What We Are At War With

I’m on long record as being opposed to the “War on Terrorism.” Not that I don’t think that we should be fighting these thugs, but that the war was misnamed from the beginning. Jonathan Rauch explains:

“I think defining who the enemy is is a real problem in this war,” says Mary Habeck, a military historian at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. “If you can’t define who’s a real threat and who’s just exercising free speech, it’s a problem.” As it happens, Habeck is the author of one of three new books that, taken together, suggest the time is right to name the battle. It is a war on jihadism.

Jihadism is not a tactic, like terrorism, or a temperament, like radicalism or extremism. It is not a political pathology like Stalinism, a mental pathology like paranoia, or a social pathology like poverty. Rather, it is a religious ideology, and the religion it is associated with is Islam.

But it is by no means synonymous with Islam, which is much larger and contains many competing elements. Islam can be, and usually is, moderate; Jihadism, with a capital J, is inherently radical. If the Western and secular world’s nearer-term war aim is to stymie the jihadists, its long-term aim must be to discredit Jihadism in the Muslim world.

No single definition prevails, but here is a good one: Jihadism engages in or supports the use of force to expand the rule of Islamic law. In other words, it is violent Islamic imperialism. It stands, as one scholar put it 90 years ago, for “the extension by force of arms of the authority of the Muslim state.”

…”This is a struggle over Islam and who’s going to control Islam,” Habeck says. “If you can’t talk about that, you can’t talk about most of the story.” Specifying that the war is against Jihadism — as distinct from terrorism or Islam (or Islamism, which sounds like “Islam”) — would allow the United States to confront the religious element of the problem without seeming to condemn a whole religion. It would clarify for millions of moderate Muslims that the West’s war aims are anti-jihadist, not militantly secular.

In any case, says Habeck, “people are not buying the administration’s claim that this has nothing to do with Islam.” A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that the proportion of Americans saying that Islam helps stoke violence against non-Muslims has more than doubled (to 33 percent) since January 2002, when 9/11 memories were still vivid. If anything, the tendency of Bush, Blair, and other Western leaders to sweep Jihadism under the rug is counterproductive and fuels public suspicion of those leaders and of Islam itself.

What’s interesting (particularly in light of this post) is that the left is supposedly against imperialism, but they never seemed to mind the imperialism of the Soviets. And now they are either sanguine, or in denial (or even supportive, because it opposes that evil western Amerikkkan imperialism) about Islamic imperialism.

[Via La Dynamist]

[Update a couple minutes later]

I think this is an opportunity for the administration. Since so many whine that the president will never admit to error, he could take some wind out of their sails, while clarifying the nation’s war policy, by admitting that calling it a “War on Terrorism” after 911 was a mistake. This would undercut a lot of the arguments about why we don’t go after the IRA, or other groups, while showing that he can recognize mistakes and rectify them. Renaming it a war on Jihadism would also increase pressure against Iran, which is clearly of a jihadist mindset, and increase justification for preventing them from getting nukes (assuming that any is really needed).