Good news: the war on terror is over! Charles Allen, the Department of Homeland Security’s senior intelligence official, said last week that American officials should stop calling this conflict we’re in a “war on terror,” far less the president’s term, the “global war on terror.”
Why? Because it offends Muslims, of course. When they hear “terror,” you see, this hurts the feelings of peaceful non-terrorist Muslims. “[It] has nothing to do with political correctness,” insisted Allen, straining credulity well past the breaking point. “It is interpreted in the Muslim world as a war on Islam and we don’t need this.”
Why on earth would they get the idea that a “war on terror” equals a “war on Islam,” when President Bush has gone out of his way to say things like this: “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.” Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke explained: “We are at war with terrorism, and its underlying ideology — not Islam — and we’ve gone out of our way to make that point. In truth, war has been declared upon us.” But who has declared war against us?
Of course, it wasn’t generic terrorists, or the IRA or the Tamil Tigers. Rather, it was Muslims who quote the Qur’an and the example of Muhammad to justify waging war against unbelievers.
And that is the biggest problem in how the Bush administration has behaved since 9-11, and in what the DHS people did last week. Unless we clearly and directly label the terrorists, their ideology and the nations that sponsor them correctly — in terms of their Islamic roots — how can we defeat them and their ideology?
In truth, Mr. Bush should mean — and say — that it is of Islamic jihadists he speaks when to Hizballah, Hamas and their ilk. To dismiss the Islamic content of the jihadists’ appeal to their fellow Muslims sidesteps the questions of why their version of Islam has gained such traction within the Islamic world. It leaves us with no idea why the jihadist claim to represent “true” or “pure” Islam has so much resonance among Muslims, such that armed groups are committing violence in the name of Islam in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Kashmir, Nigeria, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere around the world.
To avoid discussing or examining the Islamic element of today’s global jihad also hinders our understanding of the jihadists’ motivations. We cannot investigate what they believe and why, much less strategize on the basis of such investigations, because that will lead us to examine elements of Islam’s theology of jihad that the Department of Homeland Security would apparently rather ignore. The fundamentally wrong assumption in the DHS today is that jihad is a good thing, a holy thing, and that the jihadists have twisted its meaning it in defiance of Islamic theology and law.
They apparently believe — again wrongly — that if we start using different terms to refer to the jihadists and their activities — criminals, unlawful warfare, rather than jihadists and jihad — the moderate Muslim majority will feel empowered to rise up against them, and take back Islam.
Unfortunately that’s just a fantasy. The imperative to wage war against unbelievers in order to establish over them the hegemony of Islamic law wasn’t invented by Al-Qaeda; it is taught by all the Sunni schools of jurisprudence, and by the Shi’ites as well. The jihadist appeal to peaceful Muslims is rooted in this fact: they claim to represent Islamic purity, and as long as their claim goes unchallenged, it will continue to be effective. This doesn’t mean that every Muslim takes it seriously. But it does mean that simply waving away the Islam in Islamic terrorism is voluntarily giving up the one tool our enemies have given us to help us understand them, and counter them more effectively.
“War on terror,” however, really is a misleading term — but not for the reasons Charles Allen thinks. The main problem with it is not that it refers to Islam: it doesn’t. But only those who value political correctness above national security would pretend that this present conflict has nothing to do with Islam. The main problem with the term “war on terror” is that it focuses exclusively on violence, at a time when the jihadists are succeeding most rapidly by a stealth jihad. In America this stealth jihad takes the form of Sharia finance initiatives, demands that Americans accommodate Islamic prayer in schools and workplaces, and much more. But “war on terror” suggests that our opponents are all simply bomb-throwers. Would that it were that simple.
In the interests of political correctness, official Washington is retreating farther and farther from reality. It’s just whistling in the dark to think that Al-Qaeda’s claim to represent Islamic purity can’t draw on genuine elements of Islamic theology that encourage bellicosity. Fantasy-based policymaking is never wise. America will be paying the price for years to come.