Cliff May

Nearly ten years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many politicians, diplomats, journalists and academics remain reluctant even to name America’s enemies. To take but one example: John Brennan, head of the White House homeland security office, has argued that America is only “at war with al Qaeda” and its closest affiliates.

I understand the impulse to frame the conflict as narrowly as possible. Brennan and others do not want to reinforce al-Qaeda’s message that Muslims from Afghanistan to Iraq to Israel to Paris to Detroit must choose between the umma, the global Islamic community (“Islamic nation” is an equally accurate translation), and the West -- to fight for one and against the other.

But can we not say – truthfully and without playing into al-Qaeda’s hands – that there are regimes and groups within the Muslim world that are implacably hostile to the West? Can we not say that they subscribe to a belief system called Jihadism? The late Father Richard John Neuhaus defined Jihadism as a religiously inspired ideology built on the teaching “that it is the moral obligation of all Muslims to employ whatever means necessary in order to compel the world's submission to Islam.”

I would contend that there is a distinction, subtle but significant, between Jihadism and Islamism. Jihadists see warfare as the divinely ordained path to Islamic supremacy. Islamists may prefer to utilize other means. Some may even think terrorism ill-advised because attacks like those carried out in New York and Washington -- and London, Bali, Madrid and Ft. Hood -- have awakened many in the West – by no means all – to the seriousness of the threat we face.

Among the Jihadis and Islamists there is variety and diversity. To glimpse it, let me suggest you page through the just-completed World Almanac of Islamism. Produced by the American Foreign Policy Council, and edited by AFPC’s Ilan Berman, it contains contributions from more than 50 experts (including two from my organization, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies).

Among the morsels in this cornucopia: Of more than 1,000 mosques in Spain, about ten percent are believed to be radical. Of the estimated 1,500 mosques in France, about 80 are considered to be “at risk of radicalization” and 20 are under close government surveillance.

In Russia, the Caucasus Emirate “has ideologically and politically allied itself with the most virulent elements of the global jihadist movement, including al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah” and others.”


Cliff May

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



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