Yet, that is not to say we don’t have a political-correctness problem. We do. It rears its head in the use of modifiers like “extremist” (“radical” is similar). There is no reason to call an Islamist “extreme.” He is extreme by definition: He wants to impose sharia on a non-sharia society.
As Feith and Cropsey seem to recognize, this desire is extreme regardless of whether the Islamist in question pursues his agenda by violent jihad or by less coercive methods. To speak of “Islamist extremists” is to imply that there must be some Islamists who are not extremists. That’s nonsensical. Yes, there are many Islamists who are not violent jihadists — they are not threatening to blow up buildings to coerce their opponents into adopting sharia. But they still want sharia to be adopted. That is what makes them ideological allies of al-Qaeda — the alliance Feith and Cropsey are right to identify as our core challenge.
The authors write, “It is clear that not all Muslims embrace extremist Islamist ideology — perhaps only a small minority do.” Here, they commit a less egregious but still costly version of the same offense for which they indict Obama: miniaturizing our foes. The president cannot bring himself to admit that the challenge is ideological in nature or any broader than the al-Qaeda network of terrorists. Feith and Cropsey correct him on both these scores, but then cling to the hope that “only a small minority” of non-terrorist Muslims are ideological allies of the violent jihadists.
This is just wrong. Al-Qaeda wants to impose sharia — that’s precisely why it engages in violent jihad. Non-violent Islamists also want to impose sharia — that’s why they’re Islamists. These reputedly non-violent Islamists are not a “small minority” — they may be a majority of the world’s Muslims, and they are certainly a majority of the Middle East’s Muslims. They are al-Qaeda’s ideological allies, and, truth be told, they’re not really all that non-violent: They generally disagree with al-Qaeda’s attacks on Muslims and on non-Muslim countries, but they are supportive of violence against what they take to be non-Muslim aggressors in what they consider Islamic territories. Indeed, the sharia to which they adhere requires financial support (zakat) for those fighting in Allah’s cause.
Sharia is the tie that binds terrorists to all other Islamists. To admit this is difficult. It means our ideological foes number in the hundreds of millions among the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims — we cannot reasonably marginalize them as a “small minority.” It also means that Bush counterterrorism, for all the considerable good it did, was incoherent and counterproductive in claiming our government could both fight terrorism and promote sharia — Bush officials having not only lauded Islamic law but enshrined it in the constitutions they helped fashion for Afghanistan and Iraq; Bush officials having done their share of “outreach” to sharia activists, many tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.
If we shrink from confronting the Middle Eastern construction of sharia, though, we cannot do what Messrs. Feith and Cropsey correctly urge that our security demands: “acknowledge the obvious” and understand the ideological threat. The challenge is bigger than terrorism, but to describe it as “extremism” is to miss it. The challenge is sharia.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the executive director of the Philadelphia Freedom Center. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, which was published by Encounter Books.