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Pondering the “War on Terror”
Why do we call it the “war on terror?”
Would we fight a “war on bullets?” Our enemy is neither bullets nor terror.
Our enemy is a few of our fellowmen who are motivated to use terror against
us. They may call themselves “jihadists,” but that name is a corruption of
the noble Islamic concept of personal striving for self-improvement. The
unfashionable, “Islamic Fascist” could be a name for this enemy, if it did
not encompass all Muslims. “Radical Islam” might be appropriate.
Even if we can’t agree on a name for our enemy, we
should at least know why they chose us to be their enemy. We need to
know why they attacked us on 9/11, and why they fight against democracy in
Iraq. A TV journalist tried to excuse an Iraqi “combatant” by
suggesting that he was “just fighting for his country.” He corrected her by
saying, “No! We are fighting for our religion!” During a different
interview, an “insurgent,” was asked how America could end the conflict in
Iraq. He replied, “Go home and convert to Islam.” Their hostility toward us
is inescapably linked to their religion, but our American mindset wants to
ignore the religious nature of this conflict.
Background: Today’s Muslims remember that for a
thousand years the Islamic world was a bright center of educational,
scientific, and cultural advancement, while Europe struggled through the
“dark ages.” Those medieval Arabs rescued Greek science from obscurity and
gave us our modern system of numbers.
Gradually their domain darkened. Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt started the
humiliation of Western political and economic subjugation.
Festering frustrations over European colonial rule were exacerbated by the
creation of the State of Israel and the flow of “Zionist Jews” into
Palestine. When Arabs could not displace the incoming Jews by war, their
resentment grew. Hatred became an effective tool for the violent. Even the
smallest of children
were taught in Muslim schools to hate Jews and blame all their problems on
the non-Muslim West, particularly America. American protection of the hated
Israelis is especially galling in the spotlight of TV news coverage of
bloody Arab/Israeli (“Muslim/Jew”) conflicts, when mixed with hateful
propaganda. So, when radical Muslims, worldwide, refer to Israel as a
problem, or chant “Death to America,” they mean it.
Reform: Muslims resent external domination. They
also lament their internal economic and spiritual declines. In response to
these weaknesses, the worldwide “Islamist Movement” with its slogan, “Islam
is the solution,”
aims at reform by:
Cleansing their societies from within by returning to Islam.
Reducing or eliminating Western secular influences.
Islamists are deeply divided
over which methods should be used to achieve these two goals. The minority,
who advocate violent means, have become our bitter enemy. However, it seems
that non-violent Islamists may quietly acquiesce to violence when it helps
achieve those Islamist goals. Violent Islamists also intimidate fellow
Muslims, thereby largely silencing moderate Islamic voices.
Their Motivation: In this Islamist context, the
violent 9/11 attacks were justified to destroy Western economic and secular
influences. Similarly, attacks on Iraqi “apostates and collaborator dogs”
are justified because a Western-style democracy in Iraq threatens the
Islamist cleansing processes. It interferes with their goals of establishing
Islamic laws and principles in all phases of public and private life,
including economics, politics, education, and family relations. Western
influences in their countries also constrain Islam’s religious dominion. In
Islam, religious conversion seems to be a one-way-street. It is OK to become
a Muslim, but if a Muslim converts to another religion it is taken as an
insult to Islam, worthy of death. The radical Islamist solution is worldwide
conversion to Islam.
So, how can this radical enemy be defeated?
Perhaps a key to their defeat can be found in their own words. For example,
the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon said:
“The martyrdom operation is the weapon Allah gave this nation and no one can
take it away from us. They can take away our cannons, our tanks, and our
planes, but they can not take away our spirit, which yearns for Allah, and
which is determined to achieve martyrdom.”
And in a similar, video-taped declaration by a radical
Muslim whose whole face, except for his left eye, was masked with a black
and white scarf:
have one card left that we are proud of. It is one of our strongest cards,
and even our ace: the seekers of martyrdom. The stream of youth volunteering
to become martyrs is no accident.”
Both of these Islamist leaders assert that radicalized
martyrdom-seekers are their last and best weapon in their war against us.
What if this martyrdom weapon could be taken away from them? The
following three principles might help dissolve that martyrdom weapon.
Understand the enemy’s mindset so that his violent, religion-based
behavior makes sense to us.
What may seem to be ridiculous religious hyperbole to
us, can be absorbed as fact by discontented Muslims who yearn for more
respect and for a way out of the misery of their daily lives. We must listen
to what they say and understand what they mean. We must take their religious
fervor seriously. However, we must not be intimidated into behaving
submissively toward radical organizations and regimes for fear of their
irrational anger erupting into massive violence.
We must cope with the prospect of violence, not cower before it. Neither
should we assume that warfare is the only option.
The task of understanding a religious people is
difficult. Beliefs and emotions can differ substantially among them. Trying
to describe their religious doctrines or to decipher their scriptures is
fraught with danger. Misunderstandings and inadvertent insults can happen.
This is especially true of intense but “disorganized” Islam, which has no
central leadership to speak for all of Islam. None-the-less, we can find
much to be admired in Islam. We can anchor ourselves to those mutually
agreeable qualities while we respectfully work to accommodate our
Recognize and effectively constrain sources of radicalizing
propaganda, especially among Muslim youth.
We must find an effective way to counter the Islamist’s
radicalizing propaganda machine. Steve Emerson defined the problem this way:
“The number one problem facing the Islamic world today is that the radicals,
the Islamic fundamentalists, are in control of the institutions of
broadcasting, of education, of the media, and they basically set the pace
and tone for how the religion is expressed throughout the world.”
Competent Muslim voices need to facilitate any
developing sea changes in popular Islamic theology. For example,
authoritative, well-disseminated fatwas
declaring that suicide bombers go to hell, instead of to paradise could be
effective deterrents. Consider these words from a 2005 fatwa:
“The result in Islamic jurisprudence is: if a Muslim carries out such an
attack voluntarily, he becomes a murderer and not a martyr or a hero, and he
will be punished for that in the Next World.”
Similarly, consider the impact of trusted scholarly
assessments of words in the Qur’an, if they linguistically confirm that
(a prized delicacy in the Prophet Mohammad’s time) await you in paradise,
instead of mythical “virgins.”
A well directed educational campaign could provoke
potential suicide bombers to reassess their expectations of the rewards (or
punishments) they may receive for their suicidal sacrifice. Any anticipated
sexual bliss in paradise with 72 virgins could not happen if, in the Next
World, they are punished as a murderer and banished to hell. Also, what if
the concept of paradise (that beautiful garden of delicious satisfactions)
has been twisted into a false notion of enormous sexual pleasure? Shouldn’t
young Muslims be warned about evil and vain promises of mythical virgins as
a reward for suicide and homicide?
Benevolent Islamic voices need to promote better ways
for pious Muslims to defend their religion. The benefits of each Muslim’s
personal strivings for self-improvement (the inner jihad) will improve the
cumulative condition of the umma
(and of all mankind). For as the Qur’an says: “Verily, never will Allah
change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”,
This is what the Prophet Mohamed called the “greater jihad” (the inner
struggle against the evil inclinations of the soul).
Protect and promote the voices of peaceful, benevolent Islam.
After their medieval period of glory, the Islamic world
was largely left behind while the western-oriented world claimed scientific
and economic benefits from modern progress. We need to create new
conditions where peaceful Muslims can regain their world status
as respected participants in cultural development and improving prosperity.
Those conditions should honor them for ennobling achievements and reward
them for their productive work. We may then see strong, benevolent Muslims
rise up in their own jihad to defend their families, homes, religion, and
innocent people against the violent few of their own religion who would use
terror and tyranny to control their Islamic homelands.
Like others in the Islamic world, benevolent Muslims
will be confronted with vexing disputes over territory (e.g. Palestine and
Israel), over political power (e.g. Fatah and Hamas) and over sectarian
differences (e.g. Sunni and Shia). None-the-less, they may become the
mellowing force that leads toward accommodation of differences instead of
violent confrontations. As their ranks grow, more of their fellow Muslims
may come to believe that the proven path to real respect and prosperity lies
through the inner jihad, productive work, and ennobling achievements. They
may begin to view America as a reliable ally in their quest for respect and
prosperity. They may well appreciate our muscle in helping them snuff out
radical Islamist terror. They will begin to realize that, because of
America’s commitment to liberty and religious tolerance, they do not need to
feel threatened by their choice of religion. Perhaps their tolerance of
persons of other faiths will also grow.
With the empowerment of benevolent Islam, the Qur’anic
admonitions for peaceful co-existence
and mutual understanding
between Muslims and non-Muslims may be realized. Perhaps then, victory over
terror can be claimed.
J. Wanless Southwick,
Southwick Research, L.L.C.
April 5, 2007
Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of the Lebanese
Islamist party, Hezbollah, in video taped speech shown on Fox News,
“Radical Islam: Terror in Its Own Words” Special hosted by E.D. Hill on
March 3, 2007.
Fox News. 2007. “Radical Islam: Terror in
Its Own Words” Special hosted by E.D. Hill on March 3, 2007.
Steve Emerson, Executive Director of “The Investigative Project” as
shown on Fox News. 2007. “Radical Islam: Terror in Its Own Words”
Special hosted by E.D. Hill on March 3, 2007.
A fatwā (Arabic:
plural fatāwā), is a legal pronouncement in Islam made by
a mufti, a scholar capable of issuing judgments on Sharia (Islamic law).
Usually a fatwa is issued at the request of an individual or a judge to
settle a question where fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) is unclear.
is an Arabic word meaning community or nation. It is commonly used to
mean either the collective nation of Islamic states or (in the context
of pan-arabism) the whole Arab nation. In the context of Islam, the word
umma (often spelled ummah) is used to mean the diaspora or
community of the believers (ummat al-mu'minin), and thus the
whole Islamic world.