A gaffe in Washington is when someone inadvertently blurts out the truth.
There is a reluctance in the nation's capital, bordering on paralysis, to be politically incorrect. After six decades as a journalist, I have no hesitation in casting political correctness aside if it shades or distorts the truth.
Nidal Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist who had the rank of major when he allegedly killed 13 (12 of them military) and wounded 30 at Fort Hood, Texas, in November, shouted "Allahu akhbar" (God is greatest) as weapons fired.
Hasan's online religious counselor was U.S.-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an extremist known for his pro-al-Qaida sermons, who had left the United States to "preach" from Yemen.
Intercepted e-mails between the two were forwarded to the FBI Terrorism Task Force in 2008. They determined that Hasan wasn't a threat before the shooting spree, and the e-mail messages were consistent with "medical research."
Yet Army officers who knew Hasan were aware of his radical proclivities.
The report that the U.S. Army issued in January on the Fort Hood killings didn't mention Islam, Islamist, or Islamist extremism. Ever-vigilant Islamic human rights organizations have decreed no link between Hasan, al-Qaida and Islam.
If the Rules of War had been stripped of political correctness and kept up to date, Hasan would be the modern-day equivalent of a defector to the enemy — i.e. a deserter.
Two days after the Fort Hood shootings, Awlaki's website praised him as a "hero." And on March 19, Awlaki called on American Muslims to take up jihad against the United States. And the alleged Christmas Day bomber Farouk Abdulmutallab told federal investigators it was Awlaki who directed him to carry out the attack, foiled by an alert passenger as the Northwest flight from Amsterdam descended for a landing in Detroit.
One of Awlaki's blog postings said, "I pray that Allah destroys America and all its allies and the day that happens and I assure you it will and sooner than you think, I will be very pleased."
Vicki Divoll, a former CIA lawyer who now teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy, wants to extend constitutional protections to the American-born al-Qaida cleric, who also had links to the alleged would-be Times Square bomber. The cleric was far from a combat zone, she argues.
As prominent counter-terrorist strategic expert Richard Shultz, director of the International Security Studies Program at Tufts' Fletcher School, puts it: "Yemen is part of the combat zone in this irregular war. And that battlefield is now extended to Times Square. But nine years into this fight and we still have U.S. government officials who have not yet figured that out. And who identify al-Awlaki as an alleged affiliate with a Yemeni branch of al-Qaida. Even a casual visitor to his Web site would have drawn the obvious conclusion that this guy is part of al-Qaida's strategic communications and information operations apparatus."
Mohamed Elibiary, a Muslim community advocate in Texas who advises law enforcement on countering extremism, says the way to handle this is to help Yemeni government authorities arrest Awlaki. Shultz answers this might work "if Yemen actually had a government. But that government — such as it is — has control of only three out of its 18 provinces. Not surprisingly, Awlaki is not in any of these three."
At this rate, we will have to lose a city before we wake up. Awlaki is a charismatic preacher of "holy war" against the heathen (non-Muslims), who has said it is a religious duty to attack the United States and who is actively plotting violence. Times Square May 1 was the latest of more than a dozen terrorist plots in the West that intelligence agencies believe were inspired, at least in part, by Awlaki's murderous rhetoric.
For those who argue that al-Qaida has nothing to do with Islam or the religion that commands the loyalty of 1.4 billion Muslims, retrograde amnesia is the diagnosis. Until they lost the 2008 elections, two of Pakistan's four provinces — Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province (recently renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) — were governed by six politico-religious parties known as the MMA coalition.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor told this reporter he was a personal friend of Taliban's Mullah Omar and how much he admired Osama bin Laden. Both bin Laden and Omar were commencement speakers in 2001 at the University for "the Education of Truth," a sprawling madrassa campus with 2,800 students from every Muslim country in Akora Khattak.
The single discipline of the madrassas is the holy book. Taliban was a religious dictatorship where prayer in a mosque five times a day was compulsory. Anyone caught cutting prayer time was whacked by the religious police.
There still are 11,000 madrassas in Pakistan, churning out religious zealots who can recite the Koran by heart — and little else — and are malleable as potential suicide volunteers.
The thousands of Pakistanis suicide bombers kill each year in major cities invoke the command of Allah against those who cooperate with the United States, still the fount of all evil. Pakistani television coverage depicts the United States and Israel as one against Muslim Palestinians. But Pakistani and U.S. officials are allies, slowly trying to rebuild trust, even though their private views are frequently diametrically different.
The silver lining in an otherwise opaque canvas of religious obscurantism is that radical Islam is losing ground in the Islamic world. Favorable views of suicide bombings have declined steadily in Pakistan (180 million) and Indonesia (230 million), the Muslim world's two most populous countries with almost one-third of Islam's 1.4 billion people.
The foiled Christmas Day underpants bombing and the May 1 fizzle in Times Square would appear to indicate a serious lack of trade craft in the enemy camp. Al-Qaida's principal geopolitical goal still is to topple the gulf’s hereditary regimes and force the United States out of the gulf. But U.S. isolationism is al-Qaida's bridge too far.
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