How Muslims understand recent comments by US officials

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How Muslims understand recent comments by US officials

By Harold Rhode, JNS

When Westerners condemn the behavior of foreign countries and non-state actors, Middle Eastern leaders interpret this to mean that those issuing the statements are not prepared to act.

The Western concept of “negotiations” is alien to the Muslim world. Westerners talk, hint at things, exchange ideas and try to reach agreements, often by conceding on certain issues in order to obtain others.

Such “give and take” is foreign in the Islamic world, where concessions denote weakness. Islamic states take whatever “concessions” they’re offered as “freebies.” For them, the only purpose of talks is for the victors to impose their will on the vanquished.

When Western representatives condemn the behavior of foreign countries and non-state actors, Middle Eastern leaders interpret this to mean that those issuing the statements are not prepared to act. Experience has taught them that public statements are—as it is said in Persian, Turkish and Arabic—“empty words,” which constitute a license to do what they want with impunity. And history has repeatedly proven them right.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, White House press secretary Jen Psaki and others serving the Biden administration have been playing right into the hands of America’s enemies.

In his official remarks on Aug. 30 about the situation in Afghanistan, Blinken stated: “The Taliban has made a commitment to prevent terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base for external operations that could threaten the United States or our allies, including Al-Qaeda and the Taliban’s sworn enemy, ISIS-K … we will hold them accountable to that commitment. But while we have expectations of the Taliban, that doesn’t mean we will rely on the Taliban. We’ll remain vigilant in monitoring threats ourselves. And we’ll maintain robust counterterrorism capabilities in the region to neutralize those threats, if necessary, as we demonstrated in the past few days by striking ISIS facilitators and imminent threats in Afghanistan—and as we do in places around the world where we do not have military forces on the ground.”

He further said, “The Taliban seeks international legitimacy and support. Our message is: Any legitimacy and any support will have to be earned.”

The Taliban not only mocked him for his “empty words,” but were fully aware of their absurdity. It knows that China, Iran and maybe Russia will come to its aid, and that Moscow and Beijing will block any moves against it at the United Nations.

Moreover, the Taliban now has an endless supply of military equipment, as well as huge amounts of cash, which the Biden administration left behind when it absconded from Afghanistan.

Frustrated young Muslim males throughout the world are thus concluding that the tide of their future is pulling towards joining the Taliban, ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other jihadi groups on the march to convert the globe to Islam. If the West, in general, and the United States, in particular, had any understanding of the above mindset, they would know that the only way to put the jihadi genie back into the bottle is to mercilessly attack and destroy the terrorist organizations.

It would be a serious mistake to fall into the Biden administration’s trap of assuring world that the U.S. is working with the Taliban against ISIS-K to safeguard Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport. How can anyone be sure that the Taliban and ISIS-K didn’t coordinate the suicide attacks there, which left 13 U.S. servicemen dead? After all, this is how such groups normally operate against common enemies.

Furthermore, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, ISIS and other terrorist organizations are highly factious: One day, they work together; the next day, they kill one another, as it’s hard for them to resolve things peacefully. Each is like a volcano and that could erupt at any time.

Rather than make excuses for them, then, the United States should encourage and foment discord among them. Instead, however, Washington seems to be proceeding full speed ahead in its efforts to undermine allies dealing with similar Islamic forces—even those not using identical jihadist rhetoric.

Take Israel, for example. At his daily press briefing on Sept. 1, State Department spokesman Ned Price quoted Blinken as having said in May that the U.S. “will be moving forward with the process to reopen our consulate in Jerusalem.”

This is relevant to U.S. policy towards the Taliban. Though from a Western point of view, America is overwhelmingly Christian while Israel is overwhelmingly Jewish—in other words, they are different peoples—in the Muslim mindset, the Koran, which they believe is the word of God, makes clear that all Muslims are one nation and all non-Muslims are another.

As such, from a Muslim standpoint, if America pressures Israel on the Palestinian issue, it is abandoning its brothers and sisters and supporting the Muslim cause. The reason that this applies to the reopening of the consulate is that the Palestinian Authority teaches its children that Israel must be destroyed—that it is Muslim and must be ruled by Muslims.

The P.A. honors and pays stipends to those Palestinians who kill Jews. As the Muslims see it, this is no less jihad than that in which the Taliban, ISIS and Al-Qaeda are engaged. So, when the U.S. announces the reopening of the consulate in Jerusalem, it is, from a Muslim perspective, helping those who want to liquidate Israel. For Muslims, supporting those who want to destroy Israel is the same as helping the Taliban, which has defeated the United States and is killing those who worked with America in Afghanistan.

This seems like convoluted logic to Westerners, who see the issues of Afghanistan the Palestinians as separate and distinct. From an Islamic perspective, however, they are one and the same. Indeed, for the past two weeks, P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas has been echoing the Taliban to a tee, acknowledging that they are two peas in a pod.

All not need be lost, though. There is a solution—a serious one that was portrayed humorously in the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” In one scene, the protagonist, Indiana Jones, is confronted by an Arab about to kill him with a huge sword, with a crowd cheering on the attacker.

Watching the man wield his weapon fiercely, Indiana Jones smirks, shrugs, pulls out a revolver and shoots his assailant. At this point, the onlookers cheer for Indiana Jones.

Welcome to the Middle East, where people go with the winner. Unfortunately, America chose defeat in Afghanistan. And from the Biden administration’s stated policy regarding the reopening of the consulate in Jerusalem, it looks to the Muslim world as though it wants Israel to be defeated, as well.

Harold Rhode received in Ph.D. in Islamic history and later served as an adviser on Islamic culture for 28 years in the Office of the U.S. Department of Defense. He is now a distinguished senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute.

Caption: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks to the press at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 2, 2021.
Credit: State Department Photo by Freddie Everett.


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