Defining Ideas

Appeasing Jihadists

Tuesday, June 28, 2011
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Ludie Cochrane

In 1937, the London Times editor Geoffrey Dawson wrote to his correspondent in Geneva, "I do my best, night after night, to keep out of the paper anything that might hurt [German] susceptibilities . . . . I have always been convinced that the peace of the world depends more than anything else upon our getting into reasonable relations with Germany."

This solicitude for the feelings of a Germany that had eagerly embraced Nazi racialist militarism reflected more than just a desperate desire to avoid war. It was also the consequence as of a widespread belief among many in England that Germany had been unjustly treated after World War I. A few days after the disastrous Munich conference in 1938, a Labour Party MP observed, "It is perfectly true that we did not act, not merely wisely and generously, but even justly to Germany after the war. . . . I repeat that we bear a very heavy responsibility for the tensions and menaces of the present international situation."

Appeasing Jihadists
Photo Credit: Ludie Cochrane

In the war against Islamic jihad, appeasement––in the form of soliciting the goodwill of an enemy that is seen as the victim of our unjust foreign policy––has driven the West’s policy and tactics on numerous occasions. Starting even before the attacks of 9/11, the media and government alike went out of their way to assure Muslims that we saw no connection between Islamist violence and orthodox Islam, that we admired and respected their religion, and that the allegation of theologically sanctioned violence was a despicable slander.

Examples of this Dawson-like solicitude are legion. During the Clinton administration, even as al Qaeda was perpetuating the series of terrorist attacks that culminated on 9/11, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described Islam as "a faith that . . . cherishes peace." Hillary Clinton praised Islam’s "deepest yearning of all––to live in peace."

But those familiar with the history of Muslim conquest, invasion, and occupation might disagree. Koranic verses also betray the principle of so-called peace: "O you who believe! Fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness."

Flattering Islam to curry favor will only convince Muslims of our weakness.

Even after the "martyrs" on 9/11 acted on this injunction, President George W. Bush said in his address to the nation, Islam’s "teachings are good and peaceful." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Islam the religion "of love and peace." Two other Bush administration officials praised in a New York Times op-ed the "courageous Muslims who are speaking the truth about their proud religion and history, and seizing it back from those who would hijack it for evil ends." This anxious puffery of Islam and whitewashing of its theology of violence has continued in the Obama administration. John Brennan, assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, has instructed us that describing terrorists as "jihadists" is incorrect: "Describing terrorists this way––using a legitimate term, ‘jihad,’ meaning to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal––risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve."

The falsity of all these claims can be established by considering the words of Muslim leaders and theologians, who justify violence against non-believers. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini has said, "Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all!!! . . . Islam says, Kill in the service of Allah." Palestinian icon and alleged "secularist" Yasser Arafat has called for "jihad, jihad, jihad" to be waged against Israel until there is a Palestinian state "from the river [Jordan] to the sea [Mediterranean]." Muslim Brothers founder Hassan al-Banna has said, "Fighting the unbelievers involves all possible efforts that are necessary to dismantle the power of the enemies of Islam including beating them, plundering their wealth, destroying their places of worship, and smashing their idols." Given this tradition of theologized violence, our delusional flattery, never reciprocated by Muslims, has not proven any more successful than Geoffrey Dawson’s self-censorship about Nazi Germany.

A more recent example of this appeasing reflex was the "decent" Muslim burial given to Osama bin Laden after his execution by a U.S. Navy Seal, and Obama’s subsequent refusal to release the photographs of the corpse for fear of "enflaming the Muslim world." Once more, a gesture meant to communicate respect cut no ice with the majority of the world’s Muslims. Instead, Muslim scholars deemed the quick burial at sea contrary to Sharia law. Mohammed al-Qubaisi, Dubai's grand mufti, said, "They can say they buried him at sea, but they cannot say they did it according to Islam." According to Abdul-Sattar al-Janabi, of Baghdad's Abu Hanifa mosque, "What was done by the Americans is forbidden by Islam and might provoke some Muslims. . . . It is not acceptable and it is almost a crime to throw the body of a Muslim man into the sea." And Lebanon-based cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed said, "The Americans want to humiliate Muslims through this burial."

In fact, this fear of "enflaming" Muslim sensibilities is incoherent. If bin Laden had been no more a true Muslim than Hitler was a true Christian, why would orthodox Muslims care if we killed him or publicized photos of his corpse? In any case, Muslims worldwide already have repeatedly demonstrated hair-trigger sensibilities when it comes to insults to Islam or Mohammed, from the fatwa Khomeini issued against novelist Salman Rushdie in 1989, to the Danish Mohammad cartoons controversy, to the recent deadly riots over an obscure Florida pastor burning a Koran. There will always be excuses for violence as long as the United States occupies the position of global power and dominance that millions of Muslims believe legitimately belongs to them. "The best of the nations raised up for (the benefit of) men," as the Koran has it. Flattering Islam and censoring ourselves to curry favor will only convince Muslims of our weakness.

Koranic verses betray the principle of so-called peace in Islam.

Just as English solicitude of German feeling was based on guilt over an allegedly harsh Versailles Treaty, so too many Americans cater to Muslims out of the belief that our neo-colonialist and neo-imperialist foreign policy has been the catalyst for Islamist terror. Whether the crime is our support of Israel and its "illegal occupation," or our alliances with dictators and tyrants in order to secure access to oil, the blame for Islamist violence lies with us. President Obama said as much in his June 2009 speech in Cairo. He not only flattered Islam with the historically dubious claim that Islam had "carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment," but he also donned the hair-shirt of Western guilt. He identified the source of the "tension" between the West and Islam as a "colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold war in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations." Conveniently forgotten were the fourteen centuries of Islamic imperialist conquest, plunder, enslavement, and occupation of Christian lands.

Neither flattery nor guilt, however, has improved our image among Muslims. Even in Egypt, where the U.S. supported the removal of our ally Hosni Mubarak, a recent Pew poll shows that 79 percent of Egyptians view America unfavorably. Meanwhile, 78 percent of Egyptians view the Muslim Brothers, the godfather organization of modern jihadism, very or somewhat favorably. And 64 percent have little or no confidence in Barack Obama "to do the right thing in world affairs." It’s time we realize Muslims have their own worldview and belief system that drive their behavior, rather than reducing everything they do to passive reactions to our alleged offenses, or thinking we can abrogate those beliefs with our protestations of respect and admiration.

We all know the sequel to the appeasing alliance of guilt and flattery indulged by too many Englishmen in the Thirties. And though it is unlikely we will face such an existential threat as a result of our own appeasing policies, considerable risks still lie ahead. The collapse into chaos of Pakistan, a nation with nuclear weapons and a considerable cohort of its citizens sympathetic to jihadist aims; an Islamist Iran in pursuit of nuclear weapons it can hand off to the jihadist outfits it has long supported; an Egypt that empowers the Muslim Brotherhood and abandons its peace treaty with Israel even as it opens its border with Hamas-dominated Gaza and moves closer to Iran––such outcomes may yet give us painful lessons in the follies of appeasement.