My attempt to understand the radical Islamic threat

Today’s Wall Street Journal carries an editorial written by Newt Gingrich on the radical Islamic threat. It is well written and very much worth reading. I won’t attempt to summarize or comment on it. Regardless of how you feel about Newt’s politics, he is undeniably a bright guy and a strong writer. I was struck with the realization that Congressional hearings will almost certainly follow.(1) As is usual for major articles in WSJ, the reader comments often turn out to be more insightful than the original publication. The editorial combined with the reader comments helped my to gain some better understanding of this serious issue and, in fact, I feel more at ease on the issue after this mental exercise.

This post is not about my opinions nor about giving credit to the authors through proper citations. Most of this is “cut and paste” without citations.(2) It is simply a compilation and digest of the ideas that struck me as most compelling in my personal quest to better understand the underlying issue.

  • Best response to Gingrich comments: “I find Newt’s basic statement of the problem is compelling: we lack a coherent strategy to beat radical Islam and need to better understand the enemy to develop a constructive strategy. However, it is highly unlikely his proposed solution of Congressional hearings will provide an effective answer. Committees rarely develop effective solutions. What is needed is a small group of experts who can understand the weaknesses of Radical Islam and how we can intelligently deploy our strengths to thwart their goals.”
  • Present an alternative hope for the future: “The only way to combat an ideological battle (which is certainly what the war on terror is mostly about) is to offer an alternate ideology which restores the faith of the combatants in the possibility of a fair and just negotiated settlement of the issues.”
  • Ignore them, treat them as regular criminals, don’t over-react: “witch-hunts in Salem are a part of American tradition, too; as well as lynch mobs, occurring regularly almost up to modern times. If we add other “achievements” of the Western culture, like the Inquisition or atrocities of the WWII, we can see that Muslims are walking the same path that we had walked before. We made it from there to here, and so will they. We can leave them alone. Those very few who turn to terror can be treated the same as other criminals. All the other radical Islam fundamentalists, as it was with all kinds of extremists in Western tradition, are their own greatest enemies.”   from
  • Blame it on the decline of western fundamental vales: Op/ed comment writers seem to love to focus on this response articles on a wide range of our most pressing problems. We are primarily losing this war because America is in deep spiritual decline. Islam is seductive because the Western Christian/Secular message has failed. People want more out of life than societal obsession with narcissism and hedonistic pleasure, Islam gives that to them, a spiritual message, a way clear simple way to a fulfilled life.
  • Our abandoned mission: President George W. Bush told a joint session of Congress: “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.” We did not do that. Why didn’t we complete our mission? “it’s a mistake to frame this challenge as a war that can be won decisively in a finite duration battle, with a clear point of surrender and victory.   The type of subversive thoughts, recruiting, and organization of violent attacks has been around forever, and will always remain a threat.  Much better to frame terrorism as organized crime, and invent the type of specialized, relentless policing that is needed to deter it.”
  • Examine the “Commander-in-Chief” role: Mr. Gingrich feels that Obama is either incapable or incompetent as Commander-in-Chief, yet regardless of whether that is true or not, Congress can not fill that role either. We need to rely on a capable and competent president.

(1) A personal side note: The closest I’ve come to Congressional hearings was when former Speaker Gingrich’s office invited me to testify before Congress on the impact of the implementation of Medical Savings Accounts for small businesses in 2003. He withdrew that invitation a few days later after I published an editorial critical of the Republican position on that issue.

(2) Source citations could be recreated by scrolling through the 1000+ reader comments at


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