That’s how the Brits solved the Hitler problem, and the academics solve the Islam problem
It seems a rule for all governments, both of the Left and Right, that when they are confronted with a problem they conclude to be insurmountable, their solution is to pretend it isn’t there. But most of the time it is there, and the consequence of their refusal to face reality can be altogether disastrous.
I can think of two examples, one of which happened about 85 years ago. The other is happening right now, and was stated with a clarity rare for these times in the Wall Street Journal last month.
In the first instance, my mind went back to the British Conservative administration headed in the latter 1930s first by Stanley Baldwin, then by Neville Chamberlain. Both were Conservatives. The crisis they faced was directly caused when Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933.
The First World War had come to an end 15 years before that date. Civilian and military deaths in it had numbered 18 million with 23 million wounded. It was the most deadly armed conflict in history. As nations and individual families seriously weighed that cost, the rationale behind the war became less and less coherent. So the conviction took deep root, particularly among the western democracies, that such a war must never happen again.
As that conviction intensified, science further strengthened it. Poison gas, barely used in the First War, was much more efficient now; whole populations could be wiped. Air power, hardly in evidence, could now inflict inconceivable horror. So no! no! no! There must never be another. Such was the near universal cry.
But not quite universal. A second sentiment ran loud and at large in France. Germany had started that war, and France saw itself as the chief victim. So vengeance was fiercely sought. Germany must pay! In the treaty that marked the end of the war, France successfully imposed economic penalties which Germany could not possibly meet. In the economic calamity that ensued with hundreds of thousands of Germans unemployed, a clever spellbinder could whip Germany into a fury of resentment. In 1933, that spellbinder came to power and promptly launched a program of secret German rearmament in clear violation of the peace treaty.
Thus began the British government’s insurmountable problem. British intelligence was renowned for its efficiency and kept the government fully informed of Germany’s rising air power, which would rapidly overtake that of France and England combined. Its reassembling army was also rebuilding swiftly and would soon become irresistible. Meanwhile, the Baldwin government, followed by the Chamberlain, denied and denied and denied again the rising peril as the “scare” tactics of the opposition. The supposed German rearmament was fiction, they said. They knew full well, of course, what Germany was doing. But what could they do about it? The people simply did not want another war, period!
One voice in the Commons had an answer, Combine with France and invade Germany now, he declared. His cry met with scorn, derision and fury. A reporter friend of mine, working in London at the time, remembers his own reaction. “If somebody doesn’t shut that lunatic up, he’s going to start another war,” he pontificated. The name of the “lunatic” was Winston Churchill. It was later shown that if France and England had acted as Churchill proposed, the German army had plans to overthrow Hitler and whole Second World War might not have happened. In short, our quest for peace led us directly into another war.
The modern instance of this expedient–If you don’t know what to do about a problem, just deny that it exists– is exemplified in the so-called “war on terror.” We are widely reassured that Islam poses no threat to the western world because it is “a religion of peace.” The media has even provided us with a word for those who have trouble accepting this baffling thesis. We are “Islamophobic,” they say. A phobia is, of course, an irrational fear. Now it’s true that the people killed or injured each year in the name of Islam number in the tens of thousands, that they are almost wholly innocent victims, and that the number of them is growing, not declining, and that instances are occurring all over the world. But surely to become somewhat uneasy about this is plainly irrational. Such is the thinking. So irrational that our House of Commons has asked the government to crack down on us Islamophobes by making it illegal to criticize Islam.
For a long time I could not understand where or how the academics acquired the dogma that Islam is about peace. It was born with a war between Medina and Mecca. Its founder was a general. It was initially financed by piracy. It was spread to the world at the point of the sword. For centuries it enslaved thousands upon thousands of people. It has been trying to conquer Europe for more than a thousand years. Muslims who convert to another religion are subject to execution and so is any Christian convicted of attempting to convert a Muslim. I hope the House of Commons won’t mind my saying this, but it all happens to be true.
But some very sensible commentary on Islam appeared in the Wall Street Journal. It as written by Hussain Haggani, director for South and Central Asia for the Hudson Institute and former Pakistan ambassador to the U.S. His article is distinguished by the advice he offers. When dealing with Islam, he cautions, be very aware of its history because Muslims themselves certainly are. He writes:
In trying to re-create an Islamic state, radical Islamists draw inspiration from 14 centuries of history. It is important to understand the various Muslim “revivalist” movements, involving various degrees of violence and challenges to the global order of the time. Contemporary radicals often reach into the past to find models for organization and mobilization. ISIS’ choice of Syria and Iraq to declare a caliphate was also a function of the Islamist reverence for historic precedents.
This is the first time I’ve heard any modern authority refer to the past as a guide to the present. Whatever we’re doing now about the war on terrorism plainly isn’t working and we should face that. There’s another possible benefit. Who knows? Maybe if other leaders begin talking this way, the government may might got back to teaching history in our schools.
Ted Byfield was founder and publisher of Alberta Report news magazine, general editor of Alberta in the Twentieth Century. a 12-volume history of the province, and general editor of The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, a 12-volume history of Christianity. His column on education appears in The Christians.com, a web journal. He has recently authored two little books on modern pedagogy: Why History Matters and The Revolution Nobody Covered. You can order both copies here.