This weekend we will be remembering the attack on America on 9/11. Ten years after this horrific attack, some of the pundits have it partially right. For example, senior Brookings Institute Saban Center fellow Bruce Riedel writes for Newsweek's commemorative Sept. 12, 2011, issue about "How We Enabled al-Qaida." Yes, we may have, in myriad ways. But it is not just that we have made some "tactical, strategic, even geographical mistakes." It's much, much worse than that. We are losing this jihad, and the forces of Shariah Islam are winning going away.
At the strategic level, the United States and its progressive liberal Democratic allies not only have failed utterly to even identify, much less effectively confront, the enemy head on, but we Americans have allowed the top ranks of our national security to be infiltrated and influenced by that radical enemy. Not just "ruthless and agile," as Riedel terms him, but sophisticated apparently beyond our ability to cope, that enemy has gotten us to deny he is who he says he is, thereby neutralizing our ability to implement an effective defense, much less consider an offense or victory. "Violent extremism" is not the enemy, nor is it even a marginally useful term for fighting the jihadist enemy. Rather, it is the term our enemy wants us to use, because as long as we fixate on an anodyne euphemism, we cannot focus on him.
To be clear: 100 percent of all jihadis fighting to destroy Western civilization and impose Shariah say they are doing it for Allah in obedience to Islamic doctrine and scriptures. After 1,400 years of their doing and saying the exact same thing, it would seem reasonable to believe them. In this sense, they do have what might be called a "track record." Not one single jihadi or Islamic authority has ever told us he is fighting the West because Muslims "yearn for … democracy." Which is not to say that millions of Muslims are not, in fact, yearning for genuine democratic change – it's just that those millions are not the jihadi enemy.
To consider just one jihadist organization, let's highlight some of those myriad ways in which al-Qaida has achieved a level of success unimaginable 10 years ago.
- The U.S. economy is plunged into deep distress and crisis.
- The U.S. military is strained to breaking point, crippled by suicidal Rules of Engagement and distracted and overstretched by "nation building."
- Al-Qaida and its allies are succeeding in pushing the U.S. out of both Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving both countries under Islamic law (Shariah), which we Americans helped write into their constitutions.
- It will be recalled that imposition of Islamic law is, after all, al-Qaida's No. 1 reason for conducting jihad in the first place.
- Al-Qaida operates three leadership Shuras that have survived all efforts to destroy them: one in the mountainous region between Afghanistan and Pakistan; one in Pakistani cities like Quetta; and one in Iran.
- The U.S. campaign to eliminate top al-Qaida commanders is important and necessary and has achieved notable success. But to date, al-Qaida has continued to elevate as many leaders as we care to kill. Because al-Qaida's message resonates so deeply across the Muslim world, its bench is virtually endless.
- Pakistan, a nuclear power, is slipping inexorably into the clutches of Shariah Islam and the influence of China. India is on guard.
- Long-time al-Qaida ally and enabler Iran, on the verge of demonstrating nuclear power status, has to date escaped being held to account for providing direct and material support to al-Qaida in the 9/11 attacks.
- Al-Qaida has expanded its operations into new territory: Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are two of its more powerful franchises.
- Forces identified with and loyal to al-Qaida have just taken over Libya, with U.S. and NATO assistance.
- Al-Qaida has vastly expanded its online Internet presence and reach for communications, propaganda, proselytizing, recruitment, training and more. We have nothing that even begins to compete.
- Al-Qaida has solidified its alliances with Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban and terror militias in Iraq; its message (if not necessarily its methods or timeline) is in perfect alignment with the 57-member Muslim head of state organization, the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
- Al-Qaida has awakened the Muslim ummah to jihad.
Keep in mind that this brief list refers just to al-Qaida, not to its many ideological and operational allies. So, even if someday, somehow, al-Qaida were wiped out for good, how would that actually affect the 1,400-year-old global jihad? This is an ideological movement, a war of ideas – not one, single, discrete terror group in time.
Until and unless the U.S. and the West acknowledge that the enemy we fight is exactly who and exactly what he says he is – jihadis who seek to subjugate the world to Islamic law – and that this group includes far greater numbers than just al-Qaida – we will continue to make both tactical and strategic errors. Worst of all, unless that enemy is actively engaged in violence, we will fail to recognize that he spends much more effort on stealth jihad than kinetic jihad. For example, when the Muslim Brotherhood, which is totally aligned with the same ideology that animates al-Qaida, declares that its mission in America is "a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and sabotaging its miserable house by their [our] hands until the religion of God is made victorious over all other religions," it probably means it 1) is not secular; 2) is not a good candidate for official bilateral diplomatic relations; and 3) intends to defeat us every bit as much as al-Qaida does. It also means that individuals and groups affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood are not likely to make good advisers for senior U.S. national security officials.
The Quran itself provides the strategic vision that guides al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood and all jihadis in the war against the Dar al-Harb (non-Muslim world):
It is He Who got out the Unbelievers among the People of the Book from their homes at the first gathering of the forces. Little did ye think that they would get out and they thought that their fortresses would defend them from God! But Wrath of God came to them from quarters from which they little expected it, and cast terror into their hearts, so that they destroyed their dwellings by their own hands and the hands of the Believers. Take warning, then, o ye with eyes to see! (Q 59:2)
Clare M. Lopez is a senior fellow at both the Center for Security Policy and the Clarion Fund and a 2011 Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute. She also is a member of the Stand Up America Advisory Board.