Lurking behind all this rhetoric, however, is a flawed assumption––that everybody in the world is just like us and wants the same things we want. This Western article of faith arose in the 19th Century, when increasing global trade, European colonial penetration and global dominance, and world-shrinking technologies like the telegraph and steamship seemingly were creating a global “harmony of interests” based on a universal rational human nature. Peace, freedom, and prosperity are the deepest desires of all humans, previously unrealized because of persisting religious or tribal superstitions, irrational ethnic and nationalist loyalties, oppressive governments, a lack of education, and poverty. Remove those impediments and the whole world would enter the paradise of peace and plenty. However, as the nightmare history of the 20th Century shows––with its some 200 million slaughtered by war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and political murder––human beings may want peace and prosperity, but they want other things as well, some of them dark and violent and not to be appeased with material bribes or concessions.
Our struggle against Islamic jihad has been compromised by this same mistaken assumption. By locating the origins of jihadist terror in the material and political conditions of the Middle East, we have ignored the spiritual roots of jihadism in traditional Islamic theology, and its certainty of Muslim superiority and right to dominate others. This mistake has been obvious in the commentary on the so-called “Arab Spring” that Obama’s speech basically recycles. Too many have celebrated the uprisings as efforts to achieve the freedom, prosperity, human rights, and other goods we possess. No doubt some Muslims do want these things. But as the behavior of the new regime in Egypt suggests, perhaps even more want something else in addition to less oppression and corruption and more economic opportunity––to create an Islamic government that institutes an illiberal shari’a law and battles more directly against the enemies of Islam such as Israel. These Western idealizers enthusing over the demand for “freedom” need to ask the most important question––freedom to do what? Be like us, or be good Muslims? But what if being good Muslims means rejecting foundational democratic principles such as political freedom and human rights?
Chamberlain’s mistake was to think that Germany just wanted to bring home its people who had been unjustly stranded outside of the motherland by the unjust Versailles Treaty. Heal that wound, and the Germans would get back to seeking prosperity and peace with its neighbors. Of course, the majority of Germans wanted something more sinister, a racial empire that dominated its neighbors, and were willing to kill and die and murder to achieve it. That mistaken assumption about German intentions led to the diplomatic disaster of Munich and the following inferno of global war. So too our serial efforts at “outreach,” and our continuous offerings of material incentives and goods like the freedom that we prize, blind us to the spiritual imperatives motivating millions of people in the Muslim world.
It’s time we stopped reacting to a world we have created from our own wish-fulfilling assumptions and delusions, and start heeding the wisdom of scripture: By their fruits ye shall know them. We have rescued Muslims from murderous thugs in Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan; we have transferred billions and billions to Muslim nations, including the terrorist PLO; we have spent our blood and treasure to create for Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan the freedom and self-determination Obama’s speech proclaims we support and Muslims desire; we have done all this, yet outside Indonesia and Lebanon, not even 1 in 5 Muslims like us. Maybe it’s time to rethink our assumptions.
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