There are several lessons that the U.S. government and public should learn from the foiled plot by four radical Muslims, disclosed today, to bomb synagogues in New York and shoot down a military plane using a Stinger missile.
For President Obama, the "enemy" can no longer be limited to just al Qaeda, as he has insisted in pre- and post- campaign interviews. When asked who the enemy is, he reflexively says "al Qaeda." He has categorically refused to use the term "radical Islam" or "Islamic extremism." But that is exactly what we are facing—and have been facing for the past three decades.
Were we afraid to name German Nazis or Soviet communists as the enemy? Were we afraid to label white racists or Aryan Nations?
It was radical Islam when the Hezbollah killed 241 Marines in Beirut in October 1983. It was radical Islam when the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993. It was radical Islam when hundreds of Israelis were blown to smithereens in Hamas suicide bombings. It was radical Islam that was responsible for the killing of hundreds of Bali vacationers, the bombing of Spanish trains, and the suicide bombings of the London tube killing scores of Londoners in July 2005. Radical Islam has been responsible for the murder or attempted murder of tens of thousands of civilians in nearly every corner of the globe, no matter what group you call it—Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Lakshar e-Tayba and yes, al Qaeda.
Contrary to the apologists for radical Islam who convinced former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last year to ban the use of the term "Islamic" in describing terrorists or militants, taking away the term "Islamic" from the term "Islamic terrorists" does not diminish the willingness to use violence or the religious hatred that radical Muslims hold for Jews and the United States. What the self-sanitization does is to exonerate Muslim leaders from having to confront the monster in their own communities, monsters that in many cases they helped create. Because it is radical Islamist groups—feigning recognition as civil-rights organizations, often with the connivance of news organizations and even government agencies—that have deliberately tried to erase the distinction between moderate Islam and radical Islam. Why? So these groups can tar anyone who criticizes militant Islam as a racist or Islamophobe or as someone trying to portray the U.S. at war with the religion itself.
Indeed, in the speech that the president delivered in Turkey, he pointedly stated that the U.S. was not at war with Islam. The only problem with that statement is that it implies somehow that we in the United States were responsible for creating that impression. It was a red herring. In point of fact, the Bush administration never once said it was at war with Islam; in fact it stated repeatedly that it was not at war with Islam. So where did this impression of a war with Islam arise from? It came from the Islamic groups themselves, from al Qaeda to Iran to Hezbollah, from Hamas to Muslim Brotherhood leader Yusuf Al Qardawi. And most importantly, the false and incendiary charge that the U.S. was at war with Islam came repeatedly from U.S.-based radical Islamic groups—pretending to be civil-rights groups, like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (which was finally labeled a Hamas front by the FBI "only" 14 years after they were explicitly created by Hamas). In speeches my organization has monitored by these two U.S. groups and other Islamist groups and radical leaders across the country, officials of radical organizations have claimed there was a war against Islam scores of times, reverberating of course in uncritical media outlets around the world.
The only problem was that there was no war against Islam unless one includes al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the multitude of other radical Islamist groups. There not only should be a war against these radical groups; there has to be if we are going to defeat them. The president seems to believe that a two-state solution in Israel is the panacea for stopping the spread of radical Islam. How tragically and dangerously wrong that is. A two-state solution—assuming for the moment that they are not armed to the teeth with missiles that could down every plane at Ben Gurion Airport—would never satisfy the Islamist groups.
Consider the virulent hatred for Jews manifested in a statement made by James Cromitie, ringleader of the New York plot uncovered today. After lamenting that the "best target"—the World Trade Center—was no longer available, Cromitie spoke of killing Jews, "I hate those motherfuckers, those fucking Jewish bastards... I would like to [destroy] a synagogue." As the plot developed and the jihadists actually photographed synagogues and Jewish centers in doing surveillance before carrying out an attack, the official FBI complaint released last night stated that "Cromitie pointed to people walking on the street in the vicinity of a Jewish Community Center and said if he had a gun, he would shoot each one in the head." But Jews were not the only target. The would-be terrorists wanted to destroy American aircraft at a military base using shoulder-fired missiles. According to the FBI document, would-be terrorist Onta Williams stated, "[the U.S. military] are killing brothers and sisters in Muslim countries so if we kill them [in the U.S.] with IEDs and Stingers, it is equal."
To specifically deny the existence of radical Islam or to refrain from using that term to describe the common denominator motivating these groups to carry out violence—they have a presence in more than 90 countries—is to deny the existence of a force bent on destroying us and our allies. Were we afraid to name German Nazis, or Italian fascists or Soviet communists as the enemy? Were we afraid to label white racists, Aryan Nations, and the Christian Identity Movement for who they were for fear of stigmatizing other Christians who were not members? If we cannot name the enemy as radical Islam, we have no chance of winning the war no matter how many outstretched hands and mea culpas the president delivers before Muslim audiences.
Obviously the president does think there are Islamic enemies who would destroy us, otherwise why would he have increased military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan—where, it must be said, the Taliban has deliberately enmeshed themselves with the civilians with the explicit intent of trying to elicit U.S. bombs, knowing they would have to hit civilians.
So in the end, we ought not be surprised by the continued radical ideology that continues to fester under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood or the Wahhabis. What is surprising is that we have consistently refused to learn from our 30 years of experience that these jihadists need to be fully identified and condemned as radical Muslims. And we have to recognize that the radical Muslim leadership—the same ones who falsely claim we are carrying out a war against Islam itself—has consistently protected the jihadists. Unless we are willing to name our enemies by name—Islamic militants—we will never win the war over the bad guys and never empower the true moderates to courageously stand up. President Obama, I hope you are listening.
Xtra Insight: Steve Emerson: Stop Protecting the Jihadists
Steve Emerson is executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism and author of five books on terrorism. His most recent book is Jihad Incorporated: A Guide to Militant Islam in the U.S.