I’ve been reading Stephen Coughlin’s master’s thesis, “‘To Our Great Detriment’: Ignoring What Extremists Say about Jihad,” submitted to the National Defense Intelligence College, and I can see why it got him into trouble. He frankly declares that this administration has been wrong on the relation of Islam to jihadism and terrorism. While members of the administration sternly warn of the dire threats we face and how we must know our enemy, they themselves are lost in illusions about that enemy. The enemy is not Islamo-Fascism, but the jihadist elements of Islam itself. Coughlin points out that on the basis of very little, Bush, Rice, and other Administration people blithely declare Islam a religion of peace that has been hijacked by a few violent extremists for their own agenda, an agenda which they insist has nothing to do with Islam. They ignore all the evidence from Islamic sources that support violence in the name of spreading or defending the faith and bypass the professed and frequently stated aims of the jihadists.
Coughlin’s thesis suggests that there are not two schools of thought on Islamic terror, those who think it is simply a criminal problem and those who think it is a war we will be fighting for a long time, but three. First, there is the view that largely comes from the liberal-left, that thinks there really is no Islamic threat, that it’s really America and its actions that have called forth violence from Muslims, that if there is violence, it is from a tiny few and can be managed by the world community like an international criminal problem. Then there is the conservative-right view, that there is indeed a terrible threat, a virtual World War Four, and the threat is from Islamo-Fascism, not from Islam itself, but from the aberrations of radicals who are creating some distorted blending of Islamic beliefs with 20th century fascist concepts. This is only a recent development, according to this view, not centuries old, and therefore we can be very hopeful about stomping it out. About ten percent of the world’s Muslims do believe in Islamo-Fascist jihad, and that is a serious number, but ninety percent of Muslims don’t believe in it and want what we all want, material security and prosperity. In fact, the underlying causes of terrorism arise from the material deprivation and lack of freedom and opportunity in the Muslim world. There is thus no conflict between Islam and liberal democracy and modernity in general, and certainly no clash of civilizations. The Islamic world will not be able to resist the march of liberal democracy and the irresistible call of freedom. This view is largely that of President Bush.
The third view says that there is indeed a problem with Islam itself, that even if only a minority of Muslims will ever take up jihad, most Muslims know that that is mandated by their religion and they do support it in belief and sometimes financially. The term Islamo-Fascism is really a euphemism for those who wish to deny or ignore the violence inherent in Islam. This view sees that jihad has been a feature of Islam from its beginnings and that martyrdom is honored and rewarded in Islam. This view also finds that Islam may well be in conflict with liberal democracy. Muslims are told that they are meant to Islamicize the countries they live in, through “peaceful” means if they can, and violent means when necessary, and we already see signs of this in Europe and America.
So, to return more strictly to Coughlin’s thesis, he says that we are hampered in dealing with the enemy and in producing good intelligence for our strategic plans because instead of listening to what the enemy is saying, we impose our own hopeful, optimistic kind of view on the Islamic world, that everyone is really like us at heart and that we will see this in the end.