Why ignoring the religious beliefs behind the threat is foolish—and dangerous.
By Rudolph W. Giuliani (from the Wall Street Journal)
In 1983 when I was the U.S. attorney in New York, I used the word “Mafia” in describing some people we arrested or indicted. The Italian American Civil Rights League—which was founded by Joe Colombo, one of the heads of New York’s notorious five families—and some other similar groups complained that I was defaming all Italians by using that term. In fact, I had violated a Justice Department rule prohibiting U.S. attorneys from employing the term Mafia. The little-known rule had been inserted by Attorney General John Mitchell in the early 1970s at the behest of Mario Biaggi, a congressman from New York.
I had a different view of using the term Mafia. It reflected the truth. The Mafia existed, and denying what people oppressed by those criminals knew to be true only gave the Mafia more power. This hesitancy to identify the enemy accurately and honestly—“Mafia” was how members described themselves and kept its identity Italian or Italian-American—created the impression that the government was incapable of combating them because it was unable even to describe the enemy correctly.
Similarly, you may hear about ISIS or ISIL or Daesh, but make no mistake: The terrorists refer to themselves as members of Islamic State. Just as it would have been foolish to fail to use the word Mafia or admit its Italian identity, it is foolish to refuse to call these Islamic terrorists by the name they give themselves or to refuse to acknowledge their overriding religious rationale.
Yes, it is essential to emphasize to the public the distinction between Islam and Islamic terrorists. That education has been in progress in the U.S. at least since 9/11. I recall that during my last press briefing on that horrific day, I urged New Yorkers not use the barbaric attacks to attach group blame—for doing so would mirror the sort of thinking that inspired the terrorists. President George W. Bush and New York Gov. George Pataki made similar appeals, and the American people overwhelmingly took that idea to heart, and still do. They knew that the attacks were the actions of people with a warped, evil interpretation of the Islamic religion.
Yet it is also essential to acknowledge that there are portions of the Islamic texts that are used by these terrorists to justify mass murder in the name and for the propagation of their faith. Unfortunately, this confusion between the religion and those who pervert its meaning is exacerbated by the Obama administration and others in prominent leadership positions who engage in euphemisms or misdirection regarding Islamic terrorism. They make it seem that they see no connection between the acts of terror and the terrorists’ interpretation of Islamic teaching and Shariah law.
For example: It was and is ludicrous for the administration to describe Nidal Hasan’s attack at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas in 2009 as “workplace violence,” particularly since as he was committing the murders he was yelling “Allahu akbar”—Allah is great. The administration was similarly reluctant to describe the San Bernardino attacks last week as terrorism, much less as Islamic terrorism, even as evidence mounted making clear the nature of the attack.
The failure to speak bluntly about Islamic terrorism opens the door to the vast generalizations that can steer the debate in a totally counterproductive direction. The idea of excluding all Muslims is unworkable and legally dubious. It will soon disappear. But it is clear that the Obama administration’s refusal to face up to the nature of Islamic terrorism is never going to change. That is more than foolish. It is also dangerous.
Investigating large multifaceted criminal organizations like the Mafia or making war against similarly complex terrorist organizations requires properly identifying the organizational rationale. Making it politically incorrect to use the proper designation also makes it much harder to see the connections that enable these groups to flourish.
The refusal to acknowledge the Islamic link to terror also can contribute to making mistakes. Nidal Hasan kept being promoted, all the way to major, by superiors who overlooked evidence that he was turning into an Islamic radical—they feared being accused of discrimination if they did otherwise. Last week, news reports emerged from San Bernardino that a neighbor of the terrorist couple had observed, in the days before the attack, suspicious behavior but didn’t report it for fear of being accused of bigotry.
We are paying a big price in safety and security by worshiping at the altar of political correctness. Large bureaucracies are often strongly influenced by the signals given by their leaders; the current refusal to identify the enemy accurately impedes the ability of law enforcement to properly categorize and investigate suspicious behavior. The sooner we discuss Islamic terrorism honestly, the faster we will detect these terrorists.
Here is the reality. There are radicalized groups of Muslims that pick and choose portions of the Quran and Hadiths religious texts, interpreting them as instructions to pursue jihad and impose their religion on the whole world. Infidels, they believe, have three alternatives: conversion to Islam, submission (the payment of tribute) or death. Killing of infidels is to these extremists a religious obligation that will gain them entry to a sensuous and rewarding life in paradise.
To deal with this, we must strengthen our surveillance capabilities by restoring the portions of the Patriot Act that Congress removed in June. We must establish a no-fly zone in Syria so that the refugees remain there and aren’t brought to the United States. Our ineffective vetting of Tashfeen Malik, one of the killers in San Bernardino, when she came to America is an example of why the process must be overhauled and made much more expansive. Finally, we must recognize and acknowledge that there is an Islamic terrorist war against us, and we must respond appropriately.
The overwhelming majority of Muslims don’t hold these beliefs. Like members of other religions with ancient roots, these Muslims ignore the barbaric portions of their books and history. Judaism long ago read out of the Old Testament the stoning of women for adultery. Christians long ago abandoned crusades, inquisitions and pogroms. We must encourage Muslim leaders to show the world that Islamic terrorists represent an antiquated and inhumane interpretation of Islam. These leaders need to loudly and dramatically speak for the hundreds of millions of Muslims who worship a peaceful, merciful and loving God. All Americans, in particular those in the media, can do their part by encouraging those Muslim leaders who come forward with a positive message about modern Islam.
Mr. Giuliani is the former mayor of New York.