Gingrich and Romney on Jihad

The two frontrunners in the battle for the GOP nomination take different approaches to countering worldwide jihad.

Newt Gingrich is a savvy intellectual whose expertise in American history and politics is remarkable, and whose skills in academic debates are well-recognized.  But the speaker's narrative on the jihadi threat is a classical one, certainly ahead of the current White House and of the previous one as well.  Gingrich uses "radical Islam" and Islam-related terms unashamedly.  He continues the literature of Bush's speechwriters, who produced great lines on the War on Terror but failed to touch reality -- thus crumbled the good intentions of the past president.

Governor Romney doesn't spend his speeches on Byzantine quarrels over theological verses or the sex of the angels.  Scholars in theology can afford that intellectual pleasure, not a contender for the presidency of the United States.  Real experts in Islamic theology would prefer policymakers to focus on the geopolitics of the confrontation and leave verses and chapters to them.

Speaker Gingrich has been well-educated by his own readings and advisers on the jihadi issue.  He often shows that he grasps the theological underpinning of the question.  Governor Romney is as educated by his own readings and experts about the same matter.  With one difference.  He and his team work on effective counter-strategies to the jihadists, not just ruminating about dar el Harb and dar el Islam all day long.  Romney's war of ideas is to analyze the map of the jihadists and identify the appropriate strategies and moves.

Hence, when he states that jihadism does not coincide with Islam, he is more accurate than what the literalists have understood.  Jihadism is an ideology born after Islam and has developed more literature than the initial theological texts.  It is articulated by militant forces on the ground with gigantic financial and military resources.  Understanding the five tenets of Islam is what one does in middle school, but analyzing and responding to the jihadist strategies is a task at a university level.

If Governor Romney doesn't spend his speeches on theoretical and theological concepts -- which have been addressed for decades, if not for centuries -- good for him.  A presidential candidate should be in the business of showing the public where the actual threat is, how to confront it, and how to defeat it strategically, not to recite obvious historical information about Mecca and Medina suras.

Newt Gingrich is a great debater and a good candidate to confront Barack Obama intellectually on many issues, including on national security, but he is not more advanced in understanding jihadism than is Mitt Romney.  The former governor of Massachusetts is the first candidate who actually understood that the threat is greater and more complex than a mere theological debate -- that jihadism, while it emanates from the classical Islamist doctrines, is a living, mutating, and intelligent movement that operates through real forces in international relations, energy, military, propaganda, and civil societies.  A president of the United States must understand the roots of a problem, but he also has to focus on solving the problem.

To some literalists, Islam as a whole is the issue, not the forces advancing on the ground and claiming to be its soldiers.  By comparison, it would be as if one argued, post-1945, that unless all Marxists denounced Das Kapital by Karl Marx or Dialectical Materialism by Engels, the Cold War couldn't be won.  Well, that wasn't the case.  Because it took the United States and the West real efforts in the world of geopolitics, while the Catholic Church sustained resistance against the Communists, and dissident forces suffered immense sacrifices under Soviet oppression, to bring the Red Empire down.  The Cold War wasn't won when every Marxist renounced Materialism; it was won when the peoples of Eastern and Central Europe, and the peoples of the Soviet Union, actually rose against Communist oppression.  And when the Soviet Union collapsed, and the ranks of the Communist Parties shrank, Marxism continued to be available in books, but history changed its course, and freedom, and NATO alongside, advanced eastward.

It is true that the theological concept of jihad is exported from and embedded in Islamic theological texts; no one argues otherwise.  It is also true that these texts, as they are written, command believers to religious duties.  But between the texts and geopolitical realities there are huge webs of interests, forces, and leaders who are advancing strategic goals in the realm of political and militant realities.  Beyond the theological texts, which one can challenge eternally or try to reform, political ideologies were created and are functioning.  Political ideologies, even though they claim legitimacy from texts, are something different -- let's call it additional, compared to the original texts.  If one compares the theological references to jihad and the titanic body of ideological production about jihadism, it is almost a thousand to one for ideology versus theology.  Theology pales in front of the larger, more sophisticated and lethal creature that is ideology.

And among the most dangerous components of the Islamist and jihadist ideologies are the strategies of the movements and regimes.  It is one thing is to spend your day battling theological verses, and something else is to work hard on countering and destroying an aggressive strategy.  The literalists believe that by simply stating that a verse of a religion is "wrong," something is accomplished.  This is extremely naive, as peoples have been there and embraced it for centuries.  Christians, Jews and Hindus, as well as non-Orthodox or reformer Muslims, have spent thirteen centuries discussing Islam.  It didn't bring down the authoritarian caliphate and free its peoples.  It took the combined efforts of the West and Arab Muslim insurgents to end the Ottoman Sultanate.  Middle-East Christians and Jews as well as Muslim minorities knows the texts very well and did centuries before modern-day commentators, particularly post-9/11 writers, uttered their eureka about all things Islamic.

Gingrich and Romney are both better than Obama, whose administration is killing any education about the threat to America and the free world.  But the difference between the leading contenders has to be clarified, even though it may be minor compared to Obama's apology for both Islamism and jihadism.  Gingrich is fighting against books, and that is necessary but not sufficient.  Romney is fighting against strategies, and that's where the current battle is.  In ten years, maybe those commentators fascinated still by what they've learned from previous generations of historians will realize that in the end, Americans should defeat strategies to win, while debating books could spill into eternity.

Attorney John Hajjar is a member of the American Middle East Committee, a coordination body among Americans of Middle-East Christian descent.  He has appeared on media in the U.S. and in the Middle East.

The two frontrunners in the battle for the GOP nomination take different approaches to countering worldwide jihad.

Newt Gingrich is a savvy intellectual whose expertise in American history and politics is remarkable, and whose skills in academic debates are well-recognized.  But the speaker's narrative on the jihadi threat is a classical one, certainly ahead of the current White House and of the previous one as well.  Gingrich uses "radical Islam" and Islam-related terms unashamedly.  He continues the literature of Bush's speechwriters, who produced great lines on the War on Terror but failed to touch reality -- thus crumbled the good intentions of the past president.

Governor Romney doesn't spend his speeches on Byzantine quarrels over theological verses or the sex of the angels.  Scholars in theology can afford that intellectual pleasure, not a contender for the presidency of the United States.  Real experts in Islamic theology would prefer policymakers to focus on the geopolitics of the confrontation and leave verses and chapters to them.

Speaker Gingrich has been well-educated by his own readings and advisers on the jihadi issue.  He often shows that he grasps the theological underpinning of the question.  Governor Romney is as educated by his own readings and experts about the same matter.  With one difference.  He and his team work on effective counter-strategies to the jihadists, not just ruminating about dar el Harb and dar el Islam all day long.  Romney's war of ideas is to analyze the map of the jihadists and identify the appropriate strategies and moves.

Hence, when he states that jihadism does not coincide with Islam, he is more accurate than what the literalists have understood.  Jihadism is an ideology born after Islam and has developed more literature than the initial theological texts.  It is articulated by militant forces on the ground with gigantic financial and military resources.  Understanding the five tenets of Islam is what one does in middle school, but analyzing and responding to the jihadist strategies is a task at a university level.

If Governor Romney doesn't spend his speeches on theoretical and theological concepts -- which have been addressed for decades, if not for centuries -- good for him.  A presidential candidate should be in the business of showing the public where the actual threat is, how to confront it, and how to defeat it strategically, not to recite obvious historical information about Mecca and Medina suras.

Newt Gingrich is a great debater and a good candidate to confront Barack Obama intellectually on many issues, including on national security, but he is not more advanced in understanding jihadism than is Mitt Romney.  The former governor of Massachusetts is the first candidate who actually understood that the threat is greater and more complex than a mere theological debate -- that jihadism, while it emanates from the classical Islamist doctrines, is a living, mutating, and intelligent movement that operates through real forces in international relations, energy, military, propaganda, and civil societies.  A president of the United States must understand the roots of a problem, but he also has to focus on solving the problem.

To some literalists, Islam as a whole is the issue, not the forces advancing on the ground and claiming to be its soldiers.  By comparison, it would be as if one argued, post-1945, that unless all Marxists denounced Das Kapital by Karl Marx or Dialectical Materialism by Engels, the Cold War couldn't be won.  Well, that wasn't the case.  Because it took the United States and the West real efforts in the world of geopolitics, while the Catholic Church sustained resistance against the Communists, and dissident forces suffered immense sacrifices under Soviet oppression, to bring the Red Empire down.  The Cold War wasn't won when every Marxist renounced Materialism; it was won when the peoples of Eastern and Central Europe, and the peoples of the Soviet Union, actually rose against Communist oppression.  And when the Soviet Union collapsed, and the ranks of the Communist Parties shrank, Marxism continued to be available in books, but history changed its course, and freedom, and NATO alongside, advanced eastward.

It is true that the theological concept of jihad is exported from and embedded in Islamic theological texts; no one argues otherwise.  It is also true that these texts, as they are written, command believers to religious duties.  But between the texts and geopolitical realities there are huge webs of interests, forces, and leaders who are advancing strategic goals in the realm of political and militant realities.  Beyond the theological texts, which one can challenge eternally or try to reform, political ideologies were created and are functioning.  Political ideologies, even though they claim legitimacy from texts, are something different -- let's call it additional, compared to the original texts.  If one compares the theological references to jihad and the titanic body of ideological production about jihadism, it is almost a thousand to one for ideology versus theology.  Theology pales in front of the larger, more sophisticated and lethal creature that is ideology.

And among the most dangerous components of the Islamist and jihadist ideologies are the strategies of the movements and regimes.  It is one thing is to spend your day battling theological verses, and something else is to work hard on countering and destroying an aggressive strategy.  The literalists believe that by simply stating that a verse of a religion is "wrong," something is accomplished.  This is extremely naive, as peoples have been there and embraced it for centuries.  Christians, Jews and Hindus, as well as non-Orthodox or reformer Muslims, have spent thirteen centuries discussing Islam.  It didn't bring down the authoritarian caliphate and free its peoples.  It took the combined efforts of the West and Arab Muslim insurgents to end the Ottoman Sultanate.  Middle-East Christians and Jews as well as Muslim minorities knows the texts very well and did centuries before modern-day commentators, particularly post-9/11 writers, uttered their eureka about all things Islamic.

Gingrich and Romney are both better than Obama, whose administration is killing any education about the threat to America and the free world.  But the difference between the leading contenders has to be clarified, even though it may be minor compared to Obama's apology for both Islamism and jihadism.  Gingrich is fighting against books, and that is necessary but not sufficient.  Romney is fighting against strategies, and that's where the current battle is.  In ten years, maybe those commentators fascinated still by what they've learned from previous generations of historians will realize that in the end, Americans should defeat strategies to win, while debating books could spill into eternity.

Attorney John Hajjar is a member of the American Middle East Committee, a coordination body among Americans of Middle-East Christian descent.  He has appeared on media in the U.S. and in the Middle East.

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