I was a bit surprised by the reaction to my last column where I argued that we shouldn't underestimate the magnitude of the radical Islam movement. I expected the reaction to come from the other direction.
I anticipated being bombarded with protests from the politically correct crowd, cautioning me not to overplay the terrorist threat for fear that I might be interpreted as impugning the religion of Islam itself. The exact opposite occurred.
Most of the critics said I just didn't get it. This is a holy war: Christians and Jews against Islam. Islam, they said, is not a peaceful religion. The violence is not limited to a fringe group of Muslims. They pointed to passages from the Koran. "Strongest among men in enmity to the Believers wilt thou find the Jews and Pagans." "Then fight and slay the Pagans wherever you find them. And seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them ..."
I'm aware of these passages, as well as respected British historian Paul Johnson's haunting observation: "Islam is an imperialist religion, more so than Christianity has ever been, and in contrast to Judaism ... (The pagan nations) however mighty, the Koran insists, must be fought 'until they embrace Islam.'" I'm also troubled that so few American Muslim leaders have openly condemned the Trade Center bombings.
So, yes, I, too, worry about these things. I would be less than honest if, political correctness aside, I denied wondering whether and to what extent mainstream Islam is hostile toward "infidels." I just don't know.
What I do know is that all of Islam has not declared war on America. Far from it. Many of the Muslim nations are helping the American cause at various levels. The most amazing is the Pakistani government, which is providing an incredible level of support considering the presence of so many fundamentalists in its own country.
Why do you suppose certain Arab nations are being supportive to the extent they are? Why do you suppose they are not being more supportive?
The same answer fits both questions, and it has nothing to do with religion, but practical political considerations. They fear the terrorists, too. The radical Muslims pose a far greater threat to their regimes than to ours. These nations want to survive. They want to give us sufficient support to defeat the terrorists, but not enough to provoke fundamentalist uprisings in their own countries.
Why do you suppose George Bush is approaching this war incrementally – first in Afghanistan and later (hopefully) Iraq? Well, not because he lacks resolve against Saddam Hussein, the man who ordered the assassination of his father! Not because he doubts that Hussein is manufacturing weapons of mass destruction.
Same answer, in part. He, too, is trying to prevent radical Muslim insurgencies in neighboring nations. If you think we have problems now ... Bush is also trying to use our limited military resources (don't forget the extent to which our forces were depleted during the preceding decade) efficiently. We are hardly prepared to fight in multiple theaters at once and protect our own mainland simultaneously.
So just what is it the purists would have President Bush do? Talk is cheap. Do they want him to use it cheaply, too? Do they want him to stand behind his bully pulpit and declare a jihad against the world's billions of Muslims, including those who are Americans?
Even if the Koran arguably encourages Muslim imperialism, I don't believe that the bulk of Muslims subscribe to that notion. And even if they did, we couldn't just go out and declare war on the religion.
The Soviet Union was unarguably committed to our overthrow by any means necessary, but we never declared a hot war against it. Red China is probably still committed to our demise, but we haven't and shouldn't declare war against it, either.
I'm certainly not contending that the administration is handling everything perfectly. I wish we would abandon our double standard toward terrorism against Israel and our rhetoric in favor of a Palestinian state. I also wish Secretary Powell wouldn't even casually suggest that the new government in Afghanistan might include some "moderate" members of the Taliban. That's almost like saying we should allow a few terrorists to fly on each commercial flight.
But I believe that, for the most part, President Bush is handling this matter just about right. We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with terrorists who subscribe to a militant brand of their religion. Let's try to keep our heads.