Is This Any Way To Fight A War?

by Rebecca Bynum (May 2008)

Willful Blindness
A Memoir Of The Jihad
By Andrew C. McCarthy
Encounter Books, 2008, 352 pp.

In the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11th terror attacks, President Bush demanded the Taliban government of Afghanistan produce Osama bin Laden in order that he could be “brought to justice.” Bush threatened military invasion only if Bin Laden were not produced. Using the criminal justice system as a weapon of war was a continuation of U.S. policy already in place from our previous, quite limited dealing with Jihad, domestic and foreign, and apparently not about to be rethought. Islamic warfare has been waged against the infidel world since the beginning of Islam, even though at times that state of permanent war did not express itself in open warfare. We in the United States, sheltered by two oceans, two friendly neighbors, and our own great ignorance of history and of Islam were just beginning to take notice of Jihad, though without understanding what prompted it, or even calling it by its right name. The fact that Jihad is a struggle that is considered by Muslims a holy war, in order to spread Islam and insure its dominance, and that participation, direct or indirect, in this “struggle” is  a Muslim’s sacred duty to expand Islamic territorial sovereignty, was -- and still is -- lost on the President and his advisors. President Bush, following the lead of President Clinton, framed the conflict as one between our civilized justice system, deeply solicitous of individual rights, and a small band of criminal fanatics. This gross underestimation of jihad may prove to be one of the biggest mistakes in human history.

Andrew McCarthy was the lead prosecutor in the government’s case against the Blind Sheikh, Abdul Rahman, and he has written, in the form of a memoir, what turns out to be a critical analysis, of how the United States has chosen to fight terrorists as criminals. In that long, and significant terror trial, justice prevailed (it doesn’t always, in these terror trials, where laymen completely ignorant of Islam can be led by the nose, if the defense team is clever, and sometimes it is). Despite the victory in his own, early, important case, McCarthy nevertheless argues that the U.S. justice system is an inappropriate choice of weapon with which to fight a very strong enemy; a weapon entirely inadequate to the threat we are facing.

Because of the decisive actions of a fortuitously placed informant, quick thinking law enforcement officers and able prosecutors, the murderous plans of twelve Muslim defendants were thwarted and those would-be terrorists have now been jailed for a very long time. Their ringleader, or “spiritual advisor,” Omar Abdel Rahman, the Blind Sheikh, was sent to prison for life after also having been shown to have been involved in the first World Trade Center bombing and in a plot to assassinate Egypt’s President Mubarak. (Unknown to Rahman at the time, his band of jihad brothers in the U.S. was infiltrated by an Egyptian spy as well as by a U.S. government informant.) Rahman is also on record as issuing the fatwa or Muslim religious ruling which permitted the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 and, more recently, as issuing the fatwa permitting the September 11th terror attacks (from his jail cell) according to Osama bin Laden.

What is easy to forget is the murderous Blind Sheikh was, and remains, a revered and respected religious authority in the Muslim world.

Unfortunately, while this trial, one of the most significant in American history, was proceeding, America was engrossed in another trial: that of O.J. Simpson, and so scant attention was paid to the plot to mass murder Americans and none at all to  the motivation behind it which was being methodically laid out in the nine-month trial of United States v. Omar Abdel Rahman, et al. Contrary to popular belief, the blind sheik was not convicted for the first World Trade Center bombing, though he was involved, but for plotting other attacks afterward. There were plans to blow up the Lincoln and Holland tunnels in New York as well as other landmarks. At first the planning had included the United Nations building, but the sheik ruled that bombing the U.N. would “be bad for Muslims.” He advised the plotters to, “inflict damage on the American army itself. But the United Nations…will be a disadvantage for the Muslims. It will harm them deeply…they will consider it to be the center of peace and that Muslims are against peace, and will create a difficulty and will disturb the Muslims’ being.”

The great advantage in this case for the government was a well-placed informant, an Egyptian named Emad Salem, who taped hours and hours of plotting and planning among the defendants – plotting and planning which often, by the way, took place in mosques. Because the government had a reliable informant on the inside, it could afford to allow the preparations to go all the way to the stage of actually mixing chemicals for the bombs before making arrests. The government is unlikely ever again to have inside information of this quality, or prosecutors of this level of knowledge and ability. Lately, terror cases have been plagued by mistrials, and this is likely to continue until we institute – as Hugh Fitzgerald has repeatedly suggested --  some form of special court system, akin to Patent and Tax Courts, with judges not juries, and judges who have been given the specialized knowledge of Jihad that makes them competent to handle such cases. Another problem is the amount of information that must be disclosed to defendants and their lawyers, some of which is bound to be classified, or at the very least will disclose methods that will harm future investigations. None of this bodes well for protecting American citizens from terror attacks.

How many terror cases, at what enormous and growing expense, and how much security, and at what expense, is the American public expected to bear when the obvious problem lies in Islam itself and the obvious solution to limiting the size of the problem surely lies in restricting the numbers of Muslims in America?  Unfortunately, we don’t have some kind of mind-reading mechanism that can tell us who is dangerous – that is, who takes his Islam seriously, and who, because he does not, is not so dangerous. Nor do we have any way of knowing who, though “moderate” today, will be a most “immoderate” Muslim tomorrow, nor who will produce children who will, in turn, be “moderate” or, for reasons often personal rather than political, will choose to “return to Islam,” in a way that will prove dangerous for American citizens. We already have seen several celebrated terror cases involving those who either seemed completely integrated into American society, such as “Mike” Hawash – an Intel vice-president – and the son of Iranians who had sought refuge in the United States from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The practice of Islam alone poses a deep threat to our society because it makes demands on our laws and customs that no other religion does, including the denigration of women and the practice of polygamy. We must face the fact that more and more demands will inevitably be made for changes in our institutions, legal and political, and in our social arrangements, so that they no longer are regarded by Muslims as “obstacles” to the spread, and ultimately to the dominance of Islam – but such demands will of course be phrased in the language of sweet-reasonableness, and will be made to seem not part of a long-term premeditated strategy, but merely prompted by an anguished group of prayerful people – who want, say, publicly-funded Muslim footbaths in airports and universities, or prayer-rooms and time off, five times a day, for canonical prayers, in workplaces, or would like pork products – used in a great variety of ways, not only for food (as in many medicines taken in pill form) – banned whatever the inconvenience or expense to non-Muslims. The assumption that if Muslims are turned down, here and there, they will stop putting pressure for these changes is misguided. No Believer, if he is true to Islam, will ever stop trying to effect these changes, and in the democracies of the West, where ignorance of Islam is high, and so too is the pusillanimity of politicians, the larger the number of Muslims, the greater the likelihood that non-Muslim politicians, oblivious to the danger to the greater good, will pander for Muslim votes, and do Muslim bidding.


The inevitable consequence of Muslim immigration is greater Muslim power, power to push politicians to accept Muslim demands, power to deploy the Money Weapon supplied by the Saudis and other rich Arabs, power to burrow within government bureaucracies – like the man who helped arrange the below-market sale of city-owned land for a mosque in Boston – and even within our security services, to inhibit frank discussion of the nature of the threat that faces us (see the FBI, see the CIA, see our Deputy Secretary of Defense, Gordon England, doing the bidding of Hesham Islam at the Pentagon). There are no examples in the 1350-year history where Muslims have changed the texts and tenets of Islam to adapt to different cultures. Always the existing cultures of the lands conquered have been made to adapt to Islam and then are gradually, but inevitably, absorbed and extinguished by Islam. We don’t have to allow this. The Constitution, as has been said many times, is not a suicide pact.

Here is an especially perceptive and revealing passage from McCarthy’s book in which he speaks of the government informant, Emad Salem.

I observed that Emad was a practicing Muslim, not a pious one, nor a deep thinker about Islamic doctrine. Our prep sessions would be peppered by prayer breaks…except when they weren’t. At times I wondered if it was passion or fashion – with him you could never be sure of anything other than the wheels were spinning. Terrorism, he would tell me again and again was antithetical to Islam; so was anti-Semitism, some of his best friends being Jews. I believed him, mainly because I wanted to believe him. As it conveniently happened, what he was saying echoed my employer’s party line – which is still, all these years and deaths later, the federal government’s party line. He was saying it out of raw emotion which, as raw emotion tends to do, hardened into unshakeable conviction.

Nevertheless, we spent many weeks together over the course of two years. I was unsettled to find that there was not much depth in his conviction. This was in stark and disturbing contrast to the other major focus of my attention, the Blind Sheikh. Abdel Rahman had made what I instinctively considered to be lunatic assertions: The Qur’an and Hadith command Muslims to terrorize, to wage war against non-Muslims, to decapitate; they regard Muslims as superior beings and women as chattel, etc. The only problem was: when I dug deeper, I found he certainly was not twisting or perverting the scriptures as our public pronouncements blithely and hopefully assumed. The scriptures said what he said they said, To be sure, there were other scriptures too, and they were more benign – though I did not find them “beautiful” or “moving” as the Qur’an, for example, was typically, rapturously described by Western elites (for whom hostility had, in my experience, been the default position on religion). In any even, it gnawed at me that the Blind Sheikh, whom I so wanted to see as a shallow, manipulative, homicidal maniac, had a very deep and very coherent – albeit chilling – understanding of his faith in which he was an internationally recognized authority.

Compared to him, the self-styled “moderates” appeared to be the ones dancing on the head of a pin. When you tried to press them about the Sheikh’s exegesis, there seemed to be an awful lot of ad hominem, and very little deconstruction of substance. For me, dealing with Emad Salem was another side of this. Emad was not a scholar and I didn’t expect scholarly interpretations. But he was a very smart guy with a good Islamic education. I am no George Weigel, the brilliant Catholic theologian, but I figured, “I am a reasonably intelligent guy with a good Catholic education, and I can relate to you the major tenets of the faith and explain how they are rationally defended against the familiar broadsides. I may not convince you. I’m not sure I’m convinced. But it would be a cogent conversation.” I expected that much out of Emad, and never got it – an experience that has recurred too many times with too many other bright Muslims for me to cast it aside as an aberration. (pgs. 138-139)


And here, discussing Abdel Rahman’s character witnesses:

The defense case in our trial went on for two months – extremely extensive for a criminal trial. As if unfolded, numerous Muslims were called to the stand. They were what we’d call “moderates,” and on the whole, I believe they were peaceful, well-meaning people, summoned to testify that they had never heard Sheikh Omar call for violence against America. Every now and then, though, a question of religious doctrine would come up and they would demur. Those sorts of questions, you see, were the purview of the great imam.

This made not a bit of difference to the trial – Abdel Rahman had incontestably called for brutal strikes so many times that it was irrelevant whether these apparently nice people had gotten the word. What was jarring, however, was that they were nice people and yet they were reader to defer, on matters of importance in their faith, to the homicidal maniac sitting in the corner of our courtroom. (pg. 316)

Any ideology which advocates the innate superiority of one group of people over another is dangerous, but Islam is uniquely dangerous not only because it comes clothed in the meek garb of religion, but because it has, historically speaking, been successful in taking and holding territory wherever it has put down roots; except where Muslims have been forcibly removed, as in Portugal (ending in 1249) and the Spanish Reconquista (ending in 1492).

Many, like me, who originally supported President Bush, believed he would be true to his word and “do what ever it takes” to protect the citizens of the United States and to protect and defend the Constitution. I would never have thought he could be so blind as to allow and even encourage Muslim immigration to our shores after Sept. 11, and to make Americans bear the cost, including the untellable future costs, just so that he could escape the inevitable criticism that would come by taking reasonable measures to protect those people and their way of life he has vowed to defend.

President Bush has been similarly obtuse, even blind, in continuing to believe that Muslim polities can be our allies in this idiotically named “war on terror.” He is blind if he thinks his Light-Unto-The-Muslim-Nations project will work out in Iraq. He is blind not to take the victory that “stands shining before us” in the form of allowing the natural fissures in the Muslim world to widen; two of which, sectarian and ethnic, were and are there for the exploiting, as Hugh Fitzgerald never tires of telling us, in Iraq. Bush has been unwilling to change his course; it would be an admission of a hideously expensive mistake, and neither he, nor his most ardent loyalists, are able to admit to that, and to take a cooler, more ruthless, less sentimental view of Islam, and of the need, from here on out, not to help Muslim peoples and states, but to create the conditions that will weaken the Camp of Islam and also make individual Muslims more likely to begin to see the connection between the failures of their own societies and Islam itself. “Victory” in Iraq will only be achieved by withdrawal. To weaken our military so drastically – look at what has happened to recruitment standards, look at the missing 15,000 captains -- in the futile hope of making Iraq into something it can never be, is inexcusable.

All this blindness, all this unnecessary endangering of American citizens and the weakening of our military is the result of the refusal at the top levels of our government to take Islam seriously. Perhaps this stems for the refusal of our elites to take any religion seriously even while mouthing platitudes about respect. Nevertheless, it is negligence of the highest order, now institutionalized, that must now be addressed and reversed.

The denial of some central element of reality invariably leads to disaster, whether by an individual or a civilization.

On the other hand, there are reasons to be hopeful. Andrew McCarthy has shown in this book to have a deep understanding of the nature of the struggle we are engaged in, not least of which involves the struggle to accept reality. It is my hope that whoever is elected President will appoint Mr. McCarthy as Attorney General of the United States. He has shown the ability to transcend partisanship when it comes to national security, even praising Clinton’s Attorney General, Janet Reno, who stood firm in pursuing the case against the Blind Sheikh even when the government was leaning heavily to try to deport him instead.

McCarthy evinced true brilliance in using an arcane seditious conspiracy statute (Section 2384 of Title 18, U.S. Code) from the time of the Civil War, which targets those who confederate to levy war against the United States or use force against our government, in order to prosecute the Blind Sheikh. There is no doubt that, were he appointed Attorney General, he would mine the criminal code in order to shut down mosques and dry up funding for jihad in all its forms in this country. Jihad, whether waged with by pen, by wealth, by demographics, or by the sword, is inherently seditious in an Infidel nation-state. It is easy to demonstrate that the spirit and letter of the Shari’a flatly contradict the American Constitution. Much of this war, perhaps most of it, will be fought in the courtrooms of our nation and there is no one I would rather see in charge of this battle than Andrew C. McCarthy.

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