In last week's column, I discussed Andrew C. McCarthy's excellent new book The Grand Jihad. Andy has just shared the good news that the book debuts on the upcoming New York Times Bestseller List at #18 -- the perfect occasion to publish our full interview.
Q: In the course of laying out the largely unknown fact, as you write on page 210, that “America is being targeted for destruction by a Grand Jihad,” you introduce readers to various Islamic terms of art – dawa, siyash, wassityya. Why hasn’t our government educated us in all of these terms by now, nearly ten years since 9/11?
A: Diana, there are two explanations. In the case of well-meaning people who are simply wrong, there is an irrational fear that if we acknowledge the tight connection between Islamic doctrine and a campaign by Muslims to destroy the West (whether by violence or other means), we must perforce take the position that we are “at war with Islam.” This is absurd, of course. First of all, there are millions of Muslims who are at war with us regardless of whether we defend ourselves, and you can’t make that not true by pretending it isn’t a fact. Second, and more important, being in a state of conflict does not mean we have to be in a shooting war or that all Muslims are our enemies. Obviously, we need to kill or capture terrorists who seek to project power against us, and we should be seeking regime change against any government that aids and abets terrorists in that fashion. But as for the (generally) non-violent brand of jihad, we need to oppose that legally, politically and culturally. We were in a Cold War with the Soviets for almost a half-century without being in a shooting war, so I don’t understand why this is a difficult concept.
Then there is the case of not so well-meaning people, which is to say the Leftists who collaborate with Islamists. In their case, the fact that the war against us is being fueled by Islamist ideology mustn’t be conceded because, strategically, they want to urge alternative rationales. Those rationales, of course, always turn out to be the same U.S. policies that the Left happens to despise – so, for example, terrorism is purportedly “caused” by Israel, Gitmo, Bush’s military aggression, the lack of “social justice,” etc., each of which, conveniently, is a plank in the Left’s own transformational agenda.
Q: On page 47 you write: “Our national security policy obsesses over means – in particular one tactic, terrorism -- while ignoring the end the means seek to accomplish.” Could you elaborate some on this vital point?
From the beginning of my involvement in counterterrorism in the early nineties, I’ve been struck by the government’s portrayal of terrorists as beasts who kill for no better reason than to kill – as if the fact that they are brutal means that they are insane. Government does this as part of its narrative that terrorists couldn’t possibly be accurately representing a well-grounded interpretation of Islam, and therefore must be “perverting” or “hijacking” Islam, or must be traitors against the “true Islam.” I always found it odd that these non-Muslim government officials presumed that, despite knowing next to nothing about Islam, they were somehow better authorities on the “true Islam” than, say, Omar Abdel Rahman (the “Blind Sheikh”), a renowned doctor of Islamic jurisprudence graduated from al-Azhar University. In any event, there is a logic to terrorism. It is jihad, the purpose of which is to implement, spread, defend or vindicate sharia, the Muslim legal code. Sharia is deemed in Islamist ideology to be the necessary precondition to Islamicizing a society. Once you realize that, you quickly realize that the same sharia-driven campaign can be waged, and is being waged, by non-violent means, and that the violent and non-violent methods are inextricably linked.
Another vital point, page 48: “The Framers gave us a Constitution that guarantees freedom of conscience, not freedom from examination." How is this mixup manifested, and what is the impact? Does it relate to the Ground Zero mosque?
Freedom of conscience simply means that government cannot enslave our minds. We are free to believe whatever we choose to believe. That has never meant, though, that our beliefs are beyond inquiry – that they may not be criticized and regarded as foolish or dangerous. And our law has always made a sharp distinction between thought, which is free, and action inspired by thought, which may be regulated: a neutral law of general application (i.e., not targeting any religion and literally governing everyone’s conduct) must be followed even if it burdens one’s religious practices. Thus, for example, you can believe peyote has spiritual significance, but if you try to use it in your religious rituals you will be in violation of the narcotics laws. There is no religion exemption for the distribution or consumption of illegal drugs, any more than there would be for, say, human-sacrifice.
Similarly, we don’t try to stop Muslims from believing that sharia is Allah’s mandatory prescription for the good life. But many of sharia’s provisions are antithetical to our law and our culture – beginning with its bedrock presumption that people are not free to make law for themselves, irrespective of sharia. You are entitled to your belief system, and to my respect for your right to your beliefs. But that’s all. You are not entitled to my respect for your beliefs themselves. And still less are you entitled, by labeling your beliefs “religion,” to have your beliefs enshrined in law or to have actions based on your beliefs insulated from law.
As for the Ground Zero mosque, it bears emphasizing that Americans are the most tolerant people on earth. We are not a Muslim country, yet there are over 2300 mosques in the U.S., including scores of them in the New York area, despite the fact that about 80 percent of American mosques are controlled by Muslim Brotherhood-tied Islamists who want the Constitution replaced by sharia.
Nevetheless, Muslims don’t have a right to put a mosque anywhere they choose to put one. That is not intolerance. It is common sense, decency, and national security. We would not permit a Shinto temple to be erected at Pearl Harbor. When Muslim terrorists have mass-murdered thousands of Americans at a site, it is wildly inappropriate even to consider building a mosque on that site – particularly when our enemies in the ongoing war (a) are supremacists waging a concurrent propaganda campaign against us and (b) have a history erecting their icons atop those of the peoples they intend to conquer.
If you want to talk tolerance, in Mecca and Medina, they not refuse to permit the building of churches and synagogues; the Saudis do not even permit non-Muslims to enter. That is traceable directly to an injunction in the Koran (Sura 9:28). Why would we build a monument to intolerance in the name of tolerance?
I am struck by the sheer luck of a few discoveries through raids of key jihad documents – the 1982 Muslim Brotherhood plan found in Switzerland, for example, the 1991 Muslim Britherhood document found in the USA. Where do you think we would be in our understanding of the grand jihad against us without these discoveries? In other words, how significant and lucky were these finds?
If my own experience is any guide, there is undoubtedly a trove of similar material that we just haven’t been made aware of (though I imagine the intelligence community is familiar with lots of it). In the Blind Sheikh case, I was struck by how blatant and brazen the jihadists were when they spoke to each other. As I argue in the book, the MB documents are completely in sync with the strategy outlined by Hassan al-Banna decades ago and later refined by Sayyid Qutb. Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the Brotherhood’s chief living theoretician, is unapologetic about fatwas calling for murder and the imposition of sharia. Anyone who really wanted to know where these people are coming from has plenty of information at the ready. But it seems most people, at least among our opinion elites, don’t want to know, so it is very valuable to have these smoking-gun documents because they are so undeniable.
Haiti and zakat. Or, rather, Haiti and NOT zakat. That is such a revealing story. Thumbnail?
We are endlessly told that zakat is the Islamic obligation to be charitable. This is a core part of the “religion of peace” narrative. And it’s a fraud. Zakat is an insular and provocative institution. Muslims are permitted only to give to Muslims, and giving to support violent jihad is actively encouraged by sharia authorities. This becomes manifest when a humanitarian disaster involving non-Muslims, such as the Haiti earthquake, occurs. The Great Satan gives untold millions in relief; the Muslims give pennies, if that. Zakat is not about improving the human condition. It is about strengthening the umma. It’s not a crime or a wrong to arrange things that way, but let’s not pretend it’s something it’s not.
Now to the meat of the book, thematically speaking: Why are Islam and the Left not such strange bedfellows?
Given the numerous historical and present-day examples of cooperation between Islamists and Leftists, I’m surprised that people still doubt the existence of the phenomenon rather than just taking it as a given and inquiring into why it is so. In any event, for all their disagreements on matters like women’s rights, gay rights, and abortion, Islam and the Left are in harmony on big-picture matters: they are authoritarian, totalitarian in the sense of wanting to control all aspects of human existence, virulently anti-capitalist, and regard the individual as existing merely to serve the collective. Consequently, they have the same obstacle in common: our freedom culture – i.e., Western liberalism, U.S. constitutional republicanism, and their foundation, individual liberty. Historically, Islam and the Left ally when there is a common enemy. But I’d stress that what I am talking about here is an alliance, not a merger. I am not claiming, as someone ridiculously suggested to me the day the book came out, that Barack Obama wants to impose sharia.
I was particularly taken with Chapter 14. Is there a way you can encapsulate this ACORN and/or umma vs. Unum notion in an answer?
I think it all comes down to these toxic pleasantries: “social justice” and “participatory democracy.” As Paul Johnson demonstrated in his wonderful book, A History of the American People, we were a “people” long before we were a formally independent nation – a unique, identifiable people united by a freedom culture. The American idea is that diverse groups and individuals can come here, be immersed in that freedom culture, and become Americans – E Pluribus Unum.
The noxious conceit of the hard Left (shared by the Islamists) is that this freedom culture leads not to human flourishing but profound injustice and inequality. Leftists would thus impose a tyrannical equality of outcome on us (as the Islamists would impose the “social justice” of sharia). And the Trojan horse for accomplishing this is “democracy”: the idea of whipping up the “have-nots” against the “haves” until they are numerous enough, divided enough, and motivated enough to vote the freedom culture out of existence – or extort it into submission by another obscene euphemism, “direct action.”
As a former federal prosecutor, could you make a legal case to close Dar al- Hijra, the so-called 9-11 mosque in northern Virginia? Or, if you prefer, is there a legal case to be made to close Dar al-Hijra? If so, why wasn’t it done a long time ago? If not, why not?
I don’t think you need to close down mosques. I think you need to prosecute those individuals who conspire with, aid and abet, or provide material support to terrorists. You need to use the immigration laws to bar aliens likely to do those things from entering the United States (and deport such aliens who are already here). And you need to make it known that you will investigate what goes on in mosques, that you won’t be intimidated by the grievance industry under circumstances where many mosques – by no means all, but many – have been shown to preach hatred and incite violence. (In my terrorism trial, we proved the mosques were used for conspiratorial meetings and firearms transactions, as well as for recruitment and general incitement.) Taking these measures would offend only the Islamists and their apologists; patriotic American Muslims would be thrilled. If we did those things, it would empower the true moderate Muslims we keep saying we want to help, and the mosques would take care of themselves.
How do you reckon with the similarities that you clearly note between Bush’s and Obama's “Wilsonianism,” and what amounts to Bush’s and Obama's propaganda wars on behalf of Islam (“Islam is peace,” as Bush preached). We’ve both discussed this phenomenon in various contexts. What do you think separates the two points of view? Is it a matter of fundamentals or degree? Of inspiration or motivation?
I have two principal disagreements with the democracy project. First, it is counterproductive to our national security: democratic freedoms enable terrorists; Islamists – not just terrorists – regard our efforts to plant Western ideas and institutions in Muslim countries as acts of war; and democratic procedures – e.g., constitution-writing and elections – empower Islamists. Second, it is a prohibitively expensive waste. Why should I care what system of government is followed in the United Arab Emirates? What I care about is whether the UAE aids and abets those who pose a threat to our security; if it doesn’t, its governmental form is not my affair.
All that said, I think there are fundamental differences between the Bush and Obama approaches. Bush sincerely believed that the “forward march of freedom” would eventually make Islamic countries more like Western countries, and therefore that we would become more secure. He did not buy the Islamist narrative that America was the main problem in the world. Obama, by contrast, agrees with many of the Islamist grievances and with the Islamist premise that America needs radical change. (This is not to say the radical change Obama has in mind is the same as what the Islamists would impose.) So Obama is not trying to inculcate our freedom culture; he is trying to strike a mutually beneficial understanding with Islamists at the expense of our freedom culture.
What is the main point in the book that you want a reader to take away with him forever?
The main point is that the Islamist threat is much broader and more existentially threatening than its component part, the threat from Islamist terrorists. We are facing a movement that is very mainstream in the Muslim world, that sees itself as engaged in a “civilizational” war to destroy the West, and that employs as its main tactic sabotage – the long march through our institutions. The Islamist movement led by the Muslim Brotherhood is aligned with the hard Left because both parties want to destroy our freedom culture – they need to do so in order to impose their respective utopias. We cannot defend ourselves unless we recognize what is happening.