Political or radical Islam seeks the imposition of Sharia, or Moslem law, on the entirety of the world. Accordingly, it divides the world into those areas under the rule of Islam and those not yet under its dominion.
Though most Moslems in the world do not subscribe to the doctrines of radical Islam, it has its roots deep in Islam itself, which from the time it burst out of the Arabian sub-peninsula in the 7th century has been a religion of conquest.
Radical Islam is the fastest growing form of Islam in the world, spread by petrodollars in mosques and madrassas, most alarmingly among Moslems in the West. The signs at a recent "Religion of Peace" demonstration in the middle of London convey the tenor of radical Islam: "Slay/Behead/Exterminate/Eliminate Those Who Insult Islam," "Europe is the Cancer; Islam is the Answer," "Islam will dominate the world," "Freedom to Hell," "Be prepared for the real Holocaust," "Europe you will pay. Your 9/11 is on its way."
The 1978 Islamic revolution in Iran is a key element in the spread of radical Islam. From the first, the Ayatolloh Khomeini proclaimed the goal of the worldwide spread of Islam and the restoration of the caliphate. The seizure of the American embassy in Teheran expressed the desire of his followers to confront and humiliate the Great Satan.
A particular narrative of Islam ascendant drives the various movements of radical Islam. As described by Princeton's Bernard Lewis, that narrative begins with the defeat of the Soviet bear by mujahideen in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden wrote at the time that Muslims had defeated the more dangerous of their two main enemies, and that defeating the effeminate Americans would prove easier. The Moslem demographic takeover of Western Europe, 9/11, and the acquisition of "Islamic bombs" by Pakistan and, in the near future, Iran all fuel the narrative.
FRIGHTENINGLY, THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION rejects the above understanding of the threat of radical Islam. Its professed "realism" appears ever more like a synonym for fantasy and the denial of unpleasant truths.
On August 6, President Obama's counterterrorism czar John O. Brennan delivered a speech laying out many of the crucial foreign policy assumptions of the current administration. He described the focus of America's counter-terrorism efforts as Al Qaeda and its allies.
He then discussed a second long-term threat posed by "violent extremists," of indeterminate religious identity. Brennan made clear that the President does not view the battle against "violent extremism" as a "global war" and certainly not "as a fight against 'jihadists'."
Brennan located the attraction of terrorism in a variety of social conditions – lack of education, jobs, and a feeling of connection to the modern world. He then proceeded to blame the United States for "our failure to address these conditions," which, he charges, has played into the hands of the terrorists.
Virtually everything is wrong with this analysis. The President is right to continue to go after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But to focus on Al Qaeda, as if it were somehow unique in the Islamist constellation, is to repeat the generals' mistake of fighting the last war.
It is also to repeat the Clinton administration's folly of treating the struggle against Islamic terrorism as primarily a law enforcement problem of rounding up the bad guys. America successfully prosecuted the first World Trade Center bombers, but still got 9/11 in response. The elimination of Osama bin Laden and company would, at most, eliminate one head of a hydra-headed monster.
It is not clear how impressed the imams of radical Islam will be by Brennan's definition of "jihad" as a "holy struggle for a moral goal." The term jihad has always been used by Moslems primarily in the context of military conquest. In any event, among the "moral goals," bearing the imprimatur of Islamist fatwas are suicide bombings against civilians and 9/11.
The refusal to recognize a common ideology underlying the alliance between Islamist Shiites (Iran) and Sunnis (Hamas) – something the "realists" always insisted was impossible – has grave policy consequences. Failure to prevent the Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons, for instance, would not only pose an immediate threat to Israel and the Sunni monarchies of the Persian Gulf, it would give credence o the Islamist narrative of imminent victory.
President Obama is justifiably eager that America not be perceived as at war with Islam as a religion. But that cannot come at the cost of all analytical clarity and a whitewashing of the reality of the Islamic world. Brennan's attempt to paint Hizbullah as well on its way to moderation, by virtue of its participation in the Lebanese parliament, is a classic example of the latter. He ignores that Hizbullah's political participation is for the purpose of controlling Lebanon and protecting the independence of its militias, which have never submitted to governmental control.
Hizbullah today has doctors and lawyers, Brennan notes enthusiastically. Well, George Habash, the pioneer of air hijacking, Hizbullah's arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, Al Qaeda number two Al Zaharwi, and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh are all physicians, and Yasir Arafat was an engineer. So what? Indeed, in his discussion of the legitimate grievances that feed terrorism, Brennan conveniently ignores that the 9/11 hijackers were almost all drawn from the best-educated, wealthiest, and most Westernized elements of Muslim society.
Rather than blaming America for Moslem grievances, President Obama would do better to recognize that the high rates of illiteracy, oppression of women, lack of scientific achievement of nearly every Moslem country, including those possessing great natural wealth, have their roots in the fanatic brands of Islam practiced in those countries and the hatred for everything Western they instill. There is no hope of assuaging the grievances of radical Islam – other than by submission -- because its driving grievance is the relatively greater power of the West.
Walid Phares, a Lebanese-born anti-terrorism expert, quoted in The Third Jihad, the latest documentary on radical Islam produced by a group of graduates of Aish HaTorah (and featured elsewhere in this issue), decries the tendency of Western elites to treat each terrorist threat around the globe as a matter of particular local grievances. Those elites have failed to connect the dots to show the larger pattern, he charges. Brennan's description of the White House's foreign policy assumptions could be Exhibit "A".