Seeking clarity on Islam and jihad

Posted: Jan 24, 2005 12:00 AM

"Exactly what do you wish to achieve with your articles?" a reader asked. "Do you want a war against Islam?"

Such questions are particularly piquant this week, as I write near a massive deployment of military force that includes anti-aircraft missile batteries on the ground and round-the-clock combat jet patrols in the sky. Also aloft are E-3 warning and control aircraft, in place to guide interceptor jets to a target. No, I'm not in Fallujah. This is Washington, D.C.

Which makes me think we are already in a war against something. Terror? I'm not afraid; I'm mad; livid that our alabaster capital bristles with armaments so we might solemnize the outcome of our peaceful election. So the president might give an inaugural address and make his way safely from the steps of the Capitol (unchained for the occasion) to the reviewing stand in front of the White House. So we might begin Bush II without a deadly, explosive, bloody hitch.

We are at war in Iraq, not on Iraq, which we have liberated. We fight on to endow Iraqi Muslims, some Iraqi Christians and even a couple of Iraqi Jews with a little liberty and running water. Are we fighting terror? There's no war on "terror" any more than there's a war on car bombs. Neither moniker describes what animates the terrorists -- drivers of car bombs, wearers of explosive vests or wielders of butcher-blades. Invariably, it is Islam and the murderous, expansionist ideology of jihad that drives that extreme fringe you read about to the point of unspeakable violence. And by the way, that's some fringe; according to the famous estimate of Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes, it includes 10 percent of the Muslim world -- 100 million-plus people.

Which takes me back to the original idea of what there is to achieve by writing about those central, retrograde aspects of Islam that clash with Western society -- namely, the precepts of jihad and dhimmitude, and the dictates of sharia law.

My goal is providing clarity. We are unlikely to witness a security-lite inauguration four, eight or 12 years hence if we remain confused about the ideology that animates our foes. And we are unlikely to ward off the spread of jihad, dhimmitude and sharia law the world over -- including the United States -- if we know nothing about it, or, worse, know only apologetics about it. Infinitely more pleasant, they are also misleading.

But apologetics are what we get. Take the reading list that Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, our new commander in Iraq, has given senior staff. It whitewashes jihad, dhimmitude and sharia law with the works of apologists Karen Armstrong and John Esposito. No Bat Ye'or, the pioneering scholar of dhimmitude; no Ibn Warraq, an ex-Muslim scholar who has chronicled the testimonies of individuals who have risked death to leave Islam; nothing from Islamic experts Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes or popular historian Paul Fregosi; nothing from journalist Oriana Fallaci; not even any work of the widely acclaimed and prolific historian Bernard Lewis. Ignorance before 9/11 was bad enough; perpetuating that ignorance is inexcusable.

Because not learning about it, not talking about it doesn't make the threat of violent Islam go away.

I found it wickedly ironic that around the time the Web site Islam Online claimed Fox television decided "to remove some stereotypical aspects about American Muslims" from its terrorism series "24" -- whose hero, after defusing the terrorist threat from Bosnia, South America, Germany and corporate America, now battles honest-to-goodness Muslim terrorists -- real-life news broke about the vicious murders of a Coptic Christian family whose bound and gagged bodies, slit throats and stab wounds on a Coptic cross tattoo immediately raised fears that the crime may have been Islamic in nature, a slaying of "infidels" -- in Jersey City.  I say "may have been": The crime is under investigation, as motives ranging from religious hatred to robbery to revenge are tested by investigators.

But the possible execution angle gives pause nonetheless: Around the time the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) was charging Fox with perpetuating terrorist stereotypes, stereotypical terrorism may well have been taking place.

Fox spokesman Scott Grogan, meanwhile, has told me there have been no changes made to the series -- "to date." He revealed nothing of the network's meeting with CAIR, three of whose officials, Robert Spencer reminds on, have been arrested on terror-related charges. Spencer learned from an "informed source" that "24" will "feature an American Muslim character that CAIR would find more to their liking."

Cause for celebration? Michael Meunier, president of the U.S. Copts Association, told me a disconcerting tale of being invited, vetted (three pre-interviews) and scheduled to appear with Fox's Greta van Susteren to discuss the Copt slayings -- before being canceled immediately after his lengthy radio interview with Michael Reagan. Did Meunier say the "wrong" thing? Is America now the land of the "wrong" thing to say? If we grow too accustomed to missiles on the Mall, the answer may be truly terrifying.