The former Soviet prisoner Natan Sharansky, among other communist dissidents, has often spoken about the moral clarity that President Ronald Reagan’s much-maligned phrase, “evil empire,” brought to the Cold War. Ridiculed by the liberal elite as primitive moralizing, Reagan’s concept of the struggle against communism framed the enemy exactly as it was–and encouraged its internal foes to believe their struggle was not in vain.
The war against radical Islam–“war on terror” having always been a disappointingly vague phrase–has been held back by a lack of such clarity. President George W. Bush was mocked for describing an “axis of evil” that, since the troubles of the Iraq War, we have never quite mustered the courage to confront, even though two-thirds of that axis remain ascendant. The lack of moral clarity haunts us today, and a correction is overdue.
Consider the following New York Times summary of the recent remarks of Secretary of State John Kerry in a visit to Nigeria, which is currently fighting a war of attrition with the Islamist Boko Haram militia:
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Making his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as secretary of state, John Kerry urged Nigeria on Saturday to uphold human rights as it steps up its fight against Islamic extremists.
“One’s person’s atrocity does not excuse another’s,” Mr. Kerry said, when asked about reports of serious human rights violations by Nigerian forces.
“We defend the right completely of the government of Nigeria to defend itself and to fight back against terrorists,” he added. “That said, I have raised the issue of human rights with the government.”
The principle Kerry cites is entirely correct. Human rights apply equally to all. And yet how often has Mr. Kerry, or President Obama, delivered lectures on human rights to Muslim leaders and Muslim states?
Mark Steyn reminds us of the folly of earnest efforts by Western leaders to twist themselves into knots explaining why the latest deadly attack on their citizens is not a true manifestation of traditional Islam.
Certainly it may not be–but why does the duty of stating that fall to the representatives of the victims? And why do the radicals have such a magnetic claim on authenticity among fellow Muslims–especially in the West?
We are not, as we endlessly tell ourselves, at war with Islam. And we cannot assign responsibility to a whole group for the acts of a few. Collective guilt is immoral and offends the humanity of sincere Muslims who wish to live in peace. And yet the world lacks leaders today who will acknowledge that we are still at war with radical Islam, and that we do not intend to pay reparations for the damage our victory causes to the societies that nurture it.