My colleague at The Remedy, Ryan Williams, is not much younger than me — he was eight when Reagan left office, and I was thirteen — but the age difference is enough, I trust, that I may remember with some greater clarity one of the key features of Reagan’s anti-Communist rhetoric: it did not buy into the basic premises of the enemy. It did not concede, at least rhetorically, the commanding role of the state, nor the Hegelian/Marxist march of history, nor the forced perfectibility of man, nor the founding nobility of the Communist enterprise. Reagan’s genius was to recall the American people, and to a lesser extent the West, to the need to proceed from the premises of America’s Founders: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the inalienable rights of man, and government as existing merely to secure their just exercise. One did not win arguments with Communism when accepting Communist starting-points for those arguments. They led inevitably to the Communist end, and appeals to humanity were steamrolled by appeals to inexorable logic.
In dealing with Islamism in the present day, we make the very error that Reagan eschewed with the Communists. We proceed from Islamist premises — namely, that Islam is inherently peaceful; that it is inherently sane; that it is inherently just; and that it is a welcome and benign participant in our post-modern public square. One may not accuse George W. Bush in particular of failing to render a full obeisance on these points. Attendant to this are all manner of details that somehow fall outside the bounds of acceptable discourse in Muslim eyes, and hence in the eyes of any who fear violence. Most recently, we see the shutting-down, by murder and by fire, of any critique or perceived disrespect of the Muslim founder. Reasonable people of any faith may find Muhammed an admirable figure. Or they may examine the historical record and conclude that Muhammed was a violent visionary who slaughtered the defenseless and violated a nine-year old; but state these things in public, and deathly ire stalks the speaker — or, if he is not available, his co-religionists. What victory may we aspire to so long as the most basic freedoms are thus quelled?
There is not an exact parallel here with the state of discourse in the Communist era, but there is parallel enough. Certainly few outside the Communist nations were hunted and killed for merely denigrating Marx or Lenin. But there was a long-running campaign of dissuasion, especially in western Europe and amongst the American elites, directed against those with the bad form to be too anti-Communist. The excuses given for being soft on the horrors of Communism varied from era to era: there was a need to support the Popular Front; there was a need to stay united against the fascists; the Soviets sacrificed so much in the war; we have to focus upon our own (American) sins; and the top two — the original intent was noble, and we must not alienate the moderates. In these last, we see an exact parallel with the apologists for Islam and Islamism today. We perform kowtow to the founding mythos of our opponents, and we indulge in the fantasy that some adherents of jihad and Islamism are more palatable than others.
Mr Williams engages in this error when he refers to the need to reach out to “the moderate Muslim world” — which should, in a just world, and if it even exists, be reaching out to us with all manner of apology and regret — and in his faith that America’s Founding message that “resistance to tyrants is obedience to God” will be well-received by these “moderates.” Suffice it to say that they already agree with this sentiment, and further do not believe that we have the slightest thing to do with the God that must be obeyed. We are, rather, the tyrants to be resisted. Like Milton’s Satan who would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven, the average Muslim whom we face abroad much prefers some manner of shari’a (to which Williams refers as a dissuading factor) to the humiliation of life on the terms of the irreligious, secular West. We cannot hold this against them: they have the integrity of their faith, and it is their choice. But it does not follow from this that we must credit them with moral equality to ourselves — assuming we have a moral standing worthy of the name — and it does not follow from this that because they have integrity, that they are good. The answer for us infidels is not respect — beyond that due the individual with his inalienable rights — but frankness even at the cost of disrespect, and exclusion of the foe’s ideas and ideologues from our public square till a general sanity among them prevails.
The ill-kept secret of Communism to which the elites adhered was that it was in its origins a squalid, murderous creed. Its founder was a moral leper, and its heroes were savages are surely as any pre-modern tribesman. It took a brave survivor of the Soviet Union’s concentration camp system, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, to state this truth plainly and irrefutably — and it took Ronald Reagan to make it policy, and enact it as the will of the American people. That is the lesson of Reagan’s war for ours. In a contest of ideas, truth and victory are inseparable companions. We only delay the latter in eschewing the former. We may call it politeness, or respect, or strategy: but it looks like defeat.