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Among the Believers

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

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.”

Albania has become the first European member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. One consequence: There are no longer any visa requirements for citizens of Muslim countries, making Albania an open door for terrorists who want to disappear into Europe. When local authorities in the northern Albanian, majority-Catholic city of Shkoder announced that Mother Teresa would be commemorated with a statue, three Muslim NGOs protested – calling that a “provocation” against Islam.

I was unaware that in the Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, religious freedom has been abolished and Taliban-style public flogging is becoming common as Islamist political parties push for the strict implementation of sharia, Islamic law.

I did know that the Tablighi Jamaat, the “[Islamic] transmission group,” was founded in India in the early 20th century but I was surprised to learn that it is now active “in at least 165 nations” including the U.S where “there may be as many as 50,000 Muslims affiliated with the TJ.” The TJ preaches against Westernization, secularization and religious toleration but steers clear of local politics and “teaches jihad as personal purification” rather than warfare. Nevertheless, the Almanac says, there is “some debate” about whether it “serves as an incubator for jihad” in the kinetic sense.

Within the Muslim Brotherhood, the Almanac sees a “growing schism” between “moderates and conservatives.” It adds, however, that “since the election of their new Supreme Guide, Muhammad Badi” last year, the Brotherhood “seems to have adopted a more radical discourse... Badi has stated that “America and Israel are ‘the Muslims’ real enemies,’ and that ‘jihad against both is a commandment of God which cannot be disregarded.’”

In the United States, the Almanac reports, “Muslim Brothers have been represented within multiple organizations such as the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), the Muslim American Society (MAS) and a variety of other activist groups. On May 22, 1991, the Brotherhood issued a programmatic memorandum” stating that all Muslims “had to ‘understand that their work in America [was] a grand jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within and sabotaging its miserable house by their hands so that God’s religion [Islam] is victorious over all religions.’”

The regime that rules Iran, the Almanac observes, is “ideologically dedicated to exporting its religious revolution the world over ... In the early years of the Islamic Republic, Iran is known to have ordered, orchestrated or facilitated a series of terrorist attacks in the Middle East, among them the 1983 U.S. Embassy and Marine Barracks bombings in Beirut, Lebanon; as well as abortive coup attempts and bombings in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.”

The Almanac reports on the United States, too. “The American public appears to remain largely unaware of and/or uninterested in Islamist groups in the U.S. unless they can somehow be linked to al-Qaeda and/or terrorist attacks in the West,” it concludes. “Nor are civil society, media institutions, and the public at large generally informed about Islamist groups in the U.S. and Islamism generally, beyond the occasional terrorist plots that are routinely disrupted every year.”

As noted above, that’s also true at the highest levels of government, academia and the media. John Brennan would be well-advised to spend a weekend with the World Almanac of Islamism. I think he’d find it a useful resource from which he might learn that al-Qaeda is only one of the groups that ought to concern him, his boss and the intelligence community.

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