The Ramadan Quandary

by Kevin Carmody | 11/7/01 6:00am

As the military campaign against the al-Qaida terrorist network and the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan continues, some are looking to the future to determine whether or not the military campaign should carry on during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have stressed that our military action will take time. Certainly, it will still be going strong when Ramadan begins on Nov. 17. Thus, it becomes important for us to consider whether we should maintain our attack on the Taliban during Ramadan or pause it until afterward.

If, as is likely to be the case, American military objectives have not been fulfilled when Ramadan comes, the United States and its allies should continue to carry out the current campaign through the Muslim holy month.

The operation currently underway is not merely a series of isolated attacks. Our current president does not subscribe to the "Missile Diplomacy" that his predecessor used so frequently, to such little effect. Instead of launching limited missile attacks, or even bombing runs, the United States is committed to defending itself in more effective ways against an enemy terrorist organization, and the regime that supports and harbors it. Al-Qaida, through its leader Osama bin Laden, is prosecuting a pernicious war in which no targets are too sacrosanct and no methods too vile. To counter such an enemy, the United States must respond decisively. Such a rejoinder requires substantial attacks to destroy al-Qaida's capacity to terrorize our country. And while America's commitment to higher ideals prohibits our employment of the ruthless methods of our adversary, it should not deter us from our dogged pursuit of their capture. Therefore, it would be a grievous mistake to allow a religious holiday to deter us from delivering swift justice. Each day that we delay Osama bin Laden's reckoning is another day in which American lives are unduly put as risk.

As for our enemy, we know that he will show little concern for Ramadan. By intentionally killing innocent men, women and children, Osama bin Laden has defiled the religion for which he claims to be fighting. In the past, similarly ruthless individuals claiming inspiration in Islam have shown little concern for peace during Ramadan. Religious respect did not deter Iraq and Iran from fighting during this period, nor did it deter Egypt, Syria and Jordan from launching the Ramadan War. Haven't heard of the Ramadan War? It's a commonly used synonym for the Yom Kippur War of 1973. This is a reminder that in the past, many Arab countries have been unconcerned about fighting during Ramadan, or on the holy day of another religion.

The United States should be and has been careful to differentiate between the followers of Osama bin Laden and the adherents to one of the world's great religions. Those who claim to fight for Islam but desecrate its central tenets cannot be permitted to use Islam to hide their malignant goals. Islam is not to blame for these terrorist attacks; al-Qaida and the Taliban are. Muslims are not responsible for the actions of extremists who have hijacked their beliefs, so it's wrong to treat these terrorists with the same concern we show for Muslims in general. By ceasing bombing during Ramadan, we blur the critical distinction between violent extremists and practitioners of a peaceful faith.

Unfortunately, in deciding to press forward with our campaign, the United States will likely offend many Afghans, who, while opposed to bin Laden, desire peace for religious observance. Yet it was not the United States who put them in danger. And even now, the United States is taking unprecedented precautions to insure that absolute minimums of innocent civilians are injured in the hunt for bin Laden. This was inadvertently highlighted by an Associated Press dispatch, which reported that "Heavy B-52 bombers pounded the front line north of Kabul on Friday in what opposition forces called one of the fiercest bombardments yet, unleashing more than 15 bombs in the space of hours." Bear in mind that one B-52 can carry several times more bombs than were dropped during that one bombardment. Still, it is the tragic reality that countless Afghans will be caught in the middle of two warring parties. We can ask of these poor souls, if not their support, then their trust that we will bring this conflict to an end as soon as possible. And the only way to do that is to continue to strike against al-Qaida and the Taliban during Ramadan.

Our goal in Afghanistan is not hegemonic; rather, we seek to eliminate a serious hazard to our lives and freedoms. We stand against the oppressive Taliban regime, but with people of Afghanistan who live under their rule. We understand their fear, and we sympathize with their suffering. So while we will continue to supply humanitarian aid to this war-torn land, we must also realize that the best way to remove the threat that terrorism poses to America, and to remove the yoke of repression from Afghans, is to judiciously and swiftly engage our common enemy.