Just a week after publication, the 9/11 Commission's report appears to have attained the status of a sacred text in American politics. Both President George W. Bush and John Kerry have promised to implement the report's recommendations, even though these are either too vague or irrelevant to the war against terrorism.
One reason may be that the American public has not paid adequate attention to an assumption that forms the backbone of the report.
That assumption is that, contrary to Bush's claim that the United States and the democracies in general are engaged in a war, the conflict is, in fact, between two rival ideologies. On the one hand we have the West, with its undefined "values and way of life." On the other we have "radical Islamism."
The impression created is that the clash of civilizations, predicted by Samuel Huntington a decade ago, is happening in real life.
That assumption poses several problems.
It ignores the fact that the principal battleground in this "clash of civilizations" is the Muslim world itself. The number of Muslims killed by the Islamo-fascists is many times more than that of Americans and other Westerners.
Three countries have played central roles in the history of Islam: Iran, Turkey, and Egypt. In the past four decades, all three have been the theater of battles between radical Islamists and the established order. In Iran, the radicals won power in 1979. In Turkey, an alliance of secularists and moderate Muslims is resisting the Islamo-fascists. In Egypt, the established order has won what might be a temporary victory against them.
This Islamic civil war is also raging in all other Muslim countries in different forms. In some, like Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, it has taken the form of an all-out terrorist attack on society. In others, such as Morocco or Malaysia it is, for the time being at least, largely waged at mosques, colleges, the media, and other cultural fora.
The ascendancy of Islamo-fascism in recent years has led to serious restrictions on the human rights of hundreds of millions of Muslims from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.
The 9/11 Commission's assumption that the US is alone in being targeted by Islamo-fascists ignores the civil war that is taking place inside Islam. The commission urges the US to put the emphasis on a "hearts and minds" campaign to persuade their ideological foes to abandon their hostility.
ONE SUGGESTION is that the US should set up schools in the Middle East as American missionaries did in several Arab countries in the 19th and early 20th century. This ignores the fact that many activists of the Islamo-fascists movement have been trained in Western educational institutions. One ideological godfather of Islamo-fascism, the Pakistani Abu al-Ala Maudoodi, attended a British school in colonial India. Another such godfather, the Egyptian Sayyed Qutb, spent time studying in Texas and Oklahoma on a US government scholarship.
Five members of Ayatollah Khomeini's first Islamo-fascist cabinet in Iran in 1979 were not only graduates of American universities but US citizens of Iranian origin. Mostafa Chamran and Ibrahim Yazdi, the men who created the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran in 1979, were also US citizens of Iranian origin.
Over the years, many lesser-known leaders and activists of the Islamo-fascist movement have also emerged from various American universities and colleges in Cairo, Beirut, and Teheran. A good part of the middle echelon of the leadership of Hizbullah - an Iranian-controlled movement with branches in 17 countries - consists of American-educated militants.
This is also true of many of the militant groups active in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Palestinian territories.
And should we forget that the 9/11 death squads consisted of individuals trained in both western Europe and the United States?
To treat the war against terrorism as an ideological duel is bad strategy, to say the least. The 9/11 Commission is obsessed with "winning the argument." But this is not a school debate; and even if one wins the argument, it will not change the mind of an adversary that is bent on killing and dying in pursuit of his goal: the conversion of the entire human race to this brand of Islam.
Iran's traditional Shi'ite clerics won the theological argument against Khomeini long ago. That did not impress Khomeini and his successors. They have continued to exile, imprison, torture, and kill those who do not obey them. They have also continued to prepare for what the ayatollah called "the final battle with the American Great Satan."
As for Osama bin Laden, even his fellow Wahhabis have put him beyond the pale. But that has not prevented the Bin Ladenists from pursuing their campaign of terror wherever they can. This war is about finding and neutralizing the killers, not educating them or winning an argument against them.
The writer, an Iranian author and journalist, is editor of the Paris-based Politique Internationale.