This Means War, Kind Of

President Obama made a speech yesterday on the subject of Islamic jihad. In it he sought to reassure an increasingly angry and jittery nation that his administration might in fact be capable, now that it is making a diligent and focused effort, of achieving at least minimal competence regarding national security. The speech, though full of non-committal buck-stopping and the usual bromides about America’s greatness and respect for Muslims, was conspicuously light on specifics. Reactions were mixed.

Among other things, Mr. Obama, with somber mien, pointed out that we are At War.

Really? With whom? Al-Qaeda. Not in a war to defend the West against an ancient and implacable foe, a totalitarian and expansionist ideology that has sought our subjugation since the seventh century — but very specifically with Osama bin Laden and his little band of loyal assassins, who are the only guys we really have to worry about. Bring them to “justice” (with, of course, state-appointed lawyers to ensure appropriate attention to their Constitutional rights), and America will be safe once more, safe to live in sweet secular harmony with as many happy Muslims as we can welcome to our shores.

Mark Steyn, in this response, points out that this view of the situation is utterly delusional. He writes:

On Thursday, having renounced over the preceding days “the system worked,” the “isolated extremist,” the more obviously risible TSA responses, the Gitmo-Yemen express checkout and various other follies, the president finally spoke the words: “We are at war.” As National Review’s Rich Lowry noted, they were more or less dragged from the presidential gullet by Dick Cheney, who’d accused the commander in chief of failing to grasp this basic point. Again, to be fair, it isn’t just Obama. Last November, the electorate voted, in effect, to repudiate the previous eight years and seemed genuinely under the delusion that wars end when one side decides it’s all a bit of a bore, and they’d rather the government spend the next eight years doing to health care and the economy what they were previously doing to jihadist camps in Waziristan.

On the other hand, if we are now at war, as Obama belatedly concedes, against whom are we warring? “We are at war against al-Qaida,” says the president.

Really? But what does that mean? Was the previous month’s “isolated extremist,” the Fort Hood killer, part of al-Qaida? When it came to spiritual advice, he turned to the same Yemeni-based American-born imam as the Pantybomber, but he didn’t have a fully paid-up membership card.

Nor did young Umar Farouk, come to that. Granted the general overcredentialization of American life, the notion that it doesn’t count as terrorism unless you’re a member of Local 437 of the Amalgamated Union of Isolated Extremists seems perverse and reductive.

The problem, which should be obvious by now, is that the threat to the West is not this or that organization or band of terrorists; it is the core ideology of Islam itself. Mr. Steyn continues:

What did the Pantybomber have a membership card in? Well, he was president of the Islamic Society of University College, London. Kafeel Ahmed, who died after driving a burning jeep into the concourse of Glasgow Airport, had been president of the Islamic Society of Queen’s University, Belfast. Yassin Nassari, serving three years in jail for terrorism, was president of the Islamic Society of the University of Westminster. Waheed Arafat Khan, arrested in the 2006 Heathrow terror plots that led to Americans having to put their liquids and gels in those little plastic bags, was president of the Islamic Society of London Metropolitan University.

Doesn’t this sound like a bigger problem than “al-Qaida,” whatever that is?

Indeed it does. But Mr. Obama, and millions of sincere and well-intentioned liberal minds in America and Europe, still imagine, bless them, that once sufficient American crow has been eaten — and a few well-placed Hellfires have dealt with a scattering of incorrigible “extremists” — our sincere respect for Islam, together with the universal appeal of noble American principles, will win the hearts of the world’s Muslims, and they and we will walk together, hand in hand, into broad, sunlit uplands of tolerance, diversity, and mutual admiration. After all, our great traditions of liberty, free speech, and religious tolerance are what the Ummah wants too, right?

Well, mostly, anyway. One might get the wrong impression, for example, from this story in today’s Times:

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Three Christian churches were attacked with firebombs Friday as tensions rose in a dispute over whether Christians could use the word “Allah” in this largely Muslim nation.

Don’t you worry, though. The system is working.

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