August 22, 2005

The War on Terrorism

I haven’t followed a lot of the news about the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism and particularly President Bush’s speeches about those issues nearly as much as I probably should have. However, I caught a snippet of Bush’s comments on the continuing work in Iraq over the weekend, and several things fell into place about how the war has been portrayed and justified by the current administration.

Ever since the beginning of contemplating the war on Iraq, I’ve been surprised at the reasons given for going to war. I don’t pretend to have an exhaustive or even entirely correct list of justifications used, but the ones that I seem to remember are:

  • Saddam Hussein is a horrible dictator, and we want to free the Iraqi people.
  • Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.
  • Iraq is a promoter of terrorism and maybe even linked with Al-Queda.

For the longest time, I was rather surprised at how little air time seemed to be given to the obvious (at least, to me) justification of invading Iraq. At the end of the last Gulf War, as I understand it, we made agreements with Iraq as to what they would and would not do. If they did not cooperate, we would incur punishment. Quite simply, Iraq hardly ever cooperated. In order to make sure our threats are not just thin air for ever after, we had to respond as we said we would. We needed to follow through on our word.

If this justification was so obvious, I wondered, why were we spending so much time talking about these other reasons? Well, I can understand a little bit of the weapons of mass destruction. That’s something that everyday people can understand, and we all react pretty violently (no pun intended) to the thought of someone like Saddam Hussein with such weapons.

Talking about bringing freedom to the Iraqi people is a little cloudier. This argument would easily have made sense a generation or two ago, before Vietnam, in particular. Unfortunately, our society today has little understanding that the freedom we enjoy needs to be protected, and that it sometimes is very costly to protect. Right along with that, I suspect that our culture doesn’t accept the idea that people don’t always know what is best for themselves. We don’t want to force freedom on someone else, even if it is best for them.

The terrorism one, however, always startled me. Why are we linking Iraq to terrorism? They have a bit of the same mindset and values, to be sure, but a link? I doubt Saddam and Osama would even be friends. Why bother?

President Bush’s comments last weekend about continuing to fight terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan all of a sudden helped some of these things make some more sense. Ever since the beginning, I suspect that Bush and his administration saw who the enemy truly seems to be: a mindset, a point of view. Not any particular dictator or terrorist, but a way of thinking that unites across otherwise heavily guarded borders. And, realizing this common enemy, they tried to explain to the American people what enemy we were up against. Did we get it? I don’t think so.

What kind of enemy is this? Some would suggest that we only have enemies because we attack others. Messages from terrorists would seem to suggest this, as well (although, if I was a terrorist. But it is an enemy that hates America—both in its values (of freedom) and lack of values (in morality). I think it is also an enemy that seeks to find a righteousness, a salvation, in attacking those who it seems as its enemies.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I will be the first to admit that I’m not privy to any “insider information” and I certainly don’t have a deep understanding of Islam. But I can say how I would understand life if I was a terrorist, and do my best to interpret what I see. If I say something that you think is incorrect or even tilted, please leave a comment and let me know.

As I understand it, those who are involved in terrorism have more of a vendetta against the United States than just foreign policy that seems heavy-handed. (That’s a whole discussion on its own—suffice it to say that while our foreign policy has definitely made mistakes and has probably been far to heavy-handed at times, we’ve also made the other mistake and forgotten to use our influence for good. “With great power comes great responsibility.” Unfortunately, it is often very difficult to tell the difference.) I suspect that they would even wish to attack the U.S. even if we kept entirely to ourselves. Why? Two reasons: our prevalent immorality and our view of freedom.

Prevalent immorality I can certainly understand. I think that anyone with a relatively traditional Judeo-Christian morality is rather disappointed with the loose morals in our country, particularly in the media. Unfortunately, our media is primarily what the rest of the world sees of our country. Given Islam’s emphasis on good works (as I understand it, good works are a part of their salvation—not a guarantee, exactly, but certainly a necessity if one desires to be saved), I can certainly understand their hatred of the influence that seems to be ripping their faith and religion apart. What can I say? I think many of the same thoughts from a Christian perspective.

The view of freedom, however, is maybe where we start to run stuck. Just by looking at the general structure of a primarily Muslim nation, we see that the government dictates far more of life than anyone in the States would ever be comfortable with. Regardless of why that might be, it has some interesting consequences. First, from the point of view of the Islamic government and the people that support it, freedom in the sense of disagreement is an evil (in many, although probably not all, cases). It is an evil because disagreement does not mean rational discussion to find truth; disagreement means insubordination against those who have power and authority. In the United States, however, we thrive on being able to disagree. (As a general rule, at least. I think one could make a very convincing case that this quality is quickly waning.) Therefore, the States represents a sense of freedom which encroaches on every bit of power and authority that I suspect many Muslim government and their followers hold dear. (Again, please forgive me if I have made some incorrect or rash assumptions—please leave a comment with your thoughts and corrections!)

(Second, as a side-note, I think this is also where we will have/are having the most difficulty in Iraq. It doesn’t surprise me at all to find that the idea of “freedom” that the Iraqis know and hold dear is one of subordination to a Muslim state—perhaps an improvement over Saddam’s regime, but not much. Particularly for those who aren’t Muslim. Why do they do this? They don’t yet know or understand any other view of freedom.)

So what’s the point of all this? Here, I think, is the rub: Bush’s administration saw from the beginning that there are folks in the world that position themselves as enemies of the United States primarily for the reasons listed above. They are enemies of the freedom that we hold dear. And that is precisely the link between Hussein and Al-Queda that the Bush administration has been explaining all along—but that I didn’t really understand until now.

Of course, the tricky thing about a war on terror—a war on enemies of freedom—is that we aren’t fighting established governments. Enemies aren’t just people over there—but can sometimes be right next door. It is even trickier when, as one former Muslim explained, that there are few ways to guarantee one’s salvation. Martyrdom is one of them—which quickly makes sense of so many acts of terror that have occurred. They aren’t cold-blooded killers, necessarily—they want to be right with God, just like all of humanity does. They simply don’t know that Christ paid the price of death for them—rather than them having to try pay it themselves.

Does this justify the war in Iraq? Is the war on terror truly a good thing? Is the Bush administration doing what is right in this situation? I don’t honestly know. I do know that something, somehow, somewhere, does need to be done—or we will find ourselves in serious danger, not only as a country, but as people, as individuals. Let’s hope and pray for wisdom and grace for those that are in responsibility, that they might lead us wisely.

(P.S. I’m going to have to read through this again sometime, I think. But I did want to clarify here that I certainly don’t expect that most Muslims are anything but good, loving people just trying to make it in the world. I’m quite sure that it is a minority that end up causing terror in the world—many of whom may not even claim Islam per se. But, again, it is the mindset we are after. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that most Muslims [anyone care to correct me?] have a similar view of freedom, even if they have no desire to do anything even remotely violent about it.

Again, please forgive my ignorance in so many areas. I’d love to hear more thoughts from those who have had more contact with Muslims that I have had—show me the errors of my ways!)

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