Lenin called them "useful idiots," those people living in liberal democracies who by giving moral and material support to a totalitarian ideology in effect were braiding the rope that would hang them. Why people who enjoyed freedom and prosperity worked passionately to destroy both is a fascinating question, one still with us today. Now the useful idiots can be found in the chorus of appeasement, reflexive anti-Americanism, and sentimental idealism trying to inhibit the necessary responses to another freedom-hating ideology, radical Islam.
Sheer ignorance is a tempting explanation for the persistent willingness of the free to attack the foundations of their own freedom and to ignore or rationalize the forces that would destroy them. Totalitarian societies are masters of disinformation, propaganda, and outright lies, the bigger the better. How many generations of starry-eyed leftists made pilgrimages to the old Soviet Union to gawk at any number of Potemkin villages and other cardboard-and-tinsel stage-sets for the socialist paradise?
So too today ignorance of Middle Eastern history and the true nature of Islamic society and values makes it easier for many to misinterpret the motives of Islamic terrorists and thugs like Hussein. Nowhere is this more obvious than in many people's interpretation of the conflict in Israel. All we hear about is a "Palestinian homeland," that simple solution that will bring peace to Israel and end the terrorist slaughter. A brilliant propaganda campaign since 1967 has sold the whole world on this specious explanation for the murder of Israelis.
Yet the history of the conflict and the words of most Middle Easterners themselves tell us that the real issue is not the Palestinians, but simply the existence of Israel itself. Long before the so-called "occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza, Israelis were subjected to incessant guerilla and terrorist assault, not to mention two full-scale military attacks. Or look at the maps adorning textbooks, insignia, and web-sites from all over the Middle East. You will not find Israel anywhere, the whole state having been erased as thoroughly as Trotsky from an old Soviet May Day photograph. Some argue persuasively that even Arafat's keffiyeh or head-dress is carefully arranged to hang in the shape of an envisioned state of Palestine that occupies all the territory now part of Israel. Israel in any shape or form is unacceptable to many in Islam, for it is an outpost of the infidel West and an intruder on lands conquered with the help of God to further his designs.
But ignorance alone can't explain "useful idiocy." As early as the twenties the true nature of Soviet communism, along with its penchant for terror, assassination, show trials, and gulags, was known in the West, and that didn't cut down on Communism's admirers. Today anyone with a computer can go to the Middle East Research Institute web site and read the vicious anti-Semitic and anti-Western drivel produced by state-run presses in the Middle East. Or those with a satellite dish perhaps can tune in Egyptian state-controlled television's miniseries dramatizing the absurd slanders of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion."
The facts are there, and the facts tell us that a sizable number of Islamic people see the West and its proxy Israel as its ancient enemy whose destiny is to be conquered by a spiritually superior Islamic civilization. That struggle may be waged by a secular maniac like Hussein, a homicide-bomber in Israel, or a terrorist in Manhattan, but they all are fighting the same fight, a struggle that began in the 7th century AD and whose ebb and flow must be understood from the perspective of God's time and purposes, not ours.
More factual information, then, will not help people whose beliefs are based not on reason but on a debased religious impulse. The decline of religion does not mean that the "need" for religion disappears. Most of us still crave a meaningful picture of the world and our place in it, an identification of the good and the evil, and an assurance that in the end the good (i.e. people like ourselves) will triumph. For years Communism was the opiate of the secular materialists, an apocalyptic creed which filled the chosen with assurance of their righteousness and election.
So too with anti-Americanism, a sect of that old-time Marxist religion. This doctrine knows the font of evil in the world — the West and especially America — whose deadly sins of "imperialism" and "colonialism" and "racism" have created a fallen world of suffering and exploitation, a world whose redemption depends on battling the power and influence of the wicked militarists and global capitalists. Or as one sign from last week's "anti-war" rally in New York succinctly put it, "Bush is a Devil." America is guilty and must atone for its sins by abandoning its power and pouring vast sums of money into its Third World victims, for only then will the golden age of peace, equality, and universal tolerance come about.
Recognizing these attitudes as a species of religion makes it easier to understand their illogic and incoherence. Hypocrisy, for example, the failure to live the doctrine one preaches, is a perennial bugbear of religious belief. So too with the anti-Americanists, the vast majority of whom have no intention whatsoever of living anywhere other than in the West, where they enjoy the freedom and prosperity that subsidizes their beliefs. Yet this is a minor cavil when one is so passionately concerned with the salvation of the oppressed, not to mention one's own righteousness.
Likewise with the utopian perfectionism that lurks behind most criticism of America and the West. Only a quasi-religious eternal standard of human happiness--the sort traditional religion once promised for believers after this life--could explain the nit-picking, ever more minute dissections of presumed American injustice and evil that typify the "leftist" attack on the United States. Consider, for example, the following, from a New York Times story about some videos the government has produced documenting the prosperity and tolerance enjoyed by Muslim Americans. In response to a comment by the Muslim director of the National Institutes of Health commending America's unique tolerance of diversity, a recent Harvard graduate disagreed, responding that at a rally at Harvard Square last year "I heard young people saying very hard things about Muslims."
Think about it. Days after a murderous attack by 19 Muslims driven by nothing other than sheer intolerant hatred, a time when in most human societies people would have burned, looted, and murdered in rage and vengeance, the Harvard grad thinks that people saying "hard things" about Muslims is somehow evidence of intolerance and xenophobia. In actual fact, that hard things were only "said," rather than large numbers of Muslims being beaten and murdered, is testimony to the truth of America's remarkable tolerance of cultural and religious difference. But when the standard of judgment is a religious belief in a perfect world, a world in which conflict and hurt feelings "never" occur, then America falls short.
Freedom of religion in America, however, means freedom for pseudo-religion as well. Useful idiots have a Constitutional right to display and parade their useful idiocy. But what should disturb us all is the prevalence of this sort of irrationality in what are presumably the bastions of critical thinking and healthy skepticism, our universities. It is there that the pseudo-religions of Marxism and anti-Americanism not only flourish, but choke out other alternatives. An ideological conformity redolent of the medieval church permeates everything from who gets hired to what gets taught. And that betrayal of the intellectual's calling means that fewer and fewer venues exist in which the irrational and dangerous delusions that blind us to reality — the idiocy useful to tyrants and dictators — can be exposed.