Since Donald Trump’s election, the media has launched a full blown war against the new administration. Although the media war against the Trump team has been successful to a certain extent, notably in ousting Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor, so far they have not been as effective against others such as Steven Bannon and the most recent smear campaign’s target, Dr. Sebastian Gorka.
Gorka, the new Deputy Assistant to the President and counterterrorism expert, has recently come under heavy attack by the media and some “experts” whose incoherent strategies and recommendations have led to the current terrorism crisis. A number of unfair articles published by outlets such as The Washington Post, Just Security, and The New York Times have painted Gorka’s counterterrorism views as promoting a war between Islam and the West and have made accusations of Islamophobia. Such attacks are a mischaracterisation of Gorka’s work, and the Islamophobia charge is unfounded. Gorka’s presence in the Trump White House can be the key to a realistic counterterrorism strategy that acknowledges and addresses the spread of radical Islamic ideology while avoiding detrimental politicization.
One charge that is brought up against Gorka is that he frames Muslims as the enemy in the fight against terrorism and that he views the West at war with Islam. Critics argue that Gorka’s emphasis on radical Islamic ideology as terrorism’s primary driving factor is flawed since there are underlying causes such as poverty, oppression, and lack of education that cause radicalization.
However, Gorka’s broader argument, as it is visible in his writings, points to a conflict that is rooted in a particular ideology that advocates for the implementation of a particularly strict and extreme version of Islam not only in ones private life, but in all aspects of human life, including politics. Gorka focuses on the broader issue behind Islamic terrorism: the struggle between Muslim reformists on one hand who believe in a reformation of Islam in which it acknowledges equal rights for women and religious minorities and is compatible with secularism and democracy, and on the other, Islamists who believe Sharia law must be the supreme law of the land and the ruler’s legitimacy does not come from the consent of the people, but rather from the implementation of Sharia law.
That view, however, does not suggest the existence of a war between Islam and the West. In fact, Gorka has repeatedly specified that countering jihadi ideology is not an ideological war between the West and Islam. Rather it is a war within Islam itself that requires empowering our Muslim allies and Muslim reformists as the forefront fighters. Gorka’s emphasis on the ideological factor is in line with many studies that accentuate the need for Muslim leaders and scholars to lead the fight against radical Islam by advocating for a reformist ideology. Renowned Muslim scholars such as Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari and the most respected authority in the Islamic world, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, make the same argument as Gorka that radical Islam is not a new phenomenon that can be blamed on poverty, marginalization, and oppression, for it had existed in the Islamic world for centuries. These extremists would have never dared to commit those atrocities had they not found justifications that date back to the first century of Islam. Thus the extremists must be challenged on an ideological battle that starts with a change of teachings in mosques and schools under the lead of Muslim scholars and leaders, as part of a comprehensive strategy that effectively counters the jihai propaganda by delegitimizing their ideology.
Gorka’s writings point to the lack of understanding of the nature of the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism and the politicization of intelligence and strategy as the cause of a counterterrorism strategy that has not only been ineffective in eliminating the threat but also allowed for the global expansion of jihadi movements. Although critics attack Gorka’s recommendations and objections to Washington’s counterterrorism strategy, the failure of our strategy during the past few decades is well recorded. During the years of Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, our failures ranged from underestimating the growing threat of terrorism and lack of strategy altogether to flawed calculations and engaging in the wrong battles that were counter effective — a history of either failing to act or taking the wrong action.
Gorka has criticized President Obama’s strategy, which refused to articulate and challenge jihadi ideology and instead focused on addressing the assumed underlying causes through the Middle East’s democratization, the provision of humanitarian aid, education, and the improvement of economic conditions. Bashing Gorka for dismissing the strategy that focuses on those “underlying causes” would have been appropriate if Obama’s strategy has been effective, but such strategies have failed to produce satisfactory results. Numerous studies join Gorka to dismiss the myth that poverty, lack of education, or political condition are the root causes of radical Islamic terrorism. In line with Gorka’s approach, many studies suggest that an effective counterterrorism strategy must actively counter the jihadi ideology that has been spreading throughout the world since terrorism will not end until its ideology loses traction.
“Islamophobia” is another unfounded accusation that the media has used in its smear campaign against Gorka. The unwarranted use of terms such as “Islamophobia” to label experts such as Gorka is certainly not a new thing, in fact, it is a major reason that we have shied away from confronting the Islamic extremist ideology. Regressive liberals in the West have used the term Islamophobia to shut down any criticism of Islam or even Islamism – such attacks have even targeted practicing Muslims. Muslim reformists are brutally silenced in the Middle East, but the greater shame is that even in the West they are stigmatized by politically correct apologists and ignored by the government. Islamophobia is an irrational fear of Islam and based on Gorka’s strategy recommendations to support Muslims in the fight for the heart and soul of Islam, and counter the terrorists’ ideology based propaganda; there is no evidence that he has a fear of Islam, let alone an irrational fear.
Sixteen years after the collapse of the Twin Towers, and after enduring military campaigns that have claimed thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, global terrorism is still thriving. The presence of Sebastian Gorka in the White House can lead a much-needed shift in America’s flawed counterterrorism strategy. The media will seize every opportunity to pair up with experts who ignored Al-Qaeda pre 9/11 all the way to those whose miscalculations allowed for the establishment of ISIS’ caliphate of terror, to undermine Sebastian Gorka and the Trump administration as a whole. What is certain is the need for a significant change of strategy that can effectively target radical Islamic ideology as its primary goal, and with Gorka in the White House, the Trump administration is finally set to craft such a strategy.
Amir Kamrani was born in Iran and immigrated to the United States in 2011. He conducts research on Middle Eastern politics, counterterrorism, U.S. National Security, and Islamist movements. In addition to English, Mr. Kamrani is fluent in Farsi (Persian), Arabic, and Turkish.