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    Dear Right Wing: Is This War or Not?

    How many times have we heard the phrase War on Terror over the last nine years? How many times have the very people who are now frothing and screaming about the Cordoba House community center (the alleged "Ground Zero Mosque") also screamed the words "War on Terror," and frothed at anyone who they felt was not acting (and I do mean acting) seriously enough about that "War?"

    Now many of those very people have turned the serious business of dealing with Islamic terrorism into a clown show. And their hysterical shrieking about Cordoba House proves at least one of two things. Either the right wing doesn't really believe in the War on Terror or they don't care who wins.

    The phrase "War on Terror" isn't my favorite, because our previous national Wars on Common Nouns, like the War on Poverty and War on Drugs, proved unwinnable, and because the phrase implies that terrorism can be fought mainly on a conventional battlefield, with tanks perhaps, which is exactly where terrorists cannot be defeated. But all the same, there is a real struggle here ... there is a violent international movement intent on murdering large numbers of Westerners, and they will attack the United States again if permitted. This is not propaganda cooked up to win elections. It is true, and it must be taken seriously. Using the War on Terror to gin up votes but actually setting us back in the War on Terror is an admission of complete moral depravity.

    What does it mean to fight a war? Not a lot of shouting and hollering. This isn't a sporting event. Making the loud noises about wanting to win doesn't help us win.

    Fighting a war, for real, means destroying the enemy's ability to do us harm. In conventional warfare, that means destroying their weapons, killing or capturing their troops, destroying their manufacturing and transportation infrastructure, and so on. Sometimes it's shooting down their bombers. Sometimes it's bombing their electrical plants so their anti-aircraft radar won't work. Sometimes it's destroying a bridge or a road so that they can't get reinforcements to the front. But it's always the same idea: destroy the enemy's ability to fight.

    What al-Qaeda and its affiliates need to fight is money and recruits. Because they don't field conventional armies, they don't need much else. All they need to do their dirty work is the cash to fund operations and a fresh supply of people to keep carrying those operations out. So while we need to keep constant pressure on terrorist organizations as a defensive measure, defeating them will always involve disrupting their funding and recruiting.

    Where do they go for donations and volunteers? To other Muslims who sympathize with the cause, but even among the minority of Muslims who do sympathize with them not every sympathizer will do. To keep going, al-Qaeda needs support from a certain slice of the Westernized Muslims, the affluent and educated people who can contribute to their missions and who can operate in the West itself. (You can't just pick a bunch of illiterate kids off the street in Peshawar and mount an international attack; the September 11 attacks required a bunch of German-educated engineering students, all of whom had to be sacrificed in the attack.)

    Where bin Laden gets fresh money and fresh blood is from the belief among educated and relatively cosmopolitan Muslims that the West is fundamentally hostile to them. Calling Islam a religion "dedicated to murder" and calling Allah a "monkey God" is a damned good way to achieve Bin Laden's goals. Attacking Cordoba House tells Muslims around the world exactly what Bin Laden tells them: Muslims are unwelcome in the West, and we are out to destroy their faith. Except now Muslims are hearing Bin Laden's propaganda out of our own mouths.

    That isn't symbolism. That has real practical effects. It means al-Qaeda will have more money to spend on killing us, and more promising young men to send on terrorist missions. That's a real difference. And if there's anything I learned on September 11, it's how a big a difference there is between a plane with five terrorists on it and a plane with four.

    If we're actually trying to win the War on Terror, the question of what to do about Cordoba House is a no-brainer. Build it, dummy! Build it! It's the best move possible! It says "Bin Laden is wrong," in big letters that can be read around the world. And every time Bin Laden is proved wrong, some people will decide not to die for him.

    Building Cordoba House is also the right thing to do in terms of preserving our Constitution, honoring the rule of law, and staying Americans. Those are important things. But it also happens to be the right thing to do to fight Islamic terrorism. What can be better than honoring the Founders and reaffirming our values while also giving bin Laden a swift kick in his undisclosed location? I say it's a win/win, baby.

    Osama bin Laden wants to kill Westerners because he is afraid of the Muslim world becoming Westernized. Full stop. He doesn't simply "hate us for our freedoms," not enough to give up his whole life to wage terror campaigns against us. Americans exercising their freedom in Iowa and California and New Jersey might strike him as a bunch of loathsome infidels, but wouldn't really be worth bothering about. What frightens and enrages him is the prospect of Muslims getting those freedoms too. That hits him where he lives. That is what he's willing to commit mass murder to stop. He's afraid of an Islamic world where faith coexists with liberal secular values, where the West is a constant ally and partner, and where reason and moderation are not only mainstream Islamic values but become thoroughly unassailable core values of daily life. He is afraid that we will welcome his fellow Muslims into the West and assimilate them.

    The thing he fears is the thing that we should do. We will win the War on Terror when the Muslim world is forced to choose between our embrace and bin Laden's raving hatred.

    We can win by opening Cordoba House. If Obama goes to the grand opening, that's better. We can win by closing Guantanamo. Tomorrow would be a good day for that. Closing Camp X-Ray will help our cause more than anything else we could do, including capturing or killing Bin Laden. We can win by strengthening Westward-looking Muslims everywhere and by reaching out to them. Stop telling Muslims that we despise their faith. Stop telling them that they can't really assimilate, and stop telling them that their efforts to assimilate have not been enough. And talk about their faith with a little shred of decency and respect, instead of shrieking and frothing like some lunatic hatemonger in the mountains around Peshawar. They've heard plenty from that guy. We should not sound like him.

    It's time to get serious. This is war.


    Spot on, Dr. C.  One thing that occurs to me finally after having read your piece is that the whole argument against the proposed center completely misunderstands 9/11/01.  The implication that it's unseemly for Muslims to build a house of worship near the WTC site requires that you believe that the U.S. was primarily attacked by Islam.  Sure, the people who carried out the attacks may have been Muslim, but that wasn't primarily why the attacks were carried out.

    Perhaps all of the fervor being witnessed is what is required to maintain that belief.  If you believe that 9/11 and the ensuing events are primarily about Islam waging war against "the west" or what have you, that makes it a lot easier to maintain narratives about the necessity of servicing a state of war in response.  It also makes it easy to paint the proposed Cordoba House as analagous to spiking the ball in the end-zone.  If, however, your analysis of the attacks leads you identify motivating factors that have much more to do with geostrategy, energy, politics (especially the politics of picking winners and losers in the Middle East via military action and foreign policy) and economics, then the "war on terror" narrative, as well as the opposition to the proposed Cordoba House, completely fails.

    It strikes me as not likely that it is mere coincidence that those with a direct interest in maintaining the status quo favor the simplistic religious analysis of the 9/11 attacks and the attendant narratives.

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