April 6, 2009 | National Review Online
‘Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” This is the battle cry of Hizb al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin, Egypt's notorious Muslim Brotherhood, the intellectual font of Sunni Islamic radicalism for nearly a century. And that should give us pause.
Unlike al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other terror networks, the Brotherhood purports to forswear violence – convincingly so, according to foreign-policy solons who urge U.S. diplomatic engagement with the group. The Brotherhood, they say, is mainstream and moderate. It is the Brotherhood, not the repressive Mubarak regime, that grips the mantle of democracy, pining for free elections. The political process, not terrorism, is the Brotherhood's chosen path for achieving its ends. So the organization's American fan club insists, blithely gliding by what those decidedly immoderate ends entail. Thus, the enormity of the motto: The Brotherhood may have abandoned violence (at least its direct execution by Brotherhood operatives), but it has never forsworn jihad. For the Brothers, jihad is still “our way,” and “dying in the way of Allah” – the martyrdom glorified by Islam's prophet – remains “our highest hope.”
To speak of jihad without brutality seems contradictory. But it is not – though the explanation for this differs markedly from the benign rationale offered by Muslim revisionists. They claim the Islamic obligation of jihad (which literally means “struggle”) is not about violence or “holy war.” In their fable, the “greater” jihad has always been the Muslim's struggle to live a virtuous life, and the term's bellicose connotation is no more meaningful than commonplace calls to metaphorical “war” – against drugs, poverty, tobacco, and the like. They acknowledge a “lesser jihad,” a violent vestige of Islam's history, but claim it is relevant in modern times only when Muslims are under siege.
This smiley-face jihad remains unconvincing. Bernard Lewis, the West's preeminent scholar of Islam, points out that “the overwhelming majority of early authorities, . . . citing relevant passages in the Qur'an and in the tradition, discuss jihad in military terms.” Moreover, the encyclopaedic Dictionary of Islam, first published by the British missionary Thomas Patrick Hughes in 1886, defines jihad as “a religious war with those who are unbelievers in the mission of Muhammad.” So entrenched is jihad's nexus with violence that forthright Islamophiles concede it. In The Age of Sacred Terror, for example, former Clinton officials Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon claim that a “domestication of jihad” has transformed it into an “internal battle” for personal betterment waged through “acts of charity, good works in society, and education.” Still, they ruefully attest that jihad grew up as “exclusively actual, physical warfare,” and that the “domestication” they perceive is a “modern-day” contrivance.
So if jihad and violence are joined at the hip, how can the Brotherhood, self-proclaimed jihadists, abandon violence? The same way a fierce army captures territory without firing a single shot, or the Mafia collects usurious loans while busting only the occasional kneecap. The answer, very simply, is extortion, combined with a shrewd appreciation of the ground a timid, multi-culti West may be only too willing to cede.
We're not so shrewd. It has been 30 years since the Khomeinist revolution in Iran and 16 since jihadists declared all-out war on the United States by bombing the World Trade Center. Yet we still understand precious little about radical Islam and the threat this enemy portends. It is a conscious avoidance. Knowledge is power, but it also entails a responsibility to confront the dangers of which one becomes aware. The purpose of jihad is not violence for its own sake; it is to pave the way for the imposition of sharia, the Muslim legal code and the necessary precondition for building an Islamic state and society. That is a danger we simply don't want to deal with: It would require facing up to the brute fact that such a state would be antithetical to American democracy.
Thus, we avert our eyes from our enemies' goal and fail to recognize both who our enemies are and why the accommodations they demand, some of which seem harmless enough on the surface, should be opposed. Our national-security policy obsesses over means – in particular one tactic, terrorism – while ignoring the end the means seek to accomplish. Because America is a beacon of religious freedom, we've limited our focus to operatives who plot and execute acts of terror; the ideology fueling this savagery is not our concern – lest we betray our first principles and smear every Muslim as a terrorist.
This disposition is suicidal, for at least three reasons. First, Islam is not merely a religion. It is a comprehensive socio-economic and political system, which believers take to be ordained by Allah, its elements compulsory and non-negotiable. While those elements include tenets we would regard as a religious creed, these tenets constitute only a fraction of the overarching Islamic project. They're also not easily distinguished because Islam does not separate mosque and state. When we blinker ourselves to Islamic ideology, in deference to the principle of rendering unto God what is God's, we ignore a great deal of what, in American society, is to be rendered unto Caesar.
Second, speaking of “Islam” as if there were only one Muslim belief system is a gross oversimplification. Our Manichean public discourse invokes a “true” Islam, distinct from what simply must be the “false” Islam of the terrorists. U.S. officials gush about a monolithic “religion of peace,” while British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith brands terrorism “un-Islamic activity” merely by dint of its being terrorism. But despite the good intentions of “true Islam” dabblers – whose influence among Muslims pales beside that of fundamentalist clerics who've studied Islamic jurisprudence for decades – there is not a single Islam. There are many. They have a common core, but numerous interpretations are legitimately identifiable as “Islam.” When we speak of a “true” or “false” Islam, we are speaking nonsense. This shortchanges our understanding of the Muslim world and our influence on it.
What's more, a counterterrorism strategy premised on delegitimizing as “anti-Islamic” the fundamentalist strains that practice violence is doomed to fail. Though we find them unsavory, these strains boast a rich pedigree, lie squarely within the tradition of Mohammed, and are supported by centuries of scholarship rooted in the literal commands of scripture. To pose a conservative estimate, their adherents number in the tens of millions when we account for both the small percentage of Muslims willing to take up arms and the far larger number who support forcible action (or at least its goals) even though they would not commit terrorist acts themselves. Pretending they represent a bare fringe has left us blind and vulnerable.
Third, means can't be separated from ends without confusing both. On a gut level, policymakers may understand that jihad is not an end unto itself, but they won't grapple with the actual end, namely, to establish a Muslim state. Thus they miss the threat and erroneously focus on only one of the jihadist's means, violence, thinking that to end the violence would be to end radical Islam's threat to our way of life. By contrast, Islam's apologists actually do appreciate that jihad is merely a means to something transcendent, but because they refuse to accept jihad's violent roots, they overlook its corporate nature. Mired in what Judge Robert Bork describes as modern liberalism's radical individualism, they miss – or refuse to see – that Islam is not predominantly about the individual. It is about the ummah, the Muslim nation, establishing and spreading Allah's law on earth. It is not about becoming a better person by doing good deeds, but becoming a better Muslim by submitting to this divine cause (the word Islam means “submission”). Jihad is shorthand for jihad fi sabil Allah: to struggle in the cause of Allah. The Dictionary of Islam elaborates that it was established as “a divine institution” for the specific “purpose of advancing Islam” – the belief system, not the individual Muslim. That is the end to which the jihadist dedicates himself: to advance Islam. The purpose of jihad is not to blow up buildings and kill infidels. Its purpose is to institute sharia.
Here, it is necessary to address some sleight-of-hand. The Koran contains many an ode to tolerance, most of which are from Mohammed's early Meccan period, when he was seeking to recruit converts to the new religion. Many such benign injunctions were abrogated by the contrary, brutalizing verses of the later Medinan period, when the warrior prophet spread Islam principally by the sword. That inconvenient fact is ignored by the “religion of peace” crowd, whose unparalleled favorite scripture is Sura 2:256, the instruction that there shall be “no compulsion in religion.” On the basis of this directive, they argue, à la Jacqui Smith, that jihadist violence must be anti-Islamic.
Au contraire. While militants would surely be delighted if, say, the destruction of the Twin Towers induced everyone to convert, that is not the direct goal of jihadist activity – violent or not. The goal is to induce each targeted jurisdiction to adopt sharia. The Muslim Brotherhood's chief theoretician, Sayyid Qutb, explained that forcible jihad proceeds whenever Islam is obstructed by “the political system of the state, the socio-economic system based on races and classes, and behind all these, the military power of the government.” This system is then supplanted by Islamic law. At that point, Islam can be “addressed to peoples' hearts and minds,” purportedly without compulsion, “and they are free to accept or reject it with an open mind.”
Jihad is not trying to convert you; it is seeking the imposition of Allah's law. That law happens to be antithetical to bedrock American principles: It establishes a state religion, rejects the freedom of citizens to govern themselves irrespective of a religious code, proscribes freedom of conscience, proscribes economic freedom, destroys the principle of equality under the law, subjugates non-Muslims in the humiliation of dhimmitude, and calls for the execution of homosexuals and apostates. Nevertheless, its adoption produces what Islamists portray as the non-coercive environment in which people then “freely” embrace Islam.
That environment is achieved by violence only if violence is necessary. Naturally, the term jihad is drenched in gore: Its proponents understood violence would often be necessary to induce adoption of fundamentalist Islam's authoritarian system. But the jihadist needn't savage his targets if Islam can be advanced without a fight. An invading army does not go home if the locals surrender. It pushes forward, adding to its domain until it meets real resistance – at which point it promptly deems itself under siege and gets back to all that “lesser” jihad.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been nothing short of masterful in implementing this jihadist strategy. It is the nerve center, with tentacles spread throughout the world. For example, Hamas – which purports not to do terrorism either, just “resistance” – is the Brotherhood's Palestinian arm, and the Ikhwan rudiments of al-Qaeda, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other Sunni terror groups are well documented. But the majority of Brotherhood branches, like the ones in Syria and Jordan, are ostensibly political and cultural enterprises. In Europe, terrorism analyst Lorenzo Vidino notes that Brotherhood constituents joined forces in 1996 to create the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations, a Brussels-based “network of 42 national and international organizations bringing together youth from over 26 different countries.” Here in the U.S., jihadism expert Steven Emerson observes that “nearly all prominent Islamic organizations . . . are rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Their collective game plan is announced for all who care to see on the Brotherhood's website. They seek “the introduction of the Islamic Shariah as the basis for controlling the affairs of state and society.” In 2007, the organization's platform called for “spreading and deepening the true concepts of Islam as a complete methodology that regulates all aspects of life.” Even more telling, though, is an internal 1991 Brotherhood memorandum made public by the Justice Department during its recent prosecution of an ostensible charity, the Holy Land Foundation, for underwriting terrorism. It states: “The Ikhwan must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God's religion is made victorious over all other religions.”
Jihad Watch founder Robert Spencer has aptly labeled this strategy “stealth jihad.” It is working. It would not be accurate to say radical Islam is infiltrating American institutions without firing a shot. The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize. We've had plenty of it, and the specter of additional savagery greases the skids for more subtle forms of extortion. Unquestionably, this vulnerability is exacerbated by the multiculturalist bent of institutions dominated by the Left – the academy, the media, and, increasingly, government. Nonetheless, when droves of Muslims riot over cartoon depictions of the prophet, a schoolteacher's innocuous choice of “Mohammed” as nickname for the class teddy bear, or false reports of Koran defilement at Guantanamo Bay, conditions are ever more ripe for the grievance-mongers to seize the advantage.
In rationalizing that the only real problem is terrorism, our government promotes the project behind the violence by embracing Muslim leaders, no matter how radical they are, as long as they are not currently in the act of terrorizing. In 2005, for example, Alberto Fernandez, then the State Department's director of public diplomacy in the Middle East, praised the Brotherhood's spiritual leader, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, as an “intelligent and thoughtful voice from the region,” a “respected scholar . . . worthy of the deepest respect” and “deserv[ing of] our attention.” Then as now, Qaradawi had been banned from the U.S. for promoting terrorism. Yet Fernandez chirped that Qaradawi's role was “for the Muslim ummah to decide.” And so it did: rioting over the Danish cartoons and taking up arms against the “occupiers” in Iraq, just like he told them to.
To win fundamentalist support for its democracy-building in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration helped write new constitutions that not only established Islam as the state religion but installed sharia as a primary source of law – a move that the State Department, far from being embarrassed by, called attention to as part of its energetic Muslim “outreach.” Embarrassment didn't settle in until later, when, to the surprise of absolutely no one who troubles himself to learn about sharia, an Afghan court attempted to sentence to death, for the “crime” of apostasy, a Christian who'd converted from Islam years earlier. (The defendant was finally whisked to safety, in a non-Muslim country.) Similarly, in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, much admired by the administration for his support of democratic elections, issued a fatwa calling for the murder of all homosexuals.
The mainstreaming of sharia – under the delusion that it is perfectly harmonious with Western democracy and culture – is picking up steam here at home. Minnesota, with its huge influx of Somali immigrants sowing Muslim enclaves, is a harbinger of things to come. The state was the site of the infamous 2006 “flying imams” incident, in which six Muslim clerics were thrown off a flight after allegedly intimidating passengers and crew by aping the behavior of the 9/11 hijackers. They complained and filed a lawsuit with the assistance of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) – a Brotherhood-rooted organization whose communications director has advocated the conversion of the U.S. into a sharia state (and some of whose members have been implicated in terrorism investigations). Our craven federal government reacted by subjecting 45,000 airport-security officers to Islamic sensitivity training. On its website, the Department of Homeland Security published a CAIR press release, which brayed about the fact that CAIR was regularly asked to advise DHS agencies on matters of Islamic culture. Remarkably, even as DHS and the FBI were “partnering” with CAIR, the Justice Department was citing the “civil rights” organization as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case.
In Minneapolis, cab drivers began refusing to ferry airport passengers believed to be carrying alcohol. Rather than revoking licenses, state authorities opted to consult the Muslim American Society, perhaps the Brotherhood's principal American arm. Afterwards, the cabbies were cajoled into providing service – not because their discriminatory practice was wrong but on the (dubious) theory that sharia was not actually violated if alcohol was only transported, not consumed.
Minnesota schools are also in the jihad's sights. A graduate education student was ousted from a high school last year while doing course-required field work. Prone to seizures, the student required the assistance of a specially trained dog. Sharia, however, pronounces canines unclean and prohibits touching them. The Muslim teens threatened to kill the dog. When the student complained, his university shamefully capitulated, awarding him credit without the requisite course-work. An official rationalized that it was “important to respect different cultures” and that the accommodation was simply “part of the growth process when we become more diverse.”
“Accommodation,” meanwhile, may have reached a new level regarding Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA) in Inner Grove Heights, Minn.: taxpayer funding for what appears to be a madrassa camouflaged as a charter school. TIZA is sponsored by an entity called “Islamic Relief,” and its executive director is a Muslim imam. It is housed in the headquarters of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (the declared mission of which is “establishing Islam in Minnesota”), in a building that also contains a mosque. Students pray daily, eat halal meals, and attend “Islamic studies” courses – officially, after the close of the regular school day, but witness accounts suggest it is more like a staple of the regular workload.
And that's not all Minnesotans are funding. The state has recently taken to facilitating “Muslim mortgages.” Sharia does not permit interest to be assessed in financial transactions. One might think that's not a government's problem – but Minnesota now buys homes from willing sellers and then resells them to Muslim buyers in transactions that disguise interest by higher costs and fees. That is, American taxpayer dollars are employed to promote conformance with Islamic law.
It is but one aspect of a burgeoning national field known as “sharia-compliant finance.” Strapped American financial institutions, anxious to tap the liquidity available in oil-producing Muslim nations, are encouraged to structure financial transactions that factor in interest payments without calling them that. The interest might, for example, be siphoned off to pay zakat, the Islamic obligation of charitable giving, with the arrangement blessed by an advisory board composed of experts in Islamic law. This is problematic on multiple levels: Many charities have proven to be fronts for terrorist organizations; the banks' sharia advisers may be fundamentalists who steer business to suspect charities; and, most important, the upshot of sharia compliance is to validate – to regularize in our financial system – a legal code with significant anti-American, anti-capitalist features.
Minnesota is a telling ripple from a growing wave. The Organization of the Islamic Conference, comprising 57 nations (not to mention the “State of Palestine”), is lobbying in the U.N. for a revised declaration of human rights that would make criticism of Islam a violation of international law. Muslim activists have succeeded in enacting hate-speech laws and speech codes throughout Europe and Canada that criminalize and create civil liability for criticism of Islam. British courts are home to the noxious practice known as “libel tourism,” permitting defamation suits against American journalists and academics who write about Saudi society's promotion of radical Islam – suits that would instantly be dismissed under American law.
And where Western governments cannot directly forbid examination of radical Islamic ideology, they are using their muscle to suppress it. In February, Geert Wilders, a Dutch legislator, was barred from entering Britain by Jacqui Smith's Home Office, despite having been invited by a member of the House of Lords to screen his controversial film, Fitna, which highlights the well-established connection between Koranic preaching and jihadist terror. The same Labour government that has demanded the return to Britain of numerous terrorist detainees held at Guantanamo Bay refused admission to an official of a fellow EU government due to fear of offending Muslims.
Last year, the Homeland Security Department, after consulting with what it described as a “wide variety of Muslim American leaders” whom it otherwise declined to identify, issued language guidance for the government: an attempt to purge our public discourse of terms like “Islamofascism” and, of course, “jihad.” Fastening their rose-tinted glasses, DHS experts explained the premise of the guidance: “Many so-called ‘Islamic' terrorist groups [so-called?] twist and exploit the tenets of Islam to justify violence.” Exploit, sure, but twist? To justify jihadist violence, how much does one need to “twist” such scriptures as (to take just one of many possible examples) Sura 9:123: “O ye who believe, fight those of the disbelievers who are near you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty unto him”?
The Muslim Public Affairs Council took time out from its campaign to have Hamas, Hezbollah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad removed from the government's roster of formally designated terrorist organizations to congratulate DHS on the new guidance and pat itself on the back for both its “regular . . . engagement with government agencies including [DHS]” and its long advocacy of a “nuanced approach” that stresses “the importance of decoupling Islam with [sic] terrorism.”
MPAC has a point. The problem isn't just terrorism. Not by a long shot. The problem is that radical Islam, by lawfare and intimidation as well as by terror, is working assiduously to validate and ultimately establish its legal code in the U.S. and throughout the West.
All of this can be reversed. American law need not embrace sharia. Our system guarantees only freedom of conscience – to believe what one chooses to believe – not a right to have those beliefs accommodated, adopted, or imposed. Regulations codifying sharia can be undone. It is unlikely, short of another terrorist attack, that Congress would revisit the 1990 Immigration Act, which, at the behest of leftist Democrats, effectively gutted ideology-based exclusions of aliens committed to the eradication of American constitutional democracy. Still, though such a reconsideration would be welcome, there is no reason, in the meantime, for U.S. government agencies to be “partnering” with Islamic groups that take their cues from the Muslim Brotherhood. Those organizations are radical, and mean our society mortal harm, even if they're not blowing up buildings. The main challenge today is not protecting the buildings; it's protecting ourselves from what's going on inside the buildings.