While President Bush could be making a lasting—and to conservatives, positive—impression on the Supreme Court he has already started reframing the biggest issue of the day, the war on terror, by calling it what it is: a war on radical Islam.
Not only does he need to continue to do so, but he would be wise to take the lead on something that should have been done long ago: linking the Islamic terror that Israel faces with the Islamic terrorism that has struck elsewhere, from New York to London to Bali.
In a surprisingly little-heralded speech last month, Bush for the first time went beyond calling the enemy “terrorists" or “evil-doers.” He said, “Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; still others, Islamo-fascism.”
Though he gave the necessary disclaimer that the enemy does not represent Islam, Bush then spelled out—in a way he has not before—the enemy’s ultimate goal. “This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom.”
The few who noticed Bush’s speech hailed its potential significance as a turning point in the War on Terror. Not coincidentally, the address came just a few months after the silliness where many in the administration wanted to change the name of the worldwide war to the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism, or GSAVE.
Though no doubt some bureaucrats were quite proud of the two-syllable acronym, GSAVE had the same basic problem as the label we’ve been using all along: it only hints at what we’re up against. Which is why Bush’s October 6 speech was so important.
Without any context, the War on Terror seems like little more than a patchwork of military actions in various, far-flung regions around the world. But understanding that the ideology of Islam is the link between al Qaeda, its loosely affiliated offshoots, and other Islamic terrorist organizations better presents the enormity of what we are facing. It also makes clear that military action alone will never be enough.
Yet as brilliant as Bush’s speech was, just two weeks later he ignored its central premise when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas came to town. With Abbas at his side, Bush urged Arafat's long-time right-hand man to “confront the threat that armed gangs pose to a genuinely democratic Palestine.”
And while Bush later also called for Abbas to “dismantle terror infrastructure,” he never once referred to the root cause of Palestinian terror: radical Islam.
Even many who should know better have long been reluctant to link Palestinian terror with other Islamic terrorism. Yet to claim that the two movements are somehow separate and distinct, Hamas and Hezbollah, among others, would have to be clearly distinguishable from al Qaeda and Qaeda affiliates—and they’re not.
Aside from strong evidence that al Qaeda is establishing a presence in Gaza (which is denied by the Palestinian Authority), Hamas has for years expressed great sympathies for bin Laden’s network. This should be hardly surprising, though, since Hamas founder and former “spiritual” leader Sheikh Yassin said repeatedly during his life that the entire world should become Islamic. Yassin believed that there was no legitimate government without Shari’a law—a position identical to bin Laden’s.
Hezbollah’s founding charter called for the destruction of the United States for its role in stopping the spread of Islam, which is strikingly similar to one of bin Laden’s primary complaints about America.
But perhaps the greatest propagator of radical Islam to Palestinians is not Hamas or Hezbollah, but the PA. Schools, television and radio broadcasts, as well as books and newspapers are all littered with venomous Islamic indoctrination, albeit in a vein that contains a much heavier emphasis on violent anti-Semitism.
The prevalence of Islamic indoctrination did not spring up in spite of Arafat, who started out as a secular Arab nationalist, but rather because of him. After the decline of Communism and Arab nationalism, Arafat turned to Islam. In radical Islam, Arafat found the most powerful of motivators, one that would enable him to make young adults and even children clamor for the “honor” of strapping a bomb to their chests.
To put it another way: without Islam, the current intifada probably never would have happened.
The general unwillingness to identify Palestinian terrorism with the broader Islamic terrorism means that any intended solution will solve nothing. Without draining the swamp and dismantling not just the terrorist infrastructure, but also the indoctrination industry, there cannot be peace. Quite simply, Israel cannot share a peace with a neighbor that wants it dead.
President Bush might find resistance, particularly on the Left, to any attempt to link Palestinian terrorists with al Qaeda and others, but doing so would likely rally the base and possibly strengthen his foreign policy coalition. And in changing the paradigm we use for viewing the Arab-Israeli conflict, Bush could do the unthinkable: he could move the Middle East in the direction of actual peace.