It is exactly about power, but religion is their theocrats tool of control. That is their shtick. That is exactly why the mere existence-- well, not 'mere' existence, but blasted on 500 cable channels worldwide existence-- of a successful thriving -secular- America was correctly perceived by those theocrats as a direct existential threat to their local political power. They were absolutely right in their assesment: "It is them or us."
That was true no matter how America regarded struggling theocracies in the world; with barely considered contempt, or the focus of intense round the clock drone raids picking the crazies out of their swamp if they weren't going to. Even in the hypothetical of a completely benign oblivious America peacefully pursuing modernity at home with not a literal care in the world, the mere -existence- of a successful America, known to their struggling populations living in the consequent squalor and poverty of theocratic shit holes -- was an existential threat exactly to their -power- over their street.
Religion is just the sweet candy coating over their local politicos power game, but it is exactly the key to their political control, and exactly why a secular America is perceived by them -- correctly-- as an existential threat to their theocratic based power.
We have a hard time imagining this because we were raised in a secular political context.
That is why this conflict is not symmetric in any sense of the word. Secular America could care less about the existence of struggling theocracies in the world until and unless they start striking out based on their correctly perceived existential fear. It doesn't matter if we fundamentally are not threatened by the existence of struggling theocracies in the world as long as they are fundamentally threatened by our mere existence and they act out on those existential fears. We must because they do, period.
The basis for their existential fear is fundamental; we are a threat because of exactly what we teach our kids in grades K-12 about the 1st Amendment, period, and that is enough if as a result of what those kids are taught, they eventually grow up and build world leading economies. (That we might also be a factual military threat is way down the chain of cause and effect.)
A concrete example I keep bringing up is Bangladesh; Americans are barely aware of Bangladesh, and hardly consider it an existential threat, and yet, those 140 million people, living in an area about the size of Wisconsin in the always flooded Ganges River delta, which is also the exit of the sewage disposal system for much of the Indian subcontinent, are taught in their political context from an early age to "fear and loathe" the West, precisely because of Americas 1st Amendment. In this recent spate of world uprisings, Bangladesh was included, and without any background or context, most Americans would think "w.t.f.?"
Bangladesh is not a threat to US power or US politicos power, but the converse is not true; the very existence of a successful and preeminent US in the world is a direct threat to the power of the local politicos in Bangladesh who rule using religion as a tool.
Secular America fundamentally does not understand this. If we did, we would understand that the conflict is not tractable in the sense of negotiation or compromise; we would literally need to compromise away exactly what makes America "America" in order to appease these religious tools, because it is non-secular religious activism that is the foundation of their theocratic power in their political context.
The local Old Men in Robes run -everything.- They prove it frequently by calling national religious strikes -- Hartals-- during which it is against their law to do -anything- such as ... run a power plant, conduct any form of commerce, down to even hiring ones-self out as a rickshaw driver. Desperate rickshaw drivers, mindful of the opportunity because regular taxis and three wheeled Cushman taxis are not operating, conduct trade in defiance of the religious Hartal, and gangs of religious 'enforcers' roam the streets. If they find a rickshaw driver with a passenger, they pursue/descend on them and summarily murder them in the street. The body count is announced in the papers the next day like national soccer scores: "Dhaka 7 Chittagong 3."
The nominal civil government -begs- the nation to ignore these Hartals, and to at least act peacefully, but has no ultimate control over the situation. The entire purpose is to demonstrate to all who really is running the country, and it is the old religious crazies. During a Hartal the streets are totally surrendered to the religious crazies and their gangs of enforcer/thugs. Not even the military bayoneted Enfields or not, dare violate the Hartal and concede the streets during such days.
You are absolutely right; it has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with power, but religion is the magic key to their tyranny and is an absolute requirement for their power. It is the source of their existential fear and loathing of secular America.