The recent Charlie Hebdo attack has again raised the prospect of global radical Islamic terrorism.
Unfortunately, the reaction in the US continues to be myopic and uninformed.
Here’s just a sample.
Network national security analyst KT McFarland blamed the shooting at Charlie Hebdo headquarters on France’s “really strict gun control” and “politically correct” policies that treat everyone equally. Echoing disdain for policies that treat everyone equally, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck added that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatens the city’s security by demoralizing the New York Police Department and painting the NYPD with “a racist brush” when officers act on that principle.
Strategic analyst Ralph Peters cited the shooting to attack Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), invoking the recently released Senate Intelligence report on CIA interrogation techniques. Peters proclaimed that “these terrorists who did this monstrous attack in Paris are the people Senator Feinstein doesn’t even want to waterboard,” adding that the Obama administration is too “soft on radical Islam.”
Breitbart.com editor-at-large Ben Shapiro used the tragedy to invoke tired Benghazi smears of Hillary Clinton and President Obama, asking when they would “recommend we arrest the rest of the Charlie Hebbdo staff for inciting Islamic violence?”
Outnumbered hosts agreed that Americans “are being hunted” by terrorists, and network host Kennedy added that “I think the best thing that Americans can do is arm themselves.”
Ingraham blamed the tragic attack in Paris on France’s immigration policy, saying “the principle of multiculturalism and open borders… is pure insanity, a suicide pact.”
While wrong-headed partisan responses from conservative pundits is not surprising, these also continue a false narrative about why all of this is occurring.
Jihadist attacks to not occur because of there are too few guns in citizens’ hands. They did not occur because of political correctness. They do not occur because we are too soft or because there is too much free speech. Jihadists are not hunting Americans. They don’t attack because of our immigration policy or the immigration policies of any other western country.
Jihadist attacks occur because disaffected young men (mostly) are radicalized by an idea and inspired to sacrifice themselves and others to support that idea.
Jihadists have no monopoly on disaffected young men. There is a long list of young men who carry out murderous suicidal attacks in this country who are motivated by any number of other twisted ideas that have nothing to do with Islam. It is the same quirk in the maturation process of young men that armies through the ages have been able to take advantage of. They need a cause that they can commit themselves to.
If it isn’t something uniquely sinister in young Muslim men, what is it that continues to cause attacks from radicalized Islamic fundamentalists on western targets?
It’s the Caliphate, stupid
The Caliphate is an Islamic state led by a person who combines both political and religious leadership. This is not all that different from revisionist history preached by fundamentalists who claim the founding fathers intended to create a Christian nation.
This exploration of the Caliphate as the root of jihadism is based on some very thoughtful analysis published in a column by Canadian Columnist Gwynne Dyer.
The first question to ask is why is a caliphate at the root of this terrorist activity?
The answer is simple.
There is a civil war going on in Islam. Since Islam is a religion without borders, this war also has no borders. The vast majority of the casualties in this war are Muslim, but what gets reported in the west is when this war occasionally overflows into western countries.
The great Muslim civil war is about the political, social and cultural modernization of the Muslim world. Should the Muslim world continue down much the same track that other major global cultures have followed, or should those changes be stopped and indeed reversed? The Islamists take the latter position.
It has become a war because most Muslims across the world find modernization very attractive. Those who oppose democracy, equality, consumerism, etc. are a minority even in their own countries. They understand that the only way to preserve the way of life they feel is required of all devout Muslims, is to create a conservative Caliphate. This Caliphate can impose the harsh policies of Sharia law on the majority of the population who would not follow the fundamentalist interpretations of the Quran given a choice.
They use the west to recruit followers by inventing a narrative that says that modernization and western culture itself is a plot to undermine Islam. The main strategy to prove their point are attacks INTENDED to trigger a military response. The US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq established the jihadi movement as a legitimate political force. Decades earlier the same tactics prompted the same response from Russia in Afghanistan and Chechnya.
To the degree that these attacks also trigger mistreatment of Muslim minorities in other countries or acts that even the Muslim mainstream considers offensive (burning Qurans and public ridicule of Mohammed), the fundamentalists win.
So it should be no surprise that when ISIS declared that their intention was to create a Caliphate in northern Syria and Iraq, fundamentalist Muslim fighters from around the world poured into that region to help.
The second question is also obvious. What does the west do?
The answer to this question is more difficult.
The west cannot stop being an engine of cultural change. That is in our nature. So it will always be viewed by a fundamentalist minority as a threat.
The west also cannot stand idle while terrorists continue to attack. These are issues of security and law that demand a response.
But the west can’t continue to treat this ideology as a movement of rational people. This is similar to the challenges that the US faced with Japanese kamikaze attacks. How do you defend yourself against someone who is not only willing, but eager to die for their cause?
The solution lies in our own culture and our own values.
Our greatest asset in the United States in this conflict of ideas is the fact that our success as a nation is testimony to the power of freedom, liberty, and religious pluralism. If we compromise religious liberty in the name of defeating Wahhabis, we lose. We become who the Islamist said we were.
The best way to prove that secular society is preferable to an Islamist one is to prove that all human beings including Muslims prefer to live in these types of societies, over those ruled by Sharia and clerics, out of their own free will and not by coercion.
It may seem counter intuitive, but the best way to defeat this idea is to welcome Muslims who are willing to live by our laws into this country.
Just as the Wahhabists and Salafists use our freedom of speech to spread their message, we have to spread our message of freedom and liberty by demonstrating that western societies are able to walk our talk.
We also have to shut off the flow of money from Saudi Arabia that supports the spread of this fundamentalist ideology. We are finally in the position to do so because of the collapse of the OPEC cartel.
“We can’t kill our way to victory,” Adm. Michael Mullen famously said of the Afghan war.
We can’t spy our way to victory.
We can’t torture our way to victory either.
We can’t close the borders and expect to be safe.
We can’t silence the voices of those who disagree with us and assume that disagreement will end.
Ideas can’t be killed. But they can be defeated by a better idea. The current jihadi movement is built on a couple of lies. People live better lives under Sharia law. Western culture was created to defeat Islam.
We defeat jihadism by demonstrating that peace loving people live better lives when they get to decide for themselves how they would like to live.
We defeat jihadism by demonstrating that law abiding Muslims are more welcomed and free to practice their religion in the United States than any other place is the world.