Friday, November 9, 2001

In a little over a week, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins. Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf announced Thursday that the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan should be halted during Ramadan or else “it will definitely have negative effects around the Islamic world.”

Here at home, self-proclaimed Muslim spokesmen have been fretting for weeks about the possibility that the United States might bomb during Ramadan, which celebrates the month the prophet Mohammed spent in a cave (not a Ramada Inn) while Allah revealed the Koran to him.

Ibrahim Hooper, of the less-than-moderate Council on American-Islamic Relations, says: “It’s a period of heightened spirituality, and of course people’s sensibilities are more acute at those times, so it could have consequences if it is still going on at that time.”

University of Richmond law professor Azizah al-Hibri explained to USA Today, “We need to keep in mind the sensitivities of the Muslim world. If (Bush) fights during Ramadan, that will give bin Laden one more tool to argue to the Muslim world that the United States is disrespectful of their religion.”

And you can be sure that non-Muslim opponents of American military action — Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag, Jesse Jackson, Rep. Cynthia McKinney et al. — will surely chime in when the bombing continues.

Before we get into the interesting issues of what bombing or not bombing during Ramadan would really mean, let’s get one inconvenient fact out of the way: Muslims have been killing each other, and other people, during Ramadan for centuries.

Mohammed himself opened a clay urn of whup-ass on tribes outside Mecca during Ramadan in 624 A.D.

Iraqis and Iranians killed each other over Ramadan with great aplomb during their war. (Saddam Hussein did offer a Ramadanian respite in 1981 — largely because he was losing the war, which, in turn, was why Iran refused to accept the offer.)

Anwar Sadat of Egypt launched the Yom Kippur war on Israel during Ramadan, with little respect to his own religion and even less for Israel’s.

And recently, in 1995, Islamic rebels in Algeria called for increased hostilities during Ramadan.

Now this certainly doesn’t mean that Muslim nations respect their holy days less than we in the West do. George Washington smacked around the Hessians on Christmas Eve. And, come to think of it, so did General Patton 168 years later.

Of course, the last time we decided to respect somebody else’s holiday truce, we were sorry. The North Vietnamese launched a massive attack on the South during the holiday truce of Tet. The offensive was a disaster militarily for the Viet Cong but a disaster for us in terms of public relations.

And, indeed, public relations are important. Proponents of halting the ban are making a PR argument — and a simple one at that. They say that Muslims will be angry because we are inconsiderately bombing Muslims during their holy days.

You’ve got to have some sympathy for President Musharref on this score. He’s got a bunch of rabidly pro-Taliban Islamic radicals looking to overthrow his government. But, the fact is, they want to overthrow his government no matter what.

Sure, they would use bombing during Ramadan as an excuse to protest Musharaff, but they would also use the fact that Rachel on “Friends” is pregnant as an excuse if they could. At best, Islamic radicals complaining about bombing during Ramadan is convenient. And the idea that these radicals would stop complaining if the United States stopped bombing during Ramadan is absurd.

Besides, as Tod Lindberg recently argued in The Weekly Standard, if we stopped bombing during Ramadan, that would actually be the real public relations gaffe. To stop a war out of deference to a Muslim holiday would send the signal that America is in fact at war with Muslims rather than terrorists. By bombing during a Muslim holiday, however, we are underscoring the fact that Islam has nothing to do with this.

If anything, Muslims should be ticked off at the Taliban. They’re the ones using mosques for shelter because they know the United States is reluctant to bomb them. Inviting attacks on mosques by turning them into legitimate targets doesn’t seem too respectful of Islam to me.

There are also military factors for the United States to consider. Halting bombing for a month is tantamount to having never bombed at all. The Taliban would be free to move about its country, attack Northern Alliance forces and generally plan anti-American attacks.

Wars are ugly, and it would be pathologically stupid to expect the Taliban or al-Qaida to wage a civilized war. After all, al-Qaida planned to kill the Pope, which seems awfully disrespectful to people of the Catholic faith.

Nobody would say the FBI shouldn’t chase down a terrorist cell of Klu Klux Klansmen on Christmas out of sensitivity to the Klan’s allegedly deeply held Christianity. Why is al-Qaida or the Taliban any different?

The best thing for Muslims and non-Muslims alike is quick victory for the United States. Until then, people are going to complain about the war no matter what. When it comes to the bombing, we’re going to be Ramadamned if we do and Ramadamned if we don’t. So it’s best that we stick to our guns — and our bombs.

You can write to Jonah Goldberg in care of this newspaper or by e-mail at

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