Andrew C. McCarthy, a National Review Online contributing editor and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is author of the new book, Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad, released this week by Encounter Books. He talks about the book and the war we’re in with NRO editor Kathryn Lopez.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Do I have the sides right? They say “Allahu Akbar!” we say “Imagine the liability!”
Andrew C. McCarthy: Unfortunately, that’s exactly right, and you’ve hit on the key difference. They are a religious ideology reveling in a mission for which, far from making any apologies for their brutality, they exude a zeal found only in people convinced they are both right and justified. You won’t ever hear from them the slightest misgiving — no careful references to Infidelo-fascists so as not to offend all the wonderful moderate infidels out there.
We, on the contrary, are an odd combination of diffidence, self-loathing, and arrogance: doubtful we are worth the trouble to defend; apt to figure that if people hate us, we must deserve it; and sure that it is within our power to satisfy their grievances – even though we didn’t cause them – by dialogue, political processes, sensitivity-training, and, of course, buying them off — which simply confirms them in their suspicion that we don’t have the stomach for the fight.
Remember when the Israelis built their security fence and reduced Palestinian suicide bombings by about 95 percent? Prompted by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the U.N.’s Court of International Justice promptly pronounced the fence — a passive, life-saving defense measure — to be a shameful violation of international law. In a nutshell, that’s where we’re headed: Ruled by a delusion that, in a world full of lawless savages abetted by rogue regimes, legal processes will save rather than enervate us.
Lopez: Who most damningly has been Willfully Blind? McCarthy: Well, it’d be easy to say, “Why, the government, of course.” But government is heavily influenced by the media and the commentariat, and those elites will not abide the notion that there just might be a connection between Islam and Islamic terrorism. I think most people are more sensible than that. The more extensive government gets, though, and the more dependent on it we all become, the less will the public has to demand a governmental course correction. Absent some hair-raising event like 9/11, we go along.
Lopez: American investigators have been penalized for foiling plots?
McCarthy: In a perverse way, you’re penalized by your own success, yes. After 9/11, law enforcement was appropriately pushed to become more pro-active, to interrupt plots at a very early point (or even prevent the plots from forming at all, through devices like the laws barring material support to terrorist organizations). Human nature is Pollyannish. When you’re worried about a threat, and you take protective measures that cause you some inconvenience, and then the threat doesn’t further materialize, you are more likely to conclude that the threat wasn’t so serious after all rather than that the protective measures are your salvation. You start questioning, “Do we really need all this surveillance? How can we detain people without a trial? How do we really know those people were supporting al-Qaeda or Hezbollah rather giving to Islamic charities?” So sure, the more we succeed in preventing attacks, the more likely it is we will lose the tools required to prevent attacks.
Lopez: What’s the most devastating lesson from 15 years ago we still haven’t learned?
McCarthy: That the primary cause of Islamic terrorism is Muslim doctrine, and that we are not fighting a tiny, rag-tag collection of fringe lunatics who have somehow “hijacked” the “true Islam.”
Mark Steyn reminds us of Toynbee’s observation that civilizations die from suicide rather than murder, and our mulish refusal to look at what we’re up against is case in point. It’s really a frightful commentary on the low regard we have for ourselves: that we don’t think we are capable of soberly assessing the Islamic challenge without smearing all Muslims as terrorists — as if, in the scheme of things, it’s more important to shield the tender sensibilities of Muslims than fulfill our duty to protect American lives.
The stubborn fact is: Islamic doctrine is supremacist, chauvinist, and rife with calls to violence against non-Muslims. That doesn’t mean that these are the only elements of Islam. Nor does it mean that all Muslims, or even most, have any interest in acting on those elements. But moderate Muslims, no matter how great a majority of the faithful they may be, do not make Islam moderate. Islam is the font from which springs what we call fundamentalist Islam, radical Islam, militant Islam, political Islam, Islamo-fascism, or whatever we are calling it this week to avoid any hint that Islam has anything to do with the problem.
There are many different interpretations of Islam, of course. The one that truly threatens us — let’s call it fundamentalist Islam, since I think that’s closest to accurate — is not a fringe ideology. It is a comprehensive social system, with political, legal, and theological prescriptions. It is 14 centuries old; has in its history won the fealty of rich and poor, educated and illiterate, etc.; cuts across divides like Sunni-versus-Shiite; and today boasts hundreds of millions of adherents — not a majority of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims, but an influential, dynamic minority.
Only a small percentage of fundamentalists cross the line into actual terrorist activity, but even a small percentage of hundreds of millions of people means an awful lot of terrorists, and the equally significant point is that the others — to a greater or lesser extent — share the goals if not the methodology. Moreover, the leading fundamentalist figures, people like Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, exert a powerful influence over even moderates. Their erudition and conviction, their seeming authenticity and command of the scriptures, are very intimidating for the average Muslim who just wants to go about his life.
In any event, the forcible tendencies of fundamentalist Islam may be exacerbated or rationalized by poverty, resentment, lack of democracy, etc. But they are not caused by such pretexts. The violence is commanded by scripture.
Lopez: Why did Omar Abdel Rahman want to kill Mubarak?