- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Osama bin Laden's attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11 were, in all likelihood, the isolated acts of a small but fanatical Muslim minority, and Washington's re-sponse was cut to fit: The terrorists would be punished thoroughly, along with any states that “harbored” them.

In the weeks that followed, however, as the United States moved to increase its forces in the Middle East preparatory to a military strike, it became apparent that many of the Muslim governments in the area, including even some of our longtime friends, were extremely nervous about allowing American attacks on bin Laden's camps or the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to be staged through their territory. Sharing intelligence with us was one thing; allowing us to use their air bases and other military facilities against fellow Muslims was quite another.

The reason was all too clear: Most of these regimes are corrupt, and they maintain themselves in power simply through the use of force. They have been willing to do business with us because we pay them handsomely for their only asset: oil. But they have retained such credit as they have with their own peoples by demonstrating their passionate devotion to the Islamic religion. To the typical Muslim, that religion is the one attribute he possesses which he is confident is superior to anything on offer in the West. The West is immensely richer and stronger than Islamic nations, but he has only contempt for its libertine lifestyle a contempt that can easily curdle into hatred.

If, therefore, he sees his government assisting an American attack on devout Muslims who have succeeded in giving Uncle Sam a spectacular black eye, the danger that he will revolt, in his millions, is very real. Washington has demonstrated it is alive to this danger and has moderated its requests of Arab countries accordingly. But it has now become plain that the whole Middle East is at risk. Vast tectonic plates of public opinion are shifting, and it is not beyond possibility that we may soon be facing something very like a genuine Muslim jihad against the West.

If that were to occur, it would be World War III and no fooling. There is no question which side would win it the Islamic world is no match for the West, and the West would almost certainly be united. Only China would opt out of the conflict in the hope of opportunizing. But it would be a cruel war that would in all probability end, at least temporarily, Western access to Middle Eastern oil, with drastic economic consequences.

There is, as usual, a flip side to this disastrous scenario. Even if we manage to avoid confrontation with the whole Islamic world, the United States is unmistakably at war with gangs of Muslim fanatics who must be rooted out and destroyed. On that proposition, American public opinion is overwhelmingly agreed.

This fact presents our domestic left with a desperate problem. Hitherto it has been happy to join America's Middle Eastern critics in condemning the United States wholeheartedly for its grubby materialism, its globalizing economic imperialism, its alleged racism, its arrogant indifference to world opinion, etc. But now a major segment of the left perhaps its dominant segment, for it includes an important part of the Jewish community has joined the great bulk of the American public in support of our war against bin Laden.

Leftists thus have a choice to make: Either turn against the anti-American forces with whom they have made common cause around the world, or break with their own fellow leftists here at home. Susan Sontag and Michael Moore, how say you?

William Rusher is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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