Know thy enemy

Posted: Oct 21, 2003 12:00 AM

The biggest imponderable concerning the war on terror is whether the American people and their leaders are clear on a central question:  Exactly who is the enemy in this war?  We are, after all, not fighting some abstraction called “terror.”  The truth is we are engaged in a death struggle with people who use terror – usually involving the deliberate murder of innocent civilians – as an instrument to advance their agendas. 

 As to precisely who those people are, the past twenty-five months have brought to light a bewildering array of terrorist organizations pursuing a variety of stated objectives, usually with help from this or that rogue state-sponsor.  But one thing should be clear post-9/11:   The most determined, numerous and dangerous of these enemies are radical, violent Muslims known as “Islamists.”

 Most experts believe that the Islamists are, at present, a small percentage of the Muslim faithful worldwide.  The danger is that, since there are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims, even a small percentage could mean there are millions available to serve as cannon-fodder for the radicals.  Worse yet, all things being equal, their numbers will continue to grow, thanks in no small measure to the assiduous efforts of Islamist regimes in Saudi Arabia and Iran (the former of the Sunni Wahhabi stripe, the latter favoring Shiite extremism). 

 All too often, such efforts are accompanied – and systematically advanced – by an insidious disinformation campaign.  Its main thrust is that anyone who dares to point out the threat posed by the Islamists is a racist, bigot or ignoramus.  Why?  Because, we are told, such observations impugn all Muslims.

 This is, of course, absurd.  Law-abiding and tolerant Muslims first and foremost understand that there are real differences between themselves and the Islamists – so much so that the radicals view their peaceable co-religionists with at least as much hostility as they do people of other faiths.

 Among those most aggressively promoting the idea that Islamists are indistinguishable from any other Muslims are a number of Arab-American and Muslim-American organizations long associated with jihadists and their causes.  Since 9/11, they have tried to obscure their true colors by promoting the fiction that they are defenders of all people of the Islamic faith, rather than what they actually are: apologists for the radicals among them, focused on initiatives that have the effect of excusing, protecting or otherwise benefitting the latter. 

 Fortunately, some of these organizations (notably several founded by or associated with Abdurahman Alamoudi – the Islamist-sympathizer indicted last month for receiving illegal funding from Libya) have recently come under increasing scrutiny from law enforcement and the Congress.  The American Muslim Council, the American Muslim Foundation, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America and the Muslim Student Association have had officials arrested and/or troubling questions raised on Capitol Hill about their activities in our prisons, military chaplain corps, mosques and colleges.

 In light of the arrests and worrisome revelations, it is all the more astounding that such groups enjoy any credibility at all when they denounce those who warn of Islamists hijacking and perverting the Muslim faith.  The latest example of this phenomenon has been an attack mounted in the past week by the Islamists’ proponents on one of the Nation’s most highly regarded, experienced and decorated Special Forces officers, Lieutenant General William “Jerry” Boykin.  Gen. Boykin recently assumed the post of Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.  In that capacity, he is charged with the priority tasks of hunting down Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and their ilk.

 This respected Pentagon official became the subject of intense and mostly hostile media attention after an inveterate leftist activist-turned columnist and TV commentator named William Arkin circulated videotaped and other materials.  In them, the general professed his Christian faith and reviled Muslim extremists – yes, extremists – on both religious and strategic grounds. 

 Whatever one thinks of Gen. Boykin’s obviously deeply held personal beliefs, he must be credited with one thing:  He understands that Islamists have declared war on this country and that we have no alternative but to defeat them.

 For stating this truth, the general has been roundly criticized by the Islamists’ admirers and their friends.  Notably, one of the most visible of the professional Muslim agitators – CAIR’s executive director, Nihad Awad – has accused Gen. Boykin of “ignorance,” having “extremist views” and exhibiting sufficiently defective judgment as to require his reassignment.

 To their credit, President Bush, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Richard Myers have thus far declined to accede to this sort of pressure.  While the Administration’s party line remains that the United States has no interest in waging war against Islam, it would be a significant breakthrough if American officials can now frankly address the nature of our most dangerous foes: Radicals seeking to justify their terror by masquerading as bonafide adherents to the Islamic faith.

 If we are to fight the Islamists effectively, we need to appreciate and highlight the threat they pose not only to non-Muslims but also to the non-jihadist Muslim world.  This will, in turn, require the sharpest possible clarity about whether, to paraphrase President Bush, Muslims – at home and abroad – are with us, or with the Islamists.