Bringing an end to the ongoing war on “terror” will prove particularly vexing. One of the reasons for that is how easily fear can be manipulated to maintain the perception of imminent danger. For the profiteers prosecuting this so-called war, success or failure does not lie in the accomplishment of any traditional strategic objectives, nor does it lie in the eradication of fear. The eradication of fear would mean a victory over “terrorism.” Such a victory would mean winding down the war and the accompanying loss of contracts, and the possibility of not accomplishing a long list of American strategic objectives, among them a network of permanent military bases in the Middle East.
Furthermore, people are not the declared enemy in this war, although hundreds of thousands of lives, most of them Muslims, have been senselessly sacrificed because of it. The declared enemy is terror, and this enemy will exist as long as a misguided Muslim or a rogue intelligence agent can detonate a bomb at a carefully chosen time and place. Hence, inadvertent statements such as that made by George Bush when he declared that he has no interest in capturing Bin Laden are actually true.
This is why this war is particularly challenging. Its end is not conditional on the capture of a strategic point or the surrender of an opposing force. Its end is contingent on the eradication of fear, and fear is too easily provoked to be readily eliminated. How then will this war end? It will end when ordinary people conquer their fears and insecurities. In this sense, the war on terror is not as novel as it seems. One of the great ironies of this war is that Islam, which has been presented as the force to be feared, the source of the terror being fought, actually analyzed a terror war, and presented the strategy for victory in such a war.
This analysis begins with the Qur’anic statement, Those to whom the people said, “The enemy hosts are gathering to overwhelm you, therefore fear them.” [For the believers] this only increased their faith and they said, “God suffices us, what an excellent one to trust in.” (3:173) In this verse, the believing folk are being threatened with annihilation by the surrounding hordes. Certainly, the threat was not that of a nuclear attack, however, the prospects of their annihilation at the hands of forces that were numerically far superior and better equipped was very real. This threat only increased their faith for they realized that hardship and tribulation are realities that God has created to test the mettle of human beings.
This Qur’anic verse, and one following shortly after it, gives us tremendous insight into what we need to do to defuse this terror war. First of all, we have to realize that a function of faith is the realization that worldly survival is not the ultimate end of life. That being the case, the people addressed in this verse realized that a noble death in the defense of lofty principles is better than a life that is lived in violation of those principles. They also realize that displaying courage in the face of grave danger is the way of people of faith.
Additionally, they realize that gaining God’s pleasure is the ultimate objective of our worldly strivings, not victory in some mythical contest of power where we trample on the lives of innocent people to earn the right to hail ourselves as the victors. All people of faith must come to this realization.
Secondly, we have to understand that if our security is purchased at the price of the suffering and insecurity of others, then the cost is unacceptable. Most of the things we fear are beyond our effective control in any case. Sudden death from car accidents claims far more lives than terrorist attacks ever will. To allow ourselves to accept the murder, mass detentions, suffering, deprivation, resource usurpation, and the other abuses inflicted by our government on the hapless people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and others, allegedly in the name of our security, is to allow our cowardliness to trump our loftiest principles. At the end of the day, God suffices the believers, and He is the most excellent one to trust of lives and security with.
Turning away from God and our best religious principles, and seeking to secure our physical existence by any means necessary is not only irreligious, it constitutes a deal with the devil, as a Qur’anic verse coming shortly after the one we initially quoted makes clear. That verse reads, Rather that is Satan, he seeks to instill in you the fear of his dupes. Fear them not! Rather fear Me (God), if indeed you are believers. (3:175) In this verse, God makes it clear that one of the guiles of Satan is to instill into humans the fear of the damage and destruction that can be inflicted by his dupes. In the “terror” war all of those who allow themselves to be used to murder, usurp, and wreak havoc through tumult, turmoil, and oppression—all in opposition to what God demands of us—are Satan’s dupes, regardless of their actual religion or lack thereof.
God is calling us to something higher. Let us all reach higher, and adhere to the loftiest of our principles. If we are able to do so we can collectively move beyond being manipulated by fear into accepting the brutalizing of those we share our lone planetary home with.