"The discussion of these matters has become difficult, if not impossible," said Bernard Lewis, the 91-year-old professor emeritus of Near East studies at Princeton University.
Lewis spoke at length about the "pre-emptive cringe" — a term he coined to describe the worldwide appeasement of radical Islam.
During a March 18 program titled "Clash of the Civilizations: The Final Jihad," which drew a near-capacity crowd to the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, the scholar recalled a recent trip to England, where the news item of the day centered around uniformed members of the English Air Force who had been attacked while walking the streets of a certain neighborhood. Buried deep in the story was the fact that the attackers were Muslims who were protesting Britain's involvement in the war in Afghanistan, he said.
"Nobody asked, 'Who are these people?' " said Lewis. "The pre-emptive cringe has gone far indeed."
Dennis Prager, the 59-year-old host of a nationally syndicated talk-radio show, told the crowd that people are so ashamed to criticize Islam that they won't even judge individuals within the religion.
"[They] are called Islamophobic," said Prager.
The situation is similar to a bully at summer camp, he said, where those who are not the bully or the victim just stand idly by.
"People do not want to confront evil," he said.
However, on the world stage, "America stands up to the world's bullies," said Prager to a round of applause.
As for Europe, where the Muslim population is growing and where there are signs of support for its radical contingent, the outlook is particularly dismal, argued Prager.
"Within 50 years, Western Europe will be largely Islamic — or there will be a civil war," he declared.
People should be worried about the sheer number of people who agree with the principles of radical Islam, continued Prager, noting that, even if the number is as a small as 10 percent of Muslims, "that is 100 million people."
Throughout his talk, Princeton's Lewis attempted to give the audience a sense of the Muslim point of view.
For example, he explained that while many Americans continue to see the fall of the Soviet Union as a victory for the United States, many in the Islamic world believe that it was a victory for them in a jihad.
"There now remains the task of dealing with the pampered Americans," he said.
Lewis also said that Muslims divide the world into two types of people — those who belong in the "house of Islam" and those who dwell in the "house of the unbelievers."
The continued deliberation in the United States about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is being watched closely by Osama bin Laden and other extremists, explained Lewis.
"What we see as normal democratic debate, they see as fear and division," he said.
A Glimmer of Hope
Lewis ended his formal remarks by recalling the story of Neville Chamberlain, prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1937 to 1940, who conceded Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Making a modern-day comparison to the West's dealings with radical Islam, Lewis said that the upcoming presidential election has "competing Chamberlains and the hope of a [Winston] Churchill," he said, all but endorsing Republican Sen. John McCain.
After their formal remarks, Prager began interviewing Lewis, who spoke about his optimism for the Arab world. When Israel went to war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, explained the professor, it was expected that many Arabs would complain; instead, they fell "remarkably silent."
Indeed, stated Lewis, "they were hoping the Israelis would finish the job."
That change represented a glimmer of hope that Israel does not represent the great enemy to all Arab nations.
"It's becoming increasingly clear that more people in the Arab world know they face a threat more deadly than any threat from Israel," continued the scholar. "There are signs of awareness of Israel's democracy."