Small Wars Journal

Not a Religion?

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 12:03pm

Not a Religion?

Jeanne McDonnell

President Obama has outlined a strategy to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). Although there are some gray areas, as a former military officer, his strategy appeared sound. In one area, though, President Obama seemed to miss the mark. He commented "ISIL is not 'Islamic.' No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL's victims have been Muslim."[i] President Obama may not think the ISIL are Islamic, but they do. People understand the majority of Muslims are peaceful, however, that does not make the fact that radicals are using Islam to violently promote their ideology go away.

[ii]Sun Tzu, perhaps the world’s greatest military strategist, is best known for his advice “to know your enemy and know yourself.”[iii]  ISIL is not a new enemy - they are radical Islamists who take the Quran literally. They can justify everything they have done in the name of the Quran. For instance, Quran 8:12says “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.” They justify killing other Muslims because those Muslims do not believe the exact same way they do. The Islam Daily reported there are 109 verses in the Quran which teach violence against infidels including their women and children.[iv] Several specifically recommend beheading. Sound familiar? We might not like it, but through these verses, ISIL can justify their religion and their actions to themselves.   

In order to defeat ISIL, we have to understand what makes them tick. Unfortunately, in the last few years, our top government leaders fired Steven Coughlin, the Pentagon’s top expert in interpreting the Quran and Sharia law and the way it influenced radical Islam, because he would not “soften” his doctrine.  The Washington Times reported, “Mr. Coughlin appears to have become one of the first casualties in the war of ideas with Islamism.”[v] Top military leadership shut down a popular course at Joint Forces Staff College on understanding radical Islam for military officers because of objections from Muslim groups.[vi] The lead instructor, Army LTC Matthew Dooley, was another “casualty.” He had inherited the approved course which had been taught several years before his arrival. Dooley, a bronze star recipient, was fired and given a negative evaluation which will likely end his career.

Even though colleagues had complained about Army Major Nidal Hasan’s extremist views and the FBI knew of emails he sent to known terrorists, nothing was done. That is, until after he killed 13 people at Fort Hood while yelling “Allahu Akbar.” The official report on the incident noted, “The FBI was too concerned about political correctness and did not launch an investigation…despite significant warning signs that he was an Islamic extremist bent on killing civilians…”[vii] These casualties were real.  

I think Sun Tzu would suggest this is good place to ask how well we know ourselves. Americans have been lulled into complacency through constant reassurances that Islam is a peaceful religion from the media and world leaders including the President. Political correctness deters us from even listening to the ideology behind the behavior of radical Islamists. Why can’t we internalize that our failure to recognize the damage political correctness is doing to our country is costing American lives?   

Radical Islamic expert, Stephen P. Lambert warns the fight against radical Islam can only be countered by the West when they begin to “…methodically analyze the ideological religion that empowers it and forms its basis.”[viii] How can we do this when our top leaders refuse to even recognized the ISIL has its root in Islam? Just because the religions we want to associate with do not condone killing innocents, does that mean no religion does? Is our head still buried in the sand?

Thirteen years ago, radical Islamic extremists claimed their biggest victory in a war against the United States that has stretched more than 30 years beginning with the bombing of our Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983.[ix] When will our country “get it?”

End Notes

[i]Wishon, J. (2014, September 11). Christian Broadcasting Network. Retrieved September 11, 2014, from

[iii] Tzu, S. (2003). The art of war. (p. 17). New York, NY: Barnes & Noble Classics.

[iv] Lindsey, H. (2006, January 15). Quran's 'war verses' at work. Retrieved September 11, 2014, from

[v] Coughlin sacked. (2008, January 4). Washington Times. Retrieved from

[vi] McDonnell, J. (2013). Boiled alive: What we can learn from a frog. Small Wars Journal, vol. 9 issue 7, July 2013, Retrieved from

[vii] Lawmaker: Report shows FBI ignored accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan out of political correctness. (2010, July 19). CBS News. Retrieved from

[viii] Lambert, S. (2005). The source of Islamic revolutionary conduct. (p. 155). Washington, DC: Center for Strategic Intelligence Research.

[ix] Stout, M., Huckabey, J., Schindler, J., & Lacey, J. (2008). The terrorist perspectives project. (p. vii). Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press.