The war that began with the terrorist attacks of September 11 has been defined in different ways, and these definitions are meant to have political consequences. President George W. Bush immediately defined the war as one against “terrorists with global reach” and “the states that harbor them.” He was careful not to identify the terrorists with the Islamic religion, for he intended to minimize the number of Muslims who would identify with them. The war was definitely not supposed to be seen as a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West. Osama bin Laden, in contrast, repeatedly spoke of a war between “the Islamic nation” and “the Jews and the Crusaders” (or Christians), for he intended to maximize the number of Muslims who would identify with his cause. For him, the war was indeed supposed to be seen as a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West.
The war is indeed a war against terrorists and the states that harbor them as Bush stated, but all of these terrorists and states are Islamic. The war is also a war between the West and Islam as bin Laden stated, but the Western peoples and their governments do not habitually use the term “Western” to identify themselves, nor do the Islamic peoples and their governments routinely engage in terrorism. The war is actually one between Western nations (who think of themselves as being less Western than they really are) and Islamic terrorists (who think of themselves as being more representative of Islam than they really are). But because the war involves nations that are both Western in fact and Western in the minds of the Islamic terrorists, it engages the West. The way that the leading nation of the West, the United States, wages this war will be greatly shaped by the nature of Western civilization. It will also be greatly shaped by the nature of Islam.