last month's massive rally in Washington, led by Glenn Beck: "Something that is beyond man is happening," the Fox News host told hundreds of thousands of attendees. "America today begins to turn back to God. For too long, this country has wandered in darkness." Many of Mr. Beck's followers, who congregate on such sites as WorldNetDaily, regard the current military conflicts through the lens of Christian eschatological texts, and see Muslim leaders--and even their own president -- as figures out of the Book of Revelation.
America always has blended God and government to varying degrees, from the Declaration of Independence through to the influence of the Christian Coalition. But today's phenomenon is different, and possibly more explosive, because it comes amid a global war against terrorism that truly does pit Western Christendom (as we once called our now-secularized civilization) against the militant fringe of another religion. Mr. Obama is perfectly correct to say that the United States (and the West more generally) isn't at war with Islam. But it cannot be denied that we are at war with something within Islam. Indeed, it was that something, in the form of al-Qaeda, that declared war on our way of life nine years ago today.Something within Islam? Why the reticence? Can we not call that "something" (which is not at all hard to identify) what it is--jihad? Not to worry, though, since
Times have changed in another way, too. Looking back at the Cold War era, we often laugh at the stock-figure paranoiac who saw Soviet spies behind every lamppost. Yet in the post-9/11 era, the terrorist enemy truly is the neighbour next door, or the quiet unassuming coworker, who goes about his business while secretly plotting to blow up a plane or shoot up an army base.Symbolism, eh? What about the symbolism of building a honking big mosque as close as humanly possible to the site of the jihad's signal victory over Great Satan? And what about giving it the symbolic name Cordoba House (now changed to something far less symbolic) to link it to the Muslim-ruled city in a Muslim-ruled Spain that the faithful--including both Osama the violent jihadi and Imam Rauf the butter-wouldn't-melt-in-his-mouth interfaith huckster--yet pine for? That's some mighty hefty "symbolism," no?
As David Frum writes elsewhere on these pages, this homegrown terrorist threat is relatively contained. Yet it understandably looms large in the post-9/11 American imagination. Thus the spectacle of an entire nation rising in outrage over the theoretical creation of a Muslim community centre in an old Burlington Coat Factory building. America is not the confident nation it once was. And in its insecure state, it is prone to erupt in wounded fury at even the most symbolic slights.
The amazing thing is how odd all of this would have seemed to us in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. At the time, everyone assumed that the fate of America would rest on its ability to wage war on apocalyptic terror. Yet, despite the country's impressive success in preventing another 9/11, what weighs on Americans' mind is the far more prosaic subject of its economy, something that cannot be rescued with commando raids and air strikes.
America has won many victories against al-Qaeda and its allies since 9/11. It's a shame that Americans aren't in any mood to take stock of these accomplishments.How can they "take stock" with a Hopeychanger at the helm doing to the American economy what the jihadis long to do to more American infrastracture? In that sense, Americans, ordinary Americans, have their priorities absolutely straight: they know, even if the Post and others do not, that their troubles at the moment involve both Osama and Obama.