The threat of radical Islam, on display so brutally in the bloody beheading of American journalist James Foley, is a war of ideas – something politicians both in America and Great Britain don’t seem to understand. Our political leaders need to move from hand-wringing to action, starting with defending the ideals that have defended the Anglosphere up to now.
Almost 80 years ago, approximately 4,000 young Englishmen left home to fight in the Spanish Civil War in what turned out to be a dress rehearsal for World War II. It was a conflict famous in Western history because of the relentless atrocities toward civilians. About 3,000 Americans joined them in the Abe Lincoln Brigades, and approximately 1,300 Canadians (of whom only 35 returned).
These volunteers in the International Brigades believed their cause was just, socialism vs. Franco’s fascism, yet the briefest look at the war shows that when it came to crimes against humanity, socialists could claim little moral superiority. As John Keegan observed, this was a war in which you were killed simply for being who you were, not for what you did.
That’s about all those young volunteers have in common with the British jihadists, of whom estimates range from 500 to 1,500, a larger number than Muslims serving in the British military.While the young men of an earlier generation held the belief that they were fighting for liberty and democracy, this generation is bent on the destruction of democracy and subjugation to a universal caliphate.
The brutality of the murder video of James Foley by one of these British volunteers for ISIS was greeted, in an unconscious echo of Captain Renault in “Casablanca,” with expressions of “shock” from our political leaders.
It’s all the more mystifying when we remember that the beheading of another heroic American journalist, Daniel Pearl, was organized by Omar Sheikh, a Briton of Pakistani descent who was educated in a British prep school and the London School of Economics.
Furthermore, it was British-born Muslims who carried out the 7/7 attack, the first suicide bombings on British soil, and it was a student from London University who became the “underpants bomber.”
Nor should we forget the decapitation of drummer Lee Rigby in May 2013, in broad daylight in south London.
As several British journalists have pointed out, British jihadists are fast transforming the United Kingdom into "the Yemen of the West." Horrific as it was, Jim Foley’s murder was by no means the worst act posted online by or involving British jihadists.
What made the Foley execution different from these other acts of savagery was the proclamation by the British perpetrator that promised the “bloodshed of your people.” This threat was made even more explicit in the ransom demand to Mr. Foley’s family: “Today our swords are unsheathed towards you, government and citizens alike.” So we can be sure that it is only a question of time before the theater of savagery makes its way across the pond to us.
Clearly ISIS did not get the memo from President Obama about the war in the Mideast being over. For ISIS, this is the ultimate war of ideas. We all know that our values and our ideas of democracy and the rule of law are better, and they have stood the test of time. After all, we will soon be celebrating 800 years since the Magna Carta, the document that enshrined those cherished principles.
However, in recent years, in the name of multiculturalism and religious tolerance, successive British governments have allowed – and in many cases enabled – the proponents of radical Islam to control many of the most important institutions in Muslim Britain, including key mosques, Muslim charities, university Islamic societies and schools.
British media report that the black flag of ISIS has been flown openly in London and that ISIS supporters have been demonstrating in Oxford Street, a short distance from Buckingham Palace.
In fact, Britain has arguably become the weakest link in the international fight against Islamic terrorism. As a British-born American citizen, my greatest fear is that – in a horrible twist to the Special Relationship – the next attack on American soil will come from a British citizen.
Radical Islam presents a clear and present danger to the civilized world, and hopefully our political leaders will transition from hand-wringing and shock into resolute action to defeat its rampage militarily. But we need to recognize that in the long run, the only way to defeat a bad idea is with a good idea.
The Anglosphere ideas of freedom and religious toleration – the four freedoms of Franklin Roosevelt – need to be proclaimed and defended in all our institutions on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s time for all of us to have the courage of our convictions and to infuse this spirit in our political leaders to ensure we defeat terror and tyranny.
Amanda Bowman is founder of The Anglosphere Society. The Society's mission is to promote the Special Relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom across a broad spectrum.