Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Much Lizardly Ado About . . . A Little Something (Updated)

Our Watcher’s Council alum, Dafydd at Big Lizards, has tossed down the gauntlet on an issue of supreme importance – our efforts at countering radical Islam in the ideological plane. He wrote a pair of scathing, well reasoned posts taking to task Bret Stephens and Thomas Joscelyn, among others, for criticizing efforts at changing the way our government talks about "radical Islam" and "jihadis." Joscelyn responded in an article at the Weekly Standard, opening thusly:

DAFYDD AT BIG LIZARDS has all sorts of bad things to say about my review of Andrew McCarthy's excellent new book, Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad. I will avoid addressing the snarky insults in Dafydd's post and stick to his attempts at substantive criticism.

Wow. After breaking out the popcorn and ordering a pizza, I sat down to read it all with an expectation of some quality entertainment. But after thoroughly reviewing the arguments and the documents, it became apparent that everyone seems to be missing the forest through the trees. It's not much ado about nothing, but it certainly misses the real issue.

The DHS, several weeks ago, decided to alter the semantics of how they refer to Islamic terrorists. That was a decision that has been much derided by many commentators, including me, perhaps unduly harshly. Dafydd is strongly of the school of thought that supports the DHS approach "in order to open . . . an ideological counterinsurgency." This approach involves using alternatives to the terms such as "jihadi" and "Islamofacism." "Jihadi" means a "holy warrior," which is precisely the status to which those motivated by Islam to commit terror aspire. Calling them "jihadis" elevates them to that status in their eyes and the eyes of the world. Calling them something else would stop that. Dafydd sees such efforts as a nascent step towards engaging in the ideological battlefield. He sees this semantic effort as a way of discrediting the terrorists and driving a stake in between them and Muslims who do not support terrorism.

People in the second school of thought, which includes Mr. Stephens and Mr. Jocelyn, have been highly critical of that approach. They see it as obfuscation and a wholly useless effort in semantics. For those who want to break out the popcorn and enjoy this blog version of the UFC, here are the relevant posts, documents and articles.

January 8 DHS Memo – Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations From American Muslims

March 14 Memo from the Counter Terrorism Communications Center – Words that Work and Words That Don’t: A Guide For Counterterrorism Comunication

Bret Stephen’s WSJ Article – Homeland Security Newspeak

Jocelyn’s book review at the Weekly Standard of Andrew McCarthy’s book, Willful Blindness

Dafyyd’s first post – criticizing Brit Stephens over the DHS memo

Dafyyd’s second post – criticizing Thomas Jocelyn

Jocelyn’s Response in the Weekly Standard

The problem with the topic of this argument is it misses the real issue. We are facing, in radical Islam, an ideology that sees terrorism and the murder of others as supported in the Koran and thus as legitimate tactics to advance their Islamic faith. Dafydd is right, we absolutely need an ideological counterinsurgency. Defeating al Qaeda physically and stopping Iran’s deadly meddling throughout the Middle East are only treating the symptoms. Both could go away tomorrow, yet our nation will still not be safe from terrorism in the long run at the hands of radical Islamists. That is because the ideology underlying "radical Islam" is what has to be countered. And on that issue, we have failed utterly because have never defined "radical Islam."

Zhudi Jasser, former U.S. naval officer, physician and President of American Islamic Forum For Democracy (AIFD) is possibly the most eloquent speaker on this precise topic. He engaged in a debate a month ago with a Saudi cleric that was largely on this issue. I have the entire debate here. If you have not seen it, you need to sit through it. I cannot emphasize that strongly enough. Watch it. It is a crash course in radical Islam and what must be done to counter it. It also gives the Wahhabi view on such issues as wiping out Israel and the death sentence for apostacy.

As Dr. Jasser states, the starting point of an ideological challenge must be with identifying the problem – which in the case of radical Islam are the Wahhabi, Salafi and Khomeinist interpretations – and then attack the theoretical underpinnings. Here is an except from that debate that I have transcribed:


The bottom line is that if we do not address the theological underpinnings of the koranic derivation, of the koranic interpretation of bin Laden, of Zarkawi, of Zawahiri and others, we will get nowhere.

There are serious, serious legal underpinnings of Islamic jurisprudence that say in the Salafi tradition . . . that says that if someone leaves the faith, you kill them. . . . We need to address [such interpretations as this] as Muslims. It empowers radicals to kill people. . . . The bottom line is, this is not just psychotic people. . . The reality of the fact is that the Islamic jurisprudence, the Imams that are teaching jurisprudence in . . . Saudi Arabia, Syria, and many of the mosques around the world are spreading a doctrine that teaches that the end justifies the means . . . that occupied people in Israel have a right to kill innocents, that’s not terrorism. That is not Islam. That is radicalism. That is barbarism, and its being done in the name of Islam, but it certainly is corruption.

There is a legal tradition that we have to own up to, we have to reform. . . . Many of us are reformed by the way we practice, . . . but [it is not reformed] in the educational system. So let’s step away from the nice stories of platitudes . . . let’s start . . . separating our spiritual path, separating the moral code and the clarity of our faith from a political movement that uses the name of Islam, uses certain scriptures to [justify their crimes and barbarism]

The only way to [change this] is by us taking them on in their interpretations and spreading literature around the world that contradicts Wahhabism, that contradicts Salafism, and to starts to say that the example of the Prophet had value for his behavior, had value for his morality, but no longer has is it relevant for statecraft and for Islam to have a role in government. . . .

I could not agree more with Dr. Jasser. My problem with Dafydd’s approach is that it goes around the first hurdle – i.e., identifying the sources of radical Islam and their interpretations that allow them to conduct murder and mayhem, and instead engage in semantic denunciations alone. As Marcus Aurelius famously asked:

This thing, what is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its substance and material? And what its causal nature [or form]? And what is it doing in the world? And how long does it subsist?

From The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Unless we can answer Marcus Aurelius’s questions within the context of radical Islam, it is impossible to engage in a war of ideas, or as Dafydd puts it, an ideological counterinsurgency.

Understand that among those who favor Dafydd’s approach are all of the Wahhabi / Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood organizations in the U.S. Those organizations have spared no expense and no effort to get the U.S. to stop making a connection between Islam, terrorism and jihadism. I fully realize this is not what Dafydd is advocating, but the danger of only going forward on the semantics is that you obfuscate the true nature of the problem and allow the Wahhabists and Salafists off the hook. Their goal is simple – they want to metasticize in the West without challenge. Without the first step of utter and absolute clarity about the Wahhabi / Salafi / Khomeini sources of Islamic terrorism and the specifics of their dogma, mere semantic changes will only further obfuscate the issues – with a net gain to the Salafists.

That said, my criticism of Mr. Jocelyn is no less deep. While he in his article takes Dafydd’s approach to task as useless – with which I now disagree – he, like DHS and the rest of our government, equally does not identify the first hurdle as something that must be done.

If you wonder why that has not happened, rest assured it is not because there are clueless people in our government. Many, if not most, are well aware of the precise problem. It is not hard to surmise that the deliberate obfuscation by the government is because Wahhabi / Salafi Islam is the bloody cult that controls Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has us by the oily short hairs. All the more reason to start drilling in ANWR and start engaging radical Islam in a true war of ideas.

The war is already joined by the Wahhabits and Khomeinists and people like Dr. Jasser. It is an existential war for the soul of Islam. We have every bit as much at stake here as do the world's Muslims, yet we are doing nothing as a nation to help Dr. Jasser win. The single greatest strength of a democratic nation is the critical eye of an informed and concerned populace. Dafydd's belief in changing semantics is fully justified if we join the battle and enlist the populace. It is many years past time that we did.

Update 1: Apparently, this topic has also been the raised over the past few days at the NYT, Hot Air (see here and here) and Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch.

Update 2: Dafydd responded to the above Jihad Watch post here and then was kind enough to do a dual response both to Mr. Jocelyn's article at the Weekly Standard and to this post.

In his response, Dafydd clarifies his thoughts - though the mistake upon rereading his posts was wholly mine. At any rate, Dafydd makes plain that he believes that we need a robust ideological counterinsurgency that challenges the interprative underpinnings of radical Islam.

Dafydd makes several critical points as to what is needed in such an ideological counterinsurgency:

1. We -- by we, I mean everybody who opposes the radical militant Islamists -- must clearly identify the schools, both physical facilities and schools of thought, that teach/preach the radical interpretations of Islam that theologically underpin the Islamic death cults;

2. We must counter those schools and their arguments with alternative interpretations that are just as theologically sound... which means, I am convinced, working with Islamic scholars and clerics who have already been doing this for many years, including (a non-exhaustive list):

The "Quietist" school of Shiism, whose spiritual leader at the moment is Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf;

The Indonesian Sunni organization Nahdlatul Ulama -- the largest Moslem organization in the world with perhaps as many as 40 million members -- which is headed by Abdurrahman Wahid, a.k.a. Gus Dur;

And the Turks, who are currently opening schools around the world that are teaching a non-violent (or at least much less violent) sect of Islam to counter the influence of the Salafist/Wahhabist schools financed and run by radical Saudi clerics.

They have far more credibilty than we; but we must be careful not to buddy up to them too closely, lest we create an obvious line of attack against them by our enemies. Nobody trusts a sock puppet (except maybe Glenn Greenwald).

3. And most important, we must get both State and Defense on board with the program... and also Congress. I'm afraid this will be the hardest task, but it's vital if we're to present a unified front against the enemy. About the only hope would be if the Senate would confirm a "John Bolton"-like nominee as Secretary of State, one who could actually clean house in that wretched, out of control bureaucracy, whose Statethink has swallowed up my second favorite gal, Condoleezza Rice.

I could not agree more with all of the above points. I would expound upon his mention of Grand Ayatollah Sistani and the quietist school of Shia Islam. Indeed, it goes to the heart of the most critical reason for remaining in Iraq and insuring the sovereignty of that nation from the predatory acts of Iran. As I wrote in an earlier post:

The greatest threat to Iran today comes from a democratic Iraq on its border that honors the traditional Shia practice of quietism - i.e., maintaining a wall between mosque and state, to put it in American terms. Iran is a deeply troubled country of 60 million people held under the rule of a medieval theocracy by ever increasing repression. The theocracy itself is illegitimate when looked at in terms of a millenium of apolitical Shia tradition - a tradition shredded in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini and his velyat-e-faqi, a new philosophy justifying and requiring theocratic rule. And indeed, the most popular religious figure in both Iraq and Iran is now Grand Ayatolah Ali Sistani, an adherent to the quietist school. This is deeply problematic for Iran.

. . . Since 2003, Iran has won tactical victories in both Gaza and, just days ago, Lebanon. But in Iraq, the theocracy of Iran is facing a mortal threat to its legitimacy and an enticing example of democracy to its deeply troubled populace that, not a decade ago, appeared on the edge of a counter-revolution. . . . Indeed, unless the U.S. leaves Iraq and allows the Iranians to resume their Lebanization of Iraq - something that would happen if troops are withdrawn too soon, as General Petraeus noted days ago in written testimony to the Senate - Iran's theocracy is far more threatened by their peaceful neighbor than by Saddam Hussein or the Taliban. . .

Read the entire post. I have no doubt that if Iran dominates Iraq, you will see the quietist school extinguished following the death of the 80 year old Grand Ayaollah Ali Sistani. Following the 1979 revolution, Iran executed, jailed or placed under house arrest all clerics who still honored the quietist school and who spoke out against the velyat e faqi. Indeed, when Khomeini died, none of the Grand Ayatollah's in Iran were deemed sufficiently wedded to the velyat e faqi philosophy (or in the case of Khomeini's original designated successor, Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, he was deemed too highly critical of how it was being imposed). The current Supreme Guide, Khamenei, was chosen for his position even though he was only a mid-level cleric. This shows both the extent to which Iran will go to impose its system and it shows just how bastardized the system is.

Dafydd also notes the efforts being made by Turkey. As an aside, the BBC ran an excellent article on efforts by Turkey to reinterpret the Hadiths (see here). We will have to see how that pans out, but if it is extensive, it could mark a major step towards an Islamic Enlightenment.

Dafydd sums up precisely what we need to be working towards:

The only remaining question is whether we have the will -- the stomach -- to inaugurate an all-out propaganda campaign to win whatever hearts and minds we can, hoping they will form the nucleus of the only real, long-term solution to our problem: an Islamic Enlightenment, similar to what Christianity went through in the eighteenth century.

As best I can tell, we have yet to engage seriously in any sort of propaganda campaign. Given that it is the most critical aspect of the war on terror, I think we are very far behind the power curve. Lastly, I would just add that a little over a year ago, I wrote a lengthy essay, positing that what Islam most needed was to go through its period of Enlightenment. I explained in that essay why it had not yet happened but how the tools for such a revolution in Islam exist within the religion itself - in the Koran, in the Hadiths, and in the accepted practice of ijtihad. I agree completely with Dafydd - such a revolution is the only true and lasting solution. We need to be doing all we can to support it.


Dafydd ab Hugh said...

Dear Mr. Howling;

I gotcher response right here, mate!


Dafydd ab Hugh said...

...I mean, right here, not right there. You know what I mean.