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Denying Islam's Role in Terror: Explaining the Denial

Thus does the unwillingness to acknowledge the Islamist motives behind most terrorism obstruct effective counterterrorism and render further atrocities more likely.

When Denial Will End

Denial is likely to continue until the price gets too steep. The 3,000 victims of 9/11, it turns out, did not suffice to shake Western complacency. 30,000 dead, in all likelihood, will also not suffice. Perhaps 300,000 will. For sure, three million will. At that point, worries about Muslim sensibilities and fear of being called an "Islamophobe" will fade into irrelevance, replaced by a single-minded determination to protect lives. Should the existing order someday be in evident danger, today's relaxed approach will instantly go out the window. The popular support for such measures exists; as early as 2004, a Cornell University poll showed that 44 percent of Americans "believe that some curtailment of civil liberties is necessary for Muslim Americans." (47)

Israel offers a control case. Because it faces so many threats, the body politic lacks patience with liberal pieties when it comes to security. While aspiring to treat everyone fairly, the government clearly targets the most violent-prone elements of society. Should other Western countries face a comparable danger, circumstances will likely compel them to adopt this same approach.

Conversely, should such mass dangers not arise, this shift will probably never take place. Until and unless disaster on a large scale strikes, denial will continue. Western tactics, in other words, depend entirely on the brutality and competence of the Islamist enemy. Ironically, the West permits terrorists to drive its approach to counterterrorism. No less ironically, it will take a huge terrorist atrocity to enable effective counterterrorism.

Addressing Denial

In the meantime, those who wish to strengthen counterterrorism by acknowledging the role of Islam have three tasks.

First, intellectually to prepare themselves and their arguments so when calamity occurs they possess a fully elaborated, careful, and just program that focuses on Muslims without doing injustice to them.

Second, continue to convince those averse to mentioning Islam that discussing it is worth the price; this means addressing their concerns, not bludgeoning them with insults. It means accepting the legitimacy of their hesitance, using sweet reason and letting the barrage of Islamist attacks have their effect.

Third, prove that talking about Islamism does not lead to perdition by establishing the costs of not naming the enemy and of not identifying Islamism as a factor; noting that Muslim governments, including the Saudi one, acknowledge that Islamism leads to terrorism; stressing that moderate Muslims who oppose Islamism want Islamism openly discussed; addressing the fear that frank talk about Islam alienates Muslims and spurs violence; and demonstrating that profiling can be done in a constitutionally approved way.

In brief, even without an expectation of effecting a change in policy, there is much work to be done.

* * * * *

[1] Protecting the Force: Lessons from Fort Hood, Department of Defense, Washington, D.C., Jan. 2010.
[2] The Australian, Nov. 7, 2009.
[3] Associated Press, Nov. 5, 2012.
[4] Protecting the Force: Lessons from Fort Hood, p. 18, ftnt. 22.
[5] "List of Islamic Terror Attacks," TheReligionOfPeace.com, accessed Dec. 19, 2012.
[6] The New York Times, Nov. 9. 1990.
[7] The Independent (London), Sept. 19, 1997.
[8] Uriel Heilman, "Murder on the Brooklyn Bridge," Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2001, pp. 29-37.
[9] The Houston Chronicle, Feb. 26, 1997.
[10] Time Magazine, Jan. 21, 2002.
[11] "Terror in LA?" Honest Reporting (Toronto), July 8, 2002.
[12] Los Angeles Times, Oct. 26, 2002.
[13] Daniel Pipes, "Murder in the 101st Airborne," The New York Post, Mar. 25, 2003.
[14] Brett Kline, "Two Sons of France," The Jerusalem Post Magazine, Jan. 21, 2010.
[15] "Italy: McDonald's Jihad Foiled," Jihad Watch, Mar. 30, 2004.
[16] The Washington Post, Jan. 11, 2005.
[17] Los Angeles Times, July 30, 2006.
[18] San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 30, 2006.
[19] Phyllis Chesler, "Are Honor Killings Simply Domestic Violence?" Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2009, pp. 61-9.
[20] Dateline, NBC, Sept. 21, 2001.
[21] Remarks, The Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., June 27, 2007.
[22] Remarks, UNITY 2004 Conference, Washington D.C., Aug. 6, 2004.
[23] Al-Arabiya News Channel (Dubai) Oct. 5, 2007.
[24] Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees, Feb. 3, 2009.
[25] Testimony before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, May 13, 2010.
[26] Testimony before the U.S. House Committee for Homeland Security, Dec. 13, 2011.
[27] Remarks, U.N. General Assembly, New York, Sept. 23, 2010.
[28] "Nine Years after 9/11: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland," statement to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Sept. 22, 2010.
[29] Newt Gingrich, "America Is at Risk," American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C., July 29, 2010.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council,Aug. 1, 2006.
[32] Speech at the Foreign Policy Centre, London, Aug. 25, 2005.
[33] Munich Security Conference, Feb. 5, 2011.
[34] Alexandr Vondra, "Radical Islam Poses a Major Challenge to Europe," Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2007, pp. 66-8.
[35] Joseph Lieberman, "Who's the Enemy in the War on Terror?" The Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2010.
[36] "The Great Test of This Generation," speech to the National Press Club, Washington, D.C., National Review Online, July 20, 2006.
[37] Scalia J., dissenting, Lakhdar Boumediene, et al., Petitioners, Supreme Court of the United States v. George W. Bush, President of the United States, et al.; Khaled A. F. Al Odah, next friend of Fawzikhalid Abdullah Fahad Al Odah, et al., Petitioners v. United States, et al., June 12, 2008.
[38] New York: 2007, p. 8,
[39] Newt Gingrich, "America Is at Risk," American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C., July 29, 2010.
[40] Daniel Benjamin, "Name It and Claim It, or Name It and Inflame It?" The Wall Street Journal, June 24, 2010.
[41] Lieberman, "Who's the Enemy in the War on Terror?"
[42] Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees, Feb. 3, 2009.
[43] Benjamin, "Name It and Claim It, or Name It and Inflame It?"
[44] Daniel Pipes, "The Enemy Within and the Need for Profiling," The New York Post, Jan. 24, 2003.
[45] Daniel Pipes, "Security Theater Now Playing at Your Airport," The Jerusalem Post, Jan. 6, 2010.
[46] M. Zuhdi Jasser, " Exposing the 'Flying Imams'," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2008, pp. 3-11.
[47] "Fear Factor," Dec. 17, 2004.