TCS Daily

Naming the Enemy

By Michael Totten - May 5, 2004 12:00 AM

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.

-- Henry David Thoreau

Who are we at war with? That's the question anti-war liberal blogger Keith Berry asked when he emailed me and 18 others in an informal survey. He wanted a one-sentence answer. The trouble is it's an essay question.

Before September 11, 2001, the same question could easily yield a one- or two-word answer. During the Cold War the enemy was the Soviet Union. During World War II, the Axis. During the Civil War, the Confederacy -- or the Union. During the American Revolution, the Crown.

Take a look at the answers Keith received.

We all agree -- at least those of us who took the question seriously -- that Al Qaeda is the enemy. So far, so good. But half of Keith's respondents think the war ends there. The others want to widen it to include terror-supporting states and terrorist groups that are not Al Qaeda. It's no wonder we Americans are polarized on foreign policy. We don't even agree on the basics or the premise of the conflict.

My answer to the question of who we are at war with: Islamic fascists, both religious and secular. This essay explains my answer.

The New Totalitarians

Just a week after September 11, Paul Berman wrote a masterful essay for The American Prospect called Terror and Liberalism, which was later expanded into a book of the same name. He instinctively recognized the enemy wasn't terrorism per se, but totalitarianism with Islamic characteristics.

Before wading into Middle Eastern totalitarianism, Berman first described the shared ideas of European totalitarians, including the Italian Fascists, the German Nazis, the Spanish Nationalists, and the Russian Communists:

"The shared ideas were these: There exists a people of good who in a just world ought to enjoy a sound and healthy society. But society's health has been undermined by a hideous infestation from within, something diabolical, which is aided by external agents from elsewhere in the world. The diabolical infestation must be rooted out. Rooting it out will require bloody internal struggles, capped by gigantic massacres. It will require an all-out war against the foreign allies of the inner infestation -- an apocalyptic war, perhaps even Apocalyptic with a capital A...But when the inner infestation has at last been rooted out and the external foe has been defeated, the people of good shall enjoy a new society purged of alien elements -- a healthy society no longer subject to the vibrations of change and evolution, a society with a single, blocklike structure, solid and eternal."

If that passage also seems to describe Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Algerian insurgents, the Sudanese Islamists, the Iraqi and Syrian Baathists, the Palestinian cult of the suicide bombers, the Iranian ayatollahs, and the Saudi Wahhabi clerics, that's because it does.

In the 1990s and early 2000s over 150,000 people were killed in Algeria's civil war declared by Islamic fanatics against the secular state. But it wasn't just the state the terrorists targeted. In God Has 99 Names New York Times reporter Judith Miller lists those marked for death:

"Algerians who looked, sounded, or were presumed to think like Europeans: politicians, teachers, tax collectors, hairdressers and beauticians, dressmakers, priests, entertainers, sports figures, lawyers and judges, businessmen, women who ventured out in public with their heads uncovered, intellectuals, and any civilian whose lifestyle was seen as inconsistent with the militants' Islamic values."

If I lived in Algeria and the local Pol Pots had their way, my entire family and social group would have been liquidated. Every last one of us makes that list.

The Arab regime in the north of Sudan is waging a genocidal campaign against anyone with black skin, most of whom live in the southern part of the country. The reason for war is similar to that in Algeria; black Sudanese tend to be Christians or animists, not Muslims. The regime's military forces conduct bombing raids against churches, hospitals, and schools. Militias and death squads terrorize non-Arab villages. More than 10,000 have been abducted into outright slavery. More than two million have been killed and more than four million ethnically cleansed or displaced.

Saddam Hussein's Baathist Iraqi regime was no less sinister. His publicly stated objective was to conquer the entire Arab world (starting with Kuwait) and unite the Arab "nation" under a single dictatorship -- ruled by himself of course. His imperialist ambitions included the subjugation of non-Arab peoples as well, at minimum Kurds, Persians, and Israelis.

Up to 1.5 million were killed in his grinding war with Iran. Jeffrey Goldberg quotes Amatzia Baram, University of Haifa's Iraq expert, in The New Yorker:

"Saddam can absolve himself of all sins in the eyes of the Arab and Muslim worlds by bringing Israel to its knees. He not only wants to be a hero in his own press, which already recognizes him as a Saladin, but wants to make sure that a thousand years from now children in the fourth grade will know that he is the one who destroyed Israel."

Saddam had publicly threatened to "burn half of Israel" with chemical weapons, no small threat considering "Chemical" Ali, one of Saddam's top goons, used chemical weapons in the Anfal Campaign against northern Iraqi Kurds. As many as four thousand villages were utterly annihilated. Their inhabitants' only crime: not being Arabs.

In July 2001 Lord Weidenfeld raised a disturbing alarm about Syria, another Baath Party state, in the British House of Lords.

"It is the issue of certain Middle Eastern states promoting and prescribing school books which incite racial hatred, religious intolerance and, worse, outright genocide. I refer especially to the education system of Syria where, from the head of state down to the most junior teacher of fourth to eleventh grade children and young adults, the notion of peace and reconciliation with the Jewish enemy is regarded as treason and crime, where children are exhorted to fight and kill and to seek voluntary death with the promise of both material reward for their families and eternal happiness in paradise. But these school texts for different age groups now go further. They advocate ultimate extermination of the whole Jewish people--in other words, genocide."

Syria's incitement is not idle talk. Israel's neighbors have launched (and thankfully lost) a series of genocidal wars against it, the first just three years after the Holocaust. That's how Israelis came to acquire the West Bank and Gaza in the first place. They took the land defending themselves from yet another failed eliminationist onslaught by Syria, Jordan, and Egypt in 1967. In the meantime, all sorts of groups arose from the ashes of defeat to continue the jihad against the Jews; the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the mis-named Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The ayatollahs in Iran declared war on the United States when they violently seized power (and hostages) in 1979. They sponsored two acts of terrorism as far away as Buenos Aires, Argentina. Their latest theater of operations is Iraq. Radio Farda reports Iran is giving 70 million dollars per month to organizations in Iraq, including Moqtada al-Sadr's militias, with the objective of violently expelling the coalition forces.

Saudi Arabia hasn't played much of a military role in the Islamofascist movement, but its capital Riyadh, along with Tehran in Iran, serves as an ideological proving ground just as Moscow did during the Cold War. No country makes more money from oil than Saudi Arabia. Rivers of petrodollars flow into Islamic schools, or madrassas, all over the world with the specific objective of converting people to the Wahhabi strand of Islam.

There is no Christian counterpart to what Saudi Arabia does. Imagine if the white supremacist "Christian Identity" movement (which includes David Duke among its adherents) made billions of dollars a year and founded churches throughout the Christian parts of the world to spread its hateful, racist, xenophobic ideology. Imagine if their brand of Christianity were the fastest growing on Earth, that they had also seized nation-states and used their powers to massacre millions. Whole swaths of the Christian world would look much like 1990s Yugoslavia, where Serbian Orthodox Christian supremacists did their worst to put the Muslim population of Europe to the sword.

The Trouble with Limited War

It's only natural to compare the destruction wrought in the Terror War to that during World War II. So far the damage to our side is orders of magnitude less. Since most of the fighting takes place outside the West, it's easy to forget the massive scale of it. 3,000 dead in New York is a lot, but the number killed so far in the Middle East isn't hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands, but millions. Ignoring the death and destruction caused by Al Qaeda's comrades in arms is like including the attack on Pearl Harbor among the crimes of World War II while excluding the Rape of Nanking and the Holocaust.

Obviously we are at war with Al Qaeda. They declared war on us in the mid-1990s, and they proved it once and for all on September 11. The trouble with limiting the war to Al Qaeda is that they are not the root of the problem. They are only a symptom. Modern Islamic totalitarianism is an enormous movement spanning decades and continents. Like Europe's totalitarians, sometimes they work together, other times they tear each other to pieces. Al Qaeda is only the newest bad actor, as Berman recently put it in the New York Times, "a kind of foam thrown up by the larger extremist wave."

It makes little sense to declare war on Al Qaeda while ignoring Al Qaeda's Islamist allies in terror like Hezbollah and Hamas. And it makes little sense to declare war against Hezbollah and Hamas while ignoring the Baathist states (Syria and Saddam Hussein's Iraq) and the Islamist states (Saudi Arabia and Iran) who provide them financial aid, material aid, military aid, and real estate. Most are networked together, sometimes loosely, other times less so. Hezbollah was created by Iran. The Taliban was a product of Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency and was backed by Saudi Arabian patronage. Not every group is linked to every other group. Sometimes the connections are slight and indirect, as seems to have been the case with Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. (No one should be surprised, though, that Sudan did for a while harbor Osama bin Laden.) Algeria's death squads appear to be hooked up with no one, but they are products of the same cultural sickness. They're the ideological twins of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. All these groups have a few things in common. They're all Islamic, they're all totalitarian, and they're all up to their eyeballs in terror.

If Al Qaeda ceases utterly to exist tomorrow, and if everything else in the Muslim world is preserved exactly as it is now, would it really be time to declare victory? I do not think so. Africa, the Middle East, and South and Central Asia would continue to suffer spasms of massive violence while we in the West await the next extremist wave to crash on our shores.

Michael J. Totten is a TCS columnist. Visit his Web log at


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