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We are Facing Civilizational War By: Thomas Friedman
New York Times | Tuesday, December 03, 2002


(Thomas Friedman writes an imaginary letter from President Bush to Muslim leaders):

To: Leaders of the Muslim world

From: President George W. Bush

Dear Sirs,

As you approach the end of Ramadan and we approach our Thanksgiving, I thought it would be a good time for me to share with you some concerns. Let me be blunt: I am increasingly worried that we are heading toward a civilizational war.

How so? Well, let me point out just a few news stories in recent days: Imam Samudra, the Indonesian Islamist accused of masterminding last month's Bali bombing — in which nearly 200 tourists were killed — reportedly said during his confession that it was a "holy bomb" that ripped apart that disco, and that it was aimed there because it was full of foreigners — i.e., non-Muslims. There is nothing "holy" about a bomb that kills 200 people just because they are foreigners.

Then I read about Bonnie Penner, a young U.S. missionary nurse at a prenatal clinic in Sidon, Lebanon, which provided care for needy Palestinians and Lebanese. She was shot three times in the face. A Palestinian security official told The A.P. that "the killing was the result of a hostile Muslim reaction in Sidon to the preaching . . . lessons the center was giving to Muslim youths." Do you know how much proselytizing Muslim groups do in America? A lot. We have no problem with that. That's who we are. Who are you? I have no idea whether this woman's clinic was involved in proselytizing Muslims, but I do know that she was a nurse, caring for Muslims, and she was shot for who she was.

Then there was Azmi Abu Hilayel, whose son Na'el strapped himself with dynamite and blew up an Israeli bus with school kids. Azmi was quoted as saying: "I thanked God when I heard that my son had died in an operation for the sake of God and the homeland." I can't believe that the God of Islam, a God of mercy and compassion, would bless killing anyone's kids. Believe me, I know Israeli soldiers have killed dozens of Palestinian children during the intifada. That is shameful. But I don't hear Israeli generals, parents or rabbis thanking God their sons could kill Muslim kids. Soldiers shooting kids is wrong. Suicide killing is wrong. There is no God that blesses either.

On top of all this, we just had the imam of a Paris mosque arrested for allegedly helping the airplane shoe-bomber. And we had two U.S. marines shot in Kuwait, a country we helped rescue from Saddam, and we saw one of our top aid officials in Jordan killed in his front yard for a similar "crime" — being an American in the Muslim world. Now you see why I ordered that young men from most Arab countries who are studying in America be fingerprinted and photographed by the I.N.S. I had no choice.

You say all this is happening because we support Israel. I know we need to do more to bring peace, but I don't think that nurse was shot, or that Bali bomb was made "holy," because we support Israel. I think it has to do with the rise within your midst of a deeply intolerant strain of Islam that is not simply a reaction to Israel, but is a response to your failing states, squandered oil wealth, broken ideologies (Nasserism) and generations of autocracy and illiteracy. Armed and angry, this harsh fundamentalism now seems to totally intimidate Muslim moderates.

But the values it propagates will bring ruin to you and conflict with us. As Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute wrote in National Review, "No faith will make rote memorization of ancient texts, suppression of critical inquiry and dissent, subjugation of women, and a servile deference to authority the recipe for anything other than civilizational decline."

The decent, but passive, Muslim center must go to war against this harsh fundamentalism. Yes, we have our intolerant bigots too. I just publicly distanced myself from those Christians who smear Islam with a broad brush. But our moderate majority and press regularly denounce them too. They are not dominating our society. We've had our civil war against intolerance. Now I'm urging you to have yours. Don't tell me you can't. Look at those courageous Iranian students who are now taking on the extreme fundamentalists within their own society — risking their lives to fight those who want to take Islam, and Iran, back to the Dark Ages. God bless them.

Friends, unless you have a war within your civilization, there is going to be a war between our civilizations. We're just one more 9/11 away from that. So let's dedicate this next year to fighting intolerance within so we can preserve our relations between.

Sincerely, G.W.B.




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