June 1, 2004
Thanks - we needed thatBy Thomas Lifson
Singaporeans are the most pragmatic people on earth, and they don't care a whit about political correctness. Living as they do in a Confucian city—state, Singapore's leaders are free to speak their minds on certain subjects, without worry about the niceties of pandering to the sensitivities of sundry groups. Singapore is conscious that it has no time or spare resources to waste on wishful thinking about matters vital to its survival.
Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong of Singapore paid Americans the compliment of speaking bluntly, as a friend, about the realities of the War on Terror, in a speech last month, before the Council on Foreign Relations. P.M. Goh's bracing words are carefully—chosen, and sometimes quite eloquent. Americans, who actually care about winning the War on Terror more than simply winning the next election, would do well to read the entire transcript.
P.M. Goh acknowledges that we are locked in a war for our survival, against a hostile ideology which seeks our destruction. The War on Terror is shaping our era just as surely as the Cold War shaped the previous. This time, the enemy is even more formidable, in some ways:
The communists fought to live, whereas the jihadi terrorists fight to die and live in the next world.
Singapore lives sandwiched between Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation, and Malaysia, arguably the most politically and socially advanced Muslim society. Singapore itself is predominantly Chinese, ethnically, though resolutely multi—ethnic, with a substantial Muslim minority. Far wealthier and more worldly than any of its neighbors, Singapore has no choice but to remain hyper—aware of any threats, given its extreme vulnerability as a small island city—state with only 3 million population. It faces a local Southeast Asian terror network, which is part of the broader worldwide Islamist movement. In words quite stark for a world leader, Mr. Goh describes it as:
a religious ideology that is infused with an implacable hostility to all secular governments, especially the West, and in particular the U.S. Their followers want to recreate the Islam of seventh century Arabia, which they regard as the golden age. Their ultimate goal is to bring about a caliphate linking all Muslim communities. Their means is jihad, which they narrowly define as a holy war against all non Muslims, whom they call "infidels."
Singapore has apprehended and carefully interrogated a number jihdists. Prime Minister Goh appears to be intimately familiar with the results, as he describes his conclusions regarding the struggle:
First, the goals of these terrorists make the struggle a zero sum game for them. There is no room for compromise except as a tactical expedient. America may be the main enemy, but it is not the only one. What Osama bin Laden offered Europe was only a "truce," not a lasting peace. The war against terrorism today is a war against a specific strain of militant Islamic terrorism that wants, in effect, a "clash of civilizations" or, in the words of the Algerian I earlier quoted, "a war between the camp of the Islam and the camp of the Cross."
As the Prime Minister describes it, the particular strain of militant Islam is a new and distinctively global variant, borne of the confluence of the anti—Soviet struggle in Afghanistan and Wahhabi money. Its hold on the minds of its adherents is unusually powerful. He describes a captured terrorist who worked with Americans on a daily basis, as a highly educated professional and actually liked many of them. Yet this man dedicated himself to their absolute destruction, though, to be fair, he sometimes struggled with the contradictions of his stance.
These Jihadists actively seek the creation of an anti—Muslim backlash in the West. They will attempt to produce attacks which will turn the West against Islam, and then use the backlash to firm—up their own hold on the Islamic World.
As Prime Minister Goh sees it, the struggle within Islam is where the War on Terror must be won.
only through absolute and unsentimental clarity about the threat we face that we can define, differentiate, and therefore isolate militant Islamic terrorism from mainstream Islam. It is not sufficient to repeat, mantra like, that the majority of Muslims are peaceful and do not believe in violence. Unfortunately, we too often sacrifice clarity to be politically correct.... If we pretend, in the name of political correctness, that distinctions ought not be made, it is inevitable that all Muslims be viewed with suspicion.
Unless we win the battle of ideas, there will be no dearth of willing foot soldiers ready to martyr themselves for their cause....
This ideological struggle is far more complex than the struggle against communism because it engages not just reason but religious faith. You and I as non Muslims have no locus standi to engage in this struggle for the soul of Islam. It is a matter for Muslims to settle among themselves.
The Prime Minister goes on to analyze the mindset of Muslims in the contemporary world in a fashion I have never seen on the part of any American analysts. Given the level of personal contact possible in a city—state between the political leadership and the minority communities, and given Singapore's close neighbors, perhaps he does indeed know whereof he speaks.
It is a fact that there is a living, vibrant Islamic ummah, or global Islamic community, perhaps more so today than in any time in modern world history. The ummah is not monolithic. But the identification that all Muslims feel for events affecting other Muslims has become real and visibly stronger and more widespread since global communications have facilitated the dahwa, or missionary activities of the Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia preaching and spreading Wahhabism with its oil wealth. Denying that there is such a globalized Muslim political and religious consciousness, or trying to argue that a universal ummah is a danger or somehow undesirable, only mobilizes all Muslims to dig in as they feel their religion is under siege.
So, The Prime Minister describes his view on how to isolate the virulent strain of Islamism, and encourage a mindset among the majority which is congenial to peaceful coexistence and mutual respect. Not all of his conclusions are comforting. But, if you have a taste for clear thinking about serious problems, you owe yourself the chance to read his thoughts on the subject.
Hat tips to Joyce, Alex, and Richard.