Cliff May

Last month, Americans celebrated the holidays without a terrorist attack on American soil. That should be a source of relief but not complacency. Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria and the Philippines were not so lucky.

The hard fact is a global conflict is underway. You, as an incoming member of the 112th Congress, need to understand that. You need to know who is waging this war, what motivates them and what their goals are. Without such knowledge, you will not be able to make informed – much less wise – legislative and policy decisions. So here’s a very brief briefing:

In 1979, there was a revolution in Iran. Those who took power established the first, modern nation dedicated to Jihad – holy war against Christians, Jews, Hindus and Muslims who do not accept their radical Islamist agenda. Iran is a predominately Shia country but its revolution inspired the rise of militant groups among the more numerous Sunni Muslims of the broader Middle East as well. Al-Qaeda is only the best known.

Sunni Jihadis and Shia Jihadis are rivals -- not enemies. They cooperate and collaborate against common enemies – us, for example. The evidence for this is abundant.

What is the goal of Jihad? It was articulated concisely by the scholar Ibn Khaldun: “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and the [obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force....Islam is under obligation to gain power over nations.”

Perhaps Ibn Khaldun was speaking out of anger, considering the continuing incarceration of Muslim combatants at Gitmo, the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the sufferings of the Palestinians? I’d guess not -- since Ibn Khaldun died early in the 15th century.

Most Muslims do not embrace this interpretation of Islam or view it as appropriate for the 21st century. But a supremacist reading of the Koran caters to the pride and vanity of a significant minority of the world’s more than 1.3 billion Muslims. Also important: In what we have come to call the “Muslim world” modernizers and reformers do not control the lion’s share of the money (oil money) and power (which, in most countries, is not democratically derived).

The Muslim world is an expanding world: The Saudi-based Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) claims 56 member states. Some are not -- or not yet -- Muslim-majority nations. The OIC is the most powerful block at the United Nations, an organization that the U.S. continues to generously fund. (You may want to consider whether such expenditures still make sense.) Meanwhile, the Muslim population of Europe is growing rapidly while what might be called the natives are in a demographic death spiral.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.