A seemingly simple question actually carries some complexity. As our enemies shout gleefully to their God as they kill the infidels among us, the easy conclusion is that America has been in a religious war since 9/11, and perhaps longer.
I have spent a lot of that time suggesting that while the enemy is fighting a religious war against us, we seek only to defeat the portion of the Islamic faith that wants to kill us. The message: Stop with the killing, and you may believe what you wish. Through that lens, we are not fighting a religious war against them, in the strictest sense.
That parsing has expired. We are most surely in a religious war. My reasoning has been impeded by limiting my definitions to Us vs. Islam, and we’ve never been about the wholesale destruction of the Muslim faith. I do not seek to wage war against the Pakistani shopkeeper in Brooklyn with an American flag in his window, or the IT guy from Kuwait a few cubicles down. We need to be at war with the portion of Islam that carried out 9/11, loved 9/11 and would repeat 9/11.
But the war we have fought these dozen years and the events of this year’s first dozen days lead to a pressing need for a redefinition of terms.
As we began the “War on Terror” in 2003, I wondered how we would navigate the blurry lines along the spectrum of Muslim beliefs. We surely needed to annihilate actual terrorists who mean us harm, and we surely exclude the peaceful Muslims who still comprise a majority. But what about the large and disturbing Islamic component made up of those who would not actually carry out acts of terror but who celebrate publicly or privately when their faith brethren do? What do we do about them?
After more than a decade of half-measures and foggy definitions of victory, the advances of terror at every level now point in a clear direction.
The first step is to speak truth to the enemy’s evils. An American presidential administration unable to admit whom we are fighting constitutes an unforced error from the start. But we need far more than leaders who can actually speak the words “radical Islam.” We need unity on what we must do to fight it.
The next step is to conceptually isolate it, making it clear for the millionth time that we have no quarrel with Muslims anywhere who are not practitioners or fans of terror. The third step is to defeat it. Wholly, without hesitation, without hand-wringing and without apology.
This kind of clarity does two valuable things. With simplicity even Barack Obama might fathom, it enables expressions of proper revulsion for global jihad without in any way impugning the motives or worship of peaceful Muslims everywhere.
And even more importantly, it provides a template for the only acceptable path forward for Islam in the world.
The reason we should succinctly identify and internalize a religious war is that Islam cannot continue to exist in its current model, with a big pie slice of non-terrorists, a much smaller (but still crowded) pie slice of actual terrorists, and a nebulous pie slice in the middle, filled with technically law-abiding Muslims who secretly (or not so secretly) cheer when the terrorist wing plies its evil trade.
This does not work. It does not work for infidels who draw the wrath of the latest Mohammedan killing spree, and it does not work for the long-suffering peaceful Muslims who must be getting tired of the negative attention their faith receives from their murdering brothers.
The only solution is a complete separation of the multiple personalities of Islam, and it must come from within.
I do not lightly go about the prospect of telling other religions what to do. But when an increasing portion of a faith would kill me where I stand, I get a say.
For years, we have enabled, even coddled peaceful Muslims by telling them we understand the dangers of speaking out against their terrorist faith kin. We explain away the absence of a Million-Muslim March against terror because organizing and attending it could be fatal. I have had this conversation for years, when radio callers have asked me about the wholly insufficient outcries from within Islam when its terror wing strikes. I have given them cover, suggesting we all understand what dangers might accompany the kind of boldness asked of them.
No more excuses. No more delays for what must now happen. The peaceful Muslims must rise up, loudly and without equivocation, to condemn and ostracize those who cleave to the ancient practices of spreading the faith by the sword.
That courage must come from Imams in mosques, athletes on the field of play, doctors in their practices, students in their classrooms, mothers caring for their children.
We should not throw this suggestion to our Muslim brothers and sisters with just a head pat and a wish for good luck. We should lock arms with the army of peace-loving Islamic men and women, offering prayerful support, vocal encouragement and unwavering appreciation for the crusade they must undertake.
The task is made even more complex because they are not really “reclaiming” the faith from those who have “hijacked” it, as the tired narrative goes. The 9/11 attackers and the Charlie Hebdo murderers did not deviate from the Koran or spin off down some artificial side road of the faith. They are its most literal practitioners, echoing the Prophet’s 7th century brutality.
In a way, the relatively recent peaceful practice of Islam represents the truly radical departure. If it is to succeed, it must win a civil war for the ages. That may mean building a whole new faith from the ground up, leaving the name of Islam and its violent roots to the al Qaedas and ISISes of the world— however they wish to proceed, as long as they do proceed, with an utter universal declaration of independence from the old ways which are all too new in the hands of the jihadists who seek to spread their poisons across Europe and America.
With Islam’s growing violent cohort thus isolated, even the hesitant will see that we are indeed at war with it, and that it is a religious war that can have only one winner.
But unlike religious wars of the past, in which one side prevails and imposes its will on the vanquished, the victory over global jihad will not bring an resulting required conversion. They fight us to impose a religion; we fight them because we will not stand for religion to be thus imposed. With radical Islam defeated, or at least relegated to dank caves well within range of drones, survivors experiencing an epiphany may follow whatever religious path they wish.
They may join the newly empowered brand of Islam that no longer tolerates terror, or any other faith that does not embrace a culture of death and a thirst for infidel blood.
So will the world adopt the theme of a religious war? It has been a tough question, because it can be argued that we have never adopted a war footing of any kind with the vigor of our enemies. But if the first step is to actually realize we are indeed still at war, the accompanying requirement is to recognize that it is surely religious in nature, a battle of two concepts of faith, one espousing violent obligation, the other fighting for unfettered freedom under rules of basic human decency.
This religious war must be joined by people of all faiths who will not stand for global jihad, including the peaceful Muslims who have too long suffered from guilt by association.
Imagine the uplifting power of peaceful members of all faiths rising up to strike down the portion of the one faith that is the clearly identifiable problem. The alternative is more years of dawdling, filled with timid partial engagements with an enemy that has already grown too motivated by our weakness.
It’s them or us.