Skip to content

The Danger of Fighting a Cosmic War

And Why the Idea of a War on Terror’ Does No One Any Good

It took years after the fall of the Berlin Wall for some military and intelligence officials and even some Members of Congress to accept the truth that the Cold War had ended.

The transition from hawk to dove was painful for those who most ardently believed that the Soviet Union would do anything to destroy the U.S. Now, two decades later, relations have thawed and Washington is engaging Moscow to establish a defense mechanism that would protect the U.S. from a potential threat.

In the same way that Russia is no longer the “evil empire,— a new book suggests that the U.S. might also alter its perception of Islam and the Middle East.

In the eloquent “How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror,— up-and-coming populist thinker Reza Aslan wastes no time in his brief (169 pages) thesis to dismantle what he refers to as myths that some Americans believe about everything from Islamo-fascism to jihad.

“There has been much confusion over the meaning and application of the word Jihadism,’ especially because it is so often misappropriated either by opportunistic politicians who place all of America’s adversaries into a single category or by careless media that too often pander to the fears of an unknowledgeable public,— Aslan writes. “Muslims in particular are annoyed by the term, arguing (correctly) that the concept of jihad, as utilized by al-Qa’ida and like-minded militants, is a base and corrupt rendering of a centuries-old doctrine that, in any case, was never one of Islam’s principal tenets.—

Aslan goes on to debunk other misperceptions: “al-Qa’ida is not an army, and bin Laden is certainly no commander in chief; he is not even its chief ideologue.— He then relies on the Quran to state the obvious: Not every Muslim is a terrorist.

Some Americans’ difficulty understanding that simple fact, Aslan argues, is a common Western response to Islam that is rooted in racism. The result is that Islamic renaissance movements, which gained so much attention in the ’60s and ’70s, are discredited by many Westerners today.

The problem is not that Islam cannot find a place in modern America. The problem, Aslan says, is Americans’ popular notion that Islam is inherently incompatible with our democratic ideals.

Aslan castigates the hysterical Islamophobia that arose after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He lays the blame for this almost entirely on the Bush administration for its rhetoric and use of such terms as “axis of evil,— and on President George W. Bush himself for allowing his Christianity to influence his thinking.

“So while America’s military battles may be in countries such as Afghanistan or Iraq, the cosmic war is taking place in the heavens, and God, whom Jerry Falwell profoundly declared to be prowar,’ is engaged on behalf of America against her enemies. … This was clearly the message sent by Bush, perhaps the most forcefully religious American president in history.—

Aslan insists Muslims need to recapture the goodwill of the majority of Americans. President Barack Obama, Aslan believes, will lead that movement toward a growing reconciliation. The new administration’s push to eliminate the term “global war on terror— and call for engagement in the Middle East are steps toward a recovery that could heal wounds imposed by mighty American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, notwithstanding the U.S. intelligence failure to find Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the horrors the military allowed at Abu Ghraib, Aslan misses the opportunity to expand on a significant fact: New York and Washington were attacked by terrorists claiming allegiance to al-Qaida. As a result, some Americans still believe a radical Islamic enemy is out there, and that belief allows them to harbor suspicions against all Muslims.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Obama’s presidential rival in 2008, asserted throughout his campaign that “the terrorists only have to be right once,— while America “has to be right 100 percent of the time.—

And this month, shortly after Central Command head Gen. David Petraeus expanded on the administration’s strategy to fight suspected terrorists throughout the Middle East, parts of Africa and Europe, McCain scoffed: “Just don’t call it a global war on terror.’—

Clearly, not everybody is convinced.

Recent Stories

Capitol Lens | Duck dodgers

Election year politics roil the EV transition

Thompson’s animal welfare, whole milk priorities in farm bill

Schumer plans vote on border security bill that GOP blocked

Republicans look to reverse rule based on gun law they backed

Eight questions for elections in five states on Tuesday