Like most people, I am becoming increasingly disturbed by the reports of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings coming out of Iraq. The cities Falluja and Ramadi and much of Anbar Province are now controlled by fundamentalist, Al-Qaeda style militias.

I have asked myself why it is that I am so disturbed by the murderous methods the militants use. We all know that this is war, and war means that there are two sides that aim to eliminate each other. If we are honest with ourselves we would have to admit that the military aircraft, the laser-guided missiles and the Abrams tanks used by the Americans are more lethal and disturbing killing machines than a masked man with a butcher knife. So what is it about these anachronistic beheadings that offends us so much?

As a devoutly religious person, what bothers me more than anything else is the fact that the beheadings are carried out as a form of religious ritual. One of the films of such a murder is reported to show a man quoting passages from the Koran ordaining death. "He who will abide by the Koran will prosper; he who offends against it will get the sword..." And then as he performs the barbaric act he and his partners shout "Allah akbar!" (G‑d is great).

I know the intensity of the passion one feels when one is convinced that one is carrying out the will of G‑d. Seeing that same passion used in such an evil manner terrifies me.

I often wonder what my contemporaries and I would be like if our teachers had taught us that the only path to G‑d is through the sword. I am convinced that at least some of us would have accepted these barbaric teachings at face value and would have become religious murderers. Maybe the fundamentalists are ordinary people who have just been brainwashed by evil ideology.

We have to see this war for what it really has become — a war of opposing ideologies. On the one side is the Western idea of freedom, democracy and human rights, and on the other side is a form of theocratic dictatorship where the religious authorities are given a free hand in interpreting G‑d's will. The question is whether our democratic society can ever overcome an ideology that has the lethal cocktail of religious zeal and murderous intent.

If this war is ever to be won, it has to be fought on two fronts. Certainly when people have become terminally corrupted by lethal ideas, one may have no choice but to eliminate the people who carry the ideas. However, at the same time there has to be a sincere and strenuous effort to win over young people. We must combat the ideas behind religious fundamentalism, and we can do this only if we offer a coherent and equally attractive alternative.

Fundamentalist religion offers its adherents a framework in which to live. It offers a protective brotherhood. But most of all, it adds a sense of meaning, purpose and passion to the life of the adherent. All of the above — a structured framework, a brotherhood, a sense of meaning and a passion — are things that Western society lacks. How is Western-style democracy ever to replace the dangerous type of Islamic fundamentalism if it is not fighting on the same turf? The Kabbalists tell us that whatever G‑d created in evil he created the exact counterpart in good. One has to present young people with an alternative religious ideology that offers the same qualities as fundamentalism but is aimed in a peaceful direction.

Judaism is an example of this type of ideology. Judaism has a built-in sense of community. It offers real direction and passion but the theme throughout is peacefulness. As Maimonides writes (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Megillah 4:14), “G‑d gave the Torah to make peace in the world as it is written (Proverbs 3): ‘Its ways are pleasant and all its paths are peaceful.’” According to the Talmud, a court of law empowered to carry out the death penalty that executes a criminal more than once in seventy years is considered a "murderous court." Throughout the Mishnah and Talmud—which were formed during the rise of Christianity and Islam—you'd be hard-pressed to find a sage who is venerated for his physical battle against unbelievers. Judaism preaches peacefulness; warmongers have no place.

Although there are parts of the Bible that if interpreted literally could seem cruel and violent, our sages interpret them in a peaceful manner. For example the Bible (Exodus 21:24) says that a violent attacker should pay "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," but the sages don’t take this literally; instead they say it means that the offender must pay the monetary worth of the eye or the tooth. Another example is the law (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) regarding the stoning of the rebellious child. Instead of widening the definition of a rebellious child, our sages narrowed it, to the extent that it is virtually impossible for the law ever actually to be applied. Many Biblical laws can be interpreted either as a license for violence or in a peaceful manner. Rabbinic Judaism exemplifies how potentially violent laws can be interpreted in a civilized and peace-loving way. In Judaism, killing and religion are as far apart from one another as the number one is from infinity. It is this peaceful model that we should be exporting.

Secularism is doubtless dominant in the West. But this may be because the religion that is currently offered lacks passion and attractiveness. What will happen if a new generation of religious demagogues rises up, passionately arguing a negative fundamentalist line? We may end up with another crusade on our hands. The only way to avert such a disaster is to offer an alternative peaceful religious model that has real meaning as well as purpose and passion. Let us hope that those directing the war realize this. The future is still in our hands. Let us shape it while we are still able.