Making way for Jihad

William F. Buckley
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Posted: Sep 29, 2006 11:01 PM
Making way for Jihad

The categorical opponents of the detainee bill should spend an unhappy hour reading the new book by Mary Habeck. She is a scholar at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins, and her book, "Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror," is published by Yale University Press. The book undertakes to tell the reader things about the jihadist offensive that we should know about, properly concern ourselves with, and take into account when weighing legislative initiatives.

The scene in Washington, in a word, was as follows. The president, who is commander in chief of our armed forces and, as such, principal agent of the national security, took to Congress an impasse. It had been created by the Supreme Court. Exercising, quite properly, its authority to opine on deviations from past constitutional practice having to do with human rights, the court ruled that we could not legitimately proceed, as we have been doing in Guantanamo, to detain foreigners for interrogation and other purposes without reference to such constitutional narrative as is implicit under habeas corpus. That doctrine specifies that the American citizen is the master of his own movements -- putting the burden of respecting that sovereignty on the government.

However, the protection of habeas corpus does not necessarily extend to those who are not U.S. citizens, which is what the current controversy is about. The Geneva Conventions, so often adduced in the congressional debate of the last few weeks, are designed to shed light on the standing of foreigners who find themselves behind bars set up by the U.S. military. The conventions cited are inadequate to current purposes, because those conventions sought to illuminate our authority over persons who had served or were serving in armies against which the United States contended in war.

The problem crystallized soon after Sept. 11, namely what exactly do we call people who are suspected of participating in activity mortal to U.S. interests, but who do not wear any badge of allegiance to any formal foreign body? President Bush took what can perhaps be criticized as the easiest way out: He simply assumed authority over them and their movements.

Moreover, he went further than merely detaining them. Many were suspected of being privy to organized activity against us, of the kind that mention of Sept. 11 calls vividly to mind. Some of these suspects have been handled, we are led to believe, in ways that would not befit, nor be tolerated in, the handling of orthodox prisoners.

Necessarily, with the intervention of the Supreme Court, we needed to come up with a vocabulary appropriate to the challenge. This, Congress has pretty much decided, can be effected by a new nomenclature. It would continue to give the U.S. military authority to detain suspects and to interrogate them vigorously, though not brutally, in the effort to contain the terrorist movement.

How is that movement relevant? "The question of offensive jihad is ... complex and controversial," writes Habeck. "The most widely respected Islamic authorities ... all assume that Muslims have a duty to spread the dominion of Islam, through military offensives, until it rules the world. By the 'dominion of Islam' these authorities did not mean that everyone in the world must convert to Islam, since they also affirmed that 'there is no compulsion in religion,' rather that every part of the Earth must come under Islamic governance and especially the rule of the sharia.

"Azzam's definition of offensive jihad (Azzam is the principal modern theorist of militant Islam) follows this traditional understanding of jihad, noting that it is a duty for the leader of the Muslims 'to assemble and send out an army unit into the land of war once or twice every year.'" The jihadist is obliged to perform with all available capabilities "until there remain only Muslims or people who submit to Islam."

The author reminds us that Azzam's explanation of offensive jihad is "a recounting of the interpretations of the most respected traditional Islamic authorities. To deny this fact would be to deny one of the main reasons that jihadis have gotten a hearing in so much of the Islamic world today."

It is clearly wrong to assume that every Muslim is a jihadist. But it is also wrong to assume that every jihadist is heretical to his faith; and we end with real questions about how to deal with real people whom we catch with gunpowder stains on their robes. We have gone through a conventional constitutional modification, in the evolution of our commitment to prevail over the jihadists, and we need not apologize for it.