Easily aroused to fury, Muslim fanatics are correspondingly difficult to court. Nowhere has there been acknowledgment on the part of Muslim leaders that the United States has again and again put its servicemen in harm's way in order to rescue or aid Muslims. We did so in Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo. We poured out our hearts and opened our wallets when Indonesia was struck by a tsunami. It isn't just that they've failed to say thank you. No, the U.S. is unrelentingly accused of making war on Islam. President Bush visits mosques, holds Ramadan services at the White House and declares (too optimistically?) that Islam is a religion of peace. And yet the U.S. is distrusted and reviled in many parts of the Muslim world.
The Washington Post coverage of the Koran story stressed that the Koran is holier to Muslims than the Bible is to Christians. Perhaps so, perhaps not. But it is simply impossible to imagine Christians burning down a newspaper building for an article that blasphemed Jesus, or rioting in response to any religious insult. We Americans can go at each other all day and night about whom to blame for the Koran flushing story -- but if the Muslim world did not walk around with an enormous chip on its collective shoulder, this would not be a matter of life and death.
In the course of our wide-ranging war on terror, Americans have certainly committed some acts that are needlessly inflammatory to Muslim sensibilities. Abu Ghraib is exhibit A. But Abu Ghraib is also the exception, not the norm. Detainees at Guantanamo receive religiously appropriate food, prayer mats and time for daily worship. The U.S. even provides Muslim chaplains. The underlying truth is this: We are at pains not to fight a religious war. The trouble is, our enemies are fighting a religious war, and there is nothing we can do about it. Al Qaeda's strongest suit is the sympathy it can tap among some of the world's 1 billion Muslims for a jihad against the unbelievers. Our strongest suits are freedom and the reality that we are the winning side.