‘Willful Blindness’ to the Jihad

May 1, 2008

You might expect the lead prosecutor against the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing to tout the criminal justice system as the premier strategy to fight terrorism. If so, you’re wrong.

It is precisely because of Andy McCarthy’s experience in that capacity that he understands — in a way others can’t — the crippling limitations of law enforcement and criminal prosecutions in combating global terrorism.

Though he led the Justice Department prosecution team that convicted Omar Abdel Rahman, the “Blind Sheik,” McCarthy is painfully aware that “as a class, baby-boom attorneys know nothing of war. Prosecutors included.” Even this successful effort left way too many militants in place and encouraged the idea that they could attack us with impunity.

The entire orientation of the criminal justice system is to protect the rights of innocents, affording the accused due process and a litany of other constitutional protections. But we are at war with an enemy who doesn’t fight wars according to conventional rules. If we continue to treat them as criminal suspects rather than enemy combatants, they’ll always be many steps ahead of us in a war that only they are fighting. While our government frets over their constitutional rights — rights to which enemy combatants have never been historically entitled — it abdicates its duty to protect American lives.

Before the 9/11 attacks, we simply did not understand that Islamic terrorists had declared war against the United States and that to have any chance in this war, we’d have to engage them militarily.

But even today, partly because of our successes in fighting the war, a good portion of our society won’t or can’t see we are at war. Among those realistic enough to recognize we are at war, far too many think we can pacify the terrorists if we’ll just engage in smarter diplomacy, reform our “imperialistic” impulses and otherwise alter our foreign policy.

In his book, “Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad,” McCarthy debunks these myths and makes a compelling case — sure to drive the purveyors of political correctness to apoplectic distraction — that the Islamic jihadist enemy we face isn’t at war with us because of our geopolitical malfeasance or this or that indignity we’ve allegedly visited upon them.

Their hostility, their aggression, their bellicosity, indeed their brutality, argues McCarthy, springs from Islam itself and its sacred writings. Indeed, the primary cause of Islamic terrorism, he says, is Muslim doctrine.

Islamic terrorists, he says, aren’t some fringe group of violent radicals who have hijacked a religion of peace. While the violent ones are a minority, they are a frightfully significant one in a religion whose membership is about 1.4 billion.

Even many of the so-called moderate Muslims, he notes, share many of the radicals’ goals, if not their deadly methods. These nonviolent Muslims are often sympathetic to what McCarthy calls “soft jihad,” which includes promoting the Islamization of our culture, the adoption of Shariah law, sensitivity training for our law enforcement officers and the like. The “moderates” often defer to the jihadists, especially in theological matters, because of their erudition and command of the scriptures.

It would be bad enough if many Americans had their heads in the sand about the true nature and threat of Islamic terrorism. But sadly, our domestic law enforcement and intelligence communities also have a history of failing to take jihadism seriously. If you don’t understand the enemy, you cannot begin to fight it effectively.

If Muslim doctrine is the ultimate source of the jihadist threat against us, we must take that into account in formulating our security doctrine, such as punishing states that enable the exportation of the most radical, violent strains of Islam and refusing to tolerate their terrorist sanctuaries. While McCarthy doesn’t advocate profiling, he does say we can’t treat a person’s ideology as irrelevant.

Instead of approaching the war tentatively, we must be aggressive, offensive and pre-emptive. And while it’s fine for us to harbor the hope — however unrealistic — that Islam will reform itself, we must not under any circumstances apologize for who we are and who we are not. And we are not — and don’t intend to become — an Islamic society.

McCarthy is not the garden-variety pundit pontificating about the threat of Islamic jihad based on a plethora of articles or books he’s read. He became familiar with the enemy firsthand while directing the historic prosecution he relates in riveting detail in his book.

“Willful Blindness” is not only captivating — it is sobering, even horrifying, shaking us out of our complacency and demanding we face head-on the relentlessness, unscrupulousness and implacably permanent commitment of our enemy to our total submission or destruction.