The Corner

“Defensive” Jihad Is In the Eye of the Beholder

As Dan reported here earlier, would-be Times Square bomber Feisal Shahzad was sentenced to life-imprisonment earlier today. Defiant and remorseless to the end, Shahzad made a number of chilling statements, but the most interesting moment came when Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum asked him — in a “you can’t possibly be serious” sort of way — whether he really believed the Koran wanted him to kill innocent people. “The Koran gives you the right to defend,” he replied, adding, ”That’s all I’m doing.”

It would be nice if Western apologists for Islam and its sharia law would listen to that — even if the Saudis do pay them handsomely to turn a deaf ear. We constantly hear that the “true” jihad is really an internal personal struggle to become a better person (although the more honest apologists concede that this is a modern, revisionist construction that would have been rejected by Islam’s most renowned and respected scholars). To maintain some semblance of credibility, these Islamophiles concede, through clenched teeth, that while there exists a violent interpretation of Islam, it is a relic whose only conceivable legitimate invocation is in “defense” — i.e., when Islam is under attack. Thus, the argument goes, we needn’t concern ourselves with it.

Since I wrote my last book, The Grand Jihad, and participated in the recently released “Team B-II” study called “Sharia: The Threat to America,” I’ve heard a good deal of criticism along the lines of “Sharia doesn’t really say what he claims it says,” or “Some scholars offer a different, moderate interpretation,” etc. I humbly submit that this misses the point. I went out of my way in the book, and in the introduction to the study, to make clear that I do not presume (nor do my colleagues presume in the study) to pronounce on what the “true” Islam says, or on whether there even is a true Islam. Wholly apart from any jihad against the West, Muslims have been killing each other for 14 centuries, and most of the internecine warfare is over competing scriptural interpretations and claims of apostasy (a capital offense in Islam, according to the most authoritative sharia authorities). Obviously, there is plenty of internal Islamic controversy over what Islam and its law truly stand for. Americans should be very wary of people who claim to know, however well-meaning they may seem.

The point is that, whether they are right or wrong, there are millions upon millions of Muslims who believe exactly what Shahzad believes about the nature of jihad and the demands of sharia. It is of no moment to them that we do not see ourselves as at war with Islam, or that we see the victims of terrorism as “innocent.” They see things as Shahzad sees them, even if they are not willing to go the next step of commiting acts of terrorism, as Shahzad is.

From the perspective of American national security, it does not matter if those Muslims are wrong about Islam. What matters is that there are a lot of them and they constitute a mainstream current of Islamic thought. They have the support of influential Islamic scholars who tell them Islam is under siege, and they don’t care in the slightest whether Western intellectuals (at whom they scoff) or Muslim reformers (whom they regard as apostates) think they have interpreted Islam incorrectly.

Eventually there will be another Shahzad, a competent one. When he strikes, it won’t do much for our security to hear a President, a federal judge, a Homeland Security Secretary, an Attorney General, and a bunch of academics from Harvard and Georgetown tell us that a bad “extremist” has “perverted” or “hijacked” the “true Islam.” High-minded wishful thinking about how tiny the threat to us is won’t actually make it tiny.

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