Last month, Americans celebrated the holidays without a terrorist attack on American soil. That should be a source of relief but not complacency. Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, and the Philippines were not so lucky.
The hard fact is a global conflict is underway. You, as an incoming member of the 112th Congress, need to understand that. You need to know who is waging this war, what motivates them, and what their goals are. Without such knowledge, you will not be able to make informed — much less wise — legislative and policy decisions. So here’s a very brief briefing:
In 1979, there was a revolution in Iran. Those who took power established the first modern nation dedicated to Jihad — holy war against Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Muslims who do not accept their radical Islamist agenda. Iran is a predominately Shia country but its revolution inspired the rise of militant groups among the more numerous Sunni Muslims of the broader Middle East as well. Al-Qaeda is only the best known.
Sunni jihadis and Shia jihadis are rivals, not enemies. They cooperate and collaborate against common enemies — us, for example. The evidence for this is abundant.
What is the goal of jihad? It was articulated concisely by the scholar Ibn Khaldun: “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and the [obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. . . . Islam is under obligation to gain power over nations.”
Perhaps Ibn Khaldun was speaking out of anger, considering the continuing incarceration of Muslim combatants at Gitmo, the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the sufferings of the Palestinians? I’d guess not — since Ibn Khaldun died early in the 15th century.
Most Muslims do not embrace this interpretation of Islam or view it as appropriate for the 21st century. But a supremacist reading of the Koran caters to the pride and vanity of a significant minority of the world’s more than 1.3 billion Muslims. Also important: In what we have come to call the “Muslim world,” modernizers and reformers do not control the lion’s share of the money (oil money) and power (which, in most countries, is not democratically derived).
The Muslim world is an expanding world: The Saudi-based Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) claims 56 member states. Some are not — or not yet — Muslim-majority nations. The OIC is the most powerful bloc at the United Nations, an organization that the U.S. continues to generously fund. (You may want to consider whether such expenditures still make sense.) Meanwhile, the Muslim population of Europe is growing rapidly while what might be called the continent’s natives are in a demographic death spiral.
The “Hard Jihad” is fought with violence. There is also the “Soft Jihad” — an effort to destroy liberal democracies from within, to use Western values and institutions to undermine Western values and institutions.
The most important organization promoting Soft Jihad is the Muslim Brotherhood and its many affiliates. Twenty years ago, an American branch of the Muslim Brotherhood issued an internal memorandum acknowledging — boasting, actually — that it was engaged in a “grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within” by “sabotage.” Anytime you are approached by members of a “moderate” Muslim group, you should ask about their links to the Muslim Brotherhood and their views of the Muslim Brotherhood.
One weapon of the Soft Jihad is “lawfare.” To take just one example, Soeren Kern, senior fellow at the Madrid-based think tank Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos (GEES), recently reported on a Spanish high-school geology teacher who is being sued for having “defamed Islam” by mentioning pork products in his classroom. Specifically, during a lecture on Spain’s regions, he noted that Andalusia offers the perfect climate for curing the world-famous delicacy known as jamón ibérico – Spanish ham.
Kernn writes that though “Spanish legal scholars are divided over whether the lawsuit has merit, nearly everyone agrees that the case has potentially major implications for free speech in Spain. They also agree that the constant threat of lawsuits will force Spanish school teachers to carefully consider their choice of words in the future.”
Lawfare also embraces efforts to spread Sharia, Islamic law, for example by insisting that Western firms provide “Sharia-compliant financing,” which gives Islamic clerics say over investment decisions and, potentially, siphons off funds to “charities” that support terrorism.
And then there is this: Last week, a Danish court charged three men with plotting an armed assault on the office of Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that in 2005 published satirical cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Most significant is the message this sends: Under traditional interpretations of Islamic law it is forbidden for Muslims to portray Mohammed pictorially. Now, however, these religious prohibitions are to apply equally to non-Muslims in non-Muslim majority countries. And, apparently, there is no statute of limitations. If the OIC were a moderate organization, it would object to that. Instead, it has been pushing in the U.N. for international laws that would limit free speech where Islam is concerned. The U.S. has an ambassador to the OIC. He should be vigorously opposing such efforts. You might want to inquire into why it does not appear that he is.
If you’ve followed me this far, here are three policy implications: (1) While the War Against the West is different from previous wars, it is not simply a “law-enforcement” problem as too many people (including, it seems, James Cole, just recess-appointed by President Obama as deputy attorney general) prefer to believe. (2) Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia — these are not separate wars but rather fronts in a single global conflict. (3) Make up your mind that the jihadis in Tehran will not acquire nuclear weapons — not on your watch. The sanctions imposed by the U.S. in 2010 are an important part of the effort but only a part.
Final point: 2011 is the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Osama bin Laden is alive. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a plan. Are you confident the U.S. has an adequate strategy for frustrating their ambitions? And by the way: Welcome to Washington.
— Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and Islamism.