"The Kafir's Blood Is Halal For You, So Shed it." That's just one of the catchier headlines in a recent issue of Rumiyah, a slick online magazine published by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL.
A "kafir," of course, is a non-Muslim. "Halal" means religiously permissible. As for Rumiyah, that's Arabic for Rome, one of the Christian capitals that the leaders of the Islamic state hope to conquer. (The other great Christian capital, Constantinople, fell to soldiers of the caliphate in 1453. It's now called Istanbul.)
Was Khalid Masood — the convert to Islam who last week staged a terrorist attack at London's Houses of Parliament, seat and symbol of British democracy — a reader of Rumiyah? If so, he might have been inspired by an article late last year urging people like him to do precisely what he did: drive a vehicle into a crowd of non-Muslims, "smashing their bodies with the vehicle's strong outer frame while advancing forward — crushing their heads, torsos, and limbs under the vehicle's wheels and chassis." Mr. Masood then exited the vehicle and stabbed a police officer — a tactic used frequently against Israelis in recent years.
The Western response to such atrocities has become ritualistic. The police say they are investigating and are uncertain about the perpetrator's motive. Foreign heads of state condemn the attack, offer condolences and pledge solidarity. Leaders of the nation attacked defiantly announce that life will go on and no one will be intimidated.
Next, comes the debate over whether Islam should be implicated or vindicated. In this instance, a conservative MP, Michael Tomlinson, asked Prime Minister Theresa May whether she agreed that the term "Islamic terror" was inappropriate.
"I absolutely agree, and it is wrong to describe this as 'Islamic terrorism,' " she replied. "It is 'Islamist terrorism.' "
Clever of her. She did not dismiss the attack as "violent extremism." She did not suggest that the attacker might just as easily have been a Rastafarian, Zoroastrian or Buddhist. She tacitly recognized that ideologies based on Islamic scripture drive such terrorist attacks while avoiding the implication that most Muslims approve of such ideologies.
This nuanced explanation should have become the norm long ago. Instead, many on the left insist that Islam is simply and only a "religion of peace." Muslims who contradict that are "perverting" Islam. Non-Muslims who contradict that are Islamophobes.
Meanwhile, many on the right believe it is only the Islamists who are practicing "true" Islam. They implicitly concur with the Islamists that 21st century Sufis, Ismailis and Ahmadis are heretics, as are Jordan's King Abdullah II and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el Sisi (both have gone to war against Islamists) and the millions of Kurds who reject Islamism because they recognize the existential threat it poses to their proud nation.
Islamism is not a complicated ideology. Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, wrote: "It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet." Among the mottos of the Muslim Brotherhood: "Jihad is our way; death for the sake of Allah is our wish."
Some Islamists believe the path to power can be cleared only with the sword. We may call them jihadists. Some Islamists see other routes, for example through the ballot box or demographic change. Some Islamists even claim to eschew violence. But to infer from that they embrace non-violence as a principle would be a mistake.
All Islamists, even those who are clean-shaven and wear neckties, are committed to the supremacy of their religion and their community, the umma, the "nation of Islam," over all other religions, communities and nations.
No one would argue that when we condemn "white supremacism" we risk offending all people of pallor. So why is it "politically incorrect" to speak candidly — and condemn unequivocally — Islamic supremacism?
Another fact often avoided: Islamists can be Shia as well as Sunni. The earliest Islamist attacks against Americans (the Barbary pirates notwithstanding) were carried out in 1983 in Beirut, first against the U.S. Embassy, then against the barracks of the U.S. Marines who were there to serve as peacekeepers. Most analysts agree that Hezbollah, a Shia organization funded and instructed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, was responsible.
Neither Hezbollah nor Iran's rulers have become more moderate over the decades since. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sees himself as leading a global jihadi revolution against the United States and the liberal world order. The significance of this appears to have eluded many policymakers.
How, for example, did President Obama not understand that the deal he cut with Iran's rulers will establish them as a legitimate members of the nuclear weapons club within less than a generation — even if "Death to America!" remains their goal and rallying cry? And does President Trump grasp that if the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq further empowers Tehran, the American victory will be Pyrrhic?
Sunni and Shia Islamists are rivals — not enemies. Neither would take issue with the unnamed author of the Rumiyah article noted above who asserts that "striking terror into the hearts of all disbelievers is a Muslim's duty."
Whether that view is based on true Islam or a perversion of Islam really doesn't matter. Either way, it's an expression of the most dynamic and lethal ideologies now spreading around the world. We need to more seriously study these ideologies. We need to more candidly discuss what Islamists intend to do to those who refuse to embrace or appease them. Only then can we hope to formulate a coherent and effective strategy to defend ourselves.