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."