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Willful blindness

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The new issue of the Weekly Standard carries Tom Joscelyn’s review of Andrew McCarthy’s important book Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad. The new issue of National Review carries Bruce Thornton’s review of the book (subscribers only) as well. Both reviews are excellent. McCarthy was the chief federal prosecutor of the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, their spiritual leader Omar Abdel-Rahman (“the blind sheikh”) foremost among them. In the book McCarthy recounts the story of the investigation of the attack and the prosecution of the perpetrators.

Despite ample opportunities to prevent the attack, those in a position to thwart it turned a blind eye. In the aftermath of 9/11 have we now opened our eyes? Both Joscelyn and Thornton note McCarthy’s lament for the “willful blindness” that continues to bedevil us. Joscelyn writes:

The strategic failure McCarthy exposes is ongoing, and extends even to something as basic as naming the enemy. Just as Willful Blindness was released, the State Department and other agencies published an edict banning the use of the word “jihadist” (as well as similar terms) from the government’s lexicon. The thinking is that the terrorists like to call themselves “jihadists,” thereby appropriating an Islamic term which can have far more benevolent meanings, such as the struggle for spiritual betterment or simply to do good.

It is true that, in some Islamic traditions, “jihad” has been endowed with such inoffensive meanings. But as McCarthy rightly argues, “jihad” has far more frequently been used to connote violent campaigns against infidels since the earliest days of Islam. When Sheikh Rahman called on his followers to wage “jihad,” they knew that their master did not mean for them to become absorbed in prayer.

Moreover, Washington is apparently too obtuse to notice that Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda’s terrorists, Tehran’s mullahs, and Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi clerics have called for a militant brand of jihad persistently over the past several decades. All of these parties know how their words will be interpreted by the Muslim masses, and no fiat from the Washington bureaucracy will undo this widely accepted meaning.

Thornton writes:

This jihadist ideology motivated Abdel Rahman and the 9/11 jihadists, and continues to motivate Islamic terrorism today. But, then and now, this obvious traditional belief is ignored or rationalized away by those entrusted with our security: The secretary of state publicly croons that Islam is the “religion of peace and love,” and the State and Homeland Security departments instruct their employees not to use words like “jihad” or “mujahedeen” (holy warrior) in their communications. In contrast to this delusional thinking, McCarthy bluntly, and correctly, states the obvious: “Islam is a dangerous creed. It rejects core aspects of Western liberalism: self-determination, freedom of choice, freedom of conscience, equality under the law.” We refuse to face the truth about Islam, and thus we disarm ourselves before “a doctrine that rejects our way of life and a culture unwilling or unable to suppress the savage element it breeds wherever it takes hold.”

In the Bush administration, the “willful blindness” takes the form of political correctness. This political correctness, however, is more than an intellectual failure. On the one hand, the administration has supported the prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation and the naming of CAIR and the Islamic Society of North America as HLF’s unindicted co-conspirators supporting Hamas. On the other hand, the adminstration continues to treat CAIR and ISNA, for example, as respectable organizations and occasional partners.

On the Democratic side, the failure runs deeper. Listening to the Democratic debates over the past year, one could not help but be struck by the candidates’ understanding of the Bush administration as an enemy far more formidable than any we are facing beyond our borders. Next to the Bush administration, the threats posed by Iran, Syria and their terrorist proxies pale in comparison. Should the Iranian Revolutionary Guard be designated a terrorist group? According to Barack Obama, this is going too far: the Bush administration is merely engaged in “saber rattling.” He would prefer to rattle the tea cups with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

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