Why We Must Use the Label, 'Radical Islam'

Taking the president up on his conversation starter.

“What exactly would using this label (i.e. radical Islam) accomplish?  What exactly would it change?  Would it make ISIS less committed to trying to kill Americans?  Would it bring in more allies?  Is there a military strategy that is served by this?  The answer is none of the above.  Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away.  This is a political distraction.”

President Obama, June 14, 2016

The President and Administration personnel are unwilling to name the enemy before them, the enemy that killed 49 Americans and injured another 53 more in Orlando:  Radical Islam (or related terms such as Islamism, political Islam, jihadists, radical Muslims, etc.). 

Contrary to the President’s likely intention, which is to silence criticism of his political correctness, I am going to take him up on his conversation starter.  

“What exactly would using this label (i.e. radical Islam) accomplish?  What exactly would it change?”  

A lot, actually.  It is useful to know that these radicals practice a form of the Islamic faith, regardless of whether this version is distorted or not, since this knowledge itself provides actionable intelligence.  For example, if the intelligence community, law enforcement, and the general public understand that the terrorists in question are radical Muslims, then they will know that certain places and groups are more likely to be targeted – e.g., a gay night club or a kosher supermarket – and certain times of the year are more likely to see violence – e.g., Ramadan.  It means that authorities should be especially alert on Friday night, as this is after Muslims, both radical and non-radical, say their weekly prayers in congregation.  It might even tell you specific dates when a terror bombing from radical Muslims might be coming.  The attacks on 9/11 by al-Qaeda were apparently meant to respond to the Muslim defeat on September 11, 1683 at the gates of Vienna.  

Of course, the President may argue that just because he refuses to articulate that the terrorists are followers of radical Islam, this does not mean that he and his strategists don’t understand that the terrorists are motivated by a radical form of Islam.  Unfortunately, however, there is a lot of evidence that this politically correct campaign has left Administration and homeland security officials ignorant of basic facts about radical Muslims.  Presumably, this is because, in 2011, John Brennan, then deputy national security adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, and now CIA Director, ordered a purge of all federal law-enforcement “training materials that contain cultural or religious content, including information related to Islam or Muslims.”  

One of those facts purged might be radical Islam’s hostility towards homosexuals.  Perhaps as a result, we have this statement from a 30 year law enforcement expert and member of an FBI joint-task force about the Orlando attack: “Never in all my years of training, and being involved in several investigative units, to include the FBI Task Force, would we have ever guessed a LGBT club be a target of an terrorist attack.”  While it’s true that before this attack, there had never been such an incident, a security professional should understand that certain groups – Jews, gays, Ahmadi Muslims, cartoonists who draw Mohammed, and Muslim apostates come immediately to mind – are especially hated by Islamists. 

There also seems to be a lack of knowledge regarding jihad, i.e., holy war, and what kind of people might be attracted to participating in it.  Attorney General Lynch has been reported as saying investigators may never pinpoint a single motive (e.g., Islamism), and have not ruled out witness reports suggesting Mateen might have been a self-hating gay man.  However, contrary to her implication, it would not be unusual or somehow contradictory if Mateen was both a self-hating gay and an Islamist.  Many “sinners” in the Muslim world become jihadists as a way to atone for their “crimes.”  ISIS Islamists have cited “Qur’an 9:14,[1] which speaks of how violence against certain polytheists “heals the chests of the believers…(which) implies that the sins of the believers will be atoned for through the violence that they perpetrate.”  This could include women who commit adultery, men who are ordinary criminals, and, of course, homosexuals.   

For more examples,  there are a number of books, speeches, and articles that have been made on how this campaign of political correctness is harming our nation. 

“Would it make ISIS less committed to trying to kill Americans?”  

No, but it would not make them more committed either.  ISIS hates us because we are infidels who do not follow sharia law, as mandated by Allah.  This argument by the President is a red herring.

By the way, does the President object to saying the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant?  Or do acronyms make associating an Islamic term with the ISIS terror group acceptable? 

“Would it bring in more allies?” 

I am not sure what the President is referring to with this question.  Most Muslim nations are already allied with the U.S. against Islamist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, because those groups target all current Muslim governments.  And most Western nations are already strongly allied with us, once again, because they have been targeted by the Islamists.

Perhaps the President is implying that labeling these terrorists “radical Muslims” will chase our allies away.  If so, there is little evidence for this.  Egypt is led by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a religious Muslim who has called for a “religious revolution,” asking Egyptian Muslim leaders to help in the fight against extremism.  Meaning, Sisi himself has associated his own faith with radical Muslims.  King Abdullah of Jordan has done the same, being quoted, in reference to the fight against ISIS, “This is a war, as I’ve said repeatedly, within Islam.”  Prominent U.S. officials, such as Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Bob Corker, have not had problems working with other Muslim leaders, such as the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia, despite their linkage of Islam to the radicalism in question.  Neither has Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton.  Muslim leaders have also not shunned Prime Minister Cameron of the UK and President Hollande of France, both of whom have used similar terms.

Or perhaps the President is simply referring to Muslim peoples in general, both in the West and throughout the world.  Some Muslims, of course, have made complaints about the use of the term “radical Islam.”  These persons, however, often come from Muslim Brotherhood front groups, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).  CAIR has also been identified by the U.S. government at the largest terrorist financing trial as a participant in an ongoing and ultimately unlawful conspiracy to support a designated terrorist organization.  But many other Muslims have no problem with using “radical Islam” and related terms; a 2011 Pew poll actually questioned American Muslims about “Islamic extremism” without causing any sort of controversy from among those polled.  

“Is there a military strategy that is served by this?” 

Interestingly enough, some prominent military strategists have indeed addressed this issue.  Sun Tzu wrote: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.  If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.  If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”  This concept is further explained by Clausewitz: “If you want to overcome your enemy you must match your effort against his power of resistance, which can be expressed as the product of two inseparable factors, viz. the total means at his disposal and the strength of his will.  The extent of the means at his disposal is a matter -- through not exclusively -- of figures, and should be measurable.  But the strength of his will is much less easy to determine and can only be gauged approximately by the strength of the motive animating it.”  

Then again, many members of the Obama Administration might not be familiar with military strategy.

Perhaps the President and his people would be more conversant – and comfortable – with similar sentiments expressed by the (non-military) philosopher Confucius, who said, “If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion.  Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said.  This matters above everything.”

Right now, too many U.S. homeland security officials are standing around in “helpless confusion.”   The next U.S. President needs to end this.

Adam Turner serves as general counsel to the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET). He is a former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee where he focused on national security.

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