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Mosque in the crosshairs?

By By Craig Ziemba / guest columnist
April 25, 2004
When U.S. Marines on patrol in Iraq returned fire from insurgents using a mosque as a base of operations, many political commentators worried that Islamic terrorists around the globe would be provoked into attacking even more Americans.
According to the Laws of Armed Conflict governing civilized nations, our Marines were justified in responding to a threat, even if it came from a house of worship. The bigger question that remains is whether or not it was a wise move in the broader context of the war on terror. I believe that it was, and here's why:
Something terrorists have consistently used against the U.S. is the concept of asymmetrical warfare, which is avoiding your enemy's comparative strengths and taking advantage of his weaknesses. Iraqi insurgents are clever enough to use our own sensibilities against us.
They know, for instance, that U.S. commanders are unwilling to harm civilians. They also know that Americans are taught to respect houses of worship and are anxious to avoid the appearance of waging a religious war. That's why insurgents dress as civilians and fire at our troops from within crowded mosques.
Fighting dirty
Our enemies know they would lose an outright battle against our military, but they believe that through terrorism they can win the overall war by demoralizing the American public and consequently pressuring our politicians into giving up the fight.
Isn't that fighting dirty? You bet. But those who prefer a government of fear, repression and religious intolerance over democracy and human rights have no qualms about morality. And they're playing for keeps.
The decision to turn a house of prayer into an instrument of war isn't about religion, it's about power who's got it and who wants it.
Fundamentalists like Al Sadr, the latest cleric du jour, seek complete power over the church and state, much like Taliban leaders enjoyed in Afghanistan. Being absolute ruler over people taught to believe you are Allah's spokesman is nice work if you can get it, but pity the poor people (especially the women) who must live at the whim of a 30-year-old imam with a messiah complex.
Al Sadr calls himself a holy man, but he looks like a dictator wannabe to me. Billy Graham, Ghandi and Mother Theresa somehow touched people's hearts without using militias, molotov cocktails and AK-47s.
If we're serious about protecting ourselves from Islamic terrorism, we're going to have to understand it and be willing to combat the systems that create it.
In every armed movement, there is a center of gravity or critical point in the organization that if eliminated will paralyze the entire system. The heart of Islamic terrorism are fundamentalist clerics who motivate, fund and recruit soldiers willing to commit senseless acts of violence against not only Americans, but their own countrymen as well.
Trying to protect ourselves against suicide bombers and other foot soldiers without attacking the source of their energy would be akin to repeating the blunders of limited warfare and impotent targeting that caused our defeat in Vietnam.
Our determination that Iraq will be ruled by a constitutional democracy that respects human rights and no longer endangers the world's security and economy must not waver.
Yes, freedom of speech and religion will be as important to Iraq as to any other democracy, but our message to those who preach terrorism must be clear: Use your mosque as a place of worship and we will respect it as such. Turn it into a base of terrorist operations and we'll be sure to treat it accordingly. Your choice.
Craig Ziemba is a pilot who lives in Meridian. His book, "Boondoggle," is available at Meridian area Bible