Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and a columnist for National Review. His book Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad (Encounter Books, 2008), has recently been released in paperback with a new preface. Check out a description from Encounter Books. His newly released book, which has just become a New York Times bestseller, is The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.
FP: Andrew C. McCarthy, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Tell us about your new book and what inspired you to write it.
McCarthy: Jamie, as always, it’s a pleasure to be here.
My first book, Willful Blindness, which you kindly allude to in introducing me, was really focused on the terrorist aspect of the Islamist threat. Although I did argue that terrorism was the direct result of Islamist ideology, based undeniably on an accurate and mainstream construction of Islamic doctrine, my main purpose was to explain why prosecution in the criminal justice system, standing alone, was an inadequate response to a profound national-security challenge.
The Grand Jihad is an effort to dig deeper into what that national security challenge is, and in particular, to stress that terrorism is only a small subset of it. Islamists consider themselves to be in a “civilizational jihad” — their words, not mine — against the West. They use terrorism to great effect, but the battle proceeds on every conceivable front in our society: the media, the academy, and our politics, law and culture. And their aim is nothing less than the “destruction of the West” — as Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual guide (and probably the most influential Sunni cleric in the world), puts it, “to conquer America” and “conquer Europe.”
FP: Why is a book like yours necessary?
McCarthy: The reason a book like this is necessary is that, in the U.S. and the West, we don’t seem to grasp — some of us expressly deny — the dimensions of the threat facing us. When they hear someone like me talking, they tend to dismiss these warnings as some sort of far-fetched theory: “He says they plan to destroy the West — how crazy that is!” So it’s important to be able to point out that I am not theorizing here. I am reporting to you what they are saying about what they are so obviously doing. You can ignore it, at your peril, but to deny it is happening is just preposterous.
FP: And the origins of your very title shows that denying it is just preposterous, right?
McCarthy: Exactly. The very title of the book, “The Grand Jihad” and the invocation of “sabotage” in the subtitle, is taken from a 1991 internal Muslim Brotherhood memorandum in which the group’s leadership in the U.S. explains to its global leadership in Egypt that the Brothers (or the Ikhwan) consider their work in North America as a “grand jihad” aimed at “eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within” by “sabotage.” They are telling us outright what they are about. And while this 1991 memo is quite blunt, it’s not materially different from what they’ve been saying outright for 80 years. The Brotherhood’s motto remains, to this day, “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu Akbar!” It doesn’t get much less subtle than that.
FP: Why is emphasis on the Muslim Brotherhood so important?
McCarthy: The Brotherhood is the font of modern Islamist ideology, which is deeply rooted in Islamic doctrine and scripture and which is far more mainstream among the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims than we’d like to acknowledge. To hear the official government fairy tale, we are confronted by a fringe handful of “violent extremists” who just happen to be Muslims and are so unrepresentative of Muslims that we must not refer to them as “jihadists” or “Islamo-fascists” or “Islamic terrorists” or make any connection whatsoever between their atrocities and what we are incessantly told is one of the world’s great religions.
In point of fact, Islamist ideology is the dominant and dynamic belief system among the world’s Muslims. It is true that support for terrorism is a minority position in at least some (but by no means all) of its uses. But what we need to grasp is that this represents a disagreement among Muslims about tactics, not about the bottom line. The desire to convert free societies into sharia societies is a majority position, not a fringe position.
FP: Why is this fact so rejected in our media and culture?
McCarthy: It is sometimes difficult to decipher this because:
(a) the doctrine of taqqiya, or deception, encourages Islamists to lie about their aims in order to achieve their aims (obviously, you can’t use a sabotage strategy without that), and
(b) when Islamists and Westerners speak about “freedom,” they are not speaking about the same concept.
In Islam, “freedom” means perfect submission to Allah and His law (sharia). So an Islamist has no trouble looking you in the eye and saying he is all for freedom. It owes to our own ignorance that we don’t grasp that he really means the antithesis of the concept we think we are hearing.
Same thing with “terrorism”: Islamists do not accept that what they call “resistance” – which includes mass-murder attacks against people they have decided are threatening or insulting Islam, or “occupying” territories they have decided are Islamic – is “terrorism.”
So they have no trouble looking us in the eye and saying, in all apparent earnestness, and telling you they condemn “terrorism,” even though they know full well that they don’t believe suicide-bombings in Israel constitute terrorism.
As I relate in the book, this also explains how Qaradawi could “condemn” the 9/11 attacks but then issue a fatwa calling for the murder of American troops operating in Iraq. The former, a sneak attack targeting civilians – including Muslims – in a non-Muslim country is, for him, a tactical blunder because it provoked a forcible response that was a net loss for the Islamist project. The latter involves a Western military force “occupying” an Islamic country; Islamist ideology demands violent jihad to drive them out – and it doesn’t matter a wit that the Westerners view themselves as doing humanitarian work to make life better for Muslims; Islamists view the planting of Western ideas and Western institutions in Islamic lands as an act of war.
FP: You mention “violent jihad.” What do you think of the fact that John Brennan, President Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor, just explained to us that jihad is an “internal struggle” and a noble calling?
McCarthy: Ah, yes, the internal struggle to “purify oneself or one’s community.” It is remarkable that we’ve been under jihadist siege for 17 years – and you could say it’s a lot longer than that, but I’ll count from the WTC bombing – and we still hear this blather.
At the highest levels of government, we don’t want to come to grips with what jihad is. It is a very simple concept. In Islam, jihad is always and everywhere the divinely ordained mission to establish, spread or defend sharia, the Muslim political and legal system. Sharia is deemed to be the necessary precondition to Islamicizing societies – the central, supremacist imperative of Islam being to place all the world under the dominion of Allah and His law. Thus jihad can be, and often is, violent. But it can also be nonviolent, though not in the syrupy way Brennan and other apologists suggest. To hear them tell it, jihad is totally benign – the internal struggle to brush after every meal, or to rid one’s neighborhood of drug-dealing, etc. That’s not it at all. When Islam speaks of jihad as the command to “purify oneself or one’s community,” it does so in a very narrow sense. The idea is not to become a better person but a better Muslim – i.e., to be more faithful to sharia. And to “purify one’s community” does not mean to make it a better place in some objective sense; it means to rid one’s community of non-Muslim influences.
If we understand the elemental fact that jihad is, in fact, a bedrock tenet of Islam and that it is entirely about establishing sharia, then we are on road, finally, to understanding the civilizational threat we face.
FP: How is Sharia a threat to us and our way of life?
McCarthy: Sharia, in many salient particulars, is antithetical to Western culture and American constitutional republicanism. Sharia rejects our foundational premise that people have a right to make law for themselves, irrespective of any religious code (and sharia is not just a religious code but a full-scale socio-economic and political system that has spiritual elements). Sharia rejects freedom of conscience (apostasy from Islam is a capital offense). It denies equal protection before the law to women and non-Muslims. It denies private property (it claims to protect private property but it really doesn’t – all property is deemed to belong to Allah and its human “owner” is regarded merely as a custodian who is obliged to use it for the good of the umma). It abhors capitalism. It endorses violence as a means to settle political disputes. In short, it cannot tolerate individual liberty, which is the building block of our society.
FP: Sounds like something the Left would embrace. That’s why you argue that Islamists work together with the Left to sabotage America, right?
McCarthy: Correct, that is a huge part of it.
I should be clear about what I mean by “the Left.” I would have thought this obvious – a subtitle is always something of an overgeneralization – but I am not talking about all liberals or all progressive people any more than I am talking about all Muslims. There are hundreds of millions of Muslims who do not subscribe to Islamist ideology (the problem, of course, is that there are hundreds of millions who do, and they appear to have the better case in terms of fidelity to Islamic doctrine). And not all of what might generally be called “the Left” is part of what I am homing in on: the hard Left – in America, the Obama Left or the Alinskyite Left – pushing to change our society radically. I think they are a minority, but they are a dynamic, effective minority – just as Islamist ideology (which I suspect is not a minority if you take the tactic of terrorism off the table) is the dynamic and assertive movement among the world’s Muslims.
Nor am I saying, as someone asked in one of my first interviews, that Barack Obama wants to impose sharia. This is an alliance, not a merger. Islamists and Leftists have significant points of departure – mostly on civil rights. If it were just the two of them, they would fight to the death. Indeed, that historically is what has happened: the two sides join in marriages of convenience that always end badly once they have achieved the goal that pushed them together in the first place. After taking help from the communists to topple the Shah, Khomeini repressed them. After Nasser’s socialists aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood to overrun the British-backed Egyptian monarchy (an entente in which Nasser personally solicited a skeptical Sayyid Qutb), Nasser declined to install sharia, the Brotherhood tried to kill him, and Nasser responded by brutally suppressing the Brotherhood – such that Qutb was ultimately executed and the Brotherhood was driven into the arms of the Saudis (the unintended deadly consequence we are still living with today).
I’ve been surprised, Jamie, that when I’m asked about this aspect of the book, people imply that I am concocting a theory. I would have thought that not only the historical instances of Islamist/Leftist collaboration but the innumerable examples all around us (e.g., the radical Center for Constitutional Rights jumping in to become al Qaeda’s lawyer after 9/11; the collaboration between the ACLU and CAIR against the post-9/11 national-security measures; the Muslim Public Affairs Council taking a lead role in the push for Obamacare; the Muslim Brotherhood’s very easily accessible economic and social program – you can glean it from their website, Ikhwan.net – which is plainly socialist; etc.) would have made the fact of the alliance undeniable. Yet I am constantly asked, “Doesn’t the Left have as much or more to lose than anyone if Islamists come to power?” Sure, as I’ve said, they’d have a lot to lose if there were a situation where all that was left were themselves and the Islamists. But we’re not in that situation. We are in the situation where, historically, they are most apt to confederate: namely, where they have a common obstacle that makes their differences seem less important. To me, the interesting question is why the two sides collaborate, not whether they collaborate. There’s no question that they’re collaborating.
FP: So, in your view, why exactly do they collaborate?
McCarthy: Well, it’s mostly about the common enemy. But I argue that, their significant differences notwithstanding, they are in harmony on a few big-picture matters. Both ideologies are authoritarian, in the sense that they want a powerful central government to impose their alternative utopias. Both are totalitarian, in the sense that each of those alternative utopias involves controlling life down to its granular details. And, again, neither can tolerate a freedom culture: if individuals are free, Leftists and Islamists must fail. As I demonstrate in the book, Rousseau, who is the father of all modern radical movements and despised the notion of individual liberty, was an admirer of Islam – especially its holding that the spiritual and secular realms are indivisible. And when one compares Rousseau’s thought with that of Qutb (who, along with Banna, is the most important Brotherhood thinker), the similarities are startling.
FP: In describing the Obama Left, you invoke David Horowitz’s notion of “neocommunism.” Tell us why.
McCarthy: I am obviously very influenced by David’s insights about the radical Left, and, with respect to the themes in this book, by his Unholy Alliance, which I think is one of the most important – and too often overlooked – books of the last several years. David’s description of neocommunism seems to me a perfect analysis of the phenomenon we’re seeing. When the Soviet Union collapsed, many on the Right heaved a sigh of relief and though, “Thank God that’s over.” But it wasn’t the end of communism at all. Indeed, it turned out, as David points out, to be a boon for Leftists. In arguing for their utopia, they no longer had to explain away a huge, execrable, concrete example of what happens when their lofty ideas get applied in the real world. Now it’s all “social justice” – and who doesn’t want social justice, right? – without the inconvenience of the gulags, the purges, the mass-murders, the collapsed economy, the resulting degradation and hopelessness.
FP: Andy McCarthy, thank you for joining us today.
McCarthy: My pleasure Jamie.
FP: And to all of our readers at Frontpage, if you would like the threat that faces us painted and spelled out for you in clear-cut and full color authoritative terms, backed up by first-rate scholarship by a first-rate scholar, this is the book you have no choice but to read. It’s a dire necessity to have in your hands in these perilous times. Order it now!