Burns: The war on terrorism – are we in or out?

“Let the nightmare for Japan begin.” This threat — or promise — was issued by the Islamic State’s hooded spokesman in the beheading video of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto. Now an even more gruesome and barbaric burning of Jordanian pilot Mu’as al-Kasaseabeh has extended ISIS evil into the domain of another coalition partner in the war against terrorism.

But is it a war? Or just a half-way war? There may be 50 shades of grey, but war is a reality where innuendo and nuance are trumped by beheadings and burnings. Being half-in and half-out may work in the stock market but fails in warfare.

Today and yesterday by Dr. James F. Burns

Today and yesterday
by Dr. James F. Burns

President Barack Obama drew a red line in the Syrian sand on use of chemical weapons. And then he erased it — or let it slowly fade to pink. But Code Pink, the anti-war protest group, showed their colors without hesitation while brandishing a pair of handcuffs and chanting “Arrest Henry Kissinger for war crimes.” That event occurred in the hallowed halls of Congress, a body of debaters who must decide, like the president, if we’re waging a half-way war or a real one in today’s terrorist conflict.

The French — feeling the stark sting of deadly Islamic terrorism in the streets of Paris where Nazi troops once marched — had no trouble saying they’re at war with radical Islamic terrorism. Japan is ready to double-down in support of the effort. But we can’t even clearly define the enemy.

Meanwhile, we must be equally concerned with the cultural war that’s the driving force behind the black flag of the caliphate’s murder machine. Down deep, beneath the desert sands whence Wahhabism and similar ideologies bubbled up centuries ago, the ISIS black flag is really saying “We hate your culture!”

A quarter-century ago, Princeton professor Bernard Lewis called it a “clash of civilizations.” But what’s “civilized” about beheading and burning people, enslaving females, destroying libraries, banishing free speech, and taking target practice on journalists? Long ago, the French sent us a statue to honor our unique experiment in American freedom — something they helped us a heap in winning. And it must infinitely enrage Islamic terrorists that the Statue of Liberty — the very representative of all the good we stand for — is a woman. These Stone Age practitioners who fear and fight modernity seek to quench the flame held aloft by Lady Liberty.

We are witnessing a normally peaceful Islamic religion being perverted by misguided minds into a cancer that spreads and metastasizes into military conquest and total destruction of other faiths and all freedom. Professor Lewis believes that Islamic terrorism is truly an aberration of Islamic practice, commenting that “it’s a pity” that people kill, maim, menace, and massacre under a religious mandate of jihad.

And now this challenge of a murderous jihad has been extended to two of our allies, Jordan and Japan. And Saudi Arabia is building a 600-mile wall to keep ISIS out. But you can’t wall out ideas. The Berlin Wall was brought down, in part, by the transistor radio sending ideas through the Iron Curtain to an enslaved Soviet people yearning for freedom.

We’re at a dangerous intersection of both ideas and armies. The Russian bear is growling at the very time ISIS and allied mini-caliphates in Africa are spreading a bizarre and barbaric way of life—and death—across the globe using social media messaging as their “transistor radio.” The world wants for global leadership in this deadly game of political poker. Your turn, Uncle Sam. Fifty shades of warfare is not a good option. We need some clear messaging.

James F. Burns is a professor emeritus at the University of Florida.

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