Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.
“We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us.” — President Barack Obama , National Defense University, 23 May 23, 2013
Just a few days before the Memorial Day holiday weekend in May 2013, the President of the United States declared unilateral surrender in what used to be called the Global War on Terror [GWOT] – that is, the war to defend the U.S. and the free world against the forces of Islamic jihad and Islamic Shariah Law. No, he did not actually wave a white flag from the podium, but he may as well have done: in calling for an end to the “Authorization to Use Military Force” (AUMF); declaring al-Qa’eda “on the road to defeat” (again—or maybe it is ‘still’), and expressing reservations about “keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing,” Barack Obama made it clear that he hasn’t the stomach for this fight. It is not that the war is actually over, of course, but rather that, as Andrew McCarthy put it, “he wants it to be over.”
In an odd sort of way, though, Obama’s abandonment of the field of battle to the enemy clears away a good deal of the “clutter” that has attended the so-called GWOT over the last dozen years since the 9/11 attacks. Obama even used language that may help the average American and those observers who see things rather differently from him to begin formulating a new, coherent, and comprehensive kind of national security strategy geared actually to defeating an Islamic supremacist adversary.
The president rightly noted that “[w]e need all elements of national power to win a battle of wills, a battle of ideas.” He even went so far as to reference Islamic “extremists,” and acknowledged that there remains a “pull towards extremism.” Of course, after once again accurately mentioning that a “common ideology” fuels the terrorism we face, he shied quickly away from explaining just what that “common ideology” might be and instead launched into a shopping list of surrender terms that he is betting will somehow sap the fighting spirit of Islamic jihad, perhaps, one assumes, by the sheer force of their reasonableness. Among these are the U.S. retreat from Afghanistan and fewer boots on the ground everywhere (they are claimed to be “self-defeating”); suspension of the “Authorization to Use of Military Force;” partnerships with jihadist state powers such as Pakistan; addressing “underlying grievances,” such as poverty and sectarian hatred (no details on how to get Sunnis and Shi’as to start liking each other, though); more foreign aid (perhaps to some of the oil rich jihad nurseries such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia?); greater respect for state sovereignty (Libya, Syria and Israel presumably excepted); and, of course, closing Guantanamo Bay [GITMO]. The one that’s sure to grab jihadi attention immediately, though, is the president’s determination to “be humbler.” Unfortunately for the president’s strategy, the ideology of this particularly savage enemy tends to treat “humility” as groveling — and as an invitation to double down on aggression.
Now, back to this “common ideology” that fuels Islamic terrorism: as Michael Adebolajo, one of the two Nigerian-British jihadis, declared just after hacking Drummer Lee Rigby to death in the middle of the street in Woolwich, London, “…we are forced by the Qur’an in Sura at-Tauba [Chapter 9 of the Koran], through many, many ayah [verses] throughout the Koran that [say] we must fight them as they fight us, a eye for a eye and a tooth for a tooth.” That is, even though Adebolajo. reportedly a convert to Islam from Christianity, was entirely wrong to suggest that British forces (or American ones, for that matter) have in any way impeded the application of Islamic Sharia Law in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, or anywhere else (quite the contrary, in fact, as Andrew Bostom points out here), his reference to Qur’anic verses that obligate Muslims to jihad against non-believers is quite accurate. The 9th Sura, or “Sura of the Sword,” as the final word in the Qur’an about the Muslim obligation to fight and kill the infidel, is not only especially apt as the Islamic justification for this gruesome murder, but also theologically authoritative in that the Qur’anic doctrine of abrogation means this penultimate chapter of the Qur’an replaces any and all of the chronologically earlier verses that might have encouraged peaceful tolerance.
A continent away, in Tripoli, Lebanon, one of Adebolajo’s former mentors, the exiled Omar Bakri Muhammed, founder of the outlawed UK Islamic supremacist group, Al-Muhajiroun, echoed Adebolajo’s reference to Islam’s teaching about “fighting for Allah” and beheading its enemies. Bakri spoke admiringly of Adebolajo’s “courage” in attacking an (unarmed) British soldier in broad daylight and then waiting for the police to show up to arrest him. Referring dismissively to “moderate chocolate” Muslims who fail to act on their beliefs, Bakri quoted from the Muslim prophet Muhammad, saying “The prophet (Mohammad) said an infidel and his killer will not meet in Hell.”
Dzhokhar Tsernaev, the younger of the two Chechen-American Muslim brothers who killed and maimed hundreds of innocent people at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, likewise identified Islam as his inspiration. As he lay bleeding in Watertown, Massachusetts inside a boat where he had hidden, he scrawled in pen on the side panel of the boat, “F*** America” and “Praise Allah.” He also invoked the Islamic doctrine of “defensive jihad,” writing “When you attack one Muslim, you attack all Muslims.” Islamic doctrine holds that “defensive jihad” commands the involvement of all Muslims anywhere in the world who are able to enter the fight, even without the command of a Caliph, whenever any part of “Muslim lands” is attacked, invaded, or occupied by the infidel. In this case, the Tsernaev brothers, steeped in the jihadist traditions of their Chechen family and its ancestral homeland, and likely influenced as well by jihadist teachings in their Muslim Brotherhood-oriented Cambridge, Massachusetts mosque, appear to have been invoking just this doctrine, responding possibly to Slavic Christian domination of the Russian Caucasus, or to other places, such as Afghanistan or Iraq, where Islamic forces confront non-Muslims seen as invaders.
Chiheb Esseghaier, one of two Muslim suspects arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in May 2013, was accused of plotting to derail a NYC-Toronto passenger train over the Niagara River gorge in a terror operation directed by the al-Qa’eda Shura Council that has been operating out of Iran since 9/11. At his initial court appearance, the Tunisian-born Esseghaier was just as frank about his Islamic faith as Adebolajo and Tsernaev; he told the judge that he rejects Canadian law because it is “a book written by humans.” Despite his permanent residency status in Canada, he was openly declaring his allegiance to Islamic Shariah Law.
It cannot get much clearer than that. Each of these accused terrorists is a self-described jihadist in the service of Allah and Islam. Different plots on different continents by Muslims who never knew one another — yet, the message from each is the same message that Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have tried to convey: writing in 2002, bin Laden offered a long list of grievances, imagined and otherwise, to explain why Muslims fight America and the West; but most revealing perhaps was the passage where he invoked the Islamic obligation to fight jihad against what he called “aggression”:
It is commanded by our religion and intellect that the oppressed have a right to return the aggression. Do not await anything from us but Jihad, resistance and revenge.
Ayman al-Zawahiri was even blunter in his recorded audio message to Barack Obama, shortly after he won the November 2008 U.S. presidential election; Zawahri told the incoming administration:
[You are] “facing a Jihadi [holy war] awakening and renaissance which is shaking the pillars of the entire Islamic world; and this is the fact which you and your government and country refuse to recognise and pretend not to see.”
When President Obama described the jihad wars as “a battle of wills, a battle of ideas,” he was, of course, exactly right. It is just that neither he nor his predecessor, President George W. Bush — who, surrounded by the top leadership of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood at a Washington, D.C. Islamic Center on September 12, 2001, bewilderingly said “Islam is peace” — actually meant, or perhaps even understood, that the battle of wills and ideas in question is for nothing less than the survival of Western civilization.
America’s presidents are hardly alone in their refusal to recognize the “Jihadi awakening” that al-Qa’eda helped catalyze: UK Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking in response to the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby, was no less clueless:
“This was not just an attack on Britain, and on the British way of life, it was also a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to this country. There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act.”
This, of course, was after Cameron’s intelligence officials had briefed him on how the two knife-and-machete-wielding attackers had screamed “Allahu Akhbar” as they stabbed Rigby to death and then tried to hack off his head before telling horrified onlookers that they acted in the name of Allah. It was also some six years after Adebolajo had been photographed at a public demonstration standing behind Britain’s leading Muslim hate preacher, Anjem Choudary, who for all his rhetoric, consistently and accurately cites Islamic doctrine, law, and scriptures. And it was a year after British authorities had prevented Adebolajo from traveling to Somalia to fight jihad alongside the al-Qa’eda-linked Islamic terrorist group, al-Shabaab.
What is coming our way cannot be averted by duck-and-cover measures such as the British Defence Ministry order that British troops should not wear their uniforms off their bases. Nor will mumbling about how “confusing, horrific, bizarre” it all is or that “none of it made sense.” A stiff British upper lip and making an effort at “keeping calm” are not going to be of much use either, as Bruce Bawer points out here. The enemy’s motivations are based on both popular jihadi literature and mainstream Islamic jurisprudence. The truth we must face is that the jihadi renaissance (a theme ominously celebrated by Tariq Ramadan and the rest of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked leadership at the December 2012 MAS-ICNA Annual Convention) is not going to be subsiding anytime soon.
The massive human cost and disastrous strategic fallout from the entirely predictable power shift too many still call the “Arab Spring” were merely harbingers of the Islamic ascendancy now in probably unstoppable progress. U.S. and Western failure to take steps years earlier that would have at least helped to empower genuine proponents of liberal, democratic-style governance, instead of throwing our considerable but badly misguided support to al-Qa’eda and Muslim Brotherhood jihadis, drove a policy that is now unraveling before our eyes.
The United States is not at war with Islam—but Islam sure is at war with us. And that jihad, by the Dar al-Islam [Abode of Islam] against all of the Dar al-Harb [Abode of War] — the two worlds into which official Islam divides the world — is not going to stop unless we capitulate in unconditional surrender to the dictates of Shariah Law. As Barry Rubin notes, no amount of outreach is going to convince millions of jihadist Muslims that America is their friend. On the contrary, we are now in a period of rapid acceleration in the jihad wars, in large measure thanks to a feckless U.S. policy of aiding and abetting those who fight for Shariah in the name of Allah. Chaos is spreading rapidly across the Middle East and North Africa. The Muslim Brotherhood is rising to power in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and possibly soon, Jordan and elsewhere. “Popular will” in such places means the desire for loyalty to Shariah—not to individual liberty, pluralism, and tolerance. Al-Qa’eda is resurgent in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen; and jihadi offensives are underway on countless fronts (including AQAP, AQIM, East and West Africa, and the Internet), none of which was in play on September 11, 2001. The call for individual jihad (or fard ‘ayn) against soft civilian targets has gone out from top al-Qa’eda tacticians such as Abu Musab al-Suri, and the call is being answered. A seeming drumbeat of attacks, attack plots, and street riots pounds relentlessly from Boston, Burgas, London, Paris, Sweden, and Toronto and beyond to wherever the next target site will be.
America really is “at a crossroads.” In some ways, President Obama’s throwing in the towel and calling off the GWOT are going to allow events to speak for themselves, thereby forcing a public reassessment of our failed national security strategy about Islam and the jihad wars. When one jihad attack seems to follow the last before the first news cycle has even reached its end, the false narrative about Islam as a “religion of peace” and outreach to the jihadist Muslim Brotherhood as the antidote to the jihadist al-Qa’eda will seem so much policy debris to be tossed out in favor of a fact-based review of what Islamic jihad and Shariah are all about. When jihadis from one end of the world to the other consistently, predictably proclaim devotion to Islam, their motivation for the litany of atrocities and “martyrdom operations” past and to come, one hopes that the confused ramblings of a Marc Sageman, for instance, who writes about how impossible it is to understand what turns young Muslim males to terror, will be replaced by a more sober study of the doctrinal issues at the core of the Islamic onslaught.
In this, President Obama was absolutely right: “We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us.”
Clare M. Lopez