For most people, religion provides a code of conduct by which individuals may judge their actions and a frame of reference by which they relate to each other. It is the substance of culture; it pervades all of human life and may be a passion, a persuasion, an excuse, or merely a forgotten formula. Even agnostics who question any knowledge of God and atheists who deny God’s very existence readily admit that religion has been an important factor throughout human history. They are keenly aware that it led to numerous conflicts and wars and continues to divide the world into major groups and factions.
The world’s two largest religions are Christianity and Islam; they have been in disagreement ever since Muhammed, the Prophet of Islam, conquered Arabia and the Christians living there refused to accept his vision and follow him. His revelations, which were collected and recorded in the Koran, call for frequent prayer and generous almsgiving. They also severely limit economic activity and create powerful welfare states that shepherd the lives of all believers.
Economists pondering about human action distinguish between four types of individual incomes; the Koran permits only two, which explains much poverty in the Muslim world. Economists speak of labor income which flows from services rendered either in self-employment or working for an employer; the Koran smiles upon this basic kind of income. Economists also discern interest income which, reflecting human frailty and mortality, flows from the differences between man’s valuation of present economic goods and future goods; the Koran condemns “riba”, that is, interest income, and threatens all creditors who may be tempted to demand “riba” with “the fire prepared for unbelievers.” Economists also like to wax eloquent about entrepreneurial income, commonly called profits, which may be earned through correct anticipation of economic changes; failure to anticipate changes correctly may inflict entrepreneurial losses. The Koran simply prohibits economic activity that involves uncertainty, risk, or speculation and may earn “ghara.” The prohibition obviously discourages and hampers economic changes, adjustments, modernizations, and improvements that are uncertain and risky.
The Koran commends and lauds transfer income in the form of individual almsgiving. It does not allude to such income in the form of any welfare payment by a benevolent state which, in a command economy, may exceed by far any individual almsgiving. In Iraq, under President Saddam Hussein, it may have amounted to some 50 percent of national income, consisting not only of direct payments to the poor and needy but also of many benefits granted to the legions of civil servants. After all, the state owned some 80 percent of productive assets of the country and directly and indirectly employed some 80 percent of the population; the deficits they suffered were covered by transfer payments. Since the occupation of Iraq, the U.S. administration has not changed the economic structure of the country but has contributed billion-dollar development aid, which constitutes transfer income. The rate of unemployment has soared to more than 50 percent of adult population, which condemns more than one-half of the population to subsist on transfer handouts.
The economic situation in Iraq has deteriorated greatly since the occupation of the country. A command economy, such as that of Saddam Hussein, tends to disintegrate without the guiding hand of a terrorizing commander; new controllers and regulators are unable to revive the moribund command system. Moreover, foreign companies are reluctant to invest or work in Iraq because of the lack of security. It cannot be surprising that gross domestic product which before the war was reported at some $900 per capita has fallen visibly. As could be expected, the people’s gratitude for the development aid is rather light, but their wrath about the economic disintegration and destitution is great and heavy.
Wrath and revenge tend to be much stronger feelings than gratitude; they may even be buttressed by envy which is the most corroding of human vices. People who do not know how to improve their own lot may be tempted to impair that of others. Muslim countries are some of the poorest in the world. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Mali, Nigeria, Chad, and Sudan national production per capita is reported at less than $1,000 per year, which compares with some $36,000 in the United States, $38,000 in Switzerland, $25,000 in the United Kingdom, $23,000 in Germany, and $22,000 in France. Surely, many people in Muslim countries can endure their own poverty but not overlook and exculpate the income and wealth of Americans and Europeans.
Muslim clerics are the tutors and preceptors not only of Islamic theology but also of social and economic ideology. Surely, they may not descend to the level of envy but may fly into anger and passion about the sinful behavior of all non-believers, that is, Christians and Jews, who grow rich in market economies, engaging in uncertain, risky, and speculative economic activity and prospering on riba and ghara. For some clerics the United States is the “Great Satan” and Israel his little offspring. It cannot be surprising that faithful followers abhor, fear, and hate the Great Satan and wish him evil. When a few Muslim fanatics flew into the World Trade Center in New York, killing more than 2,900 men and women, and another hijacked plane hit the Pentagon, killing 189 employees, jubilant masses thronged streets across the Muslim world, celebrating and rejoicing about the destruction and massacre.
The citizens of the Great Satan have been the favorite targets of Muslim terrorists ever since Presidents Nixon and Ford resided in the White House. Muslims murdered several American diplomats and kidnapped several more in Sudan and Lebanon. They fired rockets at the American embassy and other American facilities in Beirut. With President Carter in the White House, students broke into the American embassy in Tehran and seized 52 American employees. With the blessings and the help of the Iranian government under cleric Ayatollah Khomeini they were held prisoners for 444 days. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency the attacks on Americans even accelerated. Islamic terrorists, supported by the Islamic governments of Iran and Syria, bombed the American embassy in Beirut, killing sixty-three employees. Others blew up American barracks at the Beirut airport, killing 241 U.S. Marines in their sleep and wounding another 81. Muslims kidnapped and murdered a CIA official, seized a Kuwaiti airliner and murdered two Federal employees, and hijacked TWA flight 847, flew it to Beirut and murdered an American naval officer. Muslim bombs killed Americans at Rome and Vienna airports and a West Berlin discotheque. Libyan intelligence agents planted a bomb on Pan Am flight 103 which exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.
When the elder George Bush was in the White House Islamic terrorists struck at Americans in Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon, killing more men, women, and children. During President Clinton’s two terms in office Americans were killed or injured in Israel, Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Yemen. He was barely inaugurated when six Muslim terrorists exploded a truck bomb in the parking garage of the World Trade Center in New York, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000. Another truck bomb exploded in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 American airmen and 240 other men and women. Grenades were hurled at the U.S. embassy in Beirut. On a single day, car bombs exploded near the American embassies in the capitals of Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 200 people of whom twelve were Americans. Suicide bombers blasted the American destroyer USS Cole, which had docked for refueling in Yemen harbor, killing seventeen sailors and wounding another 39.
All these terrorist attacks on unsuspecting American men and women pale in their ferocity and bloodiness when compared with the events of September 11, 2001. In a coordinated terrorist attack, two highjacked airliners struck the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, another plane struck the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania, apparently short of its intended goal. The total death toll exceeded 3100. Billions of people all over the globe watched and experienced the horror on television.
There are few events that can jolt an entire world. The September 11 catastrophe undoubtedly did. Hundreds of millions of people observed it in horror on television. It abruptly awakened the American people to the bloody aggression by Muslim terrorists who had been striking at Americans ever since the early 1970s. It shook the U.S. government and confronted its new president, George W. Bush, with a crucial challenge of response. Was he to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, including his father’s, who always sought to keep things on an even keel, referring the assaults to the police and courts, or was he to rise to the occasion and strike back? President Bush shocked the world by the way he rose to the affront.
Soon after the attacks President Bush announced that the United States was now at war with “the global terrorist network.” “Great harm has been done to us,” he intoned. “We have suffered great loss. And in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment.” The mission he envisioned was to carry the war to the enemy. He indicted al-Quaeda, a Muslim organization training terrorists in various countries, and faulted its founder and leader, Bin Laden, for preaching international jihad against Jews and Americans and making it the duty of every Muslim to kill or fight Americans and their allies, whether civilian or military. The President also pointed to an “axis of evil” consisting of the governments of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea which, in his judgment, were menacing their neighbors and threatening the world with development of nuclear weapons.
Just four weeks after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, American and British forces launched a bombing campaign against the Muslim Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which was welcoming and protecting al-Quaeda training camps. By year’s end, the Taliban regime was driven from power and al-Quaeda had vanished from sight. Fifteen months later, in March and April 2003, U.S. and British forces invaded and occupied Iraq, facing little resistance by the elite Republican Guards or any other forces. But the occupying armies soon became targets of attacks by an organized guerilla force. The struggle no longer raged along a line of battle or on a battle field but wherever the fighters chose to go. Dressed in civilian garb and mingling with women and children they determine the place and time of attack.
It is but seldom that any one overt act of hostility leads to war. There commonly are prior tension and suspicion, envy, jealousy, ill will, and even outright aggression. Ever since the early 1970s Americans suffered countless attacks by various Muslim groups, bands, and parties which slew several thousand Americans for the sole reason that they were Americans. And yet, Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, G.H. Bush, and Clinton refused to acknowledge the war which radical Muslim groups were waging against the United States. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon awakened the United States government and finally forced it to acknowledge the terrorists’ declaration of war.
American public opinion is haunted by the prospects of a war against an enemy that may strike anywhere at any time, and in any conceivable way. It is badly divided on nearly every aspect of the war, especially on the basic question of the war itself. Should it be waged to its victorious conclusion, no matter what sacrifices in American lives and wealth it may demand, or should the United States cut its losses and withdraw from Iraq and other dangerous places?
This student of history is tempted to search for an answer in the ancient struggle between Islam and the Christian world. It raged and ebbed for more than one thousand years and finally led to a stalemate that delineated the religious boundaries. But such a comparison may be amiss because modern technology in the state of communications is a huge force for change. Information and education tend to spread quickly to all corners of the world and modify political and social ideology. This writer prefers to liken the present struggle to the “Cold War” with Soviet communism and its allies which lasted some forty years and took the lives of more than 100,000 American service men on the battle fields of Korea and South Vietnam. Despite inveterate impatience, discouragement, and much opposition, the United States resisted and confronted the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union until it disintegrated in 1991. Today, the United States is in the early stages of a long struggle with radical Islamism that has been waging war against this country for some thirty years. Radical Islamic states have been breeding, sheltering, and financing the terrorist armies and radical clerics are invoking divine favor upon them.
The Western world, and especially the United States, is facing the prospect of a long and bitter war with a fanatical enemy. It is a desperate enemy because powerful forces of change are eroding its very ideological foundation. Modern communication technology has opened the windows of the world and is allowing people everywhere to observe Western mores and living conditions. A network of communication satellites, for instance, is continuously receiving, amplifying, and rebroadcasting signals to earth. Western ideas are reaching the minds of people everywhere and changing social, economic, political, and educational institutions. It cannot be surprising that Muslim autocracies like to keep the windows closed by monopolizing and disallowing access to such technology.
It is doubtful that the U.S. military will crush and completely render inactive a desperate enemy consisting of an organized guerilla force of Allah-fearing men and women. A small army of suicidal fanatics, a diminutive percentage of one billion and three hundred million Muslims in 206 countries, may wear away the patience and resolve of the American public and its political and military commanders. Such a possibility does not in any way intimate a victory and sway of Muslim fanatics over the forces of the West. Its paramount strength does not rest on brute military might but on its free and open way of life, its private property order and individual enterprise system. Its windows are wide open and its busy subjects are at work all over the world, simple ambassadors or even missionaries of its order. Even if the United States should ever stumble and lose its way, the windows are wide open and the bright light of individual freedom and the private property order would remain visible in many other parts of the West. It is unlikely that it can ever be extinguished.
The U.S. military is not going to conquer many Muslim countries, but individual freedom and the private property order may in time. The future is clearly visible in the recent history of the most advanced and powerful Muslim country: the multiparty republic of Turkey. For more than 600 years the country was the core and center of the Ottoman Empire extending, at one time, from Vienna to the Indian Ocean and from Tunis to the Caucasus. In 1923 Turkey became a republic and in 1924 separated the affairs of state from those of religion by abolishing the caliphate. Islam ceased to be the state religion, and women, who under Muslim law had few rights, were fully emancipated. Since then Turkey has been a troubled republic which has suffered several successful and unsuccessful coups by army juntas. They introduced new constitutions and, facing civil violence, ruled by martial law. But during the Cold War Turkey always was a trusted ally of the United States; Turkish troops fought with distinction in the Korean War. In 1951 it became a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and welcomed U.S. air and missile bases on its soil. During the Persian Gulf War (1991) it allowed the United States to launch air strikes against Iraq but, in 2003, denied American troops the right to open a second front at its Iraqi border.
The United States needs more friends and allies in the world of Islam. Turkey is a natural ally, akin in government and separation of church and state. Its population is prominently Sunni Muslim just like that of northern Iraq. If called upon, it probably could occupy and pacify Sunni Iraq in a matter of weeks, dealing with terrorists in a Sunni way. It may even appease and conciliate the irate clergy as its troops would allow the withdrawal of others from Christian countries.
To many Muslims throughout the world, Turkey is an example and model of modernization, the pattern for modernist reform and sociopolitical reconstruction. It is a model especially for the Westernized section of Islam that favors immediate improvement of the status of women and introduction of political democracy. This section is very strong with educated middle classes throughout the world of Islam, looking to the West for guidance and support. Education always has occupied a high priority in Muslim life, and the universities always have been the pride of Islam. Scholars and teachers tend to point the way.
The Westernized classes often clash with Islamic conservatism which, determined to maintain the existing order, resists every innovation. Conservatives are led or find ready support by most members of the clergy who like to look back to the days of great glory and power. The great masses of population, living in squalor and hunger, are ever ready to follow new leaders, agitators, and propagandists who fault both sides of the ideological and political spectrum: conservative Islam and Westernized parties. The masses may follow the new leaders and supply the recruits who fill the ranks of revolutionaries and terrorists.
The bloody attacks on Americans are not just brutal crimes by sick Muslim youths but the hideous consequences of indoctrination by their teachers. The fitting defense and appropriate counterattack, therefore, must not limit itself to a few military maneuvers but, above all, must be ideological and educational. American media of information and communication, which are in the forefront of the ideological war, must reach out to the Muslim world and defend the civilized order. It must feature and accentuate the fact that murder and manslaughter are not civilized no matter under what flag and in what name they are committed. Mankind, that is, all nations, races, and creeds, knows of only one civilization that exalts and safeguards human life. The world of Islam is a body of religious, ethical, social, and economic beliefs – as is the world of Judaism and Christianity. The tree of civilization spreads over both.
American media of information and communication must reach out and openly and honestly show the atrocities wherever they are committed. They must bring into view the masked warriors who in civilian garb hide among women and children and then seize upon an opportunity to strike at unsuspecting defenseless victims, including their own countrymen. Hooded and veiled they execute men and women and throw their bodies in the streets. The suicide bombers probably are young men and women who, having just lost father and mother, are eager in their grief and hatred to join them in death.
The most forceful American counteroffensive would be an astute campaign of information and education launched by private media of communication. It would have to be a two-pronged offensive with one part seeking to explain the principles of the private-property order and the other pointing at inhumanity, savagery, and demonic behavior. Only private newspapers, magazines, radio, and television are likely to be acquainted and conversant with the principles of the unhampered market order, which could bring instant relief to the suffering Iraqi population. And only private media can be expected to reveal and condemn objectively the horrors of inhumanity. The campaign would have to be directed primarily at the thought leaders of Iraq and other countries of the Muslim world: at imams, muftis, qadis, and the class of ulamas, in short, at religious leaders. They must be able to view the crimes against humanity committed in the name of Allah.
We shall know the future only when it comes. But our thoughts like to live in the future, and what they see is another Cold War that may last even longer than the war with world communism. They see the Muslim world in a crisis which causes a few revolutionaries to strike at Americans. Insurgents may continue to lash out until Muslim scholars find a Koran key to the free world and lead their followers to an entrance.