. Someone took a little boy and turned him into a monster. But as an adult… as an adult, he’s irredeemable. He butchers whole families to fulfill some sick fantasy. As an adult, I think someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks.”
There is no paradox here. Francis Dolarhyde is indeed a monster, and needs to be stopped. But he wasn’t born a monster, he was terribly abused as a child. That does not excuse his conduct, but merely heightens the tragedy of his situation.
Militant Islam is much like the young Francis Dolarhyde. It is well on its way towards becoming a monster. In some ways, it already is. But it does not yet possess the power to threaten all our lives, or even our way of life. It can only bother us, hurt us to a degree. That is changing, and is not changing for the better. That is why it must be stopped now.