Here’s How You Lose A War Against Al Qaeda

You want to lose the war against Al Qaeda? Then listen to National Review’s Andrew McCarthy:

WILL CAIN: Right here, at the top, “Chapter Two: Islamism.” The question for the house is what should we call the challenge that confronts the West? And your candid answer is, Islam. Is that what our battle is? Is this a war on terror, or is that kind of need to be backed up? Do we have a bigger fight in front of us, a fight with Islam?

ANDY MCCARTHY: Well, I ultimately come out and say that we should call it Islamism, but I face up to the idea that it may very well be that Islam is the problem. And I do think that we have to face the fact that all the terrorism that we’ve been dealing with in the past number of decades now, plus this wider civilizational threat to the West, is inextricably linked to an interpretation of Islam that is unquestionably legitimate and based on Islamic doctrine.

CAIN: Yeah, is that interpretation — you’re suggesting that that interpretation is legitimate, so does that suggest that Islam is an inherently violent religion?

MCCARTHY: Yeah, I think, well, it certainly — if there is a legitimate of it that’s drawn from the scriptures, I don’t see how you could say it’s not. Now you could say it doesn’t have to be violent, but the roots of the violence are in the doctrine. They’re not, you know, no one pulled those out of the sky, those are in the Koran.

Watch it:

It’s hard to really do justice to the utter absence of intellectual rigor on either end of this conversation. While the mainstream consensus over the last few years has more or less recognized that “war on terror” is too broad a description for the challenge the U.S. faces from violent extremism, here you’ve got two conservatives wondering whether it simply isn’t broad enough, and whether Islam itself is the problem. It’s like looking through a time portal into 2002.


It feels silly to even have to explain this, but there are very few religious texts that could not be, have not been, (and in many cases still are) interpreted as justification for violence.

Here’s Exodus, Chapter 34, verses 11–14:

Observe thou that which I am commanding thee this day; behold, I am driving out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite. Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest they be for a snare in the midst of thee. But ye shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and ye shall cut down their Asherim [idols]. For thou shalt bow down to no other god; for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God;

Many extremist Jewish settlers in the West Bank take these and other verses as license for violence against Palestinians and destruction of their property. And there are Jewish scholars who back them up on this. By McCarthy’s reasoning, that makes Judaism an inherently violent religion.

Anti-choice terrorist Scott Roeder justified his murder of abortion provider George Tiller through reference to Genesis Chapter 9, verse 6: “Whosoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God has God made man.” By McCarthy’s reasoning, that makes Christianity an inherently violent religion.


I think reasonable people understand that religious interpretation is something that is constantly contested, and meanings change over time. In the 11th Century, the Christian Bible was interpreted in such a way to justify sending thousands of European Christian knights into the Holy Land to slaughter thousands of Muslims and Jews. It’s interpreted differently now. Religions aren’t static things.

But the more insidious aspect of McCarthy’s argument is that, by simply granting the religious legitimacy of Al Qaeda’s call to terrorist violence, McCarthy basically proposes to cede the ideological battlefield to bin Laden. Worse than that, by positing a “wider civilizational” war with Islamic extremism, he effectively affirms bin Laden’s propaganda about the nature and extent of this war, letting bin Laden define us and our aims in a way that helps bin Laden, rather than the other way around. I’m not sure whether this is more a function of McCarthy’s own laziness about exploring the actual debates ongoing among Islamic scholars regarding the just use of violence, or if it’s just plain bigotry, or a mixture of both, but whatever the case it’s outrageous that National Review is promoting this conspiracy theory-spouting clown as someone worth listening to on these issues.


I neglected to point out how especially ridiculous it is for McCarthy to hold forth on Islamic justifications for terrorist violence, given that he himself defended Israel’s hugely destructive Gaza war as a method of “educating” Gaza’s civilians. Apologize for the oversight.