Recently the Wall Street Journal published an analysis of Obama’s foreign policy failures that, aside from a few nods in the direction of the reigning politically correct fictions about the relationship of the jihad doctrine to Islam itself, was surprisingly clear-sighted: “Feith and Cropsey: A Foreign Policy Failure to Acknowledge the Obvious,” by Douglas J. Feith and Seth Cropsey. Andrew McCarthy later responded to it in National Review. Both pieces together illustrate how both the Left and the Right misunderstand the threat of jihad and Islamic supremacism, and make erroneous policy recommendations as a result.
Feith and Cropsey rightly criticized the Obama Administration’s “refusal to accept that the terrorism threat is part of a larger problem of Islamist extremism” and its “belief that terrorism is spawned not by religious fanaticism but by grievances about social, economic and other problems for which America bears fault.” They did nod here and there to politically correct niceties, assuring their readers that “it is clear that not all Muslims embrace extremist Islamist ideology—perhaps only a small minority do,” and claiming that the Islamic supremacists’ “claim to speak for the true Islam” was “disputable,” even though there is no large-scale Muslim movement against the jihadist understanding of Islam anywhere in the world.
Despite these flaws, Feith and Cropsey’s analysis is generally right on the mark, particularly when explaining the wrongheaded policies that have flowed from Obama’s denial of the truth of the problem:
The problem with ignoring ideology is made clear—unintentionally—in President Obama’s National Counter-Terrorism Strategy, released in June 2011. In it he writes: “We are at war with a specific organization—al-Qa’ida.” But America also has to work aggressively against Hezbollah, he notes a few pages later—and against a number of terrorist groups in South Asia, he further adds, “even if we achieve the ultimate defeat of al-Qa’ida in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater.”
So our problem is substantially broader than al Qaeda—and even broader than al Qaeda and its affiliates. What all these groups have in common is Islamist ideology—yet Mr. Obama ignores that.
It was good to see this analysis in the normally dhimmi WSJ, but Andy McCarthy saw a problem with it in “The Real Foreign-Policy Failure: A response to Doug Feith and Seth Cropsey” in National Review. “The real cause,” McCarthy asserted, “is ideology, not religion. The distinction is worth drawing because, for the most part, Islamist terror is not fueled by Muslim zealousness for Islam’s religious tenets — for instance, ‘the oneness of Allah.’” He declares that Islam’s “theological tenets are every bit as deserving of the First Amendment’s guarantees as any other. But Muslims must accept that, in America and the West, it is not Islam but our traditions — especially the separation of church and state — that set the parameters of religious liberty. This way, Islam, the religion, is protected, but Islamic supremacism, the totalitarian ideology, is not. The latter undeniably draws on Islamic scripture, but it is categorically akin to Communism or National Socialism, not to religious creeds.”
This is true as far as it goes: a distinction does indeed need to be made in American law between Islam as a religion and Islam as a political system that is authoritarian, supremacist, and at variance with our Constitutional principles and freedoms in numerous ways. But it is off the mark to say that “the real cause is ideology, not religion,” and that “Islamist terror is not fueled by Muslim zealousness for Islam’s religious tenets — for instance, ‘the oneness of Allah.’” A moment’s glance at the names of jihad terror groups around the world shows that it is precisely zealousness for Islam’s religious tenets that fuels jihad terrorism. Take, for example, the Supporters of Tawheed, a banned jihad group in Wales. What’s “Tawheed”? The oneness of Allah. Then there is the Tawheed and Jihad group in Gaza that recently murdered an Italian peace activist. And exactly the same name, Tawheed wal-Jihad, was used for his group by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the jihad leader in Iraq.
Aside from Tawheed itself, the names of jihad groups are invariably religious: Hamas is an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement. Hizballah is the Party of Allah. The group that murdered Ambassador Stevens and the others in Libya was Ansar al-Sharia -- supporters of Islamic law. And on and on.
The key point that McCarthy misses here is that the distinction between the religious and political realms is a Western realm that has no foundation in traditional Islam. These groups are fighting for political and religious goals simultaneously, and see no difference, much less opposition, between the two. In fact, Islamic apologists have frequently criticized the Judeo-Christian West precisely for drawing such a distinction. This doesn’t mean that he is wrong in saying that we have to combat the political and supremacist aspects of Islam as such, but one principal reason why the problem of identifying our foe properly has proven to be so intractable is that the religious and the political in Islam are completely intertwined and not separable in any organic way found within Islam itself.
This, too, has to recognized before there can be any real progress made in public policy on this issue.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Did Muhammad Exist?.