President Trump’s new national security advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, has told his staff that it is not helpful to use terms like ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’ according to a report Saturday by Fox News. His reasoning, apparently, is that the terror organizations in question are not Islamic. This is a view that will rile up many Republicans and conservatives, but – not only is he correct in this assertion – but it is a statement that should become the very foundation of the ideological war that must be fought against these groups.
This approach has nothing to do with political correctness – as it did when President Obama repeatedly refused to acknowledge any link between Islam and the actions of jihadists terrorists.
There can be absolutely no doubt that the ideology of such organizations as the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, and the Islamic State shares the common thread of Islamic teaching. Much of that teaching, however, has been incorporated into the faith of Islam many years and decades after the death of the Prophet Muhammed in 632 A.D. Some Islamic scholars even argue that Islam died with Muhammed and, since that time, the faith has never remained loyal to the original teachings of the Koran.
The entire idea that these radical terror organizations are fighting to defend Islam is the very linchpin of their propaganda and recruitment efforts. Even as military operations continue against the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, a larger and much more far-sighted war must be waged against the entire premise that this is a religious struggle. If we continue to favor the notion that this is a fight for global religious hegemony between Islam, on the one side, and Christianity and Judaism, on the other, then the majority of the world’s Muslims will also believe that. That premise can be exactly reversed; so long as Muslims view it as a religious conflict, then so will Christians and Jews.
Thus, we will be faced with a cycle of terror, war, distrust and fear that will endure for as long as religious faith endures. If we break the link – once and for all – between Islam and the terror groups, we will actually begin to win, and end, the conflict.
The real ideology that drives these radical groups is Islamism, which is more of a political ideology than a religious one. Islamism has been around since the early twentieth century, and it is a mix of socialism, pan-Arabism and an extreme interpretation of Koranic teaching.
Although defeating the Islamic State on the battlefield – given sufficient political will – is a very achievable objective, the ideology of Islamism will never be overcome until the world’s Muslim population is taught that their faith is being betrayed and corrupted by the savages who hide behind it. It is imperative that we do not accept the quiet acceptance of Islamist terrorism by the larger part of the Muslim community. Our message to them should be that they must take a stand; that they must speak – and act – in defense of their own faith and reject those who use it as a pretext for brutality and murder.
Muslims must be convinced that the terror groups do not represent the will of Allah or the teachings of Muhammed, and they must be convinced that we do not believe that, either.
We should not shield the Muslim community from the barbarism of those who pretend to act in their name; we should not excuse and forgive those Muslims who call themselves ‘moderates’ but refuse to denounce the terrorists. We should tell all Muslims that they have no choice but to take a stand; that silence is not an option; that they must reclaim their own birthright and that refusing to stand up to the extremists is little different from supporting them.
We absolutely must, however, name our enemy correctly: He is a political extremist and a terrorist, not a hero of Islam who bravely defends his faith against the infidel.
It is not a popular school of thought among conservatives – and especially those on the ‘Christian Right’ – but McMaster understands the long-game: Effectively and firmly separate the Islamists from Islam, and you remove their entire base of popular support and recruiting pool. Strip them of their religious credibility, and you leave them with nothing more than political terrorism.