Shortly after the September 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden made a strange reference in a speech that he had carried out and released to Al Jazeera:
We should raise again the unique flag of Allah on all stolen Islamic land, from Palestine to Andalus.
I remember hearing this on the radio at the time. The station that broadcast the pre-recorded tape was running a (sort of) simultaneous translation, so that I could hear bin Laden’s Arabic in the background. I was astonished to hear the name Andalus and even more astonished when the translator jumped over that part of the speech without translating and simply continued with what came after.
Andalus is Arabic for Spain (think Andalusia). The 9/11 mastermind was calling on the Islamic world to remember and to avenge the loss of Spain to the Christians, an event that had happened more than 500 years before.
This is what Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady calls “the long game.” She was writing recently about the Latin American strategy of executed terror master Qassem Soleimani. While so many of our “responsible” political leaders don’t even bother to be true to their own words of five years ago, Soleimani was patiently and consistently working out a program of subversion of American and Jewish interests throughout the Hispanic world. His most conspicuous successes there were not so much the bloodlettings in the early 1990s in the attack on the Israeli embassy in Argentina and in the 80-plus dead in the bombing of the Jewish center in Buenos Aires. Rather, his steady purpose hauled in bigger catches — the entire government of Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner was enlisted to cover up Iran’s role in the 100-plus deaths; and then reeling in the government of Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, and where Iran continues to have major influence in Maduro’s criminal regime. (And please pay attention, she writes, to Iran’s growing influence in the new Mexican government.)
Why has Iran been able to hold steady to its strategy for 50 years, carrying on a war against Israel, the United States, and their allies while successfully keeping them unwilling to respond in kind (until now, perhaps)? How did bin Laden and ISIS manage to do something similar?
The answer, I believe, has to do with culture. However much one may justly criticize radical Islam, it understands its own actions as part of a grand process playing out over hundreds of years of history. In their simple terms, the realm of faithful, peaceful Islam is meant to constantly expand and swallow up lands governed by (as they see it) G-dless powers. That process is one and the same from the days of Muhammad. The passage of centuries makes no difference at all. All setbacks to this process, such as Spain in the 15th century or Israel in the 20th, are temporary and must be overcome by the faithful. The purpose of the radical Islamists of all their various stripes is one continuous purpose stretching back to the beginning of Islam in the 7th century.
Critics of the free world have often pointed it its many weaknesses. The dictators of the ’30s pointed to the constant internal bickering of the democracies and the lack of discipline in the culture. Hitler and Stalin both believed that the democracies would never be able to respond to the disciplined power of their own savagely regimented regimes.
The dictators were not entirely wrong. By July 1940, the survival of the democracies seemed a long-shot bet. But there is something that the democracies do not even seem to understand about themselves until they are sorely tried. Not without great loss of blood and treasure, the democracies smashed Nazi Germany and the militarists of Japan. Not without an immense and sustained effort, tens of thousands of lost lives, and great expense were the free nations able to break down the walls of Sovietism.
A major part of the struggles against Nazism and communism was cultural. Winston Churchill above all succeeded in characterizing both of these struggles as part of a coherent pattern of reaching back to the dawn of civilization, and victory was necessary to achieve that most ancient and most cherished goals of the human race from its first moments. When the will to see the struggle against Sovietism through to victory flagged, Ronald Reagan was able to model that kind of clarity to reenergize American purpose and to see it triumph.
We have not yet fully grasped the cultural challenge of the long game of Iran and the other Islamist radicals. We must appreciate that they have indeed exposed a prime weakness of the West, and they have steadily and deliberately taken ruthless advantage of our cultural self-indulgence. How easily has intersectionalism insinuated itself into our political thought! How feckless we are in looking at every aspect of our own history, religion, and culture with cynicism or embarrassment, while excusing every aspect of these highly accomplished propagandists’ deadly and intolerant version of the Islamic tradition! But our traditions are also deeper and more resilient than these latest enemies have understood. Despite all the confusion and propaganda, there is a democratic awakening. Britain saw its soul was at stake, and at the polls its citizens resoundingly rejected an anti-Western and anti-Semitic agenda. People in the universities of Iran and in its streets are risking their lives to say no to their Islamist tyrants. Voices long silent are being raised against the haters in the heart of the Sunni world.
The path towards freedom is there from the beginning of Genesis, when the world is told that the human being is created in the image of God. Freedom and infinite worth were given to us. Our great religious traditions have that at their core, and they tell us that we are all in the long game for what many have called the realization of the Kingdom of G-d — a human society that embraces and respects our human dignity and freedom.
We are playing the long game, and we will win.