It’s Time for America to Take Islamic Extremism Seriously
In January President Obama dismissed the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the group currently terrorizing much of the Middle East, as “jayvee.” “If a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” he said when asked about the fact that such al-Qaeda offshoots were flying their flag in Iraq.
Well, since then that jayvee team of jihadists has taken over large swaths of Syrian and Iraqi territory, beheading and crucifying people along the way. ISIS and other al-Qaeda affiliates have shown time and again that they mean exactly what they say.
On July 18th, ISIS warned Iraq’s religious minorities that they were to convert to Islam, pay a tax for their religion, or die. Over the past week they have driven out 130,000 people from the Yazidi city of Sinjar. 40,000 civilians now remain trapped in the mountains, dying of dehydration and facing slaughter below, where ISIS continues to kidnap women and children and execute civilians by the hundreds.
This is not the first time that ISIS has carried out this threat. One graphic video shows ISIS beheading a man in Syria after forcing him to convert. Nor is ISIS the only terrorist group following through on its rhetoric.
On March 28, Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau stated that “in Islam it is allowed to take infidel women as slaves and in due course we will start taking women away and sell in the market.” On April 14, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 female students. Similarly, in a July 2013 video, a visibly crazed Shekau promised that schools would be burned and teachers killed. Three months later, Boko Haram killed more than 40 students at an agricultural college, and, another three months after that, burned down a school in Nigeria’s northern Yobe state, leaving 29 boys dead.
Somalia-based al-Shabaab has similarly kept its word. On April 20, the terror group warned Kenya, “We are going to blow you up, we will destroy you all.” In July the group claimed responsibility for killing dozens in multiple terror attacks.
These are just a few examples of the violent extremism that is running rampant throughout the Middle East and Africa and the people of the region are increasingly worried. 92% of the Lebanese public is concerned about Islamic extremism, up 11 points from a year ago, and Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey have all seen similar spikes in their levels of concern. In contrast, the percentage of Americans who consider international terrorism to be a critical threat has decreased from 81% to 77% over the past year, and only 57% view Islamic fundamentalism as a critical threat.
Given the geographic distance separating the United States from these groups, perhaps it is not surprising that the level of concern is lower in the U.S. than in many of the nations cited above. What is surprising, however, is the public’s indifference to these and other such atrocities and groups. It is true that the U.S. cannot and should not intervene every time that there is a crisis or that a terror group launches attacks, as Obama stated while announcing limited airstrikes on ISIS and humanitarian assistance to the Yazidis a few days ago. But it is also true that these groups have proved that they do not mince words.
When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader and self-proclaimed Caliph of ISIS, was released from a U.S. detention facility in 2009 – yes, the U.S. let him go – he said, “I’ll see you guys in New York.” At the time, it was dismissed as a joke. Perhaps we should listen.