Is there anything Islamic about Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps? On what basis does Ayman al-Zawahiri, now al-Qaida's leader, formerly the head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, claim to be a jihadi -- an Islamic warrior? Do groups that justify terrorism on the basis of Islam have a doctrinal leg to stand on?
Let's not start by answering these questions. Let's start by agreeing that such questions need to be asked, not suppressed. Yet right now, suppression seems to be the goal of senior officials in the Obama administration. A report by the Westminster Institute, a think-tank in McLean, Va., that focuses on threats from extremism and radical ideologies, says: "Key national security documents have already excised all terminology that associates terrorism with Islam or Islamic concepts such as jihad."
Katharine Gorka, executive director of the institute, cites evidence that those who persist in using such terminology are being blacklisted -- disqualified from working with federal agencies. Gorka asks: "If counter-terrorism professionals are not allowed to acknowledge that a person motivated by jihadist ideology, or by such Islamist ideologues as Sayyid Qutb or Abul-Ala Mawdudi, may be inclined toward acts of violence against Americans, how will they be able to identify and deter potential attackers?"
Qutb was the "intellectual godfather" of modern Islamism. He proclaimed that "a Muslim has no nationality except his belief," and that Islam is "not a 'religion' in the sense this term is commonly understood." Instead, Islam is meant to encompass "all fields of living" emphatically, including politics and economics. He opposed systems of government that replace God's law with man's law, which, he said, diminishes God's law and elevates man's law. A member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qutb was executed in Egypt in 1966.
Mawdudi was a Pakistani who argued that "the aim of Islam is to bring about a universal revolution." He advocated that Muslims begin by transforming the states in which they live into "Islamic states." Once those Islamic states have "power and resources," their obligation is to "fight and destroy non-Islamic governments and establish Islamic states in their place. ... (T)heir ultimate objective is none other than world revolution." It's worth noting that while Mawdudi did not suffer most infidels gladly, he wrote admiringly of the "ingenious and mighty leadership of Hitler and his comrades."
I have encountered senior government officials who were unfamiliar with these and other radical Muslim voices. That's distressing. How much worse if it now has become policy to demand ignorance -- to insist upon it as a matter of principle or strategy?
During a hearing earlier this month, Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., repeatedly asked Paul Stockton, assistant secretary for Homeland Defense, whether America is "at war with violent Islamist extremism." Stockton insisted that America is at war only with "al-Qaida and its allies." An exasperated Lungren said he understood the distinction between "violent Islamist extremism" and Islam. Stockton replied: "Sir, with great respect, I don't believe it's helpful to frame our adversary as Islamic with any set of qualifiers that we might add, because we are not at war with Islam."
Gorka comments: "The Obama administration is right to assert that America is not at war with Islam, but to deny that a violent strain of Islam is inspiring a wave of terrorist attacks against Americans and American targets is to invite disaster."
I'd add this: Those who tar all Muslims with a single brush make a serious mistake. Liberal and reformist Muslims should be our allies in the war against totalitarianism and supremacism in their contemporary manifestations. But combining sensitivity with intellectual honesty is not so difficult. To acknowledge that Nazism was a German ideology hardly makes one a Germanophobe. You can love Italy while recognizing that Fascism was rooted in Italian soil. Russia gave the world Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky -- and Leninism and Stalinism. And can you imagine the U.S. government banning any linkage of the Spanish Inquisition with the Vatican, lest it offend Roman Catholics?
The radical ideologies that today most threaten the West arise from within the Muslim world. They are inspired by the Islamic conquests of centuries past and the belief that a second age of Islamic power and glory is achievable -- if only Muslims are willing to fight for it as did Mohammad, his companions and the "Soldiers of Allah."
To forbid American officials and those who work with them from even discussing such matters is either an attempt at appeasement that is sure to fail or a manifestation of madness that, if not checked, can only contribute to the West's decline and, ultimately, submission.
Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.