All too often, the war-on-terror hawkishness of certain pundits and politicians shades far too closely to war-on-Islam bigotry. But to say someone often fails to distinguish between Islam and Islamism is not the same as saying Islamism — that is, an extremist ideology whose proponents support deadly attacks on non-believing non-combatants — is not a real and obvious threat to people around the world (including Muslims).
Robert Wright failed to grasp this reality in a recent column for The New York Times website, suggesting anyone who thinks the Times Square Bomber was driven by “jihadi intent” is merely taking a page from the “Bush-Cheney playbook.” Wright wants readers to focus not on the “actual jihadis” whose circle the bomber seemed to join, but rather on the “other explanations” that might have brought him into their arms — namely his frustration at his financial problems, anger over U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, and perhaps emotional issues.
Wright joins a body of critics who insist the war in Iraq, the drone attacks in Pakistan, and the troop escalation in Afghanistan are somehow justifying the radicals’ fears that America is at “war with Islam.” (The same critics ignore the counter-argument that in trying to root out the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, America is waging war on behalf of one part of the Islamic world — the moderate, civil, nonviolent part — against a vicious enemy drenched in the blood of fellow Muslims.)
However, the two attacks on the World Trade Center preceded all the U.S. actions above, and there seemed to be a pretty effective jihadi recruitment effort already in place as the various wars rolled out. You can certainly question whether these wars are worth the blood and treasure, but you don’t have to give a free pass to the extremists, or deny that they propose a threat divorced from the current political reality.
Recognizing complexity is all well and good, and it is essential that authorities understand the factors that turn an immigrant into an extremist. But to essentially deny that there is a legitimate threat from imams who preach jihad, those who finance it, and those who train others to carry it out, is just suicidal.