John Leo
Now that everyone seems to agree that we are at war, it's important to make clear what the war is about. It is not primarily about Israel or Palestinian grievances. Some of the most dedicated fanatics -- Osama bin Laden, for instance -- rarely bother to focus on the Palestinian issue.

Despite what our blinkered academic establishment thinks, the war is not about post-colonial resentments either. Colonialism is two or three generations past. The rich nations have spent so heavily on the undeveloped world that who-did-what-to-whom many decades ago cannot explain what is happening. No, this is a global cultural war, pitting a pan-Islamic movement of fundamentalist extremists against the modern world and its primary cultural engine, America, "the Great Satan."

We are not going to war against Islam. The vast majority of Muslims want no part of terror, and many Muslim states are as nervous about terrorism as we are. The problem is a rigid religious subculture that cannot cope with openness, change, rules, democracy, secularism and tolerance, wishing to destroy those who can.

For some in this twisted culture, the Crusades have never ended. For others, like bin Laden, the dream is to restore the caliphate, the glorious age of Muslim domination that flourished after the death of Muhammad. Whether these extremists and their terrorists are living in the 12th century or the sixth, it follows that the traditional soft Western search for the "root causes" or "understanding the pain of poverty that leads to violence" have no role to play here.

The clear rational response to those who blow up 6,000 to 20,000 people in a single attack is the same as the angry emotional response: no negotiation or placation is possible. The mass murderers and their conspiracy must be rooted out and eliminated. Not "brought to justice" (i.e., captured and sent to the Hague for a leisurely series of trials) but killed.

The entire criminal-justice approach to terrorism is irrelevant now. It's a war, not a courtroom procedure, and there is no need to provide courtroom-level evidence against bin Laden or anyone else involved. Terrorists are often recruited in one nation, trained in a second and sent to a third. Proving who gave what order is hardly necessary. Everyone in the transnational conspiracy and its shifting networks will be targeted.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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