Posted: February 4, 2011
Muslim soldier shouting "Allahu Akbar" kills 14 at an army base in Fort Hood. A young African Muslim nearly blows up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day. A seemingly well-integrated Pakistani-American parks his explosive-laden SUV in Times Square at rush hour. A furious debate erupts over whether a Muslim cleric should be permitted to build a mosque at Ground Zero. Al-Qaeda tries to blow up American cargo planes with bomb packages sent from Yemen. Events seem to have conspired to make Andrew McCarthy's latest book required reading.
Now a prolific analyst at the National Review Institute in Washington, D.C., McCarthy is the former federal prosecutor who obtained convictions of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the so-called "blind sheikh," and several like-minded extremist Muslims for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center—militant Islam's first major attack in the United States.
Since retiring from the Justice Department in 2003, he has been issuing increasingly dire warnings about the threat posed by Muslim extremists or "Islamists" as he calls them. In his first book, Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad (2008), McCarthy argued, persuasively I believe, that despite the September 11 attacks, America's desire to ignore or downplay the threat of militant Islamic terrorism continues to endanger national security.
But in his new book, McCarthy goes further, arguing that Muslim terrorism is but one manifestation of a more insidious peril: the largely peaceful effort by Islamists to "conquer America," that is, to use our own traditions of tolerance and political inclusion gradually to impose sharia, which he calls Islam's inherently repressive holy law, throughout the country, ultimately throughout the world. In this "sabotage" campaign, he argues, the militants are aided by witting and unwitting accomplices—leftist officials in and out of government, a biased, lazy, clueless media; and in particular, President Barack Obama, whose impulses and policies, McCarthy charges, are helping advance militant Islam's cause.
Powerful stuff. But I fear that my friend's sharp prosecutorial instincts have led him in his latest book to blur crucial distinctions—for example, between Islam, the religion espoused by nearly 1.4 billion people, and Islamism, the radical political doctrine and literal-minded interpretation, or perversion, of that faith endorsed by a far smaller group. His fear of a Muslim "take-over" of our country leads him to overestimate the extremists' power and appeal, and to underestimate America's resistance to the Islamists' political agenda. Moreover, I fear that his prescriptions for countering this alleged stealth campaign are likely to exacerbate extremism by alienating potential reform-minded Muslim allies and undermining the political virtues and traditions that have made America a magnet and inspiration to so much of the world.
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The book's title and theme come from a Muslim Brotherhood document written in 1991 that was disclosed in 2007 in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation, once America's largest Islamic charity. In the document, the closet Muslim Brothers describe their mission in America as a "grand jihad" aimed at "eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that...God's religion [Islam]" is made "victorious over all other religions."
Relying largely on this document, McCarthy argues that Americans err in focusing exclusively on combating Muslim "terrorism." For militant Muslims, he argues, terrorism is but a tactic, one means to their desired end—the imposition ofsharia. For the devout (not just extremists), he says, Islam is "the complete obligatory guide to human existence," a "comprehensive socio-economic and political system" governing all things "from cradle to grave (and, of course, beyond)." And that system, which champions the umma, the community, over the individual and requires strict, unquestioning adherence to the Koran, is antithetical to concepts at the core of Western political life—the separation of church and state, equal rights under law, political tolerance, and the protection of individual rights. Pretending that such anti-democratic views are held by merely a "bare fringe" of Islamist militants has left us "blind and vulnerable," he concludes.
But there is precious little evidence that a majority of American Muslims or, for that matter, Muslims in Arab and non-Arab countries, hold such anti-democratic views or desire to live in such Islamic paradises as Iran, Gaza, or the Sudan. In most countries where free and fair elections are held, militantly Islamic parties rarely garner over 20% of the popular vote. Iran's Islamic theocrats came to power through revolution, after all, and are now hugely unpopular. Ditto Hamas, which after winning a majority in the Palestinian parliament in 2006, seized power in Gaza in a coup. Although the Muslim Brotherhood would probably win a truly free election in Eygpt, its popularity is due largely to President Hosni Mubarak's refusal to permit a secular alternative to his party to take root.
McCarthy is right to highlight the problematic attitudes of large, often alienated Muslim enclaves in Europe and particularly in England. But the American experience so far has differed dramatically. In a survey of some 60,000 Muslims in America conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2007, part of which he cites, an overwhelming majority of those surveyed expressed enormous satisfaction with their lives and assimilation into mainstream America's economic and social life.
McCarthy worries that as many as "half a million" Muslim Americans may favor suicide bombing attacks to defend Islam from its enemies. But the Pew study showed that almost 87% of the estimated 2 million American Muslims condemned suicide attacks for any reason, and just 5% expressed any sympathy for al-Qaeda. Surely the hundreds of thousands of federal and local law enforcement officials can keep tabs on the sliver of this tiny minority who might be inclined towards violence.
The Pew findings are disturbing in one respect: younger Muslims had stronger Muslim identities and were more tolerant of suicide attacks than older Muslims. This is consistent with recent New York Police Department studies warning of increased "home-grown" radicalization within the Muslim community, especially among converts to Islam, and particularly African-American converts. Since younger Muslims also said that their lives have become more difficult since 9/11, how they are treated is likely to affect their attitudes towards extremism and violence—yet another reason to distinguish between the Islam embraced by most Muslim Americans and the minority of militant Islamists with extremist views.
McCarthy argues that Islamists are being aided in their sabotage campaign by politicians, journalists, and scholars who earn a living and political access by peddling what he calls "smiley-face jihad" and "Oprahfied," "feel-good pabulum." He names names, blasting such academic luminaries as John Esposito, "Georgetown University's apologist-in-chief (and you'll be shocked to learn, a key State Department adviser on Islamic movements during the Clinton years)," for describing jihad not as Islam's call to holy war, but rather as "the internal struggle to become a better person."
The Islamists, he maintains, are making headway because President Obama and his left-leaning White House are in cahoots with radical Islam. He is appalled by Obama's bow to Saudi King Abdullah, whose kingdom was not only the point of origin of most of the 9/11 hijackers, but has spent over $100 billion in America alone building mosques and Islamic centers to promote "Wahhabism," the rigid, intolerant brand of Islam that is the kingdom's state religion-the only religion that can be practiced there.
But what have the Saudis accomplished for such an enormous investment? Once again, McCarthy documents few Islamist victories. Yes, a defense department analyst was dismissed allegedly for refusing to tone down his anti-Islamist policy papers. Yes, the White House has often shown shockingly poor judgment in its outreach and choice of officially designated Muslim interlocutors. But as McCarthy's own book suggests, American Muslims have resisted efforts to justify violence and extremism while welcoming the peaceful promotion of ideas, even those with which they may strongly disagree. And Muslims in Minneapolis and elsewhere have turned in Islamist rabble-rousers and jihad recruiters to the FBI and local law enforcement officials.
Despite President Obama's pledge in his Cairo speech to remove unwarranted restrictions on Muslim charities, his administration has not repealed those vital law-enforcement tools. Indeed, this summer, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could ban "material support" to terrorists even if the intention of the support was to bolster "non-violent" elements within such groups or to further merely their "humanitarian" or "peaceful" efforts. Although it is unclear whether the Justice Department will continue bringing such cases, 75 of the 150 people charged with violating that law since 2001 have already been convicted.
McCarthy blasts the White House for banning truthful language that might insult devout but peaceful Muslims (making the "war on terror" an "overseas contingency operation"). The administration has, indeed, sometimes carried linguistic sensitivity to Orwellian absurdity, eschewing talk of "militant Islamic terrorism" or even "Islamist terrorism," preferring to speak of "violent extremism," which bleaches the Islam out of Islamic terror. Or consider its appalling decision to delete the word "terrorism" from its lexicon, replacing it with the truly idiotic phrase uttered on one occasion by Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano—"man-caused disaster."
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Yet the Obamaites' language fetish notwithstanding, law enforcement agencies are quietly monitoring people and groups at the nation's 2,300 mosques and Islamic centers. They simply don't advertise the surveillance, as the succession of disrupted plots and terrorism indictments since 9/11 suggests and Andy McCarthy well knows. Terrorism prosecutions also continue. So, too, do planned military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, which candidate and then President Obama had pledged to close within a year.
In fact, Obama is far tougher on terrorism abroad than McCarthy suggests. Rejecting the nutty notion that Obama is a closet Muslim—"there is no known evidence of his having made an adult choice to practice Islam"—McCarthy barely mentions Obama's expansion of the war of terror. Defying his leftist base, the president has surged American forces against al-Qaeda and its militant allies in Afghanistan, tripled the number of drone attacks against terrorist suspects in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and authorized the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, the spiritual guide to several terrorists and an American citizen in Yemen who has never been charged with a crime. At home he has also embraced terrorism-fighting tools he opposed as a candidate.
But the president understands the need to avoid alienating peaceful and reform-minded Muslims. By contrast, despite conceding the need for solidarity with millions of Muslims who embrace modernity and tolerance, McCarthy confesses that in his "heart of hearts" he does not believe there truly is a distinction between "Islam" and "Islamism." In other words, he believes that Islam itself may be our enemy. This leads him to a conclusion that should be disconcerting to liberals and conservatives alike: that foreign Muslims should not be permitted to live in America unless they can "demonstrate their acceptance of constitutional principles." How they should do this he does not say.
I think this path is unwise. Making Islam the enemy potentially alienates one fifth of humanity. And as Ron Radosh has written, it also implies "the interpretation of the Quran by Bin Laden and others is correct—that they truly represent the only real Islam." Pitting America against mainstream Islam might be as self-defeating a policy as ignoring the worrisome trends that McCarthy has so astutely identified.
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For Correspondence on this essay, click here.