Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government


It’s the Regime, not the Religion


September 2001

by David Forte

How did Harry Truman prepare the nation to fight the Cold War? How did Ronald Reagan win it? According to Dr. Elizabeth Spalding of Claremont-McKenna College, they understood that it was the ideologically hostile regime that was our enemy. Russia was not our enemy. Soviet Communism was.

By itself, Marxism is only bad philosophy and bad social science. But ideologically allied with a regime, it becomes our enemy. Truman and Reagan focussed on the nature of the regime that was a threat to our liberties, and in doing so, they led the two most successful presidencies in the latter half of the last century.

Osama bin Laden spouts an ideology of hate and an unquenchable craving for total power. By himself, he is just a dangerous thug. Allied, comforted, protected, or supported by a regime, he becomes an enemy of freedom. It doesn’t really matter if his ideology derives, however distorted, from a religion, or from a philosophy, or from a theory of history. Once it becomes part of the policy of a regime, he and the regime become enemies of our country.

In international law, it is the state that bears responsibility for the actions of its people or of those it harbors or supports. In international politics, it is the government of that state that must pay the price for attacking our citizens or our homeland. The corollary is just as true. Without the support of governments, international terrorism could not succeed in its goals.

The Taliban themselves are just brutal thugs that have taken control of most of Afghanistan. They have combined an extreme version of Islam with primitive tribal mores and terrorized their own people. They have slaughtered Shi’ites, degraded the place of women, and threatened visiting Christian aid workers with imprisonment or death.

In many ways, Osama bin Laden is not just a "guest" in Afghanistan, as the government there dissimulates. He is an ally and an ideological mentor. According to ABC news, bin Laden "bankrolled the Taliban’s capture of Kabul." He has planned assassinations of moderate Arab leaders. He has even called the Saudi rulers "insufficiently Islamic." His sponsors, the Taliban, are such pariahs in the Islamic world that only three states have recognized them, one of which—Pakistan—has swung strongly to our side. Islamic governments know that extremists like bin Laden and the Taliban do not want to capture just Afghanistan. They want to capture Islam itself.

President Bush is correct. By focusing on the regimes that support or harbor terrorists, he defines the nation’s enemies. He provides a practical basis for a successful containment and destruction of the threat. He follows in the footsteps of Truman and Reagan. He knows that it is the regime, not the religion, that is our enemy.

David F. Forte is a Professor of Law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Cleveland, Ohio and the author of Islamic Studies: Classical and Contemporary Applications. He is an Adjunct Fellow of the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University, Ashland, Ohio.