bush gesticulates 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Just skim the European press and you will come across this allegation: Americans are uncouth - about Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, the Middle East, the world. They are unsophisticated in their attitude to other societies, ignorant of their complexities and dominated by a High Noon mentality (good sheriffs fight it out with villains); by the digital approach (everything is made up of ones and zeroes) and by simplistic descriptions of their opponents as evil.
This is especially true of the liberal British press, which has traditionally rebelled against one-dimensional labels such as "axis of evil" and keeps telling Washington to get with the complex world it's living in, ditch the Bush dictum of "you're either with us or against us" and see all nuances of the complications of the international relations spectrum.
When President George W. Bush recently referred to "Islamic fascists," he was attacked by the British liberal press and the BBC. Does this "name-calling" have any point? they asked.
Their arguments do contain some truth: Human societies are complex and cannot be summed up by simplistic epithets, and Americans are indeed not always aware of the complexities. Because they travel abroad less, they may know less than their European peers about other countries. A lack of knowledge of Iraqi society may have led Washington into a war which has seemingly slid into the abyss of civil and sectarian bloodshed.
YET THERE is one big flaw in the European argument.
While societies are complex structures embracing opposing components - this was true even of Nazi Germany, which contained substantial non-Nazi, liberal and leftist elements; of Russian society under Stalin; and of the Iranian people, which incorporates strong secular and pro-Western elements - these complex social traits have been wrongly ascribed to non-democratic regimes.
Dictatorial and totalitarian regimes - whether secular or, as in the case of Iran and Hizbullah, fundamentalist - are not complex. They are one-dimensional and can be summed up in a few words. They are, though are not necessarily, evil in the true sense of the word.
The Soviet Empire was truly evil not because of the peoples it ruled, but because of the regime's vicious nature. (Despite some Western intellectuals' infatuation with the regime, most failed to expose its genocidal crimes.)
Saddam Hussein was the epitome of evil.
People who aspire to blow up airplanes in the name of Islam are truly fascists, just as President Bush said.
Couth souls may shrink from such terms, but tragic experience proves the existence of unadulterated evil, as well as the dangers emanating from murderous regimes that seek to destroy civilization as we know it.
Iranian society may be complex, but its regime, openly anti-Semitic in the Nazi tradition, seeking to "wipe Israel off the map," is evil and dangerous. No amount of sophistication can conceal this fact of life and death.
Hizbullah and Hamas, the two Iranian offshoots planted on Israel's fragile and vulnerable borders, are similarly evil in deed and intention; and North Korea is almost a caricature of evil. It is guilty of every conceivable crime against humanity, as well as of a few inconceivable ones, such as kidnapping Japanese civilians, and it threatens its neighbors with missiles.
EXPERIENCE, especially the 20th-century kind, shows that it is easier for democracies to defend themselves against the dangers of evil regimes in the first stages of their flourishing. Nazi Germany nearly conquered the world (and without the intervention of those uncouth Americans might have succeeded) owing to the failure to nip its evil in the bud.
In this respect the uncouth have it right. There are High Noon-type situations in international relations, ones in which civilized peoples must stand up and be counted, facing off against evil and menacing regimes.
This is the case with Iran which, if not restrained, may come to dominate the Middle East and, through its oil-acquired riches and future nuclear prowess, mortally endanger the West.
The writer is president of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.