Are We At War with Islam...or Not?
Are We At War with Islam...or Not?
By David McNair
April 05, 2004
Remarks by President Bush at an Iftaar dinner in the State Dining Room, November 19, 2001 (President Hosts Iftaar)
“Ramadan is a time of fasting and prayer for the Muslim faithful. So tonight we are reminded of God’s greatness and His commandments to live in peace and to help neighbors in need. According to Muslim teachings, God first revealed His word in the holy Qur’an to the prophet, Muhammad, during the month of Ramadan. That word has guided billions of believers across the centuries, and those believers built a culture of learning and literature and science…. All the world continues to benefit from this faith and its achievements.”
Forthcoming Interview with Gary Bauer for Oldspeak magazine
John W. Whitehead: “Do you think there is a religious war going on now between Christians and Jews and certain parts of the Islamic faith?”
Gary Bauer: “Yes. We have to take our enemy at its word. The fact is that all over the world there are dozens of terrorist organizations that, as they plot to kill us, say to us very directly they are doing so because they believe their God requires it…these terrorists are motivated by their religion, and they are very clear that they intend to win this clash of civilizations.”
After the terror attacks of 9/11, President Bush was quick to remind Americans and reassure Muslims that we were not at war with Islam. In fact, the President went out of his way to reassure Muslims that America was a friend of the Islamic religion. On numerous occasions in the months following 9/11, in front of largely Muslim audiences at places such as the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., the Iftaar Dinner in the State Dining Room, and in the Diplomatic Reception Room in honor of Eid Al-Fitr, Bush spoke passionately, eloquently, and knowledgeably about Islam, calling it a “religion of peace” and saying that “all the world continues to benefit from this faith (Islam) and its achievements.” In early November of 2001, for what is thought to be the first time ever, 50 Muslim ambassadors knelt and touched the floor with their foreheads in a formal ceremony at the White House to mark the beginning of Ramadan. More than a year later, Bush was still at it. During remarks on U.S. Humanitarian Aid to Afghanistan in October 2002, Bush called Islam “a faith that brings comfort to people. It inspires them to lead lives based on honesty, and justice, and compassion.”
Meanwhile, Christian conservative leaders, so-called neo-conservatives, and hawkish political commentators began voicing a very different opinion about Islam:
Reuel Marc Gerecht, director of the Middle East Initiative of the Project for the New American Century, September 24, 2001:
To defeat bin Laden and his kind, we have to restore our awe, and the only way you acquire and retain such majesty in the Islamic Middle East is through the use of military power….
With bin Laden dead, we will no doubt see again Americans slaughtered by Islamic holy warriors. But when we down him and take back the awe that is ours, we will have turned the tide. After that, we will just have to persevere and slowly burn the hope out of Islam’s holy warriors.
The painful integration of the Muslim and Western worlds, which has been relentlessly moving forward for more than two hundred years, will then continue, God willing, with less bloodshed on both sides
Jimmy Swaggart, evangelist, November 2002:
I like our President but he’s dead wrong when he says Islam or the Quran is a book of love and peace…. Mr. President, that has got to be the most asinine, idiotic, ridiculous, utterly ludicrous statement that I’ve ever heard in my life....You know what we ought to do? We ought to take every single Muslim student in every college in this nation and ship them back to where they came from. And we ought to tell every other Muslim living in this nation, if you say one word, you’re gone. You're gone.
Pat Robertson on his 700 Club television show:
Adolph Hitler was bad, but what the Muslims want to do to the Jews is worse…this man (the prophet Mohammed) was an absolute wild-eyed fanatic. He was a robber and a brigand. And to say that these terrorists distort Islam? They’re carrying out Islam!
The Rev. Jerry Falwell:
I think Mohammed was a terrorist. I read enough of the history of his life, written by both Muslims and non-Muslims, that he was a violent man, a man of war.... Jesus set the example for love, as did Moses. And I think that Mohammed set an opposite example.
Jonah Goldberg, columnist for National Review:
Islamic fundamentalism in many ways runs with the grain of Arab culture. Its nostalgia appeals to the bruised egos of a civilization which took the wrong path at the crossroads of history. Its destructive nihilism and hostility to women appeals to the frustrations of young men…. As the fortune cookies say, that which doesn't bend must break. These (Third World) cultures need to be shattered — through globalization, through trade, and through the justified application of force if necessary — into the modern world. We did it to militaristic Japan, and the Japanese are no less Japanese today for it. We did not depose the emperor, but we did destroy the culture that made him a threat…..The same must be done in the Middle East. By its nature, it's nearly impossible to destroy a religion. But you can destroy the culture that makes such a religion a threat.
The public reaction, both here at home and abroad, to these kinds of statements was swift. Almost immediately after Falwell’s comments were aired on 60 Minutes in October of 2002, there were international Islamic protests, riots, and a fatwa calling for his death. A week later, under pressure from the international community, the American public, and the White House, Falwell back pedaled as fast as he could. “I sincerely apologize that certain statements of mine made during an interview for…CBS’s 60 Minutes were hurtful to the feelings of many Muslims,” Falwell said in a written statement. “I intended no disrespect to any sincere, law-abiding Muslim.” Unfortunately, the apology did nothing to stop the political fallout from such strong statements.
“When I saw the broadcast in Britain which contained Falwell’s outburst against Islam, I prayed that the broadcast would not reach India and the subcontinent,” said Joseph D’Souza, president of the All India Christian Council (AICC). “As soon as we heard some cable channels broadcasted Falwell’s statement, we knew there would be trouble.”
And trouble there was.
The Washington Post reported that Falwell’s remarks may have contributed to Islamic parties winning more than 50 seats in the Pakistani Parliament the following week.
Muslims in India, Iran, and Pakistan responded to Falwell’s comments by staging worker strikes, protests, and attacks on Christian churches. In India’s mainly Muslim state of Jammu-Kashmir, thousands took to the streets, shouting anti-U.S. slogans and throwing rocks. In the city of Solapur, in Maharastra state, at least 10 people were killed and more than 140 injured in what began as protests against Falwell.
In a statement that, oddly enough, seemed to affirm Falwell’s criticism of Islam, Iranian cleric Mohsen Mojtahed Shabestari issued a fatwa, saying that Falwell was a “mercenary and must be killed” and that the “death of that man is a religious duty.” However, he also said the case “should not be tied to the Christian community.”
Political experts agreed that Falwell’s statements had probably not directly caused these problems and that, in most places, they simply inflamed pre-existing tensions within those societies. But all agreed that they were perhaps not the smartest, most diplomatic statements to make. However, that seems to be precisely the point of many of the comments and arguments made about the Islamic religion and Islamic culture after 9/11. They were a call for the end of diplomacy in the Middle East and a condemnation of a religion and a culture believed to be fundamentally at odds with our values and bent on our destruction. The comments made by Rev. Falwell and others not only inflamed pre-existing tensions within Islamic societies, they also inflamed tensions within our own society as well.
From a more obscure source, but one no less willing to fan the flames of anti-Islamic fervor, we have the self-published book Prophet of Doom by the Internet entrepreneur Craig Winn. Winn founded the Internet e-commerce company Value America in the mid-‘90s and rode the Internet boom by attracting big time investors, including FedEx’s Fred Smith, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and, oddly enough, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, with his promise to create a new “Marketplace for the New Millennium” in cyberspace. After Value America went belly up, and after Winn managed to pocket millions, he retired to a large country estate in Charlottesville, Virginia called "Winndom" to figure out his next move. After 9/11, the professed Christian decided to wage a personal battle against the Islamic religion.
Winn began self-publishing a series of books that portrayed Muhammad as “a thief, liar, assassin, mass murderer, terrorist, warmonger, and an unrestrained sexual pervert engaged in pedophilia, incest, and rape” and the Islamic religion itself as evil and corrupt. Winn even went so far as to say that Muslims themselves need to be freed from the tyranny of their own religion, that the Qur’an plagiarizes the Bible, and that “Muhammad’s life mirrored Hitler’s.”
But Winn doesn’t stop there. He goes on to instruct Christians on their faith as well. “Christians must wake up. Jesus hated religion,” Winn said on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club show. “He makes that very clear…. We are not called to be tolerant, but bold and discerning,” he said. He then told Robertson’s audience that Christians need to learn the true nature of Islam, that Islamic terror doesn’t stand apart from Muhammad, and that Christians need to act against this evil.
I worked for Value America in those heady days, writing product descriptions and articles about surge protectors, refrigerators, digital cameras, and barbeque grills. Fueled by Winn’s maniacal optimism and a sales technique he referred to as the “Art of Emphasis,” Value America went from about 10 employees in the summer of 1997 to almost 600 by the time the company went public in 1999, tripling its market value on the first day of trading and making Winn a paper billionaire.
In less than a year, however, the company's stock price went from about $55 a share to $2 a share, nearly half of Value America's 600 employee were fired, and shareholders began filing class action lawsuits against the company, and filing for bankruptcy was just around the corner. Meanwhile, Winn managed to walk away from this spectacular failure with well over $30 million. Having already guided a previous company toward a public offering and into bankruptcy, Winn had learned how to profit from simply taking a company public, no matter how soon afterwards it tanked.
Lately, I’ve begun to notice similarities between the way Winn and others exploited the potential of the Internet and the way the present administration has exploited the war on terror. Winn’s “Art of Emphasis” sales strategy comes to mind. From day one, Winn was so confident about the future success of Value America, and emphasized so strongly the Internet’s potential to change the business world, that you either thought he was completely nuts or a visionary; you were either attracted or repelled. There was just no middle ground with Winn. Value America was going to be the “Marketplace for the New Millennium,” the retail business would be forever changed, we would drive Wal-Mart out of business, and so you better get on board with this if you want to reap the rewards. Value America never made a profit and was history less than a year after it went public, but Winn had shown us his plans for a multi-million dollar corporate headquarters, sponsored a pro-golf tournament, secured funds for a private jet, and wooed some of the most powerful investors in the country. As one of those in the trenches, looking at the day-to-day functioning of the company, it was clear to me and anyone with a modicum of common sense that Value America was a house of cards. A large majority of orders came from phone sales, not the Internet, because the web site functioned so poorly. While it was neat to order stuff online, it still had to be delivered and transported by truck, train, or plane, which had nothing to do with the Internet, and Value America was horrible at fulfillment. To force Value America’s acceptance, it was necessary for Winn to rely on his “art of emphasis” technique, which is really nothing more than an old propaganda technique, imposing the reality of a lie on people by exaggerating it beyond all plausibility: “the bigger the lie, the more people are are apt to fall for it” precisely because it extends beyond all reason and common sense.
In retrospect, it was as if Winn’s initial strategy for starting a business was to ask himself: what base human aggression can I exploit at this moment in history? In the mid-‘90s, it was the emergence of the Internet and the frenzy of optimism and greed that it generated on Wall Street. In 2001, Winn seized upon the trauma, fear, and anti-Islamic fervor that surfaced in the wake of 9/11 and still continues to reverberate in our society.
I’ve always wondered about the authenticity of Winn’s Christianity, just as I’ve wondered about the authenticity of other Christians so quick to call Islam an evil religion and so impatient to go to war. I don’t remember seeing much of it on display during the Value America days. In fact, I remember Winn as an insensitive, bullying man consumed with ambition. For example, Winn once used the phone on my desk to call someone and tell them that he was going to “rip them a new ***hole” if they didn’t do something he had asked. At the time, that didn’t seem very Christian to me. But the next time Winn popped up in the spotlight after Value America, there he was on the 700 Club show, espousing the evils of Islam like an expert with the same certainty he'd had at early Value America employee meetings when he told us we were all going to be millionaires.
In the recently published book, Freedom Is Just Around the Corner, the first of a three-volume history of America, author Walter A. McDougall, a Pulitzer Prize- winning historian at the University of Pennsylvania, makes some startling observations about the “American character” that reminded me of Winn, of Value America, of the political theater we’ve watched over the last few years, and of the spin and “emphasis” that is put on every point of view. While exalting an America he calls “the mightiest, richest, most dynamic civilization in history – a civilization, moreover, that perturbs the trajectories of all other civilizations just by existing,” McDougall claims we got that way because of our “penchant for hustling.” In other words, we are a nation of hustlers and deal makers, always looking out for the next big thing. A nation of Craig Winns.
The question is, what are Winn and others hustling for this time? What do they hope to gain from portraying the war on terror as a clash of religions, a battle of civilizations, a showdown between good and evil?
Wanting a scholarly reaction to Winn’s Prophet of Doom ,and anti-Islamic fervor in general, I asked University of Virginia Professor of Religious Studies Abdulaziz Sachedina to take a look at Winn’s web site for the book, which features excerpts and other information about the evils of Islam. Professor Sachedina responded by saying:
I glimpsed through the link and it immediately struck me as a work of a polemicist who is interested in mud-throwing reading of the religious texts of the “other” out of its historical, cultural, and sociopolitical contexts. It is very difficult to fight back prejudicial scholarship, however text-based it might be. No text can be studied in the vacuum of its sociological and psychological underpinnings. Moreover, the function of the text becomes obvious only when examined in the backdrop of the civilizational developments. It is also true that there are moments of Muslim history that raise serious questions about the Muslim state’s political ends, which had nothing to do with the religious teachings of the Quran or the Tradition. But that applies to all world faith communities, including the good Christians and Jews, and Hindus and Buddhists.
The ultimate point of faith worth keeping in mind is that there will always be some like Mr. Winn (in all communities) engaged in burning of bridges of understanding and compassion between peoples of different faith. May God help us all to understand the best in our traditions and leave the rest for God’s judgment, which will, at least, be fair and just.
Echoing Professor Sachedina’s sentiments, Dr. Timothy George, author of Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?, said in an October 2002 Christianity Today article that Christian and Muslim relations need a great deal of discussion and that comments like Falwell’s (and Winn’s) do not help that dialogue:
To use highly charged language such as he did in referring to Muhammad as a terrorist is unhelpful to present the good news of Jesus Christ to Muslims. Those Christian leaders who have spoken with such passion and lack of caution about Islam will maybe step back for thoughtful concern of “How can we Christians who are called to share the gospel of Jesus Christ conduct ourselves so that there will be a warm, winsome witness?”
Apparently, nobody has listened to the likes of Dr. George and Professor Sachedina. A year and a half later, polemicists heaping scorn on Islam had begun working their way into the mainstream and making the New York Times Best Seller List—and they were not apologizing.
In their recent book An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, authors David Frum and Richard Perle warn that a “radical strain within Islam...seeks to overthrow our civilization and remake the nations of the West into Islamic societies, imposing on the whole world its religion and laws.” As one review of An End to Evil put it:
The book conveys a general sense that America is at war with Islam itself anywhere and everywhere: the contemporary Muslim world...is depicted as one great cauldron of hate, murder, obscurantism, and deceit. If our Muslim adversaries are not to destroy Western civilization, we must gird for more battles.
Building on this theme (and basically using the same book title, for that matter), Fox TV commentator Sean Hannity’s new book, Deliver Us from Evil, also rejects the thinking-man’s approach to foreign policy in favor of an all-out preemptive strike against “evil” and a strange broadening of the war on terror to include American liberalism, which he claims has passively allowed evil regimes to flourish throughout the 20th century. But as conservative Pat Buchanan recently pointed out:
In the worst of terror attacks, we lost 3,000 people. Horrific. But at Antietam Creek, we lost 7,000 in a day’s battle in a nation that was one-ninth as populous. Three thousand men and boys perished every week for 200 weeks of that Civil War. We Americans did not curl up and die. We did not come all this way because we are made of sugar candy.
Germany and Japan suffered 3,000 dead every day in the last two years of World War II, with every city flattened and two blackened by atom bombs. Both came back in a decade. Is al-Qaeda capable of this sort of devastation when they are recruiting such scrub stock as Jose Padilla and the shoe bomber?
In the war we are in, our enemies are weak. That is why they resort to the weapon of the weak—terror. And, as in the Cold War, time is on America’s side. Perseverance and patience are called for, not this panic.
Which begs the question, why all the hysteria and alarmist rhetoric regarding the threat of Islamic fundamentalism? What’s the point of demonizing such an enemy to this degree? Don’t we end up assigning to them more importance and power than they really have or deserve?
As former counter-terrorism expert Richard Clarke pointed out on NBC’s Meet the Press recently:
Who are we fighting in the war on terrorism? We’re fighting Islamic radicals and they are drawing people from the youth of the Islamic world into hating us. Now, after September 11, people in the Islamic world said, “Wait a minute. Maybe we’ve gone too far here. Maybe this Islamic movement, this radical movement, has to be suppressed, and we had a moment, we had a window of opportunity, where we could change the ideology in the Islamic world. Instead, we’ve inflamed the ideology. We’ve played right into the hands of al-Qaeda and others. We’ve done what Osama bin Laden said we would do.
As evidenced in a new book due out in April about the Bush family called The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty by authors Peter and Rochelle Schweizer, President Bush’s earlier praise for the Islamic religion appears to have been mere political appeasement, rather than a reflection of his true feelings. According to a Bush cousin, the authors report that “George sees this as a religious war. He doesn’t have a p.c. view of this war. His view of this is that they are trying to kill the Christians. And we as the Christians will strike back with more force and more ferocity than they will ever know.” The authors also quote Bush cousin Elsie Walker, saying she believes that President Bush felt as though he were called upon by God to become president because he believed that a tragedy was coming long before 9/11. In addition, the authors quote Franklin Graham as saying: “The president is not stupid. The people who attacked this country did it in the name of their religion. He’s made it clear that we are not at war with Islam. But he understands the implications of what is going on and the spiritual dimensions.”
So what exactly does Graham mean by “spiritual dimensions?” Is he saying that the President believes that God has sanctioned this war?
After posting his most recent column What is Really Happening in Iraq?, which strongly suggests that the situation in Iraq is far worse than the story being reported, Rutherford Institute president John W. Whitehead received many emails that were fiercely critical of his position, as if to question this war was to question God or American virtue. One woman writes:
God considers the Middle East His territory and He is the one who wanted George Bush to be president and He wanted George Bush to take on Saddam Hussein. God wanted George Bush out there praying and sharing his faith with all these world leaders and we are supposed to evangelize the Middle East….you oughta read the whole Bible to find out what is going on, but you can go to Trumpet Sounds and read and listen to Bob’s commentaries to get caught up quickly….
A man writes:
I have always been lead to believe your Institute was a Christian based organization….If you and your group are truly on the side of Right, might I remind you in Revelations Christ warns the luke warm church to either get on his bandwagon or get off….your article sounds as if you don’t support a just war.
And another man writes:
Eventually the grocery clerks in leadership will be discredited and the killers will rise. The Marines are now in charge of Fallujah….Perhaps we will yet see arms and legs fly and see a storm of pain fall on our enemies….But do not delude yourself into thinking the killing will end there, Mr. Whitehead. This is WWIII and millions will die…If the lesson we learn is that we cannot win the battle in the city streets, the logic leads to the clear conclusion that the city streets themselves and the cities that host them must be destroyed….
“I think we are in two wars,” says Gary Bauer in his forthcoming Oldspeak interview with John Whitehead. “One is the war being waged against Islamic fundamentalism. The barbarian is at the gate…. But we are also fighting the barbarian in the human heart. We are in the process of rejecting what the founding fathers said about the fact that only a virtuous people can remain free. Moreover, if we lose either of these wars—the war against the barbarian at the gate or the war against the barbarian in the human heart—we will eventually lose our liberty.”
But are the barbarians really at the gate? Or are they only in the imagination of those who believe that the end times are near and that God chose Bush to lead the so-called war on terror? Or only in the ambitions of those who, by exaggerating the threat of terrorism out of all proportion, seek to force the Islamic world into the 21st century at gunpoint and keep us all on edge here at home for political advantage? As Pat Buchanan reminds us, “In the war we are in, our enemies are weak. That is why they resort to the weapon of the weak—terror. And, as in the Cold War, time is on America’s side. Perseverance and patience are called for, not this panic.”
There are barbarians in our hearts all right. But the question is, who are the ones being barbaric?
DISCLAIMER: THE VIEWS AND OPINIONS EXPRESSED IN OLDSPEAK ARE NOT NECESSARILY THOSE OF THE RUTHERFORD INSTITUTE.