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U.S. must reject extremist Islam at home

By William J. Bennett, CNN Contributor
  • William Bennett: U.S. should follow advice of British Prime Minister David Cameon
  • Cameron says Britain accepts separate Islamic cultures under "state multiculturalism"
  • Britain tolerates objectional views it would condemn coming from "whites," he says
  • U.S., Britain need to provide a civil society that Muslims want to belong to, Bennett says

Editor's note: CNN contributor William J. Bennett is the Washington Fellow of the Claremont Institute. He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and was director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

(CNN) -- America should listen to David Cameron right now.

This past weekend, the British prime minister spoke to the issue of radical Islam and the cultural-political concessions to it in Great Britain. His major theme, at a speech delivered in Munich, Germany, can be summed up by what he said to many young Muslims who "find it hard to identify with Britain ... because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity."

"Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream," failing to provide those cultures with "a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong," he said.

Cameron also said his nation has tolerated these segregated communities "behaving in ways that run counter" to British values.

Cameron was quite right in what he said about Britain, and it is equally true here in America. "(W)hen a white person holds objectionable views, racism, for example, we rightly condemn them. But when equally unacceptable views or practices have come from someone who isn't white, we've been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them," he said.

Was this not part of the problem Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins pointed to in their assessment of the Fort Hood, Texas, attack that was released last week? As they pointed out, our homeland security apparatus "collectively had sufficient information to have detected (Nidal) Hasan's radicalization to violent Islamist extremism but failed both to understand and to act on it."

Their assessment found Hasan, for years before the attack, had "openly expressed his beliefs that suicide bombings were justified, that U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were wars against Islam, that Muslim Americans in the U.S. military might engage in fratricide against their comrades and that his loyalty to his religion was greater than his sworn obligation as a military officer to support and defend the Constitution."

But too many did not take him seriously -- wishing his statements away as harmless, as not that unusual. We have become inured to such statements for two main reasons. We too often accept the grievance culture that has sprouted up from Islamism and accepted or adopted much of it ourselves. And we have done a terrible job of convincing this grievance culture of the merits of our own system.

There must be limits to our tolerance. But those limits can only be outlined and accepted once we actually stand up for our values: the self-evident truths that we are all created equal and endowed with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And we must reject other tenets: naked oppression in the name of religious extremism and claims of national self-determination that are excuses for terror movements.

The great relearning must begin now, but for it to begin, it must start with a great reteaching. And if that great reteaching must come from Great Britain, so be it. It will not be the first time we ignored its prime minister at our own peril.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William J. Bennett.