By Russ Read, a Legislative Associate at the Endowment for Middle East Truth, an unabashedly pro-America and pro-Israel think tank in Washington, D.C.
Islamofascism is an idea, and ideas need to be fought on the battleground of ideology.
A major complication the U.S. has faced since the beginning of the War on Terror over a decade ago is the fact that while our vast military superiority can destroy every terrorist training compound, arms cache, and even individual leaders, it cannot destroy the source of the problem, that is, the ideas associated with radical Islam.
These ideas are very much like a cancer: If one cell is allowed to multiply, it can continue to spread indefinitely. The ideas of radical Islam can continue to multiply even after all of their hard assets are left in ruin.
The radical jihadists of today cannot counter our fighter squadrons, they cannot challenge our aircraft carrier groups, and they will likely never outmaneuver an entire Army Brigade Combat Team, but what they lack in hard power, they make up for on the battleground of ideas.
This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Once a vibrant, mixed city considered a bastion of support for President Bashar Assad, the eastern city of Raqqa is now a shell of its former life, transformed by al-Qaida militants into the nucleus of the terror group's version of an Islamic caliphate they hope one day to establish in Syria and Iraq. In rare interviews with The Associated Press, residents and activists in Raqqa describe a city where fear prevails, music has been banned, Christians have to pay religious tax in return for protection and face-veiled women and pistol-wielding men in jihadi uniforms patrol the streets. (AP Photo/militant website, File)
On the ideological front, these radicals are a more than capable adversary. For example, the Islamic State has a highly effective propaganda machine which has allowed them to attract thousands of foreign nationals to their ranks and secure support from like-minded individuals across the globe.
Groups dedicated to radical Islamofascism may go by many names, but they generally are united in their goal: the dominance of their twisted interpretation of Islam, be it internationally, locally, or regionally by any means necessary. In this regard, the Islamic State in particular is very much the arbiter of Islamofascism.
Of the few victims that the Islamic State has not slaughtered, they have demanded conversion or a tax (known as a jizya), making them dhimmi, a term from the historical caliphates of antiquity applied to what are essentially second-class citizens.
Their brazen tactics and uniform totalitarian ideology are enough to make Mussolini himself blush. Islamofascists simply replace the ultranationalism of traditional fascism with radical religious zealotry.
The tactics, though, are almost identical: the utilization of political violence against those seen as weak, authoritarian politics, and imperialism are hallmarks of the Islamic State and Islamofascists in general. Of course, there are the politically correct nay-sayers like economist and part-time pundit Paul Krugman who argue that Islamofascism is nothing more than a "propaganda term" used to support the War on Terror.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the National Security Agency and intelligence agencies surveillance techniques at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., January 17, 2014. (AFP/Jim Watson)
But what the dear professor (any many like him) has missed while making his rounds on the major news outlets, flashing his Nobel Prize calling card, and feeling it necessary to comment on everything from Israeli policy to gun control, is that the Islamic State's actions are what brought this parallel into being, not some contrived propaganda machine. The late journalist and self-described socialist Christopher Hitchens utilized the term; if Krugman's imagined conservative propaganda machine somehow converted him during his lifetime it would have been nothing short of a miracle.
The Western democratic world is ideologically divided. Instead of uniting against an existential threat, Western democracies are busy bickering amongst themselves over trivial nuances. Aside from international leaders quarreling with one another about the particulars of what should or should not be done, we in the U.S. also have politics taking precedence over policy in regard to national security; a first in our relatively short history.
We have bought into political correctness and the idea of moral equivalence so much so that we are convincing ourselves that the pervasive threat posed by radical Islamofascism is not existentially dangerous and that terrorists can be reasoned with.
I can't speak for our world leaders, but where I grew up in small town North Carolina, if an armed man (much less thousands of them) makes it perfectly clear that he wants to kill you, you tend to take them seriously and respond accordingly.
In this March 29, 2013 photo provided by the French Army's images division, ECPAD, a French soldier holds the launch tube of an SA-7 surface-to-air missile before its destruction in Timbuktu, northern Mali. The knowledge that the terrorists have the weapon has already changed the way the French are carrying out their five-month-old offensive in Mali. They are using more fighter jets rather than helicopters to fly above its range of 1.4 miles (2.3 kilometers) from the ground, even though that makes it harder to attack the jihadists. They are also making cargo planes land and take off more steeply to limit how long they are exposed, in line with similar practices in Iraq after an SA-14 hit the wing of a DHL cargo plane in 2003. (AP Photo/ECPAD, Olivier Debes)
In some great feat of misguided mental gymnastics, many Western leaders have convinced themselves that when faced with videos of beheadings, the mass murder of minority groups, and dozens of videos proclaiming a desire to destroy the West, that these people are not a pervasive, existential threat.
The leaders of the Islamic State must be particularly frustrated. Even when their brutal tactics are so abhorrent that they are literally disavowed by Al Qaeda, the West still responds only half-heartedly. I imagine they are as baffled by our collective lack of recognition as I am.
"Half-hearted" is a perfectly accurate description of our response thus far. Only after remarkable atrocities and public outcry did President Barack Obama see it fit to begin aiding our Kurdish friends via airstrikes. As per usual though, the president made sure to qualify his belated response assuring the public that no boots would be on the ground. Talking points, it would seem, now influence policy as much as they do political campaigns.
The Islamic State will probably be bombed into oblivion, or at least temporarily crippled, but what will happen then?
Perhaps the greatest weakness the West faces when confronting groups like the Islamic State is our short term strategic mentality. We tend to formulate policy around election cycles while radical jihadists formulate it around generations. This is why they are gaining ground on the battleground of ideology; they are generationally committed decades from now, while our leadership is more concerned with midterm elections.
The Arabic word Jihad literally translates to "struggle," and the ability of Islamic radical groups to persist in their struggle is their grand strategy. Persistence, for them, is the key to victory.
The last convoy of solders from the US Army's 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division crosses the border from Iraq into Kuwait, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011. The brigade's special troops battalion are the last American soldiers to leave Iraq. The U.S. military announced Saturday night that the last American troops have left Iraq as the nearly nine-year war ends. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
While the battlefield of ideology seems uncertain, there is a silver lining. In addition to our kinetic weapons being superior to our adversary, so too are our ideological ones.
The shared Western beliefs of democracy, the rule of law, religious tolerance, and freedom of speech are superior to the fascism, violence, and the glamorization of wanton death utilized by groups like the Islamic State. Western leaders, and the public in general, need to realize the power, importance, and superiority of our ideological weapons. Life, liberty, and happiness will always be preferable to the death, totalitarianism, and misery of our adversaries.
The Western world, and the U.S. in particular, needs to realize that it is ok to be proud of our ideals, and in turn protect them. For far too long we have allowed our good graces to get the better of us; we have essentially become apologetic in practicing and defending our beliefs.
Instead of uniting together against a common enemy, Western leaders try and put our adversaries on a morally equivalent plane and explain away their actions. Just because we in the West believe in everyone's right to their opinion, it does not mean that everyone's opinion is right.
Thankfully, the Islamic State is slowly but surely becoming universally condemned by political and religious leaders alike. That said, the Islamic State is currently only the most violent and provocative iteration of a much larger problem we face against radical Islamofascism. Boko Haram, Hamas, Ansar al-Sharia; the list goes on and the numbers are many, but at the end of the day these groups and the iterations of them to follow are part of the larger radical Islamofascist problem.
There is no doubt that in the short term these radical jihadist groups need to be defeated on the traditional battlefield, but unless we are united and determined in our ideology, they will simply spring back up like a weed.
The Western world needs to determine a new narrative, a determination of what is acceptable and what is not. Until we have a united philosophical doctrine, our tactical engagements in the Middle East are the equivalent of a band aid on a gunshot wound.
Ideas can only be defeated with better ideas, and until we begin to properly acknowledge that ours are indeed better compared to those of the radical Islamofascists like the Islamic State, they will continue to persist.
The Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) is a 501(c) nonprofit Think Tank focused on a strong American national defense, the American-Israeli security alliance and opposing the forces of radical Islam. For more information go to EMETonline.org
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