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Liberals Must Take Up Challenge and Battle Against Islamism

January 11, 2007 By:
Jeffrey Herf
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 On March 29, 2006, a group of British intellectuals posted "The Euston Manifesto" at www.eustonmanifesto.org. Evoking the traditions of the anti-fascist and anti-totalitarian democratic Left, they defended liberal democracy and Enlightenment values while denouncing anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, terrorism and the radical Islam that inspired it. They called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This past August, a group of liberals and centrists in the United States decided to write and circulate "American Liberalism and the Euston Manifesto" in an effort to continue the effort begun in London.The full statement and a list of more than 200 prominent signers are also available at the Web site of "New American Liberalism" at www.newamericanliberalism.org.

The authors of both the British and American statements hope to influence the political and intellectual debates about how liberal democracies can best confront and defeat the threats posed to us by radical Islam and the terrorism it inspires.

The American statement evokes the legacies in foreign policy of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. We wrote:

"The key moral and political challenge in foreign affairs in our time stems from radical Islamism and the jihadist terrorism it has unleashed. We favor a liberalism that is as passionate about the struggle against Islamic extremism as it has been about its political, social, economic and cultural agenda at home. We reject the now ossified and unproductive political polarization of American politics rooted as it is in the conflicts of the 1960s, not the first decade of this century. We are frustrated in the choice between conservative governance that thwarts much-needed reforms at home, on the one hand, and a liberalism that has great difficulty accepting the projection of American power abroad, on the other. The long era of Republican ascendancy may very well be coming to an end. If and when it does, we seek a renewed and reinvigorated American liberalism, one that is up to the task of fighting and winning the struggle of free and democratic societies against Islamic extremism and the terror it produces."

In light of of the success of the Democratic Party in this fall's elections, this last sentence has even greater relevance.

While making clear our disagreement with much of the Bush administration's domestic policies and its conduct of foreign policy, we argued that some facts about international politics were not a matter of left and right. Knowledge about how to develop and deploy chemical, biological and most importantly nuclear weapons has been spreading around the globe more rapidly than liberal democracy and respect for human rights.

The authors viewed "the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran with alarm. Such a state with these weapons would be a grave danger for the Middle East, Europe and the United States. It would increase the danger that such weapons might wind up in the hands of radical Islamist terrorist groups immune to the calculations of nuclear deterrence."

In contrast to the Communists during the Cold War, who wanted to change, not depart from this world, the cult of death and martyrdom of the terrorists inspired by Islamic fundamentalism raises deeply troubling questions about the prospects for peace and security in the future. We take very seriously and find utterly repugnant the threats of Iran's political leaders to "wipe out" the State of Israel. We will not remain silent in the face of these genocidal threats to implement what would amount to a second Holocaust.

The passions of too many liberals here and abroad, even in the aftermath of terrorist attacks all over the world, remain more focused on the misdeeds and errors of our own government in Iraq than on the terrorist outrages by Islamic extremists. Anger at the Bush administration, however justified, should not trump opposition to all aspects of jihadism.

More liberals and centrists are reflecting on the disasters that would ensue if political support in the United States for the long war against the radical Islamists of various persuasions were to erode. Now that the Democrats are in a more powerful position to influence American foreign policy, we hope they take these arguments made by anti-totalitarian liberals to heart.

Jeffrey Herf is professor of European history at the University of Maryland.

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