‘Outlook: Islam.” So reads the personal webpage of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who ravaged Boston this week, along with his now-deceased brother and fellow jihadist, Tamerlan — namesake of a 14th-century Muslim warrior whose campaigns through Asia Minor are legendary for their brutalization of non-Muslims.
Brutalizing our own non-Muslim country has been the principal objective of jihadists for the last 20 years. This week marks a new and chilling chapter: the introduction on our shores of the tactics the self-styled mujahideen have used to great, gory effect for the past decade in Afghanistan and Iraq.
At a point in the race timed to achieve maximum carnage, the Tsarnaev brothers bombed the Boston Marathon with improvised explosive devices. IEDs are small but potent homemade bombs — crude explosives and unforgiving shrapnel encased in easily portable pressure cookers. The bombs are simple to make. They won’t kill thousands or even hundreds of people like hijacked planes or heavy chemical explosives will. But that’s not the objective. The goal is to instill terror into the flow of everyday life. IEDs are made for “soft” targets. They are easily camouflaged amid the traffic, the everyday debris, and the eight-year-old boys frolicking as they wait for Dad to cross the finish line.
Willful blindness remains the order of the day, as it has since the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993. It is freely conceded that, when the identities and thus the motivation of the Marathon terrorists were not known, it would have been irresponsible to dismiss any radical ideology as, potentially, the instigator. But in our politically correct, up-is-down culture, to suggest “Outlook: Islam” was unthinkable. So the most likely scenario — namely, that jihadists who have been at war with us for two decades had, yet again, attacked innocent civilians — became the least likely scenario in the minds of media pundits. Instead, they brazenly prayed (to Gaia, I’m sure) for white conservative culprits with Tea Party hats and Rush 24/7 subscriptions. As our Kevin D. Williamson quipped, the “literal Caucasians” they got were not quite what they had in mind.
To listen to the commentary was to assume that the jihad’s nimble post-9/11 shift from heavy bombs and airliner missiles to IEDs had never happened. Prior to 2009, much agitprop was made over the thousands of American troops killed and maimed by IEDs in Iraq — they signified, the Left told us, that George Bush had brought al-Qaeda to previously jihad-free Baghdad. So did IEDs at the Marathon mean the same jihad had now come to Boston? Perish the thought. Surely the Marathon bombing was the work of either the right-wing extremists Janet Napolitano has been warning us about since 2009, or those notoriously violent Catholics and Evangelicals that today’s Army equates with Hamas and Hezbollah.
But no: It was in fact the jihad that stubbornly refuses to be wished away. It will have to be defeated. It was never a molehill we were exaggerating into Mohammed’s mountain. After 1,400 years of aggression, we can safely say it is not anytime soon going to evolve into the ballyhooed “internal struggle for personal betterment” — not for the tens of millions of Muslims for whom Islamic supremacism is, quite simply, Islam.
So will we be roused to meet the challenge? Doesn’t seem like it. On Friday morning, the damning and utterly predictable details began pouring in the second the jihadists were identified — “Outlook: Islam”; a YouTube playlist called “Terrorists” that included the ditty, “I will dedicate my life to jihad”; a wife who abruptly converted to Islam and began dressing in what a neighbor called “the Islamic style”; an apparent reverence for the notorious sharia jurist Sheikh Feiz Mohammed. Yet the media commentary, even if it grudgingly mentions these things, internalizes none of them. “How shocking it is,” we’ve repeatedly heard, “that the brothers Tsarnaev want to mass-murder Americans. After all, they’re Chechen Muslims, and the Chechens’ beef is with the Russians, not us.”
Good grief. It is the Uighurs all over again. You’ll recall the Uighurs — they were a group of Turkic-speaking jihadists from the Xinjiang region of China, detained at Guantanamo Bay because they trained in Afghanistan with an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organization (the East Turkistan Islamic Movement). At least some of them fought against American forces. Nevertheless, we released them. Stroking its bloated chin, our government rationalized that they could not be enemy combatants because they weren’t our enemies — their beef was really with China, right? After all, Islam is a Religion of Peace and we’re very nice people, so why should we assume they might have a problem with us?
We are in a war driven by ideology. “Violent extremism,” which is the label the government and the commentariat prefer to put on our enemies, is not an ideology — it is the brutality that radical ideologies yield. Our enemies’ ideology is Islamic supremacism. To challenge and defeat an ideological movement, you have to understand and confront their vision of the world. Imposing your own assumptions and biases will not do. Islamic supremacists do not see a world of Westphalian nation-states. They do not distinguish between Russia and America the way they distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims. Their ideology frames matters as Dar al-Islam versus Dar al-Harb: the realm of Islam in a fight to the death against the realm of war — which is everyone and everyplace else.
The fact that you think this is nuts, or that I’m nuts for saying it out loud, has nothing to do with whether they believe it. They do — and they don’t care, even a little, what you think.
You do not defeat an ideology by hoping it will change or disappear. You have to challenge it, to make it defend its baleful tenets in the light of day. You cannot protect yourself from its violent outbursts absent understanding its teaching, reluctantly accepting that its teaching will inevitably lead some Muslims to strike out savagely, and committing to a pro-active, intelligence-based counterterrorism strategy — one that scraps political correctness and ferrets out the jihadists before they strike.
Asked about his “outlook,” Dzhokhar Tsarnaev offered a pregnant response, “Islam,” that raises more questions than it answers. There are all kinds of Islam, including the supremacist kind that is far more widely held than we’re comfortable acknowledging. Until we get beyond that discomfort, until we are prepared to ask, “What Islam?” — and until we are prepared to treat Islamic supremacism as the pariah it should be — Boston’s hellish week will remain our recurring nightmare.
— 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.