Rather than recognise that often decisions forged in the fires of political expediency can have tragic future consequences, the United States has embarked on a course in its War on Terror that seems almost certain to bring about disastrous consequences. In its conflation of Islamic extremism with Islamic fundamentalism, the United States has ignored one of its most potent and powerful allies in the struggle against terrorism.
Muslim extremism did not begin with September 11, nor did it begin with the Gulf War. The first extremist movement appeared shortly after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and has continued, in various manifestations, until the present day. It is a well studied phenomena and Muslim scholars have long dealt with the two empirical causes of extremist behaviour: a pervasive ignorance of Islamic law and a detachment and distance from the bone fide scholars of the religion. The cause of extremism is not, as has been too often argued, simply poverty or political disenfranchisement - although such conditions make fertile ground for the uptake of extremist ideas. Rather, the empirical cause of extremism and the political violence that flows from it, is an ideological and intellectual phenomena.
The question must then be asked: if the root-cause of terrorism is ideological and the Bush Administration has taken upon itself the objective of fighting terrorism, then how does it address the ideological cause? The answer, if the actions of the Administration are any indication, is to attack Islamic fundamentalism and prosecute a war against those who espouse an austere, puritanical version of Islam; a version of Islam that, to the casual observer, resembles extremism in many of its outward appearances and attitudes.
For this reason, the Bush Administration has targeted Islamic charities that espouse what it terms an "extremist" version of Islam although these groups would, more accurately, be considered fundamentalist. Likewise, it is for this reason, that the Bush Administration has pursued an aggressive war against clerics and intellectuals who promote Islamic fundamentalism. In many respects, the reaction of the Bush Administration to Islamic fundamentalism resembles the case of the child with a hammer: every problem is a nail. However, the tragedy is that by conflating Islamic fundamentalism with Muslim extremism, the Bush Administration has hindered and obstructed the only people in the Muslim world who are able to successfully engage the extremists in the ideological war - the scholars. Since September 11, the Bush Administration has, domestically and internationally, taken action, ostensibly to fight terrorism, against individuals and organisations whose natural position is as allies with the United States in their War against Terror. Indeed, many of these organisations and individuals were themselves engaged in an intellectual war against extremism for decades before September 11 and yet by virtue of the United States' ill-conceived and superficial definition of extremism, they have found themselves targeted. There is no doubt, of course, that Islamic fundamentalists will differ with the United States on periphery issues and their appearance and attitudes may resemble what, to the average American, seems "extreme". However, as even a cursory viewing of the books and legal rulings of fundamentalist scholars demonstrates, they have been vociferous and aggressive critics of the kind of political violence that visited the United States on September 11 (but had plagued Muslim societies such as Egypt for years earlier).
In formulating its War on Terror, the United States has relied on bad advice about the nature and scope of its enemy. The objective of many of those who have proffered advice to the United States seems not to address the threat to the American people, so much as a desire to solve Israel's problems in the Middle East. This can only be achieved, they opine, by confronting not just the notion of Muslim extremism which causes Muslims to lash out at non-combatant states such as the United States but rather the Islamic fundamentalism that demands of Muslims that they resist occupation. It is possible that the United States might be able to kill its way to an abatement in extremist-orchestrated violence, but it will never be able to win a war declared against Islamic fundamentalism no more than the Islamic extremists can readily win their war against the nostrums of the secular West. It is this bad advice and flawed understanding of the nature of their enemy, that has led the United States to wage a quixotic campaign against even long-standing and respected institutions and leaders of the American Muslim community: such as the various Saudi-based charities, educational institutions and scholars whose traditional role has been to guide their Muslim communities towards a correct understanding of Islam. Some of these individuals and groups have made repeated and explicit denunciations of terrorism and extremism for years preceding September 11, yet by virtue of their fundamentalism they have been targeted by a US Department of Justice that seems almost desperate to conjure up 'wins' and 'progress' in its War against Terror.