Calling Radical Islam What It Is

Abraham H. Foxman Headshot


National Director, Anti-Defamation League

   If we want to win the war against radical Islam -- and in my view it should be the number one priority of the Western and Muslim worlds -- we need to call it what it is. Too often, out of a misplaced sense of political correctness, political leaders, including President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande, avoid identifying the extremists as proponents of a radical Islamic ideology.

The solution to the threat lies primarily within the Muslim world itself. Mainstream Muslims must on every level, starting with education, discourage young people from taking the extremist path. But if we in the West are reluctant to explicitly say what it is, why should Muslim moderates speak and act?

I address this as someone who represents an organization that stands up against defaming of Muslims in general or Islam as a religion. When individuals try to show their bona fides in support of Israel by claiming that Islam as a religion is terrorist or that most Muslims are, we stand up to say no.

In Europe, the hesitancy to say the words "radical Islam" may largely be the product of intimidation or the fear of violent retaliation. That is why the comments by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls before the French Parliament and in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic are so important.

He pulled no punches and told it like it is. The enemy is radical Islam. French society must stand up against the outrage committed by jihadists against France and against the Jews of France. The jihadist ideology surely does not represent most Muslims and it is a hijacking of Islam, but the incitement to violence and the acts of terror are done in the name of Islam and influenced by teachers of fundamentalist Islam in schools and other institutions throughout the Muslim world.

As Michael Walzer has written, it is not prejudice but rational to fear Islamism, as opposed to Islam. When elements within a religious community promote anti-democratic attitudes and anti-Semitism, and turn to terror, anti-democratic attitudes, and anti-Semitism, it is not racist to oppose it forcefully.

There is nothing simple about trying to figure out how to defeat the rise of this radicalism within the Muslim world.  Social, economic and political forces within Muslim countries and in relations between the West and the Muslim world all contribute to it.

But what we know from past struggles against totalitarian movements, whether Nazism or Communism, is that they require clear and principled thinking to directly engage the danger.

That starts with saying that Islam and Muslims are not the enemy, they are part of the solution.  We need to emphasize and acknowledge that there is prejudice against Muslims because of recent events and to emphatically oppose it.

But we also must not hesitate to point out that those who suffer the most from radical Islam are Muslims themselves. Just think of the recent news in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Nigeria: Muslims being murdered, mosques being attacked by extremist Muslims.

The basic message from political, religious and civic leaders must be that all good people are in this struggle together. The Islamic extremists are a threat to Muslims, a threat to Jews, a threat to civilization.

Just like the struggle against Nazism and Communism were defeated by a collective effort and by a set of clear ideas, this 21st century struggle can be won as well.

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