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Totalitarian Thinking: Stop Calling Islam the Enemy
Published on Thursday, December 5, 2002 by the International Herald Tribune
Totalitarian Thinking: Stop Calling Islam the Enemy
by William Pfaff
 

PARIS -- A part of the neoconservative intelligentsia in Washington is trying to turn the Bush administration's "war against terrorism" into a war against Muslim civilization and the Islamic religion.

Such influential figures as Eliot Cohen of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and Kenneth Adelman of the Defense Department advisory policy board, a former Reagan administration official, criticize President George W. Bush for his efforts to assure Muslims that his war is against terrorism, not against their religion.

The Bush critics say Islam itself is America's enemy because Islamic religion and civilization are intolerant, hostile to Western values, proselytizing, expansionist and violent.

Their implicit argument is that Islam was hostile to the West before Israel came into existence, hence that the Israel-Palestine conflict has nothing to do with Islam's crisis with the West. This is a novel argument likely to leave many unconvinced.

A segment of the evangelical Protestant community in the United States adds to this an assertion that Islam is "evil." That is the view of the clergyman who was part of the Bush inauguration in 2001.

Cohen, Adelman and their fellows in the U.S. policy community have yet to explain what they mean about war against Islamic civilization - against the second largest religious community on earth, with more than a billion adherents on six continents. One would have thought that President Bush already has his hands full with Iraq and Al Qaeda.

These intellectuals have fallen into Samuel Huntington's pernicious fallacy that civilizations, which are cultural phenomena, can be treated as if they were responsible political entities. They identify the members of Islamic civilization not in terms of their actions but in terms of what they are.

One can legitimately go to war against Iraq and Iraqis because of what the Baghdad government does, since Iraq's citizens have to accept responsibility for their government, even if it is a despotism.

The same can be said about Iranians, Saudi Arabians, Egyptians, Indonesians, Pakistanis - and Americans. The American people bear an ultimate responsibility for what their government does even if citizens individually oppose those actions. However, neither Muslims nor Americans deserve to die because they are the product of their civilizations, whether those civilizations are admirable or not. To think otherwise is totalitarian thinking. It is the equivalent of racist thinking. The enemy is an enemy not because of what he or she does but because of what he or she is. The Muslim is the enemy - man, woman and child - because of his or her cultural and religious identification.

Germans six decades ago were called on by their leaders to make war on Jews because Jews were Jews. They were the alleged racial inferiors and enemies of Germans. What these Jews actually did or who they were was a matter of indifference. Jews collectively were identified as Germany's enemies and were to be eliminated.

Communists during the same period were being told to exterminate aristocrats, "kulaks" (wealthy peasants), shopkeepers and professionals, capitalists, "deviationist" party members and eventually Jews as well. The murder of all these was justified because they were "class enemies."

To call this totalitarian thinking is a grave accusation, heavily charged with the weight of the genocidal experience of the 20th century. In this case it is justified.

Adelman, Cohen and those who agree with them are putting a culture, which has no responsible political existence, in the place of identifiable and responsible political actors: governments, leaders, individuals. To do this disregards political responsibility and announces historical fatality.

If wars are cultural and religious, they have no solutions. They are unnegotiable and unresolvable. If the Muslim is an enemy of America and Europe because he is a Muslim, and Westerners are his mortal enemies because of who they are, all have lost control over their futures.

But all this is simply untrue. Today's clashes between America and elements of Islamic society reflect a power struggle inside Islamic society between fundamentalists and others; between obscurantists and progressives; between traditionalists and political fanatics.

Identifiable Muslim groups and governments are in conflict with the government of the United States over the future of Israel and the Palestinians, the control of oil and American power and presence in Arabia, the Gulf and now Central Asia.

These clashes between Muslims and Americans are important, dangerous and potentially even more violent than they have already become. They are not a war of religion, and it is deeply irresponsible to try to turn them into one.

Copyright © 2002 the International Herald Tribune

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