ASCF Report | 5.6.15
By Alan W. Dowd
It’s becoming such a frequent occurrence
that it’s difficult to keep track of all the violence being committed in the
name of Islam.
There was al-Shabaab’s Easter
weekend massacre in April, killing 147 people at Kenya’s Garissa University.
This followed the lone-wolf jihadist attack on a Copenhagen café in February,
targeting a cartoonist who had caricatured Muhammad in his drawings. This
followed the January attacks on the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in which jihadists executed
10 unarmed people in retaliation for the paper’s publication of crude cartoons
mocking Muhammad. The Paris siege continued for days, with jihadists murdering
four more at a kosher deli.
This followed Boko Haram’s mass-murder
of 2,000 people in northeastern Nigeria, also in January. This followed the
Pakistani Taliban’s siege of a school, which claimed 132 children, and al-Shabaab’s
shopping-mall jihad in Nairobi in 2013, which killed 67 people.
In 2012, the airing of a film
critical of Islam triggered mob violence that left at least 49 dead in six
countries. In 2006, angry Muslims attacked a church and diplomatic mission in
Beirut, set fire to foreign embassies in Damascus and Tehran, and killed four
people in Afghanistan — all to defend their faith from a cartoon. That same
year, many in the Muslim world lashed out over a papal
lecture ironically about the compatibility of faith and reason. In
response, the Pakistani parliament condemned the pope for “derogatory
comments.” A leading Turkish official accused the pope of reviving the
Crusades. Bombs exploded outside churches in Iraq. And a nun in Somalia was murdered.
In 2005, reports that a Koran had been flushed down a toilet at a U.S.
detention facility — reportsthat turned out to be false — led to deadly rampages in Afghanistan. In 2004, a
Dutch filmmaker was murdered because he dared produce a film critical of
Islam’s treatment of women. The list goes on and on.
To be sure, Islam doesn’t claim the
Garissa University murderers or the Charlie
Hebdo killers or the ISIS fighters or the Boston bombers or the 9/11 mass-murderers.
But the hard, undeniable truth is that all of them claim Islam. What can those
who consider themselves part of civilization do about this scourge?
Islam is not a monolith. It has
many sects and divisions. Just a tiny fraction of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims
defend their faith by mass-murder. But that tiny fraction is wreaking havoc
around the world. What some have termed “Islam’s civil war” is spilling into
the rest of civilization. Author Ayaan
Hirsi Ali concludes that Islam’s political and religious leaders need to answer
a simple question: “What is more offensive to a believer — the murder, torture,
enslavement, and acts of war and terrorism being committed today in the name of
Muhammad, or the production of drawings and films and books designed to mock
the extremists and their vision of what Muhammad represents?”
It pays to recall that other
religions, when they have veered off track in their interactions with the rest
of civilization, have summoned the courage to ask and answer such hard
questions — and then change.
The Southern Baptist Convention
called on its members to “repent of racism of which we have been guilty.” The
Mormon religion lifted a ban on priesthood for black members and ended the
practice of polygamy. Pope John Paul II asked “pardon for the divisions among
Christians…and for attitudes of mistrust and hostility.” Speaking to Jews, he
said, “We are asking your forgiveness; we wish to commit ourselves to genuine
brotherhood.” Pope Francis recently apologized for “grave crimes of clerical
Moreover, since Muslims consider
themselves citizens of the “Ummah” — the supranational community of all Muslims
— it pays to recall examples of nations that have sought redemption after veering
Think of the moving image of West
German Chancellor Willy Brandt falling to his knees at a Jewish memorial in
contrition for the holocaust his countrymen perpetrated. It was a powerful
signal to the world — and to Germans — of the posture Germany needed to take to
rejoin civilization. Likewise, Japan’s emperor and prime minister repeatedly apologized
for Japan waging a war of aggression during World War II. The U.S. government
apologized for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Russian
leader Boris Yeltsin confessed for the Soviet Union’s “unparalleled brutality”
and “dark pages” during the Cold War.
Instead of gestures of reconciliation
or reformation, the world gets rationalizations from too many Muslim leaders.
With Paris still under siege, and
the offices of Charlie Hebdo still
wet with blood, the foreign minister of Turkey warned about “the dangers of
increased racism, discrimination, and Islamophobia in Europe.”
The French Council of the Muslim
Religion condemned the attacks as “barbaric” but then called on the French public
“to avoid provocations.”
“We do take issue with the
implication that extremism takes place at mosques and that Muslims have not
done enough to challenge the terrorism that took place in our name,” the Muslim
Council of Britain indignantly declared. Yet public-school teachers in France
report that Muslim students say the attack was staged. Some are justifyingthe massacre: “Thirteen-year-olds, 14-year-olds saying, ‘You shouldn’t insult
the prophet. The killing is justified.’” Where would children hear such
poisonous ideas, if not from their mosques and/or homes?
Instead of clarity in dealing with
this threat to civilization, Americans too often get nonsense from Washington.
For example, DOD officials within the
administration labeled the Ft.
Hood terrorist attack “workplace violence.” DHS officials jettisoned“terrorism” for the Orwellian term “man-caused
disasters.” When it convened its “Summit on Countering Violent Extremism” this
year, the White House couldn’t bring itself to use the words “jihadist” or
“Islamist” on its websiteor in the president’s remarks.
State Department official Marie
Harf connected poverty and terrorism: “We cannot win this war by
killing them. We need...to go after the root causes that lead people to join
these groups…lack of opportunity for jobs,” she said.
This is patently untrue. Al Qaeda
founder Osama bin Laden was raised the heir of a billionaire. Current al Qaeda
leader Ayman Zawahiri came from an upper-class family of physicians. September
11 ringleader Mohamed Atta was an upper-class grad student. ISIS leader Abu
Bakr Baghdadi grew up in a middle-class home, with family connections to Saddam
Hussein’s regime. Anwar al Awlaki, the American who led al Qaeda’s branch in
Yemen, was the son of a university professor and studied civil engineering at
Colorado State. Nidal Hasan, the Ft. Hood killer, lived a typical American
childhood in Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech. American Taliban John
Walker Lindh was raised in the upper-class suburbs of D.C. and San
Francisco, attending schools for the gifted and privileged. Richard Reid, the
so-called shoe bomber, was born and raised in a well-to-do London suburb. “The
borough’s schools are among the UK’s best,” the BBC reported. Ottawa jihadist Michael
Zehaf-Bibeau’s father was a businessman and mother a high-level immigration official.
Michael Adebolajo, who beheaded an off-duty British soldier in London, was
raised in a middle-class home and studied political science at Greenwich
In short, the answer to jihadism is
most assuredly not a new jobs program. It’s defeating the source of this
sickening ideology—and yes, killing, its footsoldiers. What has happened in
Paris, Kenya, Ft. Hood, Boston, Manhattan, Peshawar and too many other places
to count is not “workplace violence.” It’s terrorism. These attacks are not
“man-caused disasters.” They are acts of war. And the cause of this scourge is
not too much U.S. intervention or too little U.S. aid. Nor is it Islam, by the
way. It’s the refusal of some within Islam to respect and accept the norms of
strives to protect the weak, the innocent. Its enemies target them.
Civilization weeps when innocents are slaughtered. Its enemies cheer.
Civilization is sickened by the Charlie
Hebdo attacks and the Seder meal murders, by the Peshawar and Garissa
killings, by 7/7 and 9/11. Its enemies are emboldened by them. Civilization
teaches that war is an evil to be avoided, its enemies that war is a divine
commandment to be followed. Civilization glories in difference and diversity,
its enemies in sameness and submission, conformity and control.
To win this war and to defend
civilization, we must name the enemy and name the problem. If we don’t name it,
we cannot target it. If we don’t target it, we cannot defeat it.
To suggest, as some in the West
have, that the solution is for everyone else — Christians, Jews, Buddhists,
Hindus, moderate Muslims, cartoonists — to try harder not to offend the far
fringes of Islam is self-defeating and self-deluding. But don’t misconstrue
this as a defense of the likes of Charlie
Hebdo, which publishes often-tasteless drawings. People of faith know that
mocking what is sacred to other religions is wrong — and that we should apply
something like the Golden Rule when interacting with other faiths: to treat
their beliefs with the respect with which we would want our beliefs to be
But there’s another principle at
stake. People in free societies have a right to share their beliefs without
fear of harm. In free societies, offended sensibilities are resolved in the
arena of ideas and in the courts, not by bullets. Anyone unwilling to recognize
this bedrock principle has, by definition, disqualified himself from being part
of that free society.
People in free societies don’t have
to read or like Charlie Hebdo or the
Koran or the Bible. That’s what this is all about: people of different faiths
and no faith at all finding a way to coexist. There will always be
disagreements among different faiths. The solution to such disagreements is to
agree to disagree — not self-censorship or mass-murder.
The primary responsibility lies
within Islam. An ancient faith that allowed religious liberty to flourish under
Ottoman rule, a faith that’s honored on the wallsof the U.S. Supreme Court as a source of law and reason, must find a way to
spark a reformation. But don’t take my word for it. A week before the Paris
attacks, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited an ancient center of
Islamic learning and spokedirectly to Islam’s leading scholars: “It’s inconceivable that the thinking
that we hold most sacred should cause the entire Ummah to be a source of
anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world…We are in
need of a religious revolution.”
To be sure, Sisi is an imperfect
vessel, but what he said needs to be put into practice. Until it is,
civilization must help Muslims defeat those who are trying to hijack their
*Dowd is a senior fellow with the American Security Council Foundation, where he writes The Dowd Report, a monthly review of international events and their impact on U.S. national security.