Most Americans are sympathetic to public references to Islam and to Muslims that do not offend patriotic American Muslims or affix to the Islamic religion the rantings of al-Qaeda. But sensitivity to the need to be civil to Muslims doesn’t—or shouldn’t—obviate the need for intellectual honesty when discussing or analyzing America’s Islamist political foes.
At a recent briefing to scholars and reporters at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counter-terrorism, went into contortions to avoid admitting what seems commonsense to most Americans: there is a connection between some parts of Islamic thought and the repeated assertions of Osama bin Laden and his supporters and sympathizers that they are waging “jihad” against the United States. Brennan said the religious views of America’s Islamist terrorist adversaries shouldn’t even be discussed. Yet to accept that view would be like asking the State Department to examine the views of Adolf Hitler during Word War II and avoid mentioning his hatred of the Jews.
Brennan said the White House and State Department were avoiding reference to “jihadists” even though terrorist adversaries of the United States often call themselves exactly that. He said that jihad was “a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam meaning to purify oneself and one’s community.” True, this is the “greater jihad,” as defined by Mohammed himself—but it is not the whole meaning of jihad at all. In fact, serious and respected scholars of Islam such as Professor Bernard Lewis assert that by far the largest proportion of Islamic historical references to jihad refer to what is called the “lesser jihad”—the duty of Muslims to wage war on non-Muslims in order to subdue all countries and communities for Allah.