Editorial: What’s the cure for fanaticism

Back in 1982, zealots of the Muslim Brotherhood rebelled in the Syrian city of Hama, massacring local officials and their families. What did dictator Hafez Assad do about it? He sent a tank-led regiment to reduce most of Hama to rubble, slaughtering about 20,000 people and staging mass executions. A rebel sector of the city was bulldozed.

A year later, Islam’s top imam in Jerusalem issued a “fatwa” (holy edict) promising “a place in paradise for eternity” to any martyr who would kill the “infidel” Assad, an Alawite Muslim.

Now the late dictator’s son, Bashar, rules Syria as his father did, killing his own people when he thinks it’s needed. His secret police exterminate political opponents. In 2011, democracy protesters launched a movement against him, which drew brutal retaliation. Various rebel militias turned the Syria upheaval into a civil war.

In 2013, Assad was accused of using poison gas to kill helpless families in rebel cities. President Obama threatened U.S. military intervention, and Assad agreed to let U.N. experts take over his chemical weapons.

Meanwhile, one of the Muslim militias fighting Assad has become even more vicious than the dictator. Now named the Islamic State, it controls one-third of Syria and one-third of neighboring Iraq. It consists of Sunni extremists who impose a cruel theocracy on conquered people to create a holy “caliphate.”

Beheadings and hand-choppings are employed. Non-Sunnis are given a choice: convert, or pay a special “infidel” tax, or be killed. This week, news reports said fighters of the Islamic State stoned two women to death on adultery charges.

Whose side should America choose in Syria — the cruel dictator or the cruel “holy warriors” against him?

Similarly, in Nigeria, the savage Boko Haram Muslim militia, which opposes education of girls, has massacred more than 10,000 helpless villagers in never-ending raids.

And don’t forget that the Reagan administration in the 1980s covertly supported Afghan Muslim rebels (calling them “freedom fighters”) against Russian occupiers — and it became a classic “blowback,” because those rebels spawned the al-Qaida terror network that eventually struck America.

Nightmares like these demonstrate why America should stop plunging into foreign invasions. The United States cannot police every murderous group around the globe. In fact, it’s sometimes difficult to determine who are the worst murderers.

If the new Islamic State ever sends terrorists to kill Americans, U.S. action must block them. In the meantime, America shouldn’t send troops to help any side in Islam’s many chaotic horrors.

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