The United States’ failure to accept that Islamist terrorists believe Islam requires them to wage war on the United States and Western liberalism is undermining counter-terrorism efforts. Understanding Islamists’ motivations is critical to defeating them, yet the United States government actively prevents clear thinking on the objective linkage between Islam and terror. The United States will be better able to comprehend and defeat Islamism once its leadership stops assuming Western social norms are universal, and focuses on Islamists’ view of what Islam requires of them.
The effort to uncouple Islam from Islamist violence and repression has been ongoing since at least the Clinton administration. In 1999, President Clinton called the Taliban’s treatment of women “a terrible perversion.” In 2001, the State Department deemed the Taliban’s destruction of the 1500 year-old Bamiyan Buddhas as a violation of “one of Islam’s basic tenets – tolerance for other religions.” Shortly after 9/11, President Bush said the attacks violated “fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.” In his June 4, 2009, Cairo speech, President Obama declared a new beginning for the United States and Muslims, “based upon the truth that America and Islam . . . overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” As recently as August, 2013, a State Department release called the Islamist perpetrators of a terrorist attack “enemies of Islam.”
Yet the targets of these Presidential rebukes responded with incredulity, often emphasizing their own belief that terrorism and anti-liberalism are not only sanctioned, but required by Islam. When President Clinton arrogated himself the judge of whether the Taliban’s treatment of women was proper under Islam, the Taliban responded that “[t]his Clinton is not a Muslim and does not know anything about Islam and Muslims.” The Taliban likewise rejected President Bush’s assertion that Islam is non-violent by asking “Is he some kind of Islamic scholar? Has he ever actually read the Koran?”
Projecting liberal Western values onto all of Islam distracts from the pertinent question of what the Islamists believe Islam allows and requires. As Stephen Coughlin, a Major in the Army Reserves and former civilian contractor with the Joint Chiefs of Staff put it, “If the enemy says he’s fighting in the name of green cheese, then we’ve got to know green cheese!” Since at least 1979, when Islamists took over Iran, organizations fighting in the name of Islam to destroy the United States and the West have proliferated. To defeat these men who believe Islam compels them to violence, national defense personnel must understand their ideology and develop strategies for defeating them in light of that ideology.
Yet in the war on terror, discussion of Islam’s role in terrorism is not merely ignored, it is repressed. As Jonathan Tobin wrote for Commentary last week, demands to remove references to jihad and Islamism from a film that will be part of the 9/11 memorial are emblematic of a broader effort to separate Islam from 9/11 in the American psyche. Accordingly, the Obama Administration turned the War on Terror into “overseas contingency operations.” Obama labeled the Fort Hood attack as workplace violence, despite perpetrator Nidal Hassan’s self-identification as a “soldier of Allah.” The Department of Defense non-renewed Coughlin’s contract following complaints from the Pentagon’s Muslim-outreach program about his criticism of an organization the Department of Justice deems a Muslim Brotherhood front. And in 2011, the FBI edited its counter-terrorism training manual and removed the words Islam, Muslim, jihad, Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, caliphate and Shariah.
This campaign to purge Islam from terrorism in Western minds is a work of pure self-deception. There are people who believe Islam requires them to wage war on the West generally and the United States in particular. Ignoring this fact will not make it less true. Yet U.S. national security organs not only ignore the linkage between Islam and terrorism, they train and develop policy under the false impression there is no connection.
 It is unclear whether agents receive specialty training as appropriate. That is to say, an agent assigned to investigating or tracking Hamas may receive training on Hamas’s belief that Islam requires its violence.