- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

One reason I didn't want to exchange eight or nine dollars for a couple of air-cooled hours with Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman in "The Sum of All Fears" this summer was the Hollywood decision to take the Tom Clancy novel's villains Islamic jihadists right from the headlines and turn them into neo-Nazis right from the funny pages. And not just any neo-Nazis. Banking on the probability that summer-blockbuster audiences are too young to have boned up on their "Saving Private Ryan," the moviemakers made these neo-Nazis South African to boot. In other words, Totally Evil.

And, therefore, Totally Non-Offensive. After all, who could take umbrage at this kind of "ethnic stereotyping"? Nobody with an advocacy group, at any rate. Such stock villainy may duly trigger the appropriate response in an audience hard-wired for thrills, but then again so would Godzilla. The creaky improbability of it all necessarily turns any contemporary thriller about nuclear terrorism into little more than politically correct science fiction. And so, in protest of Hollywood's concession to itsy-PC-poo, I stayed home.

But La-La Land is not alone in ducking reality. Indeed, historians may look back on our age (assuming, of course, there is much of a future from which to look back on any age) as one rivaling, if not surpassing the Victorian era of chaperones, draped piano legs and imagine concealed bra straps for reticence and euphemistic absurdity. From the president, to the press, to the man on the street, nobody will bring himself to mouth the words that accurately describe the pernicious threat we face now and for the foreseeable future. It is not, as widely and incessantly reported, the threat of "terrorism" or "terror" these are only tactics. And it is not the threat of generic "terrorists." On the contrary, the threat that has diminished all our lives is the specific threat of Islamic jihad, and it is posed by what should very specifically be called Islamic jihadists.

This is not my terminology, but it sure beats the wording I've used in the past "Islamist terrorists" (fine on paper but prone to tongue-twisting). The new and improved label comes from the writings of Bat Ye'or, an Egyptian-born British scholar on "dhimmitude," the broken plight of Jews and Christians living under Islamic rule through the ages. Writing last week about the repressive "culture of hate" that characterizes Islamic jihad on National Review Online, Ms. Ye'or effectively depicted cataclysmic acts of violence the world over in Algeria, Israel, Sudan, East Timor, the Moluccas, the Philippines and Nigeria as linkable "jihadist" atrocities, terminology that organizes them more coherently (and maybe more shockingly) than the isolated "acts of terrorism" they are commonly called. Continuing in the same vein, she wrote: "Hundreds of innocent people died when jihad struck at the Jewish Community Center of Buenos Aires in Argentina and the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In Egypt, jihadists have massacred Copts in their churches and villages, and murdered European tourists. And a cataclysmic act of jihad resulted in the slaughter of nearly 3,000 innocent civilians of multiple faiths and nationalities in New York on September 11, 2001."

How does such sweeping classification affect anything? First of all, it defines a scattered guerrilla network by its self-proclaimed inspiration Islamic jihad a religious ideology only the West is discreet about. (In a final interview with Islam Online, to take one of innumerable examples, assassinated Hamas leader Salah Sh'hadeh openly discussed a "nation of Jihad," and defined the first criterion for becoming a suicide bomber as "devout religious observance.") Unmasking the enemy is crucial because there is no way to expect any nation, least of all our own, to gird itself for a sustained war against an ill-defined or undefined foe.

There may be something even more important about specificity at this time. Having cloaked Islamic jihadists in euphemism out of deference to non-jihadist Islamics, we have not only given the enemy tactical cover, we have allowed them to remain camouflaged within Islam itself. That is, by purposefully averting our gaze from the Koranically inspired ideology of the jihadists, we have also failed to focus non-jihadist Islam on a task no one in the West can perform: namely, reforming Islam. On the contrary, we have set in motion an interfaith charade to depict Islamic jihad as a kind of sect within Islam with about as much impact on "mainstream" Islamics as Branch Davidianism had on Christians.

The Judeo-Christian West doesn't help Islam by ignoring this crisis, and non-jihadist Islam doesn't help itself by denying its very existence. You might say the silence is baffling. But that's only for now. Continued silence on this troubling matter will tell us much about the will to defeat Islamic jihad from both inside and outside Islam.

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