America is in a unique position to avoid making the same mistakes the UK and continental Europe have made in trying to solve the tension between having an open, democratic society of religious tolerance, and halting the efforts of Islamists who use such privileges as cover to advance an anti-democratic, intolerant and even violent agenda.
In a compelling session earlier this month, the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, chaired by Sen. Joe Liberman, heard from several experts on "The Roots of Violent Islamist Extremism and Efforts to Counter It." One of the authorities testifying was Ms. Zeyno Baran, senior fellow and Director for the Center for Eurasian Policy at the Hudson Institute.
As part of her testimony, Baran expressed concern that our policy makers have not adequately addressed the 9/11 Commission's call to, "prevail in the longer term over the ideology that gives rise to Islamist terrorism."
While much effort has been made through the War on Terror to thwart the actions of the terrorists since 9/11, little substantive progress has been made in countering the root cause of the violent Islamists: the ideology of Islamism. The main reason is due to a continued misunderstanding of goals, aims and objectives of their ideology.
One example illustrating this western misunderstanding of Islamism occurred earlier this year when British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith changed the term "Islamic extremism" to "anti-Islamic activity." Following suit, the rest of her Majesty's high level government officials dropped the "War on Terror" label all together.
In stark contrast to this "ostrich strategy" is the other major western misperception that sees all of Islam as a religion of subjugation and terror. Atheist Sam Harris summarized this view describing the War on Terror as a war against "precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran, and further elaborated in the literature of the Hadith."
The error both of these extremes foster is the failure to recognize that two genuine views of Islam exist today: The Islamic view and the Islamist view. Neither can be dismissed by denying its existence or pretending one has hijacked the other. Both are here to stay and must be addressed for what they are.
According to Baran, the primary difference between the two is not that one commits violent acts of terrorism while the other does not. On the contrary, many Islamist groups don't necessarily engage in violent acts at all. Terrorism and violence aren't the main ingredients in what makes an Islamist group dangerous and a threat to US and western security.
The real differentiator is the mission or teleological objective of each Muslim group. For Islamists, or those who adhere to the ideology of Islamism, the ultimate end is the establishment of a global political superstructure called the Caliphate where Allah's law reigns supreme. Islamists advocate comprehensive Jihad to achieve this worldwide Islamic State, with violence as only one means of achieving the goal.
In contrast, Islamic adherents reject the idea that Islam mandates a global superstructure built on Shari'ah law. In other words, it's the endgame that separates them, not the means.
Well known radical terrorist groups are an obvious component of the Islamist movement. Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and the plethora of their fly by night jihadist offspring are all fighting for the Caliphate. For them, the global Caliphate is the will of Allah, and their violent jihad is one of the major divinely mandated ways to bring this to pass.
As such, these groups are a serious national security threat, and justify the full force of our efforts to defeat them. But of equal concern, and possibly even the greater long term threat, are the parent groups that have been responsible for feeding their ideological children with an Islamist interpretation of Islam that calls for multiple strategic and Koranically justified means (as interpreted by the Islamists) to establish the Caliphate.
Who are the parent groups of modern Islamism? While there are several, one of the most noteworthy that has served as a major intellectual incubator for Islamist ideology is the Muslim Brotherhood (MB.)
Much has been written recently on the MB, and a wealth of material demonstrating their historic and contemporary Islamist goals, aims and objectives can be found at The Investigative Project and the NEFA Foundation. One recent bombshell document further indicting the MB as Islamist is An Explanatory Memorandum On the General Strategic Goal for the Group In North America which was discovered in the recent Holy Land Foundation Trial (HLF.)
On page 4 & 5 of the translated document, the strategic goals of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States are summarized:
1. Establishing an effective and stable Islamic Movement led by the Muslim Brotherhood
2. Adopting Muslims' causes domestically and globally
3. Expanding the observant Muslim base
4. Unifying and directing Muslims' efforts
5. Presenting Islam as a civilization alternative
6. Supporting the establishment of the global Islamic state wherever it is
The MB commitment to support "the establishment of the global Islamic state" is the main determining factor for categorizing them as Islamist as opposed to an Islamic group. As such, the activities and off-shoot organizations of the MB should be carefully scrutinized and understood in the context of the MB's six-plank grand strategy.
One of the most visible extensions of the MB is the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) which Baran testified "was created by MB to influence the US government, Congress, and NGOs, along with academic and media groups." In other words, they are one of MB's means to accomplish their endgame of the global Islamic state.
The impact of CAIR should not be underestimated. While much has been written and published which reveals their ulterior objectives, and while their membership and visible financial base have dropped substantially over the last several years because of their exposure, CAIR continues to exert significant influence.
One example is their community outreach efforts to government. Last month, CAIR conducted "diversity training" for law enforcement officers at the Norman Police Department Basic Academy training facility in Norman, Oklahoma. Emphasizing that the training gives "basic information [about] Islamic beliefs and practices, Muslim demographics and common misperceptions about Islam", CAIR's diversity training was welcomed in Norman as a bridge builder.
What the Norman law enforcement officials failed to ask is whose view of Islamic beliefs, practices and misperceptions they were receiving, and whether CAIR's views can be trusted. Given the origin and purpose of CAIR as an MB offshoot, alarm bells should ring when such a group offers training to our security officials.
And it's not just in the heartland where CAIR's effort to "improve understanding and communication and secure genuine trust between both groups (law enforcement executives and Muslim community leaders)" is being conducted. Over the years CAIR's sensitivity training has extended to law enforcement groups across the country as well as to military and Federal agencies including the FBI, Marines, Coast Guard, Navy and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officers. In Connecticut alone, CAIR boasts that it has trained or collaborated with the Coast Guard, Department of Justice and the Navy - all in the last year.
Because there is not a clear distinction within our local and national governments between Islamic and Islamist groups, we shouldn't be surprised that Islamist groups take advantage of the ignorance and cozy up to our officials in an effort to advance their agenda.
Much effort, energy and expense has been expended for the War on Terror. But failing to address and counter the ideological roots of Islamism will cut short the war's objectives and in many ways, leave the United States vulnerable to Islamist jihad by other means through organizations such as the MB and CAIR, the non-violent ideological incubators, strategic mouthpieces, deceptive bridge builders and agitating legal arms for the larger Islamist effort to establish the world Caliphate.
The British and Europeans are awash in a wave of Islamism that for decades has been crashing over their culture. To avert the same destiny, deliberate and specific efforts to counter the ideology of Islamism with the same vigor and determination in which we're prosecuting the War on Terror must ensue.
Failure to do so will only embolden the Islamists and hasten their efforts for the Caliphate.