Friday, November 16, 2007

The War Against Islamism: The Third Ideological World War

We had not heard from guest columnist Paul Kujawsky (photo left) for a while now. (I suspect that's because he was successful in getting his essays published by more traditional media.) Paul is a teacher, a lawyer and a Democratic Party political activist, of the endangered Kennedy-Jackson-Lieberman species. He is a board member of Democrats for Israel. Here is his latest offering:

Norman Podhoretz’s new book, World War IV, raises the question of the relationship of our current conflict with previous wars. It’s true that our war is global in character; and it’s also true that the Cold War is properly conceived of as a genuine world war. But Podhoretz doesn’t go far enough. We should take the opportunity to reconsider, and rename, the great conflicts of the twentieth century.

Giving World War II a number emphasized its similarities with World War I. However, the principal common feature was simply their global scope. More significant was what distinguished WW II from its predecessor. WW II was the first modern ideological world war. Rather than being a fight principally about borders, resources, or imperial claims, it was a struggle between incompatible political and social visions. Thus, WW II should be renamed the War Against Fascism. This new name clarifies what was at stake.

The Cold War was also a world-wide conflict with an ideological basis. Once again, an unfree system sought to expand at the expense of the liberal democracies. Consequently, while WW III fits, the War Against Communism is even more apt.

Today we face a political interpretation of Islam which is violent, expansionist, and incompatible with liberal democracy. We are engaged in the War Against Islamism.

By conceptually linking today’s war with the ideological wars of the twentieth century (and distancing it from WW I), certain insights emerge. For example, in the War Against Communism, while there were "hot" episodes (e.g., the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), much of the warfare was carried out in the spheres of economics, politics, propaganda and statecraft. The same will be true of the War Against Islamism.

A related point is that while battlefield victories are necessary, they aren’t sufficient. The Helsinki Accords did as much as NATO, or more, in bringing down the Soviet Union. Supporting liberal Muslims, liberal interpretations of Islam, and human rights in the Muslim world will be decisive in the long run. As Daniel Pipes says, "Radical Islam is the problem; moderate Islam is the solution."

Finally, like the War Against Communism, the War Against Islamism is likely to be a generational struggle. Patience and fortitude will be required to reach the ultimate victory.

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