Lessons of the fall of the Berlin Wall for the modern day

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“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” – Mark Twain

David Satter, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and visiting scholar at SAIS, has done an amazing thing to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He has taken a topic which normally takes about 1,000 words just to introduce, and distilled one of its principal lessons for today’s geopolitical arena into just about 1,000 words.

In particular, and very significantly, he closes in on what continues to be one of the defining struggles of our time: the challenge of engaging with an ideology that leaves no room for alternative discourse. Twenty years ago, that ideology was Communism. Today it is Islamic radicalism. In short:

Our response to the claims of totalitarian ideology is traditionally to defend freedom. By answering an ideology that claims infallibility and promises to create heaven on earth by defending “freedom,” however, we immediately raise the question of “freedom for what?” We also leave the contents of the ideology completely unchallenged. The failure of the West during the Cold War to challenge the claims of communist ideology was always taken by the communists to mean that the West did not believe in anything.

In fact, it is necessary to confront the terrorist ideology directly. Instead of treating freedom as an alternative to ideology, we need to attack radical Islamic ideology as an insult to sanity. It needs to be pointed out that supposedly religious Islamic radicalism is based on man-made dogma and that it relies on the same psychological mechanisms and has the same results as atheistic Communism and Nazism. It is only by attacking Islamic radicalism as an idea that we avoid the impression that the terrorists’ interpretation of themselves is implicitly accepted. At the same time, by attacking radical Islam as based on false values, we automatically call attention to our own. In the Soviet Union, it was often noted by pro-Western Soviet dissidents that “it is difficult to beat something with nothing.” Our task is to make explicit that the West stands for universal values, and those values are “something.”

Read more here.