We’ve tried “radical Islam,” “extremist Islam,” “fundamentalist Islam,” and “sharia Islam.” Inevitably, political correctness gave us “political Islam.” Now, ironically, under the guise of correcting an even worse case of political correctness, comes what we might call “Bon Jovi Islam.” Its proponent, Sen. Joe Lieberman, is halfway there and livin’ on a prayer.
Sen. Lieberman’s Wall Street Journal essay “Who’s the Enemy in the War on Terror?” gets it halfway right. He is justifiably dismayed over the Obama administration’s whitewashing of the Islamist part of Islamist terror. The president, he elaborates, “rightly reaffirms that America remains a nation at war,” but self-defeatingly “refuses to identify our enemy.” For Lieberman, the administration’s preferred claim that we are at war with “violent extremism,” is absurd. Our foe, in truth, is a particular, identifiable component of the Muslim world.
All exactly right . . . except that Lieberman proceeds to do the very thing he accuses Obama of doing: miniaturizing the threat. The enemy, he pronounces, is “violent Islamist extremism.” He diagnoses its cause to be “a terrorist political ideology” that “exploits” what most Muslims, according to Lieberman, understand to be “the enormous difference between their faith” and this ideology’s tenets.
“Exploits” is a telling choice of words. Lieberman mines it from the Bush administration’s 2006 National Security Strategy — the framework Obama has rejected because it dared utter the I-word. The senator recounts that President Bush identified the enemy as “the transnational terrorists [who] exploit the proud religion of Islam to serve a violent political vision.”
Yet the Bush administration didn’t always frame it that way. Bush officials were wont to say that those wily terrorists were “perverting” or “twisting” or outright “lying” about Muslim scripture in order to justify their atrocities. The apotheosis of this relentlessly optimistic vision came in 2008, when the dreamy side of the Bush house elbowed aside more clear-eyed critics and declared a jihad on “jihad” — the word. Admonishing us that we must no longer invoke “jihad” to describe jihadist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security rationalized that “many so-called ‘Islamic’ terrorist groups [so-called?] twist and exploit the tenets of Islam to justify violence.” As I countered at the time (and rehearse in my new book, The Grand Jihad):
The Koran . . . commands, in Sura 9:123 (to take just one of many examples), “O ye who believe, fight those of the disbelievers who are near you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty unto him.” What part of that does DHS suppose needs to be “twisted” by terrorists in order to gull fellow Muslims into believing Islam commands Muslims to “fight those of the disbelievers who are near you, and let them find harshness in you”?
I was far from the only one who complained. Since then, “twist,” “pervert,” and “lie” have faded from government’s Islamophilic vocabulary. So we’re left with “exploit.” Except there’s a problem for Senator Lieberman: You can only exploit something that’s actually there. It only made sense for the Islamophiles to use “exploit” when they were also alleging that Islamist claims about Muslim doctrine were fabrications. But those claims are real. If, as Lieberman maintains, terrorists are able to “exploit . . . Islam to serve a violent political vision,” it is because Islamic doctrine does, in fact, support a violent political vision. This doesn’t mean there can’t be competing interpretations. Jihadists, however, are not making theirs up — it’s in the scriptures.
More significantly, violence is not the principal concern here, though it is certainly the immediate one. Our real challenge is that, violent or not, Islamic doctrine constitutes a political vision. That is, Islam is not a mere religion as we understand the concept in the West — a set of spiritual guidelines that are denied governing authority in what is a separate, secular realm. Mainstream Islam calls for a comprehensive political, economic, legal, and social theocracy. Its spiritual elements are only a small part of the system, and it rejects the concept of divisibility between mosque and state.
Nor is it only terrorists who construe Islam this way — not by a long shot. Islamists have the full-throated support of Islam’s most influential clerical and jurisprudential authorities. These include the leading faculty at Egypt’s al-Azhar University, the seat of learning for Sunnis, who compose the vast majority of the world’s Muslims. To be sure, there is a vibrant debate in the ummah about terrorism, as such. That, in reality, is a debate about tactics. There is broad consensus about the strategic goal: Non-terrorist Muslims substantially agree with the terrorists that Islam commands the establishment of sharia societies.
Senator Lieberman claims that, for most Muslims, there is an “enormous difference between their faith and the terrorist political ideology that has exploited it.” That is not true. There are differences about terrorism, but there is a broad accord when it comes to the political ideology. The mainstream of Islam — by no means all Muslims, but many Muslims, including many of the most influential — is convinced that America is the problem in the world. A great number of Muslims in America — again not all, but many — believes that the U.S. should be a sharia society, notwithstanding sharia’s core differences with our culture of freedom based on individual liberty.
Even with respect to terrorism, it is not accurate to say there is “enormous” disagreement between the mass of Muslims and the terrorists. The difference is narrow and nuanced. The argument is over whether terrorism in America, as opposed to outside America, is counterproductive.
The Muslim Brotherhood, backed by billions of Saudi petrodollars, has spent half a century building an aggressive Islamist infrastructure here. It is led by the Muslim Students Associations (more than 600 chapters in the U.S. and Canada), the Islamic Society of North America, the North American Islamic Trust, the Muslim American Society, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and similar groups. It is making ample progress marching sharia through our institutions. Hence, the argument: Many Muslims — including many who’ve lionized Osama bin Laden in the past, or rationalized his atrocities as being, in the final analysis, America’s fault — now think violence in the United States is unnecessary. They see it as objectionable, because it has killed Muslims indiscriminately, and as unproductive, because it is apt to rouse Americans to roll back sharia’s gains. These Muslims agree that America deserves its comeuppance, but they believe there are more effective ways than terrorism to bring that about.
The primary threat this cabal poses in our homeland is not violence, as Lieberman posits. It is sabotage. Don’t take my word for it: The Muslim Brotherhood itself put the matter bluntly in a 1991 internal memorandum: The organization and its satellites are engaged in a “grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within” by “sabotage.” Theirs is not only, or even principally, a “violent political ideology.” It is a political ideology aiming to supplant us, by hook or by crook. The question of violent or non-violent means is tactical, and it is secondary.
Moreover, outside the United States, there is broad Muslim support — not unanimous, but broad — for terrorism against Israel and against Americans operating in Muslim countries. Taking their cues from al-Azhar and other influential centers, millions of Muslims deny that those mass murders are “terrorism” at all; they call it “resistance.” That’s why they can look you in the eye and say they “condemn terrorism,” though you can never get them to condemn Hamas or Hezbollah by name. Those terrorist organizations now claim democratic legitimacy because Muslims — not just terrorists, but rank-and-file Muslims — flocked to the polls in Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories to vote for them, just as millions of Muslims in Iraq have voted for the Islamist parties that canoodle with Iran and Hezbollah while slamming us and ostracizing Israel.
Senator Lieberman is to be applauded for criticizing the Obama administration’s refusal to come to terms with the Islamist enemy. Still, despite chastising the president for violating Sun Tzu’s axiom that “the first rule in war is to know your enemy so you can defeat it,” Lieberman, too, is in violation when he fails to acknowledge that violence isn’t the half of the civilizational challenge we face.
The senator, furthermore, is livin’ on a prayer in insisting that there is a thriving, preponderant, moderate Islam. He declares:
There is no question that violent Islamist extremists seek to provoke a “clash of civilizations,” and that we must discredit this hateful lie. We must encourage and empower the non-violent Muslim majority to raise their voices to condemn the Islamist extremist ideology as a desecration of Islam, responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of innocent Muslims and people of other faiths. How can we expect those Muslims to have the courage to stand and do that if we are unwilling to define and describe the enemy as dramatically different from them?
If only wishing could make it so. Though there is a non-violent Muslim majority, in the sense that most Muslims would not commit terrorist acts, that majority does not condemn what Lieberman calls “the Islamist extremist ideology.” Far from thinking it a “desecration of Islam,” they agree with it. They don’t agree with the violence in America. But maybe we should ask Israel — a state made a pariah for defending itself against a ceaseless terrorist onslaught — if the world’s Muslims are condemning Hamas or rising up in its support. Maybe we should ask the al-Azhar faculty what its response was when Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual guide and the world’s most influential Sunni cleric, issued fatwas approving suicide bombings in Israel and the killing of American troops in Iraq.
In the real world, with the real Islam, Israel is isolated because Muslims globally support Hamas’s cause and increasingly goad the West into going along. The al-Azhar faculty rallied behind Qaradawi because mainstream Islam views efforts to implant Western notions and institutions in Muslim countries as affronts that must be met with violence until the Westerners leave, even if the Westerners believe they are doing humanitarian work to help Muslims. One senses that Senator Lieberman understands these unhappy truths. Why else would he take pains to note that terrorists have murdered “innocent Muslims”? The sad fact is that the murder of innocent non-Muslims is not enough to move the ummah.
Halfway there and livin’ on a prayer won’t work. A dominant, Westernized, post-sharia Islamic ideology will not suddenly emerge just because we’d like it to. As might have been said by Dean Acheson, whom Senator Lieberman admiringly quotes, pretending otherwise won’t make us inoffensive to our enemies or able to protect our freedom.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.