Politically, it is difficult to have an honest discussion about the difference between Islam, a religion with many interpretations, and radical Islamism, a totalitarian political ideology. In previous years, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and (now former) Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., have been criticized for remarks they made discussing this distinction, due to fear such distinctions were somehow "Islamophobic."
Unfortunately, it seems that little has changed. Last month, by a vote of 208-217, the U.S. House of Representatives voted down an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., that would require the Defense Department to conduct "strategic assessments of the use of violent or unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine to support extremist or terrorist messaging and justification."
The rejection of this amendment is disappointing on its merits. A better understanding of radical Islam would enhance our national security, and the Pentagon in particular could put these insights to use.
Even more dispiriting are the floor statements by several members of Congress in opposition to the amendment, which highlight the immense moral and intellectual confusion that exists in America concerning Islam.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., complained that the amendment doesn't "apply its arbitrary surveillance equally" by "includ[ing] assessments of White supremacist terrorism or terrorism committed against abortion clinics and doctors."
While no one is defending anti-abortion related and race-related murders, they aren't serious national security threats at the moment. There have been, at most, 11 murders in the history of the United States as the result of violent anti-abortion sentiments. Islamist Nidal Hasan killed more than that in just a few minutes in the Fort Hood Massacre, and that's just one attack. White supremacist violence is a bigger problem, as demonstrated by the Charleston church shooting. But it is diffuse, unorganized, and lacking in foreign support and connections.
While few people in the U.S. military are likely to come face to face with an angry and armed racist or anti-abortion activist in the line of duty, radical Islamists make it their business to kill Americans in nearly every corner of the world.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., opined that "(T)errorist killers have used religious doctrines and concepts from every major religion on earth … Focusing on (Islam) exacerbates the problem by fomenting the myth that religious fanaticism and terrorism are unique to the charlatans and predators of Islam."
But the question is whether religiously-inspired threats to U.S. national security emanate predominantly from Muslims at this particular moment in time. And they do.
It is certainly true that, historically, many sects of many religions have been exploited to justify murder and violence in pursuit of power. However, it is unsupportable to say that all religions are the same, or that all religions have equally threatening ideological trends at all points in history.
At this particular moment, in our world, as a recent study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies makes clear, "Islamic extremism … dominate(s) terrorism in the world."
There are regional exceptions to that even today. The Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda and Hindu radicals responsible for periodic anti-Muslim attacks in India may be every bit as reprehensible as Islamists. But it is quite clear that the threat facing the U.S. is uniquely attached to Islamic terrorism. According to one comprehensive estimate, there have been at least 31,236 deadly acts of violence around the world inspired by radical Islamic beliefs since 9/11. Acknowledging this is not "Islamophobic."
Most Muslims aren't radicals, let alone terrorists. An estimated 85-90 percent of Muslims don't agree with radical interpretations of Islam, and even many who agree are not necessarily violent. Muslims have suffered more than anyone else from the violent, totalitarian ideology that has taken root in their midst. To stop their suffering, as well as the suffering of non-Muslims, radical Islamist ideology must be confronted, not covered up by political red herrings about other types of extremism.
America did not win the Cold War by refusing to admit that Communism existed, nor by extraordinary deference to the sensitivities of left-leaning non-Communists; nor by claiming Nazism, crushed as a significant ideology by World War II, remained a co-equal threat to Communism. The fact that radical Islam has a veneer of religious legitimacy is no reason for our policymakers to shy away from seeking to understand this unique ideology. In fact, it is all the more reason to do so.
Cliff Smith is a former congressional staffer and the Washington Project Director of the Middle East Forum .
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