Editorial: A dangerous rift

Feb. 27, 2006
Militant Islamic jihadists have two ways to prevail in their war against Western modernism.

Militant Islamic jihadists have two ways to prevail in their war against Western modernism. The long way is to kill or terrorize into submission everyone who disagrees with them. The short way is to open a hostile rift between Islam and the rest of the world. The short way is the strategy with greatest chance for success. Lately it has scored victories.

Rifts open because of pressure, often in stages rather than all at once. A Danish newspaper publishes cartoons certain to offend Muslims, and people die in riots. Contracts to manage six US ports migrate through a corporate takeover into the hands of a Dubai company, and Washington, DC, explodes in controversy. Would these eruptions have occurred without foregoing tension over events such as the abuse of Muslim prisoners in Iraq, violence in and around Israel, the occupation of Iraq, the terrorist attacks against the US on Sept. 11, 2001? Maybe. But they wouldn’t be so intense. In steps, pressure between Islam and the rest of the world is growing. A rift-a truly hostile separation of peoples along primarily religious lines-becomes likelier by the day. And the jihad moves closer to victory.

Ways to resist

The part of the world that doesn’t want that to happen, which is most of the world, has two ways to resist. Non-Muslims can acknowledge that militant jihadists represent a small but dangerous fringe of the Muslim world but nowhere near all of Islam. For their part, Muslims not committed to terrorist murder can resist jihadi fanaticism and its retrograde agenda more vigorously than they have done so far. Oil companies with experience in Muslim countries, especially in the Middle East, should be able to help the process.

Recent heaves against the developing rift haven’t reflected the best qualities of either side. What compels a newspaper to publish cartoons whose only purpose can be to offend a people of faith? Yet why couldn’t the offended dignify themselves at the expense of their tormenters by responding to the stunt with the indifference it deserved? Rioting, embassy burnings, and death threats just made the insipid cartoons newsworthy and hardened Muslim stereotypes in the West. Defenders of the free press then leaped into action as though press freedom had come under threat where it already existed, which it had not. They called it cowardice when some publications stood by their standards of decency. They probably watch too much television.

And can the uproar over the port contracts be anything more than anti-Muslim prejudice? Some congressional agitators of the controversy tried to say the issue is operation of US ports by foreign contractors, not just Arab ones. Yet that wasn’t an issue until Dubai Ports World agreed to buy the company holding the contracts, Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. of the UK. A distinction can be made that Dubai Ports World is state-owned and P&O is not, but would anyone care if the buyer were not Arab and Muslim? No. The question of foreign ownership, state or private, would have attracted no political interest. News reports are uniformly about the security implications of port management by an Arab-not foreign, not state-owned-company. By association, that means Muslim.

Overblown threat

The supposed security threat posed by Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates is in any event overblown. Yes, some of the planning for the US terrorist attacks took place in the UAE. Some of the funding passed through there. But that’s probably because the UAE includes some of the most open and liberal states in the Middle East, especially Dubai. The emirates aren’t democracies, but they’re committed to modernization and not at all antagonistic toward the West or Westerners. Treating Dubai as a terrorist state because bad people took advantage of the emirate’s culture is unwarranted. Terrorists plotted attacks in London and Oklahoma City, too.

Opposition to the takeover of a British manager of US ports by a company from Dubai is a visceral response not unlike the violent backlash against those Danish cartoons. The jihadists must be celebrating.