Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The murder of 27 hotel guests in Mali’s capital city by Boko Haram, now an al Qaeda franchisee, highlights yet again the delusional futility of asserting that, as Hillary Clinton put it in a tweet, “Islam is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.” Like Obama, Hillary also vigorously condemns the use of a phrase like “Islamist radicalism.”
These evasions are contrary to the history and doctrines of Islam consistent over 14 centuries, and contradict the professed motives for the continuing violence perpetrated across the globe––27,295 deadly attacks just since 9/11–– by Islamic terrorist groups who emulate the Prophet and take seriously his injunction to “slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in every ambush” (9.5), one of 109 verses––the direct commands of Allah–– that order war against infidels.
Moreover, that most Muslims do not engage directly in such violence, or may even condemn it, does not change the fundamental doctrines that justify it, no more than the millions of Catholic women who use birth control invalidate the church’s doctrine against contraception. The doctrine of jihad has been part of Islam from its beginning, enjoined by the Koran and Hadith, and confirmed and celebrated by the most eminent Islamic historians, jurisprudents, and theologians. One of the most famous, the late-14th century writer Ibn Khaldun, wrote in the Muqaddimah, “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force.” When we see Muslims in the 21st century killing and dying in service to this traditional religious imperative created in the 7th century, it is perverse blindness to claim that there is no connection between Islam and Islamic terrorism.
The more important question is why anyone would assert something that would have struck our Western ancestors––for a thousand years the victims of Muslim invasion, occupation, enslavement, and slaughter–– as a dangerous fantasy. One rationale appeared in the months after 9⁄11, when George W. Bush distinguished al Qaeda from the larger Muslim community and engaged in outreach to the latter, inviting imams to the White House and proclaiming Islam the “religion of peace.” The idea was that alienating millions of Muslims would make it harder to fight the jihadists, and even aid in their recruitment. This tactic, of course, has been an obvious failure for over a decade, as there is no evidence that being nice to Muslims––for example, rescuing Afghan and Iraqi Muslims from murderous autocrats––changed traditional Muslim attitudes toward infidels, and predisposed them to turn on their fellow Muslims.
The better answer lies in several bad ideas spawned by modernity. Western secularism has rendered us incapable of understanding passionate religious beliefs. The banishment of faith from public life is nearly complete in Europe, and we Americans are on the same trajectory. What remains of religion is reduced to a private life-style choice, commercialized holiday traditions, and a vague comforting “spiritualism” that makes few demands on its adherents. Secularists relentlessly patrol the public square to attack any sign that religious belief is stepping outside its private ghetto. And any recognition that the Judeo-Christian tradition contributed to the foundational beliefs of the West––equality, unalienable rights, and freedom––is attacked as spiritual colonization and “fundamentalist” bigotry. Hence Obama calls “shameful” the suggestions that Christian Syrians, currently suffering a genocidal persecution, be prioritized over the mostly economic Syrian refugees.
In contrast, most Muslims are intensely religious to a degree most Westerners can hardly imagine. Religion suffuses their lives, most noticeably in the muezzin’s daily five calls to prayer, and the commands of Allah and the words and deeds of Mohammed are a living presence in every aspect of a devout Muslim’s life. Nor is this religiosity a private affair kept away from the public square, and compartmentalized in people’s lives apart from politics, economics, or foreign policy. As Bernard Lewis writes,
In most Islamic countries, religion remains a major political factor, for most Muslim countries are still profoundly Muslim in a way and in a sense that most Christian countries are no longer Christian … in no Christian country at the present time can religious leaders count on the degree of belief and participation that remains normal in the Muslim lands … Christian clergy do not exercise or even claim the kind of public authority that is still normal and acceptable in mot Muslim countries.
Lacking the constant public presence of spiritual reality in our own lives, we find it hard to accept that religious doctrines advocating violence against the unbeliever, or basing all social, economic, judicial, and political order on a code of law formulated over a thousand years ago, can be real enough to compel violence against innocents. This failure of imagination has been a powerful enabler of our feckless strategies.
So too has been our ignorance of history. Worse yet, what history we do rely on is false or ideologically warped. Few politicians in charge of our foreign policy seem to be aware of the long, violent assault of Islam against the West, the chronicle of massacre, slaving, kidnapping, occupation, and exploitation, all in service to the commands of Allah and the practices of Mohammed. At the same time, our president invents the mythic “golden age” of enlightenment and tolerance in Muslim Cordoba, harps on the Crusades and the Inquisition, excoriates Israel for defending itself against the progeny of invaders, colonizers, and immigrants to the ancient Jewish homeland of Judea and Samaria, and apologizes for imperialism and colonialism. Meanwhile Muslim Turkey is in its fifth decade of the occupation of northern Cyprus that followed an invasion accompanied by ethnic cleansing, population transfers from Turkey, and the destruction or vandalizing of 300 churches.
A good example of this bizarre historical ignorance is the demonic role assigned to the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement. An ISIS billboard in Iraq reads, “We are the ones who determine our borders, not Sykes-Picot.” In this false history borrowed from self-loathing Westerners, the imperialist French and English divided up the Ottoman Empire in an act of stealth colonialism. This history is false, and strangely diminishes the region’s Muslims, making them the mere passive pawns of external manipulators. But as Efraim Karsh points out in his indispensible new book The Tail Wags the Dog, the region’s leaders “have been active and enterprising free agents doggedly pursuing their national interests and swaying the region pretty much in their desired direction, often in disregard of great-power wishes.” The true history of the region shows that the disorder today has two main sources: the doctrines of Islam that keep the region mired in a premodern, tribal mentality; and the disastrous decision of the Ottoman sultan to join the Central powers in World War I, against the advice of the British, who wanted not colonies, but an Arab empire to replace the Ottomans’.
Such distorted history, in which the West is to blame for dysfunctions created by Muslims themselves, justifies an apologetic tone like that of Obama’s Cairo speech, and rationalizes Muslim violence as an understandable reaction to historical injustice––just as John Kerry did in his despicable comments that the Charlie Hebdo murders had a “rationale that you could attach yourself to.”
Finally, multiculturalism, which is an expression of this false history that makes the West the global villains deserving of payback from the oppressed dark-skinned “other,” compromises a robust and muscular response to Islamic violence. The lexicon of political correctness, predicated on the commandment never to blame the victim “of color,” leads to the sort of duplicitous evasions mentioned earlier, in which traditional Islamic doctrine disappears as motivating force, and effort is wasted on pursuing remedies––economic development, flattering outreach, or democracy promotion––that will not solve the problem of metastasizing jihadism. Moreover, like the British sympathizers with Germany in the 20s and 30s, the charges of racism and neo-imperialist oppression thrown around by the multiculturalists foster a spirit of appeasement and accommodation, sapping our morale and inhibiting our response.
The denial of Islam’s sanctified violence, confessional intolerance, and global ambitions is the biggest impediment to our destroying the enemy. The solution is simple, and memorably expressed in the New Testament: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”