The Government's Jihad on Jihad
Still lookin' for love in all the wrong places
by Andrew C. McCarthy
National Review Online
May 13, 2008
The Department of Homeland Security (and, by extension, the Bush administration) is on a jihad against jihad — the word, that is. Its mission is to purge such terms as jihadism, Islamo-fascism, and mujahideen from our public lexicon. Is this a serious strategy or an episode in politically correct indoctrination? That question is being banged around in several venues, not least National Review Online's "Corner."
Last Friday, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies contended that the DHS gambit is reminiscent of an effort by his nemesis, Linda Chavez, who chairs the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO), to douse what she took to be inflammatory expressions of anti-immigrant sentiment. Mark was not merely straining to find an angle in a story only tangentially related to immigration; he noted that the DHS effort is being spearheaded by Dan Sutherland, a former employee of Linda's who now heads DHS's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
Krikorian's argument drew sharp rebukes from CEO's president Roger Clegg as well as NR's own John J. Miller (a CEO co-founder and formerly its vice president). They rose to Sutherland's defense, essentially countering that Mark was engaged in a baseless guilt-by-association tactic, that association with Linda is nothing to be guilty about in any event, and that — as John put it, based on discussions he's had with Sutherland — DHS is implementing a strategy intended to peel our potential Muslim allies away from al-Qaeda, "not an exercise in politically correct nonsense." (To be clear, John took pains to say he was not assessing the soundness of the DHS strategy, just that he accepts Sutherland's explanation of the agency's thinking.)
Like JJM and Roger, I am fond of Linda (though I tend to disagree with her on immigration issues). Unlike John and Roger, I don't know Dan Sutherland, though the fact that they think well of him surely weighs in his favor. That said, I didn't find Mark's points to be frivolous, much less offensive. I leave to him to defend the parallel he bases on Linda's arguments about immigration rhetoric. (He undertakes to do that, here.) I'm not familiar enough with what Linda has said to make an informed judgment, though I do know from my own experience that lessons from mentors tend to get applied in other contexts. What's more, the Krikorian post did not rely solely on the Sutherland/Chavez tie. Mark recounted that Sutherland has been a point person for DHS's Muslim outreach initiatives, and is described by a top official from one activist group as "a wonderful breath of fresh air from Homeland Security."
Rather than address the merits of Mark's analogy, I prefer to focus on what DHS is trying to accomplish. Respectfully, I do believe the agency, like the wider government, is engaged precisely in an exercise in political correctness.
This, after all, is not the first time such an issue has arisen. Despite mountainous evidence to the contrary, President Bush brands Islam a "religion of peace," a status raised by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to "religion of love and peace." The administration routinely designates as "moderates" such luminaries as Iraq's Ayatollah Ali Sistani (who does not meet with non-Muslims — whom he regards as unclean — and calls, for example, for the brutal killing of homosexuals, citing Islamic law), the former Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (a creation of Iran which has dropped the "Revolution" from its title but remains dedicated to the establishment of a Khomeinist sharia state), and the Palestinian Fatah organization (the legacy of Yasser Arafat which sports its own terror wing and a charter committed to Israel's destruction).
In Orwellian lockstep, DHS (like the FBI) now compels many of its agents to endure cultural sensitivity training designed to inculcate this relentlessly sunny view of Islam. A year ago, moreover, I caught the Transportation Safety Administration, a DHS agency, posting a press release from CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) on its official government website.
At the time, CAIR, which was created by an arm of Hamas and has a history of operatives being caught up in terrorism investigations, was regarded by the Justice Department as an unindicted coconspirator in a terrorism financing case, had aligned with the ACLU to sue the government over the NSA's Terrorist Surveillance Program, and had published a "Muslim community safety kit" to counsel Muslims on how to thwart FBI investigations. Yet, this is how it was described on TSA's website:
CAIR, America's largest Islamic civil liberties group, has 32 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
The arc of the Bush administration's Muslim outreach has been a study in looking for love in all the wrong places (as the intrepid Muslim reformer Zuhdi Jasser explains, here). For those who've watched it closely, it is simply impossible to interpret the new language purge as anything but the latest in a series of maneuvers designed to condition us, against reason and experience, to accept the premise that there is no true Islamic component in the terrorist threat confronting the United States. "The civilized world is facing a ‘global' challenge, which" the guidance assures us, "transcends geography, culture, and religion" (emphasis added). To DHS's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, that challenge, a siege of savage strikes by Muslims — occurring the world over for what is now decades — has nothing to do with their being, you know, Muslims.
To hear Sutherland tell it (as JJM reports), the guidance is a strategy for influencing an outside audience, Muslims living beyond our shores. Having worked in the federal government for a quarter century, I have no doubt that this is what DHS officials tell themselves. They've probably even convinced themselves. But such a strategy comes into existence only because its proponents have gobbled whole its underlying message: Islam is not a part of the problem but a key part of the solution. The guidance reflects a purpose to influence the agency's most important inside audience: the American people.
DHS can't prove Islam is not a big part of the problem any more than President Bush or Secretary Rice can show that it is a religion of peace and love. Instead, the administration enshrines as policy its most fervent hopes, as if hopes were facts. Naysayers are dared to naysay . . . at the risk of ostracism from polite, media-driven society — which on this matter, as on precious few others, is four-square Bushy.
Thus, for example, the guidance asserts: "The fact is that Islam and secular democracy are fully compatible — in fact, they can make each other stronger. Senior officials should emphasize this positive fact." Well, while saying so may get me dropped from the Christmas — er, Holiday card list, this "positive fact" is not a fact at all. At best, it's a theory . . . and a dubious one, to say the least.
It is, of course, a foundational error to speak of "Islam" as if it were a monolith. There are many Islams in the sense of doctrinal interpretations. (Last week, for instance, reports from Indonesia confirmed that one sect of the Religion of Peace had stoned and torched a mosque belonging to a different sect, the Ahmadi, because the latter accepts neither Mohammed as the final prophet nor jihad as a divine injunction.) Yet, whether one conceives of a single Islam or many, Islamic culture does not have a secular democratic tradition.
The very concept of secular is foreign to Islam, which aspires to be not just a religious creed but a full-blown cultural, legal and political system, sprung from precepts dictated to Mohammed by Allah Himself. Democratic systems, moreover, are based on notions of liberty and equality; in stark contrast, many Islamic traditions (drawing on bedrock Islamic theology) reject freedom of conscience, freedom to make law that countermands sharia, economic freedom, equality for Muslims and non-Muslims, and equality for men and women, to name just a few key divergences.
But even if none of this were so, mightn't Occam 's razor have reared its head by now? After 14 centuries, there is no secular democratic tradition in Islamic society. Given that secular democracy is the best guarantor of liberty and prosperity, is it not self-evident that some precinct of the ummah would have adopted it by now, without any help from us, if Islamic society were innately receptive?
After paying lip-service to the notion that "the terms we use must be accurate and descriptive," the DHS guidance urges that we drop jihad from our lexicon, despite its being a perfectly accurate description of what al-Qaeda and other Muslim terrorist groups are doing. Why? Because, according to DHS and the "influential Muslim Americans" with whom it consulted, the true meaning of jihad is the subject of honest to goodness dispute. Indeed, DHS, in its best moral equivalence, frames the disputants in this supposed controversy as "polemic[ists]" — rather than, as is actually the case, one group accurately invoking jihad to convey the concept of holy war pitted against another trying, whether out of good intentions or duplicity, to reinvent jihad as the virtuous striving to become a better person.
Not surprisingly, DHS has declined to identify the allegedly "wide variety of Muslim American leaders" with whom it consulted. However motley it may have been, though, it evidently failed to include Muslims whose interpretation of jihad aligns with either Islamic history or the highly touted Dictionary of Islam. As the scholar (and former Muslim) Ibn Warraq observes, the latter defines jihad as "a religious war with those who are unbelievers in the mission of Muhammad," elaborating that the Koran and other scriptures establish it as "an incumbent religious duty."
Nevertheless, it is a safe bet that our government's influential Muslim Americans included the Muslim Public Affairs Council. MPAC was quick to issue a press release lauding the new DHS guidance and patting itself on the back for both its "regular . . . engagement with government agencies including [the Department of Homeland Security,]" and its long advocacy of a "nuanced approach" that stresses "the importance of decoupling Islam with [sic] terrorism." Unmentioned, of course, is MPAC's history of lobbying the government for the removal of jihadist organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad from the government's lists of designated terrorist organizations. (The peerless terrorism expert Steve Emerson provides details, here.)
In any event, the ipse dixit about a friendly jihad, just as validly construed to be a virtue as a mortal threat, flows naturally from the ipse dixit at the heart of the DHS guidance: The premise that "many so-called [so-called?] ‘Islamic' terrorist groups twist and exploit the tenets of Islam to justify violence[.]" (Emphasis added.)
Really? The Koran (which Muslims take to be the verbatim word of Allah) commands, in Sura 9:123 (to take just one of many examples), "O ye who believe, fight those of the disbelievers who are near you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty unto him." Does DHS really expect us to believe a terrorist has to "twist" that in order to gull fellow Muslims into thinking Islam enjoins Muslims to "fight those of the disbelievers who are near you, and let them find harshness in you"?
As policy, DHS gives us rose-tinted category error. It confounds Islam with Muslims and non-violence with moderation. There are about 1.4 billion Muslims in the world and the majority of them would not come close to committing a terrorist act. But their rejection of jihadist methods is not an en masse rejection of jihadist goals. Similarly, the belief that America should become a sharia state, which is not all that uncommon among even American Muslims, is not a moderate one, even if a Muslim who holds it is not willing to blow up buildings to make it so. And even if most Muslims resolve the tension between their faith and modernity by choosing to take scriptures non-literally, or by marginalizing their violent directives as relics of a bygone time and place, that makes those Muslims peaceful people; it does not make Islam a peaceful religion. Where combating Muslim terror is concerned, Islam is a hurdle you need to get over, not a means by which you get over the hurdle.
In short, under the guise of prescribing how our government officials should speak "strategically" so as not to offend potential allies in the Muslim world, the new guidance (and, importantly, the government ethos that produced it) is transparently intended to sell Americans on the Islam of DHS's dreams, not the Islam we actually have to deal with.
This approach serves the agendas of MPAC, CAIR, and similar groups: Once the Islam is bleached out of Islamic terror, it will be far easier to portray the inevitable Muslim violence as driven by "regional" concerns, or as a predictable reaction to American policies, or as legitimate "resistance" against purported oppressors. We will no longer worry about — or defend ourselves against — a global movement, driven by a common religious ideology which, far from a perversion of Muslim doctrine, is both well-rooted in scripture and a lot more mainstream than DHS's consultants let on.
It's easy to see what's in it for them. It's a lot harder to see how self-delusion serves our interests.