Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War
by Sebastian Gorka
Regnery, 2016, 256 pages, US$27.99
President Obama almost always deports himself in public with poise and dignity. His “New Beginning” speech, delivered at Cairo University on June 4, 2009, was no exception. The address was full of generous sentiment and seeming humility. At one point a member of the audience cried out: “Barack Obama, we love you!” A round of applause greeted the US president’s gracious “Thank you.” President Obama’s 2009 charm offensive throughout the Middle East promised to undo the mistakes of President George W. Bush, and yet his tenure in office has only exacerbated matters. Sebastian Gorka’s Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War goes some of the way to explaining Barack Obama’s failure and a potential way forward for his successor.
At the very heart of President Obama’s misapprehension has been his hubris, the Cairo venture being a case in point. Though Obama acknowledged scientific and other contributions of the Islamic world to the dawn of Europe’s Renaissance, he appeared incapable of comprehending that for many in his audience that day, including high-level members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (which has since been outlawed), the Renaissance and all that subsequently ensued—we might call it secular-powered modernity or individual self-determination—are deeply problematic. Nevertheless, Barack Obama blithely based his foretelling of a united world on the principles of European-style humanism and the particular experience of the United States: E pluribus unum or Out of many, one.
Islamic revivalists, as Sebastian Gorka argues, have a very different interpretation of E pluribus unum. To decode the spirit and ambition of the global jihadist movement, insists Gorka, whose father was a political prisoner in the Hungarian People’s Republic, we should not only employ the term “totalitarian” to delineate our Westophobic enemy but also revisit the origins of the Cold War and the writings of George Kennan and Paul Nitze. We must begin, as Paul Nitze did, with Sun Tsu’s cardinal rule of war—Know both yourself and the enemy if you want to win.
Gorka quotes a key early passage from Nitze’s NSC-68 to define a liberal democracy: “In essence, the fundamental purpose is to assure the integrity and vitality of our free society, which is founded upon the dignity and worth of the individual.” The global jihadist movement, in contradistinction, abhors the idea of individual freedom; to the extent an apologist speaks of choice they invariably mean the “freedom” to submit to religious authority and the “freedom” that results from submission. It is totally at odds with liberty.
The Obama administration contends that Islamic terrorism—or should we say extremist violence—is “the result of poverty, unemployment and lack of political enfranchisement”. Religion, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s interpretation of Islam, does not contribute to terrorism but is a safeguard against it, or so the PC narrative goes. Here we have an explanation for Barack Obama’s forbearing relationship with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, naivety about the Arab Spring, support for Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi, intervention in Libya and Yemen, appeasement with Tehran, denial about the motives of domestic terrorists and, of course, why Team Obama insisted on front row seats for the Muslim Brotherhood dignitaries attending the 2009 Cairo University address.
Although the Egyptian schoolteacher and Islamic scholar Hassan al-Banna founded the Society of the Muslim Brothers (Jam’iyyat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin) in the 1920s, it is his successor, Sayyid Qutb, who might be called the “intellectual godfather” of the Muslim Brotherhood. President Nasser had Qutb hanged in 1966 but the activist’s treatise, Milestones (or Signposts), is the foremost revolutionary manual of Islamic revivalism. As Gorka argues, every Islamic militant or terrorist from bin Laden to the Tsarnaev brothers would concur with Qutb’s prognosis for rescuing Islam from “extinction” in our fallen world. One of the key concepts promoted by Qutb is jahiliyyah (ignorance of God’s sovereign power), which in a stroke renders democracy and Western-style freedom insupportable.
The innovation of Milestones, explains Gorka, is to interpret our contemporary world through the framework of Mohammed’s seventh-century struggle for legitimacy in Mecca and his subsequent ascendancy in Medina. Sayyib Qutb, in a single bold stroke, reconfigured even pious Muslims as “pagans” who were “corrupted by the heretical values of the infidel”—and with authentic Islamic life now extinguished, “only pretence and falsehood” remained. The one valid response to this apocalypse is a contemporary incarnation of millennialism: “You’re a true Muslim only if you join in eradicating the infidel and all his influences and do your part in the war to bring back the Islamic empire.”
In this context, then, we can see that President Obama’s 2009 “Islamic Outreach”, including the “New Beginning” speech in Cairo, was not a case of becalming unquiet waters but rather of putting out fire with petrol. The emerging Muslim Brotherhood vanguard, which would be known to the world during the Arab Spring as the Freedom and Justice Party, were looking for a “new beginning” all right, but not the kind Barack Obama had in mind. Egypt, under President Morsi’s mercifully brief rule, endured an Islamist constitution, the release from prison of Islamic terrorists, the pervasive persecution of Coptic Christians, judiciary emasculation, media strangulation, martial law in various, Tehran-style fatwas against local and even foreign critics: in other words, the full fanatical meltdown. A frightened Egyptian populace rebelled against these theocratic totalitarians—Barack Obama never did.
For President Obama, we must assume, the Muslim Brotherhood and politicised Islam in general are an expression of Third World-style authenticity rather than a revolutionary (or counter-revolutionary) incarnation of Westophobic fervour. It is for this reason that in Obama’s worldview the concept of jihad must not be associated with “holy war” (that is to say, religiously-inspired violence) but defined as “spiritual struggle” and “effort” or some such. One could argue that the latter explanation is literally more accurate, but only apologists and the deluded would deny that a millennialist “holy war” took place during the formation of the first Islamic empire; or that contemporary Islamists, be they stealthy jihadists such as the Muslim Brotherhood or violent jihadists in the manner of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, are takfirs similarly fixated on the supremacy and separatism of the Islamic community (the ummah) and the millennialism of theocratic rule and a new Caliphate.
In the chapter titled “The Story of Jihad”, Sebastian Gorka (above) makes the compelling case that holy war in the form of armed struggle is an immutable aspect of Islamic history. He suggests that a seven-part evolution of “jihad by the sword” can be perceived, beginning with Mohammed’s empire-building and this admonition in chapter 25, verse 52, of the Koran: “Obey not the disbelievers, but strive against them with the utmost endeavour.” Apologists assert that jihad literally means nothing more than “striving” but, insists Gorka, in the context of Mohammed building a new state in Medina and violently “enforc[ing] his new writ”, the word jihad can be interpreted in a military and offensive light.
Later, in the aftermath of Mohammed’s empire-building, violent jihadism played a role in the suppression of apostates or “false Muslims”. During the Middle Ages “jihad came to convey on the people a right to denounce their rulers as un-Islamic and wage a legitimate religious revolution”. Mohammed ibn al Wahhab (1703–92), the founder of the Wahhabi movement, gave the notion of holy war an anti-colonial or Westophobic dimension; Abdullah Azzam, creator of the Arab Mujahedeen Services Bureau in the time of Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, redefined jihad as guerrilla resistance against infidel invaders; while the contemporary global jihadist movement, as exemplified by Al Qaeda and now the Islamic State, countenances the direct targeting of civilians in terrorist attacks.
President Obama, captured by the ideology of Identity Politics, refuses to address the ideology of modern-day global jihadism. However, as Sebastian Gorka says: “You cannot win a war if you cannot talk honestly about the enemy.” Defeating the global jihadist movement depends upon comprehending the connections between Islam and “jihad by the sword” rather than denying them. Gorka blasts Barack Obama for his self-delusion, which has resulted in his White House coming under the influence of Muslim Brother-associated “malevolent actors” with “an interest in censoring any talk of the religious aspects” of the global jihadist movement.
The details of this disturbing phenomenon are explored at greater length in books such as Andrew C. McCarthy’s The Grand Jihad: Islam and the Left Sabotage America (2011) and Stephen Coughlin’s Catastrophic Failure: Blinding America in the Face of the Jihad (2015). Nevertheless, Gorka, who once briefed every agency from the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division to the CIA and the National Intelligence Council, makes a number of disturbing disclosures of his own. One is that since 2010 a “system of censoring and monitoring”, overseen by the White House, has prohibited “mention of Islam or even jihad” during US counter-terrorism training.
Gorka’s Defeating Jihad, especially the chapter titled “1979: Annus Horribilis—Modern Jihad Goes Global”, exposes the folly of the Obama administration’s myopia. For instance, in 1979 the Saudi regime struck a deal with armed Islamist insurrectionists after they seized the Grand Mosque of Mecca: leave the kingdom alone and the Saudis would fund the export of their radical ideology around the world. The global jihadist movement, funded by petrodollars, went into overdrive, spurred on by the holy war waged in Afghanistan and establishment of a Shia theocracy in Iran. It was from this combustible mix that Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda emerged and, contemporaneously, the West became plagued by jihadist preachers.
Our mortal foes, in short, are the progeny of Sayyid Qutb. President Obama, a prisoner of PC rectitude, is unable to grasp this because, in the first instance, he wrongly fears that opposing—or evening naming—global jihadism as the enemy of civilisation is a declaration of war against Islam. Gorka disagrees: “The people most imminently in danger, in fact, are the nonviolent and non-extremist Muslims of the Middle East, such as our allies in Jordan and the modern Muslims of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.” We should help them to fight the jihadists with all the behind-the-scenes expertise we can muster, neither “nation building” like George W. Bush nor unilaterally withdrawing forces from the region as Barack Obama did in 2011.
The most important message in Defeating Jihad might be summed up in five words: “Fewer drones, more psychological operations.” We need to decode a new totalitarian threat, just as George Kennan and Paul Nitze did in the post-war years, and then prosecute the case on the ideological front with alacrity: “During the Cold War, America established publishing houses with CIA funds, and it needs to do so again against a new foe.” It is the creed of freedom versus the doctrine of holy war: “There is no such thing as ‘lone wolf terrorism’. All jihadists are connected to the global jihadist movement by their shared ideology.”
The free world urgently requires an American president who will not celebrate the Muslim Brotherhood (and all its associate organisations) in the United States but ban it, and so begin the counter-propaganda campaign against global jihadism. Sebastian Gorka, predictably, eagerly anticipates President Obama’s looming departure from office.
Daryl McCann, a frequent contributor, has a blog at http://darylmccann.blogspot.com.au.