Last Thursday, President Bush went farther than he ever had before in naming the enemy. of the United States actually named the enemy. While on most occasions previously he had generally limited himself to calling them “terrorists” and “evildoers” — names so general that they can apply to multitudes besides those who are actually warring against the United States today — this time he pointed out that the terrorists’ attacks “serve a clear and focused ideology, a set of beliefs and goals that are evil, but not insane. Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; still others, Islamo-fascism.”
If Bush’s new forthrightness enables officials to pursue jihadists in America more openly than they have up to now, it is all to the good. But in practically the same breath Bush assured his audience that “whatever it’s called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom. These extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against Christians and Jews and Hindus — and also against Muslims from other traditions, who they regard as heretics.”
It is good to see the President speaking openly about the totalitarian supremacist ideology of the jihadists. But in fact they hope to establish not only, as Bush put it, a “radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia,” but one that spans the entire globe. And while it is true that jihad in traditional Islam does not call for terrorist murder of Christians, Jews, and Hindus, it does call for their conversion to Islam or subjugation as inferiors under the rule of Islamic law. The third alternative is war, as delineated by the Muslim Prophet Muhammad himself (Sahih Muslim 4294).
These and other elements of traditional Islam have become for jihadists a mandate for mayhem. Bush has not confronted the deep roots that the jihad ideology has within both Islamic tradition and the contemporary Islamic world. This could lead and has led to policy misjudgments.
But why quibble with the President when his willingness to speak of the Islamic element of global terrorism is so positive? After all, many insist that by maintaining his pretense that the jihadists are not working from a broad tradition within Islam, Bush is preventing an American war against the entire Islamic world. And that may be. However, it remains an open question whether he would be even more effective in preventing that general war by declining to say anything about the nature of Islam at all; there is, after all, no real need for him to do so. He could simply call the terrorists what they call themselves – mujahedin or jihadists, warriors of jihad – and announce that we are at war with their supremacist, expansionist ideology, which arises from Islam. Then he could call the purported American allies in the Muslim world on their self-professed moderation by announcing that American aid will end to all countries – such as Egypt and Pakistan – where the ideology of violent jihad is taught in schools or mosques, and where non-Muslims are subjected to officially sanctioned or tolerated persecution and harassment, and do not enjoy full equality of rights with Muslims.
Domestically he could call on groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council to renounce all intention to bring Sharia to the United States even by peaceful means, and to demonstrate their loyalty to American pluralism by cooperating actively with anti-terror efforts, instead of trying to obstruct them at every turn. Their response to this would demonstrate whether or not these groups share the jihadists’ goals, if not their methods – a question that has so far been obscured by the dogma that Islam is a religion of peace and the official unwillingness to discuss those goals at all.
The force of events has brought the President far. Before he is done, he is likely to have gone farther still.