Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Trump’s executive order slowing down the admission of people from seven Muslim majority nations drew the expected hysterical and hypocritical criticism from the Democrats. But Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham piled on as well. It’s no secret that neither pol likes Donald Trump, and both are no doubt still angry that Trump crashed their Party. But some of their criticism recycled preposterous received wisdom we’ve been hearing for decades.
“We fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism,” the Senators said in a joint statement, explaining that Trump’s executive order “may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.” This is the tired “infidels made us do it” rationalization apologists for Islamic terrorism have been peddling––and jihadists exploiting–– since 9⁄11. The Senators’ version is as facile as asserting that Guantanamo, Sykes-Picot, cartoons of Mohammed, an obscure pastor burning a Koran, or Israeli settlements are responsible for “recruiting” jihadists.
This notion that Muslims become jihadist terrorists because of Western slights to their self-esteem is an absurd psychological argument alien to minds formed by Islam and its doctrines, and by cultures and histories very different from our own. Thus it commits the mortal sin of foreign policy and diplomacy: assuming that our adversaries and enemies think exactly as we do, and share the same beliefs about human motivation.
Since we attribute most behavior to material and environmental causes, we slight or dismiss religion and spiritual beliefs as a motivating force in people’s behavior. Or we reduce faith to an epiphenomenon of some deeper material cause such as poverty or a lack of political freedom, and so reduce religion to Marx’s “opiate” or Freud’s “illusion.” Even sillier, we treat other peoples as though they are over-sensitive children prone to “acting out” when their self-esteem is not nourished. So, like grade-school teachers, we should take every opportunity to tell Muslims how wonderful their faith is, how much we respect and honor it, and how diligent we will be in making sure that nobody dares link Islam and its traditional doctrines to “extremist” terror perpetrated by a small minority of “hijackers” and “distorters” of the “religion of peace.”
Obama, of course, was most fanatic about adhering to this fantasy. He began his presidency by going to Cairo and addressing a crowd, including Muslim Brotherhood honchos, about the glories of Islam and the West’s bad behavior toward the faithful. He scrupulously avoided using “Islamist” in speaking of terrorist acts, and he ordered our national security institutions not to mention “jihad” at all in its communications. The result? During his two terms there were three times more jihadist plots and attacks than during George Bush’s presidency. Al Qaeda, ISIS, and a plethora of other jihadist outfits now have a wider geographic base and scope of operations, and are perpetrating or inspiring attacks in Europe and the U.S. The world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism, Iran, is now a global power punching far above its weight, and shaping the Middle East according to its interests as it continues to develop nuclear weaponry.
Such “outreach” and flattery have been no more useful than they were for the Brits in the 20’s and 30’s, when the politicians, pundits, and intellectuals championing appeasement of Germany blamed the Big Four for the “Carthaginian peace” of the Versailles Treaty, which supposedly accounted for Germany’s truculence and aggression. Then and now, such efforts communicated only weakness and fear that emboldened the aggressor and led to massive slaughter.
This crude psychological analysis is patently flawed. It embodies the peculiar narcissism of the West, which sees itself as the only people with agency, the power to act on our aims and interests, while everybody else can be only passive, powerless victims of our bad behavior. They are not allowed their own culturally specific motives or aims, but like children, can merely react irrationally to whatever we do. If we treat them badly, they will lash out. If we are kind and supportive, they will respond in kind. It’s the vanity of the “great sinner” peeking out from the holes in his cloak of glib guilt and specious humility.
Very little evidence supports this thinking. The U.S. has rescued millions of Muslims from bloody tyrants and ethnic cleansers in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. Russia, on the other hand, historically has more Muslim blood on its hands than any other Western power, from Catherine the Great’s 18th century assaults on the Ottoman Empire, to Putin’s scorched-earth pacification of Chechnya. But America is the “Great Satan,” while Russia is Iran’s geopolitical BFF. Or take China. It systematically oppresses its 10 million Uighur Muslims and suppresses their faith. When’s the last time you heard a peep about such “Islamophobia” from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, or the UN Human Right Council? Why aren’t aggrieved Muslims blowing up Chinese for these depredations? Could it be that jihadists know the response will be massively brutal? Better to pick a soft target like decadent Westerners too morally flabby even to correctly identify the enemy that has been attacking the West for 14 centuries.
More interesting, those indulging the “recruitment” canard seemingly don’t realize what a damning indictment of Muslims it is. Supposedly “moderate,” peace-loving Muslims can be converted to performing acts of indiscriminate murder simply because of perceived insults to Mohammed or the illiberal, homophobic, misogynistic tenets of their faith. This is the behavior of a psychopathic husband who beats his wife because dinner was late. And when has any other faith committing such mayhem been excused because in their subjective estimation, someone has insulted their beliefs? When have modern Christians, Buddhists, or Jews behaved that way in response to much greater provocations?
Christians in the Middle East are currently being subjected to what under international law is considered genocide. They are being crucified, tortured, murdered, taken as sex slaves, and driven from lands that were the heart of Christendom seven centuries before Islam existed. Despite this aggression, where are the terrorist Christian gangs killing Muslims in retaliation? Where are the politicians and pundits decrying “Christophobia” and condemning Muslims for the churches destroyed and Christians murdered? At the same time, people have been murdered by Muslims over political cartoons insulting Mohammed, or novels satirizing Islam like any other religion, or a film documenting Koranic misogyny, or an address by the Pope about Muslim sacralized violence––only to have Westerners blame the victims for their insensitivity, and call for a respect and deference their societies never extend to Christianity or Judaism. Only Islam demands––and receives from appeasing, fearful Westerners––a craven double standard that allows Muslims to defend their religion with violence, even as they inflict violence on “infidels.”
Muslims do not become jihadists because we say mean things about their faith. Of course, when speaking to Westerners, they cite the pretexts which they know we will be sympathetic to. Bin Laden had a whole shifting catalogue of excuses for attacking the U.S.: stationing troops in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War; U.S. involvement in Lebanon in 1983; the U.S. “war” against Islam waged since 1945; or the “humiliations and disgrace” that followed from the dismantling of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924. But after 9⁄11 he let slip the true motive: “This war is fundamentally religious. Under no circumstances should we forget this enmity between us and the infidels. For this enmity is based on creed.” So too ISIS, which recently in its magazine brushed away the “recruitment” thesis: “The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam.”
Jihadists, then, are motivated by the traditional doctrines of Islam, one of which is jihad, a “religious mission, which is Holy War along the way of Allah, and the struggle to extend the supremacy of Allah’s Law in the world,” in the words of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is codified in the Koran, the perfect, timeless commands of Allah that Muslims ought to “slay the idolaters wherever you find them,” to “fight those who do not believe in Allah,” to “fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness,” to “kill them wherever you find them,” to “cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve” and to “strike off their heads.” These precepts have been followed for 14 centuries, the deeds they have inspired celebrated by Muslim historians, and their divine justification explained by Koranic commentators and jurisprudents.
Muslim terrorists kill because Allah tells them to. To dismiss these religious motives is to demonstrate a blind and lethal arrogance.