Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
After a Muslim immigrant from Uzbekistan murdered eight people on a bike path in New York, the usual “expert” pundits and commentators began recycling the same clichés they always use to avoid a hard, uncomfortable fact: these killings are perpetrated by Muslims who are faithfully following fourteen centuries of Islamic precept and practice.
Sixteen years after 9⁄11 we still don’t get the reality of Islamic jihad.
Indeed, we can’t even get simple facts straight. The NYC terrorist’s cry of Allahu Akbar, the traditional Muslim battle-cry, is consistently mistranslated. As Robert Spencer has repeatedly pointed out, the phrase does not mean “God is great,” an equivalent, as Senator John McCain has claimed, of “Thank God.” Rather, it means “Allah is greater.” Using the mistranslation obscures the triumphalist intolerance at the heart of Islam. Since the 7th century, Muslims have gone to war for the same reason Mohammed did: “I was ordered to fight all men until they say, ‘There is no god but Allah.’” Allah is “greater” because all other gods are “idols” or, as with Christians and Jews, distortions of Allah and his revelation to Mohammed. Hence jihad, the effort to “slay the infidels wherever you find them” until Islam and sharia law––practiced by the “best of nations,” as the Koran says, “raised for [the benefit of] men” –– comprise the sole legitimate political-social order for all of humanity.
Having misinterpreted the jihadist war-cry, these same commentators then try to separate the jihadist from the vanguards of modern jihadism such as ISIS. Despite his frank boasts of allegiance to ISIS, or the thousands of videos and photos on his cell phone including beheadings, or his request for an ISIS flag in his hospital room, we continue to hear that he is a “lone wolf,” a “self-radicalized” anomaly much like the Las Vegas mass murderer. Hence the progressive apologists retreat into the psychological analyses that have replaced philosophy and religion in the secular West. Rather than sacred scripture and doctrine, rather than glorious Muslim history and Koranic injunctions, now social conditions and mental derangement must account for this act.
So according to The New York Times, the Uzbek jihadist is the product of a “rootless life,” a neurotic with a “monster inside.” How could he be a Puritanical fundamentalist? He cursed, liked fancy clothes, and showed up late to mosque services. The Wall Street Journal reports that he was a homesick momma’s boy. As The New Republic put it, he is just a “desperate soul” vulnerable to the propaganda of ISIS, the latest in a string of mass murderers who suffer from a mental disorder, one weaponized by mass gun ownership, violent jingoism, and the “politics of fear.”
Hence after the attacks the widespread false analogy with the Las Vegas shooter. Mostly this trope was an excuse to bash Trump for his different responses to the attacks. But beyond that is the same assumption that only psychological dysfunction could explain why someone would brutally run-down bikers and pedestrians. Yet the falseness of the analogy is obvious: The Las Vegas shooter did not have a worldwide virtual community of like-minded believers inspiring and counseling Muslims to inflict murder and mayhem on unbelievers. He did not have a historical precedent in the long record of Islamic violence and aggression. He did not have several models for his crimes like the Muslims using vehicles for murder in London, Nice, Barcelona, Stockholm, Berlin, and Israel. He did not have a belief system in which such violence is enjoined as a command of God and a mark of righteousness. He did not shout “Thank God” as he mowed down his victims. He did not believe that his acts would turn him into a martyr destined for a life of eternal pleasure. He had no global organization eager to take credit for his deeds.
The two killers are utterly different. But making them similar is a way to avoid confronting the Islamic roots of the NYC killer’s murders by depicting them as motivated by psychological or social disorders. This psychological approach to Muslim jihadists, however, is a stale cliché, a useless analytic tool that obscures more than it illuminates. The fact is, history offers numerous examples of Muslim violence predicated on doctrine. As Ibn Warraq documents in his indispensable book The Islam in Islamic Terrorism, fourteen centuries of Muslim conflict both internal and external consistently show a recourse to brutal violence based on and justified by Islamic doctrine. Moreover, rather than socio-economic losers finding a compensatory meaning in violence, members of the various Islamic revival movements over the centuries have been pious Muslims who come not from the poor or ignorant, but from the learned and, in modern times, the professional and educated classes.
Take, for example, the Ayatollah Khomeini, one of the most significant and revered of modern jihadist leaders, who overthrew a modernizing regime in Iran and created an Islamic theocracy. He was no fringe figure, but a highly trained Islamic scholar, a “grand sign of Allah,” his knowledge of the faith so prodigious that he could be consulted on any question related to the application of Islamic law to all dimensions of human life.
Yet during the Iranian revolution, he was depicted in the West as a medieval throwback, a “beard from the fringe” empowered by Cold War neo-imperialism. His sermons, recorded on audiocassettes and circulated in Iran, and his two books were unknown or ignored by our foreign policy establishment. So too his long record of jihadist exhortations, based on orthodox Islamic scripture, and filled with statements like “Islam is a religion of blood for the infidels” and “kill the unbelievers.”
So rather than understanding Khomeini in terms of orthodox Islamic belief, Time magazine, like the State Department and others, could see only “a fanatic whose judgments are harsh, reasoning bizarre, and conclusions surreal,” a “frightening lesson in the shattering power of irrationalism,” a “ghost from the Middle Ages,” an Iranian version of psychopaths Jim Jones or Charles Manson, or simply “nutty,” as Jimmy Carter wrote of an interview with Khomeini in Le Monde. We are still paying the price for that foreign policy malfeasance predicated on an abysmal failure of imagination, as Khomeini’s theocracy relentlessly moves closer to possessing nuclear weapons and the possibility of nuclear terror.
So far the “nothing to do with Islam” apologists from both parties have been successful at minimizing the jihadist threat, and thus mitigating as well their failure to address it honestly. So too with smears of “Islamophobia” and “bigotry,” preemptive strikes against anyone challenging that false, self-serving narrative. Better to regard jihadist terror as a “nuisance,” as John Kerry said during the 2004 presidential campaign. After all, we lose over 30 thousand dead a year from traffic fatalities. That’s the price we pay for the convenience of mechanized transportation. Jihadist terror is the “new normal,” a price we pay for a globalized economy in which labor must be free to migrate to an aging West committing demographic suicide.
Such attitudes are deadly. Today’s jihadists are fighting a war of morale. They know they cannot militarily defeat the West, nor is achieving such a goal in their lifetimes that important. Spiritual struggles cannot be measured by clocks. As the Taliban have told us, “You have the watches, we have the time.” What matters is continuing the struggle against what jihadists see on their satellite televisions and the internet: a morally corrupt, godless, aging culture that does not believe there is anything worth fighting and dying for, and that will bargain away its civilizational beliefs for one more day of life and its pleasures. No matter that the jihadist view is a caricature of a partial truth. Enough Westerners behave as if the jihadists are right, and appease and flatter an ancient enemy that most definitely thinks it knows what is worth killing and dying for. That civilizational failure of nerve is what jihadists from Hassan al Banna to the Ayatollah Khomeini to Osama bin Laden to ISIS have told us gives them strength and hope for eventual victory, no matter how many setbacks.
Thus every terrorist attack in our public spaces; every unvetted jihadist enemy invited into the E.U. and, in the case of the New York terrorist, the U.S. through a lunatic “diversity lottery”; every governmental act of self-censorship of factual statements of Islamic history and practice; every Orwellian redefinition of a doctrine like “jihad”; every concession to bullying complaints by jihadist and sharia fronts like CAIR; every use of the smear “Islamophobia”; every church in Europe that is torn down even as more and bigger mosques are multiplying; every plea after a jihadist attack not to “start casting dispersions” [sic], as Bill de Blasio said, on Islam; every octogenarian and child wanded and patted down by airport security––all these are little Munichs. And as we mask our fear and self-doubt behind protestations of “tolerance” and “respect for diversity,” we hearten and embolden the jihadist foe, and convince him that he is right about our loss of morale and his own righteousness. For he loves death and Allah as we love life and pleasure, and so in the fullness of time he will be victorious.
In the Thirties, George Orwell, witnessing the myopic pacifism of the British in the face of growing Nazi barbarism, wrote, “Creatures out of the Dark Ages have come marching into the present, and if they are ghosts, they are at any rate ghosts which need a strong magic to lay them.” We may believe that the jihadists are fanatical throw backs from the benighted premodern past, warped by unjust social, political, and economic conditions, and attracted to beliefs that we think our secular, scientific world has rendered obsolete. But ecumenical bromides and multicultural slogans will not end the jihadist threat, and in fact make it more potent. We need the “strong magic” of truth, and the belief in our civilization’s principles and goods like freedom and human rights in order to fight for them. The alternative is the slow-motion Islamization that we see unfolding in Europe, one bloody attack, one unvetted immigrant, and one cultural concession at a time.