Some time after 9/11, a very liberal friend and I were discussing al Qaeda, and I said, "I don't need to know anything more about 'why they hate us.'" My friend was horrified that I could bury my head in the sand about the causes of Islamist terrorism - how could we expect to end it without understanding it?
This exchange was by email, so of course all those limitations took their toll: no body language, no facial expressions, a lag between statement and response, the constant danger of misunderstanding caused by inarticulateness. Apparently she suddenly saw me as a Know-Nothing, an ignorant American (she is married to a Briton), an ideological isolationist intolerant of other cultures and peoples. Her assumption wounded me deeply; after all, she knew me. How could she discard everything she knew about me in favor of a caricature of her political enemies?
I replied, after I'd had time to cool my jets. What I told her, what I believe today, was this: I already know enough about "why they hate us." It's sufficient for me to know that "they" hate us because of what we are - what we are at our national core. We are an individualistic nation and culture, not submissive to God in the sense that "their" understanding of Islam requires, unwilling to give up our right to make our own moral choices. In order to make them love us, or even simply to stop hating us, we would have to become something other than what we are. And we should not (and I'll fight with whatever weapons I have at my disposal to ensure that we will not) take that step.
Can the radical Islamists pledged to our destruction make the same argument? Is it necessary for them to change what they are in order to live in peace with us, and therefore they fight to keep from changing at their core? The answer depends on how much of "what they are" is "people who cannot tolerate the fact that there are others who don't live by strictest shari'a." It makes no difference to me whether this or that Muslim abides by Islam's narrowest interpretation of its laws. But if it's necessary to one Muslim, or one Muslim nation, to impose shari'a on all others, even all other Muslims, well, that's where my culture trumps my tolerance: the right of the individual to pursue his own destiny, within the limits imposed by not interfering unduly with others doing the same, is much, much more important to me than the "right" of another culture to oppress even its own members, and it would be obscene for us to support such a "right" in the name of multiculturalism or stability. This isn't Kissinger's America.
A faction within Islam is out to destroy us. We are not out to destroy Islam, though there's probably a faction here in the West that would like to. A key difference between our side and "their" side is that the nuts on our side control neither the dialogue nor the guns.