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True Jihad Beyond the Tragedy

by Bruce B. Lawrence

Three weeks have passed since "The Tragedy of Sept. 11," and most Americans are still looking for a moral compass to point them beyond the carnage, the outrage and the pain of this monstrous crime. One way is to cultivate among non-Muslims as well as Muslims a civil virtue known as jihad.

Jihad? Yes, jihad.

Not the jihad that calls for war against infidels. Not the jihad that was a response to the Crusades, nor a jihad that was invoked against colonial invaders in the 19th century or their successors in the 20th. No, we need a jihad that would be a genuine struggle against our own myopia and neglect as much as it is against outside others who condemn or hate us for what we do, not for who we are.

True, jihad will still retain its nasty, limited connotation of a Holy War. But in time jihad might regain its primary connotation of a massive struggle, a struggle that engages the whole field of human labor and explores the fullest repertoire of social/political actions. For us Americans, the greater jihad would mean that we must review U.S. domestic and foreign policies in a world that currently exhibits little signs of promoting justice for all. The inequities are evident to anyone who either travels beyond the U.S. or goes to our own inner cities.

What we need is a new and global Marshall Plan, but how can we produce a 21st century Marshall Plan that will reprioritize our national agenda at the same time that it punishes those directly responsible for The Tragedy of Sept. 11?

Among the harder steps to take is looking at our own national production of harmful exports. One is certainly arms. We are the leader in the annual sales of deadly weapons of mass destruction, many of them going to the Gulf region of the Arab world. We need to mobilize the American public to be wary of continuing this unsavory leadership role.

Another equally tough step is to review the untrammeled freedom of Hollywood and the movie/TV industry. How can we construct a higher standard of moral value, one that no longer poisons cultures of other countries, and at the same time raises the quality of our own?

President Bush was right when he went to the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., in mid-September and told his largely Muslim audience that he appreciated their commitment to peace. He condemned the terrorists because they "don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war."

But President Bush could also commit his administration to following the practical steps that will ensure peace with justice in the aftermath of The Tragedy. Peace with justice would require a greater jihad that finally defeats not just the terrorists of Tuesday, Sept. 11, but all who would commit suicide while killing the innocent and wreaking havoc on humanity in the name of a futile cause.

That is a jihad worth waging.

It requires non-Muslims along with Muslims to be its combatants. And the outcome holds the best hope for humankind in a century already marked at its outset by the worst excesses of rage, cunning and misguided zealotry.

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