Is there anything Islamic about Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps? On what basis does Ayman al-Zawahiri, now al-Qaeda’s leader, formerly the head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, claim to be a jihadi — an Islamic warrior? Do groups that justify terrorism on the basis of Islam have a doctrinal leg to stand on?
Let’s not start by answering these questions. Let’s start by agreeing that such questions need to be asked — not suppressed. Yet right now suppression seems to be the goal of senior officials in the Obama administration. A report by the Westminster Institute’s Katharine C. Gorka notes: “Key national security documents have already excised all terminology that associates terrorism with Islam or Islamic concepts such as jihad.”
She cites evidence that those who persist in using such terminology are being blacklisted — disqualified from working with federal agencies. Gorka asks: “If counter-terrorism professionals are not allowed to acknowledge that a person motivated by jihadist ideology, or by such Islamist ideologues as Sayyid Qutb or Abu’l-A’la Mawdudi, may be inclined towards acts of violence against Americans, how will they be able to identify and deter potential attackers?”
Qutb, of course, was the “intellectual godfather” of modern Islamism. He proclaimed that “a Muslim has no nationality except his belief,” and that Islam is “not a ‘religion’ in the sense this term is commonly understood.” Instead, Islam is meant to encompass “all fields of living,” emphatically including politics and economics. He opposed democratic systems of governance because they replace God’s laws with man’s laws, thereby blasphemously diminishing the former and elevating the latter. A member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qutb was executed in Egypt in 1966.
Mawdudi was a Pakistani who argued that “the aim of Islam is to bring about a universal revolution.” He advocated that Muslims begin by transforming the states in which they live into “Islamic states.” Once those Islamic states have “power and resources,” their obligation is to “fight and destroy non-Islamic governments and establish Islamic states in their place. . . . Their ultimate objective is none other than world revolution.” It’s worth noting that while Mawdudi did not suffer most infidels gladly, he wrote admiringly of the “ingenious and mighty leadership of Hitler and his comrades.”
I have encountered senior government officials who were unfamiliar with Qutb, Mawdudi, and other radical Muslim voices. That’s disturbing. But how much worse if it has now become the policy of the U.S. government to demand ignorance, to insist upon it as a matter of principle and strategy?
During a hearing earlier this month, Rep. Dan Lungren (R., Calif.) repeatedly asked Assistant Defense Secretary for Homeland Defense Paul Stockton whether America is “at war with violent Islamist extremism.” Stockton repeatedly insisted that America is at war only with “al-Qaeda and its allies” and “violent extremism.” An exasperated Lungren stressed that he understood — that he was making a distinction between “violent Islamist extremism” and Islam. Stockton replied: “Sir, with great respect, I don’t believe it’s helpful to frame our adversary as Islamic with any set of qualifiers that we might add, because we are not at war with Islam.”
Gorka comments: “The Obama administration is right to assert that America is not at war with Islam, but to deny that a violent strain of Islam is inspiring a wave of terrorist attacks against Americans and American targets is to invite disaster.”
I’d add this: Those who tar all Muslims with a single brush make a serious mistake, unwittingly assisting not just bin Ladenists, but also Iran’s theocrats. Muslim liberals and reformers should be our allies in the war that must be waged against totalitarianism and supremacism in their contemporary manifestations.
But combining sensitivity and intellectual honesty is not so difficult. To acknowledge that Nazism was a German ideology hardly makes one a Germanophobe. You can love Italy while recognizing that Fascism was deeply rooted in Italian soil. Russia gave the world Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky. It also gave us Leninism and Stalinism. And can you imagine the U.S. government banning any linkage of the Spanish Inquisition with the Vatican — lest it offend Roman Catholics?
The radical ideologies that today most threaten America, Israel, and Europe arise from within the Muslim world and are justified by fundamentalist interpretations of Islamic scripture. Those who lead movements and regimes based on these ideologies have been inspired by the Islamic conquests of centuries past. They believe a second age of Islamic power and glory is achievable — if Muslims are willing to fight for it as did Mohammad, his companions, and the “Soldiers of Allah” (a phrase, you may recall, that the “violent extremist” Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan proudly printed on his calling cards).
Muslim liberals and reformers do not deny this. Those who do deny it are not Muslim liberals or reformers — but they are exerting influence at the highest levels of the U.S. government.
That can be explained in part by the fact that in the Middle East there is an enormous amount of money — nearly every penny of it derived from the sale of oil to the West — backing those who seek to revive Islamic imperialism and colonialism.
To forbid American officials and those who work with them from even discussing such matters is either an attempt at appeasement that is sure to fail or a manifestation of madness that, if not checked, can only contribute to the West’s decline and, ultimately, submission.
— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.