Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2001/ 24 Tishrei 5762

Wesley Pruden

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What is the terror really all about? -- GEORGE W. and Tony Blair have pushed the Hug-a-Muslim campaign, accompanied in some quarters by campaigns to Criticize-a-Christian and Jostle-a-Jew, about as far as they need to.

A head of state, particularly in wartime, always has to hold his nose and say things he may or may not actually believe. Winston Churchill cautioned in the dark early days of World War II that truth would sometimes be defended by "a bodyguard of lies."

We've been told over and over since Sept. 11 that Islam everywhere but in certain precincts of Afghanistan is just like Methodism, only different, and it's unpatriotic and maybe even un-Christian (if we may use that word in polite company) to think otherwise.

The president has achieved remarkable success in building his coalition of 40 nations, surpassing in less than a month the accomplishment of his father, who required six months to cobble together his coalition in the run-up to the Gulf war. Nevertheless, it is a fragile coalition, and it's no good to pretend that the forces arrayed against the West are not what they actually are.

America is a secular country, despite the cultural Christianity that gives it its character and identity, and many Americans, despite the lip service they pay to ritual at Christmas and Easter (and at Yom Kippur and Hanukkah), don't understand passions driven by authentic faith, however harsh. Most of us are a bit squeamish even talking about it. The separation of church and state, with private and personal devotion to faith, is what makes America work.

President Bush is correct when he says that America's war on terrorism is not a war against Islam, but Osama bin Laden is correct as well, that resurgent Islam is hostile to the secular West, proving once more than even the devil can quote scripture. The distinction that gets lost is the distinction between Islamists of a totalitarian ideology that seeks to destroy everything that is not Islamic, and the millions of Muslims who intend unbelievers no harm or ill will. But the Islamic world is far more sympathetic to the Islamists than we want to believe it is. We indulge naivete at our deadly peril.

"The momentum of the Islamic revival has been gathering pace at least since the 1950s," writes David Selbourne, the British scholar, in the London Daily Telegraph. "Yet the West's justified fear of this resurgence and a desire to avoid offense to the Islamic faith have had our leaders treading on eggshells over the events of September 11. The hostile engagement between Islam and the West has not been in doubt for years. Thus, when [Margaret] Thatcher reminds us that it was Muslims who brought down the World Trade Center, and Muslim spokesmen express their outrage that anyone should relate the act to Muslims, it is hard to know whether to laugh or weep."

Recognizing complexity is not something Americans always do well, and we often let the impulses of a good and generous heart lead us into gullibility. This war began long before Sept. 11. Islamist militants, if not necessarily Islamic militants, murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics nearly 30 years ago, and since then we've seen the attempted murder of the pope by a Turkish militant, the Libyan plot that brought down Pan Am 103 over Scotland, the massacre of U.S. Marines in Lebanon, the bombing of a nightclub in Germany and a U.S. military barracks in Saudi Arabia, a deadly ambush in Somalia, the attack on the USS Cole, and finally the unspeakable horrors of Sept. 11, all done in the name of Islam. These atrocities were counterpoints to Muslim wars against Christians in half a dozen African countries. The Islamic nations that have joined the coalition have done so reluctantly and never miss an opportunity to cavil at what must be done, and when, and how.

We're asked to understand this reluctance, and we should, but we should also recognize the origin of that reluctance. The leaders of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, of Egypt and the Gulf states, understand the cause very well, that it is resurgent Islam and not mere terrorism that has challenged the secular West.

So do the leaders of the Muslim communities in the West, who have equivocated in denouncing the violent impulses of Islamism, and instead complain that their Christian and Jewish neighbors are suspicious and wary of them. The president and the prime minister are right to chide the knuckleheads who abuse their Muslim neighbors, many of whom are refugees from Islamist oppression themselves, and anyone who resorts to hooliganism must be promptly punished.

But if the first casualty in war is to be the truth, the politicians must be careful lest they fire the shot that wounds it. They cannot expect us to fight the war they say we must fight if they disguise what the war is actually about.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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