The war of euphemisms
6/5/2002 12:00:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg
A democratic ally is besieged by radical Islamic terrorists supported by a Muslim state ruled by a junta. The terrorists butcher women and children, assassinate political leaders and generally threaten the security of an important friend of the United States in a region dominated by brutal regimes.
No, I'm not talking about Israel, I'm describing India and Pakistan. So why aren't my fellow conservatives and I denouncing Pakistan and supporting India with the same vehemence we bring to Israel and its enemies? The editor of The New Republic -and my CNN sparring partner -Peter Beinart recently asked this question in a column denouncing conservatives as hypocrites on the so-called war on terrorism. When it comes to Israel, he notes, conservatives use stark moral language. But when similar events transpire in India we become ever so practical.
During Israel's offensive into the Palestinian territories last March, Beinart notes, The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial headlined "No Equivalence," in which it declared "The U.S. has no moral alternative to standing firmly behind Prime Minister Sharon's war against such terror." National Review followed suit, insisting that in their "fight against Palestinian terrorism, the Israelis are fighting another front in our war."
But when Pakistan-backed terrorists commit heinous crimes against Indians, and the Indian Prime Minister suggested he might launch "a decisive battle" to root out India's terrorist infrastructure, The Wall Street Journal warned that such language was "dangerous" and that "there's more than enough blame to go around."
Now, one could bicker with several of Beinart's points, especially the suggestion that conservatives are more hypocritical than, say, pro-Israel liberals in Congress. But in general, Beinart's right.
The problem, though, has less to do with the hypocrisy of conservatives than the fundamentally flawed concept of a "war on terrorism."
As I've written before, terrorism isn't an "ism" like communism or fascism or socialism; it doesn't say anything about how a society should be organized. Terrorism is at best a tactic, a means of scaring ordinary folks into making political concessions. At worst it's a euphemism for well-organized mass-murder.
Think of it this way: If Afghanistan had formally declared war on America and (somehow) attacked us with missiles and artillery, would we have declared a "new war on ballistic armaments"? Of course not (I hope). We would have declared war on Afghanistan. If al-Qaida raised a traditional, uniformed army against us, would we not fight back? After all, we're at war with "terrorists" not conventional soldiers.
President Bush decided that declaring war on our true enemy, radical Islam, Islamo-fascism, whatever you want to call it, would be too costly. For the same reasons Bush incessantly declared "Islam means peace," he concluded that we could not afford to antagonize millions of non-radicalized Muslims. Fair enough.
But this decision has costs too, and they're more tangible than the charge of hypocrisy. Domestic security, already difficult in a free society, is needlessly complicated by politically correct fictions. For example, racial profiling has become even more of a hornet's nest because we have to pretend that the government is looking for generic "terrorists," which includes old ladies, Mormon soccer teams, etc.
Abroad, our war on a euphemism has encouraged nations to parrot our language and therefore expect our support. Russia and China have used our rhetoric to defend crushing Chechens and other dissident minorities. Virtually every Arab government "justifies" the massacre of Israeli civilians because Israel is a "terrorist" state.
These problems could be solved if we told the truth: America is at war with anti-American Islamic radicalism. This needn't mean or even be interpreted as a war on all Muslims. In any war, you pick your battles. During WWII, we declared war on fascism, but we did not fight fascist Spain. We declared war on Germany, but we did not bomb Switzerland's Germans. During the Cold War we opposed Soviet communism, not communists everywhere. We can make these distinctions in regards to the Islamic world, too.
Looked at from this angle, there's every reason to see Israel and India differently. Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf abandoned the Taliban and al-Qaida and immeasurably helped the United States achieve early victory in Afghanistan (knock on wood), making him an ally in our war on Islamic radicalism. Sure, the United States should encourage Musharraf to cut off support for the same radicals now attacking India from Pakistan, and, yes, India has the stronger moral position. But Musharraf deserves some leeway to find a solution.
Meanwhile, Israel's enemies are, for the most part, our enemies. Yasser Arafat openly supported Iraq in the Gulf War, has ordered the murder of Americans and has blown every opportunity to seek peace. Arafat's patrons -Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran and Iraq -support anti-American Islamic radicals around the globe. Indeed, Saudi Arabia largely created the Taliban and is responsible for radicalizing the militants in Pakistan and Kashmir who are today fomenting war with India.
Declaring war on our enemies and not the tactics they use will surely create problems for us. But these would be the usual challenges that come with war. More important, however, it would create problems for our enemies who will not be able to hide behind word games. And creating problems for your enemies is what wars are all about.