With trumpets and drum rolls, the White House has released a new policy paper on methods to prevent terrorism, a study said to have been two years in the making. Signed personally by Pres. Barack Obama and vaunting “the strength of communities” and the need to “enhance our understanding of the threat posed by violent extremism,” the document looks anodyne.
But beneath the calm lies a counterproductive — and dangerous — approach to terrorism. The import of this document consists in its firm stand on the wrong side of three distinct counterterrorism questions currently being debated, with the responsible Right (and a few sensible liberals) on one side, and Islamists, leftists, and multiculturalists on the other.
The first question concerns the nature of the problem. The Right points to one immense threat, Islamism, a global ideological movement that has motivated some 23,000 terror attacks worldwide since 9/11. Islamism’s apologists deny that their ideology spawns violence, and they categorize those 23,000 attacks as the work of criminals, crazies, or misguided Muslims. Western leftists and multiculturalists concur, bringing their formidable cadres, creativity, funds, and institutions to support the Islamists’ denial of responsibility.
Hearings held this year by the House of Representatives illustrate this difference. Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, insisted that the hearings deal exclusively with Muslim radicalization. The ranking Democrat, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, took exception, noting that “there are a variety of domestic extremist groups more prevalent in the United States than Islamic extremists, including neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, anti-tax groups, and others.” He argued that the hearings “should be a broad-based examination of domestic extremist groups, regardless of their respective ideological underpinnings.”
King rejected this approach, countering that “while there have been extremist groups and random acts of political violence throughout our history, the al-Qaeda attacks of 9/11 and the ongoing threat to our nation from Islamic jihad were uniquely diabolical and threatening to America’s security, both overseas and in our homeland.”
The second question concerns how to identify the enemy. The Right talks about Islamism, jihad, and terrorism, as do responsible parties generally; for example, a New York Police Department report from 2007, titled “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat,” refers in its first line to the “threat from Islamic-based terrorism.” Islamists and their allies talk about everything else — violent extremism, al-Qaeda and Associated Networks, overseas-contingency operations, man-caused disasters, and (my favorite) a “global struggle for security and progress,” as the Department of Homeland Security puts it. The forces of multiculturalism have made deep inroads: A U.S. Department of Defense inquiry into the 2009 Fort Hood rampage by Maj. Nidal Hasan, killing 14, generated a report, “Protecting the Force,” that never mentioned the terrorist’s name or acknowledged his obvious Islamist motivation.
The third question concerns the appropriate response. The Islamist-Left-PC crowd finds the solution in partnership with Muslims, together with an emphasis on civil rights, due process, nondiscrimination, goodwill, and avoiding a backlash. The responsible Right accepts all this but sees it as ancillary to the main law-enforcement and military methods, such as intelligence gathering, arrests, long detentions, deportation, aerial bombardments, raids, renditions, prosecution, and incarceration.
Into these three debates waddles a long, poorly written, ill-organized White House report vehemently advocating the leftist position.
Nature of the problem: “neo-Nazis and other anti-Semitic hate groups, racial supremacists, and international and domestic terrorist groups.”
Naming of the enemy: The paper itself never mentions Islamism. Its title, “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States,” delicately avoids even mentioning terrorism.
Response: “Violent extremism, while of paramount importance given the potential for harm, is only one among a number of threats our Nation is facing. Communities face an array of challenges to their safety, including gang violence, school shootings, drugs, hate crimes, and many others. Just as we respond to community safety issues through partnerships and networks of government officials, Mayor’s offices, law enforcement, community organizations, and private sector actors, so must we address radicalization to violence and terrorist recruitment through similar relationships and by leveraging some of the same tools and solutions.” The mention of gang violence and related problems reveals a conceptual failure. The White House praises the Justice Department’s Comprehensive Gang Model, deeming it a flexible framework that “has reduced serious gang-related crimes.” That is good news in the battle against gangs. But gangs are criminal enterprises, and Islamist violence is ideological warfare. Gang members are hoodlums, Islamists are zealots. To liken them distorts more than it helps. Yes, they both resort to violence, but applying techniques appropriate to one to the other is akin to asking cooks to advise firefighters.
The lone sentence in the report that recognizes the danger of Islamism fixates on one small group, stating that “al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents represent the preeminent terrorist threat to our country.” This ignores the 99 percent of the Islamist movement unconnected to al-Qaeda, such as the Wahhabi movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Iranian government, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Jamaat ul-Fuqra. Rep. Sue Myrick (R., N.C.) found that the report “raises more questions to me than it answers.”
While the document unobjectionably emphasizes American constitutional values and the need to partner with Muslims, it says not a word about the need to distinguish between Islamist and anti-Islamist Muslims, between foe and friend.
It ignores the dismal fact that Islamists dominate the organized American Muslim leadership, whose objectives have more in common with those of the terrorists than those of the counterterrorists.
Representative King expressed concern that the report discourages “legitimate criticism of certain radical organizations or elements of the Muslim-American community,” but such criticism is necessary to distinguish friend from foe.
Indeed, the authors of the report seem quite content to partner with Muslims who reject our values, which surely accounts for the Islamist organizations’ delight at the document. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a group with well-established radical ties, praised it as “objective and holistic,” while the likeminded Muslim Public Affairs Council called it “very useful.”
In contrast, Melvin Bledsoe, who testified before the King hearings about his son, Carlos Bledsoe, a Muslim convert who in 2009 shot and killed a soldier at a military-recruiting center in Little Rock, Ark., said of the report: “It’s never going to fix the problem, when they’re trying to dance around the issues.” Ed Husain of the Council on Foreign Relations dismissed it for saying “worryingly little” and being primarily designed “not to offend Muslims.” An organization connected to terrorists swoons over the administration’s pretend counterterrorism policy, while the father of a terrorist dismisses it. What does that tell us?
The intellectual roots of this report go back to a George Soros–funded 2004 study, “A Promising Practices Guide: Developing Partnerships Between Law Enforcement and American Muslim, Arab, and Sikh Communities,” by Deborah A. Ramirez, Sasha Cohen O’Connell, and Rabia Zafar. They made their outlook clear: “The most dangerous threats in this war are rooted in the successful propagation of anger and fear directed at unfamiliar cultures and people.” The most dangerous threat, in other words, is not Islamist terror, which claims thousands of lives, but an alleged bias held by Americans against minorities. As I wrote upon the document’s appearance, “The guide might present itself as an aide to counterterrorism but its real purpose is to deflect attention from national security to the privileging of select communities.”
What now, with the enshrining of a fringe study as national policy? There are no shortcuts: Those who want a genuine counterterrorism policy must work to remove the Left and the multiculturalists from government.
– Mr. Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum and Taube Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.