Radical Islam, or Islamo-fascism as conservatives are prone to call it, conveys the impression of a political movement. It is no such animal. Al-Qaida's suicide bombers and assorted gunslingers are not individual al-Qaida terrorists, inspired by Osama bin Laden, who have hijacked a religion. Like it or not, the West is fighting a religion "that arose in enraged reaction to the West," writes Fergus Kerr in "20th Century Catholic Theologians."
The only leader who has called it by its real name, according to Kerr, "is a man wholly averse to war, a pope who took his name from the Benedict who interceded for peace in World War I." Benedict XVI, alone among the leaders of the Christian world, "challenges Islam as a religion, as he did in his September 2006 Regensburg University address," which touched off noisy protests throughout the Muslim world. The pope repeated a question posed by Manuel II Paleologos, an obscure 14th century Byzantine emperor, to a Persian guest at his winter quarters near Ankara. "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
The pope did not contradict the emperor's fighting words. He simply said the emperor had spoken with "startling brusqueness," omitting, presumably deliberately, to say whether he disagreed.
Also conveniently ignored were Christianity's many bloody contributions to history, from the 11th to the 13th centuries in nine major crusades against Jerusalem when popes told Christians to fight to repay God for their sins; to the Spanish Inquisition (1476-1834) during which Torquemada, one of Hitler's precursors, tortured, killed and drove out some 300,000 Jews and heretics; to Pope Alexander VI (1492-1505), the infamous Borgia who was the "Monster of Iniquity."
Three world religions with their roots in the Middle East espoused, at some stages of their history, the concepts of "Holy War" and "Just War." Religion generates certainty, which breeds intolerance, which ignites conflict.
An anonymous online reviewer whose experience in intelligence, theology and journalism combined to produce the blogosphere pseudonym "Spengler" (Oswald Spengler's best-known tome was "The Decline of the West," published in 1918) says, "Radical Islam threatens the West only because secular Europe, including the sad remnants of the former Soviet Union, is so desiccated by secular anomie it no longer cares enough about its future to produce children." Demographers can also see Muslims forming a majority in Russia by mid-century and possibly dominating Western Europe at the turn of the 22nd century.
The Islamo-fascism label for al-Qaida's fundamentalist support "to save Islam" justifies the neoconservative campaign to pressure President Bush to order the bombing of Iran's nuclear facilities before he leaves office. But there's a slight impediment: The last four CENTCOM commanders, including Anthony Zinni and Arabic-speaking John Abizaid, said any bombing of Iran would push 320 million Arabs into the camp of radical Islam and produce an unmitigated geopolitical disaster for the United States. This, they believe, would also push a moderate Iraqi government into the arms of a "martyred" Iran coupled with a demand that U.S. forces hightail it home.
Thus, those who advocate bombing would unwittingly play into the hands of religious extremists. Israelis say they are faced with an existential crisis that Americans cannot comprehend. The obvious comeback is the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which was also existential for those who lived through it. But we talked to the adversary, conjugating hard and soft power into smart power - and Moscow backed down. Nikita Khrushchev also threatened to bury us at a time when thousands of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles were targeted at every major city and military base in the United States. Again, smart power - otherwise known as the Helsinki process on human rights, freedom of the press and movement of people -- gradually collapsed the Soviet Union.
While countless millions of Americans tune out, Islamist extremists are marshalling their forces, including the hundreds of thousands of young men brainwashed in Pakistan's madrassas into the core belief that martyrdom against the "American Zionist crusaders" is to earn the keys to paradise. Most Muslims feel victimized while fundamentalists seem genetically programmed to understand, even encourage, the youthful urge to violence.
In an e-mail message to this reporter Wednesday, Benazir Bhutto, the embattled Pakistani leader under house arrest, said, "I very much fear the risk of civil war. The longer (President) Musharraf stays, the worse it's going to get. I knew it was bad but after coming here (from eight years of exile), I am shocked at just how bad. The militants are spreading everywhere not because people want them but because the administration unilaterally withdraws without a fight leaving the people of the town or village at the mercy of the long-haired, bushy faced barbarians who terrorize the local population and subdue them by shooting and killing randomly. I am just wondering how long it's going to be before the militants march on Islamabad."
Twice prime minister in the 1980s and '90s, Bhutto continued, "It may sound dramatic but the picture here is frightening. Pakistan is slowly disintegrating and it seems everyone is paralyzed into ignoring the calamity that is coming. The district headquarters of Shangla Hills fell today. The local population was ready to resist but didn't have the resources. The government didn't send any reinforcements and the local administration disappeared. In fact, it seems like the buddies of the militants had already been appointed."
The Pakistani army ceased operations a month ago against the Taliban and al-Qaida in the tribal areas on the Afghan border. Army units dispatched to the scenic Swat Valley, inside the Northwest Frontier province, have met strong resistance as more militants arrive from nearby towns and villages. Pakistan, one of the world's eight nuclear powers, is the ultimate nightmare scenario. The army is the custodian of secret nuclear weapons sites, deep underground. But the army is in disarray and the widely despised army chief and president, Pervez Musharraf, clings to power by enforcing martial law.
Copyright 2007 by United Press International.