January 19, 2002
HAS THIS BEEN A RELIGIOUS WAR?
Have we been fighting a religious war? Is this
a war between the Christian West and the Muslim East?
From the beginning, President Bush and other
Administration leaders have consistently said, no this is not a war
against Islam but against terrorism. However, there were many practical
reasons to take this stance.
First, America is a nation built on freedom of
religion and religious tolerance. U.S. leaders would never declare war
on a faith.
Second, Islam is one of the fastest growing
faiths in the U.S., partly because no country has been so open to Muslim
immigration. That's why the terrorists could live so easily among us
without arousing suspicion. While exact figures are unknown there are at
least 3 million Muslims in this country, who are largely very well
educated and supportive of democracy and peace. The President would not
want to radicalize any of them.
Third, America gets much of its oil from such
Muslim states as Saudi Arabia, whom we want to keep friendly. If the
conflict is perceived as Islam vs. the West, Gulf oil states might be
pressured to stand with the world's billion Muslims, and could create
another oil embargo.
However, Bin Laden has been remarkably
successful in casting the struggle as a religious war between Islam and
the West which is largely Christian. At the solemn National Cathedral
service just three days after September 11, the spokesman for the
American Muslim community did not say the terror was contrary to Islam
or criticize those who did it. Other than Pakistan's president who has
courageously supported America's war on terrorism at considerable risk,
it is hard to think of any other head of a Muslim nation has been
publicly supportive of the war.
Why? Muslim extremists did kill Egypt's Sadat
and tried to assassinate his successor. Bin Laden has targeted such
rulers as King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, as corrupt toadies of America. He
is incensed that U.S. troops are still stationed in Saudi Arabia, home
Why haven't Muslim leaders noted that America
gone to war to protect the freedom of Muslims in three nations within a
decade Kuwait, Bosnia and Afghanistan? Even in New York, at the 96th
Street Mosque, the imam claimed it was the Jews who executed the New
York and Pentagon bombings!
Clearly, these religious and political leaders
are either sympathetic to the notion that Islam is at war with
Christianity, or they are fearful of reprisals if they spoke out. After
all, Bin Laden and his top Afghan and Al Qaeda associates are still free
to foment more terror.
However, America's swift victory in routing
both terrorists and the Taliban government which nurtured them has begun
to have a salutary effect on the mindsets of some Muslim leaders. As Bin
Laden said in a videotape aired in mid-December, ''When people see a
strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong
For a few weeks, Bin Laden looked like the
strong horse. Thousands of Pakistanis went to Afghanistan to join the
Taliban military after the World Trade Center terrorism, at the urging
of Muslim clerics. ''It was a struggle between Muslims and Christians,
they said,'' reports the Washington Post. Maksood Khan, interviewed in
an Afghan prison said, ''Not only me, but there were quite a lot of
people who were persuaded by people who said America started doing cruel
things in Afghanistan and we should stand up against the cruelty.''
Now the strong horse looks like America to the
Kuwait was moving toward installing sharia,
Islamic law that punishes with amputations. The nation has reversed
course, and is now banning Islamic charities that supported extremists.
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah showed
rare introspection with gulf leaders recently: ''Catastrophes are in
fact opportunities that make it incumbent upon us to conduct
self-scrutiny, review our attitudes, and repair errors....the real and
deadly risk is to face crises with hands folded and blame others instead
of confronting the crises and taking responsibility for our role.''
Perhaps Saudi Arabia will let its 6 million
foreign residents worship as they wish.
Now the Phillippines have asked for help in
going after the Abu Sayyaf terrorists linked to Al Qaeda who have been
burning churches, killing Christians and are holding two missionaries as
hostage. The U.S. has sent in 600 troops to help rout the killers. Good.
Power and justice spark respect. Or as Bin
Laden might put it, ''People like the strong horse.''
Copyright 2002 Michael J. McManus.