In February, female members of an official Swedish delegation to Iran donned headscarves and long coats so as not to offend their Iranian counterparts. At about the same time, Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front Party, cancelled a meeting with Lebanon’s Grand Mufti after he insisted that she wear a headscarf. “You can pass on my respects to the Grand Mufti,” said Le Pen, “but I will not cover myself up.”
The contrast neatly captures two different responses to the ongoing Islamization of Europe. Le Pen represents resistance, and the Swedish delegation represents appeasement. So far, the party of appeasement holds the upper hand. Shortly after her gesture of defiance, the European Parliament voted to lift Le Pen’s immunity from prosecution (as a Member of Parliament) for tweeting images of Islamic State violence. Like the Swedish delegates’ gesture of obeisance, this too is an act of appeasement. It signals to the Muslim world that Europeans will take it upon themselves to punish those who criticize Islam.
There may be cases where appeasement works to placate an enemy, but it never seems to work against an implacable foe. In May 1938, while competing in Berlin, the English national football team gave the Nazi salute when the German national anthem was played. They did this, reluctantly, on orders from their own foreign office. It was one of numerous futile gestures of appeasement offered up to Hitler.
Some historians have suggested that Hitler could have been stopped if the Allied Powers had confronted him earlier before he had time to build up the Wehrmacht. That’s probably true. The best time to fight a war is while you still have a good chance of winning it. This applies also to the ideological struggle now going on between the West and Islam. Of course, “struggle” might not be the best way to describe a conflict in which only one side is fighting. Indeed, Western authorities often join in Islam’s war against the West. By passing laws against “Islamophobia” (Canada) and by prosecuting critics of Islam (as in Europe), the West is strengthening the hand of its foe.
Instead of appeasement, what is needed is an ideological counter-attack. And the best time to launch it is now—now while it is still possible to make one’s case without being fined or jailed. Now is the right time from another perspective, as well. The sheer volume of Islamic violence is difficult to ignore. As a result, more and more people now realize that criticism and challenge of Islam is fully justified. They realize that it should be Muslims who are put on the defensive, not the so-called “Islamophobes.”
Imagine if Catholics were committing violence on the same scale as Muslims, and doing it in the name of Jesus. Would the Catholic Church be afforded the kind of kid-glove treatment now given to Islam? Would Catholic clergy be let off the hook for the crimes of tens of thousands of Catholics who cited Catholicism as their motive? Not likely. The Catholic Church would be put on the defensive—and rightly so if, indeed, the Church had a well-developed doctrine of jihad as does Islam.
In a sane society, Islam and its representatives would be put on the defensive, not critics of Islam. Instead of exonerating Islam of responsibility for Islamic terror, non-Muslims should pressure Muslims to justify the tenets of Islam that call for violence. Islamic authorities should be pushed back on their heels and kept there.
Just as non-Muslims can no longer deny the immensity of Islamic violence, neither can Muslims. Yet, absent any outside pressure, they can ignore it. This is a good time for Muslims to do some soul-searching about the beliefs that, in the words of Egyptian president El-Sisi, “make the entire umma [Muslim community] a source of concern, danger, killing and destruction for the whole world.” But if no one (with a few exceptions such as El-Sisi) asks them to question themselves, whatever doubts Muslims may have about their faith will be brushed aside. If Western leaders persist in lauding Islam as a great religion, it will be taken as confirmation that Islam is indeed the supreme religion that the imams say it is.
Muslims won’t attempt to reform Islam unless they believe there is something wrong with it. If we want to see reform, we need to drop the “great faith” pretense and confront Muslims with the troubling realities of their beliefs. Now is the time to put Islam on the defensive because the window of opportunity for doing so will soon close. It is already dangerous to question or challenge the Islamic belief system. The time is coming when it will be supremely dangerous to do so.
Right now, the West is worried about the danger of provoking Islam. But there is a greater danger. By refusing to confront and challenge Islam’s ideology, we allow an already confident Islam to grow more confident and stronger—two characteristics that make it all the more attractive to lukewarm Muslims and potential convents. The West’s walking-on-eggshells strategy is aimed at preventing a confrontation with Islam, but it may only serve to delay a confrontation to a point in time when the West is too weak to stand up to Islam.
The West will continue to have the military edge for a good time to come, but possessing weapons is one thing, and possessing the will to use them is another thing altogether. The West is strong militarily, but weak ideologically. It lacks civilizational confidence. It is not sure if it has anything worth defending. While Islamic countries have been busy raising a generation of devout warriors, the West has raised a generation of social justice warriors who are convinced that their own civilization deserves to be eliminated.
Conviction and confidence are potent weapons. Soldiers need them, but so also do civilians. They need them all the more today because much of the campaign against the non-Muslim world is being conducted on the civilian level—through stealth jihad and lone-wolf terrorism. If that twin-pronged campaign is successful then war may not be necessary. Western citizens will simply go quietly into the long night of dhimmitude.
It’s a loss of civilizational confidence that causes the West to crumple whenever Muslims press for another concession. Burqas in public? Well, OK. Muslim prayer rooms in public schools? It would be insensitive not to allow it. Laws to prevent criticism of Islam? That’s only reasonable. Polygamy? If you insist. Taken one by one, these mini-conquests are not decisive, but cumulatively they work to remake the culture. And one day you wake up to realize that it’s too late to do anything about it.
In a way, this culture war with Islam is more difficult to fight than a battlefield war. The whole direction of our culture in recent decades presses us to yield to the multicultural other, and to assume that in any dispute, he is right and we are wrong. If Islam’s cultural jihad is to be halted, that mindset must be rejected, and Islam must be put on the defensive. Apostasy laws. Blasphemy laws. Cruel and unusual punishments. Harsh discrimination against women. Child marriage. There’s something very wrong here. And Muslims should be made to know it, and made to feel ashamed of it. We should want Muslims to be uncomfortable with their faith—uncomfortable to the point that they begin to doubt it. As Mark Steyn put it, “There is no market for a faith that has no faith in itself.”
The reason that the apostasy laws and the blasphemy laws are there in the first place is because Islam is a fragile belief system. It rests on the uncorroborated testimony of one man. The system cannot stand up to questioning and, thus, questioning is not allowed. The West should take advantage of this fragility and raise the questions Muslims will not ask of themselves. Why don’t we? Is it out of respect for another religion? Yes, there’s some of that, but increasingly, it seems, we remain silent out of simple fear. We fear that ideological war will lead to real war. But it’s worth remembering that in the 1930s a similar reluctance to challenge a similar ideology did not prevent war. On the contrary, the reluctance to face up to Nazi ideology only guaranteed that war would come.
A new analysis by MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) concludes that the Trump administration’s get-tough policy is already having a pacifying effect on Iran. After its failed missile launch on January 29, Iran was “put on notice” by the administration. According to the MEMRI analysis, the effect on Iran was almost immediate: “a halt to long-range missile tests,” “a halt to provocations against US Navy vessels,” “a halt to public threats to burn and sink U.S. Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf,” and “a near total moratorium on hostile anti-U.S. statements” such as the slogan “death to America.”
The get-tough attitude seems to have—temporarily at least—made Iran less belligerent, not more. Could a get-tough attitude improve our chances of winning the civilizational struggle with Islam? Perhaps some of the slogans that apply to real war also apply to ideological war: “weakness is provocative,” “if you want peace, prepare for war,” and, as Osama bin Laden said, “when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.”
One of the chief reasons for waging a war of ideas is to avoid real war. The Cold War was in large part an ideological war. And Western success in establishing the superiority of its ideas and beliefs did much to prevent the Cold War from turning into a hot war. The Cold War analogy, by the way, is not a stretch. The communists pursued their objective with a religious fervor worthy of today’s Islamists. Indeed, the chief twentieth-century exponents of jihad such as Sayyid Qutb and Maulana Maududi borrowed heavily from the Marxist-Leninist playbook. While they rejected the atheism, they found the idea of an all-encompassing state to be very much in line with the goals of Islam. Like communism and Nazism, Islam is meant to be a system of total control. Keep that in mind the next time a priest or politician declares his solidarity with the Muslim faith. Don’t let the fact that Islam is a religion keep you from realizing that it is also an ideological opponent every bit as oppressive and determined as were the Nazis and the Soviet communists.
One more thing. The point of ideological warfare is not only to cast doubts in the mind of the enemy, but also to convince your own citizens that they possess a valuable heritage worth defending. To a large extent, that conviction has been lost in the West. And no amount of armaments can replace it. If it ever comes to actual war or to daily attacks by lone wolves, or to a combination of both, Western citizens had better know what they believe, why they believe it, and why it is worth defending. Islam has a mission. We must have one too.
William Kirkpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of "The Poitically Incorrect Guide to Jihad" and "Christianity, Islam, and Atheism," among other works. This article originally appeared in the April 4, 2017 edition of Crisis.