Josh Manchester sends an important comment on this whole thread from Anbar.
Claudia Rosett continues to follow the saga of Hesher Islam versus Stephen Coughlin. Coughlin was an expert on Islam at the Pentagon who was allegedly fired because he "made it his mission to set aside the feel-good assumptions about Islam which have been guiding U.S. strategy, and take an unblinkered look at facts".
In a thesis accepted last year by the National Defense Intelligence College, entitled “To Our Great Detriment: Ignoring What Extremists Say About Jihad,” Coughlin came up with heavily documented findings that Islamic law, to a dangerous extent, supports the global spread of Islamic extremism, through both violent and non-violent means. In presentations to the military, based in part on court documents connected to the case of the Holy Land Foundation, Coughlin warned of Muslim Brotherhood plans to subvert the U.S. system via front groups, and “destroy western civilization from within.”
And then, Coughlin got the shove. Earlier this month, he was told that his contract with the Joint Chiefs of Staff will not be renewed when it expires in March. Why? According to Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, who on Jan. 4 broke the story of Coughlin’s ouster, Coughlin ran afoul of a Pentagon “key aide” named Hesham Islam. Attributing his information to unnamed “officials,” Gertz, who in a series of subsequent articles has stood by his story, alleged that Hesham Islam at a Pentagon meeting late last year sought to have Coughlin soften his views, and called him a “Christian zealot or extremist ‘with a pen’” — or words to that effect.
By implication the struggle between Hesher Islam and Coughlin is symptomatic of a far larger and unresolved debate, which might be summarized as being over whether or not "Islam is a religion of peace", an assumption which has undergirded the War On Terror From September 11 onwards. As it happens, Bill Roggio, writing in the Weekly Standard, notices a development that I think confirms that hypothesis. "CJTF-82, the U.S. military command for eastern Afghanistan, has taken Dutch politician and filmmaker Geert Wilders to task for announcing the production of a short film on the Koran. CJTF-82 begins its piece, provocatively titled 'Stirring the Hate,' by questioning Wilder's motivations." Roggio says:
Leaving aside Wilders's motivation for making the film, one wonders why CJTF-82 posted this article on its website in the first place. Should CJTF-82, which is engaged in the fight in Afghanistan, be injecting itself into a debate over free speech in Holland, an allied nation with troops currently deployed in Afghanistan? Is it appropriate for the U.S. military to criticize the actions of a leader of a foreign political party? And has CJTF-82 officially determined that Wilders is responsible for "igniting further violence" by publishing the Muhammad cartoons?
The "why?" part I think is clear. My guess is that the last thing operators in Afghanistan and Iraq need is someone turning the narrative of the War on Terror into one of the West versus Islam. Geert Wilders is attempting to do that. He might be right, but operationally, that's beside the point.
One of the implicit strategies of the War on Terror has been to fight Islamic terrorism in conjunction with the populations of Muslim countries. In Iraq, for example, the alliances between Coalition Forces and local groups have formed the basis for attacking and eventually destroying al-Qaeda. Whether or not this strategy is wise is something I don't wish to examine at this point. But I think it is fair to say that the intellectual model of fighting extremist groups like al-Qaeda has been based on avoiding a direct conflict with the "religion of peace".
This strategy has many benefits, not in the least because it allows the West to form alliances with groups and populations who might otherwise set their faces against America if it openly declared itself against Islam. It would be hard to imagine how to proceed in either Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan if America were to openly declare that Islam was in fact an ideology as noxious as Nazism. But citing the advantages of a policy assumption doesn't answer the question of whether the assumption is true; it doesn't settle the question of whether Wilders -- or Coughlin -- are correct. I am agnostic on the point. Nor do I expect any answers soon.
There seems to be a bipartisan political consensus not to examine the subject of political Islam publicly. It is the most verboten of foreign policy subjects. But like other "open secrets", its exclusion from formal discussion doesn't banish it from public consciousness. It merely pushes it underground, like Barack Obama's middle name.
The key problem with subjecting the question of political Islam to debate is that every other conclusion except that of regarding it as a "religion of peace" implies consequences no one dares face. Concluding that Islam is a 'religion of war' would precipitate a revolution in diplomacy, energy policy and military strategy. It's a bottle of nitro nobody wants to shake; it's a can of worms nobody wants to open: not a Republican administration and most especially not a Democratic one.
Explosive questions such as this are as likely to be resolved by events as by debate. To a very great extent the West is genuinely hoping that Islam is a "religion of peace"; and I suspect many Muslims are too. Unfolding events will resolve the issue -- and perceptions -- one way or the other. Ten years from today we'll have a better understanding of the truth.