officials of the Bush Administration have changed the way that they
are talking about terrorism. They have stopped talking about a "war
on terrorism." Thinking it too narrowly defined, Administration
officials now speak of a "struggle against global extremism."
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld describes America's policies as a
"global struggle against the enemies of freedom, the enemies of
Although all this
may seem to be merely playing with words, this change is in reality
something much more important: It is a clear-headed change of
definition of America's long-range strategic aims. It may not alter
U.S. tactics or goals in the short run but could, over time, have a
profound effect on the way Americans think about the current
conflict against radical Islamic terrorist groups.
made the change for a number of reasons. The "war on terror"
incorrectly focused too much attention on the military side of the
campaign. Other efforts-such as homeland security, law enforcement,
and international diplomacy-were not captured by a phrase that
conjures an image of soldiers in uniform combating other soldiers
in uniform-something that the current struggle decidedly is
The term "war on
terror" overlooked the ideological component of the struggle.
Radical groups employing terrorism against governments and
civilians have an agenda, and that is to destroy certain
governments, challenge certain Western values of civilization, and
erect in their place their own governments and notions of culture
change in terminology overcomes a problem long recognized in the
phrase "war on terrorism." Terrorism is a tactic employed by people
to achieve certain political purposes. The new, broader approach
captures not only the enemy's political intent, but also suggests
more precisely that our efforts will be a long-term "struggle" that
may not have a termination date. Unlike with a war, there will be
no simple peace treaty.
Of the two new
terms used by the Bush Administration, Rumsfeld's "struggle against
the enemies of freedom and civilization" is the better. For one
thing, it avoids making the mistake of replacing one inadequate
term for the enemy with another equally inadequate term-namely,
replacing "terrorism" with "extremism." If "extremism" alone were
the problem-as opposed to the fact that certain extremists are
using terror as a weapon-then we would be making war against
non-violent groups outside the political and religious mainstream.
But we're not, and for good reason: Non-violent groups are not
threatening anybody. The problem is the use of terror, not whether
their views are "extreme" or not. We are fighting al Qaeda and its
allies precisely because they are bombing people. We should be
challenging not only their terrorist tactics, but also their
ideology that leads them to kill in the name of religion.
Rumsfeld's description better captures the real principle at stake:
These "enemies of freedom and civilization" are using violence
against innocent people-something so despicable that we call it
"terrorism"-not just to take away their lives, but also to deprive
them of their freedom. If Osama bin Laden and his friends ever
manage to create the medieval Caliphate of their dreams, not only
will the people who live under its boot suffer a loss of freedom,
but so will the rest of us, as bin Laden goes about wiping out
infidels in New York, Paris, and London.
still appears to be squeamish about naming radical Islam by name.
While it is true that America opposes any ideological group that
employs terrorism, it also is true that we are, correctly, fixated
on radical Islamic groups. We have hesitated emphasizing this fact
in some of our official public statements for fear of offending
innocent Muslims or alienating potential allies in Muslim
Might something be
wrong still with our stated policy if we cannot articulate an
obvious fact about our strategic aims? It's one thing to be
tactically clever and not alienate innocent people or potential
allies. But it is another if that reluctance blurs the reality of
our objectives and confuses people-particularly Americans-about who
our enemy really is and what really is at stake.
Tony Blair spoke
clearly last week when he said, "The best defense of the Muslim
community in this country is for that leadership to be exercised
and for the mainstream Muslim community to take on the extremists
within their midst, within our midst." He recognizes that this
struggle against radical Islamic terrorists will never be won
unless Muslims themselves become as outraged as non-Muslims when
terrorists defame Islam far more than any Gitmo soldier or any U.S.
official's slip of the tongue could ever do.
Sometimes it is a
good thing to speak plainly. The Bush Administration has rightly
made a course correction in one of its most important slogans. The
next step should be to think more seriously, as Tony Blair has
done, about how to articulate the struggle in such a way that
freedom-loving Muslims all over the world will want to unite to rid
the scourge of violent extremism from their midst.
Kim R. Holmes,
Ph.D. is Vice President of Foreign and Defense
Policy Studies and Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis
Institute for International Studies at The Heritage