I seem to recall lots of people saying something to the effect of "Islam means peace." Literally hundreds of Islamic clerics, scholars, diplomats, activists and intellectuals have insisted in editorials, press conferences, official statements, communiqués and maybe even smoke signals that Osama bin Laden and the Sept. 11 hijackers do not represent Islam.
Take, for example, the message of Raeed Tayeh, a Muslim-American fellow at the United Association for Studies and Research. He implored journalists to avoid phrases like "Islamic fundamentalist" or "Muslim radical." "Just label them as terrorists," Tayeh suggested. "They had no religion."
America accepted this analysis. President Bush earned lavish praise from Muslim groups and civil libertarians when, just days after the attacks, he visited a mosque and made it clear that the United States doesn't equate Islam with terrorism. What those hijackers believed in "is not the true faith of Islam," he explained. "That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace -- they represent evil and war."
Get the message? Osama bin Laden & co. are not Muslims. In fact, calling them Muslims is actually offensive to Muslims -- and the U.S. president.
So why on God's green earth should any of us give a rat's patoot about whether or not these guys in Guantanamo get to keep their beards? We've spent the last 100 days convincing the entire world and, more importantly ourselves, that these guys aren't Muslims. And now, all of a sudden, the Defense Department is taking flak for not treating these guys like Muslims.
Predictably, the British press, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Red Cross, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and various other human rights table-thumpers are furious that captured members of al-Qaida were transported from Afghanistan in high-tech blindfolds and possibly sedated when uppity. Worse, according to this crowd, the prisoners are being held in small outdoor cages (in sunny Cuba, not wintry Kabul) and having their heads and beards shaved. The British press has likened all of this to "torture."
The prisoners at "Camp X-ray" are the most battle-tested and devoted members of al-Qaida and the Taliban; they were willing accomplices in one sense or another to the Sept. 11 attacks. They constantly proclaim their desire to kill Americans and, presumably, are always on the lookout to act on their desires.
So, the Marines are being very strict with these guys; that's what Marines do when they guard very bad men. The prisoners' beards and hair came off both for delousing purposes and to keep them from hiding weapons.
Ramsey Clark calls this "a gross violation" of their "sensitivity and their religious beliefs." Aly Abuzaakouk of the American Muslim Council told USA Today, "I don't think it is appropriate to cut somebody's beard, which they believe is religiously mandated."
Religious sensibilities? The United States government is giving these guys two Korans per cage. Their three meals are catered so as to be consistent with Islamic dietary rules. A Muslim cleric is being brought in to tend to their needs, and they just got a sign showing them where Mecca is. That's pretty good for a bunch a guys who aren't even supposed to be Muslims in the first place.
And yet, Dr. Sayed Aziz Pasha, of the Union of Muslim Organizations, wrote in the Mirror, a British newspaper, that shaving their beards "is not the action of a civilized country."
Moreover, Pasha makes a common argument among Muslim leaders, saying that such allegedly cruel treatment will only invite more "angry Muslims" to commit "revenge" in retaliation for our "gross error in judgment."
Well, wait a second. Why would Muslims of any kind want revenge for the alleged mistreatment of these "un-Islamic" criminals? This raises two important points as the war on terrorism (which is a war on militant Islam) moves to other corners of the globe:
First, there is nothing wrong and everything right with America and other Western nations adhering to a higher standard than our adversaries. Which is why -- when it's convenient and we've learned what we can from these thugs -- we should give them their Hershey bars, two letters a week and, eventually, their French-accented "human rights lawyers" in $5,000 suits.
But even when we test the outer boundaries of our own principles, we're still light years ahead of the societies so often defended by those denouncing us. For example, in Saudi Arabia (the leading exporter of Islamic radicalism), where the Koran is their constitution, they have a much more efficient way of cutting off prisoners' beards: They remove the whole head. And that goes for non-terrorists, too.
Second, Muslim leaders, especially in the West, must choose.
Is the extremism of Osama bin Laden a legitimate form of Islam or not? If it isn't, they should shut up. If it is, they should stop peddling this Islam means peace stuff.