What a week for contrasts. A so-called "religious cleric," whose principal contribution to his people was to inspire them to blow themselves up, taking as many innocent civilians along with them, dies and is hailed by the Arabs as a hero. But the principal savior of Arab life alive, a man who rescued more than 20 million Muslims from the clutches of Saddam Hussein, continues to be vilified and excoriated by the Arab press.
Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the quintessential wolf in sheep's clothing, may indeed have been a Muslim cleric. But let's not forget that Joseph Stalin was an ordained priest. And when the State of Israel rightly defended itself from this cold-blooded murderer, it came under a barrage of international condemnation. Among the arguments proffered was that eliminating Yassin would only inflame Palestinians and provoke Hamas. Provoke Hamas? Really make them angry? You gotta be kidding. What are they going to do now? Kill hundreds of Israelis? They are already doing that. Dismember pregnant women? Been there, done that. Blow the arms and legs off children? Ditto.
This reminds me of the claim of the defenders of Pope Pius XII, the foremost moral coward of the 20th century, that he never once condemned the Nazi extermination of European Jewry because he didn't want to provoke the Nazis into further atrocities against the Jews. Had the Pope spoken out, so the advocates of beatification for the Pope argue, the Nazis would have stepped up their campaign against the Jews. But are they really suggesting that the Nazis could have been come up with anything worse than Auschwitz? That the Germans might have stepped up a program that was already killing more than the 15,000 Jews per day in their crematoria? Even when more than 1000 Jews of Rome were rounded up, on October 16, 1943, directly in front of the Pope's Vatican window and kept at a military barracks not 300 feet from his office, Pius did not offer a protest. Was this to protect the Roman Jews from an even worse fate than they met a few days later when nearly all were gassed at Birkenau?
Rather than excuse cowardice, let us all applaud courage. The man who is most attacked for having incited the Islamic militants to real shows of anger is President Bush with his war of liberation in Iraq. Perhaps there is something redeeming about being the most powerful, yet most vilified, man on earth. I would assume it keeps one humble. But let's not ascribe that virtuous motivation to the President's critics, the latest of which is a former counter-terrorism official in the Bush White House, Richard Clarke who has written a book alleging that the Iraq war actually made the United States more vulnerable by fomenting anti-American feelings and taking military resources away from the hunt for Al Qaeda.
In truth, Clarke is an opportunist with a limited and myopic vision. Terrorism in the Middle East is a direct outgrowth of Arab tyranny. If Arabs lived, like their Western counterparts, in open, prosperous, and democratic societies, there would be no need on the part of their corrupt leaders to scapegoat Israel and the United States as the source of all Arab problems and Muslims wouldn't be signing up by the truckload to attack Western targets. Adolph Hitler, the Sheikh Yassin of his time, also brilliantly scapegoated the Jews as the source of all German unhappiness, even while he stole all freedom away from his people and turned them into ruthless murderers. While we may, from time to time, eliminate terrorist leaders like Sheikh Yassin or even Osama bin Laden, a total end to Middle East terror will surely not come about until there is complete Arab democratization in the Middle East. And President Bush, in a sharp departure from his father who lacked "the vision thing" and left Saddam Hussein in power, understands this.
Iraqi citizens are now the first Arabs in modern Middle Eastern history that don't have to be afraid of their own government. But bureaucrats like Richard Clarke, who cannot see the forest from the trees, would have us focus only on individual terrorists instead of the governments that create, harbor, fund, incite, and inspire them. How could anyone take Clarke's criticism seriously when we have already seen the immense dividends of the Iraqi war, such as Qaddaffi publicly disavowing his nuclear weapons programs and Syrian citizens being brazen enough to hold public demonstrations in Damascus for the first time, a fact that even the New York Times conceded would have been unthinkable prior to the toppling of Saddam?
It is time that I said in print what I have long felt in my heart. I not only support President Bush, I revere him. At a time when so many other world leaders want to paint September 11th as a terror attack, President Bush saw it for what it was: a clash of civilizations, a war to the death between two systems--one open, democratic, and respectful of human life, the other oppressive, tyrannical, and contemptuous of human life. President Bush understands that the only way to defeat such a grave threat is by tumbling the dominoes that support terror one by one, even if he becomes the most criticized man on earth for doing so.