In 1995, Muslim Brotherhood Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi exhorted his followers to action with a bold promise. “We will conquer Europe, we will conquer America!” he declared. Similarly grandiose declarations had long been a staple of Islamist rhetoric, but al-Qaradawi stressed that victory would be achieved “not through the sword,” but through more covert measures — a kind of stealth jihad. Fourteen years later, Robert Spencer believes that al-Qaradawi has come closer to realizing his vision, both in Europe and the U.S., than many recognize.
This theme is at the heart of Spencer’s latest book, appropriately titled Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs. Spencer’s mission, in his books as on his popular website, Jihad Watch, has always been twofold: to spotlight the activities of Islamic extremists across the globe and to slash through the immense tangle of political correctness that ensnares so much of the Western world’s debate about Islamic radicalism — and especially its disputed debt to Islamic theology. While one may quarrel with some of its conclusions, Stealth Jihad succeeds admirably on both counts.
A stated goal of the book is to expose the efforts of Islamic radicals to impose Islamic Sharia law in the West. Given that they have yet to realize that goal, this may seem like an exercise in overreach. But in fact Spencer uncovers disturbing evidence that unreasonable accommodations are being made to Muslim religious practices and beliefs. It’s bad enough that Minnesota’s Muslim cabdrivers refused service to some 5,400 passengers for the offense of carrying alcohol, or that the Indianapolis airport in 2007 installed footbaths to accommodate Muslim prayer, or that at least nine universities now have Muslim-only prayer rooms. Worse is that such flagrantly preferential treatment for Islam has been justified by everyone from government authorities to academics and journalists as a victory for “religious freedom.”
It’s true of course that none of these examples of stealth jihad quite rise to the level of civilizational conquest. Considered together, however, they raise an uncomfortable question: How far is the United States willing to go to indulge demands for religious exclusivity — especially when, as in the case of the 50,000-100,000 American Muslims now living in polygamous arrangements, they violate national laws? As Spencer pointedly observes, “There is always more Sharia to accommodate.”
It is a sign of the hypersensitive times that to raise such questions is to open oneself up to charges of intolerance and — horrors! — “Islamophobia.” Alert to the fact — Spencer has been on the receiving end of more execration than most writing today — he duly notes that “there are innumerable Muslims in this country today who are happy to live in a pluralistic society.” At the same time, he makes a convincing case that the groups quickest to level the Islamophobia charge — self-styled Muslim civil liberties groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) — are best regarded with suspicion. Spencer’s longtime readers will probably know that in 2007 CAIR was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Justice Department’s case against the Holy Land Foundation, a Hamas-linked Islamic charity. Such evidence is nevertheless worth restating, if only to encourage proper revulsion the next time a CAIR spokesman is paraded on a cable news show to represent the “moderate” Muslim perspective.
CAIR is by no means the lone beneficiary of misplaced goodwill. Spencer usefully demolishes the nascent conceit, popular with State Department diplomats, among others, that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has decisively broken with its history as a terrorist organization to become a force for democracy and pluralism in the Islamic world and beyond. As Spencer points out, this is the same Brotherhood whose delegates in the Egyptian parliament openly call for the reestablishment of a global Muslim caliphate and whose official website announced as recently as November 2007 that it aspires to “the establishment of a world Islamic state.” Along the same lines, Spencer rightly scorns the New York Times for its gullible portrayal of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, a fount of Sunni fundamentalism, as a beacon of religious tolerance. For the record, this is the same Al-Azhar that has endorsed the killing of apostates from Islam. Some news, apparently, is unfit to print.
Spencer ably deconstructs such wishful thinking. But on occasion he overstates the scale of American self-delusion. For instance, he makes much of a January 2008 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo that urged government officials to avoid using terms like “jihadist,” “Islamic terrorist,” “Islamist,” and “holy warrior.” There was much wrong with that justly maligned memo, but Spencer exaggerates the case when he submits it as evidence that “the U.S. government refuses to address the connection between jihadist terrorism and the theological tenets of Islam.” In an interview earlier this year, for instance, Dan Sutherland, the head of the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at DHS and an advisor to Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, rejected the idea that the memo represents the view of the U.S. government. “We would definitely not agree with parts of it,” Sutherland told this reviewer, adding that he would not oppose describing terrorists as “Islamic.” Sutherland also noted that his boss, Secretary Chertoff, regularly refers to “violent Islamic extremists.” It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that none other than President Bush has identified radical Islam as the enemy in the War on Terror. The Bush administration has had its share of intelligence failures, but in this instance it has seen the threat clearly.
The point is worth stressing because Spencer seems to underestimate the capacity of the United States to resist the more aggressive demands for accommodation from Islamic extremists. Hence his call, toward the end of the book, for an end on all Muslim immigration into the U.S. But this solution, and the cultural pessimism from which it flows, may be excessive. It is not insignificant that the most dramatic victories for stealth jihad — such as a British cemetery’s decision in 2006 to face all graves, for Muslims and non-Muslims, toward Mecca — have taken place in Europe rather than in the U.S. Meanwhile, the most serious assaults on free speech have occurred at the misnamed U.N. Human Rights Council, which this July declared Islam and Sharia off-limits to criticism. By contrast, at around the same time that the Organization of the Islamic Conference was celebrating its triumph at the UN, New York’s Democratic governor David Patterson was signing into law the Libel Terrorism Protection Act, which shields American writers from legal harassment from aggrieved Islamists. This hardly warrants complacency; Spencer presents too many examples of creeping Islamisation in the U.S. for that. But neither is it cause for despair.
Spencer’s intermittent lapses into Spengler notwithstanding, his thesis deserves a serious hearing. Emboldened by successes abroad and multicultural diffidence at home, Islamists may soon make more radical demands on American society. “This debate is going to have to take place sooner or later,” Spencer notes. In his enjoyably provocative way, he has gotten it started.