The high price of filtering the words and deeds of our enemies through our own ideals and assumptions.
Thirty years ago, after Jimmy Carter’s disastrous attempt to rescue the embassy hostages in Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini warned, “Carter still has not comprehended what kind of people he is facing and what school of thought he is playing with. Our people is the people of blood and our school is the school of Jihad.” Despite the graphic proof of Khomeini’s words in the carnage of 9/11, many in the media, politics, and foreign policy establishment still refuse to comprehend the enemy we are facing.
Even as Islamists have come to power in the countries hastily celebrated last year as cradles of democracy, “Arab Spring” fever continues to addle the thinking of many. New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid (who died suddenly of an asthma attack last week in Syria) had his final article published last Saturday. It is a puff-piece on Tunisian Islamist Said Ferjani, who has returned to Tunisia from exile to “build a democracy, led by Islamists.” Said’s mentor is Rachid al-Ghannouchi, whose Ennahda party won over a third of the seats in Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly. “His own thoughts evolving in exile,” Shahid writes, “Gannouchi became an early proponent of a more inclusive and tolerant Islamism, arguing a generation ago that notions of elections and majority rule were universal and did not contradict Islam.”
This statement is riddled with conceptual incoherence and obfuscation, and cries out for critical scrutiny. Elections and majority rule have nothing to do with being “more inclusive and tolerance,” which is the consequence of foundational principles such as human rights and equality before the law. Majorities can vote in democratic elections for exclusion and intolerance, as shown by the calls for intolerant shari’a law, and increased assaults on Christians and Jews in countries recently taken over by Islamists. And a shrewd reporter would have asked how this alleged “inclusion and tolerance” squares with Gannouchi’s campaign statement that “God wants you to vote for the party that will protect your faith,” a faith that prescribes subordinate status for women and non-Muslims; or whether Muslim Brothers offshoot Ennahda has repudiated the Brothers’ motto: “God is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.” Like many liberal reporters, Shadid simply accepts at face value the tactical deceptions of media-savvy Islamists adept at telling Westerners what they want to hear.
In fact, Shadid passes up numerous opportunities to do some good reporting and give his readers the whole story. For example, Shadid quotes approvingly Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Brothers’ Grand Mufiti, but doesn’t inform his readers that Qaradawi is on record advocating shari’a law, terrorism, and genocide against the Jews. Shadid also quotes another “reformer,” Tariq Ramadan. Ramadan is the Swiss born grandson of Muslim Brothers founder Hassan al-Banna, whose desire was to see “the Islamic banner . . . wave supreme over the human race,” and about whose Islamist ideology Ramadan has said, “there is nothing in this heritage that I reject.” Of course, Shahid says nothing of Ramadan’s documented tactical duplicity, illiberal ideas, and connections to terrorists, all documented in Caroline Fourest’s Brother Tariq, which reveals that beneath his soothing rhetoric Ramadan is pursuing the jihadist program of global Islamization through propaganda and recruitment rather than through violence. But Shadid is simply following the pattern of most “reporting” on Islam and Muslims over the last decade. As Bruce Bawer wrote in Surrender about another Times puff-piece, this one about a Brooklyn Imam, such articles “emphasize personal and superficial details that are likely to generate sympathy while sidestepping or whitewashing core beliefs, domestic arrangements, cultural practices, social rules, and long-term political goals that might actually inform, enlighten––and therefore alarm––readers.”
By filtering the words and deeds of the enemies through our own ideals and assumptions, such stories over the years have created a false picture of Islamism and the jihadist assault on the West. We rely on feel-good words like “freedom” and “democracy,” without understanding the complexity of these ideas, or their foundation in larger notions about God and human nature specific to the West and its Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian heritage, one very different from, and fundamentally incompatible with, the traditions of Islam. As a result, we are easy prey for duplicitous and manipulative propagandists. Or we assume that our belief in environmental rather than spiritual causes will explain the jihadist violence that is in fact rooted in Islamic doctrine and traditions. Thus Bill Clinton, in a recent speech in Nigeria, where the jihadist outfit Boko Haram is fulfilling the Koranic injunction to “slay the idolaters wherever you find them,” opined, “You can’t just have this level of inequality persist. That’s what’s fueling all this stuff.” This economic rationale has been a favorite since 9/11, when the New York Times, channelling Karl Marx, wrote that “the disappointed youth of Egypt and Saudi Arabia turn to religion for comfort.” Then there are those who think that American-supported autocracies have oppressed their peoples into terrorism, and so giving them ballot boxes and constitutions will “drain the swamp” of jihadism. But as G.K. Chesterton wrote, “We shall have real democracy, when . . . the ordinary man will decide not only how he will vote, but what he is going to vote about.” But the autocrats have been kicked out of Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, and so far an illiberal shari’a law and Jew-hatred seem to be what the “ordinary man” in those countries is voting about.
So too with all the other causes of jihadism dear to liberal received wisdom. Israel, of course, is favorite rationalization for terrorism, even though the Islamist sects like Wahhabism, Deobandism, and Salafism from which modern jihadism springs appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries, long before Israel even existed. Western apologists decry colonial and imperial depredations, but never ask about the fourteen-hundred-year record of Islamic imperialism, colonization, and occupation, or wonder why Christians from all over the world aren’t rushing to commit terrorist acts against Turkey for occupying Constantinople or northern Cyprus. Alleged American slaughter of Muslims is another favorite explanation for jihadist violence, even though American power has liberated many more Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kuwait than it has killed. And if infidels killing Muslims justifies jihadist hatred, then Russia should top the list of offenders, as it has slaughtered Muslims for centuries, from the siege of Izmail in 1790, when 40,000 Muslim men, women, and children were butchered, to the destruction of Chechnya’s jihadist insurgency, which killed at least 100,000.
No, many in the West have not comprehended the nature of the people we are fighting––a people of blood and jihad. Whether through naïveté or arrogance, too many Westerners prefer their own received ideas and comforting illusions to the words of the enemy and the record of his deeds.
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