Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam.
Obama described the massacre carried out by Muslim mass murderer Omar Mateen as “an example of the kind of homegrown extremism that all of us have been concerned about.” But there’s nothing “homegrown” about Omar Mateen. Omar was fighting for a foreign ideology. He just happened to be born in this country. Being born in America does not make him a domestic terrorist.
One of our biggest errors in the fight against Islamic terrorism has been to treat it as a domestic terrorism problem. Islamic terrorism is not domestic terrorism. Not even when its perpetrators, like Omar Mateen or Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood killer, are born in the United States.
What distinguishes domestic terrorism from international terrorism is not the perpetrator’s place of birth.
One of the worst foreign terrorists in American history was Anton Dilger, who, like Hasan, was born in Virginia. As part of the German terrorist campaign against the United States during WW1, which included attacks such as the Black Tom explosion that damaged the Statue of Liberty and was heard in Philadelphia, Dilger plotted a biological warfare campaign that would decimate American horses. Working out of a laboratory near the White House, he experimented with anthrax on animals and his fellow operatives worked to infect as many horses as they could.
This entire episode of history has been largely forgotten. As have its lessons.
Anton Dilger was an international terrorist, despite being born to a Civil War hero, because his agenda was foreign, not domestic. Domestic terrorists seek political change in the United States. International terrorists seek to damage the United States. They are interested in domestic politics only to the extent that it serves their larger agenda for damaging the United States.
Islamic terrorists are not seeking domestic political change the way that Bill Ayers was. They are not domestic elements, but foreign elements. And yet we treat them as if they were domestic terrorists.
Our current strategy of trying to prevent radicalization while assuming that what Islamic terrorists want is to destabilize our political system by “dividing” us is a domestic terrorism response. It might or might not be effective if we were dealing with a domestic terror threat, but we aren’t.
Contrary to what Obama claims, Islam has not always been a part of our history. It isn’t part of us today. It is no more a “part of us” than the German nationalists of WW1 and WW2 who plotted against us were a part of us. Even the most radical left-wing terrorist has something in common with us. The Islamic terrorist has nothing in common with us. He does not share any part of our worldview. He did not emerge from some fork in the road of our history like the left-wing terrorist did. He does not seek to modify our system, but to utterly destroy it and replace it with something completely alien.
Left-wingers radicalize Americans. But they do so by exploiting existing liberal beliefs. Obama demonstrates this every time he invokes some element of American history or thought to push a radical agenda. One crisis after another is manufactured to push people further to the extremes of the left.
This is how radicalization actually works.
Nidal Hasan was not “radicalized”. He was never an American. He was a proud Muslim who happened to be born in the United States. His beliefs did not shift along a domestic political spectrum. Instead, like the German terrorists of WW1, he found that his allegiance to a foreign power impelled him to work against America. This isn’t radicalization. It’s patriotism. But his “Patria”, his homeland, was not ours.
The “Patria” of Islamic terrorists may be the Islamic State, some Al Qaeda emirate or Pakistan or Iran. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that they are a foreign enemy. And our strategy of fighting “radicalization” makes no sense because the problem isn’t radicalism, it’s alienism.
Domestic terrorism springs from a structural conflict within the politics, history and worldview of a nation. Typical examples are left-wing and right-wing terrorism. Contradictions within a nation’s ideals are pushed to the limits resulting in conflict. Arguments over which values should be emphasized and to what degree can lead to radicalism. But Islamic terrorism does not spring from a conflict within America.
Islamic terrorism is a foreign element that has been imported into the United States. It does not emerge from structural conflicts within our society. It cannot be resolved by moving in any direction on the domestic spectrum. It is purely an alien entity that has no natural home within the United States.
In Islamic terrorism, radicalization can only occur within the spectrum of Islam, not within an American spectrum. Which is why Countering Violent Extremism programs to combat Islamic terrorism awkwardly lecture to Muslims about Islam. Underlying the botched CVE enterprise is the recognition that Islamic terrorism is a foreign element. But if Islamic terrorism is a foreign element then efforts to counter it by treating it as a domestic problem are doomed to fail just as treating a sore toe with an antacid is doomed to fail. CVE covertly carries within it the acknowledgement of its own failure.
There is only one element driving Islamic terrorism in the United States. And that is Muslim immigration.
Once we recognize that Islamic terrorism is a foreign element, not a domestic element, then we must also recognize that there can only be only one answer to it. If one of your glands is malfunctioning, then medical intervention will attempt to restore your body to its proper balance. But if the problem is that you are drinking poison, then the only possible solution is to stop drinking poison.
Domestic political radicalism needs to be treated. Foreign radicals just have to be kept out of the country. They are not our problem because they are not a part of us.
The solution to Islamic terrorism is to stop treating it as a domestic problem. Once upon a time we viewed Islamic terrorism as a foreign problem. When the World Trade Center was first bombed, we did not think in terms of radicalization. We saw foreign enemies infiltrating the United States and plotting against us. We didn’t worry what made them that way. Their mindset was not our problem.
After 9⁄11, we began treating Islamic terrorism as a domestic problem. The process really took off under Obama. The only accepted view now is that Islamic terrorism has to be countered at a domestic level. We have to work with Muslim groups to counter radicalization while making them feel as included as possible in our society. This same program has failed miserably in Europe. It will fail in America.
The only answer to Islamic terrorism is to treat it as a foreign threat. To quarantine its carriers and to build barriers against the entry of the alien virus of its ideology.
We must recognize that Islamic terrorism is not a domestic insurrection, but a foreign act of war and that it must be fought abroad by force and at home through border control.
And if we do that, we will win.