Wednesday, January 13, 2016

In Europe, Muslim Extremists Turn to Sexual Terrorism. By M.G. Opera.

In Europe, Muslim Extremists Turn to Sexual Terrorism. By M.G. Opera. The Federalist, January 11, 2016.


In the wake of the New Year’s Eve mass sexual assaults in Cologne, it would be madness to ignore the persistent trend in the Muslim world of physical violence toward women.

Europe has a big problem on its hands. On Sunday, Germany’s justice minister said a series of attacks across the country on New Year’s Eve appear to have been pre-planned. In downtown Cologne, about a thousand men of Arab and North African descent entered a square full of celebrators and proceeded to surround women, robbing and in many cases sexually assaulting them.

Police describe a horrifying scene of women running terrified and attackers aggressively pushing back police. So far, 170 women have come forward with complaints, three-fourths of which involve sexual assaults. Similar attacks from that night have been reported in Hamburg, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, and Düsseldorf.

It now appears that officials tried to cover up the attacks lest they stoke anti-immigrant sentiment. On Friday, Cologne’s police chief was fired because of his poor handling of the attacks in the first few days of the new year. Rather than face the reality that they have a problem with their Muslim population, city officials tried to sweep it under the rug.

Hiding Sexual Assault In the Name of Tolerance

How they thought they could conceal an attack of this scale and nature is difficult to say. Then again, they’re just following a rising European trend. Consider the Rotherham rape scandal last year in Britain, which revealed that police and social workers had for years been hiding what amounted to 1,400 gang rapes of young women and girls by men of Pakistani descent. Social workers and others claimed they were afraid to come forward for fear some would accuse them of racism and “Islamaphobia.”

Something similar is happening in Cologne. Mayor Henriette Reker was quick to come out and claim “there are no indications that this involved people who have sought shelter in Cologne as refugees.” On Friday, news broke that 18 of 31 identified suspects were confirmed asylum-seekers. German’s leaders rushed to insist this couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the recent migrant crisis, before knowing the facts.

This isn’t just a European habit. Recall the U.S. media’s initial knee-jerk denial of the motivations of the San Bernardino terrorists. But Europe is especially afraid to acknowledge it has a problem with its Muslim population, and its leaders are giving the impression they don’t take the problem seriously.

To prevent similar attacks during Carnival celebrations next month, Reker awkwardly proposed that city officials would work to explain Carnival to people from other cultures so they won’t be “confused” about “celebratory behavior in Cologne,” as if the New Year’s Eve attackers merely didn’t understand that sexual assault is an inappropriate way to “celebrate” and all that’s needed to uproot deeply held cultural norms is a little bit more information.

The Muslim World Has a Violence Against Women Problem

To date, only 18 of the approximately 1,000 attackers have been confirmed as asylum seekers. But what about the rest of them? They may have been second- or third-generation immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, which suggests these communities are not assimilating sufficiently into European society and are not adopting its most important cultural norms.

This bodes ill for European countries that have seen massive migration from Muslim-majority countries in recent years because it’s often the second and third generation, not the first, that is most resistant to Western culture. Pew data shows that Muslims in Europe are having children at a faster rate than non-Muslim Europeans, so this ought to be a real concern.

Of course we should be careful not to portray all Muslim men as violent and repressive toward women. However, it would be madness to ignore the pervasive and persistent trend in the Muslim world of treating women as unequal to men and being physically violent toward them.

Until recently, women in Morocco (the most progressive Muslim state) couldn’t travel without permission from their father or a male relative, and courts often forced rape victims to marry their rapist. Women in Morocco (including many of my own personal acquaintances) are habitually chased, harassed, and groped. Groping and sexual assault tend to happen when large crowds gather, like in Tahir Square during the Egyptian Arab Spring—and what happened across Germany on New Year’s Eve.

Even a liberal Moroccan Muslim public intellectual, Fatima Sadiqi, once said in a lecture that men and women are equal, but women belong in the home sphere while men belong in the public one. This is the mildest way to interpret Muslim cultural attitudes toward women.

But let’s assume that it’s the correct one, for the sake of argument. Is this an acceptable future for Germany, or for any part of Europe? Given the continent’s rapidly changing demographics, where it’s predicted that by 2050 10.2 percent of the population will be Muslim, this is a question Europeans must answer.

Assimilation Is Now a Life or Death Project

It seems German officials are not worried enough about the potential problems a huge influx of mostly male emigrants from Muslim majority countries may bring. We live in an age where suggesting migrants need to assimilate is seen as colonialist and anti-multicultural. Yet not expecting them to accept some of the core values of the country they would call home—like treating women with respect—invites violent outbursts like those on New Year’s Eve, or worse, terrorist attacks like those in November in Paris.

Perhaps these mass sexual assaults will turn out to be more unsettling to Europeans even than terrorist attacks, because it isn’t just their security that’s being threatened, but their way of life. One police man reported he had never seen such a lack of regard for the police in 29 years on the job as among the assailants on New Year’s Eve in Cologne.

Yet it seems like no one in charge is really that concerned—or if they are, they’re too politically correct to come out and say it, much like some liberals in America are reluctant to put the words “Islam” and “terrorist” in the same sentence.

If Europe’s political leaders don’t adequately address these real and troubling concerns and convince voters they’re taking it seriously, they will have a rebellion on their hands. Ignoring these incidents in the name of “tolerance” will further fuel far-right nationalist movements and xenophobic rhetoric.

It’s easy to see how attacks like this one will become a useful talking point for the far right, a ready-made argument against immigration. It’s also easy to see how it could point back toward the kind of nationalism that Europe has tried so hard to leave behind.

Democrats and Republicans No Longer Speak the Same Language. By Julie Roginsky.

Obama calls for unity in last State of the Union address but we are farther apart than ever. By Julie Roginsky., January 13, 2016.

Is Obama’s agenda causing a split among Americans? Video. Outnumbered. Fox News, January 13, 2016. YouTube.


It was at once a victory lap and a to-do list, an opportunity to shape a legacy in the midst of a legacy-making year.  It was a farewell address that provided a plan for the future even as the national conversation has already shifted to those auditioning to deliver next year’s speech.

Mostly, Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address was an enjoining of the 2016 campaign and a progressive vision from a president who wants to ensure the preservation of his legacy.

It was a rebuttal to the negativity heard on the campaign trail – not just from Republicans, of whom that is expected, but even from Democratic candidates who are loathe to criticize the president directly while nevertheless promising to do better.

As a campaign speech, it was one of his finest.

A self-laudatory speech, it was also an acknowledgement that the gains the country has made under the Obama administration will necessarily have to be reinforced by a Democratic successor.

Yes, this administration has presided over 70 consecutive months of private sector job growth, including adding more net jobs in the last 12 weeks than were added in the last 12 years of Republican administrations.  Millions more have health coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act – legislation so anathema to Republicans that they have voted to repeal it over five dozen times. Civil rights have been expanded, over the objections of many in Congress.

These accomplishments will not be easily undone but only a Democratic successor can build upon most of them, which is why this address resembled a political campaign speech in tenor as well as in tone.

It was not an accident that the speech dwelled largely on issues that resonate with the coalition of voters the next Democratic nominee hopes to capture: the focus on better-paying, sustainable jobs and economic security; better access to early-childhood, STEM and college education; entitlement protection; expanding health care treatments, including cancer research; combating climate change.

Democrats and Republicans have longed disagreed on what they consider to be the most pressing issues facing the nation and this speech reflected that rift.  Republicans consistently cite homeland security as their top concern; for Democrats, terrorism ranks far behind jobs and the economy.

And that is why the president’s words regarding the relative danger posed by terrorists will be heard so differently by Democrats, who consider it less of a threat than gun violence, and by Republicans, who are most anxious about terrorism.  As a political document, the president’s speech accomplished its goal, even if it did not reassure his critics.

But despite the president’s powerful appeal to a common citizenship, it was not only his emphasis on particular issues that belied his call for unity.  And the challenges facing the nation were not just outlined from the podium.

They were apparent in the theater that always surrounds the State of the Union – from the first lady’s guests, who included a Syrian refugee and the plaintiff in the case that enshrined marriage equality as the law of the land – to the presence of Kim Davis , elsewhere in the chamber, the controversial county clerk from Kentucky (invited by a member of Congress who wished to  remain anonymous), who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

They were present in the Muslim constituents who accompanied many legislators to the speech and in the two nuns from a Catholic order challenging the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.

And they were hauntingly reinforced by the empty chair in the first lady’s box, set aside in memory of the 30,000 victims who die every year from gun violence.

Each of these represented not just the divisions in Washington but served as a silent rebuttal to candidates running to deliver next year’s State of the Union speech.

Tellingly, they also underscored the divisions found in communities all across the country, where political disagreements have morphed into something more ominous and personal, where gerrymandering has largely ensured that politically minded people now rarely live among those with whom they substantially disagree.

As President Obama noted Tuesday night, the state of the union is strong. But it is also as divided today as it has ever been.  And, despite his call for common citizenship, the prognosis for a more unified government looks as bleak for the next administration as it has been under this one.

It is not that we are not on the same page as a nation. As the president said, that is to be expected in a country this large and diverse.

It is that we can no longer even agree on whether the words on the page are written in the same language.

What We Should Have Learned from the Iraq War. By John Daniel Davidson.

What We Should Have Learned from the Iraq War. By John Daniel Davidson. The Federalist, January 12, 2016.


There’s another way to understand the Iraq war and its aftermath: as a hard-won success that a single presidential election unraveled.

As we head into the next Republican presidential debate, we should take stock of how the previous one exposed a widening split in the GOP about what lessons we should take from the Iraq war. The key moment came during an exchange between senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio about how to deal with ISIS and the collapse of order in the Middle East. Rubio favors a more aggressive, interventionist foreign policy and Cruz a more restrained—albeit somewhat vague—approach that involves “carpet bombing” ISIS but not getting involved in Syria’s civil war.

The exchange reflected the stakes of a much larger question about America’s strategic foreign policy: should America actively promote democracy abroad and pursue regime change by toppling dictators, or should we tolerate dictatorships and instead focus more narrowly on American interests, less on world order?

Cruz, along with Donald Trump and Sen. Rand Paul, have criticized the Iraq war and President George W. Bush, while Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Gov. Chris Christie have talked about the need to form a close alliance with Sunni Arabs to defeat the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

This divide has been framed crudely—and unfairly—as “isolationist” versus “neocon” in much of the press, but neither of those terms on their own means much in this context. It’s more accurate to say that after the Iraq war, two camps emerged in the GOP: those who think toppling Saddam was the right decision and would’ve been a complete success if only President Obama hadn’t pulled our troops out prematurely, and those who think it was a terrible idea that cost us much more than we gained, destabilized the region, and enabled the rise of ISIS. (The latter view is more or less indistinguishable from that of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party.)

Beware the Ides of Politics

But there’s a third way to understand the war and its aftermath: as a hard-won success that was completely undone by a single presidential election. For various reasons, Americans in the twenty-first century are unwilling to endure military action abroad for as long as it takes to establish stable regimes. American political leaders can’t count on decades of domestic support for large-scale military deployments in the wake of a victorious war, as in the American occupation of Japan and West Germany after World War II, or South Korea after the Korean War.

The great lesson of the Iraq war, then, is not that we should withdraw from the world and never again try to overthrow dangerous dictatorships, but that we should be very selective about when and where we intervene because of how easily domestic politics can undermine intervention. Seen in this light, it’s not the rise of ISIS that should be a warning to future administrations, it’s that the Obama administration was able to erase all our gains in Iraq by pulling the troops out too soon, which destabilized the country and created the space ISIS needed to grow.

To understand the magnitude of what Obama threw away in Iraq, consider that by the time he inherited the war, the country was almost completely pacified. We had defeated all the warring factions inside the country, including Iranian-backed Shiite militias, and casualty counts reflect that. By the end of Obama’s first year in office, coalition military fatalities in Iraq stood at just 150, a dramatic decline from two years earlier, when that figure was nearly 1,000. In the summer and fall of 2009, monthly Iraqi civilian deaths were being counted in the hundreds, not the thousands as they had been in 2006 to 2007.

Obama turned his back on those gains. He used the failure of Iraq’s National Assembly to pass a law granting U.S. troops immunity from local criminal prosecution as a pretext for letting the status of forces agreement expire at the end of 2011—as if we had been forced to leave because of domestic political factors in Iraq, instead of those in the United States. What we lost, however, was far greater than just our gains in Iraq.

Prudence Demands Working with Democracy’s Effects

In a National Review Online article last year, Mario Loyola set our premature withdrawal in the broader historical context of U.S. involvement in the Middle East stretching back half a century:
The central position the U.S. had achieved in the Middle East by 2009 was not merely the result of victory in the Iraq War. It was a position carefully built up over decades. It started in the 1950s and 1960s with a de facto protectorate of the oil-producing Gulf Kingdoms. It was consolidated in the 1970s with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s success in gaining Jordan’s trust and turning Egypt away from the Soviet Union and toward peace with Israel. And it was further built up by both of the wars with Iraq.
That’s now been erased, in part because Obama wanted to be the president who got us out of Iraq, but also because the president was responding to domestic political pressure. Obama’s election in 2008 was in part a rejection of the Iraq war by American voters, who had lost patience with our mission in the Middle East, even though by 2009 our strategy there was a demonstrable success.

This of course is a fundamental weakness in democratic governments, which tend not to be very good at avoiding wars because public opinion often prevents them from taking necessary, sometimes preemptive steps abroad. The reactive nature of democratic foreign policy also makes it difficult to pursue long-term strategic foreign policy of the sort that’s necessary to successfully topple a bad regime and replace it with a friendly one.

The foreign policy lesson for today’s GOP candidates, then, shouldn’t be an oversimplified preference for one of two extremes—intervention or isolation—but a heightened scrutiny about where and when to employ American military power in a way that will bring about lasting gains.

Henry Nau has argued for a kind of “conservative internationalism” in the tradition of presidents Truman and Reagan, which “prioritized the advance of freedom along the borders of existing free countries in Europe and Asia—not in every country in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa.” Today, such a strategy would involve focusing our military and diplomatic resources on places like Ukraine and South Korea, rather than seeking to impose democracy in places that have never known it, like Syria.

That might prove a sound approach, but it won’t work if a future administration can’t convince the American people to support it long-term. If we’re going to intervene abroad, either by pressuring or toppling a regime, we must do so selectively, cognizant that we the people no longer have much patience for toppling dictators and occupying foreign countries—even if our strategy is working.

America Used to Know How to Assimilate Immigrants. By Mike Gonzalez.

America Used to Know How to Assimilate Immigrants. By Mike Gonzalez. The Federalist, January 12, 2016.

Obama’s Ethnic Divide-and-Conquer Strategy. By Mike Gonzalez. National Review Online, January 13, 2016.

Patriotic Assimilation Is an Indispensable Condition in a Land of Immigrants. By Mike Gonzalez. The Heritage Foundation, January 8, 2016. PDF.

Gonzalez [The Federalist]:

Why did Mussolini’s siren song of fascism fall on deaf ears with Italian immigrants, while the sadistic song of terror today finds a receptive audience among Arabs with long ties here?

Two refugees are now in federal custody, charged with terrorism-related activities. So much for all immigrants and their children being assimilated into Norman Rockwell’s America!

That level of assimilation is a tall order, you might say. Yes, but it’s a worthy goal. In fact, we had some success when we at least tried it. The best purveyor of that American archetype in Hollywood was a Sicilian-born immigrant known as Francesco Rosario Capra—whom you might know as Frank Capra.

Contrast Previous Immigrants with Today’s Immigrants

Benito Mussolini found out the hard way that assimilation worked for America. In 1929 he called on Italian-Americans to remain loyal to the motherland. They pretty much reacted by giving Il Duce the gesto dell’ombrello, which is not exactly a salute. Hundreds of thousands of them fought in World War II, many in Italy itself.

But things seem different today. On Thursday, federal authorities announced the arrest of two refugees on terrorism-related charges. One of the men allegedly had ties to terror groups even before entering the country three years ago. The other came to the United States in 2009 and apparently became radicalized here. He then tried to recruit people here to join terror groups overseas.

What’s going on? Italian-Americans spurned Mussolini when he said “my order is that an Italian citizen must remain an Italian citizen, no matter in what land he lives, even to the seventh generation.” Why did the siren song of fascism fall on deaf ears, while the sadistic song of terror today finds a receptive audience among people with long ties here?

Then, We Didn’t Apologize for Deliberate Assimilation

Obviously, there’s much at work, and it will require different disciplines to arrive at a holistic explanation and solution. But allow me to humbly take up one strand and suggest something that is never discussed, yet seems so self-evident.

At the turn of the last century, when Italian-Americans poured in large number through Ellis Island, they encountered what was then called—quaintly, and without irony or angst—an Americanization program. They were actually taught to love their new country.

One driver behind the assimilationist push was the fear that the Italians and other immigrants such as Slavs and Jews would bring in—and cling to—socialist and anarchist ideas ascendant in their native lands. By mid-century, the only traitors helping the Soviet cause were people with long American pedigrees like Alger Hiss.

The immigrants who experienced the Americanization program went on to become full-fledged members of the Greatest Generation. They endured the Depression, defeated Nazism and fascism in World War II, then Communism in the Cold War. To say the least, they met the existential questions of the day. No fewer than 14 Italian-Americans received the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in WWII.

Now We Encourage Newcomers to Hate Us

Today, our elites are far too “sophisticated” to promote Americanization. As immigrants, refugees, assylees and others come and settle here, they are actually taught that this is a racist, Islamophobic country and that they are victims. In fact, much about how they live—from social standing to actual tangible benefits—will depend on their status as members of an aggrieved, protected group.

Is it any wonder we have the current situation? It is an economic axiom that the more you tax or deter something, the less of it you get, while the more you subsidize another thing, the more of it there will be. American elites’ decision to turn away from patriotic assimilation and pursue a multicultural model that perpetuates group differences—in effect, culturally and functionally segregating them—has created societal problems we will be dealing with for years.

Discussion of this issue has nearly become taboo, because the Left pounces on anyone who will take it up. One can surmise, of course, that the Left pounces as hard as it does because it realizes that an internally riven society is an essential ingredient of regime change—or “fundamentally transforming the United States of America” as some call it.

The Time to Debate This Was Yesterday

Monday, The Heritage Foundation published my special report detailing how we used to assimilate immigrants, then how and why we stopped. The word “assimilation” itself was used by President Washington and embraced by all the Founders on down to Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Ronald Reagan. Most importantly, the report calls for presidential candidates of both parties to debate this existential matter.

This is a debate we haven’t really had. Elites in the academy and the arts, the bureaucracy and politics, decided on their own to stop assimilating newcomers and move to the multi-group model.

Undoing the damage of multiculturalism, affirmative action, and the entire culture of victimhood won’t be easy, and working only toward cultural and economic integration will not be enough. After all, 2013 Boston bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev and last year’s San Bernardino’s Syed Farook were “culturally integrated.” Patriotic assimilation is key. But first, we need to be able to talk about it—without being shouted down.

The West and Islamism: Testing the “War of Ideas.” By Adam Garfinkle.

The West and Islamism: Testing the “War of Ideas.” By Adam Garfinkle. The American Interest, January 11, 2016.


I argued late last month that, after Paris, Bamako, and San Bernardino, a clutch of mainly well-intentioned observers were exaggerating the role of ideology in the Islamist threat, calling (again) for a “war of ideas,” as though the desultory post-9/11 era experience on this score had never happened. I noted, as have many others both recently and more than a dozen years ago, that any consequential “war of ideas” has to go on within Muslim-majority countries. And it is going on, with signs pointing to the eventual rejection and marginalization of salafi extremism, and the emergence of something still inchoate that is neither Islamist nor entirely traditional. Of course we could help the anti-salafis in the region more than we have been, and we could be wiser about our methods. We could also go about this foolishly and counterproductively, as we have in some cases in the past and as certain presidential contenders are urging us to repeat (and worse).

Between the Western worldview and terror-prone Islamism, on the other hand, there is little intellectual or ideological conflict of significance that can be remedied by a “war of ideas.” There is a conflict, of course, and it is one between two universalisms: Western Enlightenment liberalism and Islamist supremacism. But this conflict is not the proximate source of our problem. There is rather a sociological problem in the region having mainly to do with the stresses of modernization on traditional and, in many cases, still largely tribally structured societies, and this agonizing civilizational churning happens to spatter blood beyond as well as within its borders. Regrettably, we in the West cannot master this problem, only manage it until those who truly own it work their way to some new and improved social equipoise.

I know this argument will be unpopular in some circles, for the “war of ideas” mantra has become a kind of abstract rallying cry that supposedly complements the military/security instrumentalities Western governments must use to protect their citizens. Many people are uncomfortable or unsatisfied with an exclusively military-security response to salafi extremism and long to believe that something more philosophically elevated must be involved here. There is, no doubt, but I stand by my argument that the “war of ideas” notion, as commonly understood and promulgated, is not that something. Here I elaborate and complement that argument, in two parts.

First, I want to be more specific about the non-centrality of ideological conflict between the West and Islamism. What we Western observers often identity as ideological is really theological; but then we would do that, wouldn’t we, since most Western observers do not take theology as a social force very seriously anymore. The two are not the same, and thanks to a good deal of natural blurring between the understanding of ideology and theology among Muslims—because they do not take the category of the secular very seriously—rationalist arguments on an ideological plain made directly by non-Muslims to Muslims will get us absolutely nowhere.

Second, in part two, I visit the proverbial other side of the coin, for when our chatterati propose a “war of ideas” turning on the presumed centrality of jihadi ideology, they rarely leave off adjuring us here in the West to revivify and pump new energy into the liberal project that defines us both historically and prospectively. It follows that if we are warring on someone else’s ideas, we must have superior ideas in which we genuinely believe with which to win that war. Such adjuration makes for a terrific applause line, but it never comes with assembly instructions. There’s a reason for that.

To argue that there is no ideological conflict of significance between Western liberalism and Islamism is not to say that Islamists have no explicit beliefs about their relations with non-Muslims, including those of the West, or that they do not draw political implications and inspiration from those beliefs. The leaders of Islamist organizations do both, and some mid-echelon followers do as well. But the rank-and-file of Islamist organizations, notably those disposed to participate in violence and terrorism, tend to be not particularly interested in the esoterica of Islamist political theology, are neither well-versed in it nor educated sufficiently to parse it, and are not mainly motivated by whatever intellectually suasive power it may have. They join for other reasons of a run-of the-mill social-psychological sort that I (and many others) have discussed before. The Arabs native to the region and those who are attracted to the caliphate from Europe, Russia, Turkey, and America do not display precisely the same social-psychological profile, and their ability to direct their intellects to salafi thinking differs as well. Still, the point stands: What we think of as a rational, intellectual process of becoming persuaded by an argument plays a minor role, if any, for most jihadi warriors and supporters.

This matters, and here is why: What if there were an Osama bin Laden and an Ayman al-Zawahiri, and what if there is an Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi and his close circle of premillenarian fanatics, but with hardly anyone willing to follow them? How much danger would these marginally charismatic hysterics pose? Not much, or at any rate far less danger than the distinctly non-existential threat they pose today. What motivates the cadres matters for practical reasons, and that motivation is usually idiosyncratic and highly emotional. It is not well described as intellectual or ideological.

The cadres get a highly simplified narrative line from their elders—so simple, in fact, that a single sentence suffices to state it: The non-believers are conspiring against Islam, and it is your duty as a Muslim to uphold the superiority and ensure the victory of Islam. Put in slightly more elaborate form, as it might be pitched to a young would-be adept, it gathers up the ambient elements of the region’s deep-seated grievance culture and conspiracy-theory tendencies and says, in effect, “All the problems in our society, all the humiliations and lack of dignity and justice, are the fault of non-believers and their lackeys within our midst. If we vanquish them, we will restore the Muslim umma to its rightful place as global leaders in both faith and power. If you do not join the struggle, you dishonor your family and spite God and His Prophet.”

Now, is this an ideology? It seems a bit sparse to qualify. As that term is commonly used in the West, an ideology at a minimum needs to specify: some ideal political economy; some ideal relationship between society, state, and authority; and some ideal relationship between a given society and the world outside it. There is nothing very special in these regards about current Islamist thinking. There are some innovations, yes: the very strict segregation of the sexes in public spaces; the insistence that non-Muslims cannot hold any public office; the re-merging of religious and temporal authority in the caliphate. But even these innovations do not differ much from the standard traditional Muslim understanding of these matters, and that traditional understanding is too well known to require extensive review here. Simply put, it divides the world into believers and non-believers, and proclaims the superiority of the former and the inevitable transformation of the world into a single Muslim community and state through various forms of struggle. It creates special conditions for the protection of precursors to Islam (Jews and Christians, mainly) and it bans compulsion in religion. But the precepts of Islamic supremacism and the inevitability of struggle until victory are otherwise not constrained.

That said, over the centuries this traditional understanding has been authoritatively conditionalized in practical ways so as to enable Muslim polities to live normal lives, so to speak, both within and among other polities. That process began as early as the Umayyad Empire, developed appreciably in Abbasid times, and developed even more finely during some five centuries of Ottoman rule into a synthesis, or practical compromise, between a bare-bones traditional understanding and the practical adjustments required as time passed. Some of these adjustments became necessary because the unity of Islam deteriorated early on, and the original theory made no provision for either divisions among believers or the de facto separation of religion and temporal authority. Others became necessary because the power of Islam was insufficient to promulgate successful struggle at all times and places, and theories of truces with non-believers and the conditions of commercial exchange and diplomacy with non-Muslim entities had to be elaborated—and, of course, they were, in detail.

It is these adjustments, those that have concerned internal order and those that have concerned relations with non-Muslims, that the al-Qaeda and Islamic State leaderships wish to jettison in order to “return” to the supposedly purer Islam of the Prophet’s time. The problem is, first, that the Prophet himself did not idealize his own time (quite the contrary), and second, that there is not nearly enough “there” there in the Quran and other early, Rushidun-era sources to construct a workable system of governance and foreign relations for contemporary times. It turns out that the accumulated accretions born of experience over the centuries remain necessary.

That means that the leadership of the Islamic State, and of al-Qaeda before it and now in addition to it, already needs to authoritatively interpret scripture—in other words, it needs to do exactly what it wishes others had not done over all these centuries: adumbrate the pure and simple paradigm of Islamic thinking to cover practical necessity. The result has been a good deal of intellection and no shortage of disagreement.
. . . .

We Westerners tend to turn everything into the political and hence into ideology, while our universalist Islamist competitors tend to turn everything into the religious and hence into theology. In the Muslim world, let us remember, there has never arisen a stable secular space comparable to that of the West, so the conceptual preconditions for Islamists distinguishing ideology from theology barely exist. Ultimately, this is why our having a calm debate about ideological ideas with them is damned nigh impossible.

The upshot of all this for practical policy purposes is that we cannot make war in the realm of ideas against Islamist ideology per se because there isn’t very much of it to fight. What there is of it is simple but implacable: Islam is superior to all other faiths, and it should by rights and God’s will be acknowledged as superior on earth. A basic implication follows: We get to dominate you, not the other way around.

We cannot fight that belief with a countervailing idea and not also implicate mainstream Islam, which, of course, would just make the problem worse. And if we try to fight directly, as opposed to encouraging Muslims already mobilized for that struggle, we find that what is rational and ideological to us is heard as emotional and theological to them. In their eyes we turn from liberals into Christians, and talk about, say, democracy or gender equality willy-nilly translates into a most unwelcome invitation to apostasy. This is exactly the perverse dynamic that the Bush Administration’s “forward strategy for freedom” created, and this realization in turn helps to explain why the original, post-9/11 “war of ideas” never got very far as a government exercise (although other reasons intruded as well—like lawyers warning policymakers that the First Amendment supposedly prohibits government officials from dicking around in anything even remotely religious).

Meanwhile, reform-minded Muslims who hope to dispel the precept of supremacism from Islamic thinking are hoping against hope. “A campaign to reject the dogma of Islamic supremacism would find many supporters among Muslims tired of the zealotry and self-righteousness of the Islamists,” claimed my friend Husain Haqqani in these pages not long ago. Maybe he’s right, and bless him for trying—but any attempt to displace this dogma has a very long row to hoe. You might as well ask a believing mainstream Christian to set aside the notion of the divinity of Jesus, or an Orthodox Jew to set aside the idea of “the chosen people.”

In sum, there isn’t much Islamist ideology per se, and what there is cannot be displaced by argument. Whatever ideology there is constitutes, by our conceptual reckoning, a lesser-included case of a theological system whose intrinsic nature cannot be readily distinguished in method, logic, or tone from Islamic exegesis generally; and what motivates violence and terrorism in most members of extremist Islamist organizations has little to do with any of this in the first place.

Now if, while that problem is being “worked” among Muslims, fanatical Islamists come looking to kill us in our own part of the world, the proper first response is not to argue with them over ideas but to kill them first. That in itself won’t solve the larger, longer-term problem of course, but it will have to do for the moment.