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What Violent Extremists?

What explains the intellectual dishonesty and myopia about Islamism on the part of so many U.S. government officials?

By From the November 2012 issue

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The Terrorist Next Door: How the Government is Deceiving You About the Islamist Threat
By Erick Stakelbeck
(Regnery Publishing, 256 pages, $27.95)

THERE PROBABLY have been few more bafflingly stupid exchanges between a government official and a congressional committee than the May 2010 question-and-answer session between Attorney General Eric Holder and members of the House Judiciary Committee. This took place a few days after a would-be mass murderer, Faisal Shahzad, was arrested upon attempting to set off a car bomb in New York’s Times Square. Shahzad, a recent American citizen of Pakistani birth, had traveled to remote Taliban-controlled regions of Pakistan, which U.S. authorities knew even before his arrest. He had been on a “no-fly” list since at least 2004, but, at the time of his attempted bombing of Times Square, the U.S. government had apparently no surveillance of him. Shortly after setting the bombs, which mercifully malfunctioned, Shahzad boarded a plane to Dubai and nearly got away.

At the hearing called to investigate how a dangerous terrorist could have evaded almost all official efforts to protect the country after 9/11, Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas asked the attorney general if radical Islam might have been one of Shahzad’s motivations. The following banter ensued:

Holder: There are a variety of reasons why people—

Smith: But was radical Islam one of them?

Holder: There are a variety of reasons why people do these things. Some of them are potentially religious-based—

Smith: But all I’m asking is if you think among those variety of reasons, radical Islam might have been one of the reasons that the individuals took the steps that they did.

Holder: You see—radical Islam—I think those people who espouse a version of Islam that is not—

Smith: Are you uncomfortable attribution any of the actions to radical Islam? It sounds like it.

Holder: No, I don’t want to say anything negative about a religion.

Obtuseness can be infectious. Before Shahzad’s arrest, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano opined that the Times Square incident had been a “one-off” event, as though a major bomb plot were simply an example of road rage.

Even the terminally silly mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, speculated that the unknown perpetrator might have acted out of irritation with the Obama health care bill. Fortunately, such collective idiocy was given the coup de grâce by Shahzad himself. He wore a white Muslim prayer cap at his sentencing, shouted “Allahu Akbar!” and said he would “sacrifice a thousand lives for Allah.” “War with Muslims has just begun….the defeat of the U.S. is imminent, God willing.”

For the U.S. attorney general to deny that Islam had anything to do with a dangerous mass murder plot by a known Islamist is tantamount to a law enforcement official of the FDR administration denying that saboteurs who had landed by German submarines in 1943 had anything to do with the Nazis. Mercifully, patriotic U.S. government officials at that point in history were more clear-eyed about the dangers America was facing.

Erick Stakelbeck’s book is an intriguing—but frightening—illustration of two points of well-established fact: 1) the extent to which Islamists have already penetrated American society at many levels with an agenda totally inimical to the U.S. Constitution and 2) how liberal political correctness has blinded a huge component of American officialdom to the threat that America faces.

First, it’s important to note that Stakelbeck displays not a smidgen of animosity toward Muslims already within the U.S. He praises many of them for their steadfast opposition to the “grand jihad” of Muslim Brotherhood supporters who simply want to undermine American constitutional democracy. The author notes how much of the motives of MB operatives surfaced clearly during the 2007–2008 trial of members of the Holy Land Foundation, a secretive and dishonest organization that collected money to support the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas. During the trial—after which five men were sentenced to long jail terms—a 1991 memorandum from one Mohammed Akram, member of the board of governors of the Muslim Brotherhood, was read into the court record. The memorandum, whose authenticity and provenance has never been challenged by the Muslim Brotherhood worldwide, called for a “grand Jihad” aimed at subverting Western societies from within. This would be done by “sabotaging its miserable house [Western democracies] by their hands and the hands of the [Muslim] believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.”

Stakelbeck names a galaxy of American Islamic organizations either founded directly by the Muslim Brotherhood or sympathetic to their objective of a global caliphate that would impose sharia, Islamic religious law, on the whole of mankind. But he also illustrates during visits to remote locations, often in the rural South, how well established Islamists have become in the American countryside. The pattern is by now well known: An Islamic group, often funded generously by money from Saudi Arabia, establishes a mosque in the middle of nowhere, then attracts to the neighborhood Muslims, often recent immigrants, from far and wide. Gradually, the character of the locality is altered. Muslims sometimes become a majority of the local population and begin to ask for changes in how life is lived. Sometimes they demand the replacement of American holidays like Labor Day by Muslim calendar holidays. In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for example, county authorities readily gave in to demands that a Muslim cemetery be created near the recently established Islamic center, even though the number of Muslims in the area was still slight.

The sheer dishonesty of many of the pro-Islamist Muslims in the U.S. is breathtaking. Imam Rauf, for example, a prominent Muslim associated with the plan to establish an Islamic center close to Ground Zero in Manhattan, has consistently refused to condemn Hamas, even though that organization is in its own documents hell-bent on destroying America’s close ally Israel. That dishonesty is altogether matched, however, by the obtuseness of U.S. officials who refuse to recognize that Islamism is a political ideology, not just a religion, and that its followers in the U.S. have dangerously hostile political agendas. In one of the most glaring examples of political correctness becoming quite lunatic, Stakelbeck cites the U.S. Army’s official report on Major Nidal Hassan, an American Army officer who gunned down 13 soldiers and civilians at Fort Hood in November 2009. Even though the major had made clear to fellow officers in his medical unit that he believed violent jihad against non-Muslims was justified by the Koran, printed the letters SOA (“soldier of Allah”) on a business card, and even exchanged e-mails with Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born jihadist ultimately killed by a drone strike in Yemen, the official Pentagon report of the murders completely omitted any references to the connection between Hasan and Islamist ideology.

It might, of course, be argued that the U.S. government bends over backward to forestall any possible popular backlash against American Muslims. Yet not only is there absolutely no evidence of such a backlash existing or even starting, but many American Muslims, including Imam Rauf, have testified how many Americans have expressed friendship and support for American Muslims.

WHAT, THEREFORE, EXPLAINS the intellectual dishonesty and myopia about Islamism on the part of so many U.S. government officials? Stakelbeck points out how far up the chain of American military and congressional establishment American Muslims sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood agenda have penetrated. The already mentioned Anwar al-Awlaki, for example, actually conducted a prayer meeting for Muslim staffers on Capitol Hill in 2002. Other senior American Muslims sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood were White House guests during both the George W. Bush and the Obama administrations. Stakelbeck attributes American obtuseness toward the ideology of Islamism not entirely to malice, but to basic American ignorance. How many American officials in any U.S. department or agency, he asks, have ever read the Koran or obtained any basic background about Islamist ideology? How many of them understand that Islam has never been “just” a religion—like Zen Buddhism for example—but has embraced an often triumphalist view of all contending religions and political systems? How many of them even know that Europe was barely saved from Islamic domination when the Ottomans besieged Vienna in 1683 by a brave Polish king, Jan III Sobieski, whom the pope then dubbed the savior of Western European civilization?

With disturbing accuracy, Stakelbeck identifies the great divide between moderate Muslims—those who wish to live without challenging the American constitutional system—and the Islamists as being located in the attitudes toward the existence of Israel. He cites verses from the Koran and the hadith (anecdotes about Mohammed’s life often considered as authoritative as the Koran itself) which are close to Nazi-like in their hostility toward the Jews of the world. If an American Muslim doesn’t accept the validity of Israel’s existence, Stakelbeck observes, it is a dead giveaway that he is almost certainly a Muslim triumphalist and an Islamist.

Stakelbeck’s bold and intelligent reporting makes The Terrorist Next Door an essential source for understanding the Islamist threat to the U.S.—and for comprehending why the U.S. political establishment is so woefully unprepared to meet it.

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About the Author

David Aikman is a former senior correspondent for Time Magazine and the author of ten books, including, most recently, The Delusion of Disbelief: How the New Atheism Is a Threat to Your Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness and The Mirage of Peace: Understanding the Unending Conflict in the Middle East.