In the tome Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that “Our contemporaries are ever a prey to two conflicting passions: they feel the need of guidance, and they long to stay free.” Tocqueville was referring to the relationship within a democracy between the people and their government, but his observation came to mind recently amid news reports that America’s Olympic athletes had been advised not to wave the Stars & Stripes during the award ceremonies at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece.
On May 16, 2004, Bill Martin, the president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, related the following story to the Los Angeles Times: “We are not the favorite kid in the world right now…I had a very high member (of the International Olympic Committee) tell me recently that we need to realize that the rest of the world doesn't want us on top, it only wants us on tap, meaning nearby, when there is an ugly little crisis somewhere on the globe, where it is then up to us to fix it, to go in there, do the dirty work, put our young men and women on the line.” Therein lies the paradox: Those who hate us also need us.
This sort of anti-Americanism stems largely from the fact that United States government, at least under the Bush administration, refuses to be “on tap” or to seek a “permission slip” from the United Nations to defend itself from external threats. But there is a worldwide realization that as a country, a culture, and a people, the United States – despite its imperfections – is as an indispensable moral, political, social, economic and military force for good. As a result, the U.S. is hated around the world and called a bully due to these two conflicting passions.
The Olympic story revealed a second, more domestic, and equally disturbing, form of anti-Americanism. According to the Washington Times, Mike Moran, a consultant who advises Olympic athletes, was more specific about how the athletes should behave: “What I am telling the athletes is, ‘Don't run over and grab a flag and take it round the track with you’…If a Kenyan or a Russian grabs their national flag and runs round the track or holds it high over their heads, it might not be viewed as confrontational.” This advice is embarrassing, a pathetic capitulation to the threat posed by radical Islam and anti-Americanism. It’s a slap in the face of all those proud American men and women who are fighting and dying abroad to protect the many freedoms that the United States – and the rest of the world – enjoy…including the freedom to participate in the 2004 Olympic Games.
However, there is another point to consider. American public opinion influences how the War on Terror will be fought. If voters come to believe that waving an American flag is too “confrontational,” then they will not likely support the types of realistic – and yes, truly provocative – policies that are required to deal effectively with barbarous decapitators and the states that sponsor them. Passivity of this kind is also an endorsement of the illusory conclusion that anti-Americanism could be alleviated if only America weren’t so “evil,” if only U.S. policies were to change.
It is worth noting that the Spanish government’s decision to withdraw its troops from Iraq was based largely on this belief that certain policies (or even individual leaders) are the most likely “root causes” of terrorist enmity. Ergo, if a change in said policies or leadership takes place, the security threat posed should diminish. Radical Islamic ideology, the principal catalyst for jihadist terror, proscribes peaceful coexistence with non-Islamists, irrespective of policy choices. It is this reality that must inform Western policymakers as they wage a global War on Terror.
As an example, Reuters reported in April that Italian police arrested “a handful of Muslim leaders suspected of plotting to bomb Milan’s metro and Gothic cathedral.” During this raid, the Italians discovered videotapes that featured suspected al-Qaeda leader Abu Qatada. He is reported to have said on one tape: “Rome is a Cross. The West is a Cross, and Romans are the owners of the Cross. Muslims’ target is the West. We will split Rome open.”
Those on the Left argue that Italy’s relationship with the United States is the source of the problem and that Italy would be safer if it distanced itself from the Americans. But the key to this statement is the phrase: “Rome is a Cross…Muslims’ target is the West.” Islamist hatred is not conditioned on policy but on unrelenting disdain for everything the West stands for…including its (largely historical) ties to Christianity. Nothing short of full surrender to Islam will satiate them.
Moreover, global terrorists aim to reinforce the belief that Western policies alone – rather than Western traits such as freedom, tolerance, and pluralism – lead to the terrorism that afflicts them. In fact, Osama bin Laden exploits this belief skillfully. Most recently, he offered Europe a “peace treaty” along with the following explanation: “What happened (on) September 11 and March 11 is your own merchandise coming back to you...Our actions are a reaction to yours, which are destruction and killing of our people as is happening in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine.”
It is tempting – and foolish – to conclude that a change in any particular policy relating to any of these areas could appease al-Qaeda or its allies. Their demands will always include a mix of achievable goals as well unattainable ends (i.e. Osama bin Laden’s demand that America become an Islamic state, or the Palestinian insistence on the “right of return”). In this way, jihadists will always have a rationale to continue their fight, even as some weaklings in the West knuckle-under to their demands (to the detriment of Western democracies as a whole).
As for Spain, it may be on “good terms” with the terrorists now, but how long will this favorable status persist? Let’s recall that France, by far the world’s most influential appeaser, fell quickly out of favor with al-Qaeda over its domestic policies concerning the hijab. For example, an al-Qaeda tape that aired in February 2004 featured Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s deputy, announcing: “The decision of the French president to issue a law to prevent Muslim girls from covering their heads in schools is another example of the Crusader's malice, which Westerners have against Muslims.” This denunciation came despite France’s consistent anti-American, anti-Israeli, pro-Saddam policies! This fact should serve as a warning to all 2004 Olympic athletes, no matter what their nationality.
Therefore, it is imperative to remember, in the words of former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, “The only message that terrorists need to get is that they're going to be beaten.” Moreover, a turn toward appeasement, in the hope that security will follow, would only grant the enemies of civilization a much-desired psychological victory.
American Olympians, hold your flags high!