Religious war?

Posted: Sep 21, 2001 12:00 AM
Traveling by air has always been an inspiring thing for me. On the ground, one is all too aware of human failings and annoyances. But at 30,000 feet, gazing down on the manicured farms, row after row of lovely houses, complex highways, airports, railroads, city parks, baseball diamonds and towering skyscrapers, one cannot escape a certain awe at what humans have managed to achieve. For the past week and a half, we have had to endure the crushing realization that while it takes years and years to build something, it takes only seconds to destroy it. A few evil men armed with little more than hate can wreak almost incomprehensible destruction. The terrorists have broken our hearts -- but they haven't come close to breaking our spirit. In fact, they've done the reverse. As with one will, we are resolved to fight them. It is bracing to discover what resilience lay beneath the placid surface of the average American. The Bush administration is wise not to characterize this as a war between Christendom and Islam. We have many allies in the Moslem world, and we will need more if we are to find and destroy the terrorist networks. We will also need the territory of friendly Moslem nations as staging areas. Moreover, if nations teetering between Islamism and modernity -- like Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan -- sense that this is a religious war, they will be swept into the camp of our enemies. Similarly, President Bush was wise to visit the mosque in Washington, D.C., and stress that most Moslems living in the United States are loyal and peaceable. On the other hand, it would be foolish to permit "sensitivity" or an exaggerated worry about giving offense to inhibit authorities from tracking suspected terrorists. Let's not pretend that "ethnic profiling" is out of the question. It is absolutely necessary. If a young unmarried man from Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon or half a dozen other nations buys a ticket on a plane, boat or train in the next 10 years and does not receive a thorough background check and pat down at the gate, we are not defending ourselves. While we cannot and must not fight a religious war against Islam, we do have to take seriously the ideology of Islamism. Only a population thoroughly indoctrinated with hate could yield suicide bombers with the ferocity of those we have recently suffered. We can search out and kill individual terrorists, but if we do not confront the ideological battle, we will achieve only partial success. William Safire has wisely urged that Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty be redirected to the nations of the Arab and Moslem world. That would be a start. They are getting a nonstop diet of lies about America. And this raises the delicate matter of Arab "allies." Even those commonly called "moderates" permit the most vicious slanders against the West to circulate in their countries. Much of it is Hitlerian in its anti-Semitism and a great deal is anti-American. A professor at the University of Lebanon wrote "Most Arabs and perhaps most of the Third World did rejoice, not because of the killing of innocent Americans, but because of the penetration of the bastion of American colonialism and the offensive within its home turf. ... The meaning of terror according to the American is known. It refers to any resistance to the new colonialism..." Many columnists in the Arab media have dismissed United States claims that Arabs perpetrated the Sept.r 11 massacre. They offer other suspects, including the Mossad, President Bush (in order to boost his sagging popularity and unify the country behind him), Colin Powell, the CIA and American terrorists. There is no acknowledgment in the Arab world -- not among journalists, academics, or even clerics -- that targeting civilians (usually Israelis) is an illegitimate tactic of war (far less of the "peace process"). There were no Arab voices raised in condemnation when suicide bombers blew up Israeli teen-agers at a disco or Israeli families at a pizzeria. To the contrary, the murderers were hailed as martyrs. Those same words are now being attached to the men who killed more than 5,000 Americans. While we're not at war with Moslems, nor with the Arab world, we must recognize that the climate of opinion in the Arab world is our enemy.