In 1993 I was a seasoned federal prosecutor, but I only knew as much about Islam as the average American with a reasonably good education—which is to say, not much. Consequently, when I was assigned to lead the prosecution of a terrorist cell that had bombed the World Trade Center and was plotting an even more devastating strike—simultaneous attacks on the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, the United Nations complex on the East River, and the FBI’s lower Manhattan headquarters—I had no trouble believing what our government was saying: that we should read nothing into the fact that all the men in this terrorist cell were Muslims; that their actions were not representative of any religion or belief system; and that to the extent they were explaining their atrocities by citing Islamic scripture, they were twisting and perverting one of the world’s great religions, a religion that encourages peace.
Unlike commentators and government press secretaries, I had to examine these claims. Prosecutors don’t get to base their cases on assertions. They have to prove things to commonsense Americans who must be satisfied about not only what happened but why it happened before they will convict people of serious crimes. And in examining the claims, I found them false.
One of the first things I learned concerned the leader of the terror cell, Omar Abdel Rahman, infamously known as the Blind Sheikh. Our government was portraying him as a wanton killer who was lying about Islam by preaching that it summoned Muslims to jihad or holy war. Far from a lunatic, however, he turned out to be a globally renowned scholar—a doctor of Islamic jurisprudence who graduated from al-Azhar University in Cairo, the seat of Sunni Islamic learning for over a millennium. His area of academic expertise was sharia—Islamic law.
I immediately began to wonder why American officials from President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno on down, officials who had no background in Muslim doctrine and culture, believed they knew more about Islam than the Blind Sheikh. Then something else dawned on me: the Blind Sheikh was not only blind; he was beset by several other medical handicaps. That seemed relevant. After all, terrorism is hard work. Here was a man incapable of doing anything that would be useful to a terrorist organization—he couldn’t build a bomb, hijack a plane, or carry out an assassination. Yet he was the unquestioned leader of the terror cell. Was this because there was more to his interpretation of Islamic doctrine than our government was conceding?
Now, you might be able to argue that he took scripture out of context or gave an incomplete account of it. In my subsequent years of studying Islam, I’ve learned that this is not a particularly persuasive argument. But even if one concedes for the purposes of discussion that it’s a colorable claim, the inconvenient fact remains: Abdel Rahman was not lying about Islam.
When he said the scriptures command that Muslims strike terror into the hearts of Islam’s enemies, the scriptures backed him up.
When he said Allah enjoined all Muslims to wage jihad until Islamic law was established throughout the world, the scriptures backed him up.
When he said Islam directed Muslims not to take Jews and Christians as their friends, the scriptures backed him up.
You could counter that there are other ways of construing the scriptures. You could contend that these exhortations to violence and hatred should be “contextualized”—i.e., that they were only meant for their time and place in the seventh century. Again, I would caution that there are compelling arguments against this manner of interpreting Islamic scripture. The point, however, is that what you’d be arguing is an interpretation.
The fact that there are multiple ways of construing Islam hardly makes the Blind Sheikh’s literal construction wrong. The blunt fact of the matter is that, in this contest of competing interpretations, it is the jihadists who seem to be making sense because they have the words of scripture on their side—it is the others who seem to be dancing on the head of a pin. For our present purposes, however, the fact is that the Blind Sheikh’s summons to jihad was rooted in a coherent interpretation of Islamic doctrine. He was not perverting Islam—he was, if anything, shining a light on the need to reform it.
Another point, obvious but inconvenient, is that Islam is not a religion of peace. There are ways of interpreting Islam that could make it something other than a call to war. But even these benign constructions do not make it a call to peace. Verses such as “Fight those who believe not in Allah,” and “Fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war,” are not peaceful injunctions, no matter how one contextualizes.
Another disturbing aspect of the trial against the Blind Sheikh and his fellow jihadists was the character witnesses who testified for the defense. Most of these people were moderate, peaceful Muslim Americans who would no more commit terrorist acts than the rest of us. But when questions about Islamic doctrine would come up—“What does jihad mean?” “What is sharia?” “How might sharia apply to a certain situation?”—these moderate, peaceful Muslims explained that they were not competent to say. In other words, for the answers, you’d have to turn to Islamic scholars like the Blind Sheikh.
Now, understand: there was no doubt what the Blind Sheikh was on trial for. And there was no doubt that he was a terrorist—after all, he bragged about it. But that did not disqualify him, in the minds of these moderate, peaceful Muslims, from rendering authoritative opinions on the meaning of the core tenets of their religion. No one was saying that they would follow the Blind Sheikh into terrorism—but no one was discrediting his status either.
Although this came as a revelation to me, it should not have. After all, it is not as if Western civilization had no experience dealing with Islamic supremacism—what today we call “Islamist” ideology, the belief that sharia must govern society. Winston Churchill, for one, had encountered it as a young man serving in the British army, both in the border region between modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan and in the Sudan—places that are still cauldrons of Islamist terror. Ever the perceptive observer, Churchill wrote:
How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. . . . Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property—either as a child, a wife, or a concubine—must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.
Habitually, I distinguish between Islam and Muslims. It is objectively important to do so, but I also have a personal reason: when I began working on national security cases, the Muslims I first encountered were not terrorists. To the contrary, they were pro-American patriots who helped us infiltrate terror cells, disrupt mass-murder plots, and gather the evidence needed to convict jihadists. We have an obligation to our national security to understand our enemies; but we also have an obligation to our principles not to convict by association—not to confound our Islamist enemies with our Muslim allies and fellow citizens. Churchill appreciated this distinction. “Individual Moslems,” he stressed, “may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen.” The problem was not the people, he concluded. It was the doctrine.
What about Islamic law? On this topic, it is useful to turn to Robert Jackson, a giant figure in American law and politics—FDR’s attorney general, justice of the Supreme Court, and chief prosecutor of the war crimes trials at Nuremberg. In 1955, Justice Jackson penned the foreword to a book called Law in the Middle East. Unlike today’s government officials, Justice Jackson thought sharia was a subject worthy of close study. And here is what he concluded:
In any broad sense, Islamic law offers the American lawyer a study in dramatic contrasts. Even casual acquaintance and superficial knowledge—all that most of us at bench or bar will be able to acquire—reveal that its striking features relative to our law are not likenesses but inconsistencies, not similarities but contrarieties. In its source, its scope and its sanctions, the law of the Middle East is the antithesis of Western law.
Contrast this with the constitution that the U.S. government helped write for post-Taliban Afghanistan, which showed no awareness of the opposition of Islamic and Western law. That constitution contains soaring tropes about human rights, yet it makes Islam the state religion and sharia a principal source of law—and under it, Muslim converts to Christianity have been subjected to capital trials for apostasy.
Sharia rejects freedom of speech as much as freedom of religion. It rejects the idea of equal rights between men and women as much as between Muslim and non-Muslim. It brooks no separation between spiritual life and civil society. It is a comprehensive framework for human life, dictating matters of government, economy, and combat, along with personal behavior such as contact between the sexes and personal hygiene. Sharia aims to rule both believers and non-believers, and it affirmatively sanctions jihad in order to do so.
Even if this is not the only construction of Islam, it is absurd to claim—as President Obama did during his recent visit to a mosque in Baltimore—that it is not a mainstream interpretation. In fact, it is the mainstream interpretation in many parts of the world. Last year, Americans were horrified by the beheadings of three Western journalists by ISIS. American and European politicians could not get to microphones fast enough to insist that these decapitations had nothing to do with Islam. Yet within the same time frame, the government of Saudi Arabia beheaded eight people for various violations of sharia—the law that governs Saudi Arabia.
Three weeks before Christmas, a jihadist couple—an American citizen, the son of Pakistani immigrants, and his Pakistani wife who had been welcomed into our country on a fiancée visa—carried out a jihadist attack in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 people. Our government, as with the case in Fort Hood—where a jihadist who had infiltrated the Army killed 13 innocents, mostly fellow soldiers—resisted calling the atrocity a “terrorist attack.” Why? Our investigators are good at what they do, and our top officials may be ideological, but they are not stupid. Why is it that they can’t say two plus two equals four when Islam is involved?
The reason is simple: stubbornly unwilling to deal with the reality of Islam, our leaders have constructed an Islam of their very own. This triumph of willful blindness and political correctness over common sense was best illustrated by former British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith when she described terrorism as “anti-Islamic activity.” In other words, the savagery is not merely unrelated to Islam; it becomes, by dint of its being inconsistent with a “religion of peace,” contrary to Islam. This explains our government’s handwringing over “radicalization”: we are supposed to wonder why young Muslims spontaneously become violent radicals—as if there is no belief system involved.
This is political correctness on steroids, and it has dangerous policy implications. Consider the inability of government officials to call a mass-murder attack by Muslims a terrorist attack unless and until the police uncover evidence proving that the mass murderers have some tie to a designated terrorist group, such as ISIS or al Qaeda. It is rare for such evidence to be uncovered early in an investigation—and as a matter of fact, such evidence often does not exist. Terrorist recruits already share the same ideology as these groups: the goal of imposing sharia. All they need in order to execute terrorist attacks is paramilitary training, which is readily available in more places than just Syria.
The dangerous flipside to our government’s insistence on making up its own version of Islam is that anyone who is publicly associated with Islam must be deemed peaceful. This is how we fall into the trap of allowing the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s most influential Islamic supremacist organization, to infiltrate policy-making organs of the U.S. government, not to mention our schools, our prisons, and other institutions. The federal government, particularly under the Obama administration, acknowledges the Brotherhood as an Islamic organization—notwithstanding the ham-handed attempt by the intelligence community a few years back to rebrand it as “largely secular”—thereby giving it a clean bill of health. This despite the fact that Hamas is the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch, that the Brotherhood has a long history of terrorist violence, and that major Brotherhood figures have gone on to play leading roles in terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda.
To quote Churchill again: “Facts are better than dreams.” In the real world, we must deal with the facts of Islamic supremacism, because its jihadist legions have every intention of dealing with us. But we can only defeat them if we resolve to see them for what they are.
Read more at Imprimis, a periodical of Hillsdale University.
It's good that Donald Trump, our next President, is wise to what Mr. McCarthy has said so well here.
May God help us all if someone else were to be elected!
Ted Cruz is the better choice. With Trump we don't know what he is going to do.
Who is going to be next president is moot. I feel that the Obama (Clinton) administration; created ISIS as a hedge on Islamic Terror. They can now; easily say; its not Islam, its ISIS. See there.
The political correctness here is going to be fatal if not checked. The demoralize us every time there is a Terrorist attack; and they claim it isn't Islam. Those poor people in Europe have little time to fight back; or it could all be over.
And I had dreams of travelling the continent when I retire.
Boy when you're right, you're right! You just never know about that Trump do ya?
But Ted? Why he's as solid as a rock. I love his bible clutching speeches about morality. Why he's so eradicate you couldn't be faulted for, yaknow, actually believing him!
And speaking of choices. Why old Ted sure made sure to leave himself a basketful of them didn't he? Why he had one lady for each day of the week. And I hear he kept his lineup fresh with some high priced talent, if you get the drift.
Yep, ya can't go wrong with that Ted Cruz-leading the way for hypocrites and swarmy slime bags everywhere.
"Tonight I reached out to one of the suspected 'mistresses'":
I don't even mind this kind of traditional political 'dirty trick'. Anyone with half a brain knows that the Bush machine/GOPe would've already used this fabulous tale if it had a modicum of truth to it.
how did such an important and honest piece of work become a trump v cruz cage match?
"It's good that Donald Trump, our next President, is wise to what Mr. McCarthy has said so well here. May God help us all if someone else were to be elected!"
Doubtful. Trump was pro-refugee before he flip-flopped.
I guarantee Trump's gonna flip-flop on immigration and rapefujihadis the moment he gets into office.
Now for the real thing I meant to say: This talk of "individual muslims are good" is inanity.
Islam is an ideology with concepts and aspirations designed to encourage jihad. Every last muslim is a carrier of this memetic plague.
The worst part is that the moderates are worthless. If they aren't letting themselves be bullied they're agitating for Sharia law. They form enclaves that make radicalization more possible instead of assimilate.
Excellent description. Thank you.
This is the only genuine response I've read.
Wonderful piece,counselor. Sorry about the dimwits.
And we should keep in mind that our President was reared as a Muslim. His bowing to the Ayatollah was not exceptional, he was raised that way. God help the USA. Hope we can repair the damage he has done in his 8 years.
First, I have not read what was said above, but want to say a word or two here. After a lot of study on the religions of man, this is what I believe: It was about 600 AD when Mohammed received a revelation from God that brought about the Islam religion. It is connected to Judaism and Christianity and is known as the 3rd time God revealed himself to man. I think it was a few years later that the religion took off about 1400. I did not hear or read anything negative about it, so why after so many years is it being called a bad religion? It appears that a few, or a lot, of people in recent times have turned the religion into something bad which isn't true. Yes, there are bad people in that religion now, but don't forget the KKK that exists mainly in Christianity. There are more strange yet interesting things in the name of religion than I can count on my fingers and toes. My books are in storage and I am writing this from memory.
You didn't read the article, did you Dorothy?
Where to start?
" I think it was a few years later that the religion took off about 1400. I did not hear or read anything negative about it, so why after so many years is it being called a bad religion?"
In all likelihood the books you read were written by propagandists who hated white people and western civilization. Or you remember them incorrectly.
Here's a link to a guy who has studied Islam's history: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ilFbbk9jw4
Basically, for the better part of seven centuries muslims were raping, marauding, and pillaging non-muslims for treasure and slaves. Nothing has actually changed. When muslims achieve at least 50% of the population they start ethnically cleansing non-muslims. Islam is responsible for some 270 million deaths throughout its existence.
Islam is not a "Religion of Peace" and never will be barring some unforeseen miracle
If you studied religion as you state, you need to take a refresher course my desr! Have you even bothered to read the Qur'an? Look at Sharia Laws? You need to do this before making this absurd comment. Islam is not as religion in my eyes. It's a sick disgusting ideology written by an insane man called Muhammad. The Qur'an is filled with hate, dismemberment and death to all non believers and apostates.
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