Memo to Spielberg: We're facing a 'War of the Worlds'

Posted: Sep 13, 2004 12:00 AM

If there was something tragi-farcical about Steven Spielberg receiving a knighthood from Jacques Chirac last weekend for "Schindler's List," there was also something tragi-farcically apt. Here we are, facing not World War III (the Cold War), but World War IV, "the war on terror." We see the gymnasium massacre in the Caucasus, and the bus bloodbath in Beersheba. We hear of the ongoing extermination of black Africans in Sudan, and the murders of 12 Nepalese cooks and cleaners in Iraq, where Iran and Al Qaeda support terrorist cadres in their efforts to suicide-bomb their way over the nascent Iraqi society. The Western mind reels and tries to come to terms with the global bloodletting (of the week).

We are experiencing a civilization-wide failure, even three years after 9/11, to define the terrorism born of Islam's core medieval precepts: violent jihad and dehumanizing dhimmitude. We see the same kind of terrorism in Russia that we see in Israel, Sudan and Iraq. We've seen it in Spain and we've seen in it Bali, and we've certainly seen it in the United States. We see it, but maybe we don't believe it -- a failure that could ultimately be our undoing. Too many of us prefer to overlook the evils of World War IV and watch "Chevalier" Spielberg get a kiss on both cheeks from Jacques Chirac for dramatizing the evils of World War II.

"In this difficult time," Chirac told his new Hollywood knight, "it is essential that cinema" blah, blah "recalls the horror of what is unutterable." Unutterable is right. But no "cinema" -- not by Spielberg, not by anyone -- is recalling anything, utterable or not, about the colossal struggle of our age. There is no cultural echo chamber in which this conflict finds resonance. Indeed, Spielberg's next picture is a remake of H.G. Wells' 1898 Martian-invasion story "The War of the Worlds." This is a far cry from the scores of movies Hollywood made to depict World War II, including "Mrs. Miniver," "The Mortal Storm," and "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo." These days, Hollywood just hates President Bush and sticks a sock on its lens.

This is just one more reason why we haven't come to terms with the battle we've joined. I've written about this failure before. The war we wage, the United States and its coalition of friends, is not a war on generic "terrorism," but on Islamic jihad -- the spread of Islam by violent means. We wage it not against generic "terrorists," but against Islamic jihadists who dream of death and destruction, not to mention a caliphate, in their religion's name.

In our religion's name -- the postmodern "religion" of tolerance the pluralistic West publicly enforces and enshrines -- we torture ourselves over whether jihadists are just a minuscule minority of "extremists." We nudge along a lagging conviction that terrorists who maim and kill in the name of Allah constitute some far-out sect that will some day be denounced, ostracized and neutralized by a robust Muslim mainstream. Meanwhile, when The New York Times' David Brooks identifies the source of global terrorism as a "death cult ... at the fringes of the Islamic world," I suppose we give two cheers for a real mouthful in a newspaper that routinely mumbles over the Muslim identity of jihadists the world over. (In reporting on the Beslan horror, the newspaper changed the surviving terrorist's widely quoted words, "By Allah, I didn't shoot," to "By God, I didn't shoot" -- as noted by blogger Dawn Patrol). But we must also wonder how fringy the Islamic "death cult" can be given the doctrinal primacy of jihad and dhimmitude in the Muslim world.

Writing in the pan-Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, the general manager of Al-Arabiya News Channel offers a genuinely fringe view. "It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims," Abdel Rahman Al-Rashed writes. "We cannot clear our names unless we own up to the shameful fact that terrorism has become an Islamic enterprise -- an almost exclusive monopoly, implemented by Muslim men and women." Al-Rashed doesn't explain the basis of this "monopoly" -- which includes the central precepts of jihad and dhimmitude -- and he glosses over Islam's bloody centuries of conquest and subjugation. But he does call for "an end to a history of denial," which is a promising start. "Self-cure starts with self-realization and confession," he writes. "We should then run after our terrorist sons, the sour grapes of a deformed culture."

How to support this mission? By coming to terms with the foe we face. This approach won't win anyone a suit of armor from the French. But it just might help save the world.