Following the sudden withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in August and the shockingly rapid re-emergence of the Taliban, it's clear that the United States and its allies have failed to win the two-decade effort known as the "Global War on Terror."
Yet, it would be unfair to characterize the withdrawal of our troops as the only cause of the disaster that has now befallen the Afghan people — and those unnumbered and unfortunate Americans left behind. Despite trillions of dollars spent, and thousands of lives lost, the Taliban now control almost all of Afghanistan.
This is even more than they controlled when President George W. Bush ordered our forces to flush al-Qaida from that country.
The reality, however, is that we made our worst mistake back then, at the beginning — our failure to identify the true cause of the problem.
To explain: When I attended medical school in Cairo, Egypt back in the late 1970s, the instructor gave one of my fellow students a zero-out-of-50 mark in our long-case medical examination on the topic of internal medicine.
When the student asked the instructor why he had failed the exam, the instructor replied, "This is because when I asked you what your diagnosis was, your answer was the patient had arthritis, skin rash, eye troubles, and renal failure." The instructor then added, "What you had mentioned to me are the manifestations of the disease (which is systemic lupus) and not the correct diagnosis. When you miss the true and common cause of the problems you will not be able to treat the condition correctly."
I've never forgotten that exchange, and I find it particularly relevant now, given President Joe Biden’s recent remark calling the group known as ISIS-K "the sworn enemies of the Taliban," as well as similar characterizations of the various Islamic jihadist organizations globally.
Just as my student friend in Cairo did so many years ago, the West made — and continues to make — the same mistake in the war on terror.
We habitually deal with those groups as if they were acting as individuals.
Instead, we must regard them as manifestations of the same disease: radical Islamic jihadist ideology.
After 20 years and so many battles, it'd time to stop pursuing symptoms — known by now-familiar names as al-Qaida, ISIS, Taliban, Boko-Haram, al Shabaab and so forth – and finally focus on curing the disease.
To do so, it's vital that the civilized world turn its attention to the underlying cause of radical Islam: perverse — and incorrect — interpretations of the Quran, the book we Muslims believe contains the literal word of God.
All violent jihadists and terrorists subscribe to these perversions, no matter the name of their organization. It underpins all of their beliefs and actions, including their willingness to die in the process of killing the infidel — the nonbeliever — and, at the least, enthusiastically deceiving the infidel in a process known as taqiyya.
Yes, the West has defeated radical groups in battles time after time over the past two decades. But we are no closer to winning the war.
It's an impossibility against an enemy to whom life in this world retains such little value compared to the promise of Paradise bequeathed by jihad — holy war — and martyrdom.
Indeed, because of America’s ill-conceived and poorly executed withdrawal from Afghanistan, the jihadists are now celebrating what they consider a great victory over the "Great Satan." Worse, I fear that this development will inspire other Islamic groups to orchestrate an attack on U.S. interests — or possibly directly on our homeland — to reinforce that victory.
It could explain the attack on our soldiers at Karzai Airport, apparently by ISIS-K.
How to deal with such a threat?
The task remains enormous but also, blessedly, not hopeless.
It requires renewed dedication to fight the underlying ideology driving Islamic radicalism.
As one example, via the simplest of words but with game-changing implications: "the."
One of the bedrock commandments of jihad comes from the Quran: "Slay the infidels wherever you may come upon them."
Absent proper interpretation, this sentence seems a clear divine exhortation.
A more careful study of the sacred text, however, shows conclusively that the phrase "the infidels," including the prefix, refers specifically to a group in the time of the Prophet Muhammad with whom he was actively engaged in conflict. It is not — and never was — an exhortation or order to kill all non-believers.
Morever, in the entire Quran, every mention of "infidels" is preceded by "the."
I have spent decades studying the texts of my faith, and I can state categorically that a determined effort to spread the proper, correct, peaceful interpretation of the Quran would invalidate most if not all of the precepts of radical Islam.
Moreover, such an effort would apply to each and every jihadist group on the planet.
No question, we remain in peril. But there's still an opportunity to win this war — if we can commit to a grand strategy to defeat radical Islam.
What we can no longer afford to do is fight the terror groups individually, and exclusively militarily. We will never defeat them that way. They are different faces of the same coin.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid (aka Tarek Abdelhamid) M.D.; Mlitt (Edu) has testified before Congress and before the European Parliament. Dr. Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works, Why It Should Terrify Us, How to Defeat It." Read Dr. Tawfik Hamid's Reports — More Here.
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