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Knowing - and Naming - Your Enemy

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

Virtually every major thinker who has written on the subject of war—from Germany’s Clausewitz to ancient China’s Sun Tzu—has agreed on one main dictum: “Know your enemy.” Understood in that thought is the concept of correctly naming your enemy. Yet a strange thing has happened as the Obama administration has taken up the challenge of standing up to global terrorism that first fell upon President George W. Bush after the calamitous events of 9/11 in 2001.

Every American with a morsel of common sense has figured out that al-Qaeda and its global franchise of like-minded terrorists have been inspired by an Islam-based ideology that seeks -- in the name of a global Islamic caliphate -- to overthrow the U.S. and the West, democracy, and all the individual rights upon which America was founded.

Every new, turgid, and tedious propaganda blast by Osama bin Laden’s number two, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri...every boastful threat by foreign terrorist groups or by recently apprehended Islamic terrorists in the U.S., makes it clear that terrorist acts plotted against Americans have been inspired by the Muslim call for jihad (which actually means “struggle” but is often translated as “holy war”). The Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, who had received training with the Taliban in Pakistan, described himself simply as a “Muslim soldier.” The prime suspect in last year’s Fort Hood massacre of 13 Americans, Major Hasan, had ordered a business card that described him as SoA (“Soldier of Allah”). Hasan had been in email contact with American-born terrorist organizer Anwar al-Awlaki.

Now what were these fellows thinking of when they planned their dastardly deeds? Was it Zen Buddhism, or Hindu mysticism? I don’t think so. Like Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the 9/11 hijackers, they were carefully acting out Islamic ideas found in the Koran and in recent Islamic writings with the hope of spending eternity in the Muslim paradise surrounded by dark-eyed virgins.

There seem to be only about three Americans who doubt this: President Obama, White House aide for counter-terrorism John Brennan, and Attorney General Eric Holder. When Holder was asked in May at a congressional hearing by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) whether Hasan, Shahzad, and Nigerian failed Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab might have been inspired by radical Islam, Holder repeatedly said that there had been “a variety” of factors. He flatly refused to say “radical Islam” or any form of Islam had possibly been the ideological inspiration behind the actions of these individuals.

Brennan recently made remarks during a Washington speech in which he said flatly that the White House would not use the phrase “Islamic terrorism” or even refer to “jihadis.” He used the utterly specious argument that jihad can mean a spiritual struggle to combat one’s sinful nature. Yes, it can. But the overwhelming consensus of students of Islamic history is that this interpretation of jihad refers to what Mohammed called “the greater jihad.” (See related commentary) The Koran itself quite specifically calls on Muslims to fight “the lesser jihad,” which is real fighting. It says, in Surah 9:29: “Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.”

There are, of course, Surahs (chapters) in the Koran which advocate peaceful relations with followers of Judaism and Christianity. But these verses, “revealed” to Mohammed during the early period of his life, are “abrogated” (nullified) by the bloodthirsty verses from the later period.

It needs to be said that there are millions of Muslims who are not terrorists and who do not engage in any violent form of jihad. But the vast majority of the world’s terrorists since the 1990s have been Muslims, and all of them have been inspired by Muslim writers and thinkers who unquestionably justify violence on Islamic textual grounds against non-Muslims. To be unwilling to name the terrorist acolytes of such thinkers as “Islamic terrorists” or “radical Muslims” is akin to refusing to describe Hitler’s thugs during World War II as Nazis. If they weren’t Nazis, what were they—misunderstood Berlin suburbanites who had been rejected by Harvard? The frightening thing about Brennan’s approach is that either he is lying about Islam, or he is classically ignorant of Islam and the history of its thought.

What about President Obama? In Turkey in April 2009 he roundly declared that the U.S. did not consider itself a Christian nation even though many of its citizens were Christian. He implied that Turkey also shared a sort of multicultural view of the Muslim faith—similar to his view of American Christianity—that is followed by the majority of its citizens. That is almost certainly a grave misjudgment because Turkey’s ruling political party, the AKP (the Justice and Development Party), is trying to move the country in a decidedly more Islamic direction. Obama’s understanding of Islam seems sentimental and emotional, based on his own early experiences of attending mosque with his step-father in Indonesia. But to move from that position to one requiring American officials to avoid mentioning the very ideology that seeks to destroy American freedom is dangerously reckless.

If you don’t recognize your enemy and refuse to name him, whom on earth are you pretending to fight?

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