Thirty years ago today, President Ronald Reagan gave one of the most moving motivational speeches to people who had long lived under the yoke of communism. While he spoke in Berlin, Germany, his speech was broadcast internationally and, thus, so too was his message.
He paid tribute to the character of the West Berliners who had endured the destruction of World War II, emerging from their air-raid shelters to build their city and nation anew, albeit a divided city and nation. Able to seek their greatest potential under the protective shadow of the U.S. and with the generosity of the Marshall Plan, West Berliners — like the fabled Phoenix rising out of the ashes of destruction — turned want into abundance.
Reagan spoke within sight of the Brandenberg Gate—the passageway through the great wall separating the city where “Checkpoint Charlie” was situated providing guarded access between Soviet-controlled East and U.S.-controlled West Berlin. The Gate provided the linchpin in competing Cold War interests. Its peaceful removal would bring a four-plus, decade-long conflict to an end.
At the time of Reagan’s speech, there was still uncertainty about Soviet intentions and if its leader in 1987, Mikahil Gorbachev, would take his country down a more, or less, aggressive path in Cold War relations. Accordingly, Reagan called for a sign of true Soviet intentions by demanding, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall” — a demand that met with cheers from his audience.
Interestingly, several of the points Reagan made in his 1987 speech are just as applicable today in the face of a new and perhaps greater threat. Instead of communism, it is now Islamism threatening us. And that threat is greater, for a big difference exists between the two ideologies. While communist leaders always acted tethered to the reality of ensuring their own survival, Islamist leaders do not.
The great liberty that nurtured success and abundance in Germany and elsewhere in Europe following World War II flourished as the dictatorial restraints that once contained it no longer did so. Sadly, such liberty is non-existent in Muslim-majority countries today, constrained by chains on creative thinking imposed by both the Quran and sharia.
Reagan extended a challenge to the Soviets to tear down a wall dividing their two ideologies, one allowing prosperity for people subjected to it; the other denying such prosperity. Historically, undemocratic Muslim nations have failed to flourish economically in part due to the absence of liberties empowering their people to do so.
This stems from one basic flaw, not of Islamism, but of Islam itself. It is the belief that those who have accepted Islam deserve superior treatment to non-Muslims, some of whom—such as the Jews—are declared to not exist as humans but are “descendants of apes and pigs.” The implementation of this belief is most glaring in the imposition by the Islamic State on kuffar in conquered territories of the jizya, or infidel’s tax, and conversion to Islam, or death.
It is this disconnect between the West and the Islamic world from which unrest has existed for 1,400 years. It is this disconnect that today in Germany, despite welcoming almost two million Muslim immigrants, has given rise to a disproportionate increase in social problems and crimes. It has embedded into the Muslim mindset the belief that wherever Muslims go, it must be Islam’s way or the highway — even when they are guests in a country of non-believers. It is why many Muslim preachers and political leaders warn followers not to integrate as immigrants residing in such countries, but to maintain their Islamic purity by non-assimilation.
This lack of commonality in the value of human life has been addressed twice in the United Nations. When the organization endeavored in 1948 to pass a declaration that all human life was equal in a document known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Saudi Arabia abstained. Later, a block of Muslim nations, acting as a group under the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and motivated by Iran’s mullahs to do so — approved the Cairo Declaration, asserting inaccurately the Cairo Declaration did not replace the UDHR but was complementary to it. However, the Cairo Declaration only recognizes the value of human life as set forth under sharia. Thus, it is a direct repudiation of the UDHR.
Any effort to instill trust and understanding between the Muslim and non-Muslim world will only succeed if there is a mutual appreciation for human equality. There are leaders of the former who recognize this and have suggested Islam is in need of reform. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi made a plea for this during President Barack Obama’s tenure in office, only to have it fall on deaf ears.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, completely understands this, which has led him to reach out to Sisi as well as Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Muslim leaders sharing a similar mindset, encouraging a Martin Lutheresque reformation of Islam.
While President Reagan stirred the emotions of freedom-loving people everywhere with his challenge to the Soviets to tear down a wall, President Trump needs to issue a similar challenge to the Muslim world. His should be, not to tear down infrastructure, but to build a bridge of understanding between the two worlds based on the same foundation that all human life is of equal value.
Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of “Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” “Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty” and “Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking.” He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.