The arrest of six young Muslim men for planning to murder soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey made me think of Salman Rushdie.
In 1988, Mr. Rushdie published a novel which received, arguably, the most negative review in history. The Ayatollah Khomeini, then ruling Iran, issued a fatwa condemning Mr. Rushdie to death.
Khomeini's beef was more with its title, "The Satanic Verses," than with its contents. These three verses in Sura (chapter) 53 of the Koran are the thread which could unravel radical Islam, which is why Islamists want them dropped down the memory hole.
Muslims believe every word in the Koran was dictated to the Prophet Muhammad by Allah through the Archangel Gabriel. In (the original) verses 19-22 of Sura 53, Allah mentions his daughters:
"Do you see al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat the third idol besides? They are the Sublime Birds, and their intercession is desirable indeed!"
Lat, Uzza and Manat were goddesses worshipped by pagans in Mecca, Muhammad's home town. When they heard Muhammad confess the importance of the local deities, the city fathers lifted a ban on the prophet.
The trouble with these verses is they conflict with the ultra monotheism of Islam (Muslims think Christians are polytheists because we worship Father, Son and Spirit).
When he caught heat for deifying Lat, Uzza and Manat, Muhammad said he'd made a mistake. In a later passage (Sura 22: 52-53) Muhammad said what he'd thought was the voice of Gabriel had in fact been the voice of Satan. This led to a larger problem. If Muhammad was unable to distinguish Satan's voice from G-d's that time, might there not be other verses in the Koran that Muhammad assumed were from
G-d but were really from Satan?
What's this got to do with the Fort Dix Six? Maybe plenty.
The would be terrorists were inspired by al Qaida, but weren't taking orders from Osama bin Laden.
"The principal challenge posed by al Qaida is that it spearheads the spread of a strong, though noxious, ideology," said Andrew McCarthy, who prosecuted perpetrators of the first World Trade Center bombing.
We're in an ideological war, one we didn't start, but one that's been going on for a long time. In a recent radio commentary, former Sen. Fred Thompson recalled that in 1786 Thomas Jefferson went to London to negotiate with the envoy from Tripoli, one of the Barbary pirate states. Jefferson asked him why the Muslims were making war on nations which had done them no injury.
"The ambassador replied that it was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave," Jefferson wrote.
The war on terror will go on as long as young Muslims like the Fort Dix Six are taught that.
"Only by tackling the ideology that motivates potential jihadis...can the United States hope to win what will undoubtedly be a generational conflict," said Lorenzo Vidrino of Tufts University, author of "Al Qaida in Europe."
My friend Jack Wheeler, who alerted me to the significance of the Satanic Verses, thinks the way to win the ideological war is for moderate Muslim scholars to sift through the Koran to identify other verses dictated by Satan for instance, those in which Allah is said to endorse slavery, theft, the murder of unbelievers, and the subjugation of women.
Such an enterprise may have a more welcoming audience than you might expect.
"We Arabs have become extinct," declared the Syrian poet Adonis in an interview in March on Dubai television. "A people becomes extinct when it no longer has a creative capacity," Islam, he said, destroys the creative capacity of Arabs. The Arab world cannot become modern unless Islam is converted from a state religion to a personal religion.
Adonis has a lot of company, Mr. Vidino said. "Throughout the Muslim world, many courageous intellectuals, clerics and activists... preach a reformation through which Muslims, while remaining loyal to its key tenets, would be able to reconcile Islam with modern life."
M. Zuhdi Jasser, an Arizona physician who was a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, agrees:
"We need an Islamic vaccine (the separation of spiritual Islam from political Islam) to the virus which afflicted these men," said Mr. Jasser, who founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. "Until Muslim anti-Islamists can defeat Islamism as an ideology, we will not make any headway at preventing germination of the next cell."