Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s Long Road to Islamic Reform

Egyptian Leader Al-Sisi.

Religious Freedom Coalition, by Andrew Harrod, April 20, 2017:

“There has been a lot of positive symbolism” from Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi regarding Islamic reform but little action, stated former American Ambassador Alberto Fernandez on April 3 in Washington, DC.  He and his fellow Hudson Institute panelists examined the enormous difficulties confronting any reform of the doctrines underlying various jihadist agendas even as America’s new President Donald Trump prioritizes counterterrorism.

Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom Director Nina Shea opened the panel before a lecture room filled with about 70 listeners by noting the Sisi-Trump White House meeting at that very moment.  Shea observed that America’s important ally Egypt is the most populous Arab country (94 million people) with a quarter of all Arab speakers in the world.  Egypt also has the Middle East’s largest Christian community, the Copts, accounting for an estimated ten percent of Egypt’s population, more than all the Jews in Israel.

Addressing Trump’s meeting with Sisi, Fernandez stated that the “number one issue in for this administration in this regard is obviously writ large the counterterrorism issue,” particularly concerning defeating the Islamic State.  He emphasized the necessity “to find creative, smart, aggressive ways to challenge the appeal of the default ideology in the Middle East today,” namely “some type of Islamism.”  Such ideologies had a long history, as in the 1970s “Egypt was the proving ground for all of this stuff that we saw with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State” involving atrocities against Mesopotamia’s Christians and other minorities.  He recalled visiting Egypt as a young diplomat for the first time in 1984 and seeing policemen guarding every Christian church and cemetery, an indication of this community’s peril.

Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Samuel Tadros, himself a Copt, stated that “there is no doubt that the Islamist message is appealing in Egypt” and reprised his previous analysis of Islamism.  “Islamism seeks to create a state that connects heaven and earth,” an ideology that is still credible in the public imagination and has no viable contenders in the marketplace of ideas.  Despite repeated failures to create this idealized state by groups like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, the “basic premises of Islamism make sense for an average Egyptian.”

Fernandez and Tadros accordingly dashed any high hopes raised by Sisi’s 2015 New Year’s Day address on Islamic reform to Al Azhar University in Cairo, often considered Sunni Islam’s preeminent theological authority.  Tadros stated that the speech “was general, it was unprepared” while Fernandez noted that “Sisi kind of put out a very enticing marker but there is a lot of work that has to happen which hasn’t even begun yet.”  Although globally the “speech that Sisi gave was very well received,” the follow-on reminded Fernandez of the Arab proverb “she was pregnant with a mountain but gave birth to a mouse.”

While “there is a tremendous amount of space for Islamist extremism in Egypt still” as the 2015 blasphemy conviction of an Egyptian talk show host showed, Fernandez remained unimpressed with Sisi’s Islamic reform advocacy.

There has been a nibbling around the edges.  But you cannot say that the Egyptian government has done something which would be truly revolutionary, that has never happened in the Arab world, which is to have a government on the level of ideology, on the level of textbooks, on the level of the religious establishment really embrace a kind of liberal reinterpretation of problematic texts and concepts that are used by Salafi-jihadists and by Islamists.

“While Washington has welcomed this talk a lot, there are actually a lot of limits to what Sisi can offer in this regard,” Tadros warned.  Sisi “would like to see a reform of the religious discourse, but he has no plan, plus he has to deal with the reality of Al Azhar” as his appeals to reform easy divorce laws had shown.  The “answer from Al Azhar was a very clear public humiliation of the president….This is not debatable, this is the religion as it is; basically don’t talk about these issues.”

Given Sisi’s societal circumstances, Fernandez noted that “even the weak tea that we see with that symbolism actually provokes a reaction” from Islamists like an Islamic State video attacking Sisi as a “slave of the cross.”  Fernandez and Tadros likewise discussed rampant antisemitism permeating Egyptian society as exemplified by Fernandez’s last visit to Egypt three years ago.  The bookstore of the five-star Intercontinental Semiramis Hotel where he was staying had an entire shelf of anti-Semitic literature including the Jew-hatred staple, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and books featuring vampires with Stars of David.

Such intellectual poison is unsurprising given Tadros’ assessment that the “Egyptian educational system remains a disaster; it simply teaches nothing about the outside world.”  A Christian Egyptian friend astounded him once when she related the inquiry of her fellow journalist about where her fiancée would spend his wedding night.  On the basis of the movie Braveheart, the inquiring journalist had obtained the bizarre belief that Coptic women spend their first night of marriage having sex with a Coptic priest.

For Tadros, the journalist’s pitiful ignorance about Copts is no anomaly, even though they are the indigenous people of an Egypt Islamicized after a seventh century Arab conquest.  Among Egyptian Muslims there is an “absence of any actual information about people that they have shared 14 centuries of living together.”  This allows “all these superstitions, these conspiracy theorists, this propaganda by Islamists to fill that vacuum.”

The only bright spot in the panel appeared in Tadros’ estimation most Egyptians considered Sisi, who came to power in a 2013 military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood, as the only current acceptable political alternative.  “There are huge human rights abuses in the country, but it is also a very popular regime.  I have no doubt that even in free and fair elections President Sisi would win.”  He represents a “certain rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood, a demand for a return to normalcy, to stability.”

Andrew E. Harrod is a researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project, an organization combating the misuse of human rights law against Western societies. He can be followed on twitter at @AEHarrod.

American Security and Islamic Reform

muslims

The government must vet aliens for sharia-supremacist ideology.

National Review, By Andrew C. McCarthy — February 11, 2017

‘Do you think Islam needs reform?”

Wouldn’t it be interesting, wouldn’t it get us to the crux of the immigration debate, if our best news anchors — I’m looking at you, Chris Wallace and Bret Baier — would put that question to every major politician in Washington?

Instead, the press is asking not just the wrong question but one that utterly misses the point, namely: “How many terrorist attacks have been committed by immigrants from this handful of Muslim-majority countries?” It is the same wrong question posed by the imperious federal judge in Seattle who suspended President Trump’s temporary travel ban on aliens from those countries — seven of them. It is the same wrong question that animated the incorrigible Ninth Circuit appeals court in upholding this suspension — and intimating along the way that Trump, and by implication all who fear for the future of our country, are anti-Muslim bigots crusading against religious liberty (the Ninth Circuit being notoriously selective when it comes to protecting religious traditions).

Does the Trump administration realize it’s the wrong question? I wonder. Instead of attacking the question’s premise, the administration undertakes to answer it. It seems not to grasp that the security argument is not advanced, much less won, by compiling a list of terrorist plots.

Let’s try this again.

Islam does need reform. This is critical to our national security for two reasons that bear directly on the question of which aliens should, and which should not, be allowed into our country.

First, reform is essential because the broader Islamic religion includes a significant subset of Muslims who adhere to an anti-American totalitarian political ideology that demands implementation of sharia — Islamic law. This ideology and the repressive legal code on which it rests are not religion. We are not talking about the undeniably theological tenets of Islam (e.g., the oneness of Allah, the acceptance of Mohamed as the final prophet, and the Koran as Allah’s revelation). We are talking about a framework for the political organization of the state, and about the implementation of a legal corpus that is blatantly discriminatory, hostile to liberty, and — in its prescriptions of crime and punishment — cruel.

Islam must reform so that this totalitarian political ideology, sharia supremacism (or, if you prefer, “radical Islam”), is expressly severable from Islam’s truly religious tenets. To fashion an immigration policy that serves our vital national security interests without violating our commitment to religious liberty, we must be able to exclude sharia supremacists while admitting Muslims who reject sharia supremacism and would be loyal to the Constitution.

Second, sharia supremacists are acting on a “voluntary apartheid” strategy of gradual conquest. You needn’t take my word for it. Influential sharia supremacists encourage Muslims of the Middle East and North Africa to integrate into Western societies without assimilating Western culture. The renowned Muslim Brotherhood jurist Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who vows that “Islam will conquer Europe, conquer America,” urges Muslim migrants to demand the right to live in accordance with sharia. Turkey’s sharia-supremacist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, admonishes that pressuring Muslims to assimilate is “a crime against humanity.” The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a bloc of 57 Muslim governments that purports to speak as a quasi-caliphate, promulgated its “Declaration of Human Rights in Islam” in 1990 — precisely because what the United Nations in 1948 presumptuously called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is neither “universal” nor suitable to a sharia culture.

Voluntary apartheid does not require insinuating terrorists into migrant populations. It requires insinuating assimilation-resistant migrant populations into Western countries. Those populations form sharia-supremacist enclaves, which (a) demand the autonomy to conduct their affairs under Islamic law as a challenge to the sovereign authority of the host country, and (b) become safe havens for incitement, radicalization, paramilitary training, fundraising, and jihadist conspiracy — the prerequisites for terrorism.

The problem is not that our “See No Islam” policies may be letting some small percentage of trained terrorists into the country (although that is certainly a problem). The main problem is that we are creating the conditions under which anti-American enclaves can take root, the Constitution can be undermined, and today’s young Muslim teenager becomes tomorrow’s radicalized jihadist.

RELATED: Weeding Out Terrorist Immigrants Isn’t Enough

We cannot grapple with these challenges if we are intimidated into silence by such questions as whether a “Muslim ban” is being proposed; whether heightened scrutiny would be tantamount to a “religion test”; how many refugees or aliens from this or that Muslim-majority country have been charged with terrorism crimes; whether Muslims would be disproportionately affected by immigration exclusions; and whether a ban on a few Muslim-majority countries can be justified if most Muslim-majority countries are exempted.

Such questions are designed to make vetting Muslims seem inconceivable. They are meant to exhaust you into conceding: “If we have to fret so mightily about the potential impact of immigration laws against Muslims, how could we possibly contemplate examining Muslims directly to sort out sharia supremacists from pro-American Muslims?” You are to pretend that there is no obvious subset of Muslims who are hostile to our country. You are to assume that screening for hostile Muslims would be illegal because to ask about Islam would offend religious liberty — but because you know there are hostile Muslims, you silently hope the authorities have figured out some sneaky, roundabout way to screen for them without appearing to screen for them.

Enough of that. We need to move beyond the “are we targeting Muslims” nonsense and get to the critical question: How do we embrace our Islamic friends while excluding our sharia-supremacist enemies?

Here’s a suggestion: Bring our Muslim friends, loud and proud, into the process.

The only people who may have more interest than we do in Islamic reform are Islamic reformers: courageous Muslims who embrace American constitutional principles of liberty and equality. And at great risk to themselves: Under the supremacist view of sharia, those who depart from Islamic-law principles set in stone a millennium ago are apostates, subject to the penalty of death. You’re not supposed to question that, though, because it’s, you know, “religion.”

How about we stop consulting with the Muslim Brotherhood and other sharia supremacists who tell us Islam is just fine as is, even as its aggressions mount? How about we bring the reformers very publicly into the vetting process, to help the administration tell the good guys from the bad guys? To help the administration show that it is not Muslims but anti-American totalitarians that we seek to exclude.

It is the reform Muslims who tell us that Islam can separate sharia from spiritual life and that pro-Western Muslims do exactly that. It is the sharia supremacists who are outraged by the very suggestion that reform is possible, let alone necessary. If we continue taking our cues from the latter, it means that their noxious political ideology is part and parcel of Islam, and therefore that screening to keep that ideology out of our country is a violation of First Amendment religious liberty.

In other words, if you’re unwilling to say that Islam needs reform, then we can’t vet . . . and we are doomed. On the other hand, if Islam does need reform, isn’t it imperative that we identify the Muslims who resist reform — the sharia supremacists who seek not to join but to radically change our free, constitutional society?

— Andrew C. McCarthy is as senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

Misunderstanding Islam

swordPJ MEDIA, BY DAVID SOLWAY, MARCH 19, 2016

In a February 25, 2016 interview for FrontPage Magazine, notable Islamic reformer Tawfik Hamid listed several ways to combat Islamic terrorism, which he regards as founded on a “literal understanding of the Islamic texts” (italics mine) and on “Islam as it is currently taught and practiced in the vast majority of Muslim communities.” A winning strategy against violent jihad, he continues, would therefore entail the use of “negative deterrents”; support for “theological reforms within Islam that encourage peaceful co-existence”; encouragement of “education reforms” to counter standard Islamic teachings; effective use of the Internet; rendering radical organizations accountable; and putting an end to political correctness, which “prevents serious discussion, or criticism of Islam.” These recommendations are fully elaborated in his 2015 volume Inside Jihad, one of the most eloquent defenses of a redeemable Islam to be published in recent memory.

Regrettably, many of his suggestions tend to beg the question and are devoid of practical application. How do we go about abolishing political correctness, which is so deeply embedded within Western culture that it may never be defeated, or certainly not within a foreseeable future? No sensible person could oppose making Islamic institutions—mosques, social networks, political organizations—accountable for promoting extremist policies and dogmas, but the effort has gone for naught, and the leaders we continue to elect have moved neither to counter nor delegitimize them.

Most importantly, why is the “literal understanding of Islamic texts” wrong or misguided, when the Koran, its bulwark of ancillary documents, and the five schools of jurisprudence (usul-al-fiqh) say exactly what they mean? Where is the warrant for revisionary intrusion into a canon that has been firmly established by millennial authority and ulemic scholarship, that is hedged around by militant conviction, and whose innumerable texts and scriptures are so intricately interconnected that meaningful change is virtually impossible?

In Inside Jihad, Hamid argues against “fundamentalist Islam,” as if there were any other kind. He honorably insists that we must “face the unavoidable reality that [violent] teachings do exist, and they remain unchallenged in the mainstream Islamic books.” He fails to see that the purgation of such doctrines means that Islam would effectively cease to exist. Hamid inveighs against the tactic of taqiyyah—religiously sanctioned lying—deployed by the jihadists, as if taqiyyah did not enjoy theological validation as a general principle—Koran 3:28, 3:54, 9:3, 16.106, as well as the Hadith (Bukhari 84:64-65) among other instances. He is surely right in remarking that “a central obstacle in the battle with jihadism is the West’s tendency to engage in moral relativism,” but he does not pause to consider that the “battle with jihadism” is only a subset of a much larger conflict that is constantly being shirked.

In other words, the issue that should engage us is not only jihad but Islam in its holistic and testamentary totality. It is disheartening to observe a presidential hopeful like Marco Rubio, to take one conspicuous instance, declaim that our issue is not with Islam but with radical jihadis. Rubio goes so far as to assert that jihadism threatens not only America but is an “ideology that threatens Islam,” betraying an ignorance so profound (or a political correctness so slick) as to call his potential stewardship into question.

Unfortunately, whether among a vast swath of ordinary people or the majority of their presumptive leaders, there seems to be little knowledge of and less resistance against the prescripts of the Koran; the Sunna, which consists of theHadith (stories and traditions of Muhammad) and the Sira (the exemplary life of Muhammad); the schools of jurisprudence (Sunni and Shia); the classical Shafi’iReliance of the Traveler (which emeritus professor William Kilpatrick of Boston College in his compendious Christianity, Islam and Atheism defines as “one of the definitive manuals of Islamic law and as close to an official summation of traditional Muslim practice as one can find”); Isnad (chain of reports and narratives); and the enormous archive of political and philosophical literature dating from the 9th century to the present.

When one takes all this into consideration, Hamid’s suggestions and observations, though in themselves morally laudable or unexceptionable, are plainly unworkable, if not delusional. The rejection of a “literal understanding of the Islamic texts” in question presumes that another, metaphorical or anagogic, understanding exists. Every “reformer” I’ve met and/or read—Salim Mansur, Tarek Fatah, Irshad Manji, Raheel Raza, Zuhdi Jasser, and others—presumes the same. (Non-Muslim temporizers like Karen Armstrong, whom Hamid properly trashes, and John Esposito, are no less delinquent—or corrupt.) Wanting desperately to maintain their faith, the reformers simply cannot or stubbornly refuse to see that the historical record deposes that Muhammad was a ruthless warlord who is nevertheless considered the “perfect man” (the name is obviously the most popular one in all of Islam), that the canonical literature, as we’ve noted, is too vast, complex and interwoven to be substantially altered, and that there is no realistic way the harshly authoritative Medinan portion of the Koran can be re-interpreted to cancel its indelible message.

You cannot feasibly launder the maculate texts and scriptures that provoke and justify perennial violence—it has never been done up to now, not even among the “peaceful” Sufis and the Ismailis, and the chances of this ever happening in the future are approximately zero. Interestingly, Hasan as-Sahbah, aka the “old man of the mountains,” the eleventh century founder of the sect of the Assassins, was reportedly a Sufi, and the Aga Khans of the Nizari Ismailis, the second largest branch of Shia Islam, are reputed to be descended from Hasan, as Idries Shah explains in The Way of the Sufi. Steven Runciman in A History of the Crusades asserts that Hasan was a convert to Ismailism. Despite its internal struggles and schismatic differences, its rigorously austere and presumably genial versions, Islam is still Islam.

Islam is summed up in the dictates of Sharia law, a combination of Koranic verses and passages from the Sunna, which historian F.W. Burleigh in his massive and punctiliously researched biography It’s All About Muhammad obliquely refers to as a “fear marathon.” The Arabic word for “path,” Sharia condones infant marriage, polygamy, wife beating, male unilateral divorce, diminishment of women’s inheritance rights and court testimony, honor killings, rape, slavery, looting and taxing of non-believers, amputation for theft, and punishment by death for apostasy, denial of any part of the Koran, criticism of Muhammad, or rejection of Allah. With respect to veiling, many have argued that it is merely an element of culture, without theological ducat, but Koran 33:59 proves otherwise. ThoughSharia is subject to some degree of interpretation, its basic precepts, of which the above is merely a selection, are theologically ordained and cannot be annulled.

In the long run—apart from their reasonable recommendation to crush the terrorists—the reformers tend to distract us from the intractable nature of Islam and so actually end up making us more susceptible to its depredations. This is the ultimate irony. The reformers deceive not only themselves but those among their Western sympathizers who are led to believe that Islam is essentially benign or sufficiently multifaceted to weaken its core message; that violent jihad is an aberration; that pivotal texts in the canon can be re-interpreted or even bowdlerized; and that extremists are a fringe minority, a school of barbarians or a sect of puritanical zealots who have misunderstood or violated the tenets of their faith—when in fact they are true believers, authentic Muslims, who abide by the manifold scriptures.

Placing the blame, as Hamid does, for religious-inspired violence on a radical movement called “Islamism,” which we are meant to understand as something other than genuine Islam, or condemning punitive and archaic Salafist doctrine as uniquely responsible for Islamic mayhem, or even denouncing Sharia as a draconian “human rights disaster”—all this only serves to befuddle and to sidetrack us from considering Islam as a whole, of which “Islamism,” Salafism and Sharia are supposedly parts and aspects that can be reformed or defanged.

The problem we are facing is not this or that component of Islam, but Islam as a vast communion and ordinance founded on a millennial history of conquest and domination and rooted in a divinely transmitted document resistant to change. Islam, as Director of the Center for the Study of Political Islam Bill Warner points out, is constituted by “the words of Allah in the Koran, and the words and actions of Mohammed, the Sunna”; that is, the “Trilogy Texts” of Koran, Hadith and Sira are absolutely definitive. It is hard to see how the very pith and marrow of the faith can be so easily waived. The Canadian Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, for example, opposes bigotry “in the name of Islam”; the bigotry, however, does not appear to reside exclusively “in the name.” The group cites the famous “no compulsion in religion” sura (Koran 2:256) as its guiding principle, but it neglects to inform us that this passage is authoritatively mansukh, i.e., abrogated or cancelled, by the later “verse of the sword” (Koran 9:5), which reads “slay the idolaters wherever you find them…lie in ambush everywhere for them”—unless, of course, they repent, convert or pay the poll-tax. How different is such deceptiveness from the blatantly mendacious pronouncements concerning Islam of Barack Obama, e.g.: “Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding”?

The truth is otherwise. We need to remember that Islam may be recessive at times, active at others, but its essence cannot be changed. It is like a volcano that never goes extinct and we are wrong to regard its dormant phases as final. It is always ready to erupt. You cannot reform or re-interpret a volcano, and unless you keep a distance you always risk being buried in the lava of its natal ferocity.

In effect, the reformers succeed only in turning the credulous and ignorant among us into sitting ducks utterly unprepared for the invasive potential of a world-historical, theo-political system that has set its sights upon the increasingly vulnerable West. Admittedly, the reformers wish to do good; unfortunately they manage only to do harm. Many, if not all, are decent men and women whose reluctance to surrender the faith that has become an integral part of their spiritual and cultural lives has led them into the practice of inadvertent disingenuousness. Indeed, I suspect that the reformers are preoccupied not so much with saving the West as with preserving a form of Islam for themselves. After all, how can they recite the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith, and not cleave to the beating heart of Islam?

In a further irony, these revisionists have come under attack by hardline Muslims like Wardah Khalid as blasphemers purveying an “anti-Islam” agenda. Khalid does not realize that they are her unwitting allies, creating a “safe space” for Islam in the midst of the culture, eventually helping to turn it into something like a contemporary university campus—that center of “higher indoctrination” and self-righteous subversion.

In the last analysis, the hermeneutic claims and sanitizing efforts of the reformers serve only to scaffold a political faith whose foremost objective, to quote former Muslim Ali Sina in Understanding Muhammad and Muslims, “is to ‘reclaim’ the earth and establish Allah’s law on it.” At the same time, they prompt us to drop our guard against a determined and insidious adversary. Caveat emptor.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Obama Must Confront the Threat of Radical Islam

An ISIS member waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014.

An ISIS member waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014.

ISIS is recruiting young Muslims from around the globe to Jihad, and the White House apparently doesn’t understand why

Time, By Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Feb. 20, 2015:

How can the Obama Administration miss the obvious? Part of the answer lies in the groups “partnering” with, or advising, the White House on these issues. Groups such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council or the Islamic Society of North America insist that there should be no more focus at the Summit on radical Islam than on any other violent movements, even as radical Islamic movements continue to expand their influence in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, and elsewhere.

Amplifying a poor choice of Muslim outreach partners, however, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have argued in recent days that economic grievances, a lack of opportunities, and countries with “bad governance” are to blame for the success of groups such as ISIS in recruiting Muslims to their cause. Yet, if this were true, why do so many young Muslims who live in societies with excellent governance—Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK, the United States—either join ISIS or engage in Jihadist violence in their own countries? Why do young Muslims with promising professional futures embark on the path of Jihad?

Neither the Summit partners nor the U.S. Administration can effectively answer these questions.

Both Denmark and the Netherlands have “good governance.” Denmark and the Netherlands not only offer free health insurance but also free housing to Muslim refugees, along with high-quality education for their children. This should produce an outpouring of gratitude by young Muslims towards the host society, and no Jihadists.

Yet there are dozens of Jihadists hailing from the Netherlands and a recent attack in Copenhagen was committed by a man who was raised in Denmark and had effectively enjoyed years of Danish hospitality.

The question is not limited to Europe. Minnesota, for instance, is hardly a state with “bad governance.” Minnesota offers ample opportunity for immigrants willing to work hard. Yet more than a dozen young men from the Twin Cities area have joined the Jihadist movement in recent years.

How can Barack Obama or John Kerry explain this? Based on President Obama’s public statements and John Kerry’s analysis in The Wall Street Journal, they cannot.

It is worth remembering Aafia Siddiqui, the M.I.T.-educated neuroscientist who could have enjoyed a prestigious and lucrative career in the bio-tech industry but instead chose to embrace radical Islam, eventually becoming known as “Lady Al-Qaida.”

Or think of the three Khan siblings who recently sought to leave Chicago in order to go live in Syria under the rule of ISIS. The Khan sister, intelligent and studious, had planned to become a physician. The siblings were intercepted before they could fly out of the country, and prosecutors argue they wanted to join armed Jihad. Defense attorneys have a different explanation, stating the siblings desperately wanted to live under a society ruled by Shariah law—under the rule of Allah’s laws, without necessarily wanting to commit acts of violence.

It is this motivation—the sincere desire to live under Islamic religious laws, and the concomitant willingness to use violence to defend the land of Islam and expand it—that has led thousands of Western Muslims, many of them young and intelligent—and not the oft-described “losers”—to leave a comfortable professional and economic future in the West in order to join ISIS under gritty circumstances.

In its general strategy, the U.S. Administration confounds two things. It is true that in “failed states” criminal networks, cartels, and terrorist groups can operate with impunity. Strengthening central governments will reduce safe havens for terror networks. Secretary Kerry’s argument in The Wall Street Journal is different, however, namely: If we improve governance in countries with “bad governance,” then fewer young people will become “violent extremists.” That’s a different argument and not a plausible one. In fact, it’s a really unpersuasive argument. Muslims leave bright, promising futures to join ISIS out of a sense of sincere religious devotion, the wish to live under the laws of Allah instead of the laws of men.

In reading Kerry’s piece, I am glad that in the late 1940s the U.S. had people such as George Kennan employed in its service to see the Communist threat clearly and describe it clearly. But where is today’s Kennan in this administration? Who in the U.S. government is willing to describe the threat of radical Islam without fear of causing offense to several aggressive Islamic lobby groups?

American policymakers do not yet understand Islamism or what persuades young Muslims to join Jihad: sincere religious devotion based on the core texts of Islam, in particular early Islam’s politicized and aggressive period in Medina (compared to Islam’s spiritual and ascetic period in Mecca).

How does one tackle misguided religious devotion of young Muslims? The answer lies in reforming Islam profoundly—not radical Islam, but mainstream Islam; its willingness to merge Mosque and State, religion, and politics; and its insistence that its elaborate system of Shariah law supersedes civil laws created by human legislators. In such a reform project lies the hope for countering Islamism. No traditional Islamic lobbying group committed to defending the reputation of Islam will recommend such a policy to the U.S. government. Yet until American policymakers grapple with the need for such reform, the real problem within Islam will remain unresolved.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the founder of the AHA Foundation and the author of Infidel, Nomad, and the forthcoming Heretic: The Case for a Muslim Reformation, to be published next spring.

Can Islamism Evolve?

lightBy Andrew C. McCarthy:

Like everything Daniel Pipes writes, his column this week about the prospects of Islamism is interesting and admirably honest. If every public intellectual were as willing as Daniel to check his premises regularly and modify them when new facts call them into question, our discourse would be a lot more civil and edifying.

His column is about “Islamism,” which is the ideology I (among others) call “Islamic supremacism” — a.k.a “radical” or “extremist” Islam, or even “sharia-ism” in the recent coinage of my friend Joy Brighton . . . all of us, it should be conceded, grappling for the pitch-perfect term that (we hope) justifies sidestepping the gnawing question whether Islam itself inevitably breeds aggressive Muslim groups even if it is otherwise widely construed, or at least practiced, benignly.

Daniel has previously rejected the possibility that Islamism, which is innately dictatorial, could evolve into something that approximates pluralistic democracy. He now surveys recent developments and concludes it is conceivable — not likely, but conceivable — that Islamism could evolve and improve.

To me, the developments Daniel cites are just glimmers here and there along a mostly discouraging trajectory. I will make three points, more in reaction than in direct response to his observations.

1. Only our own lower expectations of what liberal democracy is make it possible to speculate that Islamism could become borderline democratic. While Daniel mines some hopeful signs that Islamism — or at least branches of it — could be progressing away from unyielding authoritarianism, the parallel phenomenon (which is not the subject of his column) is that Western democracy is regressing away from a culture of individual liberty protected by limited government. If it now seems conceivable that Islamism could democratize, it can only be owing to modern democracy’s accommodation of more centralized and intrusive government.

2. The only conclusion of Daniel’s that I have a real quarrel with is his assertion that

Islamism has significantly evolved over the past 13 years. As recently as 2001, its adherents were synonymous with criminals, terrorists, and revolutionaries.

I think this conflates Islamism with our perception of Islamism. Personally, I don’t believe Islamism has materially changed at all. Instead, beginning about 21 years ago with the bombing of the World Trade Center, there was a vigorous effort on the part of progressive policy-makers and thinkers — an effort that still persists — to convince the public that the only “radical” Muslims were violent jihadists (who were incongruously portrayed as both “extremist” Muslims and practitioners of a “false Islam”). All other Muslims, we were told, were “moderates,” no matter how immoderate their beliefs. There was very little public understanding of sharia — the Islamic societal framework and legal system — and of the fact that imposing its implementation is the rationale for both jihadist terror and the non-violent agitations of Islamist groups.

What has changed over the past 13 years is not Islamism. Thanks to the good work of people like Daniel — I have tried to do my share, too — the public has begun to learn that Islamists include not only terrorists but Islamic supremacists who seek to impose and inculcate sharia standards by such other means as lawfare, legislation, the classroom, the media, popular culture, etc. There is nothing new in this variegated approach; it is the same plan for ground-up revolution that Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna laid out nearly a century ago. There is, however, more popular awareness today that not every non-terrorist Muslim activist is a “moderate.”

Daniel recalls his observation all those years ago that many Islamists “are peaceable in appearance, but they all must be considered potential killers.” He says “these words ring archaic now,” but, to me, they simply reflect the still valid insight that terrorist and non-terrorist Islamists share objectives even if their methods differ. I don’t think there has been any real evolution just because we are in a time when many Islamists, as Daniel says, “find the ballot box a more effective means to power than the gun.”

It has always been the case that some Islamists pursue the sharia agenda by barbaric means and others by political and legal processes. The only difference today lies in the nature of their opportunities. In Muslim-majority countries such as Egypt, Islamists got the chance to obtain by popular vote what they had previously sought by terrorism — control of the government. And what happened when the Muslim Brotherhood took over? Terrorists were sprung from captivity. Islamist Egypt seamlessly became a hospitable place for jihadists to organize against Israel and the United States. Islamists — both violent and ostensibly non-violent — put their differences aside and allied against the West.

’Twas ever thus. Daniel is surely right that “some reforms of Islam are already underway” (my italics). But that hardly means Islamism is reforming in any substantial way. Indeed, the link in Daniel’s assertion about ongoing Islamic reform takes the reader to an excellent essay he wrote for Commentary last year, which portrays the reform of Islam as what is required “if Islamism is to be defeated,” not as a phenomenon happening in Islamism itself.

Read more at National Review

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Daniel Pipes has written a reply: Islamism’s Trajectory