Two Sides of the Jihadi Coin
Al-Qaeda and Iran are rivals, not enemies.


Clifford D. May

As I write this, European police are searching for “hit teams” plotting attacks against civilians in Britain, France, Germany, and Sweden. Why would al-Qaeda plan such strikes now? That’s like asking why dogs bark. It’s what they do.

Al-Qaeda is in the jihad business. If al-Qaeda can’t produce, other organizations will, and then they will have the edge when it comes to raising funds from Middle Eastern radicals who control enormous and self-replenishing fortunes thanks to infidel dependence on oil.

But factor in this, too: In recent days, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been strutting upon the world stage, addressing the United Nations, denouncing capitalism, and declaring that the atrocities of 9/11 were an inside job — the work of “American intelligence” carried out in order to “reverse the declining American economy and its grip on the Middle East in order also to save the Zionist regime.” If you think that’s insulting to Americans, imagine how Osama bin Laden must feel.

People forget — too many have never grasped — that there are two jihadi camps, one Sunni, one Shia, two sides of the same coin. They are rivals, not enemies. Often they compete. Sometimes they cooperate.

In 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini founded the Islamic Republic of Iran — the first modern jihadi state. Thirty-one years ago next month, Iranian militants committed an act of war against America — not their last — when they seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took the diplomats there hostage. The Carter administration’s feckless response sent a message. Khomeini summed it up crisply: “The Americans cannot do a thing.”

Sunni radicals — not least in Saudi Arabia,where Wahhabism, an especially supremacist and intolerant reading of Islam, is the state religion — were energized. Maybe America is not so super a power after all. Maybe the West is exhausted and in decline. Maybe the time is ripe for global revolution, for restoring Islam to the prominence it once enjoyed, still deserves, and is destined to regain. Maybe the world is ready to accept the gift of sharia, Islamic law.

Ten years later, in 1989, Khomeini kicked off the campaign to establish sharia-without-borders by ordering the assassination of Salman Rushdie, a British novelist who, Khomeini declared, had committed the “crime” of insulting Islam. Nations that valued freedom should — at a minimum — have cut all ties with Iran. They did not. Today, critics of Islam are routinely subjected to death threats; Feisal Abdul Rauf, a “moderate” imam, warns that if a mosque cannot be built on the edge of Ground Zero, Americans must expect his more extremist coreligionists to commit acts of violence against them; and the possibility of prohibiting, under international law, offenses to Islam is being seriously debated at the United Nations.

The most recent terrorist plans reportedly include “commando-style raids and hostage-taking” in European cities, the approach used by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani al-Qaeda affiliate, in Mumbai in 2008. Some intelligence analysts think these plots may have been disrupted by recent Predator-drone strikes against terrorist planners in the remote tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan. But that is not certain, which is why Sweden, Britain, and France have raised their threat levels and the U.S. State Department has issued a travel alert for Europe. On Tuesday, France also arrested eleven terrorist suspects.

But even as President Obama was escalating the fight against jihadis in North Waziristan, he was declining to fully utilize the non-lethal tools he has available to pressure jihadis in Tehran. In July, a bipartisan majority in Congress passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act in response to Iran’s rulers’ continuing their illicit drive for nuclear weapons, their support for terrorism abroad — including against Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan — and their brutal oppression of dissidents at home.