President Bush is wise to emphasize that America is at war not with Islam, but with radical Islamic terrorists. But for the West to have the stamina to persevere in this long-term war, it must not underestimate the scope and magnitude of the enemy.
I'm not just talking about the Taliban or Osama bin Laden, because I believe we will dispatch both in relatively short order. Even if we don't, we will eventually.
But the problem is much more widespread than Afghanistan – and Iraq, for that matter. The Washington Post reports that Italian intelligence has revealed some disturbing information about the al-Qaida terrorist network. Italian investigators say that terrorists have fanned out to at least six European countries.
These terrorists are lying in wait in Italy, Germany, Spain, Britain, France and Belgium, and they have sympathizers in many other countries, including Switzerland. Italian authorities say that before Sept. 11, they "had no idea of the depth of the problem."
These people are not mere pretenders to terror either, but bona fide bin Laden trainees. Telephone wiretaps and listening devices have captured conversations about bombings and other attacks in Europe, as well as references to a "suffocating" chemical that could be placed in a tomato can.
While bin Laden is the apparent godfather of the organization, it is multinational in membership with major movements among Egyptians and Algerians. One of bin Laden's primary disciples was recorded in the bugged conversation as saying, "al-Qaida exists from Algeria to the Philippines. They're everywhere." The radicals refer to themselves as "brothers" and are energized behind bin Laden's campaign of terror against the West – Europe and America.
We know there are many sleepers still in the United States as well. But thankfully, American and European intelligence and law enforcement authorities are doing their jobs, and many of the terrorists are now in custody.
While their capture is obviously good, there is a downside. Apparently, the terrorists are feeling some urgency about launching new strikes because so many among them are being arrested. And Italian intelligence indicates that the arrested European terrorist ranks can be easily replenished with recruits.
These recruits come from various places, but one fertile breeding area is Pakistan, which has some 10,000 madrassas – religious schools where many of its young are educated. In the 1970s, these schools were radicalized to create a corps of devout Muslims who could strengthen Pakistan's position against India. According to the Village Voice, Taliban means "student," and Afghanistan's current Taliban regime came directly from Pakistan's madrassas.
Chilling words come from the leader of one of the madrassas, who is supposedly not atypical. When asked whether he would send his students to defend Afghanistan's Taliban regime, he said, "I would not send them. They would go on their own." The students nodded in affirmation, "We speak with one voice."
Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, confirms our worst fears. He points out that Islamic leaders are afraid to denounce bin Laden because "the Muslim world is bursting with adulation for the Saudi militant." In addition to Pakistan, Pipes cites rampant pro-bin Laden sentiment in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, France and among the Palestinians. Pipes notes that beyond terrorism, these militants pose a danger to existing governments in mainstream Muslim countries.
Yet, as extensive as these terrorist cells are, they have been largely dependent on bin Laden for training, some financial support and specific marching orders. With our systematic campaign against bin Laden, the Taliban, the terrorist financial infrastructure and the training camps – in Afghanistan and beyond – we are severely crippling their ability to wage war.
I disagree with those who say we will falter like we did in Vietnam by losing the will to continue. This war is quite different from Vietnam in two very important respects. One is that the overwhelming majority of Americans are united behind what they believe to be a just cause. The other is that our resolve is not likely to diminish because, unlike Vietnam, this war began on our own soil, and we are under direct attack. No peace movement is going to be able to distort these realities.
The terrorists are determined to defeat us, but we are just as determined to defeat them. The more honest we are with ourselves about the threat we are up against, the more likely we are to endure and prevail.