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from Militant Islam Reaches America

Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran in 1979 with "Death to America" as his slogan, and hundreds of Americans lost their lives to militant Islam over the subsequent two decades. It was not, however, until the shock of September 11, 2001, that Americans finally focused attention on this foe. Of the many questions prompted by the four suicide hijackings, perhaps the most profound and disturbing, not to say confusing, were those touching on the motives of the perpetrators and the broader question of the enemy's nature and goals.

Public statements did not answer the many questions. There was Osama bin Laden proclaiming a violent jihad on the United States and here was President George W. Bush declaring that Islam "teaches peace." Which spokesman was one to listen to? Or what was one to make of Laura Bush denouncing the brutal treatment of women by the Taliban in Afghanistan and describing this as "a central goal of the terrorists," while going on to absolve Islam of any role in the tragedy ("The severe repression and brutality against women in Afghanistan is not a matter of legitimate religious practice. Muslims around the world have condemned the brutal degradation of women and children by the Taliban regime")? Why would terrorists oppress women if this did not have something to do with their Islamic outlook?

There are many other questions, too, starting with the most basic ones. What is the connection between Islam and the acts of violence carried out in its name? Is it useful to distinguish between Islam and the extreme version of the religion known variously as militant Islam, radical Islam, fundamentalist Islam, or Islamism? Is it further useful to distinguish between the violent and the political variants of militant Islam? Can Al-Qaeda be ascribed to a cult rather than to Islam? Does militant Islam result from poverty? Are Islamists medieval? Do American Muslims suffer from entrenched bias? The figure for the number of Muslims living in the United States was said by some to reach 6-7 million and by others 1 million; what is it? Do American Muslims intend to integrate or do they wish to remake the country in their own image? Does African-American Islam connect back to the slaves forcibly brought to the United States? Is the Nation of Islam truly Islamic?

These issues have been at the center of my work for over thirty years. I began my studies with the Arabic language, Muslim history, and related subjects in college. I then spent three years at university-level institutions in Cairo, traveled through much of the Muslim world, received a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern history at Harvard University, taught this subject at the University of Chicago and at Harvard, worked on it in the State and Defense Departments, and wrote three prior books on it.

As a non-Muslim, I write primarily for fellow non-Muslims, helping them understand what is often a remote subject. My role is primarily one of explanation and interpretation, though I also try to help formulate correct policies. Not being a Muslim, I by definition do not believe in the mission of the Prophet Muhammad, but I have enormous respect for the faith of those who do. I note how deeply rewarding Muslims find Islam as well as the extraordinary inner strength it imbues them with. Having studied the history and civilization of the classical period, I am vividly aware of the great Muslim cultural achievements of roughly a millennium ago.

I approach the religion of Islam in a neutral fashion, neither praising it nor attacking it but in a spirit of inquiry. Neither apologist nor booster, neither spokesman nor critic, I consider myself a student of this subject. I ask such questions as: What is the nature of Islam's principles, customs, and implications? How does Islamic law affect Muslim societies? Are there elements common to Muslim life from West Africa to Southeast Asia, yet absent elsewhere?

Though neutral on Islam, I take a strong stand on militant Islam, which I see as very different, and which forms a central subject of this book. I see militant Islam as a global affliction whose victims count peoples of all religions. Non-Muslims are losing their lives to it in such countries as Nigeria, Sudan, Egypt, and the Philippines. Muslims are the main casualties in Algeria, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan. Islamism is perhaps the most vibrant and coherent ideological movement in the world today; it threatens us all. Moderate Muslims and non-Muslims must cooperate to battle this scourge.

The essays here divide into two parts, on the phenomenon of militant Islam and the Muslim presence in the United States.

Part I begins with "Is Islam a Threat?," a general introduction to the phenomenon of militant Islam. I reply to the question in the negative but then argue that militant Islam is indeed a threat. This essay sets forth my basic outlook on the topic of militant Islam: how it emerged from the trauma of modern Muslim history, its key features, its differences from traditional Islam, and the characteristic woes it imposes on Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 prompted loose talk about Islam replacing Marxism-Leninism as the West's necessary enemy. In symbolic terms, it was said that green (Islam's color) had replaced red (communism's color) in the West's rogues' gallery. I dispute this in "The Imaginary Green Peril," examining military confrontation and mass immigration issues, the two elements of this thesis, and conclude that in both respects the fear is exaggerated. A decade after the Soviet Union's demise, I still agree with dismissing the military threat; but the issue of immigration now concerns me more than it did in 1990, when I first wrote this piece.

Almost simultaneous with that analysis, Bernard Lewis argued that militant Islam is engaged in no less than a "clash of civilizations" with the West, coining a phrase that three years later Samuel Huntington would make famous as the title of an article (and later a book). In his work, Huntington interprets current strife in civilizational terms rather than ideological ones. I disagree, holding instead that what confronts us now is a battle for the soul of Islam (chapter 3). We hear disproportionately from militant Islam, but there exists a credible, moderate Islam, which must play a critical role if Muslims are ever wholeheartedly to join the modern world. The leading light, the brightest hope of this contingent, is the Republic of Turkey, but its representatives can be found everywhere (and notably, chaffing under the rule of the mullahs in the Islamic Republic of Iran).

"Do Moderate Islamists Exist?" replies to the argument, made by many academics and also by the U.S. government, that one can divide between good and bad Islamists, the former relying on political means and the latter on violent ones. Instead, I hold that this creates a false dichotomy because all Islamists are part of the same enterprise and their differences are relatively superficial. I conclude that there is no basis for finding the seemingly less violent of them acceptable. I offer specific guidelines for American policy based on the premise that all Islamists are a problem, making this one of only two chapters in the book with policy recommendations.

A widespread consensus, both Muslim and Western, holds that the surge in militant Islam results from economic stress. In "Does Poverty Cause Militant Islam?" I argue otherwise by showing the absence of a meaningful correlation between the two phenomena. Neither standard of living nor economic growth can predict whether a person or society will turn to militant Islam. Indeed, if one looks closely at the backgrounds of September 11's nineteen suicide hijackers, "money, education and privilege," as one wit notes, would seem to be the root causes of their radicalism and violence. I do not, however, offer an alternate mechanism in this chapter for predicting militant Islam, finding this to be too large and complex a phenomenon to try to tie to any single variable. Instead, I see it arising from frustration and a deeply bruised sense of identity.

The English translation of an Arabic book arguing for an Islamic form of economics offers an opportunity to look in more detail at one aspect of Islamist thinking. The prolific Lebanese writer Samih 'atef El-Zein premises his work on the idea that "No problem can occur or event take place for which there is not an explanation in Islamic law." "The Glory of Islamic Economics" summarizes his thinking, then pokes holes in El-Zein's analysis before coming to the serious conclusion that no matter how lacking his argument, it needs to be taken seriously; the past century has shown that dumb minds can do extraordinary damage.

"The Western Mind of Militant Islam" was provoked in May 1994, when I took part in a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., about militant Islam and a person in the audience responded to my argument with, "I work for a think tank, an Islamically oriented one. I listen to Mozart; I read Shakespeare; I watch the Comedy Channel; and I also believe in the implementation of Shari'a. The unlikely combination of the Comedy Channel and the Shari'a mystified me, prompting this article. Interestingly, this is one of my few analyses that has met with the approval of some Islamists.

That same May 1994 panel discussion spurred me in another way, too. The panel was introduced by former Senator George McGovern. I took advantage of his presence to ask him about his views on militant Islam and quickly realized that he approached this new threat to the United States much as he had the previous threat of Marxism-Leninism. A little introspection made it apparent to me that, while coming from the other side of the political spectrum, I did the same. In "Echoes of the Cold War Debate," I argue that the liberal-conservative divide that defined views toward communism and the Soviet Union still holds, defining both one's basic outlook toward militant Islam and the attendant policy prescriptions. Then as now, "Liberals say co-opt the radicals. Conservatives say confront them. As usual, the conservatives are right."

The gist of "The U.S. Government: Patron of Islam?," co-authored with Mimi Stillman, came as a surprise. It was one thing to hear individual statements by high government officials stretching back a decade and another to collect them, sort them, and ponder them. This latter task suggested a more cohesive and powerful message than had been evident from occasional remarks: "By dismissing any connection between Islam and terrorism, complaining about media distortions, and claiming that America needs Islam," we concluded, official spokesmen "have turned the U.S. government into a discreet missionary for the faith." Assuming that this is not their intention, the message of this essay is that government officials should be much more careful when they speak about Islam.

The four-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World provides an opportunity to review the best that current scholarship has to offer on the subject of Islam. As the title "A Monument of Apologetics" suggests, I found that, in an age when objective knowledge has faded as a goal, scholarship readily turns into partisanship and that this plague reaches even into a major reference work published by a prestigious press.

Part II, on Islam in the United States, opens with an essay written well before September 11 but unpublishable until the events of that day opened Americans' imaginations to the threat of militant Islam. "We Are Going to Conquer America" reviews declarations by Islamists, some public and others not, about their agenda for the United States. They do have an ambitious program. Bizarre as it may seem, they seek nothing less than to bring the Shari'a to bear in the land of the free. The main argument between Islamists is not about the desirability of this outcome, on which they all agree, but about the best method to achieve it. Some Islamists advocate violence and others prefer legal means (conversion, political action). In this article, as in much of Part II, I rely to a great extent on the information made available by militant Islamic individuals and groups.

It is a sad to see how many American converts to Islam-whether black or white, rich or poor, members of Nation of Islam or normative Islam-hate their own country. Perhaps the two most prominent symbols of this pattern are Jamil Al-Amin, known previously as H. Rap Brown, and John Walker Lindh. Al-Amin, a middle-aged black nationalist with a long career of criminality, has been convicted of the murder of a police officer. Lindh, the young son of privilege who joined the Taliban in Afghanistan, was charged with providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization. "Conversion and Anti-Americanism" documents the pattern they exemplify and finds two main reasons why converts go this route: personal temperament and the immigrant Muslim milieu. Converts to Islam in the United States are generally alienated from the society in which they live; and then they are influenced by the immigrant Muslims' generally low regard for the United States-an often potent combination.

"Fighting Militant Islam, Without Bias" takes up the arch-delicate question of policy toward Islamists who live in the West. Americans having woken up to the fact that militant Islam is their enemy, how should they look at and deal with the adherents of this ideology who are their neighbors? By way of an answer, I offer a series of policy recommendations on ways to combat militant Islam.

"Catching Some Sleepers" raises the problem of the unseen enemy; to a very great extent, militant Islam's war on the United States depends on placing "sleepers" (hidden agents, activated only to engage in an operation) inside the country. For the country intelligently to protect itself requires guidelines about the sort of profile a sleeper might have. Although sleepers go to considerable efforts to hide themselves, shedding their militant Islamic characteristics and even engaging in activities antithetical to Islam, they do still retain a number of potentially identifying characteristics; I provide a long but necessarily incomplete list of these.

The self-appointed guardians of American Muslim interests-organizations such as the American Muslim Council, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the Muslim Public Affairs Council-all tell a sad-and convincing-tale about discrimination being "part of daily life for American Muslims." One might think that this community lags socioeconomically, endures the outrages of prejudice, and suffers harsh media assaults. Given these beliefs, I examined publications of the above three organizations, as well as other sources, and found none of this to be the case. In "Are American Muslims the Victims of Bias?" I show that Muslims are flourishing in the United States and are the beneficiaries of much goodwill and even protectiveness, as indicated by an array of governmental policies, media reports, corporate actions, and court decisions.

It was not so long ago that Westerners could converse freely about Muhammad, Islam, Muslims, and militant Islam, just as they still can about parallel Christian subjects. No longer. "How Dare You Defame Islam" surveys the ways in which violence and intimidation have shut down the frank discussion of these issues. It has reached the strange point that, in a secular, Christian-majority country like the United States, a biographer of Jesus has freedom to engage in outrageous blasphemies while his counterpart working on Muhammad feels constrained to accept the pious Muslim version of the Prophet's life. I present this silencing as something significant in itself and a potential first step toward the imposition of Islamic law.

This is followed by a specific instance of such intimidation. In May 1994, the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat was secretly taped referring to the Oslo accords as "no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraysh in Mecca." To figure out just what Arafat might have intended by this coded statement, a number of American political analysts dusted off their books on early Islamic history. Their conclusion-that Arafat was signaling his intention to break his agreements with Israel when he grew sufficiently strong to do so with impunity-displeased some American Muslim groups, which did their best, with considerable success, to close down any discussion of the matter. "Lessons from the Prophet Muhammad's Diplomacy" both explains the complex historical context of this debate and reviews the militant Islamic attempts to close down a frank discussion.

An eighty-five-page federal affidavit issued in July 2000 provided the information base for "Charlotte's Web: Hizbullah's Career in the Deep South." By restructuring the affidavit and turning its legalese into English, then adding some other sources, I put together the story of a gang of Hizbullah supporters who engaged in a wide range of scams to raise money for their favorite charity, Lebanon's leading militant Islamic group. The nerve and disdain of their operation was almost as appalling as the blundering inabilities of the many government agencies supposed to protect the country from their likes. In all, this episode offers an unusually complete and compelling account of militant Islam's operational activities in the United States.

"Christian anti-Semitism is yesterday's problem; Muslim anti-Semitism is tomorrow's." So I concluded on reviewing Muslim attitudes toward Jews. In words and deeds, the rage and hostility of militant Islam is something Jews have not yet comprehended, much less begun making preparations to combat. "America's Muslims vs. America's Jews" stands as my warning that militant Islam threatens to bring to an end the golden age of American Jewry.

The next three chapters focus on African-American Islam. America's first Muslims were neither immigrants nor converts but slaves brought in shackles from Africa. Oddly, this lost saga began receiving attention only in recent years. "Muslim Slaves in American History" reports on the most literary and ambitious effort to discern their lives and their legacy, Sylviane Diouf's Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas.

Muslim history stretches back fourteen centuries, but not until 1913 did a variant form of Islam spontaneously appear in a distant country and grow into a significant movement that would become the Moorish Science Temple of America, founded in Newark, New Jersey. This institution led American blacks in the 1930s to the Nation of Islam and that in turn in the 1960s led them to normative Islam. Focusing on the central figure of Elijah Muhammad, the man who dominated the Nation of Islam for over forty years, "The Rise of Elijah Muhammad" provides an overview this movement's changes, and specifically its progression from odd cult to normative Islam.

"The Curious Case of Jamil Al-Amin" recalls the long, undistinguished, but highly public career of the former H. Rap Brown. Called "the violent left's least-thoughtful firebrand" in the 1960s, he was in the docket at the time of writing, accused of having murdered an Atlanta policeman in March 2000. His case holds interest in itself but all the more so because Al-Amin had become a leading figure in American Muslim life. As a result, almost all the national Muslim organizations have flocked to his side; I note that their solidarity was with a man who was twice on the FBI's most-wanted list, not with the orphans of the deceased police officer, and argue that this shows the extremist nature of these organizations.

The conclusion, "Who Is the Enemy?," offers a way to win the war on terrorism by taking two steps: weakening militant Islam in dozens of countries around the world, including the United States, and then helping moderate Muslims to get their message out. Although the moderates appear-and in fact are-weak, they have a crucial role to play, for they alone can reconcile Islam with modernity and help Muslims return to the success they need and deserve. In closing, I offer a way to go beyond the problems and horrors of the present. To do so, however, requires a recognition by the U.S. government that the enemy is not a featureless "terrorism" but militant Islam.

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