Fighting Global Islamist Ideology the Key to War on Terror
by Steven Emerson
April 10, 2008
(Note: This article summarizes my testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. My written remarks can be found here. Also, Congressional Quarterly's coverage of the hearing can be found here.)
American outreach efforts with the Muslim world have been nothing short of a disaster because we continue seeking partners among those who foster anti-American sentiment and who facilitate, rather than rebuke, radical Islamist ideology.
That's the message I brought to Capitol Hill Wednesday, where I testified before a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on al Qaeda. Disturbing intelligence estimates are true – the threat from a reconstituted al Qaeda is at its highest point since 2001. While U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement actions have combined to thwart al Qaeda, its safe haven in Pakistan's remote tribal areas allowed it to regroup with a new generation of battle-tested leaders.
Al Qaeda's attention increasingly is drawn to Europe, which has been the victim of terrorist attacks planned in the tribal areas that transcend the Afghan-Pakistan border, and is a much closer and accessible target of these extremists than is the United States. In the past year, frightening plots in Spain, Germany and Denmark have been thwarted.
Last fall, officials arrested two German converts to Islam and a Turkish immigrant who allegedly were plotting bombing attacks at Ramstein Air Base and the Frankfurt International Airport. The suspects, who trained at an al Qaeda-affiliated camp in Pakistan, were found with enough explosives to make bombs bigger than those used in the London transit bombings and the 2003 attack in Madrid.
Danish police arrested eight suspects last September for allegedly planning a terrorist attack and storing unstable explosives "in a densely built-up residential area of Copenhagen." The suspects may have been targeting the Nørreport train station, Denmark's busiest, that serves 300,000 people each day.
None of this should make us complacent in the hope that al Qaeda has taken its sights off of us. A robust and successful counter-terrorist policy made up of good intelligence gathered by the FBI, asset forfeitures and designations by the Department of the Treasury, and other good work by the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies within the intelligence community have combined to keep us safe from another attack.
Al Qaeda is clearly the most significant operational terrorist threat to this country, but it must be seen in the context of what drives it – an extremist ideology based on a puritanical interpretation of Islam. The biggest flaw in this nation's national security policy is that it is focused specifically on countering acts of terrorism and not countering the Islamist worldwide ideology that has spawned al Qaeda.
That is why I am critical of former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes. During her tenure, the U.S. government often chose to embrace the very people who foment and foster high levels of anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world. Hughes and her staff held meetings with the very people who should be avoided and denounced for their public, anti-American and pro-terrorist stances; embraced individuals and groups with long histories of support for terrorists and sought advice from individuals who are on the record as being supportive and friendly with terrorists and terrorist causes.
The recent decision to appoint an American observer to the Organization on the Islamic Conference (OIC), a group with a history of support for terrorist organizations and the causes championed by terrorists, rather than denounce the OIC for what it is, is extremely troubling. Under Karen Hughes, the State Department has met with leaders of various Muslim Brotherhood-front organizations in the United States, including the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), currently an unindicted co-conspirator in a major Hamas fundraising case in Dallas. ISNA publications have consistently supported Hamas including top Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzook.
The State Department hardly is alone. The Department of Justice also has worked with ISNA, even as it labels ISNA an unindicted co-conspirator in an ongoing Hamas-financing case in Dallas, and as evidence in that case shows ISNA is part of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Department of Homeland Security had an information table at ISNA's fall convention, set up adjacent to the radical Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which seeks to reestablish the Caliphate.
The Brotherhood should be seen as anything but a potential partner. It should be designated as a foreign power and a threat, from a counterintelligence point-of-view, to the national security of the United States. The Muslim Brotherhood has stated clearly that it considers the United States to be its enemy, despite claims by some commentators that there exists a moderate wing of the movement that somehow does not support the movement's core goals and ideology.
The U.S. government generally, and the State Department in particular, needs to seek out genuine moderates in the Arab and Muslim world. What we have done instead is simply embrace and promote those who claim to speak for all Muslims, but parrot the themes of anti-Americanism, victimology and grievances that seek to place the blame for all the world's ills on U.S. foreign policy.
Arab and Muslim voices which promote accountability, democracy, human rights and freedoms must be elevated and embraced. Short of that, organizations, individuals and institutions in the Muslim world that are reflexively anti-American and pro-terrorist, or, at minimum, apologists for terrorism, should be denounced and avoided. All organizations with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood need to be treated for what they are: fascistic, paternalistic organizations that seek the return of the Caliphate.
Congress should require the lead agencies and departments in the Global War on Terrorism (most notably the FBI, CIA, and DHS) to fully and formally educate all counterterrorism personnel in the proclaimed Islamist ideology of al Qaeda the global Islamist movement. This ideology is easily accessible in Islamic religious texts and treatises such as Sayyid Qutb's Milestones. This has not been instituted at any agency.
More than six years after 9/11, this is inexcusable.
Instead, U.S. actions have been counterproductive, empowering the Brotherhood at a time it could have challenged its ideology and the terrorist groups that it has spawned. Contact with government agencies effectively anoints the groups as gatekeepers to the Muslim-American community. This policy, which continues to this day despite the criminal connections of many of these organizations, can only end in disaster for the interest of the United States both domestically and abroad.
When considering this matter, it is important and instructive to consider the Danish cartoons controversy. With the exception of a handful of courageous news outlets, the American media refused to republish the cartoons, claiming that "respect for religious values" overrode the principle of free speech.
For everyone else, free speech, the bedrock of western civilization, was suddenly thrown out the window at the first sign that many in the Muslim world were offended and retaliatory violence was possible. The U.S. State Department denounced the publication of the cartoons as "unacceptable."
This censorship and intimidation continues each day in a disturbingly growing volume. Critics of Islamism and extremism who have written books, spoken out, or published cartoons deemed "offensive" to Islam, have had their lives permanently changed – facing death threats and being forced underground or behind the protection of 24-hour security details. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Dutch parliamentarian and a friend of Theo Van Gogh (the Dutch filmmaker murdered for producing a film deemed "offensive" to Islam) has been forced to live under 24-hour protection and in hiding in her homeland and in the United States where she stayed for a year. Geert Wilders, another Dutch parliamentarian, produced a short film called "Fitna" that included images of the Quran being burned and has called for the banning of the Quran. For this admittedly offensive to some, but protected, transgression, Mr. Wilders has had to live in hiding under protection around the clock. His film was blocked by various websites, although anti-Christian and anti-Semitic films can be seen on YouTube and thousands of other sites routed through servers in the United States and Europe.
Canadian Muslim writer Irshad Manji has received death threats for her criticism of Islamic extremism and discussion of Islamic reformation. More recently, Syrian-born American psychiatrist Wafa Sultan has been forced into hiding after an appearance on Al Jazeera prompted a condemnation from Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Sultan generated ire by condemning violence tolerated and sanctioned by some Islamic scholars in debates on Al Jazeera. Qaradawi said Sultan "has insulted Islam." Subsequently, an Arabic newspaper published an advertisement sponsored by a group called "The Messenger of Allah Unites Us."
The advertisement features pictures of nine people, including Sultan (deemed a "villifier of the Divine Being, the Holy Religion and the True Religion") and Flemming Rose (cultural editor of the Danish newspaper that published the Danish cartoons) under the banner "Wanted for Justice."
Islamist grievances such as these are not valid. Other "grievances" include Israel's existence, the separation of church and state, secularism, pluralism, the absence of Islamic hegemony, the classification of Hamas and Hizballah as terrorist groups, and any perceived "insult" against Islam.
Unless we are prepared to accept severe restrictions on free speech, legitimize terrorist groups, allow the introduction of Islamic law in the U.S., prohibit any criticism of Islam, and propose the destruction of Israel, nothing we do will satisfy the ‘grievances' of the radical Islamic believers. And unless we recognize that the threat of Al Qaeda cannot be decoupled from the larger radical Islamic threat, a counter-terrorist focus on al Qaeda only is destined to fail.
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Reader comments on this item
Submitted by Paul Cross, Sep 11, 2008 21:40
Steven, thanks for such a comprehensive informative website. I teach Understanding and combating Terrorism and I often tell my students to go to yuor website to learn about combating terrorism.Keep up the great work defending our country.