Denying the Link between Islamist Ideology and Terrorism


Denying the Link between Islamist Ideology and Jihadist Terrorism: “Political Correctness” and the Undermining of Counterterrorism

by Jeffrey M. Bale

“[I]f your enemy is a terrorist and he professes to be an Islamist, it may be wise to take him at his word.” – Ralph Peters[1]

“Islamism is a reactionary ideology that kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present….Its victory can only lead to a world of injustice and domination: men over women, fundamentalists over others….We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of‘Islamophobia’, a wretched concept that confuses criticism of Islam as a religion [with the] stigmatisation of those who believe in it.”– ‘ Together Facing the New Totalitarianism’ Writers’ Manifesto[2]

“Muslims need to become free of totalitarian Islam and the least the West can do in support is not concede an inch of its own hard-won freedom in quest of a false peace with Islamists.” – Salim Mansur [3]

“The jihadists appear to be right: we [in the West] are weak, self-indulgent, unsinewed by political correctness, in thrall to sentimental and utopian notions, ripe for the plucking. Too many years of soft living and even softer thinking.” – David Solway [4]

Abstract Ever since the jihadist terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, Western policy-makers, mainstream media organisations, and even academicians have been perversely reluctant to highlight the crucial role played by Islamist ideology in motivating jihadist terrorist attacks. Indeed, the more acts of jihadist terrorism that are perpetrated, acts in which the perpetrators clearly reveal their ideological motivations, the more insistently key Western elites refuse to acknowledge those motivations. This article discusses several of the reasons for this peculiar disjuncture, and focuses in particular on the persistent efforts to whitewash certain features of Islam, demonize its critics, and even engage in apologetics for Islamism at a time when the latter, in both its violent and non-violent forms, poses a significant threat to Western democracies. One especially worrisome source and dimension of this problem is the continuing reliance of Western governments on members of Islamist advocacy organizations for advice. In order to illustrate the degree to which “politically correct” impulses can have both damaging analytical and potentially lethal consequences, three cases of jihadist terrorism are discussed herein – the Boston Marathon bombings, the gruesome assault on a British soldier in Woolwich, and the mass shootings at Fort Hood.


Ever since the jihadist terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, Western policy-makers, mainstream media organs, and even academicians have been reluctant to highlight the key role played by Islamist ideology in motivating jihadist terrorist attacks. This is all the more peculiar given that, as is typical of ideological extremists, the perpetrators of these attacks themselves openly and indeed proudly emphasize the central role played by their religious beliefs, specifically their strict, puritanical interpretations of Islamic scriptures (i.e., the Qur’an) and their supposed emulation of the exemplary words and deeds of Islam’s prophet Muhammad (as recorded in the six canonical hadith collections), in motivating their violent actions. One might imagine that the gap between the oft-professed motivations of the Islamist perpetrators and the assessment of their motivations by Western analysts would be closing with the passage of time, all the more so given that jihadists have since carried out thousands of acts of terrorism in various regions of the world. Yet in fact the exact opposite has occurred: the more acts of jihadist terrorism that are carried out, in which the perpetrators clearly reveal their ideological motivations, the more insistently key Western elites refuse to give credence to those motivations. It should be remembered, for example, that the official 9/11 Report prepared by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States did not avoid referring to the sponsors’ and perpetrators’ religious motivations, and indeed often used accurate descriptive terms like “radical Islam,” “Islamic fundamentalism,” “jihadists,” “Islamists,” and “Islamism” (even if the section on the apparent involvement of certain Saudi officials in the plot was almost completely redacted and details about the egregious failures of certain government agencies were suppressed).[5] Since then, however, various Western government officials and media outlets have instead repeatedly sought to banish the use of terms like “jihadist” and “Islamic terrorism” from public discourse, thereby effectively acting to conceal the core ideological motivations of our Islamist adversaries in an era characterized by explicitly ideological contestation and ideologically-motivated asymmetric warfare.[6]

The 2013 Jihadist Terrorist Attacks in Boston and Woolwich as Examples

These ongoing problems were illustrated yet again in the wake of the 2013 jihadist terrorist attacks in Boston (15 April) and Woolwich (22 May). Beginning with Boston, the refusal of many commentators to acknowledge the role of Islamist ideology in motivating the bombings reached new heights. As usual, most expressed unwarranted perplexity about the motives of the perpetrators, even as evidence increasingly mounted that their mother Zubeidat, Tamerlan, and eventually Dzhokar Tsarnaev had all adopted radical interpretations of Islam – i.e., Islamism – which had inspired the two sons to carry out the attacks.[7] Yet reporters and government officials kept publicly wondering, wringing their hands, and agonizing about “how” and “why” the Tsarnaev brothers, who appeared to be “normal” kids, were not mired in poverty, had seemingly become Westernized and integrated into American society, and, in the case of Dzhokar, had been an excellent student with many friends, could have been induced to carry out such a heinous act. The question itself reveals a shocking level of ignorance about the normal motives of insurgent terrorists, since it assumes that they must be either display clinical psychopathologies (i.e., be “crazy”) or be poor, disadvantaged, and/or disenfranchised in order to perpetrate acts of terrorism, even though research has shown for more than a decade that most members of terrorist groups are no more prone to having such psychopathologies than non-terrorists and that there is no direct correlation, much less any primary causal link, between poverty and immiseration and a propensity for terrorism.[8] On the contrary, most insurgent terrorists (especially, but not exclusively, those in key leadership, ideological, and operational positions), like extremists in general and other self-styled revolutionaries, tend to be from relatively privileged strata of their own societies, tend to have above average intelligence, and tend to have benefitted from higher levels of education than most of their countrymen.

Even after it emerged that Tamerlan had become increasingly religious (along with his mother), had forced his converted American wife to wear a headscarf, had posted jihadist materials online, had argued with less radical (but by no means moderate) imams at a local mosque, and may have interacted with North Caucasus mujahidin during a recent visit to Dagestan, pundits and officials continued to profess ignorance about the bombers’ motives. Note, for example, the comments of Secretary of State John Kerry: “I think the world has had enough of people who have no belief system…but who just want to kill people because they don’t like what they see.”[9] Since when, one might ask, is Islamism not a belief system? And even after the wounded and captured Dzhokar admitted to interrogators that the bombers had been motivated by their religious worldviews, three apparently uncomprehending journalists nonetheless wrote the following lines: “Based on preliminary written interviews with Dzhokar in his hospital bed, U.S. officials believe the brothers were motivated by their religious views. It has not been clear, however, what those views were.”[10] Perhaps the authors of this article suspected that the attacks had been inspired by Mormonism or Buddhism rather than by radical interpretations of Islam. Even President Barack Obama initially characterized the bombings, bizarrely, as a “tragedy,” as if they had been the result of some sort of natural disaster rather being the product of human ideological fanaticism.[11]

The legions of academic “Islam apologists” and “Islamist apologists” also immediately weighed in after the Boston bombings, as usual in a desperate effort to absolve Islam in general or Islamism in particular from bearing any moral, intellectual, or political responsibility for motivating the attacks.[12] Apart from their standard claims that Islam does not sanction and is therefore incompatible with terrorism, claims that are frankly absurd given that so many Islamists (and other Muslims) regularly cite well-known Qur’anic passages[13], Muhammad’s own reported actions, and the military conquests of the “rightly-guided” Caliphs and their successors to justify ongoing acts of aggression, violence, and terrorism against “infidels,” these self-styled experts also insisted that the Tsarnaevs were not really devout Muslims motivated by their interpretations of the Islamic religion. According to University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, for example, the Tsarnaevs were “secular ex-Soviets” rather than “observant Muslims,” and were simply “on an adolescent homocidal (sic) power trip, dressed up like al-Qaeda, the way the Aurora [Colorado] shooter was wearing an arsenal and dressed up like Batman.”[14] Actual evidence for this bizarre claim was, as one might expect, never forthcoming. Likewise, for University of North Carolina professor Omid Safi, the “few pieces [of information] we have do not exactly add up to a life of pious observance of Islam. Their high school friends talk about the two brothers getting together, drinking, and smoking pot….We have seen this before, in the case of the 9/11 hijackers who visited strip clubs and got loaded up on alcohol before committing their atrocities – again, not the action of Muslim role models.”[15] These types of arguments are not only misleading but factually incorrect, in the same way as claiming that a neo-Nazi could not be “real” Nazi extremist if he turned out to be a homosexual, given that homosexuality is officially viewed as “degenerate” in Nazi ideology – is it really necessary to refer here, say, to gay SA leader Ernst Röhm or gay German neo-Nazi Michael Kühnen? – or that a devout Christian pastor could not really be a fanatical “true believer” if he was at some point discovered hiring prostitutes or snorting cocaine, since these are considered “sins” by both Catholics and Protestants. The reality is that ideological extremists, being characteristically flawed human beings, can rarely live up to the ostensibly “higher” moral standards that they try to impose on everyone else, that new “born again” converts to religions have often lived hedonistic or even criminal lifestyles before their conversions, that even the most devout jihadists operating in the West are often explicitly instructed by their trainers to behave just like “decadent” Westerners so as not to draw undue attention to themselves (as, e.g., is the case for members of al-Takfir wa al-Hijra [Excommunication and Migration] and Qa‘idat al-Jihad [The Base, or Foundation, of the Jihad]), and that most Muslims believe that the worldly sins of believers who die as “martyrs” fighting on behalf of Islam will be instantly forgiven by Allah, who will then automatically grant them entry to the highest level (firdaws) of Paradise (janna). Hence the periodically “un-Islamic” moral behavior displayed by would-be or actual jihadist terrorists hardly signifies that they are not motivated to carry out their violent actions as a result of embracing extremist interpretations of Islam.[16]

Yet another example of the ongoing attempts by various left-of-center commentators to minimize, obscure, or deny the Islamist ideological motivations of the Tsarnaevs was the BBC’s Panorama investigative report entitled “The Brothers Who Bombed Boston,” wherein it was suggested that Tamerlan was merely a “Muslim of convenience” and instead emphasized that he had likewise possessed some American “right-wing extremist literature”, specifically publications espousing white supremacy (one of which argued that “Hitler had a point”), anti-government conspiracy theories concerning the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks, and warnings about the “rape of our gun rights”; also found were materials about U.S. drones killing civilians, the alleged plight of Muslims imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, and literature about what motivated mass killers and “how the perpetrators murdered and maimed calmly.”[17] Alas, this information has already been exploited by certain political websites so as to imply that Tamerlan might not have really been an Islamist radical after all.[18]

However, there is no reason to suppose that these new discoveries have any bearing on the nature of Tamerlan’s ideological beliefs. First of all, Islamists are themselves right-wing religious extremists, so it is hardly surprising that they would embrace certain ideas and tropes peddled by other types of anti-Western, anti-“New World Order,” anti-democratic, and anti-Semitic extremists, including “infidel” right-wingers from the West. After all, ideological cross-fertilization between different extremist milieus is quite common, especially in the context of conspiratorial beliefs.[19] Second, Islamists have long avidly absorbed and disseminated Nazi and pro-Nazi anti-Semitic literature, which is in fact openly sold in Islamist bookstores and book stalls throughout the Muslim world (including those in certain mosques and Muslim enclaves in the West), which – together with the extensive and well-documented historical pattern of collaboration between influential Islamists and the Nazi regime – explains why they are so often enamored with Hitler and his anti-Jewish (and anti-gay) exterminatory policies.[20] Third, many Muslims are prone to embrace conspiracy theories of various types, in particular those that attribute sinister secret machinations to Jews, the U.S. government, various European powers, Russia, and India. Therefore, it is understandable why so many uncritically accept nonsensical 9/11, London, Madrid, Bali, and Mumbai conspiratorial scenarios regarding attacks that were actually perpetrated by jihadists, as well as no less bogus claims that other high profile acts of terrorism (such as the one carried out by Timothy McVeigh) were likewise “false flag” operations covertly conducted by the U.S. government or the Israeli secret services.[21] This is another of the many psychological defense mechanisms that all too many Muslims conveniently adopt in order to absolve themselves and/or Islam from shouldering any moral responsibility for jihadist terrorist crimes and atrocities, and that Islamists systematically promote in efforts to further demonize their principal “infidel” enemies. That is precisely why both Western right-wing extremists (e.g., Michael Collins Piper, Lyndon LaRouche, David Duke, Bradley R. Smith, and Gerald Fredrick Töben) and left-wing Western conspiracy theorists (e.g., Thierry Meyssan of the Réseau Voltaire [Voltaire Network] and former professor and Muslim convert Kevin Barrett) are typically welcomed with open arms at “Holocaust denial” or “9/11 Truth” fora organized by Islamists, whether private associations (e.g., the now defunct Arab League “think tank” formerly based in Abu Dhabi, the Zayid Center for Coordination and Follow-Up) or governments (such as that of Iran).[22] Finally, it is no mystery why Islamists like Tamerlan should possess partisan materials denouncing drone attacks and conditions at Gitmo, or literature on mass murders in cases where they are motivated to commit such acts themselves. Thus the exploitation of these “revelations” by the BBC and others only serves to illustrate the moral bankruptcy and distorted political priorities of many self-styled “progressives,” whose primary concern is never about the actual victims of acts of terrorism, protecting national security, or the ongoing threat posed by jihadist terrorists, but is rather to shift the blame away from the actual Islamist perpetrators of violence and/or their professed ideological motives and onto preferred villains like the domestic far right, “imperialist” Western governments, Israel, or “white males.”[23]

Turning now to the sadistic murder of an unarmed, off-duty British soldier named Lee Rigby by two jihadists in Woolwich, British Prime Minister David Cameron was quick to insist, without providing any actual evidence for these claims, that it constituted a “betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to this country,” and that “[t]here is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act.”[24] Similarly, fellow Conservative Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, hastened to state that “it is completely wrong to blame this killing on the religion of Islam…,”[25] although, like the PM, he studiously ignored the obvious fact that particular interpretations of Islam clearly inspired the attack. Similarly, British comedian Russell Brand opined that the killer was “a nut who happens to be Muslim”; hence “[b]laming Muslims for this is like blaming Hitler’s moustache for the Holocaust.”[26] Brand did not, however, explain why blaming Islamist ideology for inspiring the Woolwich attack would be any less accurate than blaming Nazi ideology for inspiring the Holocaust. Predictably, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), an umbrella group reportedly dominated by pro-Mawdudist Islamists, also immediately claimed that this was “a barbaric attack that had nothing to do with Islam”,[27] and as per usual the MCB and several other UK Islamist organizations – like their American counterparts – immediately began focusing their energies, not on challenging or criticizing radical interpretations of Islam (which they themselves espouse in one form or another), but rather on sounding the alarm about a possible “wave” of “Islamophobic” retaliatory violence, as they invariably do in the wake of jihadist terrorist attacks.[28] Yet oddly enough, like tens of thousands of other Islamists throughout the world, the Woolwich perpetrators apparently never realized that waging “individual jihad terrorism” (to use the phrase coined anew by Syrian jihadist strategic thinker Abu Mus‘ab al-Suri) was actually “un-Islamic,” since one of those two Nigerian Islamists yelled “Allahu akbar,” paraphrased a passage in the Qur’an, and declared that “[w]e swear by the almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone.”[29]

Indeed, one very inconvenient fact that Muslim and Western “Islam apologists” and “Islamist apologists” are never able to explain satisfactorily – if Islam really is the inherently tolerant, “progressive,” and peaceful religion that they insistently claim it is (which the historical record generally belies) – how and why all of the Islamists, as well as millions of other Muslims, invariably “mis”-interpret their core religious doctrines and scriptures in a similarly intolerant, bellicose, regressive, and imperialistic fashion. And why, for that matter, do so few ostensibly “moderate” Muslims openly, persistently, and genuinely denounce the Islamist interpretation of Islam, even in Western countries, where they have the freedom to do so?

Possible Reasons for Denying the Key Role of Islamist Ideology in Acts of Jihadist Terrorism

There are three possible explanations for the failure of so much of the Western intelligentsia to acknowledge the Islamist motivations of the perpetrators of acts of jihadist terrorism like those in Boston and Woolwich. The first is the belief that political ideologies and religious doctrines do not influence the behavior of terrorists at all, which would mean that other factors – psychological, narrowly political, economic, etc. – must invariably be responsible for that behavior. Such a view, which some “social scientists” actually seem to accept, is not only preposterous on its face but is completely contradicted by the historical record. The second is the supposition that political ideologies and religious doctrines sometimes influence the behavior of insurgent terrorists, but that unlike in other contexts this is not true in cases of Islamist terrorism. Those who assert that particular interpretations of Islam do not actually serve to motivate jihadist terrorists, in spite of the fact that the latter invariably proclaim that they are acting fi sail Allah or “in the cause of Allah” (as, for example, Moroccan Islamist Muhammad Buyari repeatedly did after he brutally murdered Dutch film director Theo van Gogh on 2 November 2004), have yet to provide any credible evidence to the contrary. ***The third is the conviction that, even though it is obvious that Islamist ideology does influence the behaviour of jihadist terrorists, it is simply better not to admit this publicly. Naturally, those who hold the latter view should be forced to explain how this ongoing denial of reality could possibly be helpful in terms of responding to the terrorist threat from this quarter.

Whatever the explanation in specific instances, the fact is that if either of the two aforementioned acts of jihadist terrorism had been high-profile attacks carried out by, say, domestic right-wing extremists, Western media and law enforcement officials would have not only immediately recognized, but also displayed no reluctance whatsoever to identify, the key motivational role played by the noxious ideological beliefs of the perpetrators.[30] Indeed, for months or even years afterwards they would be insistently hyping the real or imagined dangers posed by the homegrown radical right, as the examples of Timothy McVeigh, David Copeland, and Anders Behring Breivik all serve to illustrate.[31] In marked contrast, those same media and officials usually downplay or even conceal the much greater subversive and security threats presented by the Islamic radical right (i.e., Islamists), whether its cadres are operating at home or overseas. The very same pattern is unfortunately displayed by a myriad of private “watchdog” organizations whose stated purpose is to monitor the activities of the radical right, which typically exaggerate the threat posed by the domestic far right whilst systematically ignoring the more serious threat posed by Islamist networks, including terrorist cells, that are active in their own and other Western nations.[32] ***Thus, it is mainly in cases where radical interpretations of Islam are undeniably the inspiration for brutal acts of terrorism that Western media, academic, advocacy, and key policy-making elites continue to display a stubborn and perverse reluctance to acknowledge this publicly. Such a blatant display of hypocritical double standards is surely not coincidental.

This phenomenon of willfully ignoring or dismissing the importance of the ideologies motivating our primary enemies is arguably unprecedented in modern history. Apart from assorted naïve or dissimulating intellectual apologists for left-wing and right-wing totalitarianism, ***Western democratic elites did not hesitate to highlight the central role played by Marxist-Leninist, Fascist, and Nazi ideologies in motivating the systematic acts of state repression, persecution, and violence carried out by the Soviet Union, Fascist Italy, or Nazi Germany, nor in feeling the brutality and violence carried out by those same extremist ideological movements before they had managed to seize state power. Indeed, recognising  understanding, and countering the doctrinal tenets and appeal of those ideologies was a key factor that enabled the West to defend itself effectively and ultimately prevail in its struggles against these three would-be totalitarian movements and regimes. ***As Sun Tzu and innumerable other strategic thinkers throughout the centuries have rightly emphasised  it is virtually impossible to counter and defeat an adversary if one does not understand his underlying beliefs and motives, however bizarre or delusional those beliefs and motives may in fact be, since they greatly affect his strategic and even operational decisions. Why, then, do Western policy-makers and opinion-shapers still stubbornly persist in denying reality with respect to the baleful role played by Islamist ideology in influencing the observable behavior of Islamist organizations, including the jihadist groups and networks that constitute an ongoing terrorist threat?

There are several apparent reasons for this continued Western unwillingness to face reality. First, Westerners grow up and live in, and thus are unavoidably socialized within, relatively materialistic human societies, in multiple senses of that term. Therefore, they are naturally prone to ascribe similarly materialistic motivations to all of their adversaries from other cultures, including political or religious extremists from the Muslim world, instead of taking their ideological and religious beliefs seriously.[33] That is why Western analysts so often wrongly assume that ideological extremists are really motivated by narrowly material interests or a naked thirst for power rather than by their stated beliefs, which some falsely claim are nothing more than convenient rationalisations. It is also why they continue to argue, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, that really-existing problems like poverty or the lack of democracy are the actual underlying causes of Muslim radicalisation and violence. On the basis of this egregiously myopic and wrong-headed perspective, for which there is virtually no evidentiary support and a great deal of evidentiary disconfirmation (especially in the wake of the so-called “Arab Spring,” which has thus far mainly degenerated into an “Islamist Winter,” just as more knowledgeable people had predicted from the outset),[34] it follows that ***the provision of more foreign aid and the introduction of democratic procedures like elections is the solution to that radicalisation and violence. Here, as in so many other cases, one can observe the phenomenon of “mirror imaging,” in which the analysts in question simply project their own characteristic motivations and modes of thinking uncritically and therefore naïvely onto others instead of carefully examining and trying to empathize – albeit not sympathize – with the actual beliefs, cultural values, and motivations of their adversaries.

***Second, more than a decade after 9/11, there still remain shocking levels of ignorance in the West about the nature of Islam as a religion, about the basic outlines of Islamic history, about tribal social structures in the Muslim world, and about the doctrinal characteristics of Islamism, an extreme right-wing, intrinsically anti-democratic, and indeed totalitarian 20th-century political ideology deriving from an exceptionally strict and puritanical interpretation of core Islamic religious and legal doctrines.[35] Islamism is only one of many possible interpretations of such doctrines, of course, but it is by far the most intolerant, aggressive, belligerent, and imperialistic of all of those interpretations. Moreover, at the present time it appears to be growing exponentially in popularity at the expense of more moderate interpretations of Islam (as the electoral successes of Islamist parties in the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt, and regions of Pakistan have repeatedly demonstrated). Hence most Westerners, including influential policy-makers, journalists, and academicians, simply do not possess the requisite levels of expertise to comprehend the extremist ideological beliefs and thoroughly regressive cultural values of our Islamist adversaries, much less to distinguish between genuinely moderate Muslims and extremists employing deception and disinformation.

Worse still, following the reprehensible example set by various activist academicians (above all Palestinian literary critic Edward Said), a majority of the Western professoriate in the field of modern Middle East Studies – in contradistinction to the far more serious scholars of medieval Islam – appear to have avidly embraced overtly biased, hopelessly one-sided, and blatantly ideological (if not propagandistic) interpretations of Islam and Islamism, interpretations which have resulted not only in blaming the “imperialist” West for most if not all of the Muslim world’s problems and in the systematic whitewashing of Islam itself (for example, as a “religion of peace” or at least a religion that is no more prone to intolerance or violence than any other religion), but also in the patently absurd characterization of Islamist movements that have eschewed violence for purely tactical reasons as “moderate” and “democratic.”[36] ***These same engages experts have also repeatedly argued that a tiny, fringe minority of violent jihadists has “perverted” or “hijacked” Islam in pursuit of agendas that are supposedly “un-Islamic,” when in fact the jihadists are Islamists whose interpretations of Islam are far more often orthodox than “heretical” in relation to the “classical” medieval Islamic jurisprudential tradition, above all in regard to conceptions of international relations between Muslims and “infidels.”[37] ***Last but not least, many of these academicians have systematically sought, together with dissimulating Islamist activists and clueless or dishonest members of self-styled anti-fascist groups, to demonise all those who have adopted a more critical perspective about Islam or Islamism as bigoted, hate-filled “Islamophobes,” no matter how justifiable and well-documented their criticisms of Islam and Islamism may be.[38] From this blinkered perspective, everyone who has concerns about various undeniably regressive aspects of Islam and/or is sounding the alarm about the threat posed by Islamism, no matter how legitimately, must ipso facto be afflicted with some sort of clinical psychopathology, i.e., an irrational “phobia” about Islam.[39] Alas, it is precisely these “Islam apologists” and “Islamist apologists” in academia who have been providing classroom instruction to future journalists and government officials in recent decades. It is therefore hardly surprising that the latter would so often internalize and then subsequently regurgitate the exact same misinterpretations.

Political Correctness

However, the main reason for the West’s ongoing unwillingness to identify Islamist ideology as the primary source of the jihadist terrorist danger, other security threats, and a plethora of growing socio-cultural problems involving Muslims, has to do with the present era’s ever-more pervasive climate of myopic, self-destructive “political correctness.” This is a well-known term that has come to refer not only to the uncritical if not slavish following of political “party lines,” but also to insistent displays of rigid moral self-righteousness and puritanism, humorlessness, and intolerance (if not outright hatred) directed against, as well as an undemocratic impulse to demonize and suppress, the opinions of anyone who does not share one’s own biases and agendas. Such blatantly illiberal behavior is typically justified – as intolerance, fanaticism, and repressive attitudes and behavior almost invariably are – as being in the interests of the “greater good.” Many different forms of “political correctness” exist, including those associated with ideologues on the political and religious right. But herein we are concerned with the now hegemonic self-styled “progressive” forms operating within academia, the media, and government, which emanate primarily from morally puritanical “liberals” (which once was a contradiction in terms), sectarian leftists, radical “feminists” (of the deluded sort who argue that the wearing of a niqab or a burqa by Muslim women should be viewed as a sign of “freedom of choice” rather than recognized as either an indication of coercive male Muslim misogyny or a sartorial expression of regressive Islamist beliefs), multiculturalist ideologues, and assorted anti-Western or anti-white minority group activists (including Islamists).

These self-appointed “guardians of public morality” have organised a multitude of advocacy groups which, much like the official and unofficial medieval “witch hunters” who systematically but falsely accused individuals of being “heretics” and “witches” in order to justify persecuting them, constantly smear all those who disagree with their social and political views, often equally falsely, as “sexists,” “racists,” “homophobes,” “xenophobes,” “bigots,” “haters,” and “Islamophobes.” The goal of the former is to demonize the latter, delegitimise their opinions, and even provide a legal basis for prosecuting them under bogus “hate speech” or libel laws, thereby effectively endeavoring to criminalise dissenting opinions that they regard as beyond the pale. If these all too common impulses to generate “moral panics” and legal persecution were not bad enough, insofar as they represent a clear and present danger to freedom of speech and expression in Western democracies, “political correctness” is also typically characterized by blatant hypocrisy and double standards in that it systematically apologises for, or even seeks to justify, the very same or even worse behaviour, whenever it is manifested by supposed “victims,” that it excoriates when it is manifested by alleged “oppressors.”[40]

***In the context of Islam, Islamism, and jihadist terrorism, “politically correct” circles in academia, the media, and government have been insistently peddling the unsupportable view that neither Islam in general nor any conceivably “legitimate” interpretation of Islam can be blamed for acts of terrorism committed by Muslims, even though the perpetrators themselves haughtily declare otherwise.[41] However, not everyone who is taking this position is doing so for the same reasons. On the contrary, the motives of the various “Islam apologists” and “Islamist apologists” are often fundamentally incompatible. Here are some illustrative examples:

****well-meaning but naïve political or religious liberals are doing so in the name of promoting greater tolerance and preventing discrimination against innocent Muslims (which are, in principle, worthy goals);
•****multiculturalists are doing so in the name of promoting ethnocultural “diversity” and justifying continuing high levels of Third World immigration or asylum;[42]
• ****sectarian leftists, minority activists, and some radical neo-fascists in Europe are doing so in order to shift the blame from the actual terrorist perpetrators and onto Western “imperialism” or “Zionism” for supposedly “provoking” Muslim violence;
•**** self-styled “anti-fascist” groups are doing so in order to more easily justify denouncing their designated enemies from the supposedly “Islamophobic” domestic right;
****•Islamists are doing so in order to mislead gullible “infidels” about their ongoing pursuit of anti-democratic, anti-Western, and Islamic supremacist agendas;
• ****other Muslims are doing so in order to shield certain features of Islam from any criticism or blame, no matter how well-deserved; and
• Western governments are doing so in an ultimately futile effort to win Muslim “hearts and minds,” both at home (in large part for domestic electoral purposes) and abroad, by convincing conspiracy mongering Muslims that they are not waging a “war against Islam.”
Meanwhile, conspiracy theorists from most of these milieus – and many others as well – are busily insisting that Islamists, despite overwhelming evidence of their responsibility, are not even the real sponsors or perpetrators of acts of jihadist terrorism.[43] As a result, all of these milieus are increasingly prone, for their own respective and sometimes disingenuous reasons, to try and “protect” Islam and Muslims from criticism by abusively labeling all critics of Islam and Islamism as “Islamophobes.”[44]

**** In practice, then, these diverse circles of Western “Islam apologists” and “Islamist apologists” are unwittingly functioning as “useful idiots” – or, as per the reformulation of Richard Landes, as no less idiotic “useful infidels”[45] – for radical right, totalitarian Islamists, who are mercilessly exploiting their abysmal ignorance, misplaced good will, or political myopia for their own sordid and sinister purposes.

The Impact of “Political Correctness” on Western Counterterrorism Policies and Actions

Alas, the concrete effects of all of this naïveté, self-delusion, and outright dissimulation are very dangerous indeed, especially in the context of counterterrorism.*** The West has now reached the point where the very elites entrusted with defending it are increasingly unwilling even to acknowledge the nature of the threat posed by Islamism, despite the fact that Islamists all over the world are openly and indeed continually denouncing the West as a mortal enemy that must be defeated, subjugated, and ultimately converted to their strict, puritanical version of Islam. The only debate among the Islamists is how this commonly shared objective can best be achieved, i.e., whether by means of armed jihad, the approach favored by terrorist groups such as al-Qa‘ida), or by means of gradual processes of infiltration, implantation, and subversion in which the Islamists establish ideological hegemony over Muslim migrant communities, are appointed as representatives of those communities (usually with the unwitting aid of Western governments), and carve out shari‘a-compliant areas within the bosom of Western societies. The latter approach (which is already well underway, especially in certain areas of Europe[46]) has been favored by the Jam‘iyyat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin (Society of Muslim Brothers, better known as the Muslim Brotherhood), Saudi Wahhabis, and South Asian Mawdudists.[47] ***Indeed, instead of publicly identifying the Islamists as the implacable enemies of the democratic, pluralistic West, as in fact they are, key Western elites have increasingly adopted an “Islamist apologist” stance, deluded themselves that the “non-violent” Islamists can be our “allies” against terrorism, and therefore unwisely endeavoured to collaborate or “partner” with them in Egypt and elsewhere.[48] ***(This policy is every bit as foolish and counterproductive as if we had opted to “partner” with the Nazis during the Weimar Republic or with Japanese ultranationalist in the 1930s rather than at least tacitly supporting their opponents, be they authoritarian, democratic, or quasi-democratic.) Indeed, such ill-conceived notions now constitute the basis of many U.S. and E.U. policies towards the Muslim world, especially in the wake of the “Arab Spring.”

The grim reality is that Western collaboration with Islamists is nothing new, given that the U.S., Britain, and several other Western or democratic countries (including Israel) covertly supported Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood against rival Arab nationalists and leftists throughout the Cold War era. The reason is that these religious reactionaries were simplistically and short-sightedly perceived through only one prism: as a useful bulwark against communism and Soviet influence within the Muslim world.[49] Even worse, some Western regimes periodically supported armed jihadist groups, as the U.S. did with the Afghan mujahidin, the British reportedly did with jihadist terrorist groups opposed to Mu‘ammar al-Qadhdhafi, and the Israelis initially did with the Harakat al-Muqawwama al-Islamiyya (HAMAS: Islamic Resistance Movement), actions that in every case led to serious “blowback” that grievously harmed the West and its allies and mainly benefited the Islamists.[50] Yet unlike the Islamists, who have continued to cleverly exploit “infidel” gullibility so as to obtain various types of tangible aid, the West has seemingly not learned any lessons at all from its repeated foreign policy failures vis-à-vis the Muslim world.

However, “political correctness” has now apparently replaced Realpolitik as the driver of Western pro-Islamist domestic and foreign policies. In past decades, it was often geopolitical hardliners within the intelligence community who had advocated supporting the Islamists against secular anti-colonialist movements. Those hardliners naïvely believed that they could easily manipulate the Islamists into functioning as their de facto agents against common Cold War enemies, after which they could abandon or dispose of them as they wished. In reality, they themselves were often conned and played for fools by the Islamists. But unlike today’s delusional policy-makers, these hubristic Cold War Realpolitiker rarely mistook the Islamists for genuine “moderates” or closet “democrats.” Hence the post-Cold War adoption of inaccurate and egregiously sanitised “politically correct” attitudes about Islam and Islamism, which has all too often reflected a misguided bipartisan consensus in the United States, has resulted in even greater Western foreign policy blunders and has now reached the point where it is arguably undermining, if not compromising or sabotaging, the future security of the West.[51] Both neo-conservatives and liberal internationalists have fundamentally misconstrued the nature of Islam and Islamism, with the result that both have uncritically promoted simple procedural “democratisation,” if necessary by force, as the solution to the multifaceted problems in the Muslim world, many of which are in fact mainly the product of the continuing debilitating influence of regressive social, cultural, and religious values.

Moreover, both the Bush and Obama administrations, and those of both Labour and the Conservatives in Britain, have foolishly allowed Islamist operatives and front groups, often portraying themselves – like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) – as Muslim “civil liberties” organizations, to exert a baleful influence on the development of Western security and military policies.[52] Illustrative contemporary examples in the U.S. include Islamists like Rashad Hussain (Obama’s Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation [OIC] and a Deputy Associate White House Counsel working on “Muslim outreach” and national security), Dalia Mogahed [correct transliteration: Mujahid] (Obama’s Muslim Affairs Advisor to the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and a member of the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism Working Group), and numerous other activists who are reportedly associated with Muslim Brotherhood front groups.[53] Islamist influence has especially manifested itself in three interrelated spheres, where it has predictably created both conceptual and policy problems.

The first problem, and by far the most serious manifestation of Islamist influence, is that Islamist activists have increasingly been allowed to vet the instructional materials related to Islam and Islamism that are being used to train Western intelligence and military personnel. This has progressed to the point where they have actually succeeded in having certain contract instructors fired who they claimed, at times falsely, were “anti-Islamic.”[54] In reality, any criticisms at all of Islam or Islamism immediately make someone, in the eyes of such activists, “Islamophobic” or “anti-Islamic,” even if those criticisms are partially, largely, or entirely warranted. Be that as it may, it is surely an unprecedented situation that our declared Islamist enemies, despite usually operating under the cover of barely-disguised front groups, are nowadays being allowed – with the witless and pernicious help of the “useful infidels” who uncritically accept their disingenuous talking points – to decide what official training materials can and cannot be used to describe and analyze fellow Islamists. Imagine, if you will, that the U.S. government had allowed members of the German-American Bund, a Nazi front organization, to vet its training materials related to Nazism or Nazi Germany prior to World War II, or if it had allowed members of Soviet-backed front organizations to vet its training materials related to communism or the Soviet Union during the Cold War. That is essentially what is occurring at the present time with respect to non-state Islamism and jihadist terrorism, as certain documents released by the FBI in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Judicial Watch clearly indicate.[55] Why would any responsible government allow its own enemies to exert any influence whatsoever over the selection of its training materials for security personnel, as the Islamists have been trying to do with considerable success ever since 9/11?[56] All the more so since the Islamists and the “Islamist apologists” they have hoodwinked are explicitly endeavouring to delegitimize any analytical approach or statement that raises Western awareness of what the former are up to by labeling them, a priori, as “conspiracy theories.”[57] ***Only a government that is hopelessly blinkered by “political correctness” would adopt such a self-destructive and potentially suicidal course of action.

Indeed, the other two problems to be highlighted are in large part the predictable result of***actively soliciting advice from Islamist activists about how to frame security issues involving Muslims. ***The second is the adoption and continued employment of euphemistic, misleading terminology to describe jihadist terrorism. As is well-known, after 9/11 the Bush administration adopted the pithy phrase “war against terrorism” to describe America’s conflict with jihadist terrorists. Yet the “war against terrorism” formulation was problematic inasmuch as one cannot wage a war against an operational technique, just as one cannot wage a war (other than metaphorically) against an inanimate object like “drugs” or a social phenomenon like “poverty.” As some have sardonically pointed out, the “war against terrorism” phrase would be equivalent to characterizing the war against Nazi Germany as a “war against blitzkrieg [operational techniques],” which would obviously have been risible. Nor is the post-9/11 conflict one between Western democracies and all of the world’s terrorists, i.e., non-state groups and states that frequently resort to the use of terrorist techniques. On the contrary, the conflict that has been going on since 9/11, and that in fact predated those attacks by more than two decades, is between “infidel” governments (including supposedly “apostate” Muslim governments) and Islamists, first and foremost those who rely primarily on armed jihad to achieve their goals. Yet Bush and his advisors, in an attempt to convince Muslims that they were not waging a war against Islam, generally promoted the notion that Islam itself was a “religion of peace” and, as a consequence, also refused to identify Islamism as the enemy in their public statements, in the way that U.S. presidents and officials had previously identified Communism and Fascism as the primary enemies of democracy.[58]

Under Obama the terminology for the Islamist enemy has again been changed, this time to “violent extremism,” which is certainly preferable to the ill-defined “terrorism.” Yet once again, the U.S. is not currently fighting against all forms of violent extremism in the world, but primarily against a certain type of violent Muslim radicalism (i.e., jihadism). Officials in the Obama administration have repeatedly acknowledged that al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates are their enemy, thereby stating the obvious, but they have also increasingly endeavoured to eliminate references to “radical Islam” or “Islamism” in official national security and strategic documents and, as will become clearer below, have stubbornly refused to publicly label their enemies as “Islamists,” “jihadists,” or “Islamic terrorists.” This was ostensibly done to facilitate “outreach” to Muslim communities and to avoid giving “offense” to Muslims in general. However, there is no good reason to believe that non-Islamist and anti-Islamist Muslims would find such accurate descriptive terminology “offensive” in any way (since they themselves often use it), any more than non-Nazi and anti-Nazi Germans would have been “offended” by the Allies identifying National Socialists as their enemies. Nor is there any reason to suppose that criticising Islamists would in any way inhibit “outreach” efforts to genuinely moderate, pro-democratic Muslims who are themselves opposed to Islamism – on the contrary, it would likely embolden such Muslims to speak out publicly and contribute to the forging of a common ideological, social, and political bulwark against mutual enemies. In any case, referring to Islamists and jihadists euphemistically and misleadingly, and not acknowledging the motivational centrality of their interpretations of Islam, does not change their nature or behaviour one iota.

The third problem, which is directly linked to and indeed reinforced by the two aforementioned problems, is ***the persistent and otherwise inexplicable refusal of key Western officials to link terrorism carried out by religiously-inspired Muslims in any way to Islam, or even to Islamism, both in their public statements and in their intelligence assessments. John Brennan, then Senior Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, attempted to explain and justify this approach in a 6 August 2009 speech at the DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). On that occasion, he exclaimed that President Obama did not consider this struggle to be a “fight against jihadists” because “[d]escribing terrorists in this way, using the legitimate term ‘jihad,’ which means 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” as well as “reinforcing the idea that the United States is somehow at war with Islam itself.”[59]

Built into those remarks of Brennan, who currently serves as Director of the CIA, are two unwarranted assumptions. The first is that Muslims will be looking to “infidels” to determine what the term jihad signifies and whether al-Qa‘ida and other Islamist terrorist organizations can be justly characterized as jihadists, which is an absurd proposition given that no terminology adopted by U.S. officials, negative or positive, is going to significantly affect Muslim perceptions of al-Qa‘ida and other Islamist organizations. After all, even Muslims who are opposed to al-Qa‘ida’s totalitarian goals and/or its brutal methods have not generally claimed that the group’s fighters are not really mujahidin, even if they view them as being misguided or dangerous. Furthermore, even the anti-Islamist and anti-jihadist themes and rhetoric disseminated by more or less autocratic Muslim governments (e.g., denigrating jihadists as khawarij or Kharijites, in reference to members of a puritanical Muslim sect who broke away from and later assassinated ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, the fourth “rightly-guided” Caliph), which were often formulated by regime-friendly Muslim clerics and therefore tended to be more relevant and have more resonance than anything Westerners might devise, have not appreciably affected general Muslim attitudes toward Islamism. (On the contrary, only the systematic targeting of innocent Muslim civilians – but not, alas, their no less innocent non-Muslim counterparts – and the rigid imposition of brutal hudud punishments has served to discredit the jihadists in the eyes of many Muslims.) The second assumption is that it is what U.S. officials say in public fora, rather than what tangible policies the U.S. actually ends up adopting, that will somehow matter most to Muslims, which is no less illogical. Indeed, given that the U.S. has never been waging a “war against Islam,” either prior to or in the wake of 9/11, any Muslims who believe that it has, as the Islamists clearly do, are in effect living in a conspiratorial fantasy world that has no correspondence with reality. Hence proclaiming this self-evident fact publicly is not likely to alter their distorted perceptions.

Nevertheless, Brennan’s speech set the tone for innumerable other pronouncements made thereafter by Obama administration officials. Indeed, even under oath, in the course of being subjected to direct questioning before congressional committees, several such officials have stubbornly continued to deny that which is patently obvious to everyone who has not willfully placed their heads in their sand. Rather than citing selected quotes from the transcripts, it is much more revealing to provide the URLs to their testimony so that readers can directly observe the extent to which these government officials have sought to evade the questions or engaged in bizarre verbal contortions in order to avoid acknowledging the obvious: that radical interpretations of Islam have motivated, and are continuing to motivate, acts of jihadist terrorism. Here, for example, is Attorney General Eric Holder, who, among other absurdities, claimed that Yemeni-American imam and al-Qa‘ida operative Anwar al-Awlaqi espoused a doctrine that was “not consistent with the teachings of Islam”:

And here is Paul Stockton, Assistant Defense Secretary for Homeland Security, refusing to admit, and in fact stubbornly denying, that the U.S. is at war with “violent Islamist extremism” (not to mention insisting that he is not being “politically correct”):

One might therefore assume that it would be impossible even to satirize such behaviour, but somehow the notoriously biased Fox News channel managed to do so here:

Sadly, this particular satirical skit is right on target.

The deleterious practical effects of willfully failing to recognise, or obstinately refusing to correctly identify, the Islamist motives of the jihadist perpetrators on the West’s counterterrorist efforts can easily be documented. For one thing, the motives of past plotters and perpetrators of jihadist terrorism, including “martyrdom operations,” have all too often been systematically mischaracterized.[60] In contrast to all other types of violent ideological extremists, when it comes to the acts of violence planned or carried out by Islamists, especially but not exclusively “lone wolf” actions, the tendency of journalists, academicians, and law enforcement spokesmen has almost invariably been to minimize or deny the crucially important and often publicly articulated religio-ideological motivations of the perpetrators and instead to claim, falsely, that the individuals in question were motivated solely by various idiosyncratic personal grievances deriving from their psychological alienation, social isolation, socio-political disgruntlement, and/or mental illness.

Perhaps the most egregious and illustrative example of this peculiar tendency can be observed in the official response in relation to the case of Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Muslim U.S. Army major who on 5 November 2009 carried out a jihadist terrorist attack against fellow soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas, killing 13 and wounding 32. It soon became evident that Hasan had embraced al-Qa‘ida’s “jihadist Salafist” ideology, had periodically espoused its tenets in both classroom oral presentations and private conversations with other soldiers, had established email contact in order to solicit advice from Anwar al-Awlaqi, had prepared a card identifying himself as a “Soldier of Islam,” had given away his possessions and engaged in Muslim purification rituals on the eve of the attack, and had shouted “Allahu akbar” while firing his weapon at nearby soldiers.[61] One might therefore assume that every honest and informed observer would conclude that his attack had been ideologically motivated, and indeed that it was clearly an act of “individual jihad terrorism” of the sort advocated by Abu Mus‘ab al-Suri and al-Qa‘ida’s Inspire English-language magazine, which al-Awlaqi had played a very important role in creating and editing prior to his death in a 30 September 2011 drone strike.

However, high-ranking political and military officials at once hastened to present a radically different interpretation which essentially attributed Hasan’s murders to psychological problems and personal grievances, an absurdly distorted conclusion that was later slavishly echoed in the Department of Defense’s “after action” report on the Fort Hood shootings. The main purpose of this distortion, as usual, was to minimise the crucial motivational role played by Hasan’s Islamist interpretations of Islam. So it was that the President himself and other government spokespeople immediately endeavored to absolve Islam of any responsibility for the attacks. For example, in his eulogy for the shooting victims, Obama opined that although it “may be hard to understand the twisted logic that led to this tragedy….we do know [that] no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts…”[62] The President thereby conveniently ignored the many Medinan-era Qur’anic passages, the ones that are widely viewed as having “abrogated” the more tolerant Meccan-period suras, that urge Muslims to fight, slay, and subjugate “infidels.” One might at least suspect that a reluctance to face facts would be much less likely to afflict the U.S. military than other components of the American government, but unfortunately “political correctness” has also increasingly been embraced by the Joint Chiefs of Staff since the 1990s. Indeed, in his own remarks, Army Chief of Staff General George W. Casey, Jr. sounded more like a multiculturalist ideologue or a “diversity” bureaucrat than a commander worried primarily about protecting his troops from future jihadist attacks by radicalised Muslim soldiers: “I’m concerned that this increased speculation [about Hasan’s Islamist motivations] could cause a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers….As great a tragedy as this was, it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well.”[63] Other military officers and “expert” witnesses in court also expressed doubts that Hasan was an extremist who had carried out a terrorist attack, albeit without presenting any reliable supporting evidence or enumerating any credible reasons.

Because of this systematic unwillingness to confront unpleasant but thoroughly documented realities, it should come as no surprise that the only oblique reference to Islam or Islamic extremism in the official Department of Defense report on the Fort Hood attack occurred within an extraordinarily narrow context: “Finding 2.7: DoD policy regarding religious accommodation lacks the clarity necessary to help commanders distinguish appropriate religious practices from those that might indicate a potential for violence or self-radicalization.”[64] This seemingly willful blindness will likely continue to make the U.S. military ill-prepared to cope with, or respond effectively to, future jihadist terrorist threats emanating from within its own ranks or the ranks of its ostensible Muslim “allies” in Afghanistan. Muslim-American soldiers have already planned or carried out several attacks on their fellow soldiers, and there have also been increasing numbers of attacks by members of the Western-trained Afghan security forces on coalition troops in Afghanistan (so-called “green on blue” attacks). Unless Western governments are willing to publicly identify and confront the underlying motivations behind these attacks, there are bound to be more successful attacks of this nature in the future.[65]

Indeed, a seemingly growing inability or unwillingness even to recognise the ideological motivations of the perpetrators makes it all the more difficult for Western security services to interdict future jihadist attacks of any sort. Evidence of this ongoing problem of blindness to the dangers of radical Islamic beliefs can easily be deduced from the case of the Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Even before March 2011, when the Russian Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti (FSB: Federal Security Service) had alerted its American counterparts about the possibility that Tamerlan had adopted radical interpretations of Islam, he had already come to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In congressional testimony in June 2013, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III revealed that Tamerlan’s “name had come up in two other cases” whose nature he did not explain, but acknowledged that those two cases, which were apparently not related to terrorism, had then been closed until the Russian warning “refocused” the Bureau’s attention on him.[66] Yet he nevertheless insisted that the FBI agent(s) who conducted the subsequent investigation of Tamerlan had been thorough, and that there was nothing else that could have been done legally, which is doubtful given that Mueller also admitted before Congress that prior to the bombings the Bureau had visited Tamerlan’s mosque, the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB), not in the context of investigating Tamerlan, but only in order to conduct “outreach” to Muslims.[67] And here is how the FBI officially characterized its investigation after receiving the information that Tamerlan “was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer….[who] had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States…to join unspecified underground groups” in the Caucasus[68]:

“In response to this 2011 request, the FBI checked U.S. government databases and other information to look for such things as derogatory telephone communications, possible use of online sites associated with the promotion of radical [Islamist] activity, associations with other persons of interest, travel history and plans, and education history. The FBI also interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev and family members. The FBI did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign, and those results were provided to the foreign government in the summer of 2011. The FBI requested but did not receive more specific or additional information from the foreign government.”

Even if one assumes that the FBI agent(s) in question followed these procedures diligently, which is entirely possible, it is nonetheless easy to postulate that anyone familiar with the nature of Islamism, the central role it plays in motivating acts of jihadist terrorism, and the various indicators of Islamist ideological radicalisation could have found ample evidence of such radicalisation in the case of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Was it not already clear, as later became obvious, that his mother had also become radicalised, that he was espousing Islamist doctrinal tenets to certain family members, friends, and at the mosque, that he was no longer drinking and smoking for religious reasons, and that he had compelled his wife to wear a headscarf? Or did all of those telltale activities begin only after the FBI questioned and investigated him?

The answer to the latter question is unequivocally “no.” According to many diverse but convergent indications, it is now abundantly clear that Tamerlan had become increasingly radicalised from 2008 on, i.e., three years before the 2011 FBI investigation.[69] Indeed, growing forensic evidence suggests that Tamerlan may have been involved (along with Dzhokar and Ibragim Todashev, another Chechen who was later shot and killed while being questioned by FBI agents) in the brutal knife murders and near beheadings of three men (at least two of whom were Jewish) in Waltham, Massachusetts, on 11 September 2011, exactly ten years to the day after the 9/11 attacks.[70] Given that one of the murdered men had been a close acquaintance of Tamerlan, that there was no evidence of forced entry, and that marijuana and money were strewn all over the bodies, the police concluded that the victims had known their killers and that robbery was not the motive for the slaughter. Hence it increasingly looks as though this triple murder of hated “infidels” might have been carried out by the future Boston bombers in order to memorialize the 9/11 attacks, and that it might also have served as a kind of practice run to test the courage and religious faith of the perpetrators. Later, in early 2012, Tamerlan spent six months in Dagestan, where he definitely met twice with members of one radical Salafist group (the Soyuz Spravedlivykh [Union of the Just], with which his third cousin Magomed Kartashov was associated).[71] Moreover, given that he began posting many comments supportive of and videos produced by the Imarat Kavkaz (IK: Caucasus Emirate) on his You Tube and Facebook pages as soon as he returned to the U.S., he may likewise have made contact or interacted with IK-linked jihadist organizations during his visit to the Caucasus.[72] Such contacts may have further induced him, whether indirectly or directly, to carry out the 15 April 2013 bombing attacks with his younger brother.[73] Not only had the earlier FBI investigation missed all of these rather obvious indications of growing Islamist radicalisation, the Bureau inexplicably failed to keep track of the subjects of that investigation even after one of them became increasingly linked to known jihadists and had traveled overseas to a terrorist hot zone.[74] One can therefore conclude that the failure to give proper weight to and/or recognise the bombers’ Islamist ideological motivations, both before and after the bombings, contributed mightily to the failure of the American security services to prevent this particular attack, as well as to learn any valuable lessons from it that might help them interdict future jihadist acts of terrorism. If so, there is no doubt that “political correctness” in the counterterrorism sphere has deadly consequences. And, sadly, that the delusions it encourages will likely “kill” again.


This brings us to the real nub of the problem: ***the longer that key Western elites persist in mistakenly denying the central role played by Islamist interpretations of Islam in motivating jihadist terrorist attacks, the less likely they will be able to prevent future attacks from this quarter. Until Western intelligence, military, and law enforcement personnel are provided with accurate information about the history and core religious doctrines of Islam and the intrinsically extremist nature of Islamism, and until they are taught how to distinguish between Muslim moderates and Islamist extremists (including those who are posing as moderates) and learn how to recognise the many telltale signs of Islamist ideological radicalisation, they will generally be unable to identify prospective jihadist terrorists in advance.[75] Nor will they be able to respond effectively to the stealthy “civilisation jihad” being waged by certain Islamist organisations that have abandoned violence for tactical reasons, albeit only to pursue their intrinsically anti-democratic agendas via seemingly legal means.*** It should also go without saying that relying on Islamist activists for “advice” about how to deal with the threat posed by Islamism is not only preposterous but utterly self-defeating.

***Among the justifications for promoting these “politically correct” inanities about Islam and Islamism is a professed desire to “reach out” to rather than antagonise the Muslim world, as well as to avoid inadvertently encouraging Westerners to adopt a hostile, discriminatory, or persecutory attitude toward Muslims. ***While the latter goal of discouraging retaliation against innocent Muslims, especially in the wake of successful mass casualty terrorist attacks like 9/11, is perfectly justifiable, the fundamental question is whether ignoring or downplaying the role of Islamist ideology in motivating jihadist terrorists, or avoiding any and all legitimate criticism of Islam itself, will end up having these salutary effects. Quite possibly, they will have the exact opposite effects, since they are so at variance with observable realities. And even if they did have those desired effects, could this one social benefit possibly compensate for the innumerable other intellectual, political, social, cultural, and security problems that have already materialised, and that will no doubt become even more acute, as a consequence of systematically concealing troubling facts about Islam, certain Muslim communities in the West, and Islamism?

Perhaps the best short definition of reality is “that which exists irrespective of what one believes.” ***Hence persisting in promoting or even foolishly believing in falsehoods about Islam and Islamism cannot possibly be the solution to any real world problems, above all the threat of jihadist terrorism. On the contrary, it is only by honestly confronting the most regressive and otherwise problematic aspects of Islamic religious teachings and the destructive patterns of tribal solidarity (‘asabiyya) that exist throughout the Muslim world, as well as by highlighting the insidious anti-modernist and anti-democratic agenda of Islamism, that the West can morally encourage and empower secularists, liberal Muslim reformers, and other anti-Islamist Muslims who are resisting the most puritanical, intolerant, bellicose, and reactionary elements in their own societies. Surely this should be the primary goal of Western democracies in the current ideological and political struggle, just as in the past it had generally induced them to support, with successful outcomes, a vast and diverse array of anti-fascist and anti-communist forces during the other great ideological conflicts that characterized the 20th century. After all, it is a matter of vital importance, both for the non-Muslim world and for the Muslim world itself, that anti-Islamist forces ultimately triumph over the Islamists in their intellectual and moral struggle for the “soul” of Islam.[76] Hence the West should not be adopting policies of any kind, either domestic or foreign, that have the effect of tangibly aiding or morally legitimising the Islamists. Sadly, almost every policy option that the U.S. has embarked upon since 9/11, whether it be the misguided confrontational policies of the neo-conservatives during the Bush administration or the overly conciliatory but no less delusional policies of the Obama administration, has thus far only served to empower the West’s Islamist enemies at the expense of its friends in the Muslim world.[77]

Indeed, in the twelve years since the “global war on terrorism” was officially declared, the West seems to have learned no fundamental lessons about the essential nature and oft-professed aims of our Islamist enemies, jihadist or otherwise. There is absolutely no excuse for this ongoing, persistent, and seemingly willful blindness, given that certain analysts and officials have been sounding the alarm for many years. For example, on 1 December 2005 U.S. Marine Corps General Peter Pace, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a speech at the National Defense University in which he commented on the Bush administration’s recently-released National Strategy for Victory in Iraq report.[78] In his remarks, Pace correctly emphasized the “need to understand the nature of the jihadist enemy.”[79] And despite the naïve and overly optimistic tone of the report itself, Pace made the following perfectly accurate comments:

“I say you need to get out and read what our [jihadist] enemies have said. Remember Hitler. Remember he wrote Mein Kampf. He said in writing exactly what his plan was, and we collectively ignored that to our great detriment. Now, our enemies have said publicly on film, on the Internet, [that] their goal is to destroy our way of life. No equivocation on their part. They’re not saying if you stay home, we will not come after you. They are saying their goal is to rid the Middle East of all foreigners. Then, overthrow all governments that are not friendly to them, which means every single one of those governments. Then, to use that base as a way to spread their terrorism and their oppression across the globe to include a map that shows 100 years from now that the entire globe will be under their domination.”[80]

These statements, which can easily be documented on the basis of Islamist – not just jihadist – primary sources[81], should have been taken fully to heart by the American military and policy-making establishments, as well as by the Western political “commentariat.” Unfortunately, Pace’s admonitions were largely ignored rather than followed, with the result that the West’s understanding of the enemy’s motives and goals in 2013 seems actually to have deteriorated further, having become corrupted by even more Orwellian rhetoric and “magical thinking” thanks to the pernicious ongoing efforts of Islamist activists and their academic “apologists” to sanitise or conceal basic historical, political, and doctrinal facts about Islam and Islamism. Unless that situation changes dramatically, which means that a multitude of blatantly false but au courant “politically correct” notions will have to be jettisoned, the United States and its democratic allies will never be able to develop effective policies or strategies to cope with their extremist Muslim enemies, whether they are armed jihadists or subversive “stealth” Islamists who have concluded that resorting to violence is not the best way, at least at the moment, to pursue their Islamic supremacist objectives.

About the Author: Jeffrey M. Bale is an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of International Policy and Management (GSIPM) at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS), as well as a Senior Researcher in the Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program (MonTREP) at MIIS. He obtained his B.A. in Middle Eastern and Islamic history from the University of Michigan, and his Ph.D. in modern European history from the University of California at Berkeley. His research has been focused on the study of terrorism, covert operations, and various types of political and religious extremism for nearly three decades, long before these subjects suddenly became “fashionable” after 9/11. Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to .



Denying the Link Between Islamist Ideology and Terrorism:

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