On June 1, 2009, a convert to Islam named Carlos Leon Bledsoe (aka Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad) opened fired on a military recruiting office in Little Rock, Arkansas. Muhammad killed one soldier and wounded another. His guilt and motivation have never really been in dispute. “I wasn’t insane or post traumatic nor was I forced to do this Act,” Bledsoe wrote in a letter to the judge who presided over his case, according to the New York Times. The shooting, Bledsoe added, was “justified according to Islamic Laws and the Islamic Religion. Jihad—to fight those who wage war on Islam and Muslims.” Bledsoe, who spent more than a year studying Arabic in Yemen, also claimed that he was dispatched by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Five months later, on November 5, 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan went on a shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas. Hasan killed 13 of his fellow Americans, wounding dozens more. There was never any real doubt about Hasan’s motivation either. Hasan openly proclaimed his jihadist beliefs. He had business cards made that labeled him an “SoA”—or “Soldier of Allah.” And in a presentation to colleagues prior to the shooting, he justified violence against American soldiers. One of the slides in Hasan’s presentation offers the standard jihadist creed: “We love death more then [sic] you love life!” Hasan also had ties to AQAP. He was an email pen-pal with Anwar al-Awlaki, the AQAP cleric who sought to inspire jihadists in the West to commit acts of terrorism. (Awlaki was killed in a drone strike earlier this year.)
The ideology that binds Hasan, Bledsoe, and an unknown number of other extremists is easy to identify. In the decade that followed September 11, 2001, Americans grew familiar with terms such as “jihadist” and “Islamist terrorist.” Americans also realize that these terms do not brand all Muslims as terrorists, nor do they defame Islam.
But if the Obama administration gets its way, the government agencies responsible for countering this ideological threat will no longer use these and similarly descriptive labels. Instead, men such as Bledsoe and Hasan will be viewed as simple criminals.
During a joint hearing of the Senate and House Homeland Security Committees on December 7, several lawmakers expressed frustration with the administration’s newly restricted lexicon. Senator Susan Collins lamented that the Pentagon “is dealing with the threat of violent Islamist extremism in the context of a broader threat of workplace violence.” But the most powerful words were spoken by Daris Long, the father of Private William Andrew Long, whom Muhammad/Bledsoe killed in Little Rock. “My faith in government is diminished. It invents euphemisms. . . . Little Rock is a drive-by and Fort Hood is just workplace violence. The truth is denied,” Long explained.
The Obama administration’s new lexicon is a horrible joke. It is driven by both the politically correct desire to avoid offending Muslims and the political goal of declaring “an end” to the global war on terror.
To describe Hasan, Bledsoe, and other like-minded terrorists as “jihadists” does not defame Muslims. What defames them is the unwillingness to distinguish between Islam and Islamism. Indeed, Muslims are the primary victims of jihadism. According to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), there were more than 11,500 terrorist attacks in 72 countries in 2010, “resulting in approximately 50,000 victims, including almost 13,200 deaths.” Sunni extremists—that is, Islamists like Bledsoe and Hasan—“committed almost 60 percent of all worldwide terrorist attacks” and “caused approximately 70 percent of terrorism-related deaths.”
Were these men and women victims of drive-by shootings or incidents of workplace violence? Of course they weren’t. They are the casu-alties of a global ideological movement spearheaded by al Qaeda, its affiliates, and allies. And the overwhelming majority of them, unlike Hasan, love this life more than death.
Once you recognize that this menace is part of a worldwide ideological conflict, however, the Obama administration’s handling of what was formerly known as the war on terror is drawn into question.
In Iraq, al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias continue to terrorize the struggling democracy’s citizenry. Almost one quarter of the terrorist attacks committed in 2010 occurred inside Iraq, according to the NCTC. More than 2,700 people were killed. Yet the Obama administration did not press to keep American troops there. Instead, President Obama proudly announced that all American combat forces would soon leave Iraq—leaving Iraqis to fend for themselves.
Afghanistan had the second largest number of terrorism victims in 2010, with more than 2,400 people killed. But President Obama decided to pull the plug on his short-lived surge. Other jihadist hotspots continue to get hotter, including Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.
More than 10 years after the 9/11 attacks, many Americans, particularly among the elite, are war-weary. But denying the threat of jihadism both at home and abroad is not a winning strategy for bringing the war to an end. It will only embolden the jihadists further. It will demonstrate that America no longer has the ability even to name its enemies, let alone fight them. The jihadists’ victims, from Little Rock to Kabul, deserve better.
Neither Rough Nor a Rider
The Scrapbook was, well, amused by President Obama’s voyage to Osawatomie, Kansas, last week to invoke the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt for his reelection campaign.
A little bit of background is in order. In 1910, former president Roosevelt, returning from a sojourn in Africa and Europe, gave a speech in Osawatomie in which he broke ranks with his handpicked successor, William Howard Taft, and outlined the “New Nationalism” with which he would challenge Taft for the 1912 Republican nomination and, failing that, run as the Progressive (Bull Moose) party candidate for president (see Joshua D. Hawley’s account on page 15 of this issue). Barack Obama’s intention in Kansas was clear: By embracing the spirit of TR, he not only signaled his Occupy Wall Street strategy for 2012 but implicitly rebuked the GOP for straying from the path of a famous Republican president. This is roughly the same tactic as when Democrats lament that “the party of Lincoln” opposes racial quotas.
The problems with this historical analogy are almost too numerous to mention. To begin with, it is always a little dangerous for presidents to identify themselves too closely with distinguished predecessors. It was one thing for Senator Obama to compare himself to Abraham Lincoln in 2008; candidates are entitled to occasional fantasies. It is only now, in the midst of Obama’s presidency, that the comparison is self-evidently preposterous. Jimmy Carter, dressed in a cardigan sweater, once delivered a televised address on energy conservation while seated beside a White House fireplace. This was a conscious allusion to Franklin Roosevelt’s famous “fireside chats”—which, of course, referred to the radio audience, not the president, seated by their firesides. By deliberately drawing a parallel between himself and FDR, Jimmy Carter managed to diminish his modest stature.
Which is another way of saying that it would be difficult to think of two presidents more dissimilar than Theodore Roosevelt and Barack Obama. Roosevelt was a curious combination of high scholarship and deep passion, a combative man who consciously invited—indeed, reveled in—controversy and discord, and dominated the political life of his era, especially Congress. TR actually deserved his Nobel Peace Prize, for arbitrating an end to the Russo-Japanese War. He “seized the isthmus” of Panama in order to dig the canal, and sent the Great White Fleet around the globe to project American power. While it is easy to conceive of Obama traveling to Osawatomie to bask in Roosevelt’s glow, it is impossible to imagine Roosevelt journeying to Cairo to apologize to the Muslim world for American foreign policy.
Which reminds The Scrapbook of one more point. All of the events of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency took place more than a hundred years ago, beyond the lifetime of nearly every-one now living. It is certainly true that TR, during his presidency and afterwards, demanded a role for the federal government in the economic and commercial life of the nation. But it is equally true that, when he spoke in Osawatomie, there was practically no federal regulation whatsoever. There was no Securities and Exchange Commission or Department of Transportation or Federal Communications Commission or Glass-Steagall Act or Federal Reserve or Department of Energy or Sarbanes-Oxley or Dodd-Frank or Wagner Act or Taft-Hartley Act or Occupational Safety and Health Administration. And the list goes on.
Simply stated, we have no way of knowing what Theodore Roosevelt—who was born before the Civil War and sneered at reformers of his day as “muckrakers”—would think about the federal government of 2011. And neither, perhaps especially, does Barack Obama.
A Christmas Classic
Longtime readers of these pages may remember a lovely Casual by our colleague Joseph Bottum about Christmases past in the South Dakota of his boyhood. A few years later, that little flame of reminiscence burgeoned into a breathtaking memoir in the pages of First Things, “Dakota Christmas.” We’re pleased to say that Amazon.com, recognizing the greatness of this essay, has published it as an ebook of the same title. And we’re doubly pleased to announce that readers are responding as they should: Last week Dakota Christmas ascended to Number One on the bestseller list for Kindle Singles as well as for all Christmas books on Amazon. Just this once we will urge you to join the pack.