We Americans are accustomed to regarding political rhetoric much as Dr. Johnson did epitaphs. “They are not,” he wrote, “given under oath.”
In other words, we don’t expect public men or women to speak the truth from public platforms. When it comes to our own parochial affairs, there’s probably a bit of weary realism in that. However, this casual expectation of rhetorical hypocrisy has inhibited from the start our ability to recognize and deal with the threat posed by Islamist radicalism.
Time and again, the spokesmen for these movements have told the world precisely what they intend. Time and again, the scant handful of Americans who bothered to take notice have dismissed what was said as the product of political alienation, as the consequence of economic marginalization, as a hangover of post-colonial insecurity or as tactical bluster.
No. These people mean exactly what they say, and they mean it for precisely the reasons they say they do. They genuinely believe in the extreme and often heretical variants of Islam to which they cleave, that faith guides their actions, and their public statements are expressions of that faith.
Time and again, though, we willfully have blinded ourselves to this fact, partly because modern minds balk at accepting what is essentially medieval reasoning at face value, and partly because it’s the conveniently amicable thing do to.
That, plus the simultaneity of a national election and Wall Street crisis, account in large part for the silence that greeted last week’s abominable speech by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at the United Nations. In the course of a characteristically rambling diatribe, Ahmadinejad, one of the world’s great public anti-Semites, had this to say:
“The dignity, integrity and rights of the American and European people are being played with by a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists. Although they are a minuscule minority, they have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision-making centers of some European countries and the U.S. in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner. It is deeply disastrous to witness that some presidential or premier nominees in some big countries have to visit these people, take part in their gatherings, swear their allegiance and commitment to their interests in order to attain financial or media support.
“This means that the great people of America and various nations of Europe need to obey the demands and wishes of a small number of acquisitive and invasive people. These nations are spending their dignity and resources on the crimes and occupations and the threats of the Zionist network against their will.”
There’s a temptation to dismiss all this as simply “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” nonsense. But consider this other statement of Ahmadinejad’s, made in a TV address in 2006: “Zionists and their protectors are the most detested people in all of humanity, and the hatred is increasing every day. ... The worse their crimes, the quicker they will fall.”
Or perhaps this, from 2005: “Israel must be wiped off the map. ... The establishment of a Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world.”
By “world oppressor,” Ahmadinejad means the United States. He happens to belong to a Shiite sect that believes it can hasten the coming of the Mahdi, the Islamic savior, by the creation of chaos in the world. And like his brethren among the Sunni jihadists, he means what he says.
Mary Halbeck, one of the West’s foremost scholars of jihadism and its religious origins, describes Islamist extremists as “committed to the destruction of the entire secular world because they believe this is a necessary first step to create an Islamic utopia on Earth.” Their “view of the enemies of Islam means that their depiction in the Koran and hadith [commentaries on the Koran] is valid today in every detail. The Jews in particular have specific negative characteristics. ... They are notorious for their betrayal and treachery; they have incurred God’s curse and wrath; they were changed into monkeys and pigs.”
This is what the men who brought the hell of 9/11 to America believed. This is what Ahmadinejad believes and what he simply awaits the opportunity to act on.
When the delegates to the U.N. General Assembly applauded Ahmadinejad’s speech last week, and the American media passed over it in silence, this is the sentiment to which they gave their respective explicit and tacit approval.
Shame on them; shame on us.