If global jihad isn’t the enemy, what is?

The Obama administration refuses to acknowledge the need to contend with an extremist interpretation of Islam.

Dr. Boaz Ganor (photo credit: Courtesy of Gady Dagon)
Dr. Boaz Ganor
(photo credit: Courtesy of Gady Dagon)
As President Barack Obama attempts to redefine the US relationship with the Muslim world, he has made a point of throwing out old, Bush-era rhetoric. This has proved especially true in the volatile arena of counterterrorism.
In fact, those pesky terms like “Islamist,” “jihadist” and even “terrorism” don’t seem to fit in his vision of a US security strategy at all, a point that was made clear late last month with the release of Obama’s new National Security Strategy (NSS) document.
Keeping religious rhetoric out of the document – and out of the NSS in general – may indeed soften the image of the US in the Muslim world. But it may also be the source of the strategy’s ultimate and inevitable failure.
The public got a preview of the strategy’s key points during a presentation by John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies last month.
Brennan outlined the president’s new strategic approach to the threats of terrorism facing the US, laying out two primary challenges: first, “the immediate near-term challenge of destroying al-Qaida and its allies...,” and second, “the longer-term challenge of confronting violent extremism generally.”
Disconcertingly, the subsequent doctrine presented by Brennan, designed by the Obama administration to address those two challenges, seems to be based on inaccurate, inconsistent and even misleading assumptions.
The most troubling statements made by Brennan related to his very definition of the enemy itself; he argued that the war being fought by the US is not against “terrorism,” because “terrorism is but a tactic.”
Nor, he argued, should it be described as a war against “jihadists” or “Islamists,” because “jihad is holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam meaning to purify oneself of one’s community.”
So who is the enemy of the US, according to the president’s number one consultant on counterterrorism? Simple. “Al-Qaida and its terrorist affiliates.” Brennan and the Obama administration have essentially taken the complicated, multifaceted security threat posed by the global jihad movement and oversimplified it, making it seem that the challenge is limited to dealing with the nucleus of al-Qaida and its secluded affiliates.
These terrorists, according to Brennan’s argument, seem to have nothing in common.
They are not Islamist in nature; they are not jihadists. He argues that they have nothing to do with Islam. They can hardly even be described as terrorists, since terrorism is not the US’s enemy. They are just a bunch of villains that happen to hate the US and despise its liberal and democratic values.
According to this logic, it seems the US will once again be secured once Obama manages to smoke them out of their caves and eliminate them.
TO COMPREHEND the full scope of fallacies being adopted by the administration in its references to counterterrorism, we should borrow a metaphor from the medical world.
Many scholars and decision makers have referred to international and local terrorism as a cancer. Today the worst form of international terrorism is global jihadi terrorism, with al-Qaida at its epicenter. Global jihadi terrorism is the metastatic cancer of the 21st century – a disease that spreads from one organ or body part to another. This is a cancer that has spread all over the Muslim world – from Arab and Muslim countries to Muslim communities in Western countries.
This is not meant to imply that the body of Islam itself is constructed of cancer cells, or that the majority of the cells of this body are infected. Just the opposite. The body is otherwise healthy; most of these cells are productive, functioning and serve a positive end.
Nevertheless, this body of Islam is suffering from a severe disease – the metastasis of global jihadi cancer.
There are four possible treatments to this disease.
One is chemotherapy. The Obama administration perceives president Bush’s counterterrorism doctrine as a counterproductive and overly intrusive treatment that poisons the whole body while trying to get rid of the cancer cells.
What Obama’s administration fails to understand is that, unfortunately, one can’t treat a metastatic cancer that has spread all over the body only with focused radiation or even a surgery. His doctrine not only turns a blind eye to the nature and the severity of the disease, but it also refuses to acknowledge the fact that the Muslim world indeed has a problem. The administration ignores the fact that the tactic of global jihadi terrorism and the birth of al-Qaida and its affiliates is a result of extreme radical Islamic indoctrination – religious indoctrination.
The administration refuses to acknowledge the need to contend with an extremist interpretation of Islam that calls for the killing of “infidels” – i.e., anyone who does not hold its extreme miscalculated interpretation of Islam. The administration is deluding itself and misleading the American people to believe that this is a limited, concrete problem that can be solved if only al-Qaida and its affiliates are defeated.
As Brennan put it, “Describing our enemy in religious terms would lend credence to the lie propagated by al-Qaida and its affiliates to justify terrorism, that the United States is somehow at war against Islam.” Brennan tends to forget or even intentionally prefers to ignore the severity and the complexity of the threat of this global jihadi cancer. Moreover, he is not even ready to acknowledge that there is an illness in the body of Islam – that there is a religious nature to this threat.
Without calling a spade a spade, the Obama administration will find itself dealing with the negligible symptoms but will not find the needed cure for the disease.
IT SEEMS that both the Bush and Obama administrations overlooked the only real cure – the need to develop a strong autoimmune response within the Muslim body, with healthy cells designed to attack the body’s own diseased cells.
The only solution to the global jihadi threat is a Muslim counterreaction. Only Muslims can educate Muslims. Only Muslims can prevent global jihadists from seducing their constituencies and buying their hearts and minds. Only Muslims can save Islam from militant Islamists. But unfortunately, many Muslims ignore their responsibility.
They believe that this is a phase that will run its course, a wave that will recede with the tide. Many are not brave enough to take a stand against this dangerous and negative trend gripping the Muslim World.
The US will not be able to motivate Muslims and promote the necessary autoimmune reaction with policies of appeasement, nor will Islamophobic doctrines be successful. The US must look straight into the eyes of those in the Muslim world and say the following: Dear friends, you have an enormous problem. You are suffering from a fatal illness. There is only one cure for your disease – you need to identify and neutralize these bad seeds, these diseased cells – the metastatic cancer cells of global and local jihad. You need to save your body and soul, your prestige, your culture and your religion and prevent the deterioration of Islam to the dark days of illiteracy, militancy, hate and suffering. It is your responsibility to save Islam from the Islamists, and we will always be there for you and support you in this crucial campaign.
You should not waste your efforts by telling us that Islam is the religion of peace and clemency, and that jihad is all about good deeds and charity. We believe you. Your task, however, is to teach those violent Islamists – those who are beheading innocent civilians and blowing up weddings, schools and kindergartens in the name of Islam and under the flag of jihad – that their actions do not promote or honor Islam, nor do they fulfill the obligation of jihad. This is a misinterpretation of Islam that humiliates the whole religion and degrades the great Muslim people wherever they are.
We can put rhetoric aside, but let’s not sacrifice or undermine our understanding of the threat while we do so.
The writer is founder and executive director of ICT – The International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism, and deputy dean of the Lauder School of Government at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya (IDC).