The Real Foreign-Policy Failure
A response to Doug Feith and Seth Cropsey.

Doug Feith and Seth Cropsey


Andrew C. McCarthy

No, Islam clearly is a religion, and its theological tenets are every bit as deserving of the First Amendment’s guarantees as any other. But Muslims must accept that, in America and the West, it is not Islam but our traditions — especially the separation of church and state — that set the parameters of religious liberty. This way, Islam, the religion, is protected, but Islamic supremacism, the totalitarian ideology, is not. The latter undeniably draws on Islamic scripture, but it is categorically akin to Communism or National Socialism, not to religious creeds.

Next we come to what Messrs. Feith and Cropsey call “Islamist extremism.” Again, it is far better than the Obama Left’s explanation for the threat to America. Yet, in the end, the phrase contributes more confusion than illumination.

The authors are spot on in arguing that the Obama administration has not acknowledged the ideological nature of the threat. The president, they say, defines our enemy “organizationally” rather than “ideologically” — as al-Qaeda and its network of affiliated terrorist groups, not as believers united by a common construction of Islam.

In addition, Feith and Cropsey correctly take to task both Obama and his mostly non-Muslim advisers for fashioning their own bowdlerized version of Islam. Departures from Obama’s rosy Islam — as opposed to the Islam of Mohammed — are branded by the administration as “extremist” (the same adjective that, we shall see, Feith and Cropsey use to describe a different amorphous concept). Team Obama’s intimation is that these departures pervert Islam, or are even downright non-Muslim; the brute fact that their endorsements of violence are palpably rooted in Islamic scripture never seems to register. 

The authors are also right in faulting the administration for claiming that the “fires of extremism” are stoked exclusively by “longstanding political and economic ‘grievances,’” for which Americans are reliably portrayed as the culprit. A better explanation for “extremism,” argue Feith and Cropsey, lies in “the supremacist exhortations of Islamist ideology.”

Here is the problem, though: Feith and Cropsey do not tell us is what they think “Islamist ideology” is.

Like Obama, they describe it as “Islamist extremism.” Well, what is it that makes the ideology an “extreme” version of Islam? Quite obviously, it is not terrorism. The authors forcefully assert, “the terrorism threat is part of a larger problem of Islamist extremism.” Perceptively, Feith and Cropsey see terrorism as only one manifestation of “extremism,” by no means the whole story.

This conclusion is underscored by their account of President George W. Bush’s approach to anti-terrorism. Bush, they explain, “saw al Qaeda as part of a diverse international movement of Islamist extremists hostile to the United States, to liberal principles (in particular the rights of women), and to most governments of predominantly Muslim countries.”

So it is not just al-Qaeda and not just the violence that makes Islamist extremism extreme. It is the ideology’s opposition to the West, which is led by the United States and identified by “liberal principles.” But what, pray tell, is this ideology’s problem with Western principles, “in particular the rights of women”? What has been its problem with the governments of predominantly Muslim countries?


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