Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Only idiots want to start a holy war with Islam

The number one goal of ISIS -- the one major accomplishment that would make its brutish leaders truly ecstatic -- would be to set off a holy war between Islam and Christianity.

And some extremely foolish people want to give ISIS the very victory that they cherish most:

Unfortunately, it's not just the self-mythologizing blowhard from Fox. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has called President Obama "an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists" for his refusal to cast it in religious terms. The Rev. Franklin Graham complains that Obama is protecting Islam because "his whole life, his experiences have been surrounded by Islam. He only knows Islam. And, he’s given a pass to Islam. He’s refusing to accept and understand the evil that is in front of him."

It is also the subtext of the conservative insistence that Obama utter the words "Islamic terrorist". What changes once he utters that magic phrase? Nothing, except that it validates those who want to cast this as a conflict between religions. And that's exactly why some people have become so obsessive about it.

The emotional appeal of that rhetorical approach is obvious. It excites people. It gets them feeling all righteous. It reduces a complex situation to a very simple equation of us vs. them, with "us" and "them" defined in religious terms. And as history tell us, human beings succumb all too easily to such simplicity. Something deep down and dark inside us likes that kind of fight, and once we get started on those terms, it never ends well.

In addition, the cheap emotional high that such an approach produces comes at a very high strategic cost. Succumbing to it is an act of weakness, not of strength. It is surrender to the enemy that we are attempting to fight.

Consider the following:

  • In this supposed holy war, ISIS has killed many more Muslims than Christians. The ratio of Muslim victims to Christian victims of ISIS is probably in the range of 1,000 Muslims for every Christian, and maybe even higher.
  • ISIS terrorists have burned a Jordanian pilot, a devout Muslim, alive in a cage. According to a United Nations report, they have killed thousands of Muslim girls and women in "honor killings."  They crucify -- literally -- members of rival Islamic groups for the sin of being too "moderate." Some of those crucified by ISIS have been as young as seventh grade.
  • Conversely, Muslims have fought harder against ISIS, have killed many more ISIS members, and have suffered many more casualties against ISIS, than have Americans and other Westerners.  Every Muslim government in the region is a bitter foe of ISIS.
  • The Arab League has condemned ISIS for its "crimes against humanity" -- an accurate charge -- and insisted that “the perpetrators must be held accountable and brought to international justice.” Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam of the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo and the most powerful religious leader in Sunni Islam, has condemned ISIS as Satanic. The International Association of Muslim Scholars condemns ISIS as an "extremist organization (that) does not represent Islam in any way and its actions always harm Islam."

And yet this is a holy war? To the degree that term is accurate, it is a holy war within Islam itself, not a war of Islam against Christianity.

Think about it: Once we cast this as a struggle between Christianity and Islam, what role have we then assigned to those many, many Muslims -- Iraqis, Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, Kurds, Iranians -- who are fighting against ISIS? Once that formulation takes hold, suddenly all of our Muslim allies are fighting against Islam and on the side of Christianity. Who gains from that redefinition of the struggle? It sure isn't us.

This is not complicated: ISIS wants to make this a battle about religious identity. If we join them in making this a battle about religious identity, ISIS wins and everybody else loses. What kind of idiot would want to do a thing like that?

It isn't popular in some quarters. It isn't "politically correct." But the president is absolutely right:

"The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war."

Of course, that president was George W. Bush.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.