War on Jihadism?

WAR ON JIHADISM?….Who are we fighting, anyway? “War on Terror” is a phrase disliked by lots of liberals and not a few conservatives, and the Pentagon’s suggested replacement, the “Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism,” is mostly considered a joke. So what is it, then? Jon Rauch has a suggestion:

“I think defining who the enemy is is a real problem in this war,” says Mary Habeck, a military historian at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies….As it happens, Habeck is the author of one of three new books that, taken together, suggest the time is right to name the battle. It is a war on jihadism.

Jihadism is not a tactic, like terrorism, or a temperament, like radicalism or extremism. It is not a political pathology like Stalinism, a mental pathology like paranoia, or a social pathology like poverty. Rather, it is a religious ideology, and the religion it is associated with is Islam.

But it is by no means synonymous with Islam, which is much larger and contains many competing elements. Islam can be, and usually is, moderate; Jihadism, with a capital J, is inherently radical….No single definition prevails, but here is a good one: Jihadism engages in or supports the use of force to expand the rule of Islamic law. In other words, it is violent Islamic imperialism. It stands, as one scholar put it 90 years ago, for “the extension by force of arms of the authority of the Muslim state.”

No matter how careful we are to distinguish Jihadists from moderate Muslims, there’s not much question that an explicitly religious phrase like “War on Jihadism” is explosive. On the other hand, like it or not, it has the virtue of being more accurate than “War on Terror.” We haven’t spent a lot energy trying to bring the Tamil Tigers to heel, after all.

And it does have an upside: although it may make religion more explicit than we’d like, it also forces us to distinguish between moderate and radical Islam in a way that’s too often glossed over. And it has another upside: it forces us to address the question of just how numerous and how dangerous our enemy really is. How many are there? How much damage can they do? Is the Jihadist movement growing? Even including 9/11, the fact is that Jihadists haven’t had a lot of success outside the Muslim world, and addressing these questions might very well bring a stiff dose of common sense to the debate over what role the United States ought to play in this war.

Or maybe not. But it’s worth a discussion, no?