“Let me say this as clearly as I can,” US president Barack Hussein Obama told an appreciative audience in Turkey, and around the Muslim world, “the United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam.”
This may be true, but is hardly exhaustive. Over the last three decades, Americans have been taught to parse Islam into a ‘good’ Islam (a ‘religion’) and a ‘bad’ Islam (an ‘ideology’). What Mr. Obama meant – to say it even more clearly than he was able to – is that the United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam as a religion, but the United States is, and may forever be, at war with Islam as an ideology.
This bogus dichotomy, Islam as a personal faith (like modern Christianity) versus Islam as an ideology, must be kept in mind to decode what Mr. Obama meant when he went on to speak of “rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject” while conveying “our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world” (italics added). What is this “violent ideology” that the United States hopes to roll back?
Although the quest for a satisfying epithet is an evolving project: fundamentalism, Islamicism, Islamism, Islamofascism, extremism, Jihadism, Salafism, Wahabism, etc. – none internal to Muslim thought or language – they all seem to object to the aspiration of Muslims to order their public, as opposed to their personal, lives according to the tenets of Islam. This aspiration is seen as ideological Islam, the violent ideology that the US must suppress by violence if necessary.
Both mischief and ignorance have played their part in arriving at this radical misreading of Islam. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Christian soldiers and statesmen invoked the Iranian revolution of 1979 and added an ‘-ism’ to Islam to satisfy their vital need for a new enemy to replace communism. “9/11” acted as rainfall on seeded ground.
But first the task was to suppress any thought that linked “9/11” to US complicity in Israeli atrocities in Palestine. All calls for an investigation were resisted until finally a handpicked whitewash (“The 9/11”) Commission was appointed to come to the pre-determined conclusion that: “the enemy is not just ‘terrorism’ … The catastrophic threat…is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism–…and its ideology” (italics in original, pdf).
Yet, when in June 2004 Commissioner Lee Hamilton finally asked, “What motivated them, to do it?” FBI Special Agent, James Fitzgerald, responded: “I believe they feel a sense of outrage against the United States. They identify with the Palestinian problem. They identify with people who oppose repressive regimes, and I believe they tend to focus their anger on the United States.”
Naturally, this testimony did not make it into the Commission’s report. “This was sensitive ground,” Vice Chairman Hamilton and Chairman Kean explain in their book, Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission [pp. 284-5], and some commissioners worried that “listing US support for Israel as a root cause of Al Qaeda’s opposition for the United States indicated that the United States should reassess that policy.” In August 2006, Hamilton elaborated further: “Foreign policy gets very complicated. When you take certain actions to support a friend, the security of Israel, as we did, it has consequences. No question about it.”
Succumbing to what George Kennan described in 1951 as “our inveterate tendency to judge others by the extent to which they contrive to be like ourselves,” US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz declared in 2003 that “We need an Islamic reformation.” This delirium was shared by fellow ideologue, Daniel Pipes, who already in 1994 was arguing that “With the decline of Marxism-Leninism, fundamentalist Islam now stands as the world’s leading anti-American ideology… The problem facing us is not Islam (a religion) but fundamentalist Islam (an ideology). We can oppose the ideology while at the same time respecting the faith…”
Having conquered communism, the messianic ideology of Americanism – to shape the world in America’s image – was to brook no opposition from real or imagined ideological threats. Expectedly, numerous think tanks sprang up to offer schemes of Americanising Islam. At RAND, Cheryl Benard (wife of Zalmay Khalilzad, the controversial ‘friend’ of President Zardari), wrote in 2003 that “If ‘nation-building’ is a daunting task, ‘religion-building’ is immeasurably more perilous and complex,” [pdf, p. 3] and proceeded, undaunted, to outline a detailed plan to discredit the Qur’an, divide Muslims, and sow discord among them.
With intellectual support and guidance from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, a think tank with links to Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, Daniel Pipes helped establish a “Centre for Islam, Democracy, and the Future of the Muslim World” in 2005. Reuven Paz, a 23 year veteran of Shin Bet, one of the three Israeli intelligence agencies, and Shmuel Bar, a 30 year veteran of the Israeli intelligence community, among other Israelis from Herzliya, are associated with the Centre. A sympathetic American Muslim co-founder, recipient of $275,000 in two grants through the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 2003 and 2004, is currently “on leave” from the Centre to serve as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States. The Centre’s periodic publication “Current Trends in Islamic Ideology” hammers away at propagating the division of Islam into faith and ideology.
The effort has paid off. It is this view that informs the US Army Field Manual (FMI 3-24.2), Tactics in Counterinsurgency [pdf, pp. 1-3, 2-9, 2-10], released in March 2009, less than a month before Mr. Obama’s speech. This Manual, which guides US military action in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is worth quoting at some length:
“1-11 Religious fundamentalism is defined as a belief in the infallibility of holy scriptures, absolute religious authority, and strict adherence to a set of basic religious principles without any compromise with modern life… (This is a primary insurgent ideology, and is further discussed in Chapter 2.)”
“2-46 … Insurgent ideology attempts to provide a vision of how a society, including a political and economic system, should be structured… Two of the more identifiable insurgent ideologies have been communism and religious extremism.”
“2-49. Religious extremism, often a byproduct of religious fundamentalism, can be defined by strict adherence to a set of religious principles and the rejection of compromise…”
In sum, if a Muslim believes that the Qur’an is the word of God, he subscribes to fundamentalism, a primary insurgent ideology; if he goes on to believe that Islam provides him with a vision of moral conduct in the public sphere, he subscribes to religious extremism, a full-bodied insurgent ideology, like communism; and if any doubts remain, you can always tell an Islamic extremist by his failure to compromise his principles!
America, a nation founded on the principle of freedom of belief, has come a long way.
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