The evolving threat of jihad in the West
One of the most important stories related to the September 11 attacks was the one that was deliberately left largely untold. That story is the response of some Muslims in America to the massacre of nearly 3,000 people by Islamic supremacists in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
According to a Washington Post article published on September 18, 2001, in Jersey City, New Jersey, across the river from the destroyed World Trade Center, “Within hours of the two jetliners plowing into the World Trade Center, law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.”
The New York Post reported on September 15, 2001, that Muslim Americans in Patterson, NJ were also seen celebrating the attacks. Word-of-mouth reports abounded in the weeks and months following September 11 of spontaneous celebrations carried out that day in Dearborn, Michigan, in Virginia and other Muslim American communities.
The most notable aspect of the published reports of the celebrations was that there were so few of them.
After all, the notion that any Muslim Americans would celebrate the jihadist attack was certainly newsworthy.
The stories were suppressed at the time by political leaders. Then New York mayor Rudy Guiliani for instance said the celebrations shouldn’t be reported lest they lead to violent attacks against peaceful Muslims.
Then president George W. Bush rushed to defend and uphold Islam as a “religion of peace,” almost immediately after the attacks. Bush insisted that al-Qaida was a fringe movement and ideology in the world of Islam. Its Islamic supremacism did not reflect either the Islamic faith or the ideology of the overwhelming majority of Muslims.
In 2007, then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice banned US officials from using the terms “jihad,” “Islamic” and “Islamism” in describing Islamic jihad and the ideology of Islamism or in conjunction with discussions of Islamic jihad and terrorism.
Under former president Barack Obama, the war on language went into high gear. Not only were all terms relating to Islam banned from use in the federal government, the term “terrorism” was even purged from the official discourse. Obama dumped the Bush-era term, “War on Terror,” for the even more meaningless phrase, “Overseas Contingency Operations.”
Obama barred the FBI from investigating radical Islamic breeding grounds and replaced surveillance operations with a program called, “Countering Violent Extremism.” Under that program, Islamists were given federal support. The notion was that once they were empowered, they would convince their communities to reject violence.
The US federal government’s actions were far from unique in the Western world. Indeed, when compared to the efforts taken by Europeans to sanitize public discourse of all discussion of Islamic jihadism, America’s efforts look downright moderate. In Europe, almost every mention of Islamism has been barred. Those that have criticized it have been subjected to criminal prosecutions and convictions.
In most cases, the rationales for these efforts to block discussion of the threat of radical Islam have been admirable.
Western nations have long histories of racism and intolerance. On the surface at least, placing a spotlight on the actions of one community, or adherents of one specific religion flies in the face of everything that the nations of the West have come to understand about how racism and bigotry takes root in a society. The very act of mentioning bad behavior carried out by members of a specific group seems inherently bigoted.
The problem with this well-intentioned position was self-evident from the start. It is not bigoted to point out the bigotry of others and to confront and challenge it.
It is bigoted not to do so. Even worse, it is dangerous.
It is impossible to solve a problem like Islamic radicalism by ignoring it. To the contrary, by ignoring it, you ensure that it will grow.
One of the strategically significant aspects of the September 11 attacks is that they showed that Islamic terrorists do not require control of territory to cause massive harm to their enemies and to their enemies’ societies.
On September 11, the 19 hijackers did not occupy downtown Manhattan. They did not drive tanks down 5th Avenue.
Armed with box cutters and informed by a bigoted, supremacist ideology, 19 Islamic terrorists viewed themselves as heroes as they used crude weapons to commit murder on a scale never seen before on American soil.
And after they did so, far from being condemned across the board in the Islamic world, they were celebrated as heroes by a very large number of Muslims not only in the Middle East but in the US and throughout the Western world.
The devastating implications of the US government’s decision to ignore the fact that at least some American Muslims celebrated the attacks were revealed over the weekend in an extraordinary report by Ruchmini Callimacci in the New York Times.
Titled, “Not ‘Lone Wolves’ After All: How ISIS Guides World’s Terror Plots from Afar,” Callimacci reported how Islamic State (ISIS) locates and recruits Muslims in countries around the world over the Internet. Once they recruit these adherents, ISIS terror masters in Syria and elsewhere direct them in plotting and carrying out terrorist attacks. These remote commanders dictate the actions of their distant adherents from the moment they make contact with them until just moments before they commit their attacks or are arrested by law enforcement bodies.
ISIS handlers, or commanders, are able to control the actions of their recruits as a platoon commander controls the actions of his soldiers, without ever meeting them. In many cases, the recruits do not even know their handlers’ identities, have never heard their voices and do not know where they are from.
The one thing that joins them to those directing them from thousands of kilometers away is their shared belief in the supremacy of radical Islam over all other ways of life. Their common faith in the justice of acts of mass murder against non-believers is so strong that it bridges the gap between the real and virtual worlds.
ISIS’s mode of operation is a natural progression from the September 11 attacks. Along the way, Anwar al-Awlaki, the commander of al-Qaida forces in Yemen killed in a US drone strike in 2011, was the pioneer of moving the direction of Western jihadists from the physical world to the virtual one. For more than a decade, Awlaki indoctrinated and directed numerous jihadists in the US and the UK. In the beginning Awlaki directed their actions by meeting with them and preaching to them in shared physical space. Later, he decamped to Yemen where he continued his efforts. He preached to them through cassette tapes, through satellite broadcasts and Internet chat rooms. He indoctrinated them through online essays. And he directed their terrorist attacks by email.
An interesting incident in Awlaki’s career came in 1996. At that time, Awlaki was working as a preacher at the Denver Islamic Society. According to a New York Times report from 2010, Awlaki left the mosque, and moved to San Diego shortly after an elder of the mosque upbraided him for telling a mosque member to travel to Chechnya to join the jihad against Russia.
The most revealing aspect of the story is that the elder who criticized Awlaki asked the New York Times not to publish his identity. By 2010, Awlaki had already been publicly implicated in directing scores of Western jihadists to commit attacks in the US and the UK. He was considered the commander of al-Qaida forces in Yemen. And yet, the mosque elder in Denver didn’t feel comfortable openly condemning him.
His aversion indicated where the balance of power in the American Muslim community lies.
Whether or not President Donald Trump is able to reinstitute his executive order mandating a 90-day ban on entry of nationals from Syria, Iraq, Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, the fact is that such a move will be insufficient to diminish the terrorist threat in America. As Callimacci’s article made brutally clear, so long as the intellectual shackles of political correctness block the US and other Western governments from taking concerted action against the creed of Islamic supremacism and its adherents inside their own borders, the virtual terrorism command ISIS now controls will last until it morphs into an even more deadly threat in the months and years to come.