THE PRINCE of Wales was at the White House last week, hoping, the Daily Telegraph reported, ''to convince President Bush of the merits of Islam . . . because he thinks the United States has been too intolerant of the religion since Sept. 11, 2001." This is a drum Prince Charles has been beating for years. In 1993, for example, he scolded those in the West who peddled ''unthinking prejudices" about Muslim culture -- for example, ''that sharia law of the Islamic world is cruel, barbaric, and unjust." Two months after 9/11, he was lambasting the American attitude toward Islam as ''too confrontational."
More to Charles's liking, presumably, would be something more conciliatory and politically correct. Something like this:
''The killers who take the lives of innocent men, women, and children are followers of a violent ideology very different from the religion of Islam. These extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against anyone who does not share their radical vision. . . . Many Muslim scholars have already publicly condemned terrorism, often citing chapter 5, verse 32 of the Koran, which states that killing an innocent human being is like killing all of humanity."
If that's the way Charles thinks Bush ought to speak about Islam, I have good news for him: It is. Those were Bush's words. He spoke them on Oct. 17 at the fifth annual White House ''iftaar" dinner during the Muslim month of Ramadan. He praised the ''countless acts of kindness" that followed the recent earthquake in Kashmir. ''For the first time in our nation's history," he said to applause, ''we have added the Koran to the White House library."
Too intolerant? Considering that America is at war with the forces of Islamofascism, and that for 25 years Americans have been attacked or killed by radical Muslim terrorists, the president's words about Islam were remarkably benign and uncritical.
As indeed they have been since 9/11, when he went out of his way to proclaim the peacefulness of Islam -- sometimes in the company of Muslim leaders whose history has been far from peaceful.
Of course, it goes without saying that most Muslims are not terrorists. Of course many people professing Islam are compassionate and generous. Of course Islam should not be gratuitously insulted. But neither should it be sugar-coated or kowtowed to. Yet too many Western elites are unwilling to speak plainly about the problems within Islam itself, or to hold Muslim culture to what should be universal standards of decency and justice. Far from being ''too confrontational" in their attitude toward Islam, they have been too indulgent and deferential, careful never to say anything that might be deemed insensitive. One result has been an increase in extremist behavior: Witness the ''Eurofada" raging in the streets of Paris.
We do Muslims no favors by excusing attitudes or practices that ought always to be deemed inexcusable. In Australia's Victoria state, the Herald Sun reported recently, police have been issued a ''religious diversity handbook" that advises them ''to treat Muslim domestic violence cases differently out of respect for Islamic traditions and habits." The Australian Police Multicultural Advisory Bureau's handbook provides guidelines for modifying police procedures to accommodate minority sensibilities.
Sikhs, for example, ''should not be disturbed" when reading their holy scriptures, a practice that normally takes 50 hours. Photographing Aborigines is discouraged, since it might raise fears of ''sorcery and spiritual mischief." And Muslim wife-beaters should be treated with kid gloves, in deference to Islamic norms. ''In incidents such as domestic violence," the handbook instructs, ''police need to have an understanding of the traditions, ways of life, and habits of Muslims."
Could anything more perfectly capture the moral bankruptcy of multicultural relativism? The Koran may tolerate wife-beating (Sura 4:34: ''As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to bed apart and beat them"), but why on earth should Australia?
''All Muslim husbands are not wife-beaters," remarks Robert Spencer, a scholar of Islam, ''and it is condescending and irresponsible . . . to give those who are a free pass, instead of denouncing the practice unequivocally and calling upon Muslim men to heed the better angels of their nature." In much the same way, he says, the West's unwillingness to ''confront the elements of Islam that jihad terrorists use to justify violence, for fear of offending moderate Muslims, " ends up undercutting the ability of those very moderates to demand reform from within.
The war against radical Islam is above all a war of values -- the values of liberty, equality, and human dignity against the values of jihad. The jihadis don't hesitate to proclaim their values. We must not be shy about defending ours.
Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.