- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

The commander in chief has a problem in the ranks, and duty (and honor and country) will require him to be as bold in resolving it as the men and women he put in harm’s way to resolve a problem in Iraq.

Some of the men of the “religion of peace,” as President Bush invariably calls it (and maybe it is), seem to be up to no good. The investigation into suspicions of Muslim espionage at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, where 660 al Qaeda suspects are held, reveals a threat not only to the Bush election strategy next year, when the Muslim vote will be important in several states, but to the security of the nation as well.

The arrests of a chaplain and a translator, both Muslims, for aiding and abetting the terrorists imprisoned at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, should be the wake-up call to convince the president and his men that they have a complicated, unpleasant and sticky situation fraught with all manner of peril, not only to national security but to the Constitution and the American traditions of religious freedom.

What makes espionage at Guantanamo Bay particularly worrisome is that the administration may have been tempted to deal with it by praying it would go away, like a wisp of vapor from Aladdin’s lamp, and hoping nobody would ever know about it.

Politics has complicated the situation, as politics will. The Bush administration has a weakness for going all gooey-eyed for the Saudis, who regularly demonstrate an indifference to religious tolerance and a deadly contempt for America. Fortunately, politics can be therapeutic, too. The administration finally moved yesterday, however reluctantly, to do something, encouraged by the threat of a bipartisan congressional investigation into whether the not-so-peaceful teachings of Wahhabi Islam, of which Saudi Arabia is the worldwide distributor, have infiltrated the theology of the military’s handful of Muslim chaplains.

What the senators want to know, among other things, is how the Pentagon, so skillful in directing its forces to kill people and break things, could be so oblivious of everything else that it turned for advice on whom to choose as Muslim chaplains to Islamic organizations regarded by the Justice Department as suspicious and probably subversive.

The Pentagon said it would “review” how it recruits its chaplains, and specifically how and why it listens to recruiting advice from two groups with ties to the radical Wahhabi Islam of Saudi Arabia. There’s nothing like a pointy-toed boot in his ample bottom to encourage a bureaucrat, military or otherwise, to do the right thing.

John Kyl, the conservative Republican senator from Arizona, and Charles E. Schumer, the Democratic liberal senator from New York, are on the case. “My subcommittee,” says Mr. Kyl, “is continuing to examine what is clearly an ongoing and systematic effort by the radical Wahhabi sect to infiltrate and recruit terrorists within the United States, focusing primarily on chaplains in the prison systems and in the U.S. military.”

The senators, like the government, must be wary of going where the government must not go, to examine authentic religious faith. But they, like the government, must be equally wary of turning a blind eye to bad guys professing to be saints doing the work of Allah. We saw some of this handiwork on September 11. A political ideology can parade as religion in an open society like ours, and the government has no business taking notice. But if ideology-as-religion preaches a gospel of violence the government must act, swiftly.

This inevitably raises the question, which nobody wants to put into words: Is a radical Islamist in uniform a Muslim or an American? Can an American soldier, who may be a Methodist, a Jew, a Seventh-day Adventist, a Catholic or an atheist, trust a Muslim soldier at his side? The soldiers who served in Kuwait last winter with Sgt. Hasan Akbar, an American and a Muslim, learned to their pain that they could not. He rolled a grenade into the tent of two commanding officers with a taunt: “You guys are coming into our countries, and you’re going to rape our women and kill our children.” Two American officers, who had not tried to rape or kill anyone, died.

One incident proves nothing; a second incident, at Guantanamo Bay, doesn’t prove anything, either. But it does indicate that the issue of Muslims in the American military, when millions of Muslims want to make the war on terrorism a clash of civilizations, is an issue that those at the highest level of the government cannot ignore, even in the name of tolerance.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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