On May 13, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) confronted Attorney General Eric Holder about whether radical Islam was the motivating factor in the terrorist plots against the United States over the past year. Rather than acknowledge the religious-ideological threat posed to us, Holder continued the Obama Administration’s pattern of trying to avoid using terms like “radical Islam” and “Islamic terrorism.”
Rep. Smith repeatedly prodded at Holder, who tried to fend off the attack by saying, “There are a variety of reasons why people do things. Some of them are potentially religious.”
Unsatisfied with the lack of clarity, Rep. Smith continued to ask him, “Are you uncomfortable attributing any other actions to radical Islam?” Holder replied by saying, “No, I don’t want to say anything negative about a religion…”
Finally, Holder conceded, saying “I certainly think that it’s possible that people who espouse a radical version of Islam have had an ability to make an impact on people like Mr. Shahzad,” referring to the American who tried to detonate a car bomb in Times Square as part of a plot by the Pakistani Taliban.
The Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, made her language more realistic in February when she flatly stated to the Senate, “Violent Islamic terrorism…was part and parcel of the Ft. Hood killings.” She obviously went the extra mile after she was criticized for saying her agency was preparing for “man-made disasters” instead of “terrorism,” telling a German newspaper that she was trying to “move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur.”
The Obama Administration as a whole, however, is trying to avoid using such terms as much as possible. Neither the Quadrennial Defense Review nor the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review even mention “Muslim” or “Islam,” instead focusing on “non-state actors” and “Al Qaeda and global violent extremism.” The National Security Strategy document likewise will no longer mention “Islamic extremism,” removing the portion that says that “The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.”
This removes the religious-ideological component from the assessment. Al-Qaeda is pinpointed as the main enemy, but the driving force behind the terrorist group is not. Instead, Al-Qaeda is one among many violent extremists, rather than a symptom of a specific disease. Furthermore, it narrows the war down to Al-Qaeda, apparently drawing a distinction between them and groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Taliban, the latter of which was once said by the Administration to contain “moderate” elements that could be included in a political process.
On April 6, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair spoke about intelligence reform. He did not mention “the War on Terror” once, instead referring to “countering violent extremism.” The State Department’s top terrorism official, Daniel Benjamin used the same term but did a better job in defining the threat by referring to “counter-ideology initiatives.” However, he talked about “delegitimiz[ing] the Al Qaeda narrative and, where possible, provide positive alternatives.” This again pinpoints Al-Qaeda as the enemy when the problem encompasses many more jihadists, many of whom disagree with Al-Qaeda’s narrative on some levels but still promote Sharia Law.
President Obama has dropped the term “War on Terror” from the vocabulary, believing it has negative connotations in the Islamic world, and uses the term “justice” instead of “democracy” for the same reason when promoting reform overseas. Phrases like “overseas contingency operation,” “a campaign against extremists who wish to do us harm,” and “countering violent extremism” are used to today to vaguely define the conflict.
The thinking behind these changes is that U.S. foreign policy is what creates terrorists and jihadists. The violence these groups take part in occurs out of frustration over political disagreements, and if the U.S. can successfully convince the Islamic world that the West is not waging war on their religion, such groups will be defeated.
A few statements by President Obama provide a window into what he feels creates terrorists. On January 5, President Obama said that Guantanamo Bay was “an explicit rationale for the formation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” a statement that is incorrect on its own terms and is incorrect in its inference that U.S. policy is the decisive factor in a decision to carry out terrorism on innocent civilians.
During the presidential campaign in May 2008, President Obama told The New York Times that “There are rarely purely ideological movements out there. We can encourage actors to think in practical and not ideological terms. We can strengthen those elements that are making practical calculations.”
He went on to say that Hamas and Hezbollah need to be convinced that their violence is hurting their “legitimate claims,” but did say that Hezbollah was “not a legitimate political party” and recognized the influence Iran and Syria has over them. He did not explain what “legitimate claims” Hamas and Hezbollah have, but the quote shows that he attributes their existence to political causes.
The Obama Administration has been using John Brennan, the special assistant to the President for counterterrorism, to discuss its efforts to fight terrorism. In some cases, his words sound positive. He said that the term “War on Terrorism” was dropped because “by focusing on the tactic, we risk floundering among the terrorist trees while missing the growth of the extremist forest.” This sounded like a recognition that some radical jihadists use other methods to reach their objectives. However, in that same speech, he placed emphasis on Al-Qaeda, saying the Administration will fight them “aggressively wherever it exists” but will not define the campaign as a “global war” because it “only plays into the warped narrative that Al-Qaeda propagates.”
In defending the language of the Administration, he said “what we have to do is make sure that we’re not pouring fuel on the flames by the things we do.” Even the media coverage of his statements showed the change in perception from the previous administration. The New York Times described Brennan as “helping Obama redirect the war against Al-Qaeda.” In other words, the war is specifically against Al-Qaeda and their collaborators, and their strength comes from a negative perception of U.S. foreign policy.
It is true that the war for the hearts and minds is critical, but it must be understood that radical Islamic terrorists view all the political conflicts through religious-ideological lenses. They are pursuing the establishment of their version of Sharia Law, as evidenced by their brutal attacks and oppression upon other Muslims. There is no “Al-Qaeda narrative,” as if they are the author of the ideology they espouse. Al-Qaeda and the other jihadists subscribe to an overall narrative provided by radical Islam and have some deviations based on interpretation.
The words of the very forces we face debunk the Administration’s analysis of what is the root cause of terrorism. The Muslim Brotherhood’s own documents have described its covert campaign in the United States as “a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within.” The head of the Hezbollah in Iran has called for a “Greater Iran” that extends from Palestine to Afghanistan. Osama Bin Laden says that “The matter is summer up for every person alive: either submit, or live under the suzerainty of Islam, or die.”
These are not the words of people simply opposed to U.S. policy. These are the words of Islamic extremists on an ideological crusade to dominate the West.