Recently the Wall Street Journal published an analysis of Obama’s foreign policy failures that, aside from a few nods in the direction of the reigning politically correct fictions about the relationship of the jihad doctrine to Islam itself, was surprisingly clear-sighted: “Feith and Cropsey: A Foreign Policy Failure to Acknowledge the Obvious,” by Douglas J. Feith and Seth Cropsey in the Wall Street Journal, October 18:
…But there’s a bigger problem here than cynicism. It is that the administration’s first response””to blame an American video, not Islamist terrorists””reflected strategic misjudgments. First is the refusal to accept that the terrorism threat is part of a larger problem of Islamist extremism. And second is the belief that terrorism is spawned not by religious fanaticism but by grievances about social, economic and other problems for which America bears fault.
When Mr. Obama became president, he was intent on repudiating the previous administration’s war on terrorism, which saw al Qaeda as part of a diverse international movement of Islamist extremists hostile to the United States, to liberal democratic principles (in particular the rights of women), and to most governments of predominantly Muslim countries.
Mr. Obama chose to define America’s enemy not ideologically but organizationally, as al Qaeda and its affiliates. White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan, in his speeches over the past few years, has insisted that terrorists should never be described as Muslim because their extremism is not consistent with Islam. Mr. Brennan discourses on Islam as if he were an imam. The Obama administration, he said in 2010, does not “describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists because jihad is holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam meaning to purify oneself or one’s community.” He failed to mention that jihad also means holy war.
It is clear that not all Muslims embrace extremist Islamist ideology””perhaps only a small minority do. But the extremists claim to speak for the true Islam. Their pretensions are disputable, but it is false and presumptuous for Mr. Brennan, an American and non-Muslim, to assert that the extremists cannot be Islamic or religious leaders.
The problem with ignoring ideology is made clear””unintentionally””in President Obama’s National Counter-Terrorism Strategy, released in June 2011. In it he writes: “We are at war with a specific organization””al-Qa’ida.” But America also has to work aggressively against Hezbollah, he notes a few pages later””and against a number of terrorist groups in South Asia, he further adds, “even if we achieve the ultimate defeat of al-Qa’ida in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater.”
So our problem is substantially broader than al Qaeda””and even broader than al Qaeda and its affiliates. What all these groups have in common is Islamist ideology””yet Mr. Obama ignores that.
And what, according to the Obama administration, stokes the fires of extremism? It isn’t the supremacist exhortations of Islamist ideology. Rather, it is longstanding political and economic “grievances,” according to Mr. Brennan, such as “when young people have no hope for a job,” “when governments fail to provide for the basic needs of the people,” and when the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains unresolved. President Obama, Mr. Brennan has said, thinks America should be “addressing the political, economic and social forces that can make people fall victim to the cancer of violent extremism.” Mr. Brennan has also noted that the president is “concerned with how the United States was viewed in the world and how these attitudes were fueling the flames of hatred and violence.”
Thus the way to defeat the terrorists, according to President Obama, isn’t to counter extremist Islamist ideology but to focus on how the United States, through its actions and delinquencies””its supposed excessive support for Israel, for example, and failure to provide more economic aid””is to blame for the hatred that spawns terrorism.
White House senior director for the National Security Council Samantha Power wrote some years ago, while a Harvard University lecturer, that America should adopt a foreign-policy “doctrine of mea culpa.” This is the frame of mind that President Obama brought to his famous June 2009 Cairo speech in which he suggested that tensions between America and the world’s Muslims are largely America’s fault. It was in that speech that President Obama asserted: “Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism.”…
This was generally a fine analysis, and good to see in the normally dhimmi WSJ, but my friend and colleague Andy McCarthy sees a problem with it in “The Real Foreign-Policy Failure: A response to Doug Feith and Seth Cropsey” in National Review, October 27:
Let’s start with the authors” intimation that “religious fanaticism” causes terrorism. To be sure, that’s a better explanation than the Left’s “blame America first” approach. Yet, it still misses the mark. The real cause is ideology, not religion. The distinction is worth drawing because, for the most part, Islamist terror is not fueled by Muslim zealousness for Islam’s religious tenets “” for instance, “the oneness of Allah.” We Westerners recognize such beliefs as belonging to the realm of religion or spirituality. To the contrary, Islamist terror is driven by the supremacism and totalitarianism of Middle Eastern Islam “” i.e., by the perception of believers that they are under a divine injunction to impose all of Islam’s tenets.
Most of those tenets do not concern religion or spirituality, at least not as Westerners interpret those concepts. Instead, sharia is largely concerned with controlling what we see as secular affairs “” political, social, military, financial, jurisprudential, penal, even hygienic matters. Of course, the fact that we separate church and state in the West does not mean our moral sense is without influence “” indeed, profound influence “” over how we conduct secular affairs. But in the West, we reject the notion that any religious belief system’s tenets should control those affairs. In the United States, we reject the establishment of a state religion “” such official primacy would suffocate freedom of conscience, a bedrock of liberty.
By contrast, the foundation of Middle Eastern Islam is submission to Allah’s law, not individual liberty. This interpretation of Islam thus rejects a division between the secular and the spiritual. Its sharia system contemplates totalitarian control. That makes Islamist ideology (i.e., Islamic supremacism, or what is sometimes more elliptically called “political Islam”) just another totalitarian ideology, albeit one that happens to have a religious veneer.
Some of my friends make the error of claiming that “Islam is not a religion.” I understand what they mean “” it is a clumsy way of making the point that mainstream Islam aspires to control much more than spiritual life. Still, the clumsy rhetoric is a bad mistake, driving a wedge between what should be natural allies: those fearful of Islamic supremacism and religious believers. The latter “” for example, American Christians, Jews, and non-Islamist Muslims “” today find their core liberties under siege by government overreach and atheist hostility. How convenient for these aggressor forces if, by the hocus-pocus of denying an established creed the status of religion, its adherents may be stripped of their constitutional protections.
No, Islam clearly is a religion, and its theological tenets are every bit as deserving of the First Amendment’s guarantees as any other. But Muslims must accept that, in America and the West, it is not Islam but our traditions “” especially the separation of church and state “” that set the parameters of religious liberty. This way, Islam, the religion, is protected, but Islamic supremacism, the totalitarian ideology, is not. The latter undeniably draws on Islamic scripture, but it is categorically akin to Communism or National Socialism, not to religious creeds.
This is true as far as it goes: a distinction does indeed need to be made in American law between Islam as a religion and Islam as a political system that is authoritarian, supremacist, and at variance with our Constitutional principles and freedoms in numerous ways. But it is off the mark to say that “the real cause is ideology, not religion,” and that “Islamist terror is not fueled by Muslim zealousness for Islam’s religious tenets “” for instance, ‘the oneness of Allah.'” A moment’s glance at the names of jihad terror groups around the world shows that it is precisely zealousness for Islam’s religious tenets that fuels jihad terrorism. Take, for example, the Supporters of Tawheed, a banned jihad group in Wales. What’s “Tawheed”? The oneness of Allah. Then there is the Tawheed and Jihad group in Gaza that recently murdered an Italian peace activist. And exactly the same name, Tawheed wal-Jihad, was used for his group by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the jihad leader in Iraq.
Aside from Tawheed itself, the names of jihad groups are invariably religious: Hamas is an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement. Hizballah is the Party of Allah. The group that murdered Ambassador Stevens and the others in Libya was Ansar al-Sharia — supporters of Islamic law. And on and on.
The key that McCarthy misses here is that the distinction between the religious and political realms is a Western realm that has no foundation in traditional Islam. These groups are fighting for political and religious goals simultaneously, and see no difference, much less opposition, between the two. In fact, Islamic apologists have frequently criticized the Judeo-Christian West precisely for drawing such a distinction. This doesn’t mean that he is wrong in saying that we have to combat the political and supremacist aspects of Islam as such, but one principal reason why the problem of identifying our foe properly has proven to be so intractable is that the religious and the political in Islam are completely intertwined and not separable in any organic way found within Islam itself. This, too, has to recognized before there can be any real progress made in public policy on this issue.