A War Against Idealism, Not Religion

America is not fighting a war against Islam. America is fighting a war against Islamism.

The difference between Islam and Islamism is straightforward: Islam is a religion, a faith, the basis of a great civilization and culture, one that once dominated the world.

By contrast, Islamism is an “ism” _ a theory, a doctrine, a political movement. Islamists believe that Muslims have a God-given right to dominate the world. Or, as the Islamist theorist Abdullah Azzam phrased it, a duty to establish “Allah’s rule on Earth.”

Scholar and former Pakistani diplomat Husain Hoqqani quotes a booklet by Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure), an Islamist group reportedly linked to the recent London bombings, which declares “the U.S., Israel and India as existential enemies of Islam,” and lists among its goals “the restoration of Islamic sovereignty to all lands where Muslims were once ascendant, including Spain, Bulgaria, Hungary, Cyprus, Sicily, Ethiopia, Russian Turkistan and Chinese Turkistan. . . Even parts of France reaching 90 kilometers outside Paris.”

Theoretically, it is possible to be an Islamist and not support terrorism. An Islamist might believe there are peaceful ways for Muslims to achieve the power and glory to which they are entitled. In practice, however, it is an exceptional Islamist who scruples about the killing of “infidels.”

Egyptian-born journalist Mona Eltahawy has lamented the fact that even many Arab and Muslim intellectuals can’t quite bring themselves to condemn suicide bombings carried out in the name of Islam. Though they call themselves moderates, she writes, they “are little more than apologists for a terrorism that not only kills innocents in the dozens, but ruins the lives of the millions of Muslims living in the West.”

Islamists have been waging war on America for more than a generation. The seizing of the U.S. embassy in Tehran was an act of war perpetrated by the Islamists who came to power in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The Hezbollah bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 also was an act of war, as were other attacks in that decade and the 1990s.

After Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden became the world’s best-known Islamist. The sophistication and lethality of his attacks made the hostage-takers and truck-bombers look like dilettantes. But long before we were surprised by bin Laden’s capabilities, we should have been aware of his intentions. In 1996, bin Laden had published his “Declaration of War Against the Americans.”

America’s leaders failed to respond to that threat as they failed to respond two years later when bin Laden wrote: “There are two parties to the conflict: World Christianity, which is allied with Jews and Zionism, led by the United States, Britain and Israel. The second party is the Islamic world.” For good measure, bin Laden issued a fatwa, a religious ruling, in which he called on Muslims to kill Americans _ civilians and military alike.

The vast majority of Muslims did not heed his call. But some did. And too few Muslims _ too few religious leaders, in particular _ stood up to say forcefully that bin Laden was a renegade, an enemy of Islam who brings shame to the faith.

One reason that did not happen is fear. Harvard scholar Ahmed H. al-Rahim notes that some Muslims who criticize Islamism _ the writer Farag Fouda, for example _ have been assassinated. Others _ Sayyid Mahmud al-Qimany, for example _ have been threatened, and so “to spare his family the fate that befell Fouda’s, Qimany recanted all his writings, promising never to write again… his only weapon was his pen, which alas he surrendered to the Islamists as others before him surrendered their lives.”

At this point, scholar Mamoun Fandy has written, “we desperately need a series of fatwas that assert that Islam does not condone violence against innocent people. …We also need to exclude those among us who believe that violence is the way to defend Islam. … It is also time to remove the title of ‘mosque’ from any place in which Molotov bombs are prepared.”

A war is being waged against America and, indeed, against the entire Free World, nations the Islamists view as decadent, weak and Satanic. Al-Rahim has proposed that Muslims who reject the bellicose Islamist interpretation of Islam need to find the courage to say so unambiguously and publicly.

“Why not a ‘Million Muslim March’ on Washington,” he wrote, “of law-abiding Muslim citizens clamoring to reclaim their faith from those who would kill innocents in its name?”

And if there were a serious “peace movement” would its members not march with banners saying, “Stop the War Against the Free World”?

Would they not be demonstrating outside the embassies of Iran and Syria and other nations ruled by terrorist masters? Would they not be protesting, too, outside London’s Finsbury mosque, one of a number of “houses of worship” where an ideology of hatred and murder is preached and, on occasion, practiced?

(Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.)