Getting Chamberlain, Churchill, and Bush wrong

Sunday’s Washington Post contained an article by Lynn Olson who puts forth the absurd proposition that President Bush more closely resembles Neville Chamberlain than Winston Churchill. Steven Hayward correctly observes that Olson’s piece is too “dismal” to warrant a point-by-point rebuttal. For example, Olson makes no mention of that which, more than anything else, Chamberlain is remembered for — his underestimation and appeasement of an expansionist dictator. Bush stands with Churchill in understanding the threat posed by expansionist dictators and in his unwillingness to appease them. Olson also accuses Bush of trying to “shut down public debate over the war on terror and the conflict in Iraq,” and she cites this as a major reason why Churchill supposedly would disapprove of Bush. Yet Olson points to no evidence that Bush has tried to shut down such debate, nor is there any.
Churchill wasn’t just a statesman; he was also an historian. It’s likely that he would have nothing but contempt for Olson’s pathetic effort to distort historical facts to make a cheap political point.
Nonetheless, Churchill might well disapprove of Bush’s approach to the war on terror in one respect — the president’s stated views of Islam. As Hayward reminds us, this was what Churchill had to say about the religion of peace:

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property-either as a child, a wife, or a concubine-must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die. But the influence of the religion paralyzes the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proseltyzing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science-the science against which it had vainly struggled-the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.

JOHN adds: I can’t argue with Churchill’s description, but I would also stick up for President Bush on this point. Islam obviously is not, at present, a “religion of peace,” nor has it ever been. I don’t think the President and his advisers are oblivious to this historical fact. I think their characterization is prescriptive, not descriptive; a “religion of peace” is what Muslims must make of their faith, and we should help them in every reasonable way to do so. There are a billion or more Muslims in the world, so I don’t see a practical alternative to the administration’s policy in this regard.
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