The embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood by President Obama, aided and abetted by the Republican establishment, is not new. It is the culmination of a gradual surrender whose silhouette was already evident nearly twenty years ago. I wrote about it in Willful Blindness, a memoir about the start of our nation’s confrontation with Islamic supremacism as a domestic threat — back in the early Nineties, when I led the prosecution of the Blind Sheikh’s New York jihadist cell, which carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Is our wayward course one that can be corrected? The ongoing controversy over Islamist influence on our government will probably answer that question.
Spotlighted are concerns raised by five conservative members of the House of Representatives about (i) Brotherhood-friendly government policymaking and (ii) government officials, such as the State Department’s Huma Abedin, who have longstanding Islamist ties. The crossroads at which we’ve arrived, however, involve a lot more than any single government official or policy. Let me be stark: Our liberty and security are threatened, and the questions not only of whether GOP leaders comprehend the stakes, but also of whether the Republican Party remains a worthy home for defenders of liberty, have become very real.
A little history, to measure how far we’ve veered. When we tried Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and his cohorts in 1995, the overarching charge was that all 12 defendants, plus dozens of unindicted coconspirators, conspired to wage a war of urban terrorism against the United States. Beyond the Trade Center attack, this campaign included a more ambitious plot to bomb New York City landmarks (e.g., Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, UN complex, FBI’s lower Manhattan headquarters, some U.S. military installations, etc.), as well as sundry schemes to kidnap or assassinate current and former government officials, murder the president of Egypt, and the like.
Here is the crucial part that you need to understand: The Blind Sheikh and his subordinates were not merely “violent extremists,” seized by some sort of psychological problem. They were Islamic supremacists. Yes, their methods were barbaric; but that does not mean they were insane or irrational. Indeed, had that been the case, they would have been not guilty by reason of mental incapacity.
To the contrary, we proved that their actions were rationally motivated by Islamic supremacist ideology, an easily knowable interpretation of Islam, drawn directly from Muslim scripture, that commands its adherents to coerce societies into adopting sharia. Sharia is Islam’s totalitarian framework for how societies are to be ruled. It is not just a set of spiritual guidelines; it is a comprehensive social and legal system, said to be Allah’s gift and directive to mankind. It governs all human activity — not just prayer and worship, but financial, social, familial, political, military, and even hygienic activity.
Here are two salient facts. Once you grasp them, you’ll know everything you need to know to understand the rest of the dispute:
(a) Not all Islamic supremacists (or “Islamists”) are violent, but the goal of all Islamic supremacists is the same: to coerce the acceptance of sharia. The methods of pursuing that goal vary: sometimes terrorism is used, sometimes non-violent avenues are exploited — meaning, Islamic supremacists co-opt legal processes, the media, educational institutions, and/or government agencies. But regardless of what methods an Islamic supremacist uses, his goal never changes: He aims to implement sharia. In Islamic supremacist ideology, sharia is regarded as the mandatory, non-negotiable foundation that must be laid before a society can be Islamized. Sharia is not “moderate”; therefore, you are not a “moderate” if you want it, no matter what method you use to implement it. For example, if you are an Islamic supremacist and you want to repeal the First Amendment in order to prohibit speech that casts Islam in a negative light, you are not a “moderate” — even if you wouldn’t blow up buildings to press your point.
(b) Islamic supremacism is not a fringe interpretation of Islam. It is probably still the minority interpretation in North America. Nevertheless, it is the predominant interpretation of Islam in the Middle East. Poll after poll shows us that upwards of two-thirds of Muslims in countries like Egypt and Pakistan want their governments to adopt and strictly enforce sharia. This is why the Islamic supremacist parties in the “Arab Spring” countries are currently enjoying such success in elections
With that as background, understand that in the aforementioned 1995 trial, we proved that the reason the Blind Sheikh was able to run a terrorist organization — despite the fact that his physical infirmities rendered him incapable of performing any physical acts that would be useful to terrorists — was his globally renowned mastery of Islamic law. Omar Abdel Rahman is not a nut suffering from a psychological disorder. He has a doctorate in Islamic jurisprudence, earned by graduating with distinction from al-Azhar University in Cairo, the legendary seat of sharia scholarship since the Tenth Century. When he preached that Muslims were obligated to force non-sharia governments to adopt sharia, by terrorism if necessary, he drew these instructions directly from Islamic scripture, and his instructions had extraordinary persuasive force precisely because he was, undeniably, an internationally recognized authority on Islamic jurisprudence. The government would have you to believe Barack Obama or George Bush or Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Condi Rice or Janet Reno knows more about Islam and its sharia than Omar Abdel Rahman does. That is ludicrous.
We seemed to get that 20 years ago, but observe the measure of how far off-course we’ve drifted:
(a) In 1995, we demonstrated that (i) the Blind Sheikh was attempting to impose sharia, (ii) that he drew directly and accurately from Islamic scripture his instructions that Muslims must impose sharia, by violence if necessary, and (iii) his Muslim followers were animated by these instructions to push for the imposition of sharia standards, using terrorist attacks, among other methods. That was the crux our our case. For proving this in federal court, the Clinton Justice Department honored me and my colleagues with the Attorney General’s highest award.
(b) Today, by contrast, for doing exactly the same thing — namely, for arguing that an authoritative interpretation of Islam directs adherents to impose sharia, by violence if necessary, in order to lay the groundwork for changing a non-Islamic society into an Islamic society — I am routinely accused of promoting hatred and “Islamophobia.” Such accusations, applied to assertions of what used to be seen as fact, do not come only from the Obama Left (including its Clinton administration veterans — the State Department, run by Hillary Clinton, and the Justice Department run by Eric Holder, Clinton’s deputy attorney general). The smears are echoed, and in many cases led, by prominent members of the Republican establishment.
I haven’t changed. The threat against us hasn’t changed. The government has changed.
The Obama administration and the Republican establishment would have us live a lie — a lie that endangers our liberties and our security. The lie is this: There is a difference between mainstream Islamic ideology and what they call “violent extremism.”
The vogue term “violent extremism” is chosen very deliberately. To be sure, we’ve always bent over backwards to be politically correct. Until Obama came to power, we used to use terms like “violent jihadism” or “Islamic extremism” in order to make sure everyone knew that we were not condemning all of Islam, that we were distinguishing Muslim terrorists from other Muslims. (In a more sensible time, we did not say “German Nazis” — we said “Germans” or “Nazis” and put the burden on non-Nazi Germans, rather than on ourselves, to separate themselves from the aggressors.) But now, the Obama administration and the Republican establishment prefer to say “violent extremism” because this term has no hint of Islam.
According to the Obama Left and the Republican establishment (personified today by the likes of Sen. John McCain and many, but by no means all, former high-ranking officials from the Bush 43 administration), the only Muslims we need to be concerned about are terrorists, and there is nothing relevant in the fact that they happen to be Muslims. “Violent extremists” are not motivated by a coherent ideology, much less by scriptures from “one of the world’s great religions.” Instead, they are seized by a psychological disorder that inexplicably makes them prone to mass-murder attacks.
The fall-out from this line of thinking is that we must conclude mainstream Islam, everywhere on earth including the Middle East, has nothing to do with violence, and therefore, it is “moderate,” and even “admirable.” Sure, it may be advocating the adoption of something called “sharia,” but we needn’t worry about that. After all, we have Western scholars of Islamic studies (mostly working in university departments created by lavish donations from Saudi royals) who will tell you that sharia is amorphous and evolving — such that nobody really knows exactly what it is, anyway. Consequently, nothing to see here, move along. You are to accept as an article of faith that there is no reason to believe people steeped in mainstream Islam will resist real democracy or that they will remain hostile to the United States. And, yeah, sure they are opposed to Israel, but that is just a “political dispute” about “territory”; it has nothing to do with ideology or mainstream Islam per se.
This is why there is such an energetic effort on behalf of the Obama administration and leading Republican establishment figures to portray the Muslim Brotherhood as a “largely secular” organization that you should think of as a “pragmatic,” “moderate” “political party” (or a series of “political parties,” “think tanks” and “political action committees”). You are not to see it the way it sees itself, and the way it actually is: an ideological movement rooted in the mainstream, supremacist interpretation of Islam that is undeniably regnant in the Middle East.
This is why the Obama administration and the Republican establishment work so hard to ignore the Brotherhood’s anthem: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!” This is why they labor to obscure the connection between the Brotherhood and Hamas, the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch. This is why they are now trying to revise our understanding of Hamas: To borrow not only from Obama officials but from the meanderings of such top Bush administration figures as Condi Rice, you are subtly encouraged to start viewing Hamas as not a terrorist organization but a political “resistance” movement, engaged in some regrettable violence that is vaguely justifiable because Israel is an illegal, oppressive occupier).
Under this delusional view of our threat environment, the Muslim Brotherhood is not an ideological enemy to be feared but a political organization to be negotiated with and accommodated. You know, just like any other political entity. Thus, our security is not furthered by heightened surveillance of Islamic organizations (very much including Brotherhood organizations) that preach supremacist ideology. Islam, you are to understand, is not a problem. Rinse and repeat: The only problem is violent extremism, which has nothing to do with Islam.
Furthermore, in the world according to the Obama Left and the Republican establishment, since our security is not threatened by Islamist organizations, we must “partner” with them. After all, they simply must be innately non-violent; thus, the reasoning goes, if we accommodate them politically (i.e., accede to their calls for incremental acceptance of sharia), they will work with us in good faith and strive to keep young Muslims away from violent extremists. Funny, but it seems that even though Islam has nothing to do with “violent extremism,” young Muslims and violent extremists somehow keep finding each other.
When Senator McCain and his lemmings rebuke House conservatives for purportedly attacking Huma Abedin’s “patriotism,” there are two things at work. First, when the facts are against you — as they usually are against Sen. McCain — demagoguery and character assassination are the most effective response: The compliant, Islamophilic media will help intimidate your opponents into silence. We all are very familiar with this tactic. But we often miss the second tactic, which is more important because it goes directly to our conception of “patriotism.”
That second tactic is this: the Obama Left and the Republican establishment would have you accept the following premise: anti-American Islamic supremacists are not an ideological threat but a mere political movement; therefore, American government officials who want to treat them as a mere political movement — to negotiate with them and accommodate them — are not endangering America; they are strengthening America. Consequently, if you dare suggest that this is a lunatic way of looking at things, you are a McCarthyite demagogue, not a patriot. According to the Obama Left, the Republican establishment and their complicit media, it is for them, not you, to define what “patriotism” means. Thus Huma Abedin becomes the “patriot” exactly because of her connections to Islamists; Michele Bachmann becomes the “demagogue” exactly because she dares suggest that Islamists are an ideological threat.
This is the crossroads at which we now find ourselves. On one side are national security conservatives, myself included, who reluctantly accept the stubborn fact that Islamic supremacist ideology is incorrigibly hostile to America and the West. We take the Muslim Brotherhood at its word that it is seeking to destroy the West and destroy Israel, and that it is doing so based on a divine injunction that is easily traceable to Islamic scripture. We understand that there are other ways of interpreting Islam, and we wish those other ways were predominant. But we believe American national security requires grasping that Islamic supremacism is the predominant Islam of the Middle East; it is the Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the world, very much including its organizations operating in our own country. We understand that Islamic supremacist ideology inspires not only violent jihad but also non-violent campaigns to supplant Western culture with Islamic culture — such as, for example, the campaign waged by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Brotherhood to restrict free speech; their campaign to have sharia-compliant finance broadly accepted in the West; and their campaign to delegitimize Israel as a “racist occupier” while recasting Hamas, the Brotherhood, and even Hezbollah (a Shiite terrorist organization) as “political parties” and “resistance” movements.
On the other side of the divide are the Obama administration and the Republican establishment. They insist that there is nothing inherently supremacist about Islam, which is an ur-tolerant “religion of peace.” Violence, they maintain, not only has nothing to do with Islam but is, in fact, “anti-Islamic.” They see the Muslim Brotherhood not as a threat but as a political organization. You are to understand that the Brotherhood has nothing whatsoever to do terrorism. To the extent it supports Hamas, that is because Hamas is engaged in resistance, not terrorism. To the extent Brotherhood leaders unabashedly proclaim that they will “conquer Europe” and “eliminate and destroy” America by “sabotage,” in what they brazenly call a “civilization jihad,” such rhetoric is to be expected and excused because Islamic culture is steeped in hyperbole and religious imagery. They don’t really mean it the way it sounds, you see, and, once we all understand each other better, that unfortunate rhetoric will fade away.
At a time not long ago, before the hard Left took over the Democratic Party, there was a style of strong national-security Democrat (in the mold of Scoop Jackson or even Jack Kennedy) who would have seen the position to which the Obama administration and the Republican establishment adhere as dangerously delusional. Unfortunately, there are no longer enough of those Democrats in government to appeal to.
On the other hand, there remain many national security conservatives in the Republican Party. They are alarmed and extremely worried about the threat the ascendancy of Islamic supremacism poses to our liberty and security. They also see this threat magnified, to an intolerable degree, by the inroads the Muslim Brotherhood has made in the Republican establishment and in our government. As to the latter, we are not just talking about the State Department — not by a long shot. So profound is the influence of the Obama/Republican-establishment philosophy over the Defense Department, for example, that the Pentagon could not bring itself to refer to any aspect of Islamic supremacist ideology in a lengthy report on the attack at Fort Hood — a jihadist atrocity that killed 13 Americans, twice as many as were killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
If the Republican Party has decided to take its cues from establishment proponents of this reckless philosophy, if GOP leaders can no longer tell the difference between hostile anti-American operatives and benign political actors, then the Republican Party has become an obstacle to liberty and security, not a vehicle for their preservation. As is the case with crushing government debt and out-of-control government spending, it appears that the GOP is choosing to be part of the problem, rather than the solution, when it comes to the threat of Islamic supremacism. Certainly, that is a choice party leaders are entitled to make. But if it is the one they have made, why should conservatives concerned about liberty and security bother with the Republican Party?
Andrew C. McCarthy is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Grand Jihad and Willful Blindness. He is a contributing editor at National Review and co-chairs the Center for Law & Counterterrorism at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He also writes the Ordered Liberty blog at PJMedia.com.
Follow him on Twitter @AndrewCMcCarthy