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Jewish World Review Oct. 30, 2001 / 13 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Robert W. Tracinski

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A war against Islam -- All of this seems vaguely familiar. We are engaged in mortal combat with an implacable foe. The enemy loudly, blaringly broadcasts his philosophy. In fact, he depends on his propaganda and his air of strident moral certainty as his greatest asset, his only counterbalance to our material might.

We have right and justice on our side, but instead we pay homage to our enemy's philosophy, describing his creed as noble and well-intentioned, and condemning our foe merely for taking his ideas to an "extremist" excess. The result: a long, ineffectual half-struggle in which we are constantly undercut by our lack of moral certainty.

For five decades, this conflict was called the Cold War. It was a war fought by our free, capitalist society against a Marxist dictatorship -- a war in which it was considered uncouth, on the capitalist side, to condemn socialism, to expose Marxism as a vicious philosophy, or even to brand the enemy as an "evil empire."

Today, this conflict is called the War on Terrorism. It is a war fought by our free, secular society against a constellation of theocratic Islamic states -- a war in which it is considered uncouth, on the secular side, to say anything but the kindest words about Islam.

Politicians, the press, and academics have rushed to declare that this is not a war between Islam and the West. Islam, we have been told again and again, is really "a religion of peace." Perhaps the reason we have to be told this so many times is because it so obviously contradicts the facts.

Let's start with the history. From its inception, Islam was a theocratic religion that imposed its dogma by the sword. The descendants of Mohammed, religious kings called Caliphs, fought ceaseless wars against non-Muslim "infidels." Scholars may try to tell us that "jihad" only refers to a personal moral struggle -- but that wasn't what it meant during centuries of Muslim conquest.

Of course, nearly every religion has a bloody past. Rather than excusing Islam, this suggests to me an indictment of all religious dogmas. Be that as it may, there is a crucial difference between Western religions and Islam: the West's religious cruelties have stayed in the past. For centuries, our religions have made their peace with a secular outlook. They have been forced to recognize the individual mind as the ultimate arbiter of truth and to compete through persuasion, rather than coercion.

But the Islamic world is still mired in the Medieval mindset, and a return to a pure Medieval fundamentalism is the dominant trend in Islam today, a sweeping religious movement some scholars have dubbed the "Islamic Reformation." This outlook is endemic even in "moderate" Islamic states. Saudi Arabia, for example, is ruled by the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect, whose religious police patrol its streets and enforce Islamic strictures. Saudi oil money is also behind the Pakistani madrasahs, the religious schools that trained the Taliban. And the government of Pakistan, our other "ally," helped create the Taliban.

Islam is the driving force behind every major conflict in the Middle East -- and, by one calculation, it is behind about half of the world's armed conflicts, from Algeria to the Philippines. The latest Palestinian intifada was sparked by incendiary anti-Jewish speeches by Muslim clerics in Palestinian mosques. And when Iranian protesters chant "Death to America," they do it after similar sermons at their own mosques.

The evils of dogmatism and religious tyranny are endemic to Islamic culture -- and our evasion of this fact is making a mockery of the War on Terrorism. Consider the demands to halt the Afghan campaign during the holy month of Ramadan -- an attempt to make our leaders obey the decrees of their Mullahs. Or look at our shameful betrayal of Israel, an open attempt to sacrifice the Jews to appease the religious hatred of the Muslims. And worse, our refusal to recognize Islam as the enemy is preventing us from waging a wider war against all Islamic terrorist states.

If we want to win this war, we must begin by recognizing that it is a war against Islam -- or to be more exact, this is Islamic fundamentalism's war against the "infidel" secularism of the West. Our goal in this war should be to beat down, to curtail, to drive out Islamic fundamentalism -- not to replace it with our own religion, but to force Islam, like the religions of the civilized world, to lay down its arms and accept the freedom of a secular society.

Comment on JWR contributor Robert W. Tracinski's column by clicking here.

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