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The Enemy Has a Name

The Enemy Has a Name

Terrorism is just a tactic, not an enemy.

If you cannot name your enemy, how can you defeat it? Just as a physician must identify a disease before curing a patient, so a strategist must identify the foe before winning a war. Yet Westerners have proven reluctant to identify the opponent in the conflict the U.S. government variously (and euphemistically) calls the "global war on terror," the "long war," the "global struggle against violent extremism," or even the "global struggle for security and progress."

This timidity translates into an inability to define war goals. Two high-level U.S. statements from late 2001 typify the vague and ineffective declarations issued by Western governments. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld defined victory as establishing "an environment where we can in fact fulfill and live [our] freedoms." In contrast, George W. Bush announced a narrower goal, "the defeat of the global terror network" – whatever that undefined network might be.

"Defeating terrorism" has, indeed, remained the basic war goal. By implication, terrorists are the enemy and counterterrorism is the main response.

But observers have increasingly concluded that terrorism is just a tactic, not an enemy. Bush effectively admitted this much in mid-2004, acknowledging that "We actually misnamed the war on terror." Instead, he called the war a "struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies and who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world."

A year later, in the aftermath of the 7/7 London transport bombings, British prime minister Tony Blair advanced the discussion by speaking of the enemy as "a religious ideology, a strain within the world-wide religion of Islam." Soon after, Bush himself used the terms "Islamic radicalism," "militant Jihadism," and "Islamo-fascism." But these words prompted much criticism and he backtracked.

By mid-2007, Bush had reverted to speaking about "the great struggle against extremism that is now playing out across the broader Middle East." That is where things now stand, with U.S. government agencies being advised to refer to the enemy with such nebulous terms as "death cult," "cult-like," "sectarian cult," and "violent cultists."

In fact, that enemy has a precise and concise name: Islamism, a radical utopian version of Islam. Islamists, adherents of this well funded, widespread, totalitarian ideology, are attempting to create a global Islamic order that fully applies the Islamic law (Shari'a).

The needed response is two-fold: vanquish Islamism and help Muslims develop an alternative form of Islam.

Thus defined, the needed response becomes clear. It is two-fold: vanquish Islamism and help Muslims develop an alternative form of Islam. Not coincidentally, this approach roughly parallels what the allied powers accomplished vis-à-vis the two prior radical utopian movements, fascism and communism.

First comes the burden of defeating an ideological enemy. As in 1945 and 1991, the goal must be to marginalize and weaken a coherent and aggressive ideological movement, so that it no longer attracts followers nor poses a world-shaking threat. World War II, won through blood, steel, and atomic bombs, offers one model for victory, the Cold War, with its deterrence, complexity, and nearly-peaceful collapse, offers quite another.

Victory against Islamism, presumably, will draw on both these legacies and mix them into a novel brew of conventional war, counterterrorism, counterpropaganda, and many other strategies. At one end, the war effort led to the overthrow of the Taliban government in Afghanistan; at the other, it requires repelling the lawful Islamists who work legitimately within the educational, religious, media, legal, and political arenas.

The second goal involves helping Muslims who oppose Islamist goals and wish to offer an alternative to Islamism's depravities by reconciling Islam with the best of modern ways. But such Muslims are weak, being but fractured individuals who have only just begun the hard work of researching, communicating, organizing, funding, and mobilizing.

To do all this more quickly and effectively, these moderates need non-Muslim encouragement and sponsorship. However unimpressive they may be at present, moderates, with Western support, alone hold the potential to modernize Islam, and thereby to terminate the threat of Islamism.

In the final analysis, Islamism presents two main challenges to Westerners: To speak frankly and to aim for victory. Neither comes naturally to the modern person, who tends to prefer political correctness and conflict resolution, or even appeasement. But once these hurdles are overcome, the Islamist enemy's objective weakness in terms of arsenal, economy, and resources means it can readily be defeated.

June 21, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 15

(15) Jay Grossman, December 6, 2008 10:17 PM


"Whatever the cause being defended, it will always be dishonored by the blind slaughter of an innocent crowd when the killer knows in advance that he will strike down women and children" Albert Camus

(14) Do Lern Hwei, November 24, 2008 5:19 AM

Jews in the Quran

Barbara B., there is nothing in the Quran that prophesises against the reestablishment of Israel. There are however prophesies against the way Jews of Mohammed's time live out the Torah. I think a lot of politics and selfish ambition is involved where jihadists are concerned. The religion Islam is only a tool.

(13) wa lee, June 27, 2008 3:41 AM

the economy

let's not forget that the West is dependent on Arab oil for the survival of its political economy and maybe even for its political system too. Before we attack the Islamists w/ a strategy we need to become oil independent of OPEC.

(12) Steve Skeete, June 24, 2008 11:23 AM

There is a problem with this formula.

"vanquish Islamism and help Muslims develop an alternative form of Islam".

My problem with this formula is the false seperation in my view of Islam into radical and moderate, and the idea that their is an Islam that is after world domination (Islamism) and another that wants to just go about its business and be left alone (Islam).

Historically there is only one Islam. It keeps a low profile and is subservient in those territories where it is weak, and it rises up and seeks dominance when strong. In fact, there are those who believe that the true Islam is the one we refer to as "militant" Islam, the one which fails to differentiate between politics and religion, the one for whom all is Sharia.

How can there be an alternative to the Islam of the Kuran? This is the document which tells people to arm themselves and go out to conquer and be martyred and it regard both as a worthwhile goals. How do you reform such a creature?

Mr. Pipes says that we should help Muslims who oppose Islamist goals and wish to offer an alternative to Islamism's depravities by reconciling Islam with the best of modern ways. The obvious question is to what modern ways is he referring? The "Islamists" have repudiated both the dominant political and religious systems of the west, what other ways do we have to offer?

The truth is Islam is a system which is both backward and bankrupt. Western democracies have only one alternative: confront it vigourously.

And yes, aim for victory, absolutely.

(11) Barbara B., June 23, 2008 5:39 PM

true or false

According to the Qur'an the Jews have changed the word that was given to them, thus making it false while they, on the other hand, have the truth. The problem is that your false version has prophesies about the reestablishment of the nation of Israel. So, Islam has a big problem here, either Israel goes or the Qur'an is not true after all. This isn't a minor detail that can be moderated out of the religion, it's the foundation of it. Muhammed came to restore the truth but if what you have is true then he was the one that lied. Muslim pride won't accept that, ever.

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