Obama and Islamic Jihad
By Robert Spencer
FrontPageMagazine.com | 7/16/2008
On Sunday CNN aired an interview Barack Obama recently gave to Fareed Zakaria, in which the candidate expressed the opinion that Islamic jihad is a result of U.S. foreign policy failure. This is, of course, an assumption that he shares with virtually everyone of any influence in both parties. It is conventional wisdom that the United States, or the West in general, can make the global jihad problem go away by doing something that is not being done now, or by stopping doing something else. The possibility that the jihad might have arisen not as a reaction to actions of America and the West — and cannot be ended by our actions, either, with the possible exception of overwhelming military and cultural force — never seems to occur to anyone.
Zakaria asked Obama: “Do you believe, when looking at the world today, that Islamic extremism is the transcendent challenge of the 21st century?” In reply Obama spoke of “terrorism and groups that are resisting modernity,” as if Islamic jihadists were Amish with AK-47s, and avowed that “the fact that they can be driven into extremist ideologies, is one of the severe threats that we face.”
How can such people be driven into extremist ideologies? Obama explained that when he was a child Indonesia, “Indonesia was never the same culture as the Arab Middle East. The brand of Islam was always different.” And “around the world,” he said, “there was not the sense that Islam was inherently opposed to the West, or inherently opposed to modern life, or inherently opposed to universal traditions like rule of law.”
Of course, the problem in the world today is not an opposition of “Islam” to the “rule of law.” It is the resurgence of the Islamic supremacist ideology that has led to a global attempt to replace non-Muslim legal systems with Islamic sharia law — an attempt that is making great headway in Europe and is also going on in the United States, both by violence and by stealth.
In any case, Obama went on to say that Indonesia had changed since he had lived there: “And now in Indonesia, you see some of those extremist elements. And what’s interesting is, you can see some correlation between the economic crash during the Asian financial crisis, where about a third of Indonesia’s GDP was wiped out, and the acceleration of these Islamic extremist forces.”
In other words, poverty causes Islamic jihad. This is an extremely widespread view, although it has been debunked many times. Fortune magazine, for example, reported in March 2007 that “of the 50 poorest countries in the world…only Afghanistan (and perhaps Bangladesh and Yemen) has much experience in terrorism, global or domestic.” The 9/11 hijackers were “middle-class sons of Saudi Arabia and many were well-educated. And Osama bin Laden himself is from one of the richest families in the Middle East.” Fortune noted that a 2003 study of Palestinian terrorism found “higher-status respondents (merchant, farmer or professional)” were significantly more likely than “those lower down the ladder (laborer, craftsman or employee)” to agree that there were “circumstances under which you would justify the use of terrorism to achieve political goals.” And Harvard professor Albert Abadie studied 1,776 terrorist incidents, only to find no connection between poverty and terrorism: “When you look at the data” to find such a connection, he said, “it’s not there.”
And indeed, Obama himself was not ready to blame jihad solely on poverty: “It isn’t to say that there is a direct correlation.” He said it was also the West’s fault: “But what is absolutely true is that there has been a shift in Islam that I believe is connected to the failures of governments and the failures of the West to work with many of these countries, in order to make sure that opportunities are there, that there’s bottom-up economic growth.”
So according to Obama, the “shift in Islam” doesn’t have anything to do — or anything significant to do — with imperatives within Islam itself, or with changes in conditions in the Islamic world that have allowed for a resurgence of the jihad ideology. That resurgence is all because of the “failures of the West to work with many of these countries” — although we are pouring billions into Egypt and Pakistan and they are still hotbeds of jihadist sentiment.
Obama made a recommendation: “But what we also want to do is to shrink the pool of potential recruits. And that involves engaging the Islamic world rather than vilifying it, and making sure that we understand that not only are those in Islam who would resort to violence a tiny fraction of the Islamic world, but that also, the Islamic world itself is diverse.”
Wouldn’t it also be useful to understand that there is an expansionist and supremacist imperative shared by all orthodox sects and schools of Islam, and that some Muslims will most likely continue to act upon that imperative no matter how much we demonstrate our understanding of Islamic diversity?
Although he continues to campaign under a mantra of “change,” so far Obama is offering more of the same in a field – that of our response to the global jihad – where genuine, informed and careful change is needed more than ever.
Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of seven books, eight monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His next book, Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs, is coming this November from Regnery Publishing.