Opening Islam

Society. Vol. 39, No. 5 (July/August 2002) 29-35

9 Pages Posted: 4 Oct 2012

See all articles by Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni

The George Washington University

Date Written: 2002


In 1982 President Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as the “evil empire;” in 2001 President Bush referred to the terrorists as the “evildoers.” Both were chastised for using such stark, biblical, moralistic terms. Both had a point, as the confrontations with militant forms of socialism and of Islam entail much more than a war over boundaries and resources, shifting balances of power, or avenging national slurs. These conflicts do speak to and for core moral and social values; both do concern the defense of liberty from enslaving forces.

In an age that celebrates cultural relativism and has lost its moral verve, many in the West — consumed by liberal guilt and self-doubt — find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that we are on the side of the angels, and that they represent the Great Satan. But if one grants that it is devilish to target deliberately buildings that house only civilians peacefully going about their business, and to turn civilian airplanes full of people into bombs, then those who perpetuate such acts are evildoers. Moral condemnation is particularly appropriate when small groups of fanatics subjugate one people after another to force them to abide by their particular rigid and obsessive interpretation of a religious text.

Just as the free world had to contend not merely with communists but also with communism, the war President Bush has declared in 2001 is not merely with individuals or groups of terrorists, or even with the governments that harbor them. It must also engage the ideology that drives the terrorists, motivates others to stand by to replace them if they fail, seeds the oceans of support in which terrorists swim, feed, and hide, and makes governments line up in their support. Indeed, without the fervent beliefs held by terrorists most of them would rest, and the remaining ones would be merely garden variety assassins with little support.

Suggested Citation

Etzioni, Amitai, Opening Islam (2002). Society. Vol. 39, No. 5 (July/August 2002) 29-35. Available at SSRN:

Amitai Etzioni (Contact Author)

The George Washington University ( email )

2100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Suite 4058
Washington, DC 20037
United States

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