This is essentially an anti-Trump screed, but it has more sweeping and ominous implications. Petraeus has “grown increasingly concerned about inflammatory political discourse that has become far too common both at home and abroad against Muslims and Islam, including proposals from various quarters for blanket discrimination against people on the basis of their religion.” He is clearly referring to Trump’s proposal for a temporary moratorium on Muslim immigration, from which Trump himself is now retreating.
Petraeus doesn’t just oppose this as a policy measure. He is saying that such proposals shouldn’t even be made, for just to state them is damaging: “the ramifications of such rhetoric could be very harmful — and lasting.” They will “compound the already grave terrorist danger to our citizens.”
How will they do that? Well, you see, “those who flirt with hate speech against Muslims should realize they are playing directly into the hands of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The terrorists’ explicit hope has been to try to provoke a clash of civilizations — telling Muslims that the United States is at war with them and their religion. When Western politicians propose blanket discrimination against Islam, they bolster the terrorists’ propaganda.”
Petraeus doesn’t offer any alternative suggestion as to how jihad terrorists can be prevented from entering the U.S. He just doesn’t like Trump’s former proposal, and what he terms “hate speech against Muslims” in general, because it will, he says, enrage Muslims and make more of them join the jihad against the U.S. So the upshot of Petraeus’ argument is that we must not say things to which Muslims might object, because this will just make more of them become jihadis. His prescription for minimizing the jihad against the West is for the West to practice self-censorship in order to avoid offending Muslims.
There has been, of course, a comprehensive effort to compel the West into doing just this, and it is going very well. In the wake of the jihad attack on our free speech event in Garland, Texas last year, there were widespread condemnations of our event for daring to “provoke” Muslims. After the Danish Muhammad cartoon riots and the massacre of the Charlie Hebdo Muhammad cartoonists, mainstream media outlets all over the West refused to publish the cartoons in solidarity with the victims and in defense of the freedom of speech, instead opting to publish transparently hypocritical explanations of how they were declining to publish the cartoons out of “respect” for Muslims and Islam.
The lesson of all this is one that no less a figure than General Petraeus has imbibed and is now propagating himself: Muslims don’t like when we say we should stop Muslim immigration for awhile, and they join the jihad. So we must stop saying it, so that they won’t join the jihad. This argument will only encourage them to tell us they’re joining the jihad because of other things we do as well (which they’re already doing), so that we will stop doing those things as well. Petraeus is saying that in the wake of violent intimidation by Muslims, the West’s proper response is to give those violent Muslims what they want, by conforming our speech to suit them. In reality, this will only encourage more violent intimidation.
So if we take Petraeus’ advice, it will not result in less jihad, as he claims, but more: more aggressive Muslim demands on the U.S., more rage, and more “revenge.” Petraeus is giving us a recipe for setting the world on fire even more than it is now.
“David Petraeus: Anti-Muslim bigotry aids Islamist terrorists,” by David Petraeus, Washington Post, May 13, 2016:
…Moreover, the fact is that free and open societies such as ours depend on a sense of basic security to function. If terrorism succeeds in puncturing that, it can threaten the very fabric of our democracy — which is, indeed, a central element of the terrorist strategy.
For that reason, I have grown increasingly concerned about inflammatory political discourse that has become far too common both at home and abroad against Muslims and Islam, including proposals from various quarters for blanket discrimination against people on the basis of their religion.
Some justify these measures as necessary to keep us safe — dismissing any criticism as “political correctness.” Others play down such divisive rhetoric as the excesses of political campaigns here and in Europe, which will fade away after the elections are over.
I fear that neither is true; in fact, the ramifications of such rhetoric could be very harmful — and lasting.
As policy, these concepts are totally counterproductive: Rather than making our country safer, they will compound the already grave terrorist danger to our citizens. As ideas, they are toxic and, indeed, non-biodegradable — a kind of poison that, once released into our body politic, is not easily expunged.
Setting aside moral considerations, those who flirt with hate speech against Muslims should realize they are playing directly into the hands of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The terrorists’ explicit hope has been to try to provoke a clash of civilizations — telling Muslims that the United States is at war with them and their religion. When Western politicians propose blanket discrimination against Islam, they bolster the terrorists’ propaganda.
At the same time, such statements directly undermine our ability to defeat Islamist extremists by alienating and undermining the allies whose help we most need to win this fight: namely, Muslims.
During the surge in Iraq, we were able to roll back the tide of al-Qaeda and associated insurgents because we succeeded in mobilizing Iraqis — especially Sunni Arabs — to join us in fighting against the largely Sunni extremist networks in their midst. Later, we took on the Iranian-backed Shiite militia, with the important support of the Shiite-majority Iraqi security forces.
Likewise, the rapid ouster of the Taliban regime after 9/11 was made possible by our partnership with Muslim fighters of the Afghan Northern Alliance. And in Southeast Asia, it was by working with the government of Indonesia — the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world — that Jemaah Islamiah, once one of al-Qaeda’s most capable affiliates, was routed.
The good news is that today, hundreds of thousands of Muslims are fighting to defeat the terrorists who wish to kill us all. This includes brave Afghan soldiers fighting the Islamic State and the Taliban, as well as Persian Gulf forces in Yemen battling both Iranian-backed Houthis and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And it includes Arab and Kurdish forces who are battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In fact, we should do more to support these partners of ours.
Inescapably, clearing territory of entrenched terrorist networks and then holding it takes boots on the ground. The question is — whether in Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria or Mali — do the bulk of those boots need to be our own or those of local Muslim partners?
I fear that those who demonize and denigrate Islam make it more likely that it will be our own men and women who ultimately have to shoulder more of this fight — at greater cost in dollars and lives….
But it is precisely because the danger of Islamist extremism is so great that politicians here and abroad who toy with anti-Muslim bigotry must consider the effects of their rhetoric. Demonizing a religious faith and its adherents not only runs contrary to our most cherished and fundamental values as a country; it is also corrosive to our vital national security interests and, ultimately, to the United States’ success in this war.