Alex Alexiev -
As we struggle to come to terms with the Fort Hood massacre, the first thing to do - if we want to prevent such terrorism from becoming a regular event - is to understand why it happened and who or what is to blame for it. Despite the mainstream media's efforts to present Fort Hood as an unfortunate episode of random violence - a crazed gunman just happened to shout "Allahu akbar!" - there was nothing random about it. Rather, it was the preordained, indeed inevitable, outcome of the cancerous growth of radical Islam in America. Nor is Major Hasan's transformation into a jihadist willing to murder his fellow citizens an isolated case. In the last six months alone, at least 20 homegrown Muslim extremists were arrested by the FBI for planning terrorist attacks in Colorado, Detroit, New York City, Dallas, and Newburgh, N.Y. Like Major Hasan, who was radicalized in Islamist mosques in Falls Church, Va., and Silver Spring, Md., these American Muslims embraced terrorism upon being radicalized by American imams and mosques.
So we must begin by trying to understand what radical Islam is, what it's not, and how it turns American-born Muslims into jihadist time bombs. The problem is not simply that in radical Islam this country faces a well-entrenched domestic enemy, but that the current administration, like the three that preceded it, has not shown any sign of understanding this reality, let alone a willingness to confront it.
Simply put, radical Islam, though operating under the guise of religion and claiming to work in religion's behalf, is less a religious movement than a revolutionary ideology akin to 20th-century totalitarian creeds like Nazism and Communism. It seeks religious legitimacy by embracing violent, reactionary, and obscurantist sharia doctrine - along with extremist interpretations of Islam, such as Wahhabism and Salafism - but it is quintessentially totalitarian in that it denies the legitimacy of Western civilization and the secular democratic order; these it considers to be jahiliyya - "barbarism" - in the words of the patron saint of Islamism, Sayyid Qutb. What is new in the Islamists' presentation of the West as the implacable enemy of Islam is the framing of Islam's conflict with it in apocalyptic, Manichean terms. The result is the demonization of the West as a subhuman civilization that must be destroyed if Islam is to survive and triumph. This demonization is coupled with the outright rejection of the possibility of peaceful coexistence between Islam and any other religion or ideology in the long term. Here it is important to note that radical Islam sees itself as the perfect, God-ordained fusion of state and religion (din wa dawla) and, therefore, non-religious doctrines such as nationalism, socialism, and capitalism are seen as threats equal to those presented by other religions.
Like its erstwhile totalitarian confreres, radical Islam advocates a millenarian utopia - to take the form, in this case, of worldwide Muslim rule by the "Caliphate." Interestingly, the concept of the Caliphate is nowhere to be found in either the Koran or the Sunna; it bears more resemblance to the perfected societies dreamed of by Western dictators. Another concept borrowed by Islamism from European totalitarianism is the Leninist doctrine of the vanguard party. Much like Lenin vis-à-vis the proletariat, Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), who first applied Lenin's vanguard theory to radical Islam, did not put much stock in the revolutionary potential of the Muslim masses. He believed that a small core of professional Islamic revolutionaries was essential to the success of the Islamist movement. Qutb's Islamist-vanguard theory, as further developed by today's leading Islamist ideologue, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, is a key to understanding the role of Muslim Brotherhood activists and affiliated organizations in making radical Islam the dominant idiom of the Muslim establishment in America.
And it is impossible to grasp Islamist ideology without understanding that Islamic extremists consider Muslims who do not share their radical views no less the enemy than the infidels. The practice of declaring a practicing Muslim who does not agree with you an apostate (takfir) was first propounded by the founder of Wahhabism, Abd al-Wahhab, in the 18th century, but it was Sayyid Qutb who developed the theory of a "Muslim jahiliyya" and proclaimed that Muslim rulers and societies that have not imposed sharia rule are apostates to be treated accordingly. This not only stands the Koran on its head but is largely responsible for the fact that the vast majority of the victims of Islamic violence in the past decades have been other Muslims - a fact whose continuing truth is lamentably demonstrated, on a daily basis, by the Taliban.
Islamists believe that to achieve their objectives they must first destroy Western civilization - beginning with the United States, its most powerful protector. This does not mean that violence is always the first resort. Violence is invariably seen as an essential instrument in the Islamist arsenal, but, in the current state of Islamic weakness and American strength, the preferred tactics are proselytism, indoctrination, infiltration, and undermining American society from within. Islamists seek to destroy the West "with their [i.e., the West's] own hands," as one Muslim Brotherhood document put it - which is to say, by exploiting the rights and freedoms our democratic system guarantees.
It is important to keep in mind that while terrorism is the inevitable outcome of Islamic extremism in America, it is not the primary objective - or even a very important objective - of the organized Islamist networks insinuated into our society. Terrorism takes place, and will continue to take place, because individuals who have been indoctrinated by radical imams to hate their country and compatriots as the very incarnation of evil will often take things into their own hands. But for the leaders and ideologues of radical Islam, domestic terrorism could prove tactically counterproductive to the achievement of their larger objectives; they do not, as rule, encourage it explicitly.
This is not to say that leading U.S. Islamists and Islamist organizations disapprove of violence or suicide terrorism at all. On the contrary, most of them wholeheartedly support virtually all overseas terrorist groups, such as Hamas and the Taliban, both morally and financially, as testified to by the large number of American Islamists already sitting in jail. To judge the role of radical Islam in America on the basis of whether it is involved in direct support for domestic terrorism is to dramatically underestimate a vastly greater threat this fifth column represents to our security. Terrorism is only a symptom of the underlying malignancy of Islamic extremism, and to deal with it while ignoring the malignancy is akin to fighting cancer by alleviating the pain it causes.
Armed with their radical ideology and amply endowed with Saudi funds, committed cadres of professional revolutionaries from the Muslim Brotherhood descended on America in the early 1960s and, as they did throughout the West, began to build an infrastructure for radical Islam, starting with the Muslim Students Association (MSA) in 1963. In short order, a great number of Islamist organizations, professional associations, youth groups, publishing houses, and charities were spun off from this "student" association, allowing it to boast that, under its auspices, "nearly every other major Muslim organization (in America) was formed." Their formation was anything but haphazard. They were conceived as integral parts of a larger network designed to serve a clearly defined purpose. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), for example, was envisioned as an umbrella organization that would become the "nucleus for the Islamic Movement in North America." The North American Islamic Trust (NAIT) was vested with control of Wahhabi-funded institutions, while the Islamic Circle of North America was designed to be the primary outreach agency for Subcontinental Muslims, with Urdu its official language.
The network has expanded greatly since then, with the MSA alone boasting 1,000 chapters in North America. ISNA and NAIT directly control many hundreds of mosques. Each of these groups is part of the same radical-Islamic construct. What all have in common, apart from their common roots and the ideology they share, is their persistent claim to be independent and mainstream representatives of American Muslims, a claim that is all too often accepted uncritically by government institutions and even law-enforcement agencies. And while all these groups routinely deny having sympathy for or ties to radical Islam, they don't go out of their way to hide their true beliefs or their intimate ties to other members of the network. This is evident in their identical policy positions, their close and synergistic cooperation, and their vehement opposition to all U.S. policies seen as detrimental to Islamist objectives. It is especially evident in the network of interlocking directorships that links their close-knit leaders (or "vanguard," in Qutb's terms) - a network that leaves no doubt that they are indeed one and the same organization.
They also share a source of funding. It is impossible to understand the explosive growth of these radical networks - in both the U.S. and Europe, at a time when Muslim populations were still relatively small - without considering the role of Saudi money. Flush with cash after the 1973 oil embargo, which resulted in a nearly hundredfold increase in the kingdom's oil revenues over the following ten years, the Saudis dramatically boosted their financial support for radical Islam worldwide, especially in the West. According to Saudi government figures, Riyadh provided $48 billion to support Islamic activities abroad between 1975 and 1987, or some $4 billion per annum. All in all, these figures show that in the period between 1973 and 2002, Saudi Arabia spent more than $80 billion to promote Islamic activities in the non-Muslim world alone. This truly colossal sum has built a huge network of radical Wahhabi-controlled institutions, including more than 1,500 mosques, 150 Islamic centers, 202 Muslim colleges, and 2,000 Islamic schools - all of these in non-Muslim countries. As a result, there is hardly a city of any size in America or Europe today that does not have a Saudi-controlled institution preaching extremism and spewing hatred against Western civilization, directly or indirectly advocating its destruction.
In practical terms, the Islamist networks in America have focused their efforts on several areas and produced results that, taken together, account for much of the radicalization of American Islam over the last three decades. These efforts included imposing their ideology on American Islam, taking over moderate Muslim institutions, radicalizing mainstream believers, indoctrinating the young, aggressively proselytizing among the infidels, infiltrating government institutions and the political establishment, and organizing support for extremist causes and jihad overseas.
In many of these areas, the Islamists have been hugely successful. On the issue of ideological penetration, Hudson Institute scholars Nina Shea and Paul Marshall have documented the universal spread of Wahhabi/Salafist ideology and literature in American mosques. Here are a few examples of the kind of religious wisdom they found disseminated:
- "Democracy is an evil system" and the "very embodiment of unbelief," so Muslims must reject it.
- Interfaith dialogue is a "sinful call" because it "breaks down the wall of resentment between Muslims and unbelievers."
-Freedom of religion is forbidden because "it allows denial of Islam." Accepting any religion other than Islam makes you "an apostate, and you should be killed because you have denied the Koran."
-"Believers must hate [the infidels] for their religion . . . and always oppose them in every way according to Islamic law."
-"Whoever believes that Christians and Jews worship God is an infidel."
-"Innovative" imams are "heretics and their prayers are invalid."
-"Muslims must be protected from the barbarian culture of Europe."
Indoctrination (known as tarbiya) in Islamist ideology has been a main concern of radical groups. They seek to spread their ideas across all levels of Muslim society, with a special emphasis on children and youth. Today, unbeknownst to the vast majority of Americans, there are schools in the United States that start their morning Pledge of Allegiance with "I pledge allegiance to Allah and his Prophet."
The proselytistic effort to convert the infidels to Islam, known as dawah in Islamic jargon, is an important enterprise for the radical networks, and special dawah departments exist in virtually all Islamist organizations. Proselytizing campaigns are far from random; some social groups are deemed more responsive to the Islamist message than others and accordingly subjected to special attention. They tend to be groups seen as aggrieved and alienated from society, such as minorities and prison inmates. Black Americans became an early focus and were considered especially promising. Two subgroups of the black population were targeted in particular: those in the penitentiary system, and members of the Nation of Islam. Reliable figures about the success of this campaign are difficult to obtain, but circumstantial evidence seems to point to significant progress of dawah efforts among blacks. Prison officials, for instance, estimated in the mid-1990s that between 10 and 20 percent of the nation's 1.5 million inmates - who are disproportionately black - identified themselves as Muslims, and some 30,000 black Americans were reported to convert to Islam in prison every year.
Last and most disturbing, radical Islam has without a doubt made significant inroads in its quest to infiltrate our government and institutions. Consider the case of Abdurahman Alamoudi, which is typical of the Islamist modus operandi. In October 2004 he was sentenced to 23 years in prison for terrorism-related activities, and he is currently in a federal penitentiary. Prior to that, he had been a kingpin of the Islamist network: He was a top official in a dozen major Islamist organizations and in five charities suspected of funding terrorism. Despite that, he evidently enjoyed unimpeded access to the White House under Presidents Clinton and Bush (43). He also served as a State Department "goodwill ambassador" in the Middle East and as a U.S. Information Agency speaker abroad. Most important, he founded an organization called the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council and established it as the exclusive authority for endorsing Muslim chaplains in all branches of the U.S. armed forces, enabling it to place extremists in the military virtually at will.
It was within this vast subversive enterprise that Major Hasan, like thousands of others, became radicalized - long before the war in Iraq came along. It is not difficult to trace his transformation into a mass murderer by simply looking at the institutions in which he was indoctrinated: First, Dar al-Hijrah in Falls Church, Va., one of the largest and most radical mosques in the country, where his mentor was Imam Anwar al-Aulaqi, an American-born advocate of jihad and suicide bombing; then the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, Md., under Imam Faizul Khan, another Muslim extremist, an influential figure in the Washington Islamist scene and an official at both the Islamic Society of North America (an unindicted co-conspirator in a terror-finance trial) and the Saudi-backed Muslim World League.
This troubling picture will surely get worse unless the U.S. government, at long last, decides to take a close look inside radical Islam within the United States.
Alex Alexiev is a Visiting Fellow with Hudson Institute