In a more general sense, this is something that’s been happening since the days right after 9/11: American leaders insisting that the actions of jihadists do not represent “true” Islam. It’s utter nonsense, of course; in fact, one can argue that the jihadists are practicing the faith exactly as Muhammad intended, following his example. (Warning, gruesome photos)
And yet our leaders, both under Presidents Bush II and Obama, continue to insist that the actions of al Qaeda and, now, the Islamic State, really aren’t Islamic. President Obama provided the latest example during his address to the nation the other night:
Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL (sic) is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents.  And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim.
Why the obfuscation? The leaders of al Qaeda, the late, unlamented Osama bin Laden and his successor, Dr. Zawahiri, were both very well schooled in Islam. The caliph of the new Islamic State himself has a PhD in Islamic Studies. Until some serious Muslim scholars show why the jihadists are wrong in their understanding of the Qur’an, the hadiths, and the tafsir (learned commentary stretching back over 1,000 years) –which hasn’t happened yet!– it is safe to assume these guys know what they’re talking about.
So why the insistence that a spade really isn’t a spade?
Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy hits the mark, I think: governments and intellectual leaders are married to a strategy of relying on “moderate Islamists” —such as the Muslim Brotherhood!!— to tame the fires burning the Middle East and threatening us all. And it is delusional:
There is a reason they are taking a position diametrically opposed to reality.
Obama and Kerry, like transnational progressives in both of our major political parties, believe there are “moderate Islamists” who are the key to stability in the Middle East. Now, the term “moderate Islamist” is contradictory: an Islamist wants government by sharia, Islam’s totalitarian societal framework and legal code. There is nothing moderate about sharia. Those who want it implemented are not “moderates” even if they don’t commit mass-murder to get their way. Sharia is also anti-liberty, anti-equality, and anti-Western. Therefore, we should oppose Islamism just as we oppose other freedom-killing ideologies. That doesn’t mean we need to go to war with all Islamists, but we should work to diminish their influence and we should never regard them as a solution to anything.
Notwithstanding their abhorrence of the West, “moderate Islamists” are regarded by Obama and Kerry as potential allies: people, groups, and, in the case of Turkey, for example, countries that we can work with to solve the problems plaguing the Middle East and overcome our own security challenges. It is thus critically important to Obama and Kerry for the public to believe that (a) all Islamists are not basically the same and (b) there is a sharp difference — a day-and-night difference — between “moderate Islamists” and terrorist organizations like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. If, instead, the public becomes convinced that all Islamists, violent or non-violent, adhere to essentially the same ideology, the administration’s goal of working with Islamic supremacists becomes politically untenable.
It is vital to Obama and Kerry that the public sees these Islamist groups as having nothing in common with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. And since the latter, like the “moderate Islamists,” define themselves by their adherence to Islam, Obama and Kerry have no alternative: They must deny them standing as true Muslims. That is why they assert that the claim of Islamic State jihadists to be faithful Muslims waging holy war in the name of Islam is fraudulent — and, just as ridiculously, they assert that jihad has nothing to do with violence.
The problem, of course, is that “moderate Islamists” and violent jihadists are bound together by sharia-based Islamic ideology. Yes, they have their differences, but those differences are mainly about tactics; and, to the limited extent they are doctrinal, they are irrelevant as far as we are concerned because the differences do not affect the core Islamist belief that we are the enemy.
(Emphasis added, and be sure to read the whole thing.)
This refusal to face reality has been driving me nuts since September 11th, 2001. This isn’t to say every Muslim is a violent jihadist or wants to impose sharia on us all — far from it. But support for both is far higher in the Islamic world than apologists would like to admit, and the jihadists, whether the patient ones of the Muslim Brotherhood or the action-now crowd of al Qaeda and the Islamic State, have an ideology rooted solidly in Islam’s sacred texts. And it has an appeal to disaffected Muslims and converts to Islam around the globe, as the numbers of people joining the Islamic State shows.
Until we deal with this religious-ideological foundation for jihadism, and until our leaders are honest with themselves and us about the nature of the problem –Islam’s aggressive and totalitarian nature– we will continue to fight with one hand tied behind our back and one eye closed, misdiagnosing the problem and prescribing the wrong solutions.
That’s no way to win a war.
RELATED: Jonah Goldberg on “Is the Islamic State really not Islamic?” Robert Spencer on “Five Non-Muslims Who Know More About Islam than the Caliph of the Islamic State.” Michael Ledeen asks “Why do they join the jihad?”
(1) The Devil is in the details. In this case, the definition of “innocents.”