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The Danger of Fighting a Cosmic War

And Why the Idea of a ‘War on Terror’ Does No One Any Good

It took years after the fall of the Berlin Wall for some military and intelligence officials and even some Members of Congress to accept the truth that the Cold War had ended.

The transition from hawk to dove was painful for those who most ardently believed that the Soviet Union would do anything to destroy the U.S. Now, two decades later, relations have thawed and Washington is engaging Moscow to establish a defense mechanism that would protect the U.S. from a potential threat.

In the same way that Russia is no longer the “evil empire,” a new book suggests that the U.S. might also alter its perception of Islam and the Middle East.

In the eloquent “How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror,” up-and-coming populist thinker Reza Aslan wastes no time in his brief (169 pages) thesis to dismantle what he refers to as myths that some Americans believe about everything from Islamo-fascism to jihad.

“There has been much confusion over the meaning and application of the word ‘Jihadism,’ especially because it is so often misappropriated either by opportunistic politicians who place all of America’s adversaries into a single category or by careless media that too often pander to the fears of an unknowledgeable public,” Aslan writes. “Muslims in particular are annoyed by the term, arguing (correctly) that the concept of jihad, as utilized by al-Qa’ida and like-minded militants, is a base and corrupt rendering of a centuries-old doctrine that, in any case, was never one of Islam’s principal tenets.”

Aslan goes on to debunk other misperceptions: “al-Qa’ida is not an army, and bin Laden is certainly no commander in chief; he is not even its chief ideologue.” He then relies on the Quran to state the obvious: Not every Muslim is a terrorist.

Some Americans’ difficulty understanding that simple fact, Aslan argues, is a common Western response to Islam that is rooted in racism. The result is that Islamic renaissance movements, which gained so much attention in the ’60s and ’70s, are discredited by many Westerners today.

The problem is not that Islam cannot find a place in modern America. The problem, Aslan says, is Americans’ popular notion that Islam is inherently incompatible with our democratic ideals.

Aslan castigates the hysterical Islamophobia that arose after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He lays the blame for this almost entirely on the Bush administration for its rhetoric and use of such terms as “axis of evil,” and on President George W. Bush himself for allowing his Christianity to influence his thinking.

“So while America’s military battles may be in countries such as Afghanistan or Iraq, the cosmic war is taking place in the heavens, and God, whom Jerry Falwell profoundly declared to be ‘prowar,’ is engaged on behalf of America against her enemies. ... This was clearly the message sent by Bush, perhaps the most forcefully religious American president in history.”

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