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War Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card February 24, 2003

What Will "Victory" Look Like?

When Americans think of "victory," we conjure up visions of World War II -- Germany and Japan utterly prostrate, occupied by our (and our allies') armies, their governments completely subservient to our military.

They knew they were beaten, and there was no fight left in them.

Or maybe we think of Korea, where after nearly losing, then nearly winning, then nearly losing again, we fought them to a standstill and got an armistice-in-place that has lasted for fifty years.

But that is not the kind of "victory" we can hope for in this war.

There are several reasons for this. The first is that Germany, Japan, and Korea were self-contained nations. When we beat Germany, we had beaten all the Germans.

But when we beat Iraq, we won't have beaten all the Arabs -- lots of Arabs will be our allies in this. Just as when we ousted the government of Afghanistan, we had not defeated all the Afghans -- half the Afghans were our allies, and half our enemies simply crossed borders into Pakistan or Iran or Uzbekistan.

Second, despite the monstrous deformities of Nazism, German culture was not all that different from American, British, and French culture. And while Japanese culture was radically different, we had no qualms about tearing it apart and remaking it in the western image.

That won't be an option in defeating any Muslim nation, period.

The third reason victory won't be so simple is that we're fighting one war, and our enemies are fighting another.

They're fighting the real war, and the war we're fighting is only a sideshow.

The real war is the war for religious freedom in the Muslim world. Saddam is the most evil of the secular, anti-Islamic rulers -- the Ba'ath Party models were the totalitarian states of the twentieth century, Saddam's heroes were Hitler and Stalin.

And Osama bin Laden is the most evil of the fanatically religious, force-everybody-to-be-a-Muslim warriors. He has visions of purifying the Islamic world and extending its boundaries to include all of planet Earth.

The war is not between Osama and Saddam. The war is between them on the one hand, and the ordinary people of the Muslim world who long for freedom, justice, and a peaceful life.

It's worth remembering that the Christian world has already fought this war. It began, after centuries of slaughtering "heretics," with protestant martyrs like Jan Hus and John Wyclife and their followers, with translations of the Bible into vernacular languages and the radical idea that a person's religious faith was between himself and God.

Europe became divided into a patchwork of Catholic and Protestant states, especially in Germany, where so much blood was shed during the Thirty Years' War that it might have seemed peace would only come when all the Christians of every stripe were dead.

The idea of religious toleration took centuries even to get a fighting chance. Because the natural inclination of human beings is to insist that everyone in the same community share the same fundamental worldview, the same values.

This is not a problem with "religious people." It's a problem that all people who think they have the truth turn their beliefs into an intolerant religion at the drop of a hat.

If you have any doubt, look at the savage intolerance of the Church of the Politically Correct or the Church of Environmentalism, both of which are perfectly happy to use the power of the state to ram their beliefs down the throats of others ... because, after all, their beliefs are true.

It's a natural human impulse, and to maintain religious freedom requires constant vigilance, for there will always be people trying to establish their faith as the Truth which must be confessed by all.

The Islamic world has its schisms, but what it has never had is its Thirty Year's War or its Edict of Toleration.

The closest it has come to this was Kemal Ataturk's establishment of the secular state of Turkey. Even there, however, the goal wasn't religious freedom, it was to keep the clerics from having undue influence over the government.

The heaviest burden Islam carries today is the doctrine that once a person has become a Muslim -- whether by choice or birth -- he must remain a Muslim and can never change his beliefs.

The trouble with this is that when everyone is forced to be a Muslim, then no one is really a Muslim at all. Even the most sincere believer within the borders of most Muslim countries knows that if he changed his mind, he would have to keep it a secret or risk severe punishment.

For Islam to convert itself into one of the world's great religions instead of its present role as the oppressor of a huge portion of the world's population, it has to abandon that no-turning-back doctrine.

In its place, Islam must embrace the doctrine that the only true Muslim is the one who has freely chosen to obey God. And for the choice to be free, it has to be possible to leave the Muslim faith without penalty -- in every majority-Muslim nation on Earth.

Until that day, the Islamic nations will remain backward, oppressed, and ignorant.

Why? Because in countries where Muslims cannot publically change their minds, those who wish to be truly faithful are desperate to show their faith by constant vigilance.

Any professor who teaches a "western" subject -- like science or history -- that might "contradict" the dogmas of Islam as interpreted by the lunatic fringe is watched closely (and, if "necessary," assassinated); any book (or writer) that might call their medieval philosophy into question is banned; and then Muslims wonder why their people are so ignorant and why they don't have scientists and scholars able to compete in the world at large.

If you expect to be murdered for having an uncertified thought or saying an unauthorized word, you're not going to be much of a scientist or historian.

The Taliban in Afghanistan and the present rulers of Iran and Saudi Arabia have shown their "faith" by clamping down viciously and brutally on any breath of western influence.

Why do they clamp down so hard? Because, left to themselves, the vast majority of their people would be perfectly happy to embrace many aspects of western culture.

The people, if they had religious freedom, would adapt Islam to the modern world in a heartbeat, remaining faithful in their prayers and in their hearts, but deciding for themselves how to dress, whom and how to marry, the roles of men and women, the education of their children -- things the rest of the world takes for granted, but which in the Muslim world become matters of crime and punishment.

The real war in the Muslim world is between the guardians of Islamic Correctness and the ordinary people who want to be free to live their own lives and make their own choices.

And this war will not end until the Muslim people get control of their own governments and stamp out their own lunatic fringe.

We can't win this war.

The only reason we're involved at all is because it was forced on us. Because it is "western influence" that the Islamicists fear most as a corrupter of the Muslim people, they pound out hatred of the west in every sermon and speech.

Of course, this only works with a small fraction of the Muslim people. Most Muslims, like most people who lived under Communism in the Soviet Empire, let the propaganda flow right past them.

But the small fraction who actually believe that we are as satanic as the imams and ayatollahs say we are become the recruiting ground for, say, half-trained pilots who smash crowded airplanes into crowded buildings.

Some have pointed out, correctly, that Al-Qaeda and the Ba'ath Party hate each other, but they reach the false conclusion that we are therefore wrong to attack both Osama and Saddam in the same war.

Osama and Saddam are two sides of the same coin. They are both men who wish to impose their rule on as many people as possible, without any possibility of anyone getting free -- and they do not care how many they kill to achieve that goal.

Hitler and Stalin were bitter enemies -- except when it suited them to be friends. They both slaughtered millions of their own citizens and threw the yoke of their power over the shoulders of conquered peoples as far as they could reach.

Osama and Saddam are not a whit different, except in the vocabulary of their rhetoric and the fact that Osama probably doesn't fire his own pistol to kill his enemies.

We oppose them both because our real ally in this war is the freedom-loving, westward-looking common people of the Islamic world.

We aren't trying to make them Christian. We aren't even fighting to bring them religious freedom.

All we're doing is (1) trying to break the power of the states that support terrorism in order to defend ourselves and (2) doing so in such a way as to leave the common people a chance to form a government, here and there, that might be able to evolve into a nation with true freedom.

For us, "victory" will be ambiguous and probably unmeasurable. With luck, defeating Saddam will scare other terrorist-sponsoring states like Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan into expelling the terrorists within their borders.

But it will also fuel the fires of Islamicist hatred of the west and swell the ranks of young men and women who are willing to serve in terrorist armies.

In the short run, we will probably see undiminished terrorism -- our "victory" will consist of keeping them armed with grenades and plastique and bullets instead of nukes and anthrax and poison gas.

Because real peace between Islam and the west will not come until the vast majority of Muslims -- moderate, easy-going, regular people -- finally get control of their own lunatic fringe and use the power of their governments to enforce freedom.

Yes, I said "enforce freedom." Because that's what our government does. Our homegrown terrorists and wacko fanatics are punished when they break the law and watched closely until they do.

In Saudi Arabia, they have control of the government and are allowed to run free in vigilante gangs that beat up or kill those who don't do their bidding.

Freedom has to be enforced by clamping down on those who would deprive others of their freedom. And we can't do it for them. The Muslim world has to figure out how to do it for themselves.

We are bystanders in this struggle.

Not innocent bystanders -- there is much about our culture that is, in fact, as inimical to Islam as it is to Christianity; we and they would be better off if we would clean up a bit of our own mess. Our own "enforcers of freedom" have given us a culture so sick that pornography is far more protected than prayer, and where abortion is more "constitutional" than freedom of assembly. When some Muslims look at the West with anger, the anger is not unjustified.

Still -- even sick civilizations have a right to protect themselves and even to spread some of their values abroad.

What will "victory" look like to us?

Israel will still exist. Terrorist-sponsoring nations that have nukes and other comparable toys will lose them, and those trying to develop them will have a change of government. The funding of terrorism will dry up. And here and there in the Muslim world, the light of democracy will shine.

But the bloodshed and oppression and terrorism won't stop, not completely, not for a long time, and it will still spill over into the West from time to time. "Peace," when we get it, will be an uneasy truce at best for years to come.

And our war strategy must be never to attempt to occupy a conquered country, because there will be no conquered countries. Victory, for us, is not conquest. Victory is to strike down the monsters and then go away and let the Muslim world find its own road to freedom.

At the risk of offending some believers, let me suggest that the scripture from Isaiah 61 that Jesus quoted when he preached in Nazareth might be a guide for our very limited war aims.

I'm completely aware of the bitter irony of applying these words to our heavily armed troops. Nevertheless, it can be argued that in World War II and the Korean War, as on the Northern side of the Civil War, our armies, in victory, achieved these goals:

"To preach good tidings to the meek; ... to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that our bound; ... to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning; ... and they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations."

In the long run, what we gave the German and Japanese people (and those whom they conquered), what we gave the South Koreans and wanted to give the South Vietnamese, was the freedom to develop governments that would respond to the will of the people.

But just as it took the South Koreans many years to move from authoritarian to democratic government, so we should not expect overnight results in Muslim countries.

We are not at war with Islam. Islam is at war with itself. We cannot "win" that war -- we're not even in it. We can only protect ourselves as best we can from the spillover of that war, and, as possible and necessary, strike down the cruelest oppressors of the Muslim people.

Here is our secret weapon: Wherever the Islamicists actually rule, the people hate them and groan for freedom just as they always have wherever the Communists or any other group of murderous ideological fanatics have ever ruled.

The people of Iran and Afghanistan know that the armed might of America was and is their ally in their struggle for freedom.

But America must remember that until the Muslim people are victorious and achieve the freedom to choose their own religion and how to live it, we will have bitter enemies in the Muslim world, and our best strategy is to intervene as little as possible and get out as quickly as possible.

Copyright © 2003 by Orson Scott Card.

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