-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

archive

Santorum discusses ‘war on terror’

John Tierney | Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The United States’ “war on terror” is a battle against a specific set of theologically motivated groups, former Sen. Rick Santorum said in McKenna Hall Tuesday.

In a lecture titled “Gathering Storm of the 21st Century,” Santorum, a Republican from Pennsylvania, blasted the government for misidentifying the enemy and urged the audience to accept the notion that America must fight alone.

The war is a campaign against Islamic jihadists, he said, but the Bush administration and the news media have refused to define it as such out of fear of being perceived as politically incorrect. Instead, the military campaign has the inaccurate title of the “war on terror,” he said.

“Terror is a tactic,” Santorum said. “It’s like [President Franklin Roosevelt] getting on the radio and saying we’re going to ‘war on kamikaze.’ Are we at war on terrorists? Are we at war against all terrorists? Absolutely not,” Santorum said.

Instead, Santorum said America is at war against radical jihadists. Like President Bush has emphasized in the past, Santorum was careful to note that this is not a war against Islam.

“I’m not fighting a religion, we’re fighting radicals within the religion. There is a war within Islam already,” he said. Santorum also said moderate Muslims would be the most important people to engage and debate the radicals.

With the discussion of the “war on terror” permeating the country, Santorum said the American people need to educate themselves on the actual enemy.

Santorum said there are three issues that need to be addressed more clearly: who America is fighting, the difference between the two warring cultures, and the origins of that conflict.

He said he defines the enemy – radical jihadists – in religious terms because they define themselves in religious terms.

“Let’s see if it has anything to do with religion. I think it does,” he said. “They are people of deep faith and they believe that they are called to liberate society from laws that are not of God and institute divine law, and that is liberating. I can understand how they see that. They see themselves as liberating all of us in the West from imperfection.”

Also, Santorum said the way the enemy defines Westerners is proof of its religious motivations.

“How do they define us? Infidels. It’s a religious term,” he said of jihadists. “They are in a holy war. Everything they say, everything they do, is based on theology. Yet we ignore that. We try to make it a politically correct war. The American people will not sustain this war unless they know why we are fighting it. And they don’t.”

Santorum said the most profound difference between the American and Islamic cultures is in the conception of time.

“The culture we’re dealing with is ancient and has a different perspective of time and importance. America is a brand new baby,” he said. “As a result of us being so young, we happen to think we’re really important, really special.”

The way the two cultures look at problems is also important in the war against the jihad.

“We think we can deal with problems and deal with them quickly. The ancient world is different. They look at problems differently – they have much more patience in dealing with enemies. The jihadis count on the youngness and the impatience of America,” Santorum said.

Santorum answered his third primary question on the origin of the conflict and the differences by looking at the lives of the two cultures’ respective central religious figures – Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad. While Jesus was a peaceful leader who “never won,” Santorum said, Muhammad established a kingdom, killed by the sword and enacted laws – believed to be divine – to govern the kingdom.

Jihadists thus have an easier time looking at Muhammad as a role model for acts of violence than the Christian terrorists have in looking at Jesus, he said.

Santorum said the fight against the jihadists is best viewed in terms of the distinction between Sunni and Shiite Muslims – a distinction most Americans who follow foreign affairs should know, but don’t.

After Muhammad’s death, many elders wanted to elect among themselves a new leader. Others believed the leadership should remain within Muhammad’s bloodline. The former group became the Sunnis, while the latter became the Shiites.

The majority Sunnis attempted to purge Islam of the Shiites by killing off the ruling descendents of Muhammad, who took the title “Imam.” After the death of the 11th Imam, who most Shiites believed to be the last descendant, the Sunnis thought they were victorious. But in Shiite tradition, a 12th Imam, the Mahdi, revealed himself at the funeral of his predecessor and then went into hiding.

Many Shiites, who make up the majority of Iran’s population and political leaders, believe the Mahdi will eventually return either at the end of time or at the Armageddon. Santorum said an understanding of that theological perspective shapes American foreign policy with Tehran – but U.S. leaders will not admit that publicly.

“If you bring about Armageddon, you end time, and the Mahdi will return,” Santorum said. “… That’s why we are really tough on Iran. But we’re afraid to talk in terms of religious prophesy. We’re afraid to offend anybody.”

Sunni radicals, on the other hand, want to revive the Caliphate and return it to the height of its power, when the Ottoman Empire stretched deep into Europe. They look to recapture the power and the means to “spread what they believe is their manifest destiny,” Santorum said.

And while the war against the radical jihadists has to be fought by America, Santorum stressed that solutions must come from within Islam.

“The problem has to be solved by people within the Islamic world,” he said. “We need to create space for brave moderate Muslims to engage theologically the ideology of the jihadists. And we need to condemn those who are pseudo-moderates who condemn the violence but support the theology.”

Santorum also said that America must not only be educated on the history of its enemies, but also on itself and what is at stake. Catholicism is especially important in the war against the jihadists, he said, as it is America’s most powerful religious force. He called the Notre Dame students in the audience at the McKenna Center “the jewels.”

“If you guys go south, that is bad news for this country. The Catholic Church is what is holding us together,” he said.

Although the war on radical jihadists is often portrayed as a conservative cause, Santorum said the American left has more at stake than the right.

“If you think about what are the pillars of the American left – feminism, homosexual rights, civil rights, separation of church and state, reason over faith in the public square, pacifism, abortion on demand – can you think of any group of people on the face of the earth that are, point-for-point, 180 degrees from the American left, any more than the jihadists?” he said.

In the radical Islamic world, “the very act of thinking makes you an infidel,” Santorum said. “There is no room for reason or thinking. You simply submit to the will of God irrespective of its rationality.”

The idea that “any man-made law is an affront to God,” is sticking points between democracy and the Islamic jihadist world, Santorum said.

“When you try to spread democracy in the Islamic world, this is a complete affront to everything they believe. This is a theological problem. Yet we have not described it in those terms,” he said.

Santorum concluded his lecture by stressing the urgency of the war against the jihadists and by comparing our current condition to that of Britain in 1940.

In June of that year, France had fallen to Nazi Germany and Adolph Hitler turned his military toward Great Britain. For the next 18 months – until Japan attacked Pearl Harbor – the United Kingdom acted alone as America allowed its only ally to fight “objective evil” by itself. That, he said, was “Britain’s hour.”

“This is America’s hour,” Santorum said. “Like Britain in 1940, we are alone. Completely alone. We will not have anybody at our side. Just us. Just those who hold on to the tenets of Western civilization, those who have a reason to fight.”