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General McMaster and That “Perverted Interpretation of Religion Used To Justify Violence”

by Hugh Fitzgerald

President Trump has chosen Lt. General William McMaster as his new National Security Adviser. As a three-star general, McMaster’s appointment will require Senate confirmation, and one hopes that whatever else the Senators ask him, they make sure to examine his understanding of Islamic terrorism. For surely this is the greatest threat not only to American security, but to that of the entire West.

General McMaster has pronounced on the subject of Islamic terrorism twice in the last year, in almost identical language, and what he said suggests that he has missed something important about the ideology of Islam.

In May 2016, in a speech he delivered on “Harbingers of Future War: Implications for the Army” at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, General McMaster referred to “groups like ISIL, who use this irreligious ideology, this perverted interpretation of religion to justify violence. They depend on ignorance, and the ability to recruit vulnerable segments of populations to foment hatred, and then use that hatred to justify violence against innocents.

Apparently well-satisfied with his original formulation, General McMaster repeated it, almost verbatim, in a speech to the Center for Leadership and Excellence at the Virginia Military Institute on November 21, 2016, ringingly declaring that “we will defeat today’s enemies, including terrorist organizations like Daesh, who cynically use a perverted interpretation of religion to incite hatred and justify horrific cruelty against innocents.”

This description of Daesh – the Islamic State – as “cynically using a perverted interpretation of religion to incite hatred and justify horrific cruelty against innocents” is most peculiar. For whatever else you can say about Daesh or other Muslim terrorists, the adverb “cynically” is the least applicable to their actions. Al-Baghdadi, Al-Awlaki, Bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri, Nidal Hasan. Omar Mateen, Adam Gadahn, Aafia Siddiqui, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, and all the other stars in the terrorist firmament have not been cynics, but rather, the reverse — the truest of true believers. And what they truly believe(d) in is what Islam’s texts inculcate, including the view of non-Muslims as cosmically ungrateful (in not accepting the message of Muhammad), their “vileness” Qur’anically established (8:55; 98:6), their continued insubmissive existence as kuffar seen as a colossal affront to Islam.

Muslims have a duty to spread Islam by means of Jihad, which overwhelmingly means the use of violence, though it can be conducted through other means – as, for example, Jihad of the Pen/Tongue, to spread Islam’s message. Today, along with violence, a new instrument – demographic conquest – is being used to overwhelm the Infidels and spread Islam. “New” because never before in history have millions of people dedicated to the longterm destruction of others been allowed by those others to settle deep behind what ought be regarded as enemy lines, as Muslims have now been allowed to settle throughout Western Europe. If Muslim numbers do surpass those of the indigenous non-Muslims, Muslims will be in a position to offer non-Muslims a choice: either to convert to Islam, or be killed, or to accept the permanent status of dhimmi, with all of its attendant disabilities. And there is no end to Jihad; it should continue until the whole world is ultimately subjected to Islam. There is nothing – pace General McMaster — “cynical” about any of this.

As for those phrases repeated by General McMaster about this “perverse interpretation of religion [used] to justify violence” which becomes, in his longer variant, a “perverted interpretation of religion to incite hatred and justify horrific cruelty against innocents,” the only “perverted interpretation” of Islam is, I’m afraid, that of General McMaster himself, who appears certain that Islam properly understood cannot possibly inculcate anything that might “incite hatred and justify violence” against non-Muslims. I’m not sure which would be worse: that he may think he must pretend to believe this nonsense in order to avoid being accused of Islamophobia and to safely rise high in the Washington ranks, or that he really believes it.

Perhaps during his confirmation hearings, some senators will press him on this, trying to find out what McMaster thinks Islam, mainstream Islam, teaches and how it differs from that “perverse interpretation” to which he keeps referring. The exchange ought to be instructive. For example, the senators might ask him, while the reporters are present and the cameras whirring, what he remembers from the Qur’an on the subject of Infidels. What, a probing Senator might ask him, under the guise of refreshing his memory, does he make of Qur’an 98:6, describing Infidels as “the vilest of creatures”? Would he regard it as a “perverse interpretation” of that verse to think it inculcates hatred toward non-Muslims, or isn’t it in fact clear in its declaration of such hatred, and should he not be willing to recognize that this is a perfectly straightforward, if disturbing statement, with no “perverse interpretation” necessary?

Or take the famous Verse of the Sword, Qur’an 9:5: “When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful.” What “perverse interpretation” of this pellucid call to violent Jihad is needed to make this verse “incite hatred”? It’s dripping with murderous hatred already. The Senators could continue to quote from the more than one hundred Jihad verses in the Qur’an or stories from the Hadith, that is, verses that exhort the killing of Infidels. Or they might read out, and ask for General McMaster to comment on, the description of the mass killings of the 600-900 bound prisoners of the Banu Qurayza, by Muhammad and his followers, or the accounts of the pleasure Muhammad (“al-insan al-kamil,” the Perfect Man, and “uswa hasana,” the Model of Conduct) took in learning of the murders of those who mocked him (Asma bint Marwan, Abu Afak), or the descriptions of the many military campaigns he took part in not only against his sworn enemies, but simply against those who, like the inoffensive Jewish farmers of the Khaybar Oasis, were known to be prosperous. For the Khaybar farmers had not been fighting against Muhammad; they were a target for this covetous warlord simply because they were both well-off and ill-defended. The Khaybar attack gives the lie to the Muslim claim that Muhammad only fought defensive wars. Muhammad and his men despoiled the Khaybar farmers, who had done nothing against them, of both their property and their women; the loot was enough of a lure. Or was this aggressiveness all a matter of Muhammad’s “perverse interpretation” of Islam?

It would be perfectly appropriate for the Senators to ask General McMaster what “perverse interpretation” of Islam he thinks the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda labor under, to explain exactly where the terrorists’ interpretation of Islam distorts or veers away from the basic tenets of Islam, as conveyed by any mainstream madrasa’s lessons, or any orthodox imam’s sermons?

General McMaster refers to “groups like ISIL, who use this irreligious ideology” and whose members “depend on ignorance, and the ability to recruit vulnerable segments of populations to foment hatred.” Again he should be asked, what is the “ignorance” that members of the Islamic State depend on to obtain recruits? Is General McMaster suggesting that these potential recruits are “ignorant” of the real meaning of Islam – the peace and tolerance and convivencia about which the small army of apologists (John Esposito, Pope Francis, Karen Armstrong, Barack Obama, Reza Aslan, Omid Safi, and so many others) constantly prate? Is General McMaster quite convinced that it is “ignorance” of Islam that helps “groups like ISIL [ISIS]”? How is it that so many “ignorant” Muslims could manage to remain unaware of Islam’s pacific essence, and thus be easily inveigled into believing the “perverse interpretation” of the faith, as something violent, hate-filled, cruel, that is the very opposite of what, in the General’s view, is the essence of Islam? Is this what General McMaster purports to believe? Isn’t it, rather, that those who join ISIS or Al-Qaeda are not ignorant at all, but know perfectly well what the texts of Islam inculcate, and rightly understand the meaning of Islam as a warlike doctrine of conquest and subjugation? And aren’t they quick to offer textual support from the Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira, for their every act of terror? And hasn’t Islam meant conquest through violence, and subjugation, of many different kinds of Infidels, over many different lands, for the past 1400 years?

Many of the senators questioning General McMaster will prefer not to press these points. Most Democrats will agree with his pollyannish remarks on Islam. Most Republicans may simply wish to defer to the general as a Trump appointee, wrongly assuming that he must, therefore, be “tough” on Islam. Few senators will have the stomach to discuss Islam truthfully in public, knowing they will then have to endure the usual idiotic charges of bigotry and “Islamophobia” from those whose minds are made up, and who do not want to be confused with facts. But it would take only a handful of senators, possibly from both parties, offering piercing questions, to strike a blow for common sense and our common security. Ideally, a few of them will choose to read aloud Qur’anic verses or stories from the Hadith that inculcate hatred of, and violence toward, Infidels. The General should be asked what exactly those recruited by terrorists are ignorant of, and why he considers them, as a result, more “vulnerable” to the siren song of the Al-Baghdadis and Bin Ladens. Does he think these recruits are less educated, or more impoverished, and because of that easier to inveigle into terrorism? The data suggests otherwise. Many studies have concluded that Islamic terrorists are both better off economically and better educated than the average Muslim.

If they are particularly “vulnerable” to those texts that preach violent Jihad, this means not that they are “ignorant” and susceptible to accept a “perverse interpretation” of the faith, but that they are prepared to take Islam to heart, not shirking their duty to engage in violent Jihad (or to “strike terror”), but acting upon what Islam demands of its followers; they are having their Islam straight up, as determined Jihadists, and not on the rocks of self-interested calculation that might make some hesitate to sacrifice themselves for Islam. It’s hard to understand what General McMaster means by his use of the word “ignorance” in reference to these recruits. Is he suggesting that their knowledge of Islam is incomplete, and that if they were to learn more, they would of course come to realize that only a “perverse interpretation” of Islam would lead to violence? Does he believe that his understanding of Islam is superior to that of Al-Baghdadi or Bin Laden? After being confronted in those hearings with those 100-plus Jihad verses, and many other verses, too, that teach contempt for the Infidels, those that characterize them as the “vilest of creatures” and instruct Muslims not to take Christians and Jews as friends, “for they are friends only with each other,” would General McMaster still maintain his rosy view of Islam? It is not those more ignorant of Islam who are inveigled by terrorist masters but, rather, those who, becoming ever more devout, study the texts closely, take to heart the endless litany of hatred toward Infidels, feel keenly the duty of Jihad, and become terrorists fully conscious of what they are doing. We would all prefer to believe – it would be such a great relief – that General McMaster is right, and that Islamic terrorism is a result of a “perverse interpretation” of Islam, one having no relation to the “real” Islam. How comforting it would be to believe that Muslim terrorist masters “depend on ignorance” (of the real, peaceful Islam) – how comforting, and how false.

Perhaps, made aware of comments critical of his knowledge of Islam, such as these you are reading, or here, General McMaster might give himself, by way of preparation for his confirmation hearings, a short course in Islam that would disabuse him of his hitherto complacent understanding. He could then simply tell the sympathetic senators that he has had occasion to study both Islamic texts and Islamic terrorism more fully, and based on that study, wishes to revise his previous statements, made last year, so that they would read something like this: “The many Islamic terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah, and many other groups and groupuscules, are able to recruit Muslims using an interpretation of Islam that is not necessarily accepted by all but is certainly accepted by a great many – far too many – Muslims, and candor compels me to admit, following a re-examination of the Qur’an and other Islamic texts, that this version of Islam should be considered not aberrant but mainstream.”

And then he might add: “It is up to us to figure out how best we can help those born into Islam, without any choice in the matter, who recognize those troublesome aspects of their faith that are inimical to real peace and real tolerance, and for which they would like to find a solution, if such is possible.” An unflinching statement like that, from General McMaster, despite the subsequent howls of protest by CAIR and the Southern Poverty Law Center, would be enough – would be more than enough – to clear a good many minds of cant.

First published in Jihad Watch.

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