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Jewish World Review June 28, 2002 / 18 Tamuz, 5762

Diana West

Diana West
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A war on terror or Islamists? | Ted Turner may be a blinkered mess when it comes to foreign affairs, and CNN may be apologizing all over itself for paying more attention to the families of suicide bombers than to the families of their victims, but there's at least one man on the CNN team who's examining world events with clear eyes and open ears. We refer to Lou Dobbs of "Moneyline," who has been conducting a worthy seminar of sorts this month on a topic of urgent, if neglected, interest: the identity of our enemy.

As Mr. Dobbs has pointed out, the "war on terror" -- the term of government choice for the military moves and protective policies initiated since Sept. 11 -- is not a war on "terror" at all. Anyone who ponders the phrase long enough to scratch his head realizes that "terror" isn't an enemy. Terror is a feeling. As Mr. Dobbs put it, terror is "what the enemy wants to achieve." Describing our efforts in terms of an emotional abstraction not only obscures the face of our adversary, but also the nature of our mission.

"The enemy in this war are radical Islamists who argue that all non-believers in their faith must be killed," Mr. Dobbs explained in early June. "It is not a war against Muslims, Islam or Islamics. It is a war against Islamists and all who support them; and if ever there was a time for clarity, it is now." Announcing his decision to substitute the phrase "war against Islamists" for "war on terror," Mr. Dobbs has used successive broadcasts to subject the terminology to an urgently needed debate, one that is unique in the culture at large.

Some commentators have been more illuminating than others. Former Defense Secretary William Cohen both approved and disapproved of identifying the "Islamist" enemy. (Noting that the terminology was "correct," he warned, "in seeking to add clarity and simplicity, it may add more confusion.") Niwad Awad, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, opposed Mr. Dobb's efforts because, as Mr. Awad rather incredibly put it, he didn't want "to drag Islam into a war that has nothing to do with Islam." (Maybe he should spread the word to the Islamist terror networks.)

Meanwhile, Professor Fawaz Gerges, a student of Islamist-Western relations, has advocated defining the adversary as "radical" Islamists. Mr. Dobbs agreed. So did American University Professor Mary Jane Deeb, who explained that while the goal of "radical Islamists" and "Islamists" is the same -- to establish a theocracy based on sharia, or Islamic law -- "radical Islamists believe that they can achieve this by violence, and other Islamists believe they can achieve this through other means."

The Middle East Forum's Daniel Pipes didn't much quibble with describing the enemy as "radical" Islamists, but he didn't take much comfort in the distinction his co-panelists were making, either. Defining Islamism, "radical" or not, as a totalitarian movement to transform "personal faith into a radical utopian ideology," Mr. Pipes made the case that all Islamism is extremist. Distinguishing between "mainstream Islamists and fringe ones," he added, is like "making a distinction between mainstream Nazis and fringe Nazis." As he put it, "They're all gunning for the same totalitarian goals, and which methods they're using at this moment I don't consider very important at all."

Mr. Pipes went on to place Islamism in a historical context. "I think what Nazism or fascism was to the World War II, and Marxist-Leninism was to the Cold War, militant Islam is to this war. It is the ideology that lurks behind the states, the organizations, the individuals. All the people who are fighting us now are devoted, broadly speaking, to a single set of ideas. These are ideas which are extremely inimical to our own, and they are very aggressive. They want to impose their ideas on us through violent means or peaceful means."

The "war on terror" sounds more inadequately vague than ever next to the fight against totalitarian Islamism. Mr. Dobbs is to be commended for initiating this crucial discussion in the media about meaning and purpose, and for doing his bit to take the "terror" out of our struggle.

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JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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05/07/02: Western self-loathing numbs us to violence
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03/30/01: The sweet sound of slamming doors and clucking feminists
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02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West