Ever since September 20, when the president declared war on terrorism, our diplomacy and domestic policy has been frozen by the fear that the Muslim world will believe that we are at war with its religion, and not just with terror. To convince our Arab “friends” that we aren’t at war with Islam, we have embraced career terrorist Yassir Arafat, shied away from searching Middle Eastern males at airports and refused to call Saudi Arabia — where much of the terror originates — to account for any of its actions. One reason for all of this is our fundamental lack of understanding of Islam, and our ACLU-like approach to war. Separation of church and state ends as soon as we lock and load.
The eschatology — the spirituality of any religion — is a key to understanding people, such as al-Qaeda, who claim to be fighting in defense of it. About thirty-five years ago, Bill Buckley said, “don’t let them immanentize the eschaton.” It was such an amusingly obscure phrase, it inspired lapel pins. But its meaning — don’t let liberals confuse the spiritual with the worldly — is more applicable today than it was then. Rather than shying away from Islam, we need to be embracing it, to understand and use its eschatology in our war against terror.
The Communists said that religion was the opiate of the masses. In the Middle East and Muslim Africa, it’s not that at all. There, the Islamic faith is viewed as the purpose for life, a complete way of life for its adherents, who are taught to not imagine deviating from its doctrine. This is what makes fundamentalist Islamic nations such as Iran, and Islamic terrorists such as bin Laden, so terribly dangerous. Even if we are not at war with Islam — and we have not yet reached that stage — we cannot make any lasting peace unless it is through Islam. As I have written several times since 9-11, terrorists are an enemy unlike any we have ever fought except the World War II Japanese. Japan didn’t surrender because of the atomic strikes on its cities. It surrendered because the Emperor, himself a religious figure, was able to call a halt in the name of the Shinto religion. Had he not done that, the Japanese would have fought on even after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We have to find a way to lead or force the leaders of the Islamic religion to do the same, or we will have no peace.
As a recent study shows, a growing number of Muslims believe our war against terror is a war on Islam. The study, in the context of a net assessment of the global war on terror, was led by an RSG (real smart guy, in Pentagonese) named Chuck Vollmer. The results — which are being accepted as Gospel by Pentagon leaders — show that our ultimate challenge is use an understanding of Islam and its spiritual beliefs to achieve victory. What Vollmer is suggesting may be heresy in some parts of our government. But his thesis, given the nature of our enemy, is unassailable.
Vollmer’s study shows how the context of war has reverted from wars fought for money or philosophy back to the religion-based conflicts of ancient times. In Kashmir, Muslims are fighting Hindus. In the Middle East, the Christians and Jews fight Muslims. In Afghanistan, it was a U.S. coalition — of predominantly Christian nations — against fundamentalist Muslims. In Chechnya, the Philippines, and elsewhere, Muslim states or terrorist groups operating with state sponsorship are the enemy. But religion is at the center of the conflict, and fundamentalist Islam is spreading quickly around the world.
The study says that we underestimate the power of spirituality in conducting diplomacy and war. It concludes that the separation of church and state should not apply to the war on terrorism. Without knowing the recommendations Vollmer makes — they’re unavailable for obvious reasons — how can we imagine making weapons of Muslim spiritual beliefs? The imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of nations such as Iraq as well as terrorist groups demands that every weapon we can devise be used to defeat this threat. Given the predicate for action, the only thing we know for sure is that we can’t disallow anything that might work.
In the Middle East and elsewhere, the principal news sources are government controlled, and heavily biased against America and the West. But we have a network of communications satellites and radio stations that can reach pretty much everywhere, and can add to it any time. It’s time to make use of them. Information warfare can take great advantage of Muslim spiritual beliefs. To accomplish this, we have to begin quickly, and plan to keep at it for the long term.
Every time someone turns on the radio or television in the Muslim part of the Axis of Evil and everywhere else Islamic fundamentalism is present, that listener or viewer should be able to tune in an American station. We should be broadcasting in as many languages as necessary to reach everyone, and our message should be consistent. We should be broadcasting our messages long, hard and continuously, in every form from call-in talk shows to well-produced fictional dramas. We should broadcast two messages.
First, those who wage terror, are not fighting a holy war. “Jihad” is probably the most abused word in the world today. As one scholar often reminds me, under the Shari’ah — Muslim law — terrorists are not “mujaheddin,” holy warriors bound for heaven. They are “mufsidoon,” evildoers bound for hell. We should condemn each one we can identify, by name, using just those terms.
Second, the governments that are so rich — Wahabbist Saudi Arabia comes to mind — are despotic. We should tell the peoples of these nations that if they join with us, that wealth — and freedom to use it — will be theirs to share. Theirs can be a better life in the here and now, not just in the hereafter. We can hold up the example of Turkey, the only Muslim nation with a westernized economy, a reliable system of law, and democracy. Many of the peoples of the Middle East lack hope. We can broadcast it to them, 24/7. Give them hope, the best reason to divorce themselves from terror, and they will.
In the long term, we need to do whatever it takes to obtain the support of Muslim clerics to help spread these messages. Some can be bought, some can be persuaded. But thousands must be brought over to our side, no matter how long it takes.
We can defeat the Muslim fundamentalists militarily over and over again. But if we can’t make an Islamic peace, we can’t make peace at all.