Cliff May

In his 6,000-word speech at the National Defense University last week, President Obama devoted only one paragraph to the ideology of those who proclaim themselves America’s enemies. But those 101 words are worth a closer look.

“Most, though not all, of the terrorism we face is fueled by a common ideology,” the president began. Quite right: Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Iran’s rulers, Hezbollah, Hamas, and many others who utilize terrorism do indeed see the world through similar lenses. The president did not name their ideology, but most of us have come to employ such terms as “jihadism,” “Islamism,” “political Islam,” and “radical Islam.”

The president described this ideology as “a belief by some extremists that Islam is in conflict with the United States and the West.” This, too, is accurate. If you read the writings of Osama bin Laden, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and such Muslim Brotherhood intellectuals as Sayyid Qutb and Hassan al-Banna, there can be no doubt that, by their lights, this conflict is inevitable.

The extremists also believe, Obama continued, “that violence against Western targets, including civilians, is justified in pursuit of a larger cause.” He refrained from defining that cause, though earlier in the speech he did mention that “deranged or alienated individuals” have been “inspired by larger notions of violent jihad.”

More specifically, they believe that Muslims have been divinely commanded to wage war against those who refuse to accept Allah as the supreme authority of the universe; Mohammed as Allah’s prophet; the Koran as the revealed and unchanging word of Allah; and sharia as the law that mankind must obey.

They believe, too, that the world is divided between the Dar al-Islam, the lands where Muslims rule, and the Dar al-Harb, the lands where infidels rule. They reject the possibility that the two realms can — or should — peacefully coexist. On the contrary, the Dar al-Islam must do whatever is necessary to defeat and destroy the Dar al-Harb.

Many Westerners find it difficult to comprehend that people actually hold such beliefs. These Westerners — there is no tactful way to say this — are ignorant of world history, the millennia of conflicts in which one group after another has attempted to impose its language, culture, religion, and DNA on others.

The use of religion or ideology to justify such aggression and domination is hardly new. Contrary to much wishful thinking, “conflict resolution,” tolerance, multiculturalism, and similar newfangled Western ideas have not been universally embraced.

Cliff May

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