November 2001, Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki of the Falls Church Mosque was busy answering questions for Washington Post readers on its website. Al-Awlaki did his part to assure WaPo readers that Islam was a religion of peace. "The greatest sin in Islam after associating other gods besides Allah is killing an innocent soul."
In the months after his Al-Qaeda colleagues murdered thousands, Al-Awlaki managed to do get himself into every media outlet around. At the end of September 2001, he was at National Geographic with the same message. "There is no way that the people who did this could be Muslim, and if they claim to be Muslim, then they have perverted their religion."
The rest of the spiel was the same. Jihad means struggle. Bin Laden is an extremist. America needs to head off radicalization by listening to the concerns of Muslims about its foreign policy. The same lies you can hardly turn on a television anymore without hearing a Muslim spokesman repeat were all neatly packaged here.
In October, Al-Awlaki assured the New York Times that there would no longer be any tolerance for incitement. "There were some statements that were inflammatory, and were considered just talk, but now we realize that talk can be taken seriously and acted upon in a violent radical way."
And the New York Times' Laurie Goodstein nodded along, accepting this nonsense from the man who would become revealed as the chief propagandist of the Jihad in America. And the Washington Post and National Geographic and NPR and PBS and every liberal media outlet that Al-Awlaki stopped at all bought it.
But there was one thing that Al-Awlaki told the truth about. "The best thing our non-Muslim friends could do is to do some reading of the Quran. The Quran is the center of the religion and by reading it one would be able to get the best explanation of what Islam is about."
Those words were lost on a media and on politicians on the left and the right who had decided that Islam meant peace and that was that. Whose positive relationships with schemers like Al-Awlaki blinded them to the truth of the ideology he represented.
Now nearly ten years after Al-Awlaki was touring media outlets, he's dead. At least if you believe the official kill count and not unnamed Yemeni officials. His extremism validated by no less than the man whom the media anointed to put an end to the Bush era. But there are plenty more Al-Awlakis out there.
It doesn't take much to become Al-Awlaki. Unlike Bin Laden he wasn't a billionaire. His Yemeni ties gave him cover at home, but he didn't need them to become a popular Jihadist preacher in the West. There are thousands more Al-Awlakis working in mosques across America, smiling at reporters and explaining that Islam means peace, Jihad means struggle and terrorism would go away if we all just surrendered to it. The tapes they sell, the books they write and the sermons they preach are something else.
There is a peculiar irony that the media chose an Imam who not only was an Al-Qaeda ally, but had contact with some of the hijackers beforehand, to represent the voice of Islamic moderation after the attacks that his associates carried out. That true moderate Islam that they insist is hiding out of sight among all the little mosques on the prairie. But while the sheer wrongheadedness of the media's choice is staggering, it was only a matter of playing the odds.
Scratch the average Imam, peel back all the programmed responses and you end up with someone who is very much like Al-Awlaki. Your average Imam may not have Al-Qaeda ties, he may not even support Bin Laden, but the odds are excellent that he supports someone like him. In Afghanistan or Iran or Egypt or Israel or anywhere else.
The idea that most Muslims denounce terrorism is as fanciful as the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus dancing a tango. Most Muslims view terrorists the way that most Americans view the army, they may oppose some engagements, but they can no more disavow the Jihadist than they can burn a Koran. And what goes for the average Muslim, goes tenfold for the average Imam who emerges out of a religion where the Jihadist has once again become the standard bearer of the faith.
After Al-Awlaki went to the big virgin hut in the sky, at his old Falls Church Mosque, the imam and worshipers prayed for Al-Awlaki's soul and warned that those who killed him “need to equally prepare for that moment” when Allah will judge them. Worshipers interviewed emitted the same whines and complaints that have been emitted by them for ten years. All the moans and whines add up to them being the real victims.
The official mosque statement explained that while he was employed there, he "was known for his interfaith outreach, civic engagement, and tolerance in the Northern Virginia community." And also for his bake sales. Echoing the same Al-Awlaki line, mosque officials condemned the "extra-judicial assassination" without due process and blamed his turn to the dark side on being tortured by Yemeni officials.
Again the same old dirge is playing from the jukeboxes. "We were good people until you made us kill. Until you humiliated us and degraded us, blamed us for killing you, stropped us at airports, shut down our terrorist charities and forced us to live side by side with pig-eaters, dog-washers, homosexuals, Christians and Jews. Look what you made us do now."
Ten years after Al-Awlaki made a mockery of the media, no one in the press has learned anything at all from the experience. The media is too busy debating whether it was legal to kill Al-Awlaki to bother questioning their own premises.
CNN warns that Al-Awlaki's death may spur new attacks against America. Which is true. But that just means killing him has the same effect as letting him live, or putting him on trial or sitting back in our chairs and chewing bubble gum. It doesn't really matter what we do. The terrorists will still keep on trying to kill us.
We're not at war with Islam because there is something wrong with us, but because there's something wrong with them. It's the same something that's been wrong with them long before the Stars and Stripes was waving in the breeze. Centuries after most major religions decided that mass murder wasn't a good way to make friends and influence people-- the Sheikhs and Imams and Mullahs still haven't gotten the message.
The English Mountaineer, George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest and his famous reply was, "Because it's there." That's about the same reason that Muslims want to kill us. Because we're there. Or rather we're here.
Mallory died in the attempt and there is something noble to us about his effort to conquer a great mountain. That is how the Muslim world sees us. We're their Everest. But where Mallory wanted to take a look around and then climb back down, they want to tear down the mountain and plant a green flag on what's left of it.
It's easy enough to deny all this. The conventional wisdom says over and over again that the idea is absurd. Most Muslims just want a house, two cars and a place to raise their children in peace. But if that's so then why is there so damn little peace in the Muslim world. And even more damningly, why is there so little peace in the formerly peaceful places that they move to.
And where do all those peaceful people come from? The ones who ram planes into skyscrapers and plot to blow up synagogues. They come out of mosques where they listen to their Imams and then begin studying maps of bridges, tunnels and buildings. Of course this has nothing to do with Islam, the way that smoke has nothing to do with fire. And if it walks like a duck, it's bound to be anything but a member of that species. But just to be on the safe side, we should start appeasing them anyway.
Whether Anwar Al-Awlaki is dead or lives on makes only so much difference. Any Imam who can rattle off the Koranic verses on Jihad and tie it together with a New York Times article on how evil America is can be the next Al-Awlaki. And most of them can. One Imam bites the dust, but in the mega-mosques of cities and towns, the voices of his successors rise and fall. "Allah Akbar. Follow in the way of the Prophet. Death to the unbelievers. Paradise waits for the martyrs who walk in the way of Jihad."