It is difficult to know how to respond to our recent terrorist attacks. One problem is that the enemy is an ideology, not a state or a single organization. We don’t want to overreact and become prejudiced toward all Muslims; this is just what the attacks are aimed at doing. On the other hand, there is clearly a connection between Islam and the terrorists; if we ignore this connection, we will fail to respond appropriately to what is really a battle of competing Muslim ideologies.
Understanding the connection between Islam and the terrorists means understanding the difference between Islam and Islamism. Islam is the religion of millions of Muslims, most of them peaceful. Islamism is the ideology of a small group of Muslims that says all society should be governed by a version of Islam and is willing to use violence to gain that end.
This, then, is a Muslim ideological insurgency. It is a revolt by a few Muslims against the peaceful view of the majority. Islamism and Islamists are trying to spread their ideology via propaganda within the Muslim community and via terrorism in the West. They hope to provoke a fear response toward Muslims, which will drive traditional Muslims into their ideological camp.
We must avoid this prejudicial response. Yet at the same time, we must work to counter the propaganda of the Islamists. We need to ally ourselves with, and strengthen our relationship to, the peaceful Muslim majority.
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Peter H. Swanson