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Intelligence Failure

via Crisis Magazine

by William Kilpatrick

William KilpatrickU.S. government officials were caught off guard by the recent rapid rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and its plan to establish a sharia-ruled caliphate state.

Either they weren’t getting enough intelligence from their agents in the field, or else they lacked the framework for processing the information. Since the American Embassy in Baghdad has some 15,000 employees and since we can assume that this includes a sizeable contingent of intelligence gatherers, a problem with the framework is the more likely explanation. The framework is built around the assumption that Islam is a religion of peace, and that the jihad threat is confined to al-Qaeda, which is “on the run.” The idea that jihad is an integral part of Islam—something we can expect to pop up almost anywhere in the Muslim world—doesn’t fit into the theory. Likewise, the framework is not sized to accommodate concepts such as sharia, caliphate, or religious motivation—let alone world conquest for the sake of Allah.
In fact, the CIA, the FBI, and the Pentagon are not even allowed to mention “Islam” and “jihad” in the same breath. Over two years ago, at the behest of Islamic activist groups, counterterrorism training manuals were purged of any “materials
Like the U.S. government, the Catholic Church has also been caught off guard by the rapid spread of Islamic terrorism and the escalating persecution of Christians. Moreover, Church leaders have been surprised for much the same reason. Like our government, they are relying on an outdated paradigm to analyze what information they have. And, as with government intelligence agencies, the ruling paradigm sets bounds on what they are likely to notice.
The Catholic paradigm for understanding Islam was set in 1965 with the publication of the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate and its two short paragraphs on the “Moslems.” Ironically, Nostra Aetate does not seem to have been intended as any sort of paradigm or template. Rather, it seems to have been meant as only a first step in the direction of improving Christian-Muslim relations. The task of the document was “to consider what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship.” Accordingly, the Council Fathers listed a handful of beliefs and practices that Muslims and Christians share and which might serve as a basis for fellowship.

Unfortunately, in the years that followed, Nostra Aetate’s statement on ISIS“the Church’s relationship with the Moslems” came to be looked upon as the Church’s final word on Islam—in effect, all that one needs to know about Islam. The result was that generations of Catholics gained the impression that Islam was a religion not unlike their own—or, to put it another way, not something that one need worry too much about.

The Nostra Aetate paradigm was seized on by both liberal and conservative Catholics—by liberals because it dovetailed with their multicultural agenda; by conservatives because, if Islam was a close cousin of Catholicism, Muslims would make good partners in the culture wars. A number of prominent conservative Catholics began speaking in terms of an “ecumenical jihad” against secularism, with Muslims as “our natural allies.”

The new paradigm was especially popular with Catholic educators. After the shock of 9/11, they needed a way to explain the event to their students and, conveniently, the Catholic paradigm closely coincided with the secular one: Islam was a religion of peace (just like ours) that had been hijacked by a handful of misunderstanders. Courses on Islam sprang up in Catholic colleges across the country and, predictably, the starting point for almost every one was Nostra Aetate.

Catholic educators seem particularly enamored of the “Five Pillars of Islam.” I once administered a “knowledge of Islam” survey to a large group of Catholic university students and, although they knew very little about Islam in general, most of them were vaguely familiar with the five pillars.

What are the five pillars? They are the five primary obligations that each Muslim must fulfill in his or her lifetime:

  • Shahadah or profession of faith is the first pillar.
  • Salah or prayer is the second pillar. Muslims are expected to pray five times daily.
  • Zakat or almsgiving is the third pillar. Zakat is a duty to be charitable.
  • Sawm or fasting during the month of Ramadan is the fourth pillar.
  • Hajj or pilgrimage is the fifth pillar. For those who are able to make the journey, the pilgrimage to Mecca is a once-in-a-lifetime duty.

Why do Catholic educators emphasize the five pillars? Most probably because these five obligations fit nicely into the their-religion-is-just-like-ours paradigm. Catholics are also expected to make a profession of faith (the Creed), pray daily, practice charity, and fast at certain times. Although there is no obligation to go on pilgrimage, many Catholics do; and even those who don’t are perfectly comfortable with the idea. When judged by the criterion of strict religious observance, the Muslims seem more Catholic than the Catholics. As Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft somewhat generously puts it, “Islam has great and deep resources of morality and sanctity that should inspire us and shame us and prod us to admiration and imitation” (Between Allah and Jesus, p. 9).

For Catholics who are intent on finding common ground with Islam, however, the most convenient thing about the five pillars is that they make no mention of jihad, Islamic supremacism, the caliphate, apostasy laws, or any of a dozen other Islamic beliefs and practices that throw a monkey wrench into the common-ground paradigm.
Like the U.S. government, Catholic educators seem to be in jihad denial. Not that jihad is never mentioned, but when it is, many Catholics prefer the kinder, gentler definition of jihad as an inner struggle against temptation. That would make jihad roughly comparable to the Catholic notion of struggling with one’s conscience and, thus, a perfectly legitimate practice. This is more or less the interpretation of jihad that Catholic students are exposed to. For example, the Western civilization text used in one traditional Catholic college informs its readers that jihad means “striving in the way of the Lord to achieve personal betterment.” The author also takes pains to caution the reader that some people “misleadingly interpret” jihad as “holy war.” He is apparently unaware that some of the misguided “some people” include the editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica, along with the editors of the American Heritage Dictionary, various editions of Webster’s Dictionary, the Dictionary of Islam, the Encyclopedia of Islam, and Reliance of the Traveller, the classic manual of Islamic law. Admittedly, some of the newer dictionary editions have added the “spiritual struggle” interpretation as a sop to political correctness. However, to better acquaint yourself with the standard definition, see the activities of ISIS in Iraq, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Qaeda in Yemen, and Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines.

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