Reading CDR Youssef Aboul-Enein’s book Militant Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Global Threat, published by the Naval Institute Press (2010), one can see why U.S. leadership is far from “understanding the global threat”; why the Obama administration is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood; and why so many U.S. politicians rose up in condemnation when one obscure pastor threatened to burn a Koran.
According to the jacket cover, Aboul-Enein is “a top adviser at the Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism” and “has advised at the highest levels of the defense department and intelligence community.”
What advice does he give?
He holds that, whereas “militant Islamists” (e.g., al-Qaeda) are the enemy, “non-militant Islamists,” (e.g., the Muslim Brotherhood) are not: “It is the Militant Islamists who are our adversary. They represent an immediate threat to the national security of the United States. They must not be confused with Islamists.”
This theme, sometimes expressed in convoluted language””at one point we are urged to appreciate the “nuanced” differences “between Militant Islamists and between Militant Islamists and Islamists–”permeates the book.
Of course, what both groups want is a system inherently hostile to the West, culminating in a Sharia-enforcing Caliphate; the only difference is that the nonmilitant Islamists are prudent enough to understand that incremental infiltration and subtle subversion are more effective than outright violence. Simply put, both groups want the same thing, and differ only in methodology.
Whereas most of the book is meant to portray nonviolent Islamists in a nonthreatening light, sometimes Aboul-Enein contradicts himself, for instance by correctly observing that “the United States must be under no illusions that the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood includes limiting the rights of women” and other anti-Western aspects.
How to explain these discrepancies? Is the Brotherhood a problem for the U.S. or not?
The book’s foreword by Admiral James Stavridis clarifies by stating that the book is a “culmination of Commander Aboul-Enein’s essays, lectures, and myriad answers to questions.” In fact, Militant Islamist Ideology reads like a hodgepodge of ideas cobbled together, and the author’s contradictions are likely products of different approaches to different audiences over time.
His position on appeasing the Muslim world””a fixed feature of the current administration’s policies””is clear. Aboul-Enein recommends that, if ever an American soldier desecrates a Koran, U.S. leadership must relieve the soldier of duty, offer “unconditional apologies,” and emulate the words of Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond: “I come before you [Muslims] seeking your forgiveness, in the most humble manner I look in your eyes today, and say please forgive me and my soldiers,” followed by abjectly kissing a new Koran and “ceremoniously” presenting it to Muslims.
Likewise, after rightfully admonishing readers not to rely on skewed or biased accounts of Islam, he presents Islamic apologist extraordinaire Karen Armstrong“”whose whitewashed writings on Islam border on fiction””as the best source on the life of Muhammad.
Then there are Aboul-Enein’s flat out wrong assertions and distortions, examples of which this review closes with:
– He asserts that “militant Islamists dismiss ijmaa [consensus] and qiyas [analogical reasoning].” In fact, none other than al-Qaeda constantly invokes ijmaa (for instance, the consensus that jihad becomes a personal duty when infidels invade the Islamic world) and justifies suicide attacks precisely through qiyas.
– He insists that the Arabic word for “terrorist” is nowhere in the Koran””without bothering to point out that Koran 8:60 commands believers “to terrorize the enemy,” also known as non-Muslim “infidels.”
– He writes, “when Muslims are a persecuted minority Jihad becomes a fard kifaya (an optional obligation), in which the imam authorizes annual expeditions into Dar el Harb (the Abode of War), lands considered not under Muslim dominance.” This is wrong on several levels: a “fard kifaya” is not an “optional obligation–”an oxymoron if ever there was one””but rather a “communal obligation”; moreover, he is describing Offensive Jihad, which is designed to subjugate non-Muslims and is obligatory to wage whenever Muslims are capable””not “when Muslims are a persecuted minority.”
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.