Raymond Ibrahim, editor of The Al Qaeda Reader, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, discloses an interesting fact indeed. It seems that the propaganda of the Jihad takes two distinct forms, one for Western eyes and one for Islamic eyes. For Westerners, the language is one of grievance and accusation: the West has committed X, Y and Z crimes against the House of Islam; the Jihad is the just response to these outrages. Meanwhile, for Muslims an entirely different tone: the West is composed of infidels; between believer and infidel there is undying enmity; the Jihad is the just response of the House of Islam to the unbearable outrage of unbelief. In short, our enemies justify their raids and aggression to us by appeals to our weakness for victim narratives; but to Muslims they justify themselves by appeals to Islamic doctrine.
What is clear from this is something that should have been clear long ago: our enemies, these agents, provocateurs and soldiers of the Jihad, are not political or theological innovators. They are not, strictly speaking revolutionaries or radicals but traditionalists. They no do alter but inherit. They move in a tradition that is not of their own making; nor is it of recent provenance. The Jihad did not appear with the writings of Sayyid Qutb. It did not appear when Western political radical encountered the Islamic world. Here, then, is the folly of the term “Islamofascism”: it falsifies the antiquity of the Jihad, and bizarrely adds an aspect of Western guilt to the equation, as if without Fascism there would be no threat from Islam. Was Abdderrahman, when he to came to grips with Charles Martel in 732, but a proto-Fascist? Alp Arslan when he routed the Byzantines in 1071? Suleiman the Magnificent when he drove the Hospitallers from Rhodes in 1522? All these great captains of Islam subscribed without demurral to the classical doctrine of Jihad. Shall we then regard them as early adherents of Mussolini’s doctrines?
The anti-Western grievance invective, hurled against us by our enemies, is just shrewd propaganda. It appeals to our vanity. Something we have done must be at the root of our enemies’ rage. Liberals go for it because they are everywhere in a hurry to grant victim status to non-Westerners, a kind of inverted title of nobility. Neoconservatives, alas, go for it for other reasons, ranging from what appears to be an inclination to frame everything in terms of the tumult of the middle years of the twentieth century, to an overestimate of the endurance of Fascism, to a reluctance to inquire boldly into the nature of the Islamic religion. But at any rate they join the Liberals in a distraction occasioned by the propaganda of the enemy.
The merit of Mr. Ibrahim’s scholarship is that it discloses how readily this mask of Western imperialism, abuse and insult slips. The Jihad is really only interested in it to the extent that we are interested in it. Our enemies use it to baffle and dismay us; and they can only do this because so many of our countrymen are ready to believe anything other than that Jihad is native to Islam. Our dismay at our own history issues in the hand-wringing of Liberals under the spell of victimology; our bafflement at the character of the religion issues in this anachronism favored by many on the Right. What “fascism” there is in the Jihad is merely the common inhumanity of oppression, tyranny, and sedition; of aggression, treachery, and fanaticism; of deceit, plunder and wickedness. But this, of course, just leaves the term evacuated of all particular content: another synonym for very bad things. More than that, it absolves us of the difficult but desperately necessary duty of inquiring into the character of the Islamic religion as such. If it is enough to simply declare our enemies neo-fascists, that is, pagan right-wing socialists of some kind, then there is no obligation to discover what the doctrine of jihad is, how it fits in the Islamic system, what its role has been in Islamic history. It is, in short, to absolve us of our solemn of duty self-government.
The enemy has appealed to our vanity with great success so far. We are now six years removed from the terrible blow he struck against us; and further evidence has piled up, like great mountains of bloody documents, showing that the roots of his motivation, justification, vindication, and even his strategy, lie in the primitive formation of his religious tradition. Yet his propaganda has sent us off chasing wild geese innumerable, leaving largely unexamined the great wealth of literature on the Jihad.