May 1, 2014
Tony Blair on the Islamist Threat
Frontpage Magazine and Middle East Forum
Tony Blair delivered a major speech on April 23 entitled, “Why the Middle East Matters”. In summary, he argued that the Middle East, far from being a “vast unfathomable mess” is deep in the throes of a multi-faceted struggle between a specific religious ideology on the one hand, and those who want to embrace the modern world on the other. Furthermore, the West, blinded up until now as to the religious nature of the conflict, must take sides: it should support those who stand on the side of open-minded pluralistic societies, and combat those who wish to create intolerant theocracies.
In his speech Blair makes a whole series of substantial points:
He states that a ‘defining challenge of our time’ is a religious ideology which he calls ‘Islamist’, although he is not comfortable with this label because he prefers to distance himself from any implication that this ideology can be equated with Islam itself. He worries that “you can appear to elide those who support the Islamist ideology with all Muslims.”
He considers Islamism to be a global movement, whose diverse manifestations are produced by common ideological roots.
He rejects Western non-religious explanations for the problems caused by Islamist ideology, including the preference of “Western commentators” to attribute the manifestations of Islamism to “disparate” causes which have nothing to do with religion. Likewise he implies that the protracted conflict over Israel-Palestine is not the cause of this ideology, but rather the converse is the case: dealing with the wider impact of Islamist ideology could help solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
According to Blair, what distinguishes violent terrorists from seemingly non-violent Islamists – such as the Muslim Brotherhood – is simply “a difference of view as to how to achieve the goals of Islamism”, so attempts to draw a distinction between political Islamist movements and radical terrorist groups are mistaken. Blair considers that the religious ideology of certain groups like the Brotherhood, which may appear to be law-abiding, “inevitably creates the soil” in which religio-political violence is nurtured.
He considers “Islamism” to be a major threat everywhere in the world, including increasingly within Western nations. The “challenge” of Islamism is “growing” and “spreading across the world” and it is “the biggest threat to global security of the early 21st Century.”
Because of the seriousness of the threat of this religio-political ideology, Blair argues that the West should vigorously support just about anybody whose interests lie in opposing Islamists, from General Sisi in Egypt to President Putin in Russia. He finds it to be an absurd irony that Western governments form intimate alliances with nations whose educational and civic institutions promote this ideology: an obvious example of this would be the US – Saudi alliance.
In all this, one might be forgiven for thinking that Blair sounds a lot like Geert Wilders, except that, as he takes pains to emphasize, he emphatically rejects equating Islamism with Islam. Tony Blair and Geert Wilders agree that there is a serious religious ideological challenge facing the world, but they disagree on whether that challenge is Islam itself.My Blair’s speech is aimed at people who do not wish to be thought of as anti-Musilm, but who need to be awakened to the religious nature of the Islamist challenge. He is keen to assure his intended audience that if they adopt his thesis they would not be guilty of conflating those who support radical Jihadi violence with all Muslims.
Islam and Islamism
Two key assumptions underpin Blair’s dissociation of Islamism the religio-political ideology from Islam the religion. First, Blair presupposes that Islamism is not “the proper teaching of Islam”. It may, he concedes, be “an interpretation”, but it is a false one, a “perversion” of the religion, which “distorts and warps Islam’s true message.” He offers two arguments to support this theological insight.One is that there are pious Muslims who agree with him: “Many of those totally opposed to the Islamist ideology are absolutely devout Muslims.”
This is a fallacious argument. It is akin to asserting that Catholic belief in the infallibility of the Pope cannot be Christian merely because there are absolutely devout protestant Christians who totally oppose this dogma. The fact that there are pious Muslims who reject Islamism is not a credible argument that Islamism is an invalid interpretation of Islam.
Blair’s other argument in support of his belief that Islamism is a perversion of Islam is an allegation that Christians used to hold similarly abhorrent theologies: “There used to be such interpretations of Christianity which took us years to eradicate from our mainstream politics.” This is a self-deprecating variant of the tu quoque logical fallacy, in which another’s argument is attacked by accusing them of hypocrisy. Here Blair rhetorically directs the ad hominem attack against himself and his culture. In essence, he is saying “It would hypocritical of us to regard Islamist ideology as genuinely Islamic, because (we) Christians used to support similarly pernicious theologies in the past (although we do not do so today).”
This logic is equally fallacious: observations about the history of Christian theology, valid or not, prove nothing about what is or is not a valid form of Islam.
Blair’s second key assumption is a widely-held view about the root cause of “the challenge”. The fundamental issue, he argues, is people of faith who believe they and only they are right and do not accept the validity of other views. Such people believe that “there is one proper religion and one proper view of it, and that this view should, exclusively, determine the nature of society and the political economy.” “It is not about a competing view of how society or politics should be governed within a common space where you accept other views are equally valid. It is exclusivist in nature.”
Hilary Clinton has expressed a very similar understanding of extremist religionists, who “define religion in such a way that if you do not believe what they want you to believe, then what you are doing is not practicing religion, because there is only one definition of religion.”
Such views about religion may reflect the secularist Zeitgeist, but they offer a very weak explanation for the challenge of radical Islam. The problem is not that Islamists believe they and only they are right. The problem is all the rest of what they believe.Consider this: Tony Blair himself believes his goal is valid, true and worth fighting for, namely a tolerant, open, democratic society, and the Islamists’ goal of a sharia society is invalid. He does believe that his view should determine the nature of society. Likewise many religious groups believe that they follow the one true religion, including the Catholic Church, which Tony Blair formally joined in 2007: Mother Theresa of Calcutta certainly did not consider alternative religious views equally valid to Catholic dogma. But none of this certainty of belief implies that Tony Blair or Catholics in general are disposed to become terrorists, cut hands off thieves or kill apostates.
Blair’s argument manifests the paradox of tolerance. His vision of a good society is one in which people must respect the views of others as “equally valid”. At the same time he argues that we should disallow and combat Islamism because it is “perverse”. He is asking for Islamism not to be tolerated because it is intolerant. If Blair’s explanation for Islamist nastiness is flawed, what then is the explanation? This takes us back to Islam itself. Does Blair’s position on Islam hold water?
Blair’s arguments for his positive view of Islam are weak. The validity of Islamism does not rest or fall on whether there are pious Muslims who accept or reject it, nor on whether Christians have advocating equally perverse theologies in the past. In the end, Islam as a religion – all mainstream Muslim scholars would agree – is based upon the teachings of the Sunna (the example and teaching of Muhammad) and the Koran. Islam’s religious validity in the eyes of its followers stands and falls on how well it can be justified from those authorities.There are at least three respects in which Islamist ideologies claim strong support from Islam – that is, from the Koran and Muhammad.
One is the intolerance and violence in the Islamic canon. The Koran states “Kill them / the polytheists wherever you can find them (Sura 9:5, 2:191). Muhammad, according to Islamic tradition, said “I have been sent with a sword in my hand to command people to worship Allah and associate no partners with him. I command you to belittle and subjugate those who disobey me …” He also said to his followers in Medina, “Kill any Jew who falls into your power.” Following in Muhammad’s footsteps, one of Muhammad’s most revered companions and successors as leader of the Muslim community, the Caliph Umar, called upon the armies of Islam to fight non-Muslims until they surrender or convert, saying “If they refuse this, it is the sword without leniency.”
It will not do, in the face of many such statements found in the Koran and the traditions of Muhammad, to throw one’s hands up in the air and say there are also bad verses in the Bible. If Jesus Christ had said such things as Muhammad did, Christianity’s political theology would look very different today and medieval Christian Holy War theology – developed initially in response to the Islamic jihad – would have come into being as part of the birth-pangs of the religion, just as the doctrine of the Islamic jihad did in the history of Islam.
Islamist apologists find it relatively easy to win young Muslims over to their cause precisely because they have strong arguments at their disposal from the Koran and Muhammad’s example and teaching. Their threatening ideology is growing in influence because it is so readily supported by substantial religious foundations. Islamism may not be the only interpretation of Islam, but by any objective measure, it is open for Muslims to hold it, given what what is in their canon.
Blair makes a telling over-generalisation when he states that Islamist ideology is an export from the Middle East. Another important source has been the Indian sub-continent. Today Pakistanis today are among the most dynamic apologists for Islamism. Abul A’la Maududi, an Indian (later Pakistani) Islamic teacher and founder of Jamaat-e-Islami was writing powerful texts to radicalise Muslims more than 70 years ago – including his tract Jihad in Islam (first published in 1927). His works remain in widespread use as tools of radicalization by Islamist organisations. Maududi’s theological vision was driven, not by Middle Eastern influences or Saudi petrodollars, but by his life-long study of the Koran and the example of Muhammad. The spiritual DNA of Maududi’s Islamist theology was derived from the Islamic canon itself.
The second point to understand about Islamist ideologies is that the conflation of politics and religion, which is one of Blair’s main objections to Islamism, has always been accepted as normative by the mainstream of Islamic theology. It is orthodox Islam. As Bernard Lewis pointed out, the separation of church and state has been derided by most Muslim thinkers since the origins of Islam: “Separation of church and state was derided in the past by Muslims when they said this is a Christian remedy for a Christian disease. It doesn’t apply to us or to our world.”
The third point about Islamist ideologies is that their vision of a closed society in which non-Muslims are second-class participants is in lock-step with the conservative mainstream of Islamic thought. Here again Bernard Lewis: “It is only very recently that some defenders of Islam began to assert that their society in the past accorded equal status to non-Muslims. No such claim is made by spokesmen for resurgent Islam, and historically there is no doubt that they are right. Traditional Islamic societies neither accorded such equality nor pretended that they were so doing. Indeed, in the old order, this would have been regarded not as a merit but as a dereliction of duty. How could one accord the same treatment to those who follow the true faith and those who willfully reject it? This would be a theological as well as a logical absurdity.” (The Jews of Islam, Princeton University Press, 1987, p.4).
Tony Blair is right to call the world to engage with and reject radical Islamist ideology. This is a defining global challenge of our time. He is also correct to affirm that this ideology is religious. But he is profoundly mistaken to characterize it as un-Islamic. The fallacious arguments he puts forward for distinguishing Islam from Islamism are nothing but flimsy rhetoric. The hard evidence against separating Islamism from Islam is clear, the sentiments of some pious Muslims non-withstanding.
Islamism is a valid interpretation of Islam, not in the sense that it is the only ‘correct’ or ‘true’ one, but because its core tenets find ready and obvious support in the Islamic canon, and they align with core principles of 1400 years of Islamic theology. (To make this observation is not the same thing as saying that all pious Muslims are Islamists!)
Blair is right to call for the West to combat “radical Islam”, but the reason why “radical” is a correct term to use for this ideology is that radical means “of the root,” and Islamist ideas are deeply rooted in Islam itself. Islamism is a radical form of Islam. This explains why the radicalization project has been advancing with such force all over the world.
In order to combat radical Islamic views we do need to have a frank and open dialogue about the dynamics of radicalization. Blair is concerned about the damage being caused by denial about Islamism, but he indulges in his own form of blinkered thinking, which is just as unhelpful. He was right to identify Islamist ideology as the soil in which violent jihadi ideologies “inevitably” take root, but fails to identity mainstream Islam itself as the soil in which Islamism develops. In reality the Islamist movement is but the tip of the iceberg of the Islamic movement, a deeper and broader revival of Islam across the whole Muslim world.
When countering radical Islamic ideologies, Western leaders should refrain from putting themselves forward as experts on theology, who are somehow competent to rule on whether a particular interpretation of Islam is valid or “perverse”. There is something ridiculous about secular politicians ruling on which manifestations of Islam are to be judged theologically correct. As Taliban Cleric Abu Qutada once said, “I am astonished by President Bush when he claims there is nothing in the Quran that justifies jihad violence in the name of Islam. Is he some kind of Islamic scholar? Has he ever actually read the Quran?”
Ritual displays of respect for Islam should not be naively used as sugar to coat the pill of opposition to the objectionable beliefs and behaviour of some Muslims. Leaders need to be absolutely clear about what values they stand for, and insist on these values. They should not need to express a theological opinion about what is or is not valid Islam in order to challenge the anti-semitism of Palestinian school textbooks, the denial of basic religious rights to non-Muslim guest workers in Saudi Arabia, incitement against Christians in Egypt, the promotion of female genital mutilation in the name of Islam in the Maldives, or the UK practice of taking child brides.
In this post-secular world, our leaders need to “do God” with less naivety. They need to grasp that the inner pressure they feel to manifest respect for Islam whenever they object to some of its manifestations is itself a symptom of the ideology of dominance which powers the Islamist agenda. They should resist the pressure to mount an apology for Islam. The mullahs can do that.
Mark Durie is a theologian, human rights activist, pastor of an Anglican church, and an Associate Fellow at the Middle Eastern Forum. He has published many articles and books on the language and culture of the Acehnese, Christian-Muslim relations and religious freedom. A graduate of the Australian National University and the Australian College of Theology, he has held visiting appointments at the University of Leiden, MIT, UCLA and Stanford, and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1992.
Eric Holder Refuses To Say “Radical Islam”
‘Islamophobia’: A Strategy Devised Before 9/11
In a meeting in the 1990s, U.S. Muslim Brotherhood groups decided to ‘play victim’ for the purpose of ‘beating down critics.’
The Clarion Project: Challenging extremism and promoting dialogue
June 12, 2013
A Clarion Project reader sent us an intriguing article that shows how the cries of “Islamophobia” were used to win the affection of top officials as far back as 1996 — five years before 9/11.
In this case, Hillary Clinton became the first wife of a sitting President to address a Muslim organization outside the White House. Perhaps unbeknownst to her, the group she honored was founded by Muslim Brotherhood supporters, including one who said her name would be “written in history in letters of light to the deed.”
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), the group that Clinton addressed, was founded by Hassan and Maher Hathout, two brothers that were imprisoned in Egypt for their membership in the Muslim Brotherhood. Hassan Hathout called himself a “close disciple” of the Brotherhood’s founder and said they came to America to spread the “Islamic Movement” inspired by him.
Maher Hathout, currently MPAC’s Senior Adviser, has said that he has had no foreign links since arriving in the U.S. It is true that a 1991 U.S. Muslim Brotherhood memo does not identify MPAC as one of its fronts. However, a 1989 document from the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood Financial Committee refers to a man named “Hathout” that is “in the field,” likely referring to one of the Hathout brothers.
From the beginning, MPAC was working in unison with the identified U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entities. For example, in September 1993, MPAC signed a joint condemnation of the Oslo Accords with five other groups, each being one of the Brotherhood’s “organizations and the organizations of our friends.” The statement said that “to recognize the legitimacy of that crime [the creation of Israel] is a crime in itself…”
First Lady Clinton came to a joint event of MPAC and the Muslim Women’s League to give them the honor of being the first Muslim groups to be addressed by a First Lady outside the White House.
“When our country becomes what we dream and when our society becomes warmer and more inclusive … it will be written in history in letters of light that the first First Lady who took a major step to greet, include and to communicate with Muslims is First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton,” said Maher Hathout.
Interestingly, “Islamophobia” was used as a rallying cry even back then, five years before the 9/11 attacks: The article quotes MPAC’s leaders inferring that Muslims are a persecuted minority. Clinton herself even said Americans “[must] stand up against our own voices of hatred and division.”
Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, a former member of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood front, recalls being at a group meeting in the early 1990s where they came up with the idea to use “Islamophobia” as a political weapon. Of the use of the word, Muhammad later said, “This loathsome term is nothing more than a thought-terminating cliche conceived in the bowels of Muslim think tanks for the purpose of beating down critics.”
One may point to MPAC’s more moderate record today (such as Maher Hathout’s statement that “we don’t want to enforce Sharia anywhere” and criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt), but its tone was different during the time of Clinton’s embrace.
Just one year after praising Clinton, Maher Hathout praised Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, Tunisian Islamist Rashid al-Ghannouchi and Sudanese Islamist Hasan al-Turabi as “reformists.” Hassan Hathout was also saying that “this current [Western] civilization harbors in its body the seeds of its own destruction,” similar language to a 1991 U.S. Muslim Brotherhood memo’s statement that its “work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within.”
Two years after teaming up with Clinton, Hathout justified Hezbollah’s attacks on Israelis because “[they are] fighting to liberate their land and attacking only armed forces, this is legitimate—that is an American value—freedom and liberty.”
MPAC and other Brotherhood-tied groups have also successfully used complaints about anti-Muslim sentiment to win interfaith allies — since Clinton’s address and until today.
MPAC’s last annual conference was held at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. After the Clarion Project brought attention to it, the church and MPAC held a press conference to denounce the supposedly hateful writings of “right-wing extremists” about the event. The ties that bound them together were more exposed at the event when Reverend Ed Bacon put “Islamophobia” and “evangelical Zionism” as Christian sins on par with slavery.
MPAC returned to the church on May 5. This time, MPAC’s Maher Hathout warned that the “Islamophobia” of supremacists is a threat to America’s democracy. He said that America is run by an elite minority bought by lobbyists.
MPAC President Salam al-Marayati said that the “cottage industry” of the Islamophobes is part of a “larger machine,” including a military-industrial complex that “want more contracts for more weapons to countries that only use these weapons against their own people or against civilians.”
The organization told the church audience that terrorist attacks like the Boston bombings, though reprehensible, will only lessen once the U.S. changes its foreign policy in a more Islamist-friendly direction.
“When a superpower is aiding and abetting oppression and there are grievances, and people react in a violent way, they [Americans] look at the violence and they say it is not time to deal with the grievances,” al-Marayati said.
One of MPAC’s stated goals is to influence policy. Thanks to a reader of the Clarion Project, we see how the group was using the combination of “Islamophobia” and a crafted image of moderation to achieve this as far back as 1996.
The Media’s Muhammad Blackout Defers Again to Islam
May 10, 2013
Charlie Hebdo has previously published cartoons involving Muhammad and sharia Islamic law, with the weekly magazine’s offices becoming in the process the victim of a firebombing attack. Charlie Hebdo describes online its latest presentation of Muhammad as a factual transposition of “Muhammad’s life as told by Muslim chroniclers into images.” “In the West,” the magazine explained, “everyone is able to cite episodes from the life of Jesus, but who is able to cite episodes from the life of Muhammad? Is this normal in a country like France, where Islam is presented as the second religion?” “If the form appears to some blasphemous,” Charlie Hebdo argued, “the substance is perfectly halal.”
Other publications, though, reacted with reservation towards this latest rendering of Muhammad. An April 17, 2013, online article about the Muhammad special edition in Germany’s Die Zeit weekly newspaper pictured a battle scene cartoon from the booklet, but with Muhammad himself hidden under a black square. While conceding a free speech right to depict Muhammad, the article author Gero von Randow justified this blacking out with the “suspicion” that the Charlie Hebdo authors only wanted “to provoke the followers of a religious community. And indeed one that is discriminated against in France.” Yet the remaining article discussed various interpretations of Islam allowing for depictions of, among others, Muhammad.
L’Express‘s Didier Houth similarly in France had called on January 2, 2013 for a “stop to Charlie Hebdo‘s provocations” following the appearance of its Muhammad special edition. Houth thereby attributed to the “press an important role to play in a democracy,” namely giving “support to the understanding between citizens so that democracy can live, live in peace.” Although Charlie Hebdo might have had a “noble goal” of showing journalistic solidarity when the magazine republished the Danish Muhammad cartoons in 2006, since then the magazine had led a “crusade against the Muslim religion.” Charlie Hebdo‘s repeated Muhammad caricatures raised the suspicion of being an “appeal to hate towards the practitioners of a religion,” something prohibited by the French penal code.
Some viewed Charlie Hebdo‘s Muhammad cartoons a “sane struggle against a religion whose practices are incompatible with French democracy.” Yet, Houth asked, “up to what point does the editorial board of a journal have the right to declare religious practices incompatible with our democracy.” Houth instead entrusted political and legal authorities with “weighing religious practices according to the canon of our democracy.”
Neither Randow nor Houth make much sense, and their arguments are all the more depressing coming from members of the media. Randow never explained how Charlie Hebdo was any more provocative towards Muslims than the numerous other groups satirized by the magazine in the past, as discussed by Randow. Nor did Randow explain how Muslims in France face more discrimination than other groups such as, for example, Jews. Whether Randow, described by his Wikipedia page as a “confessing atheist,” and others will themselves never engage in speech deemed provocative by, say, Catholics, meanwhile, remains to be seen.
Houth likewise did not substantiate his claim of a Charlie Hebdo “crusade” against Islam. As the magazine itself indicated, any emphasis on Islam could be due to other factors, like this religion’s relative obscurity or present newsworthiness. Nor did Houth explain why any campaign against a given faith or faith in general is wrong, other than to dismiss such a campaign as a matter of “hate” and not enlightenment.
Houth’s conceptions of the media are also rather strange. His demand that the press serve an undefined “calm dialogue” and “understanding between citizens” is at variance with traditional views of the media as an unfettered intellectual forum. Houth’s indicated attribution of the third-party bloodshed to media criticism of a given belief like Islam would similarly eviscerate free speech with a “heckler’s veto.” Houth’s reservation of “weighing religious practices” to governmental authorities, meanwhile, completely ignores the press’s fundamental informational and oversight roles.
Die Zeit‘s black box Muhammad and Houth’s Charlie Hebdo condemnation are just the latest examples of how media outlets around the world uniquely defer to Islamic sensibilities. Yet such deference calls into question the sometimes unwarranted expectation of free societies that the media be an objective observer of the world. A media fully fulfilling its mission of shining a light on the truth simply cannot darken out Muhammad.
Explaining the Denial
Denying Islam’s Role in Terror
by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Over three years after Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009, the classification of his crime remains in dispute. In its wisdom, the Department of Defense, supported by law enforcement, politicians, journalists, and academics, deems the killing of thirteen and wounding of forty-three to be “workplace violence.” For example, the 86-page study on preventing a repeat episode, Protecting the Force: Lessons from Fort Hood, mentions “workplace violence” sixteen times.
Indeed, were the subject not morbid, one could be amused by the disagreement over what exactly caused the major to erupt. Speculations included “racism” against him, “harassment he had received as a Muslim,” his “sense of not belonging,” “mental problems,” “emotional problems,” “an inordinate amount of stress,” the “worst nightmare” of his being deployed to Afghanistan, or something fancifully called “pre-traumatic stress disorder.” One newspaper headline, “Mindset of Rogue Major a Mystery,” sums up this bogus state of confusion.
U.S. officials’ denials of Islam’s role in terrorism might be humorous if they were not so frightening. During congressional testimony in May 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder repeatedly sparred with his congressional questioners over the possible part played by “radical Islam” in inciting the actions of domestic terrorists and refused to acknowledge its decisive role.
In contrast, members of congress ridiculed the “workplace violence” characterization and a coalition of 160 victims and family members recently released a video, “The Truth about Fort Hood,” criticizing the administration. On the third anniversary of the massacre, 148 victims and family members sued the U.S. government for avoiding legal and financial responsibility by not acknowledging the incident as terrorism.
The military leadership willfully ignores what stares them in the face, namely Hasan’s clear and evident Islamist inspiration; Protecting the Force mentions “Muslim” and “jihad” not a single time, and “Islam” only once, in a footnote. The massacre officially still remains unconnected to terrorism or Islam.
This example fits in a larger pattern: The establishment denies that Islamism—a form of Islam that seeks to make Muslims dominant through an extreme, totalistic, and rigid application of Islamic law, the Shari’a—represents the leading global cause of terrorism when it so clearly does. Islamism reverts to medieval norms in its aspiration to create a caliphate that rules humanity. “Islam is the solution” summarizes its doctrine. Islam’s public law can be summarized as elevating Muslim over non-Muslim, male over female, and endorsing the use of force to spread Muslim rule. In recent decades, Islamists (the adherents of this vision of Islam) have established an unparalleled record of terrorism. To cite one tabulation: TheReligionOfPeace.com counts 20,000 assaults in the name of Islam since 9/11, or about five a day. In the West, terrorist acts inspired by motives other than Islam hardly register.
It is important to document and explain this denial and explore its implications. The examples come predominantly from the United States, though they could come from virtually any Western country—except Israel.
The government, press, and academy routinely deny that Islamist motives play a role in two ways, specific and general. Specific acts of violence perpetrated by Muslims lead the authorities publicly, willfully, and defiantly to close their eyes to Islamist motivations and goals. Instead, they point to a range of trivial, one-time, and individualistic motives, often casting the perpetrator as victim. Examples from the years before and after 9/11 include:
1990 assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane in New York: “A prescription drug for … depression.”
1991 murder of Makin Morcos in Sydney: “A robbery gone wrong.”
1993 murder of Reverend Doug Good in Western Australia: An “unintentional killing.”
1993 attack on foreigners at a hotel in Cairo, killing ten: Insanity.
1994 killing of a Hasidic Jew on the Brooklyn Bridge: “Road rage.”
1997 shooting murder atop the Empire State Building: “Many, many enemies in his mind.”
2000 attack on a bus of Jewish schoolchildren near Paris: A traffic incident.
2002 plane crash into a Tampa high-rise by an Osama bin Laden-admiring Arab-American (but non-Muslim): The acne drug Accutane.
2002 double murder at LAX: “A work dispute.
2002 Beltway snipers: A “stormy [family] relationship.”
2003 Hasan Karim Akbar’s attack on fellow soldiers, killing two: An “attitude problem.”
2003 mutilation murder of Sebastian Sellam: Mental illness.
2004 explosion in Brescia, Italy, outside a McDonald’s restaurant: “Loneliness and depression.”
2005 rampage at a retirement center in Virginia: “A disagreement between the suspect and another staff member.”
2006 murderous rampage at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle: “An animus toward women.”
2006 killing by a man in an SUV in northern California: “His recent, arranged marriage may have made him stressed.”
This pattern of denial is all the more striking because it concerns distinctly Islamic forms of violence such as suicide operations, beheadings, honor killings and the disfiguring of women’s faces. For example, when it comes to honor killings, Phyllis Chesler has established that this phenomenon differs from domestic violence and, in Western countries, is almost always perpetrated by Muslims. Such proofs, however, do not convince the establishment, which tends to filter Islam out of the equation.
The generalized threat inspires more denial. Politicians and others avoid mention of Islam, Islamism, Muslims, Islamists, mujahideen, or jihadists. Instead, they blame evildoers, militants, radical extremists, terrorists, and al-Qaeda. Just one day after 9/11, U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell set the tone by asserting that the just-committed atrocities “should not be seen as something done by Arabs or Islamics; it is something that was done by terrorists.
Another tactic is to obscure Islamist realities under the fog of verbiage. George W. Bush referred once to “the great struggle against extremism that is now playing out across the broader Middle East” and another time to “the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies and who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world.” He went so far as to dismiss any Islamic element by asserting that “Islam is a great religion that preaches peace.”
In like spirit, Barack Obama observed that “it is very important for us to recognize that we have a battle or a war against some terrorist organizations, but that those organizations aren’t representative of a broader Arab community, Muslim community.” Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, engaged in the following exchange with Lamar Smith (Republican, Tex.) during congressional testimony in May 2010, repeatedly resisting a connection between Islamist motives and a spate of terrorist attacks:
Smith: In the case of all three [terrorist] attempts in the last year, … one of which was successful, those individuals have had ties to radical Islam. Do you feel that these individuals might have been incited to take the actions that they did because of radical Islam?
Holder: Because of?
Smith: Radical Islam.
Holder: There are a variety of reasons why I think people have taken these actions. It’s one, I think you have to look at each individual case. I mean, we are in the process now of talking to Mr. [Feisal] Shahzad to try to understand what it is that drove him to take the action.
Smith: Yes, but radical Islam could have been one of the reasons?
Holder: There are a variety of reasons why people …
Smith: But was radical Islam one of them?
Holder: There are a variety of reasons why people do things. Some of them are potentially religious.
And on and on Holder persisted, until Smith eventually gave up. And this was not exceptional: An almost identical denial took place in December 2011 by a senior official from the Department of Defense.
Or one can simply ignore the Islamist element; a study issued by the Department of Homeland Security, “Evolution of the Terrorist Threat to the United States,” mentions Islam just one time. In September 2010, Obama spoke at the United Nations and, using a passive construction, avoided all mention of Islam in reference to 9/11: “Nine years ago, the destruction of the World Trade Center signaled a threat that respected no boundary of dignity or decency.” About the same time, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, stated that the profiles of Americans engaged in terrorism indicate that “there is no ‘typical’ profile of a homegrown terrorist.”
Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, rightly condemns this mentality as “two plus two must equal something other than four.”
Exceptions to Denial
Exceptions to this pattern do exist; establishment figures on occasion drop their guard and acknowledge the Islamist threat to the civilized world. Gingrich himself delivered a uniquely well-informed speech on Shari’a in 2010, noting, “This is not a war on terrorism. Terrorism is an activity. This is a struggle with radical Islamists in both their militant and their stealth form.”
British prime minister Tony Blair offered a stirring and eloquent analysis in 2006:
This is war, but of a completely unconventional kind. … What are the values that govern the future of the world? Are they those of tolerance, freedom, respect for difference and diversity or those of reaction, division and hatred? … It is in part a struggle between what I will call Reactionary Islam and Moderate, Mainstream Islam. But its implications go far wider. We are fighting a war, but not just against terrorism but about how the world should govern itself in the early 21st century, about global values.
The current British prime minister, David Cameron, gave a fine analysis in 2005, long before he reached his current office:
The driving force behind today’s terrorist threat is Islamist fundamentalism. The struggle we are engaged in is, at root, ideological. During the last century a strain of Islamist thinking has developed which, like other totalitarianisms, such as Nazism and Communism, offers its followers a form of redemption through violence.
In 2011, as prime minister, Cameron returned to this theme when he warned that “we need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of these terrorist attacks lie. That is the existence of an ideology, Islamist extremism.”
The former foreign minister of the Czech Republic, Alexandr Vondra, spoke his mind with remarkable frankness:
Radical Islamists challenge practically everything that our society claims to stand for, no matter what the Western policies were or are. These challenges include the concept of universal human rights and freedom of speech.
George W. Bush spoke in the period after October 2005 about “Islamo-fascism” and “Islamic fascists.” Joseph Lieberman, the U.S. senator from Connecticut, criticized those who refuse “to identify our enemy in this war as what it is: violent Islamist extremism” and sponsored an excellent Senate study on Maj. Hasan. Rick Santorum, then a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, gave a notable analysis:
In World War II, we fought Naziism and Japanese imperialism. Today, we are fighting against Islamic fascists. They attacked us on September 11th because we are the greatest obstacle to their openly declared mission of subjecting the entire world to their fanatical rule. I believe that the threat of Islamic fascism is just as menacing as the threat from Nazism and Soviet Communism. Now, as then, we face fanatics who will stop at nothing to dominate us. Now, as then, there is no way out; we will either win or lose.
Antonin Scalia, an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, observed in an opinion that “America is at war with radical Islamists.” A New York Police Department study, Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat, discusses “Islamic-based terrorism” in its first line and never lets up. It contains explicit references to Islamism; it states, “Ultimately, the jihadist envisions a world in which jihadi-Salafi Islam is dominant and is the basis of government.”
So, reality does on occasion poke through the fog of denial and verbiage.
The Mystery of Denial
These exceptions aside, what accounts for the persistent denial of Islamic motives? Why the pretense that no elephant fills the room? An unwillingness to face the truth invariably smacks of euphemism, cowardice, political correctness, and appeasement. In this spirit, Gingrich argues that “the Obama Administration is willfully blind to the nature of our enemies and the forces which threaten America. … it’s not ignorance; it’s determined effort to avoid [reality].”
These problems definitely contribute to denial, but something more basic and more legitimate goes further to explain this reluctance. One hint comes from a 2007 Ph.D. dissertation in politics submitted by Gaetano Ilardi to Monash University in Melbourne. Titled “From the IRA to Al Qa’eda: Intelligence as a Measure of Rational Action in Terrorist Operations,” it refers frequently to Islam and related topics; Ilardi has also been quoted in the press on the topic of radicalization. Yet in 2009, as acting senior sergeant of the Victoria police, he was the most vociferous of his twenty law enforcement colleagues insisting to this author that the police not publicly mention Islam in any fashion when discussing terrorism. In other words, wanting not to refer to Islam can come from someone who knows full well the role of Islam.
Confirming this point, Daniel Benjamin, the Obama administration’s coordinator for counterterrorism in the U.S. State Department, explicitly refutes the idea that silence about Islam means being unaware of it:
Policymakers fully recognize how al Qaeda’s ideologues have appropriated Islamic texts and concepts and fashioned them into a mantle of religious legitimacy for their bloodshed. As someone who has written at length about how al Qaeda and the radical groups that preceded it have picked and chosen from sacred texts, often out of all context, I have no doubt my colleagues understand the nature of the threat.
Ilardi and Benjamin know their stuff; they avoid discussing Islam in connection with terrorism for reasons deeper than political correctness, ignorance, or appeasement. What are those reasons? Two factors have key importance: wanting not to alienate Muslims or to reorder society.
Not wanting to offend Muslims, a sincere and reasonable goal, is the reason most often publicly cited. Muslims protest that focusing on Islam, Islamism, or jihad increases Muslim fears that the West is engaged in a “war against Islam.” Joseph Lieberman, for example, notes that the Obama administration prefers not to use the term “violent Islamist extremists” when referring to the enemy because using such explicit words “bolsters our enemy’s propaganda claim that the West is at war with Islam.”
Questioned in an interview about his having only once used the term “war on terror,” Barack Obama confirmed this point, stating that “words matter in this situation because one of the ways we’re going to win this struggle is through the battle of hearts and minds.” Asked, “So that’s not a term you’re going to be using much in the future?” he replied:
You know, what I want to do is make sure that I’m constantly talking about al Qaeda and other affiliated organizations because we, I believe, can win over moderate Muslims to recognize that that kind of destruction and nihilism ultimately leads to a dead end, and that we should be working together to make sure that everybody has got a better life.
Daniel Benjamin makes the same point more lucidly:
Putting the emphasis on “Islamist” instead of on “violent extremist” undercuts our efforts, since it falsely roots the core problem in the faith of more than one billion people who abhor violence. As one internal government study after another has shown, such statements invariably wind up being distorted in the global media, alienating Muslim moderates.
This concern actually has two sub-parts for two types of Muslims: Those who would otherwise help fight terrorism feel insulted (“a true Muslim can never be a terrorist”) and so do not step forward while those who would not normally be involved become radicalized, some even becoming terrorists.
The second reason to inhibit one’s talk about Islam concerns the apprehension that this implies a large and undesirable shift away from how secular Western societies are ordered. Blaming terrorist attacks on drugs gone awry, road rage, an arranged marriage, mental cases going berserk, or freak industrial accidents permits Westerners to avoid confronting issues concerning Islam. If the jihad explanation is vastly more persuasive, it is also far more troubling.
When one notes that Islamist terrorism is almost exclusively the work of Muslims acting out of Islamic convictions, the implication follows that Muslims must be singled out for special scrutiny, perhaps along the lines this author suggested in 2003:
Muslim government employees in law enforcement, the military and the diplomatic corps need to be watched for connections to terrorism, as do Muslim chaplains in prisons and the armed forces. Muslim visitors and immigrants must undergo additional background checks. Mosques require a scrutiny beyond that applied to churches and temples.
Implementing such a policy means focusing law enforcement attention on a community that is defined by its religion. This flies in the face of liberal, multicultural, and politically correct values; it also will be portrayed as illegal and perhaps unconstitutional. It means distinguishing on the basis of a person’s group characteristics. It involves profiling. These changes have unsettling implications that will be condemned as “racist” and “Islamophobic,” accusations that can ruin careers in today’s public environment.
Islam-related explanations may offer a more persuasive accounting than turning perpetrators into victims, but the imperative not to tamper with existing social mores trumps counterterrorism. This accounts for police, prosecutors, politicians, and professors avoiding the actual factors behind Islamist attacks and instead finding miscellaneous mundane motives. Those soothing and inaccurate bromides have the advantage of implying no changes other than vigilance against weapons. Dealing with unpleasant realities can be deferred.
Finally, denial appears to work. Just because law enforcement, the military, and intelligence agencies tiptoe around the twin topics of Islamic motivation and the disproportionate Islamist terrorism when addressing the public does not stop these same institutions in practice from focusing quietly on Islam and Muslims. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that they do just this, and it has led to an effective counterterrorism effort since 9/11 with close scrutiny on everything from mosques to hawalas (informal Muslim financial exchanges). As a result, with rare exceptions (such as the Fort Hood shooter), Islamist terrorist networks tend to be stymied and successful assaults tend to come out of nowhere from perpetrators characterized by sudden jihad syndrome.
Arguing against Denial
While respecting the urge not to aggravate Muslim sensibilities and acknowledging that the frank discussion of Islam can have major consequences for ordering society, this author insists on the need to mention Islam. First, it is not clear how much harm talking about Islam actually does. Genuine anti-Islamist Muslims insist on Islam being discussed; Islamists posing as moderates tend to be those who feign upset about a “war on Islam” and the like.
Second, little evidence points to Muslims being radicalized by mere discussion of Islamism. Quite the contrary, it is usually something specific that turns a Muslim in that direction, from the way American women dress to drone attacks in Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan.
Third, while conceding that discussion of Islam has costs, ignoring it costs more. The need to define the enemy, not just within the counsels of war but for the public, trumps all other considerations. As the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu observed, “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles.” Karl von Clausewitz’s entire theory of war assumes an accurate assessment of the enemy. Just as a medical doctor must identify and name a disease before treating it, so must politicians and generals identify and name the enemy to defeat it.
To censor oneself limits one’s ability to wage war. Avoiding mention of the enemy’s identity sows confusion, harms morale, and squanders strengths. In brief, it offers a recipe for defeat. Indeed, the annals of history record no war won when the enemy’s very name and identity may not be uttered; this is all the more so in modern times when defining the enemy must precede and undergird military victory. If you cannot name the enemy, you cannot defeat him.
Fourth, even though law enforcement et al. find that saying one thing in public while doing another in private works, this dishonesty comes at the high price of creating a disconnect between the high-flying words of politicians and the sometimes sordid realities of counterterrorism:
Government employees at risk: On the one hand, out of fear of being exposed, public servants must hide or lie about their activities. On the other, to do their work effectively, they must run afoul of studiously impartial government regulations, or even break the law.
A confused public: Policy statements piously reject any link between Islam and terrorism even as counterterrorism implicitly makes just such a connection.
Advantage Islamists: They (1) point out that government declarations are mere puffery hiding what is really a war against Islam; and (2) win Muslim recruits by asking them whom they believe, straight-talking Islamists or insincere politicians.
“Security theater” and other pantomimes: To convince observers that Muslims are not specifically targeted, others are hauled in for show purposes, wasting finite time and resources.
An increase in resentments and prejudices: People keep their mouths shut but their minds are working. An open public discussion, in which one could condemn Islamists while supporting moderate Muslims, would lead to a better understanding of the problem.
Vigilance discouraged: The campaign of “If You See Something, Say Something” is fine but what are the costs of reporting dubious behavior by a neighbor or a passenger who turns out to be innocent? Although vigilant neighbors have been an important source of counterterrorism leads, anyone who reports his worries opens himself up to vilification as a racist or “Islamophobe,” damage to one’s career, or even a law suit.
Thus does the unwillingness to acknowledge the Islamist motives behind most terrorism obstruct effective counterterrorism and render further atrocities more likely.
When Denial Will End
Denial is likely to continue until the price gets too steep. The 3,000 victims of 9/11, it turns out, did not suffice to shake Western complacency. 30,000 dead, in all likelihood, will also not suffice. Perhaps 300,000 will. For sure, three million will. At that point, worries about Muslim sensibilities and fear of being called an “Islamophobe” will fade into irrelevance, replaced by a single-minded determination to protect lives. Should the existing order someday be in evident danger, today’s relaxed approach will instantly go out the window. The popular support for such measures exists; as early as 2004, a Cornell University poll showed that 44 percent of Americans “believe that some curtailment of civil liberties is necessary for Muslim Americans.”
Israel offers a control case. Because it faces so many threats, the body politic lacks patience with liberal pieties when it comes to security. While aspiring to treat everyone fairly, the government clearly targets the most violent-prone elements of society. Should other Western countries face a comparable danger, circumstances will likely compel them to adopt this same approach.
Conversely, should such mass dangers not arise, this shift will probably never take place. Until and unless disaster on a large scale strikes, denial will continue. Western tactics, in other words, depend entirely on the brutality and competence of the Islamist enemy. Ironically, the West permits terrorists to drive its approach to counterterrorism. No less ironically, it will take a huge terrorist atrocity to enable effective counterterrorism.
In the meantime, those who wish to strengthen counterterrorism by acknowledging the role of Islam have three tasks.
First, intellectually to prepare themselves and their arguments so when calamity occurs they possess a fully elaborated, careful, and just program that focuses on Muslims without doing injustice to them.
Second, continue to convince those averse to mentioning Islam that discussing it is worth the price; this means addressing their concerns, not bludgeoning them with insults. It means accepting the legitimacy of their hesitance, using sweet reason, and letting the barrage of Islamist attacks have their effect.
Third, prove that talking about Islamism does not lead to perdition by establishing the costs of not naming the enemy and of not identifying Islamism as a factor; noting that Muslim governments, including the Saudi one, acknowledge that Islamism leads to terrorism; stressing that moderate Muslims who oppose Islamism want Islamism openly discussed; addressing the fear that frank talk about Islam alienates Muslims and spurs violence; and demonstrating that profiling can be done in a constitutionally approved way.
In brief, even without an expectation of effecting a change in policy, there is much work to be done.
Daniel Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum. He initially delivered this paper at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel.
Saudi Hypocrisy At Its Best
by Raymond Ibrahim
February 8, 2013
Few things offer surreal experiences as when Islam and the West interact—when 7th century primordialism encounters 21st century relativism. Consider the issue of “interfaith dialogue.” In principle, it is a decent thing: Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others trying to reach a common ground and professing mutual respect. But what does one make of the gross contradictions that emerge when a human-rights violating nation calls for “dialogue,” even as it enforces religious intolerance on its own turf?
Enter Saudi Arabia. Birthplace of Islam, the Arabian kingdom is also the one Muslim nation that regularly sponsors interfaith initiatives in the West—even as its official policy back home is to demonize and persecute the very faiths it claims to want to have an interfaith dialogue with.
Back in 2008, for example, in what was deemed an unprecedented move, Saudi King Abdullah “made an impassioned plea for dialogue among Muslims, Christians, and Jews,” going so far as to refer to the latter two as “our brothers.” His stated goal was to develop “respect among religions.”
The Saudi monarch’s most recent initiative reached fruition on November 26 2012, when the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue was launched in the Austrian capital, Vienna. According to its own website, the center “was founded to enable, empower and encourage dialogue among followers of different religions and cultures around the world.” Lending international legitimacy to this Saudi gesture of goodwill, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was among those who attended the opening.
While all this ostensibly sounds well and good, consider the many incongruities, the many absurdities—initially demonstrated by the simple fact that Saudi Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, who was quoted praising the Austrian-based center as proof that “Islam is a religion of dialogue and understanding and not a religion of enmity, fanaticism, and violence,” is also on record calling Jews “monkeys and pigs” and Christians “cross worshippers.”
Nor is he just a run-of-the-mill sheikh: he is the government-appointed imam of Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mosque in Mecca—Islam’s holiest site, where Christians, Jews, and others are routinely condemned and cursed during the prayers of the faithful.
But this is not surprising. Even the State Department’s most recent internal religious freedom report on Saudi Arabia notes that “Freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law and is severely restricted in practice. The public practice of any religion other than Islam is prohibited, and there is no separation between state and religion.”
And this is the key point: Saudi Arabia’s brand of religious intolerance is not a product of the “Arab street,” terrorists, or mob violence. It is institutionalized; it is enforced by the state itself. In other words, religious intolerance is being implemented by the very people who claim to want to have dialogue with Christians and Jews under the umbrella of “tolerance” and “mutual respect.”
In this context, what, exactly, do they wish to talk about?
Do they wish to talk about how the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia—yet another top ranked Saudi religious official—declared that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region,” basing his verdict on the commands of Muslim prophet Muhammad?
Do they wish to talk about how, despite promising to reform their school textbooks, the Saudi education system continues to indoctrinate Muslim children with hatred and incitement, teaching that “Christians are the enemies of the Believers” and that the “the Apes are the people of the Sabbath, the Jews; and the Swine are the infidels of the communion of Jesus, the Christians”? Little wonder the imam of Mecca’s Grand Mosque uses such monikers—even as he gushes about the Saudi-sponsored Vienna-based initiative for “dialogue.”
Maybe they wish to talk about the 28-year-old Saudi woman, Maryan, who, after converting to Christianity, had to flee the nation, and is reportedly currently hiding in Sweden, even as authorities try to extradite her back to Saudi Arabia to face the crime of apostasy, which calls for the death penalty? Earlier Maryam had said that, though she “was raised to hate Judaism and Christianity she has come to love those religions since finding peace in Christianity.”
Do they wish to talk about how 35 Christian Ethiopians were arrested and abused for almost a year, simply for holding a private house prayer? Upon release, one of the Christians observed that “The Saudi officials do not tolerate any religions other than Islam. They consider non-Muslims unbelievers. They are full of hatred towards non-Muslims.”
Or do they wish to talk about how just last December 2012, Saudi “religious police” stormed a house in the province of al-Jouf, detaining more than 41 guests for, in the words of the police statement, “plotting to celebrate Christmas“?
Of course, the Vienna-based King Abdullah International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue does not wish to talk about any of these instances of state-enforced religious intolerance. Instead, the purpose of the center’s existence is to deflect criticism from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries, and direct it onto the West. This was amply demonstrated during the center’s inaugural symposium, when Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, urged Western governments to enact laws countering “Islamophobia,” because it “leads to hate crimes and as such, it generates fear, feelings of stigmatization, marginalization, alienation and rejection.”
In other words, Saudi-sponsored “interfaith dialogue” is about one-way tolerance, that is, pressuring the West to show “tolerance” to Muslims by not criticizing them for persecuting others, which would be portrayed as “Islamophobia.”
It still remains to determine which is more surreal, more unbelievable: that Saudi Arabia, which tops the charts of state-enforced religious intolerance, is sponsoring “religious dialogue,” or that the West, including leaders of those religions whose adherents are daily persecuted by Saudi and Muslim intolerance, are going along with the gag—and all of them with a straight face.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.