This book may prove to be the most important one you will read this year. It puts in clear perspective what every American should know, to wit: The War on Terror is really a war against ideologically driven radical Islamists.
An inescapable conclusion after reading the seven essays that make up the book is that the ultimate aim of radical Islamism is a worldwide totalitarian state, with many of its operational aspects drawn from Islamic sources. Make no mistake, it is a state they want and one that would control every aspect of human life.
Since the 1980s, terrorism, in the form of suicide bombings and assassinations, has been a means the radical Islamists have used to work toward their first objective: causing Western — and especially American — influences to exit the Muslim world.
Patrick Sookhdeo, in “The West, Islam and Counter-Ideological War” writes, “Jihadism is neither flimsy nor merely a modernist byproduct of 20th century stresses, but rather makes a point of rooting itself deep within the body of Islamic tradition and is very adept at negotiating the seams. By understanding the potency of its attraction and taking it seriously as an intellectual movement … a more thorough groundwork can be laid to the construction of a consistent counter-message to Islamic radicalism.”
The Bush administration and most especially the Obama administration have bent over backward to show that we are not at war with Islam generally. This has sometimes taken the form of kumbaya sessions at the White House that later turned out to include people with ties to extreme Islamist groups. The Obama White House has used such tortured locutions as “overseas contingency operations” to describe our military actions against al Qaeda and other Islamist extremists. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano famously described one terrorist incident as a “man-made disaster.”
Robert Reilly in “Public Diplomacy in an age of Global Terrorism: Lessons from the Past” makes the point that dismantling the United States Information Agency in 1999 was a major mistake. Its “public diplomacy” function was put into the State Department, where it is a third-level activity. Public diplomacy, by its nature (fighting intellectual battles outside the bounds of traditional diplomacy) when practiced effectively, often is in conflict with the diplomatist role of State’s representatives.
He notes that our current broadcasting into Muslim lands largely consists of American “popular” music, but has no intellectual content to convey ideas of morality, freedom, liberty and democratic processes.
Mr. Sookhdeo sounds a cautionary note about “gradualists” in the Islamist movement. These are distinct from the huge body of personally moderate Muslims (probably about 99 percent of the world’s 1 billion members). The gradualists (Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi comes to mind), “who include the Muslim Brotherhood, aim at implementing jihad in all spheres of human activity, including violent military jihad when the situation calls for it.” The Muslim Brotherhood has demonstrated a willingness, time and again, to move toward its goals step by step, using the processes of democracy — if possible — to do so. Recent Egyptian history provides a good example of this.
He makes the point that radical jihadist Islamists are ardent believers in a Western conspiracy to undermine and destroy Islam. They are, therefore, defensive in their outlook. They believe that “infidels have occupied Muslim lands” and must be removed.
Stephen Ulph, in “Islamism and Totalitarianism: The Challenge of Comparison,” draws striking similarities between the beliefs of radical Islamists and those of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Communist Russia. He says they all favor or favored “coercive orthodoxy.” As an example, he says, “Both Communists and Islamists aim to create totalitarian supra-states and believe that the interests of the individual should be subordinated to the interests of the state.” He notes several areas where the similarities underscore this point.
John Lenczowski, in his essay, recounts the carefully developed strategy of President Ronald Reagan and his national security team to bring the Cold War to a successful conclusion. He writes, “The Cold War, as President Reagan saw it, was not only a conflict between East and West, it was in essence a moral conflict … which, at its heart, took the form of a war between truth and falsehood.”
When Mr. Reagan began to confront this conflict directly, first at his Westminster speech in 1982, he began a process of undermining the legitimacy of the Soviet regime. The lesson of Mr. Lenczowski’s essay could easily apply to Mr. Sookhdeo’s conclusions about the need to see the conflict with radical Islamists as an intellectual one that must be confronted. By extension, it should also be seen as a moral one, for the United States must make the point that totalitarianism, as desired by the Islamists, is as immoral as are their methods of trying to achieve it, such as killing thousands of innocent people (which they always try to rationalize in terms of recreating the world of 7th-century Arabia).
This volume is chock-full of facts, insights, analysis, most of which bear re-reading to be fully absorbed. Would that everyone on our national security, defense and intelligence apparatus were to be given it as “must” reading.
Peter Hannaford is the author of six books about President Reagan. His latest book about all presidents, is “Presidential Retreats” (Threshold Editions, 2012).