GERTZ: Obama’s missed opportunity in Egypt

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However, other specialists note that al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States and U.S. targets had little or nothing to do with the plight of Palestinians and is mainly focused on recreating a Muslim caliphate.

Mr. Glassman said the president should have focused on defeating the small group of violent reactionaries led by al Qaeda, the Taliban and other groups that is trying to force more than 1 billion Muslims to adopt a sweeping, totalitarian doctrine that is not in line with the tenets of Islam.

Mr. Obama stated in the speech that “Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism - it is an important part of promoting peace.”

Timothy Furnish, a specialist on Islamic history, said that while the president’s statement that the United States is not at war with Islam is true, the problem is that “Islam is at war with us.”

“For every passage the president cited from the Koran on Islam eschewing violence, I can cite two or three that promote violence,” said Mr. Furnish, a former Arabic linguist with the 101st Airborne Division.

The problem in countering the ideology of Muslim extremism is that a majority of Muslims accept a literal interpretation of Islam that permits or condones violence, including suicide bombings, Mr. Furnish said. Islamic writings even permit beheading of “infidels,” he said.

“The percentage of people who take the Koran literally is very high,” he said. “So it’s not a huge step from taking it literally to supporting people who take action on that basis.”

Mr. Furnish said the president was correct to focus on Islamic reform efforts, noting efforts in Turkey to promote moderate forms.

A good approach to countering Islamist ideology is for the United States to support the minority of Muslims who do not adhere to the literal - and violence-permitting - precepts of Islam, for example by working with Iranian Shi’ites who are not as violent as the majority Sunnis, Mr. Furnish said.

“I think the president started to touch on this in his speech,” Mr. Furnish said.

Mr. Obama said Islam has a “proud tradition” of religious tolerance that he observed growing up in Indonesia where Christians worshipped freely in a Muslim-majority nation.

“This is the spirit we need today,” Mr. Obama said.

“This is primarily an ideological war not an IED war,” Mr. Furnish said.

On the difficulty of working with the minority of Muslims who oppose violence, Mr. Furnish noted that Martin Luther started his reform efforts with a small group that changed a major world religion. Islamic reformers can do the same.

Bill Gertz is a national security reporter and columnist with The Washington Times.

About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon ( He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. ...

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