ISLAM-OPED: Administration's War Rhetoric Obfuscates Real Challenge


In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

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Please consider the following commentary for publication.

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Administration's War Rhetoric Obfuscates Real Challenge
By Ahmed Rehab
Word Count: 603

[Ahmed Rehab is executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Islamic civil rights group. He may be contacted at arehab@cair.com.]

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff recently criticized Zbegniew Brzezinski for "stating the obvious" when describing terrorism as a tactic ("Make No Mistake: This is War," Washington Post, 4/22/2007).

Yet history has shown on more than one occasion that what might be clear to most of us may not seem so obvious to the Bush administration.

Was it not obvious to everyone but this administration that Saddam Hussein did not have links to either the 9/11 attacks or Bin Laden?

And is it not increasingly obvious to everyone but this administration and its supporters that our intransigent Mideast foreign policy - not "our freedom" - is what alienates Muslims in the region, bolstering the credibility of extremists and enhancing their ability to promote anti-American attitudes?

The Bush administration eventually caught on to the fact that Saddam had no links to 9/11 and that he did not possess weapons of mass destruction, but not before hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars had been lost.

Now it remains to be seen how long it will be before the administration finally figures out "why they hate us," and what the cost there will be.

Neoconservatives scoff at the thought that our own actions could have any impact on how others feel about us. Their explanation for "why they hate us" is that "they" are inherently evil and "we" are inherently good. In their view, it's that simple.

When someone dares suggest that our political and economic transgressions in certain regions of the world contribute to anti-American sentiments, the response is one of anger and demonization. He or she is dismissed as unpatriotic, anti-American and possibly even an "apologist for terror."

While we should not discount the role extremist religious beliefs have in the indoctrination of young terrorists, it would be foolish to pretend that exploitative U.S. regional policies do not facilitate such recruitment.

The Bush administration's rhetoric, echoed by Chertoff, is problematic because it is borrowed from the WWII and Cold War eras, when America fought a conventional war or faced a conventional threat.

Today, the fight against global terrorism is so unconventional and so unlike any threat that has ever been fought that the term "war" hardly fits the situation we face.

Semantics aside, every American wants to see our nation's enemies vanquished. And while Secretary Chertoff and others may believe that anything less than beating the drums of conventional war is complacency, our best bet is to fight smart.

Chertoff describes the enemy our nation faces today as fanatical Islamic ideologues. If this is so, then how can our military fight this war? How can we defeat an ideology - a metaphysical threat - through the sheer use of physical force?

The ideological threats we face today, of which al Qaeda and company are only one example, require us to do a few things we have not done in a long time: understand our world, engage the people of other nations, and win their hearts and minds by basing our action on the American values of justice and equality, not our brute force.

We must shed the morally bankrupt worldview of the neoconservatives that exploits the memory of 9/11 to further imperialistic ideals that have nothing to do with those attacks or national security. Instead, we must opt for a foreign policy that engages other nations and demonstrates an understanding that our best weapon against extremism and terrorism is that policy itself.

Given the fact that the overwhelming majority of human beings, including Muslims, oppose the extremists within their ranks, our "unconventional war" against global terrorism is ours to lose.

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