It is difficult at this stage in the game to determine whether America is gearing up for a war on terrorism or a campaign against terrorism. The two might be significantly different. If we are at war the rules are different, and each of us must understand what the rules are. A nation at war is a nation that is on the alert. It has identified an enemy and is seeking to destroy the enemy, perhaps through various methods. In this case the enemy has been identified as “terrorism.” Lacking an official definition, the war becomes a alarming idea for Muslims, and particularly Islamic movements, if we are operating on a political definition that is constructed by the historic enemies of Islam who have sought for the better part of the last century to stereotype all Muslims and Islamic activism as terrorist. If, on the other hand, we have mounted a serious campaign against “terrorism,” having adopted a definition that recognizes terrorism as a method and strategy utilized not only by individuals, but also by governments in attempts to impose their authority through brute force where they lack legitimacy, it may be that there is still time for Islamists to make some important points that can assist the nation as it moves forward in this campaign. In fact, one of the most important decisions that our administration will be making in this campaign is the role that Islamic movements will play in a long term, on-going campaign against terrorism.
There are those who would discourage our government from employing the assistance of Islamists. They are seeking to advance the idea that organized Islamic political activism fosters terrorism. This is not news, but a very dangerous insinuation in times such as these, and the enemies of Islamic activism and movement are very much aware of the scenario they are seeking to create. By casting all Islamic movements as terrorist, or potentially terrorist, people like Benjamin Netanyahu and others, are seeking to employ the United States in their personal and national campaign against Islam, Muslims, and the Islamic Movements, especially in Palestine and their supporters. The United States should avoid being used, or rather exploited. This is a time when the nation‘s leaders must be wise, and distinguish its friends from its foes, based not on the past, but perhaps based on which direction those who are seeking to influence the United States are seeking to direct us. Friends will focus on the positive aspects and potentially positive outcome of this crisis; others will seek their own interests and the exploitation of American fears, along with the elimination of their foes at America‘s expense; our soldiers‘ lives and our rights included.
The Islamic movement has a vast network of activists throughout the Muslim world who have the ability to influence popular perceptions, as well as to garner information, and to share information with key players in both the East and the West. To those who ask why the Islamic movements would assist in a campaign of this nature, playing such roles, the answer is that this is the very reason that Islamic movements came into being. It has always been the role of the Muslim activist to identify evil and to work cooperatively to eliminate it. Muslims understand the evil of terror perhaps better than most people, since we have been the victims of terror to a greater degree than any other group of people, the ongoing conflict in Palestine being just one example. Islamists understand the politics of the region, and unlike the governments who are not trusted by the people in the villages and on the ground, Islamists enjoy credibility in the Muslim world, and their commitment to Islam and law, in spite of political and economic enticements, have distinguished them from the traditional intelligence gathering “ilk“ that are hated and often misdirected and misinformed.
A campaign against terrorism would seek to eliminate, not only terrorists, but more importantly, to discredit “might makes right“ as legitimizing, since terrorism, regardless of what form it takes, is premised upon this falsehood. If we seek to understand terrorism, we will arrive at the conclusion that those who employ terrorists tactics must feel that they can scare, or intimate people into submission to their ideas, or ways, and their authority. Whether groups employ these methods or governments, the fact that mere brute strength unbridled by morality, has been allowed to dictate the world‘s affairs until now, has led us to this juncture, and the horrible tragedy of September 11, 2001.
Along with a military response to terrorism, there should be an international effort mounted that is aimed towards exposing, discrediting and denouncing immoral political and social policies that have placed brute strength in the path of peace and progress, human rights and justice, and that suggests that whoever can kill the most people, or scare enough people, can dictate the fate of the world. Those nations or individuals or groups who are unwilling to yield their affection for militarism as solutions to every conflict, and who reject opportunities for peace, who instigate war and destruction whether this be through economic or military means, should be considered enemies of humanity, and everyone should condemn them. The tragedy of September 11, 2001 can have a positive outcome if we recognize it as a wakeup call, signaling the leaders of the world to the fact that they have taught the wrong lessons. They have persistently used the wrong tactics to achieve political objectives, and have caused the world to fall victim to a most heinous enemy, that being aggressive and intolerant chauvinism, which manifests as terrorism. Everyone should be employed in the campaign to eradicate terrorism. Islamists have an important role to play. If our government is wise, it will bring them on board as allies in this important and universal struggle.
The writer is director for Public Affairs at the United Association for Studies and Research (UASR), a Washington, DC area Islamic think tank.