A Rare Politician with Guts
On July 7, 2005 Muslim terrorists attacked London. They set off bombs on buses and trains that left 52 people dead and hundreds more injured.
After the attack the Daily Telegraph conducted a poll of British Muslims, asking about their attitudes toward terrorism, specifically about the bus and train bombings.
While a vast majority – 88 percent – did not justify the bombings, 6 percent did. That may seem like a small number, but it represents about 100,000 Muslims living in Britain. That’s a lot of Muslims who think terrorism is just fine. And who knows how many more felt the same way but weren’t about to share their feelings with some pollster.
Twenty-four percent said even though they didn’t actually condone the bombings, they did sympathize with the motives of the bombers. And 56 percent said they understand why their fellow Muslims might want to set off bombs and kill innocent people.
A year later, in 2006, the Pew Research Center took another poll of Muslim attitudes in Britain. This one showed that while 70 percent said they never support suicide bombings, 24 percent said sometimes they did.
A few weeks after the Pew poll came out, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with key members of Parliament and told them that while government, obviously, had a role in stopping terrorism, law-abiding Muslims had an even bigger role.
Here’s part of what he said:
“My view in the end is you cannot defeat this extremism through whatever a government does. You can only defeat it if there are people inside the [Muslim] community who are going to stand up … and not merely say ‘You are wrong to kill people through terrorism, you are wrong to incite terrorism or extremism’ – but actually, ‘You are wrong about your view about the West, you are wrong about your sense of grievance.’ … The whole sense of grievance and ideology is wrong – profoundly wrong. There may be disagreements that you have with America, with the U.K., with the Western world, but none of it justifies not merely the methods, but the ideas that are far too current in parts of the [Muslim] community. Now my view is that until you challenge that at its root, fundamentally, then you’re always going to be left with a situation where people kind of say … ‘Look we understand why you [terrorists] feel like this and you know we can sympathize with that, but you’re wrong to do these things.’ You’re not going to defeat it like that. You’re only going to defeat if you say: ‘You’re actually wrong if you feel those things.’”
That’s how a leader talks about a problem as big as terrorism.
The other day, Tony Blair’s successor, David Cameron said this about ISIS, the terrorists who want to establish a Muslim caliphate not only in Iraq and Syria, but throughout the entire world:
“This threat [ISIS] can not be solved simply by dealing with the perceived grievances over Western foreign policy. Nor can it be dealt with by addressing poverty, dictatorship, or instability in the region, as important as those are. The root cause of the threat to our security is quite clear. There is a poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism that is condemned by all faith and by all faith leaders. It believes in using the most brutal form of terrorism to force people to accept a warped worldview and to live in an almost medieval state.”
To that he added, “What we're facing in Iraq now with ISIS now is a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before.”
Contrast that with Barack Obama’s statements one day earlier in Washington when asked about U.S. plans regarding airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. “We don't have a strategy yet,” the president said.
So let me help. Here's a strategy you might want to consider, Mr. President. You could make a speech and say that bombs won’t be enough to defeat these monsters. You can say we have to engage Muslim countries to join us in the fight against barbarism. But that won’t be enough, either. What the president needs to do is call on the world’s Muslims to stand up and with one loud unfired voice … be heard.
Tony Blair delivered a no-nonsense commentary on Muslim attitudes toward terrorism. David Cameron spoke forcefully about the problem. Mr. Obama needs to do the same.
There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and if 99 percent of them are not terrorists – an overly generous high-end estimate, I suspect – that means there are well over a billion good, decent Muslims out there who don’t like what the terrorists are doing any more than you and I do.
Mr. Obama should call on them to march on Washington and London and Madrid and Cairo and Islamabad and Riyadh and Amman and Beirut and the capitals of the Arab Gulf States and everyplace else in the world where there are Muslims. He should call on them to tell the terrorists they have no allies among good, decent Muslims.
He should also make clear that he is calling on good, decent Muslims precisely because they are good and decent.
They are not marching, he should tell them, to apologize for being Muslims. They are marching to condemn what the lunatics do in their name.
But first, he would have to say something along the lines of what Tony Blair said. That being against terrorism – while at the same time understanding why some Muslims are terrorists – won’t do. They must not understand any of it. They cannot be against terrorism but sympathize with what motivates the terrorists.
He should make clear that if they understand the motivations of terrorists, if they sympathize with the terrorists, even while they claim to be against terrorism, then they are part of the problem. A big part.
And to show how serious he is, he should deliver his speech in the Arab world, perhaps in Cairo where he spoke right after taking office. In that speech, called a "New Beginning" -- which was seen as an attempt to patch up differences between the United States and the Arab world -- he never uttered the word "terror" or "terrorism." Some saw the speech as needlessly apologetic. The new speech should be unambiguous. There should be no room for misunderstanding. This time the "New Beginning" speech would tell the world's Muslims that they can no longer simply claim to be against terrorism. They must unite, and march, and shout their opposition so the terrorists hear them and know they have no allies anywhere.
That’s what a leader would do.
And if the terrorists don't listen, at least the rest of the Muslim world will know it did the right thing. That matters.
And Mr. Obama needs to remind everyone – Muslims and non-Muslims -- of one more thing: that what happens “there” in Syria and Iraq will happen here if we don't do something soon. Many of the ISIS killers are from Europe and the United States. They carry passports that allow them easy access into our country. It’s time to come up with a strategy, Mr. President.
Some of this column originally came from my book Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right, in a chapter about Tony Blair entitled, “A Rare Politician with Guts.”