Commentary Magazine


Topic: Islamist terrorism

Obama’s ISIS Narrative Problem

On the second day of what is actually being billed as the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism, President Obama tried again today to explain his strategy for defeating ISIS. But as with his speech on Wednesday, the result was a confusing rhetorical mess that failed to prioritize the need to defeat the terrorists. The president is clearly worried about reinforcing what he considers to be ISIS’s narrative of this war, but in doing so he seems to have actually conceded victory to them. By doggedly sticking to his position that there is no such thing as Islamist terror and by focusing on the economic and political grievances of such groups, the president undermined any notion that the U.S. was committed to the fight. Indeed, rather than bolster the West’s resistance to ISIS, the massive effort expended on this public-relations extravaganza may have only solidified the belief among the terrorists that this president isn’t someone they should either fear or take seriously.

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On the second day of what is actually being billed as the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism, President Obama tried again today to explain his strategy for defeating ISIS. But as with his speech on Wednesday, the result was a confusing rhetorical mess that failed to prioritize the need to defeat the terrorists. The president is clearly worried about reinforcing what he considers to be ISIS’s narrative of this war, but in doing so he seems to have actually conceded victory to them. By doggedly sticking to his position that there is no such thing as Islamist terror and by focusing on the economic and political grievances of such groups, the president undermined any notion that the U.S. was committed to the fight. Indeed, rather than bolster the West’s resistance to ISIS, the massive effort expended on this public-relations extravaganza may have only solidified the belief among the terrorists that this president isn’t someone they should either fear or take seriously.

According to the president, to say that ISIS is an Islamic terrorist group is to give credence to the organization’s narrative in which they depict their struggle as being one of a Western war against Islam. Instead, Obama and his various minions only talk about “violent extremism,” in a vain effort to deflect attention away from the religious roots of the conflict. But by refusing to acknowledge the religious roots of the conflict and by focusing on talking points about poverty and Muslim frustration with the politics of the Middle East, the president has done exactly what he claims he is not doing: adopting the same narrative promoted by terrorists whose goal is the destruction of the West.

As I noted in my New York Post article on yesterday’s speech, this is not, as the president’s apologists insist, merely a semantic argument. So long as the position of the White House is that the ultimate solution to this conflict is one that revolves more around better community relations than on military action, ISIS has little to worry about.

Let’s acknowledge that the president is right to echo his predecessor, George W. Bush, when he says this isn’t a war between the West and Islam. But by adopting this line as a constant refrain, President Obama is setting up one of his favorite rhetorical devices, the straw man. After all, no one on either side of the political aisle is claiming that it is a war against all Muslims. Rather, it is a fight against a powerful variant of political Islam that can count on significant support throughout the Muslim world. Though he continues to try and set the U.S. government up as an authority who can decide who is really a representative of Islam and who is not, ISIS and its allies have no doubt about their Islamic character. Nor does anyone else.

Remarks by Vice President Biden at the event’s opening doubled down on the president’s previous comments attempting to establish a moral equivalence between Islam and Christianity and Judaism. But like the president’s dubious history about the Crusades, the vice president’s discussion of white supremacist extremists is off the point. That the person who publicized this gaffe on Twitter was someone who once said Israel was a “suspect” in the 9/11 attacks and was considered worthy of an invitation to the summit speaks volumes about the misguided nature of the event. If we are in a war against ISIS, and we are, then we need our leaders to be inspiring us to persevere in that fight, not trying to tell us that Americans are not really very different from a barbarous enemy. In a month in which ISIS has expanded its reach from Iraq and Syria to Libya and in which the group has beheaded and burned to death its captives while its sympathizers gun down journalists, artists, and Jews in the streets of Europe, the White House is more concerned with not offending Muslims than in ramping up a half-hearted military effort against the terrorists.

Just as bad, the president is still stuck on his 2011 talking points about the Arab Spring. Many of us had high hopes for that moment when it seemed as if the Muslim world might embrace democracy as it shucked off the fetters of incompetent autocracies. But those of us who prefer to deal with reality rather than our dreams had to admit that this was largely a delusion. The Arab Spring proved that Islamists were not seeking to reform the Arab world but to enslave it. The people of Egypt figured this out when they overthrew a Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, but the administration still seems to think the rise of Islamists in the last three years is a coincidence they can ignore.

There is nothing wrong with the U.S. government seeking to cooperate with Muslim communities in the fight against terror, but doing so is not a substitute for waging war on ISIS. The president is right that there is a problem with narratives, but it is one that he is perpetuating. The Muslim world needs to be convinced of American determination to defeat ISIS but instead the president offers platitudes that do just the opposite. Moderate Arabs observing the spectacle at the White House the last two days were not reassured by the outreach efforts. Instead, they may be forgiven for thinking that this is a president who is still more interested in appeasing Islamists—like his Iranian negotiating partners—than in vanquishing them. Though the White House summit was oozing good intentions, all America’s enemies may have seen was weakness and irresolution that will inspire them to even greater cruelties and bloodshed in the weeks and months to come.

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Allies Know They Haven’t “Got a Friend” in Obama’s America

One of the basic rules of satire is that it is virtually impossible to satirize something that is already inherently ridiculous. That axiom is brought to mind as America belatedly sought to reaffirm its friendship with France in the wake of the administration’s decision to snub the Paris unity rally that commemorated the terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo office and a kosher market. Neither the president nor the vice president or even Secretary of State John Kerry bothered to come to a gathering attended by over 40 world leaders. But to make up for this, Kerry brought folk rock singer James Taylor to Paris to serenade French officials with a version of Carol King’s classic ballad, “You’ve Got a Friend.” This is something so absurd that it isn’t clear even the cleverest minds at Saturday Night Live or even Charlie Hebdo could adequately convey the sophomoric nature of a lame attempt to make up for a gaffe. While the real problem is the administration’s lack of comfort in standing up for the rights of cartoonists to offend Islamists as evidenced by the decision to stay away from the rally, it also tells us something significant about the inadequate man who is serving as the nation’s chief diplomat.

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One of the basic rules of satire is that it is virtually impossible to satirize something that is already inherently ridiculous. That axiom is brought to mind as America belatedly sought to reaffirm its friendship with France in the wake of the administration’s decision to snub the Paris unity rally that commemorated the terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo office and a kosher market. Neither the president nor the vice president or even Secretary of State John Kerry bothered to come to a gathering attended by over 40 world leaders. But to make up for this, Kerry brought folk rock singer James Taylor to Paris to serenade French officials with a version of Carol King’s classic ballad, “You’ve Got a Friend.” This is something so absurd that it isn’t clear even the cleverest minds at Saturday Night Live or even Charlie Hebdo could adequately convey the sophomoric nature of a lame attempt to make up for a gaffe. While the real problem is the administration’s lack of comfort in standing up for the rights of cartoonists to offend Islamists as evidenced by the decision to stay away from the rally, it also tells us something significant about the inadequate man who is serving as the nation’s chief diplomat.

That Kerry would think schlepping an aging rock icon from his youth to Paris to tell the French that “all you’ve got to do is just ca-aall” if they need us is the sort of thing that makes one longs for the diplomacy of an earlier era when envoys wore uniforms, swords, and feathered hats and stuck to rigid formality.

That’s not just because such a gesture is jejune as well as puerile, though it is both of those things as well as a clear reflection of Kerry’s lack of seriousness as a public official. It’s that the French and the rest of Europe know very well that the last thing they can count on in a crisis is the willingness of the Obama administration to “be there” for their oldest ally or anyone else for that matter.

This is an administration that has spent six years offending and snubbing allies all the while seeking in vain to appease old foes and rivals such as Russia and Iran. Though U.S. and French policies often intersect, Paris and the rest of Europe have come to understand that Obama is as uninterested in their point of view or their needs as he is of those of congressional Republicans. In a week when French officials were rightly calling on the world to join them in the fight against Islamist terror, Washington was dithering and couldn’t even force itself to say the word “Islamist.”

As is well known, French opinion about the United States is decidedly mixed with resentment of American wealth and culture often overwhelming the basic commonality of interests shared by two great democracies. A James Taylor concert won’t make things much worse but neither will it improve the situation. What it will do is to remind Europe and those enemies once again that this is an administration that neither understands symbolism or how to reaffirm an alliance.

It is no small irony that an administration that came into office determined to work with the international community, and our allies rather than to be Bush-like unilateral cowboys, is now reduced to this sort of nonsense. What the French or any ally wants is not a touchy-feely Oldies song but a sense that the U.S. believes it is still part of the war against international terror. To the contrary, Obama’s instincts are such that allies have come to expect his contempt or disinterest in their problems.

Kerry’s cringe-inducing turn hosting his friend Taylor isn’t the dumbest thing he has done at the State Department by a long shot. Having faith in Mahmoud Abbas as a champion of peace and signing a weak nuclear deal with Iran are hard to top. But is an iconic moment that will symbolize Obama and Kerry’s ham-handed approach to allies. A song, even a folk rock classic that allows Kerry to reminisce about his youth spent falsely testifying against his fellow Vietnam vets, can’t substitute for a strong stand against Islamists or even the ability to say the word. Prior to this, it was possible to argue that U.S. foreign policy had become a joke. But after Taylor had finished warbling, even the president and his inner White House circle must be wondering what sort of a fool they’ve unleashed on the world.

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The Consequences of an Assad Victory

Now that we refer to the timeline of the Syrian civil war in years instead of days or months, it can be difficult to perceive singular turning points. But the reports coming today out of Homs Province on the battle over the strategic city of Qusayr seem to be describing just that. As the New York Times notes, the battle, which is pitting the Syrian government’s forces and Hezbollah against Syrian rebels, has resulted thus far in government control over more than half the city for the first time.

The importance of Qusayr can be gleaned from the Washington Post’s essential story from May 11 as well. “All [Assad’s forces] need now,” a Syrian analyst tells reporter Liz Sly, “is to hold the coast, Homs and Damascus, where the institutions of governance are.” The Assad regime has stabilized, and the portrait being painted now is one in which the outcome of the conflict is more likely than not to be a Syria with Bashar al-Assad still in power controlling most of the country except for some jihadist-run enclaves. But it would be a mistake to consider this a return to the status quo. In many ways, the perpetuation of current trends is going to yield a balance of power very different from the pre-war one.

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Now that we refer to the timeline of the Syrian civil war in years instead of days or months, it can be difficult to perceive singular turning points. But the reports coming today out of Homs Province on the battle over the strategic city of Qusayr seem to be describing just that. As the New York Times notes, the battle, which is pitting the Syrian government’s forces and Hezbollah against Syrian rebels, has resulted thus far in government control over more than half the city for the first time.

The importance of Qusayr can be gleaned from the Washington Post’s essential story from May 11 as well. “All [Assad’s forces] need now,” a Syrian analyst tells reporter Liz Sly, “is to hold the coast, Homs and Damascus, where the institutions of governance are.” The Assad regime has stabilized, and the portrait being painted now is one in which the outcome of the conflict is more likely than not to be a Syria with Bashar al-Assad still in power controlling most of the country except for some jihadist-run enclaves. But it would be a mistake to consider this a return to the status quo. In many ways, the perpetuation of current trends is going to yield a balance of power very different from the pre-war one.

If Assad does indeed retain power, it will bolster Iran’s influence in Syria and Lebanon because of the role played by the Iranian client Hezbollah. It will strengthen Iran’s hand in negotiations with the West, increase Iran’s threat to Israel, and encourage Iranian adventurism and expansionism thanks to President Obama’s penchant for lobbing empty threats. It will be more difficult to isolate Syria not only because of Iran’s increased influence across the region but because Russia will have taken a more public stance in support of the Assad regime. Additionally, if the U.S. plays any role in an armistice that leaves Assad in power the Obama administration will have endorsed Assad’s continued rule.

The other major difference between pre-war Syria and this vision of post-war Syria is the presence of Islamist extremists. Pre-war Syria was a police state with Assad firmly in control. There may have been jihadists there unconnected to the Assad regime, but not nearly to the extent there will be going forward. If the Post’s story is an accurate preview, post-war Syria will have jihadist carve-outs similar to Hezbollah’s center of control in south Lebanon. That will only further destabilize Lebanon and virtually assure some sustained low-level conflict in Syria even after an armistice is signed. (Ironically, it may bear some resemblance to Russia’s fight with Islamist extremists in the Caucasus.)

Strategically for the U.S., there is a difference between a jihadist safe haven in a country whose government cooperates with us to some extent, like Yemen or even Pakistan (the latter having the advantage of at least bordering on a state with U.S. troops–for now), and a jihadist safe haven operating out of a state like Syria. Such jihadists may be beyond the West’s reach, but they won’t be disconnected from Qatari cash. American strategists may think the Qatari link can stand in for our own, but the Qataris have been playing the U.S. and will continue to do so, and will now have a hand in influencing anti-Western extremists in Gaza, Syria, and, as the Wall Street Journal is reporting, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government.

The Times report closes on this note:

Mr. Assad, according to people who have spoken with him, believes that reasserting his hold in the province is crucial to maintaining control of a string of population centers in western Syria, and eventually to military campaigns to retake rebel-held territory in the north and east. Many analysts say that it is unlikely that the government will be able to regain control of those areas, but that it could consolidate its grip on the west, leading to a de facto division of the country.

Such a division would collapse whatever nominal independence Lebanon has because the Assad regime, buoyed by its military alliance with Hezbollah, would control areas that border on Lebanon. It would give Syria renewed control over Lebanese territory and expand Hezbollah’s reach as well. That might be a fair trade for Assad, but it wouldn’t be for Western interests. If Assad loses territory in Syria’s north or east, those areas may become Islamist operating bases near American allies–Iraq and to some extent Jordan to the east and southeast, Turkey to the north. The latter is a NATO ally with a predilection for funding some Islamic terror groups while fighting others.

Turkey has threatened to invoke NATO’s common defense obligations during the Syrian civil war, but is more likely to join Qatar in funding the jihadists on its border, if only to co-opt them instead of fight them. The danger posed by a permanent, well-funded, battle-scarred jihadist presence near Jordan is quite obvious, though seemingly underappreciated by too many in the West. It may be too late for any resolution that does not leave Assad in power, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking such an outcome would simply turn back the clock to 2011.

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The Difference Between Newtown and Boston

One crime was committed by a person motivated by no cause or political interest and driven only by personal demons. Another crime was committed by two people whose actions were clearly driven by their religious and political beliefs. Under these circumstances, which of these terrible tragedies do you think would be considered an incident that could only be properly understood as something that ought to spur the nation to specific political actions?

If you answered the latter, you clearly know nothing about our political culture.

The former is, of course, the Newtown massacre in which a crazed, lone gunman murdered 20 1st-graders and six teachers at a Connecticut elementary school. The latter is the Boston Marathon bombing that took the lives of three spectators and wounded nearly 200, to which the toll of one police officer murdered and another wounded during the manhunt for the terrorists must be added. Though the first was a random act of personal madness and the second was just the latest in a long string of terrorist acts motivated by Islamist hatred for the West and America, there has never been any doubt about which of the two our chattering classes would consider as having undeniable political consequences and which would be treated as an unknowable crime about which intelligent persons ought not to think too deeply.

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One crime was committed by a person motivated by no cause or political interest and driven only by personal demons. Another crime was committed by two people whose actions were clearly driven by their religious and political beliefs. Under these circumstances, which of these terrible tragedies do you think would be considered an incident that could only be properly understood as something that ought to spur the nation to specific political actions?

If you answered the latter, you clearly know nothing about our political culture.

The former is, of course, the Newtown massacre in which a crazed, lone gunman murdered 20 1st-graders and six teachers at a Connecticut elementary school. The latter is the Boston Marathon bombing that took the lives of three spectators and wounded nearly 200, to which the toll of one police officer murdered and another wounded during the manhunt for the terrorists must be added. Though the first was a random act of personal madness and the second was just the latest in a long string of terrorist acts motivated by Islamist hatred for the West and America, there has never been any doubt about which of the two our chattering classes would consider as having undeniable political consequences and which would be treated as an unknowable crime about which intelligent persons ought not to think too deeply.

We can debate the rights and wrongs of restrictions on gun ownership or calls for more background checks. But the desire to use public grief about Newtown to push for passage of these measures was not rooted in any direct connection between the crime and legislation. Yet almost immediately Newtown was treated as an event with obvious political consequences. Indeed, the desire by gun rights advocates to speak of the issue outside of the context of Newtown was treated as both inherently illegitimate and morally obtuse.

But the reaction to Boston has been very different. Once it became apparent that the perpetrators were “white Americans”—in the memorable phrase employed by Salon.com—but could not be connected to the Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh or any other conservative faction or cause, most liberals have taken it as their duty to squelch any effort to draw the sort of conclusions to which they had almost universally rushed when blood was shed in Newtown. Many in our chattering classes who thought it was patently obvious that the actions of a lunatic should be blamed on the weapons he employed in Connecticut seem deathly afraid of what will happen if we discuss the actual motives of the Boston terrorists.

Why?

Because while they consider anything fair game if it can help restrict gun ownership, they are just as eager to avoid any conclusion that might cause Americans to link terrorists with the religious ideology that led them to kill. For them the fear that this will lead to a general wave of prejudice against all Muslims justifies treating a crime that can only be properly understood in the context of the general struggle against radical Islam as if it were as motiveless as Newtown.

In the last week we have been offered all sorts of explanation for the behavior of the Tsarnaev brothers except the obvious answer. Talking heads on MSNBC and elsewhere have condemned any effort to focus on political Islam in spite of the growing body of evidence that points to their faith as being the cause of their decision to commit mayhem. Even a normally sober commentator such as the New York Times’s Frank Bruni sought to downplay the religious angle, preferring to diffuse our outrage as well as our comprehension of the event and the many other attacks carried out by adherents of radical Islam:

Terrorism isn’t a scourge we Americans alone endure, and it’s seldom about any one thing, or any two things.

Our insistence on patterns and commonalities and some kind of understanding assumes coherence to the massacres, rationality. But the difference between the aimless, alienated young men who do not plant bombs or open fire on unsuspecting crowds — which is the vast majority of them — and those who do is less likely to be some discrete radicalization process that we can diagram and eradicate than a dose, sometimes a heavy one, of pure madness. And there’s no easy antidote to that. No amulet against it.

Bruni is right that there’s no magic bullet or counter-terrorist tactic that will ensure terrorists won’t succeed. He’s also right to shoot down, as he rightly does, those on the far left who have sought to “connect the dots” between American foreign policy (Iraq, Afghanistan and support for Israel) and treat them as justified blowback in which Americans are reaping what they have sown. But while such reactions are despicable, they are largely confined to the fever swamps of our national life.

Far more destructive is this mystifying impulse to look away from the war Islamists have been waging on the West for a generation. While the “radicalization process” to which he refers is not uniform, there is a clear pattern here. The roots of the atrocity in Boston are in the beliefs of radical imams who have helped guide young Muslims to violence around the globe.

To point this out is not an indictment of all Muslims, the majority of whom in this country are loyal, hardworking and peaceful citizens. But the myths about a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims that the media has helped foster—and which continue to be unconnected to any actual evidence of a wave of a prejudice or violence—has led to a situation where some think it better to ignore the evidence about the Tsarnaevs or to focus on peripheral details—such as Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s failed boxing career—than to address the real problem. The fear of Islamophobia is so great that it has spawned a different kind of backlash in which any mention of Islam in this context is wrongly treated as an indication of prejudice.

The contrast between the political exploitation of Newtown and the way in which the same media outlets have gone out of their way to avoid drawing the obvious conclusions about Boston could not be greater. In one case, the media helped orchestrate a national discussion in which hyper-emotional rhetoric about the fallen drove a political agenda. In the other, they are seeking to ensure that no conclusions—even those that are self-evident—be drawn under any circumstances.

Gun control advocates claim that new laws—even those seemingly unconnected to the circumstances of Newtown—are worth it if it will save even one life. That’s debatable, but the same venues that have promoted that view seem averse to any discussion of political Islam, even though it is obvious that more intelligence efforts aimed at routing out radical Islamists and scrutiny of venues and websites where they gather might save even more lives. In the universe of the liberal media, promoting fear of future Newtowns is legitimate and even necessary, but thinking about how to stop future terror attacks apparently is not if it leads us to think about the Islamist threat.

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Maybe Classical Music Made Them Kill

Earlier today I wrote about the need for Americans who wanted to think clearly about the Boston Marathon bombing to make a clear distinction between prudent monitoring of radical Islamists and prejudice against all Muslims. The major obstacle to this is not so much the desire of a small minority of Americans to stigmatize every Muslim as a terrorist as the refusal of some influential figures and institutions to face facts about what appears to be the source of the Tsarnaev brothers’ motivation for their crimes.

An excellent example of this bizarre form of political correctness came from Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC. Harris-Perry has attracted attention lately for her promo video in which she says we have to understand that children belong to the community, not their parents. But she has followed up that chilling manifesto of collectivism with her pronouncement, during the course of a dialogue with radical writers Zaheer Ali and Michael Dyson, that any focus on the religious fervor of the Tsarnaev bombers is illegitimate:

Michael Dyson: We fill in the blanks with what makes us feel most comfortable that this is an exceptional, extraordinary case that happened because they are this. 

So you take one part of the element, that he’s Muslim. But he also might have listened to classical music. He might have had some Lil Wayne. He might have also gone to and listened to a lecturer

Harris Perry: I keep wondering is it possible that there would ever be a discussion like, ‘This is because of Ben Affleck and the connection between Boston and movies about violence?’ And of course, the answer is no.

Of course no one will even think this is about those things. But at the same time there’s something, I appreciate the way that you framed that as the one drop. Like, because given that they’re Chechen, given that they are literally Caucasian, our very sense of connection to them is this framed-up notion of, like, Islam making them something that is non-normal. It is not us. The point is that it’s important to say, ‘That’s not us, you know, this is not American. This is not who we are.’ Because we couldn’t potentially do what they did. But if they’re more like us, the point you were making earlier, if they’re just like us, they grew up in the same neighborhoods, they listened to the same kind of music, they talk to the same kind of people.

It is easy to dismiss this sort of talk as just the public mutterings of the radical left, but it would be foolish to ignore it. The efforts of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to muscle the federal government into excising a discussion of militant Islamism from our approach to combating threats is part of a campaign to prevent Americans from connecting the dots between terrorists and the belief systems that motivate them. The effort to make us pretend that the Tsarnaevs’ approach to their faith is as irrelevant to the atrocities they committed as the songs on their iPods is not absurd; it’s dangerous.

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Earlier today I wrote about the need for Americans who wanted to think clearly about the Boston Marathon bombing to make a clear distinction between prudent monitoring of radical Islamists and prejudice against all Muslims. The major obstacle to this is not so much the desire of a small minority of Americans to stigmatize every Muslim as a terrorist as the refusal of some influential figures and institutions to face facts about what appears to be the source of the Tsarnaev brothers’ motivation for their crimes.

An excellent example of this bizarre form of political correctness came from Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC. Harris-Perry has attracted attention lately for her promo video in which she says we have to understand that children belong to the community, not their parents. But she has followed up that chilling manifesto of collectivism with her pronouncement, during the course of a dialogue with radical writers Zaheer Ali and Michael Dyson, that any focus on the religious fervor of the Tsarnaev bombers is illegitimate:

Michael Dyson: We fill in the blanks with what makes us feel most comfortable that this is an exceptional, extraordinary case that happened because they are this. 

So you take one part of the element, that he’s Muslim. But he also might have listened to classical music. He might have had some Lil Wayne. He might have also gone to and listened to a lecturer

Harris Perry: I keep wondering is it possible that there would ever be a discussion like, ‘This is because of Ben Affleck and the connection between Boston and movies about violence?’ And of course, the answer is no.

Of course no one will even think this is about those things. But at the same time there’s something, I appreciate the way that you framed that as the one drop. Like, because given that they’re Chechen, given that they are literally Caucasian, our very sense of connection to them is this framed-up notion of, like, Islam making them something that is non-normal. It is not us. The point is that it’s important to say, ‘That’s not us, you know, this is not American. This is not who we are.’ Because we couldn’t potentially do what they did. But if they’re more like us, the point you were making earlier, if they’re just like us, they grew up in the same neighborhoods, they listened to the same kind of music, they talk to the same kind of people.

It is easy to dismiss this sort of talk as just the public mutterings of the radical left, but it would be foolish to ignore it. The efforts of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to muscle the federal government into excising a discussion of militant Islamism from our approach to combating threats is part of a campaign to prevent Americans from connecting the dots between terrorists and the belief systems that motivate them. The effort to make us pretend that the Tsarnaevs’ approach to their faith is as irrelevant to the atrocities they committed as the songs on their iPods is not absurd; it’s dangerous.

Of course, if groups of organized classical music lovers had been carrying out terrorist attacks in the name of their beliefs Harris-Perry’s brand of moral relativism might make sense. But in the real world in which the rest of us live, the source of the terror threat of the last generation has been Islamist.

The desire to deny that Islamism is the driving force behind homegrown terrorists and their crimes is rooted in the myth of a post 9/11 backlash against Muslims. That entirely fictional idea that Muslims were subjected to widespread discrimination has no basis in fact, but it is an article of faith in certain sectors of the left and in the mainstream liberal media. It is one thing to try and delegitimize pro-active vigilance against Islamism by falsely alleging bias in the actions of the government or even the general population. It is quite another to deny, as even leftist comedian Bill Maher pointed out last week, that “There’s only one faith that kills you or wants to kill you if you renounce the faith.”

The effort to expunge the word “Islamist” from the style guide of news organizations or to educate FBI personnel about the beauty, as opposed to the danger, of jihad is all part of this same campaign of denial. Acknowledging this reality needn’t set off a wave of discrimination, which, contrary to those still decrying the mythical backlash, hasn’t happened and won’t occur in pluralistic America. But the more we try to ignore the reality of Islamism, the easier it will get for killers to escape scrutiny before they strike.

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Difference Between Prudence and Prejudice

In the aftermath of the conclusion of the traumatic week of terror in Boston, the inevitable questions about the religious motivations of the two Chechen immigrants who were the perpetrators are being asked. Unfortunately, many of them are certain to be obfuscated. While everyone needs to be careful not to associate the millions of honest, hard-working and loyal Americans who are Muslims with the crimes of the Tsarnaev brothers, the politically correct impulse to ignore what appears to be the latest instance of homegrown Islamist terrorism could lead to a repeat of the same mistakes that were made after the Fort Hood shooting, when the government went out of its way to ignore the implications of the murderer’s reasons for committing the crime.

As former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey wrote this past weekend in the Wall Street Journal, there is good reason to worry that the FBI interrogators of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have been infected with the same determination to refuse to think clearly about jihadist ideology that has characterized much of the way the mainstream media thinks about terrorism.

As Mukasey writes:

At the behest of such Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups as the Council on American Islamic Relations [CAIR] and the Islamic Society of North America, and other self-proclaimed spokesmen for American Muslims, the FBI has bowdlerized its training materials to exclude references to militant Islamism. Does this delicacy infect the FBI’s interrogation group as well?

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In the aftermath of the conclusion of the traumatic week of terror in Boston, the inevitable questions about the religious motivations of the two Chechen immigrants who were the perpetrators are being asked. Unfortunately, many of them are certain to be obfuscated. While everyone needs to be careful not to associate the millions of honest, hard-working and loyal Americans who are Muslims with the crimes of the Tsarnaev brothers, the politically correct impulse to ignore what appears to be the latest instance of homegrown Islamist terrorism could lead to a repeat of the same mistakes that were made after the Fort Hood shooting, when the government went out of its way to ignore the implications of the murderer’s reasons for committing the crime.

As former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey wrote this past weekend in the Wall Street Journal, there is good reason to worry that the FBI interrogators of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have been infected with the same determination to refuse to think clearly about jihadist ideology that has characterized much of the way the mainstream media thinks about terrorism.

As Mukasey writes:

At the behest of such Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups as the Council on American Islamic Relations [CAIR] and the Islamic Society of North America, and other self-proclaimed spokesmen for American Muslims, the FBI has bowdlerized its training materials to exclude references to militant Islamism. Does this delicacy infect the FBI’s interrogation group as well?

The real issue right now is not so much the legal question of whether Tsarnaev is designated as an enemy combatant or just a garden-variety domestic terrorist—though that is an important issue—so much as whether Americans understand that pro-jihad Islamist adherents are a source of such fearful crimes. The most important thing for Americans to realize right now is that there is a difference between prudent monitoring of sources of Islamist propaganda and prejudice against Muslims who deserve the full protection of the law.

The stories being reported about the behavior of the Tsarnaevs make it all the more important that police forces not be deterred from intelligence work because of efforts by groups like CAIR to silence efforts to discuss Islamism. If Tamerlan Tsarnaev was, as the Boston Globe reports, disrupting events at his local mosque when moderate speakers appeared, it bears asking whether greater vigilance might have connected the dots between this behavior and this man’s trips to Russia that had already triggered interest on the part of Moscow’s intelligence agencies and the FBI.

Aggressive surveillance and investigations of possible meeting places for potential homegrown Islamist terrorists by New York City police have been bitterly criticized in the past. But as much as we must be careful about second-guessing law enforcement agencies for having missed any potential warnings about the Tsarnaevs, what happened in Boston last week should reinforce the need for the NYPD to keep thinking about terrorism, and for other departments to emulate their practices.

Above all, it is vital for this case to be discussed frankly without the knee-jerk impulse to ignore the role of religion in this atrocity. Being able to do so should not be considered prejudicial by definition, as those groups like CAIR have tried hard to establish. Our problem is not just the terrorist threat these Islamists clearly constitute to the safety of the United States—as Boston has again demonstrated—but that too many in our government seem unwilling to face up to the implications of the growth of a hateful ideology with Muslim Brotherhood origins and connections to al-Qaeda and other terror groups. That has occurred because of the influence of CAIR as well as the predilection of some in the foreign policy establishment to embrace the Brotherhood elsewhere. Until we address these problems, we will find ourselves asking the same questions after the next Islamist terror attack on our soil.

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The Problem With Moving On From 9/11

It was inevitable that as the years since 9/11 passed, the grief would become less intense and the commemorations of the atrocity would become more subdued. So it is probably no surprise that today’s ceremonies on the 11th anniversary of the day Islamist terrorists killed thousands of Americans will be far less imposing than those held last year. The depth of the tragedy is such that for those who experienced it and who lost loved ones, no memorial service can ever suffice to express the sorrow and the anger this day conjures up in the souls of Americans. But just as December 7 eventually became just another day in the calendar, 9/11 will also be transformed into a date in history like Pearl Harbor; a mute reminder of the past rather than the gaping wound it once was.

Yet there is something distinctly unsatisfying, even distasteful about the way Americans are “moving on” from 9/11. The closure from Pearl Harbor was made possible by the sacrifice of millions of American serviceman who secured total victory over the Japanese and their German Nazi allies. After 1945, there could never be a sense of unfinished business about the memory of those lost on the “date that will live in infamy,” as President Franklin Roosevelt memorably expressed it. But 11 years after 9/11, Americans cannot say that. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the crime, is dead, as President Obama and his supporters constantly remind us and for that we are thankful. But Al Qaeda is far from destroyed. The Islamist terrorist war against the West is not over and those who act as if it is are doing the country a disservice.

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It was inevitable that as the years since 9/11 passed, the grief would become less intense and the commemorations of the atrocity would become more subdued. So it is probably no surprise that today’s ceremonies on the 11th anniversary of the day Islamist terrorists killed thousands of Americans will be far less imposing than those held last year. The depth of the tragedy is such that for those who experienced it and who lost loved ones, no memorial service can ever suffice to express the sorrow and the anger this day conjures up in the souls of Americans. But just as December 7 eventually became just another day in the calendar, 9/11 will also be transformed into a date in history like Pearl Harbor; a mute reminder of the past rather than the gaping wound it once was.

Yet there is something distinctly unsatisfying, even distasteful about the way Americans are “moving on” from 9/11. The closure from Pearl Harbor was made possible by the sacrifice of millions of American serviceman who secured total victory over the Japanese and their German Nazi allies. After 1945, there could never be a sense of unfinished business about the memory of those lost on the “date that will live in infamy,” as President Franklin Roosevelt memorably expressed it. But 11 years after 9/11, Americans cannot say that. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the crime, is dead, as President Obama and his supporters constantly remind us and for that we are thankful. But Al Qaeda is far from destroyed. The Islamist terrorist war against the West is not over and those who act as if it is are doing the country a disservice.

Americans are, we are constantly told, weary of the wars that followed 9/11 and it is hard to blame them for that. The United States has left Iraq and the mess that our exit is causing may undo the victory that President Bush’s surge made possible. We are soon to leave Afghanistan, a decision that may eventually lead to power for Al Qaeda’s Taliban allies. Throughout the Middle East, terrorists loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda persist. So do others that call themselves by different names. In Gaza, the Islamists of Hamas have created an independent terrorist state in all but name. In Lebanon, the Islamists of Hezbollah now dominate the government. In Iran, an Islamist state funds terror throughout the region and works to build a nuclear bomb as the West pursues ineffectual measures to stop them.

It is true that more than a decade of hard work by American intelligence services has prevented another 9/11. Given that most experts thought a second tragedy was almost inevitable, this is no small achievement. But the problem with this battle is that it needs more than constant vigilance from those tasked with protecting the country. It also requires the sort of patience that the citizens of democracies rarely possess.

Americans have throughout the last century vacillated between a belief in a global mission that understood that U.S. security would only be found by bringing democracy to the world and a small-minded isolationism that asked nothing more than to be left alone. We may be on the brink of another such bout of isolationism as Americans turn away from the world and seek only to balance their own budget or to do some nation building at home, depending on which political party you are listening to. But the problem with such an impulse is that foreign perils have an annoying habit of intruding on our national solitude.

America’s encounter with Islamist terror did not begin on 9/11. Nor did it end on that date or even on the day that bin Laden was dealt justice. As long as Islamists plot against America and our allies, we will never be able to truly move on from it. That is a hard thing to accept and it is to be expected that we will do anything to avoid thinking about it. Rather than congratulating ourselves for having the maturity to move on from 9/11, it is this hard truth that we should be contemplating today.

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