Distinguishing Between Violent And Nonviolent Islamism.

Yesterday I wrote that countering domestic radicalization will often involve people who are conservative or political in ways the government won't necessarily like, because those people will have a kind of theological and cultural credibility more liberal Muslims won't. Matt Duss, pivoting off a Washington Institute for Near East Policy report on the administration's national-security strategy, makes that point better than I did, but applied to the world as a whole. Duss argues that refusing to distinguish between violent and nonviolent Islamism deprives the U.S. of a "potentially valuable" national-security tool:

Despite having moderated their views on the uses of violence, they still believe that Islam is not just religious faith and practice but a complete political system. Some on the right, like Frank Gaffney and Daniel Pipes, deem the conservative practice and political application of Islam to be a threat in itself. But casting “Islamism” writ large as inherently violent and irretrievably hostile to the West deprives us of a potentially valuable tool for doing exactly what the report recommends — building upon defections and disillusionment among ranks of current and former radical extremists, and isolating and dividing violent Islamists from non-violent Islamists. This is a key distinction that has yet to be embraced by the Obama administration, though the Cairo speech nodded in that direction.

As former military intelligence officer Malcolm Nance has written, the ideology of al-Qaeda is based on Islam but it's also an existential threat to orthodox Islam. Lumping all Islamists with al-Qaeda not only bolsters terrorists' theological justification for their actions, it creates a numbers game the U.S. can't hope to win.

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