The day after the San Bernardino jihadist attack that left fourteen dead and even more wounded, my old boss, Rudy Giuliani, came out and said what most sane people are thinking. After hours of pained, halting, incoherent babbling by public officials from President Obama on down about whether the mass-killing by two heavily armed, obviously well-trained Muslims constituted a terrorist attack, Rudy exploded:
You can come to one clear conclusion with the information they have right now. This is an act of terror. The question was motivation. . . . The question here is not, is it an act of terror. We’re beyond that. When you got two assault weapons, two handguns, you’re in body armor, you got a home that’s booby-trapped. You’ve [ACM: meaning “they’ve”] been practicing to do this. . . . If you can’t come to a conclusion at this point that this was an act of terror, you should find something else to do for a living besides law enforcement. I mean, you’re a moron.
Hard to argue with that.
But look, if you actually speak with the police and federal agents conducting the investigation into the attack, you figure out pretty quickly that they are not morons. They are actually very good at what they do. So why is it that, upon seeing two-plus-two, they can’t call it four when Islam is involved?
I’ve been trying to explain this for many years, beginning in Willful Blindness, a memoir about prosecuting terrorists in the Clinton era, and in a stack of columns here at National Review, including one from a few years back that described how our government, under administrations of both parties and the bipartisan Beltway ruling class, has constructed “an Islam of their very own.”
Rudy is right that what they’ve done is moronic, but there is a logic to it. It goes like this.
The government denies that terrorism is caused by Islamic doctrine. This is a triumph of willful blindness and political correctness best illustrated by former British home secretary Jacqui Smith, who might as well have been speaking for our government when she branded terrorism as “anti-Islamic activity.” That is: the savagery is not merely unrelated to Islam but becomes, by dint of its being violence, contrary to Islam. This must be so because the British government, like our government, insists Islam is a “religion of peace.”
Now, this is absurd, of course. There are various ways of interpreting Islam, and millions of Muslims manage to “contextualize” Islamic scripture’s numerous commands to conduct holy war, reasoning that these divine injunctions applied only to their historical time and place and are no longer relevant. Yet, even if you buy this line of thinking, that does not make Islam a peaceful belief system. Verses like “Fight those who believe not in Allah,” and “fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war,” are not peaceful injunctions, no matter how one “contextualizes” them.
More to the point, the stubborn reality is: There will always be a large percentage of Muslims who believe these scriptures (and the many others like them) mean exactly what they say.
Our government is in denial of this. Unwilling to deal with Islam as it is, the government must make up an Islam of its very own. Regardless of the abundance of evidence to the contrary, the government holds that Islam is a religion of peace, case closed. (Such a laughable case has to be closed because it cannot withstand even slight examination).
Therefore, to the government, terrorism committed by people who happen to be Muslim is not in any way a reflection of any legitimate interpretation of Islam — even if Islamic supremacist ideology, which endorses jihadist violence, is so mainstream that tens of millions of Muslims adhere to it. Remember, here in America as in Western Europe, the violence is deemed anti-Islamic. That is what has been dictated to our law-enforcement agents by their superiors. If those were your instructions, you’d be babbling like a moron, too.
So, what are the policy implications of the government’s constructing its own fantasy Islam, the one and only principle of which is pacifism? Here are a few of the worst.
It means that Islamic doctrine can never be cited as the cause of terrorism. This leads, for example, to the preposterous government handwringing over “radicalization”: You are apparently supposed to believe young people, all of whom just happen to be Muslim, spontaneously become violent radicals — as if there were no doctrine or body of thought that was inducing the radicalization. You are only to say they have been “radicalized” — never mention by what.
Fantasy Islam also leads inexorably to the irrational decree that terrorist organizations like ISIS and al Qaeda are not Islamic. You are to conclude that they are either wanton killers or that they have “hijacked” and “perverted” Islam into something that it is not — something that cannot be dignified with the name “Islam” because Islam, after all, is a religion of peace.
The most ludicrous fallout of this line of thinking is the one Rudy rightly labels moronic: The apparent inability of government officials to call a mass-murder attack by Muslims a terrorist attack. But again, if you follow the government’s official party line, you understand the reluctance of these officials: The only terrorists the government acknowledges as terrorists are formally designated terrorist groups — ISIS, al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah. As we’ve seen, the government has pronounced these groups to be anti-Islamic.
Thus, if the police come upon a mass-murder attack that is clearly instigated by Islamic doctrine, they are not permitted to conclude that it is terrorism because they’ve been directed to maintain that Islam is against terrorism. Consequently, the agents believe they cannot call terrorism terrorism unless and until they uncover evidence proving that the Muslim mass-murderers have some tie to a designated “non-Islamic” terrorist group, such as ISIS or al-Qaeda.
It is rare for such evidence to be uncovered early in an investigation. And the fact of the matter is, such evidence will often never be uncovered because it doesn’t exist. It will frequently turn out that the Muslims who’ve committed the atrocity have been “radicalized” by Islamic doctrine, straightforwardly interpreted as Islamic supremacism by their fellow Islamists at the local mosque and Islamic center. They don’t need mediation, help, or instruction from ISIS or al Qaeda. They already share the same ideology as these groups, the goal of imposing Allah’s law (sharia). All they really need in order to execute terrorist attacks is paramilitary training. That is readily available in many Muslim communities; you don’t need to go to an al-Qaeda or ISIS training camp to get it.
Notice that there is a treacherous flipside to our government’s insistence on making up its own content-free, obsessively peaceful Islam. Not only can terrorism never be associated with it. Anyone who is publicly associated with Islam by the government must be deemed peaceful. This is how we fall into the trap of allowing the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s most influential Islamic supremacist organization, to infiltrate the policy-making organs of counterterrorism.
The government, particularly under the control of President Obama, acknowledges the Brotherhood as an Islamic organization — notwithstanding the ham-handed attempt by the intelligence community a few years back to rebrand the Brotherhood as “largely secular.” Under the government’s imaginary Islam, acknowledging a group as Islamic perforce gives them a clean bill of health: They are deemed “peaceful,” “moderate,” and steadfastly opposed to terrorism.
And never you mind that Hamas is the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch, that the Brotherhood has a long history of terrorist violence, and that major Brotherhood figures have gone on to play leading roles in terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda. The beautiful thing about making up an Islam of their very own is that government officials never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
And that’s why they won’t say the terrorist attack in San Bernardino is the terrorist attack in San Bernardino.