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Know thy enemy

by Center for Security Policy Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2004 at 11:16 AM

(Washington, D.C.): The single most important effect of the report of the 9/11 Commission may prove not to be the lessons it teaches about the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington or the new intelligence "czar" it recommended to try to prevent their repetition, possibly on a vastly more devastating scale. Rather, the Commission's biggest contribution may have been in making it politically possible to name our enemies -- an essential prerequisite to understanding what we are up against, and to dealing with it effectively.

The Enemy Are the Islamists

As the Commission put it: "...The enemy is not just 'terrorism,' some generic evil. This vagueness blurs the strategy. The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism -- especially the al Qaeda network, its affiliates, and its ideology."

The Commission's members went on to declare unanimously: "Usama Bin Laden and other Islamist terrorist leaders draw on a long tradition of extreme intolerance within one stream of Islam....motivated by religion and [it] does not distinguish politics from religion, thus distorting both....Our enemy is twofold: al Qaeda, a stateless network of terrorists that struck us on 9/11; and a radical ideological movement in the Islamic world, inspired in part by al Qaeda, which has spawned terrorist groups and violence across the globe...The second enemy is gathering, and will menace Americans and American interests long after Usama bin Ladin and his cohorts are killed or captured. Thus our strategy must...[prevail] in the longer term over the ideology that gives rise to Islamist terrorism."

It hardly seems coincidental that President Bush for the first time observed in remarks last week that, "We actually misnamed the 'war on terror.' It ought to be [called] 'the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies and who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world.'" Obviously, Mr. Bush's new moniker for the present conflict won't fit on many bumper stickers. But it marks a dramatic -- and most welcome -- departure from the politically correct euphemism that has left millions of Americans confused about who we are fighting and why.

The 9/11 Commission made itself clear on both points: "Bin Ladin and Islamist terrorists mean exactly what they say: to them America is the font of all evil, the 'head of the snake,' and it must be destroyed or utterly converted." And "[The Islamist ideology] is not a position with which Americans can bargain or negotiate. With it, there is no common ground -- not even respect for life -- on which to begin a dialogue. It can only be destroyed or utterly isolated."

The Islamists' Influence Operation

What makes this bipartisan assessment so important is that it departs dramatically from the demands of self-declared "leaders" of the Muslim-American community. For years, organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the American Muslim Council (AMC) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council have been romanced by the Clinton and Bush administrations. Even now, they are being assiduously courted by the Kerry campaign, the candidate's wife having recently discussed empathetically their oft-repeated claim to victimhood in the face of alleged ethnic-profiling, hate crimes and Patriot Act-driven infringements on their civil liberties.

In exchange for their support, politicians are expected to refrain from addressing what the Commission called a "long tradition of extreme intolerance" within Islam. For example, CAIR's legal director, Arsalan Iftikhar, pronounced in an op.ed. published in the Dallas Morning News on August 3, that when the 9/11 Commission spoke of "Islamist terror," it "seem[ed] to stigmatize anyone with ties to Islam." Noting that not all terrorist attacks in America have been inflicted by adherents to radical Islam, Iftikhar would have us believe that, "The term 'Islamist terrorism' is nothing more than an oversimplification of our complex and kaleidoscopic national security paradigm."

In fact, the 9/11 Commission was not oversimplifying our "national security paradigm." Rather, the panel was helpfully illuminating its true nature: We are confronting less a clash of civilizations than "a clash within a civilization." The panel deems this a struggle between those of the Islamic faith who wish to be a part of a modern society enjoying "tolerance, the rule of law, political and economic openness, the extension of greater opportunities to women" and those "Islamist terrorist organizations" who are "violently opposed" to such cultural and religious evolutions.

One of the reasons why many of the most prominent Muslim-American organizations refuse to admit to these realities appears to be that the sympathies of some of their key associates -- if not those of the organizations themselves -- lie with the Islamists. Notably, to the fury of many of his cohorts, the founder and long-time driving force behind the American Muslim Council, Abdurahman Alamoudi, recently entered into a plea bargain in which he admitted to plotting acts of terror with Libya. And several officers of CAIR have been successfully prosecuted for their terrorist ties. And MPAC's executive director, Salam Al-Marayati, has defended Hizbullah, protested indictments of Islamist charities for supporting terrorist causes and declared that the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon "was not, strictly speaking, a terrorist incident."

The Bottom Line

It must be counted as progress that official Washington can now talk openly about who the enemy is. The next step toward defeating our Islamist foes is to get a better handle on who their friends are, in this country and elsewhere, organizations and state-sponsors -- and to begin helping moderate Muslims who reject Islamism prevail over those who do not.

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