In a recent column in the Globe and Mail (12/28/07), Rick Salutin wonders how we can help diminish the number of Islamist extremists and then responds: “What about getting out of their faces.” And, any reasonable person can understand the “don’t wave a red flag at an agitated bull” basis for this hypothesis. The argument presumably goes along the following lines: As we stop helping the Afghan and Iraqi governments, the Taliban and al Qaeda will gradually weaken and the forces of moderation and accommodation will get relatively stronger; the Madarassas in Pakistan will teach less hatred about Westerners and Jews and start turning out students with a more moderate and less imperialistic interpretation of Islam.
Notwithstanding the dubious assumption that appeasement is a constructive strategy in the current situation, Rick Salutin does not give enough weight to the fact that it is ideologically motivated extremist leaders who are calling the shots in too many of the Islamic centers of power and influence globally. Do they hold these beliefs, teach them to their children and spread them in their communities and societies because we are in their faces. Of course not. (I appreciate that ideologically motivated neocons in Washington have not been much of a help either. But that's the subject of another article.)
It occurs to me that it is the same fact that Chamberlain failed to appreciate about Adolf Hitler. Chamberlain believed that by getting out of Hitler's face, Hitler would stop his aggressive foreign policy. But instead it only served to reinforce Hitler’s view that the West was morally weak, corrupt, decadent and too afraid of sacrificing lives to stop his aggressive actions -- in short, too afraid of death to fight for life. Chamberlain's failure was in not appreciating the overriding motivating power of the world view that Hitler elaborated in Mein Kampf. (Of course, he could not appreciate it as Mein Kampf was only widely available in English in the late 1930s.)
We, on the other hand, understand extreme Islamism's imperialistic, totalitarian, theocratic and internationalist world view. So there is no excuse for appeasement in this case.
All of this makes me wonder what it is about many modern progressives that makes them fail to take into account the power of ideas as a motivational force in human affairs. It was their Achilles heal when dealing with the realities of international communism in the 20th century. Could it have something to do with a world view that is grounded in a materialistic ontology that is a throwback to their Marxist roots?