Muslim extremists may have just stepped on the lion’s tail. In retaliation for the barbaric incineration of a Jordanian pilot who fell into the grasp of the Islamic State, King Abdullah II of Jordan roared of revenge and ordered the execution of two convicted terrorists behind bars in Jordan. Moreover, appearing in military fatigues he earned while serving in Jordan’s air force, he called for airstrikes on Islamic State positions. And the sort of righteous anger that has driven the king to quote from the Clint Eastwood film “Unforgiven” may signal an awakening of moderate Muslims to their duty to drive the extremists out of their lands.
The murderous excesses of terrorism in recent days, coupled with the horrific events that took place in Paris last month, are a stark reminder of the threat posed by radical Islamic fundamentalism and by all those who would commit violence in the name of religion. The taking of innocent lives is always difficult to comprehend, let alone to reconcile with the tenets of a great world faith. But strategically and tactically, the assaults against a defenseless captive and the publication Charlie Hebdo represent a disturbing new trend in global religious terrorism — attacks that appear unstoppable because their perpetrators often devolve from a central command and control structure, are self-motivated, and maintain a tight, closed network of communications. The open societies of western democracies like ours must together, as French President Francois Hollande aptly put it, “declare war on radical Islam.”
We can and will take every precaution to protect our homelands and stop attacks through good intelligence and police work. To win, though, we need a grand alliance with millions of peaceful, progressive Muslims around the world, dedicated to defeating extremists by promoting the very freedoms and values they abhor. The voices of religious and political leaders must be raised in a sustained global chorus of opposition to these Islamic radicals and their medieval and barbaric ways. The extremists have killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as well as King Abdullah II have already called on Muslims to control this evil. Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the principal democratic opposition to the Iranian theocracy, said in Paris, “Those who massacre journalists under the pretext of defending the Prophet of Islam have no understanding of Islam whatsoever.” Sadly, they are among too few prominent Muslim leaders to voice their strong opposition to the murderous behavior of the extremists.
The Paris attacks are not without precedent. Counterterrorism experts cite the Boston bombing as a recent example. That attack also involved two brothers who could plot discretely, off the communications grid, and without foreign coordination and financing. The key difference with Charlie Hebdo is that al Qaeda and the Islamic State — two worldwide jihadi movements — called specifically for attacks against this target. They issued a fatwa. It wasn’t that long ago that Iran, often and appropriately referred to as the central bank for global terrorism, issued a specific fatwa calling for the death of an infidel. In 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini looking to exact “divine justice” here on earth, issued the equivalent of an assassination order against author Salman Rushdie.
Radical Islamic fundamentalism does not reflect a clash of civilizations, a struggle between East and West, or even a struggle between believers or non-believers. It is the product of a conflict between two competing interpretations of Islam: that which is espoused by extremists like the Islamic State, al Qaeda and the mullahs in Iran, and a progressive, tolerant form of Islam rooted in peace, understanding and coexistence, which is promoted by the main opposition to the clerics in Tehran.
Those who commit heinous acts of violence in the name of God, whether they are Shiite or Sunni Muslims, are competing for the hearts and minds of Muslims throughout the globe. They have been successful in exploiting the Iraq war and anti-western sentiment to increase their ranks. Yet the long-term solution to this ideological schism is not further military conflict, which will only lead to more violence and radicalization. The solution exists within the Muslim world itself, in the form of the many progressive voices that share our values of tolerance and secular politics. It is time to align with these forces and help them win this long war. It is time for their voices to be heard — loud, clear and often.
The recent tragedies should serve as a reminder to us all of the severity of the threat we face. However, it should also serve to remind us that not all Muslims agree with such despicable violence. Far from it. The vast majority of Muslims — particularly those who support progressive values — represent our best hope in combating extremism. Draining the swamp of hatred and ignorance that drives some young Muslims to kill in the name of religion is the only way to keep us safe in the long run. We must support those few courageous Muslim leaders who raise their voices in opposition to these extremists and encourage others to follow.
• Tom Ridge, a former Pennsylvania governor, served as America’s first secretary of homeland security.