Points of Departure

by Conor Friedersdorf

Over at National Review, David Pryce-Jones recounts the shameful way that Canadian authorities have treated Mark Steyn, a writer whose right to publish whatever he wants without getting hauled before a tribunal ought to be sacrosanct, full stop. (In fact, I wonder if a defense fund could be set up so that anyone brought up on charges in Canada could draw on it.)

This part of the post jumped out at me:

Mark Steyn is a humorous writer, but he has a serious purpose, namely to point out that the Western world has Islamist enemies who wish it ill. We could deal with those Islamists except for one thing: A large segment of our fashionable opinion-makers, so to speak the Burumas of this world, think that Islamists aren’t as bad as all that; and if they are, then we are still worse, and what we stand for isn’t really worth defending. So the public doesn’t know what to think, and a few self-appointed custodians push them into all manner of doubt and guilt by accusing anyone who criticizes, or horrors! laughs at Islamists of Islamophobia, racism, fascism, etc. etc.

This doesn't describe America as I observe it. I very much doubt an employee of The New York Times or The Washington Post or The New Yorker can be found who denies the proposition that "the Western world has Islamist enemies who wish it ill." I doubt a single CNN talking head has ever asserted that America isn't superior to al Qaeda or the Taliban, or that our lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness aren't really worth defending. Where does this large segment of fashionable opinion makers write or broadcast? What is the evidence that "the public" doesn't know what to think about radical Islamists? I find it hard to imagine satisfactory answers.

Islamist radicals are a threat. Our values are worth defending against theirs. This is what the vast majority of Americans, including the vast majority of opinion-makers, agree on entirely, and writing as if this consensus doesn't exist merely distracts from the questions that divide Americans. How grave is the Islamist threat? How common is radicalism among the world's Muslims? What does the existence of groups like Al Qaeda imply about our foreign policy? Is it better for American interests to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Does the threat of terrorism justify a reduction in civil liberties? What is the fairest way to treat Muslim Americans? These questions, and dozens of others, are what require debate, and it can proceed most productively if it's built upon the common ground we already enjoy as rational citizens in a liberal democratic republic.