- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2001

While waiting for the Bush administration to take action against the enemy who struck us on Sept. 11, we have had ample opportunity to consider the causes of the attack. Indeed, this has been a favored topic of discussion because the remedies themselves so far have been elusive and confusing.

Particularly intense is the debate over the religious aspects of the atrocity, which killed more than 6,000 Americans in New York and in this area. The infamous event has stirred up a strange mixture of self-recriminations, guilt, fear, racial and religious prejudice and a host of other atavistic reflexes not very comfortably dealt with by the machinery of modern policy-making. It looks as though at the beginning of the 21st century we are entering a period of religious wars.

However, when you consider the facts carefully, a different picture emerges one characterized by freedom, tolerance and human rights on the one side and tyrannical despotism and disdain for human life on the other. President Bush made this point eloquently in his speech to the nation last Thursday night. The good news is that if you step back and look at the situation, if you refuse to accept the enemy's rhetoric and that of his sympathizers, Americans have good reason to feel proud of the way their country and government have handled the crisis. We occupy the high ground. When you have to fight, that's a great place to be.

Take the word "crusade." Both Mr. Bush and Osama bin Laden have called for a crusade against each other. There is a big difference, though. Mr. Bush rather awkwardly made his statement in front of a Muslim audience here in Washington, and later had to have White House spokesman Ari Fleischer eat his words on his behalf. Similarly, the Pentagon was on the verge of naming this mission "Operation Infinite Justice," but ran into furious opposition from Muslims on the basis that infinite justice supposedly belongs to Allah alone. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld backed down, concerned about hurting anybody's feelings.

Bin Laden, on the other hand, this week urged Muslims to join in "the American crusade," and threatened "jihad" against the United States. Somehow, he did not see fit to apologize for that statement or regret that it might have offended Americans. His Taliban friends, meanwhile, chimed in with threats against the lives of U.N. humanitarian aid workers, and issued a statement saying that "America wants to eliminate Islam, and they are spreading lawlessness to install a pro-American government in Afghanistan." Neither of these statements bears any relation to reality.

Those inclined to fits of angst and guilt may feel like granting that Christians are hardly any better when it comes to slaughtering civilians than militant Muslims. In Europe, the Serbs and their ethnic cleansing campaign against Kosovo's Albanians are paraded as examples. So is Adolf Hitler's "final solution" to Germany's "Jewish problem." The problem with these arguments is that it was the West, Christian nations themselves, who put an end to both crimes against humanity, even if much belatedly. Unlike the terrorists, we still proceed from the assumption that killing innocent civilians is absolutely wrong.

Time and again the United States has been a friend to Muslims, which is why this outburst of hatred confuses so many. The Gulf War a decade ago was fought under American leadership to free Kuwait's Muslims from Iraqi occupation. The only NATO action ever undertaken in Europe, again under American leadership, was on behalf of Kosovo's Albanian Muslim population. American presidents have spoken out against the Russian brutalization of the Muslims of Chechnya, a genocidal campaign, which does not seem to have appeared on the bin Laden radar screen. Important U.S. allies include Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan. Millions of Muslims make the United States their home, thriving in their communities and climbing the economic ladder quickly. In the last presidential election, they emerged as a credible political force.

In other words, we are not waging religious warfare on Islam. But is Islam waging one on us? Well, someone is, but I would not dignify the suicidal fanaticism of the kamikaze pilots of Sept. 11 with the label of religious martyrdom. The insanity that afflicted these people bears more resemblance to the insanity that afflicted the murderous, radical left-wing movements of the 1960s and 1970s. It gives them the impression they have the right to sacrifice the lives of others in the name of their own cause which, by the way, in no way constitutes courage. Killing people who do not suspect you will attack them is neither hard nor brave.

Mr. Bush did the right thing when he emphasized that this conflict is not between the United States and Muslims around the world, nor the much mistreated people of Afghanistan. In fact, we will be doing them a favor.

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