Silencing Muslim moderates

In recent weeks, we have been hearing two different opinions on the influence of radical Muslims. People like Sen. Joseph Biden have been saying that our true enemies number in the tens rather than the thousands, while media sources like “60 Minutes” and others have been telling us that fierce public loyalty to radical Muslims, like Osama bin Laden, for example, is surprisingly broad.

While the pundits may be right that bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorists represent only a fringe element of Islam, it is important to remember that the nature of radicalism is that it overwhelms those who are more reasonable. Peaceful moderates stand little chance when faced with radicals who resort to violence. History has told that story many times.

No one would make the case that average Germans in the 1920s were anywhere near as extreme as the Nazi radicals who took over that country in the 1930s. Hitler accomplished his goal of overwhelming moderate Germans with the help of thousands of jack-booted thugs whose method was to “molest and murder their political opponents,” according to William Shirer’s seminal book, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” The aggressive and zealous nature of extremists – Nazi or otherwise – has a huge advantage over average people who are just trying to quietly live their lives.

At a time when President Bush is calling on the world, and specifically the Muslim world, to choose sides, it is sadly possible that most Muslims may have already “chosen” sides. After all, the terrorist tactics used against Israel and America can also be used to intimidate moderates who fear being seen as spies for Israel or supporters of the “Great Satan.” If we want to understand the power of radicals, we need only look to the streets.

A few years ago, when a Hamas bomb-maker blew himself up in the Middle East, I was shocked to read in the papers that thousands upon thousands of Palestinians filled the streets to mourn the terrorist killer. What surprised me was not that there were sympathizers, but that there were so many and that they were brazen enough to reveal themselves publicly. Then I realized the larger point – one that explains the situation Israel faced then and that America faces now.

There were no counter-demonstrations – and not only on that day. I suddenly realized I had never seen or even heard of a serious anti-Hamas demonstration in the Middle East. I’m hoping there were some – but there should be many. Moderates should be out in force on a regular basis. There was a huge peace movement in Israel in the 1990s, but where was there an equivalent movement among Palestinians? Where is the video footage of angry Palestinian faces chanting anti-Hamas slogans and burning bin Laden and other terrorists in effigy?

The simple truth of that pro-Hamas memorial gathering a few years ago was that the demonstrators didn’t need to be brazen. There was no one left to criticize them, no moderates to step forward and confront them. The sad fact was that whatever Palestinian moderates there were had most likely been terrorized into silence. How else would moderate, often educated, people accept targeted violence against women and children as a legitimate mode of warfare – in fact, a heroic one?

That moment crystallized an understanding for me. It did not matter what Palestinian leadership said at the U.N. or in press conferences with then-President Clinton. There would be no peace in the Middle East because there was no peace in the streets. The streets were controlled by the terrorists in much the same way Hitler’s Brown Shirts controlled the streets so that the Nazis could rise to power.

And the situation is worse now. All I saw recently on “60 Minutes” were crowds of masked Palestinians marching with signs praising terrorist “martyrs.” President Bush was right to use the Nazi analogy in his already famous speech to Congress. The process of neutralizing and eventually converting moderates into radicals is simple and fool-proof:

First you terrorize your opponents into silence so that your movement appears to have no opposition. This gives you tremendous power, not only because moderates quietly feel they are alone in their disagreement with you, but also because the ignorant media – especially the foreign media – casts you as the choice of the people. Having succeeded in silencing moderates, the next step is terrorizing them into cooperating with you. Soon passive cooperation is not enough. You want more than their body – you want their soul, so you terrorize the moderates into being “passionate” in your cause.

In the end, your movement appears to have only loyal and active supporters. Now you are in total control, for who would dare speak out against you? As Hitler said, 10 years before he finally rose to power, “The National Socialist Movement will in the future ruthlessly prevent – if necessary by force – all meetings or lectures that are likely to distract the minds of our fellow countrymen.” In other words, all opposition is evil and we will protect you from it. Sound familiar?

A week after the attack on America, a Muslim-American called my radio show from Los Angeles to tell me that she had just returned from visiting relatives in Egypt. She said that while she was over there, she was shocked and saddened to see that “even the moderates are angry at Americans.” It occurred to me later that perhaps those moderates had no choice but to be angry.

Perhaps it is now unhealthy to act any other way.