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A Liberal’s Truth-Telling on Terror

Author: L. Gordon Crovitz
Publication: The Wall Street Journal
Date: December 6, 2015
URL: http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-liberals-truth-telling-on-terror-1449445745
 
Hearing ISIS declared fascist was refreshing. Too bad the speaker wasn’t a Democrat.
 
Last week a liberal politician named Hilary broke a taboo by calling Islamist terrorism by its proper name. Shocking things happened: Members of the politician’s political party broke with their leader’s policy. Legislators switched their votes to create a large majority supporting military attacks against Islamic State, or ISIS, in Syria. A conservative newspaper called the liberal politician statesmanlike enough to be head of the government.
 
This politician was in Britain, not in the U.S., and the speaker was  Hilary Benn, not Hillary Clinton. Following the ISIS-inspired massacre in San Bernardino, Calif., perhaps more liberals in the U.S. can also start speaking forthrightly about terrorism and get smarter about stopping it.
 
The British House of Commons was debating whether to join the military campaign against ISIS. The Labour Party leader,  Jeremy Corbyn, warned his members not to back the ruling Conservative Party’s plan to bomb territory held by the Islamists.
 
Mr. Benn, the Labour shadow foreign secretary, defied Mr. Corbyn and gave what Tory Foreign Secretary  Philip Hammond called “one of the greatest speeches” ever heard in the chamber. Mr. Benn made a clear moral and tactical case. He recited the horrors committed by ISIS against civilians in Syria and Iraq as well as the shooting down of the Russian airliner over Egypt and the recent attack in Paris killing 130 people.
 
“So the question for each of us—and for our national security—is this,” said Mr. Benn. “Given that we know what they are doing, can we really stand aside and refuse to act fully in our self-defense against those who are planning these attacks? Can we really leave to others the responsibility for defending our national security when it is our responsibility?”
 
Mr. Benn specifically addressed his Labour colleagues who refuse to speak clearly about the enemy:
 
“We are here faced by fascists. Not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this chamber tonight, and all of the people that we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt. They hold our democracy, the means by which we will make our decision tonight, in contempt. And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated.”
 
Members of Parliament broke decorum to applaud Mr. Benn. His straight talk was especially notable because his father, Tony Benn, was an antiwar politician. The left-leaning Guardian called the speech “verbal shock and awe.” The right-leaning Daily Telegraph said: “Hilary Benn didn’t just look like the leader of the opposition. He looked like the Prime Minister.” Immediately after parliamentary approval, the Royal Air Force launched bombing raids against ISIS.
 
Labeling ISIS as “fascist” contrasts with Democrats in the U.S. tying themselves into politically correct knots to avoid naming the enemy. President Obama still refuses to include “Islam” in the same breath as “terrorism.” In response to a question during last month’s Democratic presidential debate, the candidates all refused to say the U.S. is at war with “radical Islam.” Mrs. Clinton demurred by calling the term “not particularly helpful.”
 
Kim Ghattas, a BBC correspondent and Beirut native, writes in the current issue of Foreign Policy, “It’s ironic that while U.S. officials and Democratic politicians refuse to say ‘radical Islam,’ these very words, in fact, are commonly used in Arabic across the Middle East: Islam mutatarrif. When I asked a handful of friends in Beirut—Muslim and non-Muslim alike—what they thought of Democrats refusing to use those two words to describe what drives militant groups like the so-called Islamic State, they seemed puzzled by the apparent obfuscation.”
 
It undermines reformers in the Arab world when outsiders refuse to link Islamism to terrorism. Saudi commentator  Ibrahim al-Shaalan last year said that ISIS’ “actions are but an epitome of what we’ve studied in our school curriculum.”
 
The U.S. won’t deter Saudi Arabia from exporting its toxic Wahhabi teachings so long as Washington keeps pretending that radical Islam has nothing to do with terrorism.
 
Politicians who deny the role of radical Islam have no answer to San Bernardino or to the next San Bernardino. As ISIS lures more radicalized Muslims to commit terrorism in infidel lands, refusing to confront the enemy for what it is becomes a form of suicide.
 

Mr. Benn’s characterization of ISIS as fascists who must be defeated is a welcome development in the battle to defend civilization against fanatics set on destroying it.
 
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