Well, at least he had it half right. For John Brennan, President Obama’s al-Quds lovin’ counterterrorism guru, that’s a significant improvement.
Last week, Brennan interrupted his search for the “moderate elements” of Hezbollah and his finger-wagging at Americans for their “ignorant feelings” about Muslim-man-caused disasters to offer some signature insights about Islam at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In a pleasantly surprising start, he conceded that the United States has an “enemy,” which he further admitted was neither “terrorism” — a “tactic” — nor “terror” — “a state of mind.”
So far so good. For a guy who figures “20 percent isn’t that bad” a recidivism rate for released mass murderers, this was pretty good stuff.
Then he got to jihad.
Brennan admonished that we must not “describe our enemy as ‘jihadists.’” Why not? “Because jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam.” Right again. There is no gainsaying that jihad is deemed to be a divine injunction in Islam. If one regards all forms of Islam as “legitimate,” then jihad, too, must be legitimate. Yet “legitimate” is a slippery concept. It could mean that something is good. Or it could just mean that something is authentic — something that really exists, for good or ill.
Islam falls into the latter category. It exists. In many of its iterations — not just al-Qaeda’s ideology but Islamist ideology, which is quite mainstream — Islam means the West existential harm. This is why we are supportive of reformist Muslims, however pessimistic some of us may be about their prospects. The point, though, is that Islam is not going away. It is part of the hand we are dealt, like it or not. We don’t need to trash-talk it gratuitously, but neither should we pretend that it is an asset on our security ledger. It’s not.
Alas, the Hope administration doesn’t see it that way. For Brennan, as for Obama, Islam is immovably in the first category: “legitimate” as in “good” — end of discussion. To sculpt this alternative reality, two things are required. First, we must ignore Islam’s many troublesome elements — e.g., its supremacism, inequality, intolerance, denial of freedom of conscience, endorsement of violence, etc. Second, to the extent that the resulting atrocities can’t be ignored, we must pretend that what ails the Islamic world is our fault, not Islam’s.
Thus we get the priceless Brennan on jihad. According our counterterrorism czar (or is it now counter-tactic czar?), the “holy struggle” is wholly anodyne. Jihad, he insists, merely “mean[s] to purify oneself or one’s community.” Therefore, there can be “nothing holy or legitimate or Islamic about murdering innocent men, women, and children.” If innocent men, women, and children are being killed, don’t blame jihad. There must be some other explanation: Israel, cartoons, Gitmo, South Park, teddy bears named Mohammed, dismay over the health-care bill — anything but jihad.
In his never-to-be-missed Saturday column, Mark Steyn observes the fictional scenes imprinted on euro currency, a perfect emblem for the pie-in-the-sky vision of a united Europe. It’s as if Hope could make Change if you just pretended hard enough: “If you invent a currency for a united Europe,” Mark writes of the EU fantasists, “a united Europe is sure to follow.” So, too, do Brennan, Obama, and the rest set about dreaming up an Islam of their very own. They are far from alone in this. For years, the project has consumed progressive solons in America and Europe — from Pres. George W. Bush’s “religion of peace” sermon, delivered while thousands of limbs were being removed from the rubble of the World Trade Center, to British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s Brennanesque insistence that terrorism had to be “un-Islamic activity” simply because it was terrorism.
Like Brennan, the Right Honorable Ms. Smith occupied a national-security position calling for clear-eyed realism, for counseling the government to deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it were. Instead, we get Judy Garland singing “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” except Garland at least knew she was dreaming.
While our top officials imagine an Islam that isn’t, jihad is something the rest of us needn’t imagine, because it is all too real. And it is simple. Jihad is, always and everywhere, the mission to implement, spread, or defend sharia, the Islamic legal code. It is not exclusively violent; an army doesn’t need to be violent if its enemies are willing to give ground. But jihad only “means to purify oneself or one’s community” in a very narrow sense. It is not the syrupy quest to become a better person but the command to become a better Muslim; it is not the smiley-face mission to “purify” one’s community of crime but the command to cleanse one’s community of non-Islamic influences.
The inextricable bond between jihad and sharia is also easily explained. In Muslim doctrine, sharia is deemed the necessary precondition for Islamicizing a society. Islam’s designs are hegemonic: Even in its less threatening iterations, it is taken as a given that believers must call all of humanity to the faith. What separates the true moderates from the faux moderates and the terrorists are the lengths to which one is willing to go in carrying out that injunction. That it is an injunction, however, is not open to debate.
Our political leaders can continue to trivialize jihad as if it were some benign struggle to brush after every meal. They can continue to ignore the core tenets that make sharia antithetical to a free, self-determining society. But they can’t do that and do the only job we need them to do: protect our lives and our liberties.
– 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.