Friday, August 27, 2004

Refusing to clearly identify the enemy makes the enemy impossible to defeat.


by Noland Finley

Word games don't change the facts.

The last thing Nick Berg heard as his head was being sliced off in Iraq were the chants of his executioners, "Allah is great." Same for American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan two years ago, and for contractor Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia last month and for the other unfortunates beheaded in this peculiarly sadistic ritual which has become the signature of Muslim radicals.

Allah is great. The chant is mostly glossed over, treated as just another war cry; the Arab equivalent of the rebel yell. But we ignore the religious motivation of our terrorist tormentors at our own risk. This is a religious conflict, not a political one. That's a key distinction, because there's a chance that political disputes can be resolved through negotiation, compromise, and shifts in policy. Settling religious battles generally demands more blood.

The Bush administration has bent over backwards not to associate this war with Islam, choosing to call it a war on terrorism. But that's like calling World War II a war on Zero fighter planes and Panzer tanks, instead of on the fascist states of Germany, Japan and Italy.

The enemy today is radical Islam, an ultra-conservative and extremely intolerant religious movement that has taken root in the Middle East and is fast becoming a beacon for dispossessed and disenchanted Muslims worldwide. Its followers are willing to kill the infidel - everyone who is not them - without conscience.

They don't hate us because of our freedom, democracy and capitalism, as President George W Bush repeatedly insists. They hate us because our theology doesn't match theirs. Understanding this may keep us from making disastrous mistakes.

We cannot quiet this enemy by forcing a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, as is the compelling wisdom in places like the United Nations and European Union. Nor can we win peace through realignment of our relationships in the Arab world, discarding old friends and choosing new ones. And we certainly can't prevail through appeasement, by pulling out of places where they don't want us to be.

We can defeat terrorism only by recognizing that it is merely a tactic employed by extremists to achieve extremist goals. Our mission isn't to wipe out the suicide belts and car bombs but to wipe out the ideas that drive their zealotry. Doing so will require the cooperation of those who profess to be moderates in the Muslem world. They can't be allowed to continue harboring extremist leaders and permitting their ideas to flourish in state-sponsored schools.

Targeting crude bomb factories and terrorist leaders in their caves is necessary but our targets must also include the radical mosques where the militants are nurtured and encouraged, and the clerics who fuel their hatred.

Getting to that point requires getting comfortable calling this what it is - a war on radical Islam. That doesn't mean a war on all of Islam, just the twisted evil part. Differentiating between a war on terrorism and a war on radical Islam is more than semantics.

Refusing to clearly identify the enemy makes the enemy impossible to defeat.

Nolan Finley is Editorial page Editor of the Detroit News ( He appears at 2 p.m. Sunday and 5:30 p.m. Friday on "Am I Right?" on WTVS-TV (Channel 56). He can be reached at

This article appeared July 4, 2004 and is archived at

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