Today’s morning NPR newscast was almost entirely devoted to Islamic terrorism: President Obama’s comments about the attempted airliner bombing ; news of yet another horrendous suicide bombing — at least one hundred dead — in Pakistan; the CIA operatives blown up in Afghanistan (OK, they were not exactly civilians, but we are in Afghanistan because of Islamic terrorism), and the attempt by a Somali assassin to murder Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.
I should mention that the words ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslim’ were not spoken in the newscast. Of course they didn’t need to be — what other kind of ‘extremist’ would want to kill Westergaard, of Prophet-Muhammad-as-bomb fame? And we know that the pants-bomber identified as ‘Nigerian’ in the almost-tragedy on Christmas day was — as Charles Johnson used to say — a “non-Buddhist.”
President Obama’s weekly address, released today, included this:
Meanwhile, the investigation into the Christmas Day incident continues, and we’re learning more about the suspect. We know that he traveled to Yemen, a country grappling with crushing poverty and deadly insurgencies. It appears that he joined an affiliate of al Qaeda, and that this group-al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America…
…our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred, and that we will do whatever it takes to defeat them and defend our country, even as we uphold the values that have always distinguished America among nations.
One might ask why he didn’t specify the ideology of this ‘network’. The answer — if one were even allowed to ask such a politically-incorrect question — would be that this might imply that all of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims were terrorists, while the murderous perpetrators of these crimes represent a tiny fraction of them, who have ‘hijacked’ the language of Islam for their un-Islamic purposes.
But it is not exactly correct to say that peace-loving Islam has been hijacked and replaced with something else. Rather, the concept of violent jihad, something that has always been part of Islam, has been emphasized and focused on by the radicals; and their approach has gained strength in the Muslim world. So it’s not exactly a well-defined ‘network’ of extremists whose ideology is different in kind from that of other Muslims, rather that a growing proportion of them have begun to see the West as an enemy of Islam which must be defeated. This is far more serious and difficult to deal with than a tiny group of extremist militants, but our leaders either don’t understand this or are afraid to articulate it.
For the same reason, it is considered absolutely unacceptable to ‘profile’ young male Muslim air travelers for special examination. But as has been said so many times, while not all young Muslim males are terrorists, most terrorists are young Muslim males. Although it is conceivable that al-Qaeda would recruit Jewish grandmothers, it’s unlikely; profiling airline passengers would improve the odds immensely. But it seems that the desire to “do what it takes” to defeat our radical Islamic enemies and defend our country is not strong enough to overcome the same taboo that prevents the President (or NPR) from uttering the phrase “Islamic terrorism”.
It’s also interesting to note that the President mentioned that Yemen is “grappling with crushing poverty”, although the Nigerian terrorist in question, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was neither Yemenite nor poor — in fact he was a member of Nigeria’s upper crust, the son of a bank chairman and former minister in the Nigerian government. He was influenced in Yemen by Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born (and also not poor) imam who allegedly gave Maj. Nidal Hasan a religious ruling that it was permissible to shoot American soldiers.
Barry Rubin provides the following snippet from a news report about the pants bomber:
In Funtua, Nigeria, Abdulmutallab’s hometown, they blame his wealth and foreign education for his becoming an Islamist revolutionary. A local student said, “We the children of the masses in this country, we don’t know anything about terrorism because our parents are poor.” Another resident added, “My only advice to the elite is to allow their children to mingle with the children of the masses so that [they] will have some of the traditional morals and values….”
This is an extraordinarily important statement. Ideology, systemic failure of their own regimes and societies, and fear that the very attractiveness of Western life will transform them into similar modernized, secular societies — not poverty and Western foreign policy — are the real problems.
In addition, traditional Islam in most places was socially reactionary but also relatively moderate. While jihad was part of the sacred texts, no one was advocating that it be carried out. Suicide attacks were viewed as a heretical activity.
But just as leftism has succeeded in reinterpreting liberalism in many places, so has revolutionary Islamism reinterpreted conservative traditional Islam. Both movements have used deep-seated beliefs and values, but also made them into something quite different.
The Obama Administration should acknowledge that the United States confronts a huge — but not united — revolutionary movement which has major assets. Elements control Iran, Syria (not Islamist but allied with it), Sudan, the Gaza Strip, and now in part Lebanon, too. There are major elements in the Pakistani and Turkish governments that lend it aid and comfort. It is also fueled by Saudi Wahabi Islam and money. It is fighting in two dozen countries, from Indonesia, the Philippines, China, and Thailand in the east, to Morocco and even within Europe on the western flank. That movement is also challenging for authority in every Arabic-speaking country and trying to destroy Israel.
Like Presidents Truman and Clinton, Barack Obama needs a sign to place on or behind his desk: