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We commend the NSCT for
- Correctly identifying ideology (specifically, “a distorted interpretation of Islam”) as a key enabling factor of al-Qa’ida-style terrorism (page 3). From a counter-radicalization perspective, we believe this is the single most important concept in the document. If wisely and courageously pursued to its logical conclusion, this insight could indeed lead to “a future in which al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents are defeated—and their ideology ultimately meets the same fate as its founder and leader” (page 2).
- Advocating the dissemination of a positive view of the U.S. and our values: The NSCT states that “Contrasting a positive U.S. agenda that supports the rights of free speech, assembly, and democracy with the death and destruction offered by our terrorist adversaries helps undermine and undercut their appeal, isolating them from the very population they rely on for support” (page 5). This contrast is essential to winning the struggle with violent extremists, and the AILC is prepared to help articulate and advance these contrasting visions of society to Muslims in the U.S. and abroad.
- Taking the military fight to the enemy. The AILC applauds NSCT confirmation that it is and shall remain U.S. strategy to maintain a robust military counter-terrorism protocol in those regions of the world in which Islamist militants, both Salafists and Khomeinists, plan and execute terrorist campaigns against citizens of the U.S. and our allies.
- Working with local Muslim communities: Reporting on the NSCT, the Wall Street Journal noted, “Mr. Brennan said that this summer the administration would present a more detailed plan to work with local Muslim and Arab communities to counter violent extremism in the U.S.” If this “follow-on plan” avoids empowering groups that share al-Qa’ida’s Islamist ideology, and instead engages with genuinely pluralistic, tolerant and solutions-oriented Muslim groups and leaders, this could represent a significant step in helping to root out and prevent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
We are concerned that the NSCT
- Appears to reflect a largely pro forma, rather than substantive, approach to countering extremist ideology and the radicalization of Muslims in the U.S. and abroad. This reticence constitutes a potentially fatal weakness within the NSCT, and appears to perpetuate the misguided policy—pursued by both Republican and Democrat administrations—of refusing to address the ideology of religious hatred, supremacy and violence that underlies and animates Islamist terrorism. This refusal allows and encourages both Muslim and non-Muslim extremists to conflate Islam with al-Qa’ida’s ideology, without having to confront or intellectually respond to substantive challenge. This accelerates a crisis of misunderstanding and mutual recrimination that fosters the spread of anti-Western attitudes and conspiracy theories among Muslims, while fueling a growing fear of Muslims in the West.
- Does not define individual rights, or articulate a systematic strategy to promote them: The NSCT laudably states that the U.S. will work with allies “to provide mutual security and protection to citizens of all nations while also upholding individual rights” (pg. 15). Yet with the exception of free speech and assembly (mentioned above), the NSCT provides no working definition or moral defense of individual rights, whether based on universal principles or, more importantly, those of Islam itself. We believe it is self-defeating to extol the principles of individual liberty in a vacuum, as it were, without addressing the countervailing Islamist ideology that fuels our enemies, who seek to wrap themselves and their totalitarian agenda in the mantle of Islamic legitimacy. The American experiment has proven that the best legal foundation for a free society that protects all citizens from government—including the most religiously orthodox—is one based upon the principle that every individual possesses certain unalienable rights endowed by the Creator, which may not be abridged by government. This legal foundation embodied in the American Establishment Clause,2 which is consistent with chapter 2, verse 256 of the Qur’an (“There is no compulsion in religion”), constitutes the Achilles heel of the theocratic, statist ideology promoted by Islamists, including al-Qa’ida. A genuine effort to uphold individual rights must address the enormous chasm between the UN Declaration of Human Rights signed by free nations, and the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights endorsed by most Muslim-majority states. We must unapologetically articulate and defend individual rights in the broadest scope, in America and beyond. The AILC is uniquely positioned to help the Administration do so within a Muslim narrative and context.
- Fails to define al-Qa’ida’s ideology, and its relationship to Islamist ideology and movements in general. Recognizing the vital role that ideology plays in al-Qa’ida propaganda, recruitment and terrorism, the NSCT employs the term “ideology” no less than 20 times within a 17-page document. To cite a prime example: “Countering this ideology… is an essential element of our strategy” (page 3). Yet nowhere does the NSCT actually define al-Qa’ida’s ideology; explain its historical antecedents; discuss how, why, where and among whom it tends to metastasize; or clarify the precise nature of its relationship to Islamic theology in general, of which it is merely said to be “a distorted interpretation.” Correctly understanding and identifying this ideology, in all its facets, is vital to defeating al-Qa’ida and its affiliates, which rely upon this ideology to radicalize and generate new recruits, both in the U.S. and abroad. We understand our government’s trepidation and reluctance to address specifics, when it comes to a theo-political ideology that is progressively embedding itself in one of the world’s great religions. But, make no mistake, there can be no successful counter-terrorism strategy that fails to identify and address Islamist ideology. Freedom-loving members of the AILC stand ready to assist public policy makers in this difficult and delicate process.
- Provides no criteria for determining with which Muslim groups the Administration will conduct its outreach programs. Our nation’s long-term security depends, to a significant extent, upon American Muslims countering Islamism and its violent offshoots. Yet the report fails to mention the fact that Muslim communities are highly diverse, rather than monolithic. In seeking to discredit al-Qa’ida’s ideology, it is counterproductive to engage and empower groups that share an ostensibly (or tactically) “non-violent” form of that same ideology, as partners in what should be a systematic, long-term effort to undermine and discredit their highly politicized and distorted understanding of Islam. Unfortunately, well-financed Muslim Brotherhood, Wahhabi and Jamaat-e-Islami legacy groups—inspired by an Islamist ideology that substantially parallels that of al-Qa’ida itself—have been organizing in North America for nearly fifty years. Their members have, in many cases, acquired significant influence in American society under the guise of promoting a “moderation” that exists in word only, while actually seeking to intimidate, marginalize and otherwise silence those who hold a truly pluralistic, tolerant and spiritual understanding of Islam. The AILC was founded, in large part, to dispel this illusion, and to help unite the vast, silent majority of Muslims in the U.S. and Canada, to reclaim our religion from those who merely claim to speak in our name.
- Fails to articulate a strategy to counter Islamist ideology in general, or “cyberjihad” in particular. Nearly every terrorist plot and act on U.S. soil in the past few years was perpetrated by American Muslims who were indoctrinated here, on our own soil. The Internet is one of the primary vehicles for the transmission of ideas that threaten our security, and should be a primary vehicle through which we respond to the propagation of extremist ideology. In 2008, many of us in the American Islamic Leadership Coalition commended the US Senate Homeland Security Committee on its comprehensive report on Violent Islamist Extremism, the Internet and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat. It is disconcerting that three years later, the White House’s newest NSCT appears to ignore most of those findings and recommendations.
- Focuses narrowly upon al-Qa’ida as the enemy. While there is no disputing the fact that al-Qa’ida is and has been responsible for many terrorist attacks conducted against Americans and our allies, we must remember that this terrorist organization is loosely networked—like other Islamist terror organizations—and merely one of hundreds of militant Islamist groups, all of which emerge from their ideological progenitors, including Wahhabism, the Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat-e-Islami, Khomeinist Shi’ism and other extremist movements that seek to instrumentalize the religion of Islam in order to seize and maintain power. To address only al-Qa’ida—while ignoring the larger phenomenon of Islamist extremism in general, in both its Sunni and Shi’a variants—demonstrates a tunnel vision that will continue to prevent the development and implementation of a truly effective counterterrorism strategy, while simultaneously blinding U.S. policy makers to the potential rise of entire regimes characterized by an intense antipathy to the United States, its interests and its values, and those of humanity at large.