Aim the War on Terror at
by Daniel Pipes
Los Angeles Times
January 6, 2002
Whom are we fighting? Two main culprits have emerged since
Sept. 11: terrorism and Islam. The truth, more subtle, lies between
the two--a terroristic version of Islam.
* Terrorism. The establishment--politicians, academics, religious
leaders, journalists, along with many Muslims--says terrorism is
the enemy. It is carried out by "evildoers" who have nothing to do
with Islam but adhere to some murky cult of terrorism.
Secretary of State Colin Powell summarized this view by
declaring that the acts of Sept. 11 "should not be seen as
something done by Arabs or Islamics; it is something that was
done by terrorists." Pretending that the enemy is "terrorism"
unconnected to Islam is appealing because it finesses some
delicate questions about Islam, thereby making it easier to build
an international coalition or minimize domestic repercussions.
But it makes no sense at all. The Taliban government, Al Qaeda,
Osama bin Laden, John Walker Lindh, Richard Reid and Zacarias
Moussaoui--all are fervent Muslims acting on behalf of their
More, they have found wide support across the Muslim world
(remember those huge demonstrations waving pictures of Bin
Laden in September?). Terrorists they are, to be sure, but terrorists
with a specific set of beliefs.
Blaming "terrorism" means ignoring those beliefs--at great cost. If
the enemy consists of terrorists "motivated by hate," as President
Bush put it, what can one do other than kill them?
Hate lacks an ideology or intellectual framework that one can
refute. The West is left with nothing but guns to protect itself
from the next assault. There can be no strategy for victory, only
tactics to stave off harm.
* Islam. The Western "street" prefers to see the problem lying
with the Islamic religion. In this view, Arabs and Muslims have
been the leading enemy of Christians for more than a millennium,
remain so now and will long continue to fill this role.
This enmity stems from the Koran itself and so is immutable, say
spokesmen for this argument, who tend to be political
conservatives or evangelicals. This too does not hold. If Muslims
by nature are hostile, how does one explain Turkey, with its
militantly secular culture and abiding good relations with the
If all Muslims accept Koranic precepts, how does this account for
the tens of thousands of Algerians who lost their lives resisting
And if Islam is the problem, then there is no possible strategy for
winning. It implies that the billion or so Muslims--including
millions living in the West--are immutable enemies. They can
only be converted from Islam or quarantined, two thoroughly
Insisting on Islam as the enemy means a permanent clash of
civilizations that cannot be won.
Fingering terrorism or Islam, in short, neither explains the current
problem nor offers a solution.
There is third way of approaching the question, which satisfies
both these requirements.
Islam itself--the centuries-old faith--is not the issue but one
extremist variant of it is. Militant Islam derives from Islam but is
a misanthropic, misogynist, triumphalist, millennarian, anti-
modern, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, terroristic, jihadistic and
suicidal version of it.
Fortunately, it appeals to only about 10% to 15% of Muslims,
meaning that a substantial majority would prefer a more moderate
This implies a simple and effective strategy: weaken militant
Islam around the world and strengthen the moderate alternatives
to it. Fight it militarily, diplomatically, legally, intellectually and
religiously. Fight it in Afghanistan, in Saudi Arabia, in the United
States--in fact, everywhere.
Moderate Muslims will be key allies in this fight. Yes, they are
weak and intimidated these days, but they are crucial if the
Muslim world is to leave its current bout of radicalism.
Once the U.S. government helps them, they can emerge as a
formidable force. (By analogy, remember how the Northern
Alliance seemed hapless just a few months ago? Now it is running
Only by focusing on militant Islam can Americans both protect
themselves from their most determined enemy and eventually
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