Resent elections through out the Islamic world show a renewed enthusiasm for the original Islam, as the mythology describes it. Secular dictators have retooled to cash-in on the revival. Saddam was undergoing a image change prior to his fall. In a recent speech, James Woolsey explains:
“Today, however, the ideology of our enemies is vibrant, strong, and religiously rooted. It presents a very difficult problem for us, because the Islamist-Salafist ideology, in the Middle East particularly and some other parts of the Muslim world, it is attracting some of the more talented and able young men and occasionally young women of those societies. There is, in the Salafist world, fire in the minds of men. …”
“We’ve only fought one enemy in modern times whose totalitarianism had an important religious component, and that was the Japanese empire during World War II, with its distortion of Shintoism. But these enemies that I’ve described in this long war we’re in now have roots that are I think far deeper and far more involved in the history of Islam than the Japanese distortions about Shintoism.”
However, even Woolsey doesn’t understand the depth of the problem. He says, “These enemies and their totalitarianism are rooted in a distorted version of a minority view of their religions.” How is the Salafist practice, returning to the example of Mohammad, a distortion of the religion? Was Mohammad an extremist who hijacked Islam? Nevertheless, Woolsey realizes the danger and need to act: “With respect to ideology, I am of the view that we are going to need to treat the Wahhabi or the theocratic Shi’ite form of Islam somewhat the way we treated Communism during the Cold War.”
He continues the article with a discussion of oil and alternatives. But that has little to do with fighting the war. The enemy has a valuable weapon in its oil productions, not because they sell oil to us, but because they sell oil. No matter who buys the oil they will have the resources to implement the spread of Islam. If they lost their oil producing capacities, necessity would be “the mother of invention” that spurs our creation of alternatives. But the American public wouldn't accept the interim hardship unless they understood the danger of Islam. Thus, the first order of business is education. Once people understand the danger they’ll gain the will to act. We are still in the educational phase.
It took 30 years, from 1917 to Churchill’s Iron Curtin Speech in 1947, before the American people fully realized the threat of communism. Some understood in the 1920s but the 1930s was called the Red Decade because of the widespread enthusiasm for totalitarianism. It was in the 1950s that the right and moderate left fully faced the threat. Still, some on the left tried to distinguish between moderate communism (i.e. socialism) and its fundamentalist implementation in the Soviet Union. Today, we see a similar attempt to salvage Islam from the Salafists--only it is widespread and undercutting our effort to fully understand the threat.
The educational effort is still in its beginning stages. The public’s doubt is growing but there is no articulated leadership to solidify that doubt into a vocal opposition. I understand now what those early critics of communism felt as they saw the world in denial. But they didn’t give up; and neither shall we.