WASHINGTON, D.C. -- "What do they want?" It's a query we hear a lot these days. By "they," of course, the questioner means the suicide bombers, the masked men in the videotape decapitating a hostage, the goose-stepping, black-clad legions parading with AK-47s. "They" call themselves Hamas, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat-Islamiyah, the Mahdi Army or any of a dozen other names for violent terror groups operating with impunity around the world.
Five years ago next month, "they" were al Qaeda -- thrust onto center stage aboard four aircraft turned into deadly missiles. This past spring, "they" were Hamas terrorists, firing lethal Qassam rockets from Gaza into neighborhoods in southern Israel. This week, it's Hezbollah -- the Iranian-armed and directed movement in Lebanon that ignited the current round of violence in the Middle East.
Some of the "theys" are Sunni Muslim. Others are Shia. In most of the world they are theological adversaries -- with a long sanguinary history of fratricide far bloodier than anything experienced in the Christian schism between Catholics and Protestants. In nearly every case, "they" have foundations in a local grievance, recruit followers by emphasizing perceived wrongs and have charismatic leaders who promote "martyrdom" as a means of making things right.
Regardless of origin -- Sunni or Shia -- "they" share critical common ground. They all despise Judeo-Christian values, institutions and individuals and are committed to "ridding" Islamic lands of Western "occupation." They are all "non-state" entities -- claiming independence of any government -- but rely on support from radical Islamic entities awash in petro-dollars. All carry out attacks with ruthless brutality without regard for their victims. All regard Israel and America as abominations, share the aim of "liberating" Jerusalem and envision a caliphate that extends from Casablanca in the west to Indonesia in the east. This is "what they want."
Unfortunately, in this era of shallow, "sound-bite" journalism and drive-by "action" coverage, these objectives -- routinely specified in the writings, speeches and sermons of radical Islamic political leaders and clerics -- are widely ignored by the masters of our mainstream media or dismissed as the ranting of fanatics with few followers. The consequence is a woefully uninformed public -- and an electorate so ignorant of reality that western political leaders can promote simplistic solutions like this week's calls for an immediate cease-fire, intensive diplomacy and the introduction of an international peacekeeping force leading to a negotiated end to the strife.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.