Ed Morrissey is a standup guy and a terrific commentator over at Hot Air, and I’ve much enjoyed being on his radio show a couple of times. A few days ago, however, he posted a favorable evaluation of the Singer/Noor op-ed in the New York Times — the same piece I wrote about unfavorably here yesterday. At Hot Air yesterday evening Ed kindly linked to my post, and disagrees:
If we use jihad to describe these acts, it sounds as if we”re recognizing those attacks as part of a holy war, or put another way, that we accept the construct of the terrorists.
Perhaps I didn’t make my point clear in my first post about this op-ed. The idea of jihad warfare to subjugate infidels under the rule of Islamic law was not invented by the terrorists. To acknowledge that that is what we are fighting is not to “accept the construct of the terrorists,” but simply to accept reality — which is the first step toward adjusting to it.
Perhaps it would be more helpful to argue that we don’t accept that any war is holy, especially when people target non-combatants (in our estimation, at least).
I couldn’t agree more with this. But if this were done, we would have to understand it for what it would be: a challenge to a traditional concept within Islam. We can’t do this by pretending that what the jihadists are doing is not in accord with mainstream, classic principles of Islam. Islamic law allows for the killing of women and children, i.e., non-combatants, if they are perceived as aiding the war effort against the Muslims (‘Umdat al-Salik o9.10, cf. al-Mawardi, al-Akham as-Sultaniyyah, 4.2). The idea that large numbers of Muslims are disgusted with the jihadists because they target non-combatants has no basis in anything but wishful thinking: the only evidence we have of any large-scale revulsion among Muslims for the jihadists has come when they targeted fellow Muslims, as in the bombings in Jordan a few years ago.
So if American officials were to say we don’t see any war as holy, especially when people target non-combatants, they would be doing exactly what I recommended yesterday: taking on the principles of Sharia and offering a better way of life. But if they do this while imagining that they will tap into a huge reservoir of Muslims who believe on Islamic grounds that no war is holy, they’ll be kidding themselves. They may win over Muslims who reject the holiness of war because of their own horrific experience, or on pragmatic grounds, or for any number of other reasons, but not because Islam doesn’t teach warfare against unbelievers — as, in its new guidelines, State is trying to pretend.
Regardless of how we define jihad, the terrorists and their sympathizers hear us essentially endorsing the holy nature of their fight.
This is the common charge, but I wonder if there is any evidence for it at all. Has any jihadist ever been quoted anywhere as saying, “See? Even the Americans call us ‘jihadists.’ They admit we are waging war for Allah!”? I doubt it. America, in the jihadist view, is the Great Satan. Is what the Great Satan thinks of them is really that important?
In any case, I’m all for calling them criminals. I’m just not for kidding ourselves that when we do, we will find millions of Muslims suddenly saying, “Hey, you know what? I guess they are criminals at that!”
In the end, it won’t make much difference whether we stop using the term or not. It’s an interesting academic exercise.
Here is the most important point. This is not an academic exercise at all. This is a question with immense policy implications. If we believe that only Muslims who are twisting the true meaning of jihad believe that it has to do with fighting against and subjugating infidels, we will not win over any Muslims, who do not accept the United States government as an Islamic teaching authority, but we will inhibit investigation of the motives and goals of the jihadists. Forbidden to speak about jihad, analysts will have no way to understand what the jihadists are doing and why. Stephen Coughlin, the Defense Department’s celebrated expert on Islamic law, put it this way:
The Current Approach stands for the proposition that the WOT can be successfully prosecuted without reference to a substantive understanding of the enemy. In this, the Current Approach purposefully violates Sun Tsu’s first rule of war: to know the enemy. Never understanding the enemy means never being able to generate an effective strategy to defeat him. At the operational level, this means never having the ability to convert tactical successes into strategic victories. The cost of not understanding the enemy has been high and is getting higher everyday. It will increasingly be measured by news stories that narrow in on senior leaders” inability to answer basic questions about the nature of the enemy and his environment. It will also manifest itself in official responses to terrorist attacks that become progressively less reality-based.
That is the main reason why we must speak about jihad, not “hiraba” or the other comforting fictions coming out of the State Department these days. Our survival may depend upon it.