Interviewing Andrew McCarthy About Radical Islam

National Review’s Andrew McCarthy is more familiar with radical Islam than your average person. He had to be. He was the lead attorney on the team that prosecuted Omar Abdel Rahman, the “Blind Sheikh,” way back in 1995.

McCarthy and I got together to talk about his new book, “The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.” What follows is a slightly edited transcript of our conversation.

After 9-11 there were a lot of people asking why we didn’t connect the dots. But, in the case of the Fort Hood shooting, : for example, the military was given all the information it needed to be fully aware of the:  fact:  : Nidal Malik Hasan was dangerous and they chose to do nothing about it. Do you think we’re too politically correct as a society to deal with this issue?

I don’t think that there’s any question that we’re too : politically correct and that that’s a big part of our problem. If you think about it, twice as many people were killed in the Fort Hood attack as were killed in the 1993:  World:  Trade:  Center bombing. Yet when that happened 17 years ago, there was no reluctance on anyone’s part to call it a:  jihadist attack once we understood that’s what it was. Here we are all these attacks later, post 9-11, and an atrocity like Fort Hood happens and we can’t even bring ourselves to call it a terrorist attack — much less a:  jihadist attack. That’s:  a good metric for how much inroad the political correctness has really made, much to our detriment, I’m afraid.

In Europe you see radical Muslims expertly bullying, threatening, and subverting the culture of nations over there while making pitch perfect claims that they’re really the ones who are the victims. Do you think that’s an accurate description and how do you think we should react to keep our own freedom, decency, and desire to be fair from being used against us?

I think the first thing we have to do is stop loathing ourselves and stop apologizing for who we are. I think in conjunction with political correctness a lot of what’s seeped into our culture is this sense that we’re the problem in the world because that’s the theme that’s been pushed by the:  Left. It certainly is the theme that’s pushed by the Islamists and I think because we, in this particular stage of our history, we’ve never felt a great need to have to defend ourselves. I sometimes worry that we’ve forgotten how to do it. But, I do think that it’s something that we absolutely have to do. If we want to defend our way of life, we have to open our eyes to the fact that there is a threat to it and where that threat is coming from. What I try to stress in the book is that it’s about much more than terrorism and it really proceeds on every front in our society.

Speaking of the:  Left, they’ll sometimes compare conservatives to the Taliban as an insult. But, when they have people who are actually ideologically in the same place as the Taliban, they’re often very friendly to them….

Yes, that’s exactly right.

In fact, I’ve often thought of an experience I had a few years back where I was invited to appear on a panel at a law school. I think it was in Ohio. But in any event, I got there late because the weather wasn’t good. So I grabbed some coffee and I’m getting into the room a few minutes after the keynoter had started speaking. He began railing about the American Taliban and I thought that was unusual since there hadn’t been much conversation about John Walker Lindh, certainly not in an indignant way, on college campuses. But, once I got a chance to listen to a little more of what the professor was saying, it was clear to me that he wasn’t speaking about Lindh; : he was speaking about the Justice Department under Ashcroft — which meant he was speaking about me. So, you’re quite right. That has been hurled as an insult.

On the other hand, I was doing a little research today on the:  Constitution for the new Afghanistan that our state department helped write. I did this:  in conjunction with a couple of cases that have come up in Afghanistan where Christians are being prosecuted there for proselytism and apostasy. These are Christian converts from Islam. When I looked at this Constitution that we helped Afghanistan write, which allows these kinds of real human rights violations to go on, it occurred to me that the Taliban, if they ever took over Afghanistan, would not have to change the Constitution at all. They would actually be able to govern quite comfortably : with their principles using that document.

I’d like you to expand on something you said in your interview with Kathryn Jean Lopez and I quote,

“It’s really a frightful commentary on the low regard we have for ourselves: that we don’t think we are capable of soberly assessing the Islamic challenge without smearing all Muslims as terrorists – as if, in the scheme of things, it’s more important to shield the tender sensibilities of Muslims than fulfill our duty to protect American lives.”

Could you talk about that in a little more depth?

Yes. I think that we’re in a posture now where we’ve become so frightened to acknowledge what the threat to us is. Part of that is ideological and part of it is tactical. I think the Left doesn’t want to say Islamic doctrine and terror committed by Muslims is a broader threat to our society because if it’s not the ideology that’s causing it, it has to be being caused by something else…which always turns out to be some policy or another that the Left despises.

But aside from the people who take that approach for tactical reasons, I think a lot of people in good faith believe that if we simply acknowledge what our eyes shouldn’t allow us to deny, namely that there is a nexus between Islamic doctrine and the terror committed by Muslims, we would therefore be at war with 1.4 billion people in the Muslim world. I just think that is such an absurd overreaction. There are millions of people in the Muslim world that don’t want to live in Sharia societies and who actually embrace all that is available in the West– and not for the reasons the Islamists embrace those freedoms, which is to use them tactically in order to undermine our society. Those Muslims really do want to evolve their faith and live in a culture such as the one we have, not destroy it. So certainly we wouldn’t be in any sense at war or even in disagreement with those Muslims.

But I think with respect to the Islamists, who I argue in the book, number in the tens of millions of people as well, you could be in disagreement with people, even profound disagreement with people, without having to be in a shooting war with them — which is the impression you get from the people who make this argument that we would be in that kind of a hostile posture. Obviously with respect to terrorist organizations and people who are trying to project force and conduct mass murder attacks against the United States, there’s no other way of approaching with those people. You have to either kill them or capture them and that’s just the way it is.

But with respect to the broader threat to our society by Islamism, we can fight back on that score by educating ourselves to the fact that it’s going on and countering it in the public arena, the arena of ideas, in politics, in our law, and in our financial system. We have a lot of means at our disposal to defend ourselves and it’s just silly to me to say that by acknowledging what undoubtedly is going on, we therefore have to be at war with 1.4 billion people. …You can’t make a problem go away by not uttering its name or by closing your eyes to what it’s doing to you.

Do you have any concerns about the mosque being built at Ground Zero, New York?

Yes, I have great concerns about it. I’m actually really astounded that the debate over the mosque takes place within the context of a discussion about tolerance. We have in the United States over 2,300 mosques. In the New York area alone there are probably a couple hundred. There are certainly several scores of mosques in any event. If you were to go to Mecca or Medina, you wouldn’t see any Christian churches. You wouldn’t see any Jewish synagogues. In fact, you wouldn’t actually be able to go to Mecca or Medina at all if you’re not Muslim. Non-Muslims are deemed not fit to set their feet on the ground in those Islamic holy sites. So I think if we’re going to argue this thing on the tolerance meter, we’re pretty far ahead on that score and we don’t have anything to apologize for.

Secondly, the mosque plan has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. They want to call it the Cordoba Islamic Center. Cordoba is the name of the Islamic caliphate that conquered Spain and ruled it often brutally for over half a millennium. So, you know it’s pretty clear just in the choice of name what’s going on here. It’s the Islamist strategy that’s centuries old, which is to build their icons on top of the icons of the people that they’ve either conquered on intend to conquer.

So it seems to me that it’s fairly obvious that this is going on. It also seems to me that many, if not most, well meaning Muslims don’t want to see this happen either. They don’t want this fight. The reason they don’t want it is because there’s really common sense involved in this as much as anything else. No one is saying that they shouldn’t be able to have mosques or that Muslims shouldn’t be able to worship in the United States. What we’re saying is a mosque in that particular site would be grossly inappropriate. I don’t know what’s happened to America, but if this were, say 1943 or 1944, or I daresay even today, you wouldn’t have a Shinto temple built at Pearl Harbor. People would say there are plenty of places in America for a Shinto temple but that isn’t one of them. That’s not bigotry. That’s not intolerance. That’s plain common sense and respect for people who lost their lives on those sites.

Last question. What do you think the average person misunderstands about radical Islam and moderate Muslims. One thing about each?

I think that the biggest misunderstanding about radical Islam is that it’s radical and aberrant. I think actually what we like to think of as radical Islam is much more mainstream and adhered to by many, many more people than we’d like to think. That is about a lot more than terrorism. The vibrant debate in the Muslim world these days, or at least in Islamic circles, is about whether terrorism is an effective strategy anymore. They’re making so much progress marching through our institutions with this Islamic infrastructure that they’ve built in the United States, for example, for the last 60 years. Because of that, there’s a good argument among what we would like to think of as radical Muslims that terrorism is counterproductive.

The thing that I think we need to realize is that whether we’re talking about the terrorist Muslims, or the Islamists who are not terrorists, is that their disagreement is over methodology. They all agree on the same bottom line which is that they want to have a Sharia society.

On moderate Islam, I think the biggest misunderstanding people have is that it’s an ideology — that there is an Islam that’s based on the Koran that is cogent and drawn from the scriptures that can compete with the Islamic interpretation of Islam, which whatever we may think of it, is deeply rooted in the Koran and the scripture.

I really appreciate your time.

Great. Thanks very much. Take care.

Thank you, too. Goodbye.

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