The reaction and the reaction to the reaction to Malaysian PM Mahathir's recent speech to a world assembly of Islamic political leaders has reminded us all, as apparently some of us need reminding, that antisemitism lies again, or perhaps we should say still, near the core of the world's greatest and most dangerous conflicts. Recent commentary has included economist-pundit Paul Krugman's mind-numbingly superficial and excruciatingly unenlightening New York Times column attempting to hold George W. Bush's foreign policy responsible for a conflict that goes back 1,300 years. This column and its author have already been dealt with, one might wish to say dispatched, by Oliver Kamm, but the exchange of comments that followed the post on Kamm's blog turned inexorably to the clash of civilizations that Mahathir appears to envision, with Islam on one side and the rest of the world, described as under Jewish control "by proxy," on the other.
What has widely been taken as the key section of Mahathir's speech, which was unanimously applauded by those in attendance and which received nearly unanimous approval by Muslim observers worldwide, ran as follows:
1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews. There must be a way. And we can only find a way if we stop to think, to assess our weaknesses and our strength, to plan, to strategise and then to counter attack....
We are actually very strong. 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out. The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them....
We are up against a people who think. They survived 2000 years of pogroms not by hitting back, but by thinking. They invented and successfully promoted Socialism, Communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so they may enjoy equal rights with others. With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power. We cannot fight them through brawn alone. We must use our brains also.
Of late because of their power and their apparent success they have become arrogant. And arrogant people, like angry people will make mistakes, will forget to think.
They are already beginning to make mistakes. And they will make more mistakes. There may be windows of opportunity for us now and in the future. We must seize these opportunities.
Though opinion in the West universally condemned Mahathir's invocation of classic antisemitic paranoia, and though Western leaders denied once again that they are at war with Islam, the world's 1.3 billion (or so) Muslims have not, on the whole, appeared to concede either point. It seems that, regardless of what the West thinks or intends, the Islamic world, or a very influential and sizeable section of it, thinks it is at war, and, wherever and however else it may be wrong, the Islamic world has much history and even some common sense on its side. It also possesses the ability to prove itself correct simply by fighting. The only question remaining would then be how many in the West will agree with one of the commenters on Kamm's blog: "I think it's time we realise that values and ideas are something that should be fought for. Violently if it comes to that."
A series of questions flow naturally from this observation: Which values and ideas? How hard? Who will do the fighting - and where?
During the Cold War, the presumption underlying mutually assured destruction and deterrence strategy in Europe and elsewhere was that we in the West would rather risk the virtual obliteration of whole continents, including our own, than yield our freedom. Today, however, as an American, I am forced to wonder how widely shared the sentiment of "live free or die" still is. I believe that it is still generally the reflex here - it's our peculiarly abstract form of nationalism - but I don't have a sense for what motivates the populace "over there": I imagine confusion, denial, and wishful thinking occupying the place in the European heart where the fierce love of tribe and country used to be. It might be interesting to see polling on the subject. In any event, it seems that European leadership and bureaucratic inertia (same thing?) are motivated by a desperation to defer the question, not an unreasonable objective, but it's as true in peacetime as in warfare that the enemy gets a vote.
The Islamic radicals seem, by contrast, to be quite forcefully in favor of "live Islamist or die," though the commitments of the larger Islamic population seem somewhat less sure, thus the resort, turning to the main topic of this discussion, to racism and conspiracy theories. In any event, when "live Islamist or die" meets "live free or die," then it seems inevitable that some amount of dying will be done, and, if history is any guide, it will be done by Islamists in far greater numbers than by the free.
As for Islam and the Jews, there are kernels of truth in Mahathir's hopeless and paranoid ramblings. It is no accident that the Jews have flourished wherever freedom and its benefits are strongest, just as persecution of the Jews so often accompanies a nation's political, moral, and economic decline. In this sense, the Jews do rule the world "by proxy," but it's in a way that Mahathir may be incapable of comprehending - in precisely the same way that he appears incapable of comprehending the dependence of scientific and technological advances on the free flow of people and ideas. The Jew's proxy is freedom - which rules by refraining to rule, and rules most decisively wherever the world is least ruled by ignorance.
Here, the evangelical Christians who believe that God blesses those who protect the Jews are much more right than those secularists whose commitment to unbelief seems to make them blind to all such distinctions. Just as the Christians, after a long and bloody historical adolescence marked by familiar overdone gestures of independence, may have finally, to the great benefit of all concerned, come round to recognizing that Christianity is Judaic, the only hope for Islamists and secularists alike may be to recognize and accept their own religious and historical parentage. (Even the Hindus have lately been casting their lot with the Jews - possibly because the Hindus are finally turning Jewish, or possibly because the Jews have always secretly been Hindu, even if they don't look Hinduish - I'll have to think about this one.)
So long as Islam sets itself against the Jews, it sets itself against the same processes of modernization that Mahathir deludedly embraces, and it is doomed always to be fighting at a disadvantage in the war that it insists on having - whether that war is fought mainly by terrorist radicals and their pursuers, by conventional means, or through colder forms of economic and ideological struggle. By corollary, the apparent ongoing relapse into antisemitism in Europe is one of the clearest signs that European culture has been going dangerously off course: It seems destined to achieve the one thing that historical experience makes it most determined to avoid - becoming a principal battlefield in another catastrophic conflict.
I may have to bow to conventional wisdom and revise the position expressed in my post on Islamic fascism. In combining all of the elements that threaten Pax Americana and global progress generally, Islamic fascism may indeed be emerging as the "main danger," or at least the focus of dangers, for this generation and for the always-unforeseeable future - even if the direct costs of the clash between the West and Islam may eventually be exceeded by its collateral effects.
I still like America's chances in that battle, but only for as long as we remain a proxy in good standing.