Recent remarks by Attorney General Eric Holder on the threat posed by "radicalized" American Muslims are revealing—not just because of what they say regarding the domestic situation, but for their international implications as well. According to Holder:
"[T]he threat is real, the threat is different, the threat is constant. The threat has changed … to worrying about people in the United States, American citizens—raised here, born here, and who for whatever reason, have decided that they are going to become radicalized and take up arms against the nation in which they were born. It is one of the things that keeps me up at night. You didn't worry about this even two years ago—about individuals, about Americans, to the extent that we now do." Holder noted that while he was confident in the United States' counter-terrorism efforts, Americans "have to be prepared for potentially bad news…. The terrorists only have to be successful once."
Holder's assertion that "the terrorists only have to be successful once" has important implications: aside from the obvious—that it only takes one strike to create devastation on U.S. soil—it is also a reminder that when people argue that most American Muslims are moderate, and only a few are radical, it does not help our security. It took nineteen to commit 9/11; and we have already seen that some American Muslims are radical. According to Holder, in the last two years, 50 of the 126 people charged with terrorism were U.S. citizens.
Conversely, Holder's point that "You didn't worry about this even two years ago—about individuals, about Americans, to the extent that we now do," is odd. Why should Americans not have been a worry two years ago? Anyone even moderately familiar with Islamist ideology knows that it allows for absolutely no national allegiance. The notion that some American Muslims could become radicalized should have been a concern since 9/11—nearly a decade ago, not two years ago. It should have been a concern when it became obvious that American Muslims—like John Walker Lindh, Gregory Patterson, Levar Washington, Kevin James, Christopher Paul and Jose Padilla—were turning to violent jihad.
More significantly, the fact that Americans are being radicalized not only bodes ill for U.S. security; it also suggests that American efforts in the Muslim world are doomed to failure. Consider: if American Muslims, who enjoy Western benefits—including democracy, liberty, prosperity, and freedom of expression—are still being radicalized, why then do we insist that importing these same benefits to the Muslim world will eliminate its even more ingrained form of "radicalization"?
After all, the mainstream position, the only one evoked by politicians, both Democrat and Republican, is that all the sacrifices America makes in the Muslim world (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.), will pay off once Muslims discover how wonderful Western ways are, and happily slough off their Islamist veneer, which, as the theory goes, is a product of—you guessed it—a lack of democracy, liberty, prosperity, and freedom of expression. Yet here are American Muslims, immersed in the bounties of the West—and still do they turn to violent jihad.
In short, America needs to rethink its strategy for the war on terrorism—both at home and abroad. Domestically, this means cracking down without compunction on anything that smacks of Islamist activity, without fear of being "politically incorrect;" it means better monitoring of jihadist websites which play a major role in radicalizing American Muslims, such as Inspire (which was started by a North Carolina Muslim); and it means exercising prudence when granting visas to people from dubious backgrounds. Internationally, it means understanding that the one solution to war promoted by most Western politicians—spreading Western values and ways of governance—is no solution at all.
Raymond Ibrahim is associate director of the Middle East Forum, author of The Al Qaeda Reader, and guest lecturer at the National Defense Intelligence College.