- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

In Muslims’ heated debates over anti-Americanism, one of the key recurring questions is whether America has a majority Christian population or is a Christian state. And comparisons between President Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad abound.

“You know [George H. W. Bush] is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength,” Mr. Bush has said. “There is a higher father that I appeal to.” Mr. Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, claimed he saw a halo around himself when he addressed the U.N. General Assembly. He also recently said, “I have been telling my friends not to worry about the nuclear issue. [The Westerners] are just yelling and screaming. But friends don’t believe me and tell me I am connected to somewhere.”

Despite each man’s claims about having access to the divine, their countries relate to religion — i.e., the “Islamic Republic of Iran” vs. freedom of religion as a constitutional principle in the United States. Evangelical Mr. Bush, however, raises some eyebrows, both domestically, where he regularly brings both questions and expressions of faith into his public life, which then leads to the concerns that his personal belief is in breach of the wall between the church and the state, and internationally, whether he is fighting the war of crusaders.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is not necessarily the spokesman of the larger debate in the Muslim Middle East, but many Muslims worldwide are putting aside their sectarian differences to talk about how the war in Iraq is being fought — whether they believe September 11 had anything to do with Saddam Hussein’s regime and what is the proper punishment for crimes. In light of the controversial (and questionable) number of civilian casualties in the Iraq conflict, there remains a question over whether America is really fighting terrorism or really fighting against Islam.

It’s important to remember as well that many throughout the Muslim Middle East see the U.S. military as a Christian army.

Therefore, it was no small thing that the White House, State Department and Pentagon held Iftaar dinners as Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan, one of the holiest months in the Muslim calendar. “This is the sixth year that we have been pleased to host an Iftaar at the White House,” Mr. Bush said last Monday. “Our society is enriched by our Muslim citizens. Your commitment to your faith reminds us the entire precious gift of religious freedom in our country.”

Mr. Bush had invited a group of American Muslims, one of whomwasFarooq Muhammed, an American-born son of Pakistani immigrants. Raised in Brooklyn, Mr. Muhammed is an emergency medical technician at the New York City Fire Department. He treated victims amid the horror of September 11, narrowly escaping death when the towers collapsed. “Farooq’s courage and compassion represent the best of the American spirit,” Mr. Bush said at the dinner.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England had also hosted an Iftaar dinner for the ambassadors of Muslim countries a week earlier. Like most of his engagements, he was doing what he believes in the most and does the best — out of the public eye. Hesham Islam, Mr. England’s special assistant for international affairs, says his boss spends a lot of time building and strengthening his relationships with Muslim nations. “If there’s a theory or a concept or a thought that the U.S. is against Islam, it’s absolutely wrong,” Mr. Islam said. “America is not against Islam.”

Speaking to the Islamic Society of North America in early September, Mr. England said, “[T]here is no contradiction between the peaceful religion of Islam and America’s values and principles.” More than 4,000 Muslim soldiers currently serve in the American military.

That is why the Bush administration, from the president to Mr. England to Mr. Islam, is making such a concerted effort to convey the message that the war in Iraq is not a fight against Islam. It is a fight against groups of radicals.

If, in fact, the war were against Islam, it would be impossible to declare victory unless every Muslim were either converted to Christianity or killed. Which is why it’s so important for all to really understand that the enemy is radical Islamists — not Islam and not Muslims. It’s an absolutely crucial distinction.

There have been mistakes throughout the war as the administration has attempted to deal militarily with insurgent violence and the political civil war, and as it has attempted to handle the political realities of a country no longer in the grip of Saddam Hussein. Mr. Bush, however, has made it clear that his war is with the earthly, not with the divine, despite his religious rhetoric. He deserves to be taken at his word.

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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