Wow. Our experiment is off to a great start—let's see if we can finish it off sooner than expected.
When the Republicans held their first debate two weeks ago, I was disturbed by the facile interpretations of Islamic terror that they presented. I wrote:
It has always bugged me that these guys misunderstand or understand and then deliberately misrepresent the reasons why certain factions of the Muslim world hate the United States. They don't hate our freedoms. Okay, maybe a tiny number of al Qaeda types do, but the 70 percent of the Islamic world (rough estimate) that currently tells pollsters that they can't stand the U.S. don't hate our freedoms; they hate that we have supported pro-Western dictatorships in their region, they hate that we reliably and sometimes unthinkingly support Israel, and they hate that we invaded a country that posed no threat to us and completely destroyed it.
The more insidious cousin of the "they hate our freedoms" explanation is the "it's in their religion" explanation. When Republicans argue vaguely that Islam orders followers to kill infidels, it amounts to saying the West is at war with Islam, and that our fights in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in the global war on terror really are a clash of civilizations. (One might even call them a "crusade.") Worse than that, though, is that we lump all Muslims together -- in with Osama bin Laden and his henchmen, we throw millions and millions of peace-loving Muslims who might be convinced that the United States and not their violent, extremist enemies hold the keys to freedom and prosperity.
So when Tom Tancredo said yesterday that al Qaeda is trying to kill us "because it is a dictate of their religion," he needs to know he is doing far more harm than good to our interests. Fueling the sense in the Muslim world that their religion is our enemy -- and not its most wackjob adherents -- makes the prospect of peace in the region all the more dim.