Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

In Flanders Fields, They do not Sleep

December 4, 2006


Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

(John McCrae –1872-1918)


I have been reluctantly dragged around to thinking that western democracies are not ready to do what’s necessary, which is huge. (Margaret Wente, commenting on the possibility of success in Iraq, Western Standard, November 6, 2006)

The recent victory of the Democrats in the U.S. midterm elections has put the leadership of that party in the driver’s seat of the war in Iraq.  The new reality is forcing President Bush to seek a consensus between two opposing viewpoints: staying the course, or leaving.  

It has become evident that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated to such an extent that major changes in strategy are called for. The choice is stark: either destroy the terrorists or abandon the effort.  

What now?

The newly elected Democratic Congressional majorities are determined to force President Bush to bring about the changes that amount to a total repudiation of the “Bush doctrine.” They appear bent on demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops. President Bush has opposed such an announcement because it would signal that America does not have the will to persevere in the face of murderous opposition. 

Though President Bush and his newly empowered Democratic opposition have talked of cooperation and consensus building, the prospect of a strong and united American stand over against a determined enemy is now in doubt. 

It is a very difficult to make sense of the developments in the Middle East, and it’s easy to find fault with the conduct of the war. Here I want to zero in on what I see as two substantial difficulties faced by the current American leadership: internal division, and the West’s failure to assess the true nature of radical Islam.  

A Divided Nation is a Crippled Nation

The history of the war, beginning with the successful elimination of the Taliban in Afghanistan five years ago, has been marked by distrust and extreme antagonism toward the Bush administration. Initially, a traumatized nation by the shock of 9/11 was united in the need for a strong military response to that crime. But that unity soon deteriorated into a cause that has cut a deep rift through the heartland of America. 

What has immensely added to the difficulties in waging this war is the character of the opposition, marked by bitterness and contempt. In fact, there were those who the day after 9/11 blamed their own country for this gruesome deed. (Noam Chomsky comes to mind.) As time went on the terrorists became more effective and the difficulties mounted, so did the opposition to the war in America.

Strong opposition to the Iraq war exists within the structures of the government itself, resulting in extensive investigations and hearings used by the Democrats to pin blame and undermine the Bush team. The 2004 presidential election campaign became a forum for Bush bashing. There is now even talk within the Democratic Party to impeach the President. 

The “human rights” activists have been particularly active in opposing all efforts by the Justice Department to enact effective anti-terrorist legislation. The volume of the opposition to the war is amplified in the mainstream media, led by The New York Times. The latter has distinguished itself by publicizing the government’s classified procedures of tracking the terrorists’ financing and communication networks, thereby undermining the law enforcement efforts to protect the American people.  

In addition, the American universities are hotbeds of anti-war rhetoric. The same thing can be said for the entertainment industry, of which Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 is a particularly obnoxious example. 

Knowing Your Enemy

One of the things that is striking about the war controversy is the refusal in the West to take at face value the declarations of war by the Osama bin Ladens of this world. 

Many argue that the U.S.-led military action is responsible for the massive outbreak of daily killings and kidnappings in Iraq. They tend to forget that the stepped-up campaign of verbal and actual attacks on U.S. citizens and its military started more than 25 years ago. 

The religiously loaded language of the Islamists is incomprehensible for most Westerners who pride themselves in having grown out of any kind of religious commitment. This is one reason why the western democracies are poorly prepared for the confrontation with those who have declared war on us in the name of Allah. 

 Here is a striking instance of such confusion: the American administration has treated Saudi Arabia as a friend and ally, whereas that country is the primary source of funding and leadership of an extensive and very effective network of Wahhabist mosques and other Islamic centres in all the western democracies.  These places are serving as breeding and training bases for the foot soldiers and suicide bombers now aiming their deadly weapons at us. 

In his new book, America Alone, Mark Steyn describes the case of Abdurahman Alamoudi who was jailed in 2003 for his involvement in the laundering of money from a Libyan terror-front “charity” into Syria via London. He is also the person who helped devise a three-week Islamic awareness course in California public schools, in which students adopt Muslim names, wear Islamic garb, memorize suras from the Koran, profess the Muslim faith, and recite prayers that begin “In the name of Allah,” etc. Steyn explains: 

The ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – the same court that ruled the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional because of the words “under God” – decided in this case that making seventh graders play Muslim for two weeks was perfectly fine, just an interesting exposure to a fascinating “culture” from which every pupil can benefit.

 Alamoudi also served as an adviser on Islamic matters to Hillary Rodham Clinton. But the most shocking part of this story is that until 1998 Alamoudi certified Muslim chaplains for the United States military, under the aegis of the Saudi-funded American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council. In 1993, he had installed the first imam in the military in a ceremony at a military base where hh presented the new chaplain with an insignia of a silver crescent star. 

There are many other instances of the failure to understand the true nature of the enemy we face. (For a detailed description of that truth, in addition to Mark Steyn, America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It, see Melanie Phillips’ Londonistan.) 

We can argue forever whether it was right to unseat the tyrants in Afghanistan and Iraq. But now to abandon those who have relied on the American determination to defeat the terrorists will be experienced as a betrayal. For the second time in little over a decade Iraqis would be left defenceless over against ruthless killers.  

The fallout of this betrayal will serve to strengthen Iran’s determination to establish its dominance in the Middle East. Who is then going to stop Iran from making good its threat “to wipe Israel off the map”?  Once the Americans withdraw, what will any one do to stop the Iranians from obtaining the nuclear bomb? For they know that they have nothing to fear from the U.N. or the International Atomic Energy Agency without strong American backing. 

Perhaps worst of all, American withdrawal now will be seen as confirmation of Osama bin Laden’s taunt that America is a paper tiger.  The propaganda benefit for the jihadists will be enormous, not only in that part of the world, but it will provide new inspiration to the millions of Muslims now dispersed across the free world. 

It is no comfort to say that many Muslims are not terrorists or haters of the West. True enough, but the moderates among them are mostly silent, because they are afraid or because too many still owe their first loyalty not to the country of which they are citizens but to the worldwide Islamic community - the Ummah. 

Do not Break Faith

The bold initiative led by America to help establish a peaceful and civil order in Afghanistan and Iraq may well suffer shipwreck on the division within the U.S. The spirit of appeasement in Europe, forcing America to do all the heavy lifting, with a few exceptions, is making the outcome of the conflict in the Middle East all the more uncertain. 

Yet history is full of surprises---some of them tragic. I fear that the free world will suffer further monstrous terrorist attacks before it faces the truth that it is confronted with enemies who cannot be pacified. Or perhaps the Democrats, faced with a new responsibility, will decide to cooperate with the Bush administration in forming a united front. 

Though this does not appear very likely now, the tide can still be turned. But that will require a fundamental change, especially among the leadership of the free world. I pray that, by the grace of God, that may yet happen.

To that end, may we not “break faith” but hold high the torch passed to us from the “failing hands” of those who died so that we might live in freedom and with justice.

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