Is the foe religious or political?


Is the foe religious or political?
By Robert Spencer

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
. 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

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
. “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
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?.

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