Egypt’s government has fallen, and no one can tell what will rise in its place. Those of Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, and even Iran are threatened by anti-government protest movements of various strengths. Iraq still teeters on the precipice it has homesteaded since Saddam’s fall. Oh, happy day.
Yes, there are many American interests that may be affected severely by the protests. If the Bahraini government falls and its successor is as anti-American as is the fashion among Islamic states, the Fifth Fleet will have to find a new base from which to operate in the Middle East, a prospect that is grim to contemplate. Our ability to project military force in the region could be severely disrupted.
Some of the protest movements — especially that in Bahrain — which have so far survived murderous suppression, bear Iran’s fingerprints. But the protests in Iran are at least a small counterweight.
Overall, the protests and the destabilization of these governments is a boon to American interests, if only we were to recognize just how that is so and take full advantage of the opportunity they create.
From Iran in the east to Venezuela in the west, it has been the fate of peoples who live on oil-rich ground to be governed by corrupt dictators, despots, rogues and terrorists. With the exception of Venezuela, all of these despotisms are based on the same failed Islamic ideology. (Chavez’s Venezuela is so closely tied to Iran in word and deed that its neo-fascist ideology can be argued to be crypto-Islamic. Chavez’s support of Hizballah’s efforts to spread its network in this hemisphere is de facto support of the Islamic terrorist organization’s ideology as well as its works.)
The protest movements are a rejection of governments founded on the Islamic ideology that denies freedom on the basis of religion. It is very much like pre-1789 France and pre-1917 Russia, which based their despotisms on the divine right of kings. Islamic ideology carries that idea one step farther, justifying despotism as a requirement of religion.
But though the Islamic ideology has failed, the protest movements against its governments have not taken on the burden of rejecting the religious tenets upon which they are based. For that reason alone, it is an arrogant assumption that if the protest movements succeed they will produce a form of government that is materially different from the ones they overthrow. Which presents an historic opportunity for us, of which we will certainly fail to take advantage.
We do not have the ability to control the outcome of the protests in Islamic states, but if we had the wisdom to confront the Islamic ideology we could, over time, bring about the self-examination of Islam that is essential to defeating its ideology.
It is impossible to engage Muslims in conversation about their religion without encountering their absolutism. There is only one Islam, we are told, and there cannot be different interpretations of its dictates. Even the most moderate of Muslims insist that the Koran requires an absolute belief that its words are the words of god, and not subject to debate or difference. By that demand, Islam prohibits a debate that is fundamental to freedom of thought and expression.
Why, then, are the protesters massing in Libya and Bahrain only to be murdered by the governments which proclaim themselves religiously pure? Why should any religion bar any discussion of the kind of government it dictates? If people are not free to decide the social contract that binds them as a nation, shouldn’t they be able to debate why that is so?
It is those questions that we should be asking publicly to sow doubt among despot and protester alike. Those doubts will not bear fruit immediately. But if we continue to raise them, and to reach out to those who are unable or even unwilling now to discuss them openly, these doubts will result in the self-examination of the ideology that Islam compels and, inevitably, bring about its collapse.
Too many will say that to raise these questions, we would cause the protesters to turn their anger away from the despots that rule them and toward us. But it is a risk we must take if we are to ever rid ourselves of the threat of Islamic terrorism.
Since 9/11, we have followed the counsel of those who lack the courage to face the source of that threat. We have been unwilling to undertake the ideological war against its root cause. Ronald Reagan was willing — indeed eager — to condemn communism as evil. But George W. Bush lacked the courage to confront the Islamic ideology and Barack Obama has banned the terms “jihad” and “Islamic extremism” (the latter a euphemism for terrorism) from our statement of national security strategy. Obama will do nothing to engage in the ideological war the enemy wages against us.
Every despotism is fragile because it exists at the sufferance of those it governs. The Islamic despotisms continue only because they have conflated that sufferance with religious duty and thereby gained a false consent of the governed. That consent can be broken by one elementary thought: if the god that Muslims worship, as their imams preach, is the most generous and beneficent god, how can Allah be believed to deny the natural right to free thought and expression that is enjoyed by those who believe in the god worshipped by Christians and Jews, Hindus and Buddhists? Or is it the imams and the despots they serve who deny those rights so that they can cling to power?
It was, at one time, the public policy of the American people that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, one of which is liberty. Liberty inherently includes the freedom to question anyone’s interpretation of their religion, to debate it, and to disagree with it.
In Islam, that is as revolutionary a thought as were Martin Luther’s ideas in his time. Luther inspired the Christian Reformation. We must inspire one in Islam by reaching out to the protest movements in the Middle East. Tell them that it is their right to reject oppression because oppression is an act of man, not of God. Many will say that statement is blasphemy. But many more will listen. And whether their protests succeed or fail, the Islamic ideology will begin to crumble.