Merchant of Death
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New Reports and Disturbing Responses
The U.S. intelligence community has only a single office devoted to understanding political Islam. That is one of the stunning nuggets contained in the recent House Intelligence Committee Report on threats to the United States.

That information, coupled with an interview in Harper's Magazine of Dr. Emile A. Nakhleh, the former director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program at the CIA, seems to me to point a fundamental, residual problem in the government and intelligence community's approach to Islamists.

The House report, while disputed in its timing and presentation by Democrats, nonetheless presents some interesting findings, some that are particularly critical of the administration. The report found "significant shortfalls" in the government's knowledge of Islamist militancy at home or abroad. It concluded that there are "still gaps in our understanding of Islamist extremist groups, which leave America vulnerable."

At the same time, Nakhleh is saying that political Islam "is not a threat." What does political Islam mean? Can you possibly say that and ignore the political decision of the rulers of Saudi Arabia to put billions of dollars into teaching children to hate the wider world, everyone who is not a Salafist and non-religion based knowledge? The Pakistani decision to allow madrasas to continue to funtion as educational institutions when they teach the rote memorization of the Koran, accompanied only by the teachings of hatred. Does political Islam not embrace the (fundamentally political) international Muslim Brotherhood and its broadbased support of armed Islamist movements? The sharia movements in Northern Nigeria? Somalia in its current state? Sudan?

It is a rather stunning assessment, and may explain why so little is understood of "political Islam." The fundamental point is that "political Islam" is not a concept that can, at least in Salafist and many Shi'ite groups, be separted into two different worlds. Islam, to them, is political, based on Sharia law and the belief that Allah has given the perfect political framework in the Koran. All of Islam is political to jihadists.

This is a fundamenal understanding that seems to be lacking, from the 1993 WTC I attack through 9-11. Nakhleh, seeking to keep the artificial distinction between political Islam and religious Islam, helps strengthen the belief that jihadi actions are not caused by the fundamental belif system embraced by much of Islam, but rather by external, Western-created circumstances. This type of analysis has led, at least it the reporting that has become public on radical Islam, to persistent failure, over several decades, to be right or of any predictive value in relation to radical Islam.

There is a broad agreement in the House report, the National Intelligence Estimate leaked to the Times and Post over the weekend, and other recent studies, that the Islamist threat is growing and spreading. The instruments are the Internet, madrassas, radical mosques, prison recruitment and others.

One can debate the importance of the Iraq invasion in this, but it is somewhat disingenious to argue that the jihadi threat would have disappeared or been significantly crippled without Iraq. Iraq is a training ground for jihadis, and place to become a martyr and fight the infidel.

But I think it would be hard to argue that the jihadis would have gone into retirement without Iraq. They would have still have carried out Spain and British attacks, quietly targeted Somalia, fomented slaughter in Sudan and found areas to regroup, train and spread. The fundamental structure of the new, decentralized Islamist threat would be there, perhaps not as far along, with no Iraq action. The question is, do we understand the movement, and are does the requisite political will and understanding exist to fight it?
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