A dry pun asks, “When is a door not a door?” - the answer being, “When it is ajar.” But dry humor is clearly preferable to the deluded warping of the lexicon by the Obama administration’s lead counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, which leads to this question, and requisite answer, “When is jihad not jihad?” - “When it is bloodless, spiritual struggle.” Mr. Brennan vociferously advocates an exclusive, bowdlerized definition of jihad in the public discourse as “to purify oneself or one’s community,” lest the tender sensibilities of Muslims be offended. He further claims that, somehow, self-described jihadists “have truly just distorted the whole concept” of jihad. But it is Mr. Brennan who, irrespective of whatever flimsy, ahistorical rationale he provides, thoroughly misrepresents jihad - a living, bellicose Islamic institution that dates from the advent of the Muslim creed almost 14 centuries ago.
The dangerous absurdity of Mr. Brennan’s jihad denial is self-evident: More than 15,600 jihad terror attacks have been committed by Muslims worldwide since the cataclysmic acts of jihad terrorism committed against the United States itself on Sept. 11, 2001. These data should remind us that there is just one historically relevant meaning of jihad, despite contemporary apologetics. Jahada, the root of the word jihad, appears 40 times in the Koran. With four exceptions, all the other 36 usages in the Koran, as understood by both the greatest jurists and scholars of classical Islam (including Abu Yusuf, Averroes, Ibn Khaldun and Al Ghazali) and ordinary Muslims - meant and mean “he fought, warred or waged war against unbelievers and the like.”
The Muslim Prophet Muhammad waged a series of proto-jihad campaigns to subdue the Jews, Christians and pagans of Arabia. Numerous modern-day pronouncements by leading Muslim theologians (see Yusuf Al-Qaradawi’s “The Prophet Muhammad as a Jihad Model,” 2001) confirm that Muhammad remains the major inspiration for jihadism today. Jihad has been pursued continuously since the seventh-century advent of Islam, through the present, because it was institutionalized by seminal early Muslim theologians based on their interpretation of Koranic verses, and long chapters in the “hadith,” or acts and sayings of Muhammad. Within a century of Muhammad’s death, violent jihad conquests - achieved by religiously sanctioned massacre, pillage, enslavement and deportation - Islamized a vast swath of territory, extending from modern Pakistan to Portugal. The permanent goal of jihad is to bring humanity, en bloc, under the jurisdiction of Islamic law - a totalitarian system of religious governance particularly oppressive to all non-Muslims and women.
Alexis de Tocqueville, upon returning from America, where he famously analyzed and celebrated America’s nascent democracy, studied Islamic doctrine, which included an 1838 assessment of the Koran, in preparation for his visits to Algeria (in 1841 and 1846) while serving as a French parliamentarian. Tocqueville concluded:
“Jihad, Holy war, is an obligation for all believers. … The state of war is the natural state with regard to infidels … [T]hese doctrines of which the practical outcome is obvious are found on every page and in almost every word of the Koran … The violent tendencies of the Koran are so striking that I cannot understand how any man with good sense could miss them.”
The late Iranian Shiite leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1900-1989) was also a pre-eminent 20th-century theologian who wrote and lectured extensively on Sharia (Islamic law) for more than five decades. Khomeini articulated a modern vision of jihad entirely consistent with the classical Islamic formulations recognized by Tocqueville a century earlier. Khomeini’s 1942 speech “Islam Is Not a Religion of Pacifists” pronounces unapologetically:
“Those who study jihad will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. All the countries conquered by Islam or to be conquered in the future will be marked for everlasting salvation. For they shall live under Allah’s law (Sharia). … Islam says: ‘Kill [the non-Muslims], put them to the sword and scatter their armies.’ Islam says: ‘Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to paradise, which can be opened only for holy warriors (jihadists)!’ There are hundreds of other Koranic psalms and hadiths (sayings of the prophet) urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all that mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim. …Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless.”
One can now safely include Mr. Brennan among those whose willful misapprehension of jihad Khomeini characterized, appositely, as “witless.” This juxtaposition of views on jihad would be comical - the learned, pious Muslim theologian, Khomeini, versus the uninformed infidel cultural relativist adviser, Mr. Brennan - if the implications for U.S. security were not so ominous.
Andrew Bostom is the author of “The Legacy of Jihad” (Prometheus, 2008) and “The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism” (Prometheus, 2008).