Dear new members of Congress: Here is what you need to know about the war against the West.
Last month, Americans celebrated the holidays without a terrorist attack on American soil. That should be a source of relief, but not complacency. Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria and the Philippines were not so lucky.
The hard fact is a global conflict is under way. You, as an incoming member of the 112th Congress, need to understand who is waging this war, what motivates them and what their goals are. Without such knowledge, you will not be able to make informed legislative and policy decisions. So here is a very brief briefing:
In 1979, there was a revolution in Iran. Those who took power established the first modern nation dedicated to jihad — holy war against Christians, Jews, Hindus and Muslims who do not accept their radical agenda. Iran is a predominately Shia country, but its revolution inspired the rise of militant groups among the more numerous Sunni Muslims of the broader Middle East as well. Al-Qaida is only the best known.
Sunni jihadis and Shia jihadis are rivals, not enemies. They cooperate and collaborate against common enemies — us, for example. The evidence for this is abundant.
What is the goal of jihad? It was articulated concisely by the scholar Ibn Khaldun: “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and the [obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force … Islam is under obligation to gain power over nations.”
Perhaps Khaldun was speaking out of anger, considering the continuing incarceration of Muslim combatants at Gitmo, the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the sufferings of the Palestinians? I would guess not since Khaldun died in the early 15th century.
Most Muslims do not embrace this interpretation of Islam. But a supremacist reading of the Quran caters to the pride and vanity of a significant minority of the world’s more than 1.3 billion Muslims. More important: In what we have come to call the “Muslim world,” modernizers and reformers do not control the lion’s share of the money (oil money) and power, which, in most countries, is not democratically derived.
The “hard jihad” is fought with violence. There also is the “soft jihad” — an effort to destroy liberal democracies from within. The most important organization promoting soft jihad is the Muslim Brotherhood and its many affiliates. Twenty years ago, an American branch of the Muslim Brotherhood issued an internal memorandum acknowledging — boasting, actually — that it was engaged in a “grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within” by “sabotage.” Anytime you are approached by members of a “moderate” Muslim group, you should ask how they view the Muslim Brotherhood.
One weapon of the soft jihad is “law-fare.” For example, in Spain a high school geology teacher is being sued for having “defamed Islam” by mentioning in his classroom that Andalusia offers the perfect climate for curing Spanish ham. “Spanish legal scholars are divided over whether the lawsuit has merit,” one journalist wrote, but “nearly everyone agrees that the case has potentially major implications for free speech in Spain.”
Law-fare also embraces efforts to spread Sharia, Islamic law, by insisting that Western firms provide “Sharia-compliant financing,” which gives Islamic clerics say over investment decisions and, potentially, siphons off funds to “charities” that support terrorism.
If you have followed me this far, here are three policy implications: While the war against the West is different from previous wars, it is not simply the “law enforcement” problem too many people prefer to believe; Iraq, Afghanistan/Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia are not separate wars, but rather fronts in a single global conflict; and make up your mind that the jihadis in Tehran will not acquire nuclear weapons, not on your watch. The sanctions imposed by the U.S. in 2010 are an important part of the effort, but only a part.
This year, we will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Osama bin Laden is still alive. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a plan. Are you confident the U.S. has an adequate strategy for frustrating their ambitions? And by the way, welcome to Washington, D.C.
Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.