It is, in my view, the defining exchange of our time. It took place, not inappropriately, on Pearl Harbor Day of 2011, at one of the joint House-Senate hearings called by New York Congressman Peter King and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman to examine the radicalization of American Muslims. As seen in the You Tube video, Congressman Dan Lungren of California poses a simple, straightforward question to a witness, Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Stockton. “Secretary Stockton,” he asks, “are we at war with violent Islamist extremism?”
What follows is several minutes of the most grotesque and extraordinary dodging, as Stockton, despite unrelenting pressure from Lungren, repeatedly refuses to admit any connection between Islam and the “war on terror”: “We are at war with al-Qaeda, its affiliates and adherents….al-Qaeda are murderers with an ideological agenda…al-Qaeda is a violent organization dedicated to overthrowing the values that we intend to advance…” After a couple of minutes of proding, Stockton explains his dodging: “Al-Qaeda would love to convince Muslims around the world that the United States is at war with Islam. That’s a prime propaganda tool, and I’m not going to aid and abet that effort to advance their propaganda goals….I don’t believe it’s helpful to frame our adversary as Islamic, with any set of qualifiers that we might add. Because we are not at war with Islam.”
At this point, Lungren takes a slightly different tack: according to the Defense Department, it’s important to keep an eye out for certain “behavioral indicators” that can signal an individual’s turn to radicalism. Lungren notes that the Fort Hood jihadist identified himself on a calling card as a “Soldier of Allah.” Would that sort of thing, Lungren asks, be considered a “behavioral indicator”? If he were a soldier, would it be appropriate for him to report such a thing as a “behavioral indicator”? Stockton, though in a roundabout way, finally says yes – implicitly acknowledging something that every American already knows but that the government, perversely, is determined not to say straight out.
Some of us, including yours truly, have watched that exchange over and over again – perhaps because it take multiple viewings for the depth and breadth and likely long-term impact of this horrible folly to really sink in, and perhaps partly because this single brief interrogation tells us something about the nature of the human animal that is at once tragic and absurd. For my part, I had the occasion to view it yet again the other day, because it figures in a documentary I was watching, Losing Our Sons. Released earlier this year,Losing Our Sons is a powerful illustration of the human cost of the categorical refusal of Stockton and his “affiliates and adherents” to look reality squarely in the face.
The film’s point of departure is another encounter between two men – two very young men who came face to face in Little Rock one day in 2009. It’s also about their fathers. Carlos Bledsoe, a black kid, grew up in Memphis, where his dad, Melvin, owned a sightseeing-bus firm, the Blues City Tours Company. Andy Long, a white kid from Little Rock, joined the Army at twenty-three; his dad, Daris Long, is a retired Marine who spent much of his life in Afghanistan (and whom Jamie Glazov interviewed in August). After Andy finished basic training, Daris explained to him in a heartfelt letter that “your job is to stand watch” and that “for those who have fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never known.” The letter ended: “You are my son, my hero.” While Andy waited to be shipped off to Korea for his first tour of duty, he was assigned to work at a recruiting station in his native Little Rock.
During the time that Andy had spent training to be a soldier, Carlos had been undergoing a different kind of training. Moving from Memphis to Nashville, he discovered that city’s sizable Muslim community, of which the film provides an overview. At Nashville’s leading mosque, an imam warns his congregation not to be influenced by the “kufur” (infidels); at Vanderbilt University, the Muslim chaplain issues similar warnings about Westernization and the dangers of secular society – and, answering a student’s question, affirms that executing gays is entirely consistent with sharia law, which he supports. Meanwhile the religion editor of the local newspaper, theTennessean, writes articles whitewashing all this mischief.
Long story short: Carlos Bledsoe, raised a Baptist, converted to Islam under the influence of these reprobates, changing his name to Abdulhakim Mohamed. For further jihad study, they sent him to an “institute” in Yemen that has served as a polishing school for al-Qaeda members. Caught with a fake Somali passport and a flash drive containing instructions for bomb-making, he spent four months in a Yemeni jail – after which, astonishingly (or not), he was able to return, apparently without any difficulty, to the U.S., where he began driving around the country in a car full of arms and ammunition seeking out appropriate targets for jihad. On June 2, 2009, he found one – an Army recruiting station in Little Rock, where he shot Andy Long to death.
Both Andy’s and Carlos’s fathers testified before the House Homeland Security Committee, and both had the same message: young Americans are being turned by American Islamic leaders into jihadists. Both fathers urged the panel to recognize that Carlos’s killing of Andy had been a terrorist act, pure and simple. “Our country needs to hear the truth,” Daris Long insisted. But some people didn’t want to hear the truth. With breathtaking condescension, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) dismissed the fathers’ testimony as “interesting” but “unenlightening” because it didn’t come from “experts.” Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonogh urged folks not to “stigmatize” Muslims. With very few exceptions, high-level government officials were agreed: to suggest that the Little Rock killing had been a jihadist act was pure Islamophobia. According to the Department of Justice, it not only wasn’t an act of jihad: it didn’t even qualify as a federal crime. The Army agreed, ruling that Andy wasn’t entitled to a Purple Heart. All this, despite the fact that Carlos, after his conviction, admitted to being a member of al-Qaeda – a jihadist out to kill U.S. soldiers and leaders of Jewish groups.
The Army’s position on the Little Rock case was identical to its stance on the murders at Fort Hood. Evidence be damned: neither of these incidents was a terrorist act. As Lieberman complained, “The Department of Defense is still not prepared to call the enemy what it is.” Nor was Attorney General Eric Holder, who, in testimony before the committee, insisted: “I don’t want to say anything negative about a religion.” Not even, obviously, if those negative things are true – and vital to American security.
This denial isn’t a partisan issue: both the Bush and the Obama administrations have bent over backwards, as the film puts it, “to accommodate Muslim sensibilities.” The official 9/11 commission report included repeated mentions of Islam and jihad, but since then government agencies have efficiently scrubbed these word from their accounts of terrorist acts. Faced with U.S.-based imams who openly support sharia law and “Muslim-rights” groups with known ties to terrorist groups, American authorities don’t acknowledge that these are enemies within but, instead, invite them to help instruct police officers about Islam and to serve as consultants to the Department of Homeland Security.
It’s a simple concept: know your enemy. After 9/11 there should have been a major educational effort to explain to American citizens the motives behind the attacks – to help them, just for starters, to understand jihad and its centrality to Islam. Instead what was set in motion under Bush, and intensified under Obama, was a comprehensive disinformation effort – an attempt to whitewash Islam, and to brand as Islamophobes all those who dare to speak the truth about it. As a result of this cowardice, two American fathers lost their sons – one of them transformed into a jihadist by hooligans who should never have been allowed into the country, and the other gunned down in an act of terrorism that officials high and low, trained in the post-9/11 Newspeak, refuse to call by its real name. In presenting its moving account of these sons and fathers, the film is, of course, also telling the story of America today – and of how our leaders’ Big Lie, perpetrated in the name of a misbegotten sensitivity, not only caused the death of Andy Long, but is, right before our eyes, strangling the very freedoms he signed up to defend.