The National Journal called earlier this week for the United States to “declare war on ISIS.” The magazine is right to argue for a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), a legislative vehicle that passes these days for a congressional declaration of war. It is wrong, however, to urge that the existing AUMF, which targets al Qaeda and “associated forces,” be replaced by one that focuses just on the Islamic State (also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham/Syria, or ISIS, or the Islamic State in the Levant, or ISIL).
Nearly thirteen years after 9/11, it is past time to recognize that we are at war not with one group of “terrorists” or another. Rather, adherents to a doctrine or ideology they call shariah are at war with us. Shariah is, at its core, about power, not faith. While some small percentage (some estimates suggest ten-percent) of its dictates prescribe the religious practices, the rest of it defines comprehensively how every relationship must be ordered – between individuals, families, neighbors, business associates, all the way up to how the world is governed.
Most importantly, shariah obliges its followers to engage in jihad (or holy war). Don’t be misled by those who argue jihad means “personal struggle.” The Koran makes clear that jihad is “holy war.” And for shariah-adherent Islamists that war has two goals: the triumph of shariah worldwide and the establishment of what is, for want of a better term, a theocratic government to rule the entire planet according to that doctrine.
The jihadists may disagree among themselves about some points of theology (notably, differences that divide Sunnis and Shiites). They may be committed to the use of terrifying violence under all circumstances. Or, as in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood, they may believe it is to be used where practicable, but insist on employing not so much non-violent as pre-violent, subversive techniques where terrorism will be counterproductive.
Whatever the banner under which these shariah-adherents wage jihad – for example, the Islamic State, al Qaeda, Taliban, Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, Taliban, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Ansar al-Shariah or Muslim Brotherhood – all these Islamists are our avowed enemies. That is not because of how we view them. That is because of their own doctrine which is endlessly reinforced in their mosques, via the Internet, through social media and other vehicles.
We can no longer kid ourselves, or otherwise avoid a harsh reality: While perhaps hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world – including it seems the majority of those in America – practice their faith without regard for shariah (they don’t want to live under it themselves and they do not seek to impose it on others), the authorities of Islam regard shariah as the true faith and consider these co-religionists to be apostates.
At the moment, fortunately, only a relatively small number are actively engaged in violent jihad. Many more, though, are doing what shariah demands of those unable or unwilling to wield the sword in holy war: underwriting those who do, through the practice of zakat (Islam’s obligatory contributions to approved charitable causes, one of which is jihad).
Unless and until we understand that shariah-adherent Muslims are inherently dangerous, we will be unable to define our enemy correctly. Unless and until we hold such Muslims accountable, we will not only restrict unduly the focus and effectiveness of our countervailing efforts.
Worse yet, we will actually encourage Muslims – whether states like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, organizations or individuals – to associate with, underwrite, or in other ways enable deadly foes of freedom.
Some will respond that an AUMF focused on shariah is a formula for a “clash of civilizations.” The truth is that enemies of civilization – namely, those who adhere to and seek to impose, whether through violence or by stealth, brutally repressive, totalitarian, misogynistic, homophobic, intolerant and anti-constitutional shariah on others – have made no secret of their determination to conquer and destroy us and the rest of the civilized world.
Only by making clear that we are determined to fight back in defense of freedom will we have a chance of protecting our civilization against these enemies. By identifying the political-military-legal ideology of shariah as the defining ideology of those with whom we are at war – much as we did in the past against Nazism, Fascism, Japanese imperialism, and communism – we have a chance of prevailing. And that chance will be greatly enhanced if we bring to bear now, as in the past, not only military but all other instruments of national power.
We will also incentivize Muslims who do not conform to this doctrine to join us in fighting those who accuse them of apostasy, a capital offense under shariah. If they do so, the likelihood of our early success improves still further.
So, by all means, let’s have a new authorization for the use of military force. Or better yet, a proper declaration of war approved by the Congress, authorizing the use of the full array of our economic, political, intelligence, strategic and military means of waging war. But for the sake of our civilization and freedoms, we must ensure that it correctly defines the object of our defensive war: those who adhere to and are trying compel us to submit to shariah.