There are three major monotheistic religions in the world: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In the 16th century, Judaism and Christianity reconciled with the modern world. The rabbis, priests and scholars found a way to settle up and pave the way forward. Religion remained at the center of life, church and state became separate. Rule of law, the idea of economic liberty, individual rights, and human rights - all these are defining points of modern Western civilization. These concepts started with the Greeks but didn’t take off until the 15th and 16th century when Judaism and Christianity found a way to reconcile with the modern world. When that happened, it unleashed the scientific revolution and the greatest outpouring of art, literature and music the world has ever known.
Islam, which developed in the 7th century, counts millions of Muslims around the world who are normal people. However, there is a radical streak within Islam. When the radicals are in charge, Islam attacks Western civilization. Islam first attacked Western civilization in the 7th century, and later in the 16th and 17th centuries. By 1683, the Muslims (Turks from the Ottoman Empire) were literally at the gates of Vienna. It was in Vienna that the climatic battle between Islam and Western civilization took place. The West won and went forward. Islam lost and went backward. Interestingly, the date of that battle was September 11. Since them, Islam has not found a way to reconcile with the modern world.
Today, terrorism is the third attack on Western civilization by radical Islam. To deal with terrorism, the U.S. is doing two things. First, units of our armed forces are in 30 countries around the world hunting down terrorist groups and dealing with them. This gets very little publicity. Second we are taking military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.
These actions are covered relentlessly by the media. People can argue about whether the war in Iraq is right or wrong. However, the underlying strategy behind the war is to use our military to remove the radicals from power and give the moderates a chance. Our hope is that, over time, the
moderates will find a way to bring Islam forward into the 21st century. That’s what our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is all about.
The lesson of 9/11 is that we live in a world where a small number of people can kill a large number of people very quickly. They can use airplanes, bombs, anthrax, chemical weapons or dirty bombs. Even with a first-rate intelligence service (which the U.S. does not have), you can’t stop every attack. That means our tolerance for political horseplay has dropped to zero. No longer will we play games with terrorists or weapons of mass destructions.
Most of the instability and horseplay is coming from the Middle East. That’s why we have thought that if we could knock out the radicals and give the moderates a chance to hold power; they might find a way to reconcile Islam with the modern world. So when looking at Afghanistan or Iraq, it’s important to look for any signs that they are modernizing.
For example: women being brought into the work force and colleges in Afghanistan is good. The Iraqis stumbling toward a constitution is good. People can argue about what the U.S. is doing and how we’re doing it, but anything that suggests Islam is finding its way forward is good.