The elephant in the room

Published 7:39 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2006

I’m among a growing number of Americans believing we must frankly acknowledge we’re in a war with Muslim extremism. To deny that Muslim extremism is a worldwide problem, denies the so-called “elephant in the room.” It invites division and defeat for the civilized world.

This is an unconventional war that actually began in 1979 when Iranian militants took more than 400 American hostages. It continued through the 1980s when Hezbollah killed more than 200 U.S. Marines in Lebanon and through the 1990s with more bombings including that of the USS Cole.

Republican and Democratic administrations have tried to contain Muslim extremism, short of all out war. But it finally came to military blows following the 9/11 attacks, and it’s now going global. Today with terrorist attacks in Spain, India, Russia, England and the Far East, Muslim extremism is a global cancer that, without check, will grow.

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I’m a member of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, and I recently met informally with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to hear his always insightful view of the Middle East. But it doesn’t take an intelligence officer to understand the threat.

Muslim extremists hate the entire modern, civilized world. They oppose democracy, because individual choice is alien to their philosophy. They oppose Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, every doctrine except theirs. They want to kill everyone who doesn’t believe as they do. And, if they can get a nuclear or chemical weapon, they’ll certainly use it for mass murder. Until then, they’ll side with any bad actor – Iran, Syria, Venezuela, North Korea – to get these weapons or secure leverage against the civilized, democratic nations obstructing them.

It’s not just about Israel. As one popular journalist has quite correctly pointed out, you could take the terrorists’ weapons away and there would be peace in Lebanon. On the other hand, disarming Israel would prelude another Holocaust. Emboldened terrorists would proceed to destroy Israel and then set their sights on more targets – possibly again in our country.

Some time ago Israel withdrew from territories around its border in a much ballyhooed “land for peace” deal which the deal’s supporters said would usher in tranquility. Instead, terrorists used this period to stockpile the missiles now falling on Israel.

But even that’s not enough to convince some. Ignoring attacks in their own backyard, the Europeans, save the British, still haven’t completely acknowledged the threat Islamic extremism poses to them. Europe is trying to redefine itself. Europeans are going through an identity crisis, having trouble thinking of themselves as a group of nation states or as some new confederation, loosely joined by the European Union.

Unlike most Americans, this generation of Europeans also fancy themselves as secularists, above religious teaching and traditional demarcations between right and wrong. Many Europeans think this neutralizes them from extremists, making them less desirable terrorist targets. But it only makes them easier prey, ripe for a “takeover” as Muslim extremists have said they’d do. Meanwhile, Europe’s militaries, again except for the British, have been degraded, having little means or will to project force.

Americans should take a close look at some nations’ anemic response to terrorism, because this moral muddle is exactly what some Americans seek for our country. They would have us deny extremism’s danger, degrade our military and cower in the terrorists’ faces while imploring us to “understand” terrorism and redeploy our forces so the jihadists won’t feel “threatened.” That’s a recipe for defeat.

The war in Lebanon will end only when Hezbollah is disarmed or destroyed. Victory in the overall War on Terror lies in steady, bipartisan American leadership and in moderate Arab states like Jordan, whose young leader, King Abdullah, recently visited Mississippi at my request. It also requires strong First World statesmanship like that demonstrated by Britain’s Tony Blair, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Japan’s Junichiro Koizumi, who buck internal politics and apathy to condemn extremism.

Muslim extremists hope the civilized world will view terror through a partisan or strictly secular prism, dividing and conquering ourselves. To defeat them we must put aside politics and acknowledge terrorism for what it is — a worldwide problem, the elephant in the room trying to crush us all.

(Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column. Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: press office))