With the recent rise of the newest barbaric terrorist group – the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” – and the increasing number of individual attacks by home grown Islamic terrorists, the question I hear most often is “Are we at war with Islam?” Your answer to that question is, for now, irrelevant. President Barack Obama and the congressional leadership have said no. They control the military, the policy and the treasury and their decision is, in fact, the decision of the United States.
However, I think that the question is precisely the wrong one. The question should be “Is Islam at war with us?” And the answer to that question is not quite so simple.
First, the answer to that question does not lie with Mr. Obama or Congressional leaders. It is for Islam and the members of the Islamic religion to provide the answer to that question. Mr. Obama has repeatedly assured us that “Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance” but then again he also told us that “if we like our doctors we could keep our doctors, period.” The nature of Islam is just one more of the mounting number of things about which Mr. Obama is clueless but never silent. Likewise, it is not for the ponderous academicians steeped in the texts of the Koran but not the practices of Islam. This is another instant in which “ideals” are quite divorced from “reality.” The answer lies with the Islamic communities and nobody else.
Second, who speaks for Islam? Islam is a religion, not a nation. While Mr. Obama and congressional leaders can speak for America, who is it that speaks for Islam? Pope Francis I can speak for Catholics, but Islam, like Christianity, is comprised of disparate sects – primarily the Shia and the Sunnis. There is no identifiable leader for all of Christianity and there is most certainly no identifiable leader for all of Islam. Much of the Middle East and Southwest Asia are predominantly Muslim – Shia, Sunni or other minor sects. In most instances the countries within that region are either in constant tribal conflict or ruled by an autocratic authority who happens to also be Muslim; e.g. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Kuwait. None of these rulers speak for Islam and, in fact, they are often at odds with major and minor Muslim clerics within their countries.
In countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the rulers have long provided substantial financial assistance to the extremist Muslim elements in hopes that they will export their fanaticism elsewhere and leave the rulers alone. The Saudi ruling family was one of the primary contributors to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, particularly as long as they and their brand of terrorism stayed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Saudi ruling family also is the primary contributor to the string of madrassas that have spewed hate and violence throughout the Middle East and even into the United States. And Saudi Arabia is the birthplace and petri dish for the extremist Wahhabi movement which in turn is the genesis of the new barbaric terrorist group known as the Islamic State. So despite the participation of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan in the coalition opposing the Islamic State, not a one of those nations speaks for Islam.
Virtually alone among the Middle East nations is Iran which is a Shia theocracy. Despite its claim to democratic elections, all decisions are subject to final review by the supreme Islamic cleric – currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. From its inception in 1979, Iran under the Muslim ayatollahs, has been at an undeclared war with America. It began with the assault on the American embassy and the resulting hostage of American personnel for over 400 days. To the cheers of hundreds of thousands of Iranians (and some of America’s leftists) Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini labeled America as the “Great Satan” and nothing has changed since. Regardless of the wishful thinking of Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry (who still pines for his Nobel Peace Prize) Iran is a resolute enemy of America and as a cultural imperative will lie to us (and everyone else deemed an “infidel”) as a means of furthering their goal of attaining nuclear weapons and imposing regional and then world dominance. Iran is the primary funding source for much of the world’s terrorism, including the terrorist organizations known as Hezbollah and Hamas. Anywhere you can find a mindless critic of the West, you can find the resources of Iran. There is no question that as a religious and governmental policy, the Islamic world of Iran is at war with the United States.
But even at that, the ayatollahs of Iran do not speak for the collective Shia of the Middle East. They influence the policies of Syria, Iraq and now Yemen but cannot command them absolutely primarily because each possesses its own home grown belligerents who seek power and wealth.
Absent, then, an identifiable leader of Islam, how is it that we can determine whether Islam is at war with us. The answer is not that difficult and can be found in the civil rights movement of America. It was the religious leaders of America – Christian and Jewish alike – who decried the de facto discrimination against African Americans. They preached from their pulpits, they preached from the street corners, they organized protests and marches. They invaded our collective conscience with a steady recitation and condemnation of murders, assaults and abuses visited upon the black community. Segregation and discrimination were no longer an acceptable part of societal mores. As usual the politician – always late to the game – followed safely and provided the legal policy to enforce the change.
Thus it is for the Islamic community. While only a small percentage of the Islamic community participates in overt acts of terror and/or war, a much larger percentage cheers from the sidelines. The burden lies with the clerics of Islam to decry the savagery of terrorism, to condemn the brutality in the taking of innocent lives, to demand the civility of peace and tolerance claimed by the scholars of the Koran. Only they can raise the collective conscience of the Islamic community. When we begin to hear an increasing number of clerics lecture against terrorism and violence, when we begin to see prominent members of the Islamic community routinely take to the news media in condemnation of those who destroy in the name of Islam, when we see a “million man march” for peace and tolerance organized and sponsored by the Islamic clerics we can be comfortable that Islam is not at war with us.
Absent that or a similar outpouring, we can only conclude that the terrorists speak for Islam. It was so in Germany when only a small percentage of the populace were Nazis but, by the silence of others, they spoke for Germany.