Friday, February 20, 2015

Islam & The Battlefield Of Ideas

"[Obama] is insulting, I think, to many millions of reform-minded Muslims who are trying to reject and push back theocracy," he told Fox News on Wednesday. "And the leader of the free world in the meantime is saying, 'Well, these terror groups are sort of coming out of thin air and it's just sort of a crime, education and a job problem' -- which is absurd and oversimplifying."

Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, quoted in Obama accused of skirting Islamic extremist threat, at ‘summit without substance’, Fox News, 19 Feb. 2015

In what has to qualify as the understatement of the year, George Condon at the National Journal writes that Obama and his administration are "struggl[ing] with the language of terrorism." Actually, they're not struggling. They are, in the words of Charles Krauthammer, in "pathalogical denial" of the fact that mainstream Islam is motivating terrorism.

To put this in perspective, the U.S. had decimated al Qaeda by 2008. But in the aftermath, ISIS popped up. And assuming we deal with ISIS, you can rest assured that another alphabet Wahhabi or Twelver Islam organization will rise to take their place. (And do note, while ISIS is a threat, it pales in comparison with the threat posed by a nuclear armed Iran.) We will forever face an increasingly existential threat from Muslims unless and until the Islamic religion is torn out of its 7th century roots. That requires engaging in a war of ideas. But, as the WSJ Editorial Board points out, the "war of ideas" is one "the West refuses to fight."

Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Boko Haram and other jihadist groups are waging more than a military conflict. They are also waging an increasingly successful ideological war for the soul of Islam and its 1.6 billion followers.

Their version of jihad is gaining adherents precisely because it is motivated by an idea that challenges the values and beliefs of moderate Islam, the West and modernity. The free and non-fanatic world won’t win this deeper struggle if the Obama Administration refuses even to acknowledge its nature.

The 9/11 Commission Report put this front and center. Its second chapter, “The Foundation of the New Terrorism,” traces what it calls “ Bin Ladin ’s Appeal in the Islamic World.” It discusses the late al Qaeda leader’s faith in “a return to observance of the literal teachings of the Qur’an and the Hadith.” It underscores bin Laden’s reliance on Muslim theologians, from Ibn Taimiyyah in the 14th century to Sayyid Qutb in the 20th. And it explains how bin Laden turned Islam into a licence for murder. . . .

None of this is denied in the Muslim world, which is well aware of the increasingly radical bent of mainstream Islamist theology. Not for nothing did Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi recently visit Cairo’s al-Azhar university, Sunni Islam’s premier center of religious learning, to warn leading clerics of where Islam is heading: “Let me say it again, we need to revolutionize our religion.”

That’s exactly right, but it’s hard to see how such a revolution might take place—much less who might carry it out—if Islam can barely be mentioned in the context of a conference on “violent extremism.” In his speech Wednesday, Mr. Obama acknowledged that “al Qaeda and ISIL do draw selectively from the Islamic texts,” and he called on Muslim leaders to reject grievance narratives against the West.

But the President also insisted that the West must never grant al Qaeda and Islamic State “the religious legitimacy they seek” by suggesting they are Muslim religious leaders rather than mere terrorists. That’s a fine sentiment, but it elides the fact that the two categories aren’t mutually exclusive. The Islamic State may speak for only a minority of Muslims, but it is nothing if not Islamic in its beliefs, methods and aims. Ignoring that reality for the sake of avoiding injured feelings helps nobody, least of all Islamic State’s many Muslim victims or Islam’s would-be reformers. . . .

To this, add the sentiments of UAE's Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba:

[W]hile ISIL may be the most visible menace, it is not the only threat. Across the region, violent extremists of all stripes have demonstrated their intent to roll back modernity and impose a reign of terror. . . . While military force is necessary, the key to success over the long term will be what happens off the battlefield. . . . . . [M]ilitary might and obstructing funders and fighters will not be enough. ISIL, al Qaeda and other groups are sophisticated modern organizations that use media and social networks to disseminate their ideology of hate and fear. More than provocative propaganda, these messages are nothing other than assassin recruitment ads and digital death threats that must be disrupted. In one of the most effective approaches in this battle of ideas, Muslim leaders are directly confronting and discrediting the extremists who cloak their radical ideas and violent actions in the language of Islam. While often drowned out in US and European media, influential clerics are forcefully speaking out in the region for moderation and tolerance, developing new religious texts and helping to train a new generation of imams. . . ."

And on a final note, there is Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who would define the threat we face not as terrorism, but as "theocrats," getting far closer to reality than the Obama administration:

Terrorism is not an ideology; we are not merely fighting terrorists, we are fighting theocrats.

…If we start to define ourselves as in a war with theocrats, however, then I believe we can begin the process of delivering the military, political, economic – and maybe even the social – policies to counter this threat together, as we have in the past. In the last century, the world faced a series of overwhelming threats: fascism, totalitarianism, cold-war communism. They were studied, however, as concepts, understood and clearly defined. We addressed them, clinically, as ideologies.

So what do we call this new form of ideology, how do we identify it and how do we define it? We must agree the specific terminology and identified characteristics to take us to the very root of the problem we face. For one group alone, we already struggle with an absurdity of titles including Isis, Isil, IS and Da’ish. We see the likes of al-Qaeda and its various offshoots. We have al-Shabab and Boko Haram and that’s before contemplating yet unformed groups of their type that may develop in the future. In each case, however, we continue to hop blindly and haphazardly from one tactical threat to the other, without strategically understanding or categorising our foe. . . .

The Prince's choice of "theorcrats" as the identifying characteristic of the evil we face is subtle indeed. While the various organizations the Prince identifies above are aspirational theocrats, there is only one theocracy extant today, and it happens to be one that has spent the better part of the last thirty years attempting to destabilize Bahrain. That would of course be Iran.

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