In Defense of Moderation
C. Holland Taylor’s campaign against Islamic extremism.
Jul 26, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 42 • By JENNIFER RUBIN
The Swedish National Defense College’s Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies studied LibForAll’s success and describes it as a “cross-sector network” program that gathers religious leaders to “garner the requisite intellectual and theological support for a pluralistic and tolerant interpretation of Islam; pop idols who have massive support from young people; government leaders who are able to address social factors as an underlying factor of extremism; as well as business leadership that can offer requisite financial support.” The study concluded: “The development of extremism in Indonesia has been successfully stemmed by cultural factors . . . and a strategically coordinated initiative, primarily promoted by LibForAll.”
LibForAll’s other efforts include a 26-part TV documentary that seeks to discredit Islamic extremism and undermine the message of radical Islamists. Taylor enlisted and interviewed for the program the Grand Mufti from Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque and University, who made the theological case for opposing Muslim extremism.
But Taylor’s greatest challenge (aside from the financial disparity between his small foundation and the great wealth which Islamic extremists can access) may be the Obama administration. John Brennan, the administration’s top counterterrorism official, commented earlier this year that “our enemy is not terrorism,” while President Obama has excised from official communications the terms “jihadist” and “Muslim extremist.”
“They are playing to the radicals,” Taylor says bluntly. “This is exactly their game plan.” He explains that the administration, like many Western governments, is badly advised and is “so woefully ignorant that we are not even capable of vetting those who are advising them.” The administration’s language is “extremely discouraging to people we are trying to encourage.” He contends that this is partly attributable to the bureaucratic mindset that seeks to avoid conflict. A high ranking U.S. Naval officer in the Pacific Fleet, he recalls, expressed admiration for Taylor’s work, but asked, “Now how do we do this without pissing people off?” He laughs, explaining that of course his counteroffensive against jihadists is going to annoy the radicals.
The West, he fears, is hobbled by a “civilizational crisis of confidence.” A LibForAll program was approved and funded by the EU, but the project soon collapsed as European leaders became angst-ridden over the notion that they should defend their societies from radical Muslim influences. Taylor asked an official from one of Germany’s four political foundations what he planned to do about the Muslim Brotherhood, which desires that European Muslims see themselves not as British, or French, or Dutch but “as radical Muslims seeking to impose sharia.” The official replied, “Well, we are a democracy. If the majority vote for Muslim law that is what we will have.” A representative from Al-Azhar attending the meeting commented upon leaving, “They have no manhood.”
Taylor’s contacts with the Obama administration have been similarly dispiriting. He met with officials in the State Department counterterrorism office. Terrorism, he told them, is like a bomb with blue, yellow, red and green (the color of Islam) wires. “I’m an expert green wire cutter,” he said. “If you don’t go after the green wire, then you are willing to let the bomb go off.” But they bristled and tried to shush him whenever he used the terms “Muslim extremist” or “jihadist.”
What would he advise U.S. officials? “In medicine there is an expression: ‘First do no harm.’ ” They need to develop an expertise in Islam. “They need to understand the landscape. They can’t even evaluate the landscape so they are like a rogue elephant. They think they are helping but they are only creating chaos.” Then, he says, they need to develop policies that reduce the influence of radicals and bolster moderates. And finally, they need to “institutionalize” these policies so new administrations don’t start from scratch.
In this administration it may be impossible to overcome the institutional lethargy and aversion to promoting Muslims who can counteract the ideological underpinnings of jihadism. But it would be a positive step were Obama’s team merely to adopt Taylor’s first step (“do no harm”) and cease undercutting moderate Muslims by denying that radical Islam is terrorism’s foundation.
It may well be private citizens and groups like LibForAll that will have to be at the forefront of the ideological counteroffensive against jihadism. As Taylor says, “If you see a train wreck coming but do nothing about it and say ‘I am not an engineer or a conductor. It is not my affair,’ then you have walked away from your duty as a human being. It is incumbent on all of us to act.”
Jennifer Rubin is contributing editor to Commentary magazine.