What kind of grade would one give the Bush Administration for their self-proclaimed “War on Terror”? First one must decide exactly what the “War on Terror” is and what is the goal of this “war”? Could a humanistically guided policy do better? What would be the differences?
Defining the “War on Terror” is, of course, an enterprise that could easily veer into parody. The concept assumes that there are organizations that promote terror for the sake of terror itself.
Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hizbullah and other non-government groups do not promote terror merely for the sake of enjoying terror although it may be that some of its leaders are psychopathic. Their real goals are religiously inspired: they want to promote their brand of Islamic fundamentalism by any means necessary, and if terror is the method, so be it; if democratic elections are the method, that is also fine. Should there be a concurrent “War on Democracy” as well? Answer: No, the problem is not democracy (or psychopaths.)
Thus, the concept of a “War on Terror” is a sham; the real war should be on religious extremism and fundamentalism. Unfortunately the US government is guided by a religious fundamentalist extremist sympathizer who has claimed on a number of occasions to a number of different persons that God has spoken and/or guided him even on matters of war and peace! To a fundamentalist, the “War on Terror” is code for “Holy War”; a war of “good versus evil.” Osama Bin Laden, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, and President G.W. Bush all see it precisely this way. They ALL see it similarly - this should distrub every American.
In a “War on Terror/Holy War/War of Good versus Evil” since the other side is defined as evil, the only recourse is to wipe them out. We take it for granted that if they could, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Ayatollahs and other such groups would do exactly that – kill all the infidels. But exactly what does the Bush “War on Terror” imply?
Basically it implies killing all those who support Islamic religious fundamentalism and extremism. This adds up to a lot of human beings if one is honest about it. It is a nearly genocidal policy if carried out to its extreme. Considering that for every jihadist killed in the “War on Terror,” there are some innocent civilians also killed which in turn radicalizes more disillusioned persons into jihadism, isn’t this where the current “War on Terror” is headed? Could this really be implemented?
To date, no effort has been made to convince anyone that religious fundamentalism is incorrect, immoral or anti-reason. How could President Bush, a religious fundamentalist extremist sympathizer himself at the least, bring himself to do this? Even if he were a religious moderate, what could he say?
The onlyargument ever made by “moderate” religious believers is that Islam is being “incorrectly” interpreted or that it is being “hi-jacked.” Unfortunately, this is a losing argument if indeed the fundamentalists are actually interpreting scripture and tradition correctly! Why is that impoosible? What moderates always fail to consider (just as religious fundamentalists do) is that they may be wrong. The God of the scriptures and tradition just might be the tyrant that fundamentalists say he is and the fact is that in practice the more literally and devoutly a person adheres to scripture and tradition (in most religious traditions) the crueler their resulting religious practice seems to become.
Besides possibly being on the incorrect side of scriptural and religious tradition, religious moderates undermine themselves in another way: they promote respect for all religious beliefs. This respect, of course, is often then extended by moderates to persons with fundamentalist beliefs who would then persecute and kill those very same moderates extending their respect if they were ever to gain authority in that respective society! This is, of course, a suicidal and a losing strategy. All persons have the right to their beliefs; they do not have a right to be respected for those beliefs.
Humanists cannot see the possible course of the “War on Terror” and the possible path to religious genocide as acceptable or optimal. Self-defense is not eschewed in the short run; but in the long run, more than force must be used. The attack of Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan could be viewed as self-defense; nothing about the war in Iraq could be so viewed however. This sort of aggressive and ultimately genocidal form of the “War on Terror” is a losing strategy. Are there more or less religious fundamentalists today as a result of the war in Iraq? Answer: Many more.
Far better would be for the US to set an example by displaying to the world the blessings of liberty at home while at the same time undermining religious fundamentalism by undermining the concept of faith. By promoting reason and science and by promoting concern for other persons as the highest good, not the universal worship and obedience to invisible and undetectable supernatural deities who if exist anyway, being omnipotent, can fend for themselves, we may better be able to win hearts and minds by setting this ethical example than by the use of bombs.
How could this be done without doing damage to the First Amendment? The answer is simply to honor and strictly enforce the First Amendment while teaching critical thinking and logic in schools. Objective courses in comparative religion would also assist in the effort to promote reason and reject irrational faith. This can all be done while remaining neutral towards religion and non-religion.
The US also must not remain dependent on religiouslyfundamentalist nations for its own public welfare, particularly in the field of energy. Every dollar spent in the US that finds its way into a school promoting religious fundamentalism will come back to haunt us.
The US must also be more helpful in resolving issues that religious fundamentalists use as excuses to blame the infidel US for their problems. The Palestinians must be given a viable state while at the same time Israel is guaranteed security and recognition by some of its current enemies. Border disputes between Lebanon and Israel and Syria and Israel must be resolved as well. Yes, Israel may need to make significant sacrifices in order to have an opportunity for peace but it may be necessary to do so to have any chance for peace. If it does not work out, war could resume... what would be the difference? Resolving the Israeli differences with Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians seems unthinkable but the irony is that the “solutions,” as understandably distasteful to Israel as they would seem, are probably necessary and perhaps inevitable. Peace HAS been sustained between Jordan, Egypt and Israel, something once thought impossible; the resolution of the problems of Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria are central to defeating religious fundamentalism in the world. The idea that God gave one or another group a parcel of land on this earth cannot be a factor in US policy-making even if most Americans now believe that God gave the “Holy Lands” to the descendents of Abraham.
Differences based on faith in Gods who MUST be obeyed cannot ever be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties however; these differences, in a world of WMDs threaten the lives of billions of persons; therefore we must make our SECULAR way of life the envy of the world and the expected way of doing business in the world. We must give the religious fundamentalists no rationalizations to offer prospective followers for why the US is at the root of their failures – we must truly be even-handed in US policy.
What are the chances that these changes in direction will occur? Honestly, the chances are nil under the current administration and any other with similar ideology and next to none under most potential successors. However, at some point it will become a necessity to promote reason at the expense of faith. Hopefully it will happen before it’s too late.