The Pentagon's Muslim tug-of-war

Bill Gertz’s column is chock full of good news today. The Chinese are selling the Venezuelans a new trainer jet. Our troops in Iraq report that Democrat anti-war statements have had serious impacts on morale. And there’s a tussle inside the Pentagon over whether it’s right and proper to assess the role of Islamic doctrine in the war. You’d think this issue would have been settled in the affirmative, oh, on 9-12-01. You’d be wrong.

Pro-Muslim officials at the Pentagon are putting political pressure on one of the U.S. military’s most important specialists on Islamist extremism, according to defense officials.

Stephen Coughlin, a specialist on Islamic law on the Joint Staff, met recently with Hasham Islam, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England’s close aide. The officials said Mr. Islam, a Muslim who is leading efforts for the Defense Department’s outreach to Muslim groups, sought to convince Mr. Coughlin to take a softer line on Islam and Islamic law elements that promote extremism.

There is also evidence that a whispering campaign is under way to try and discredit Mr. Coughlin as a “Christian extremist with a pen” and force him out of the building, according to the officials.

Mr. Coughlin came under fire from pro-Muslim officials after a memorandum he wrote identified several groups that are being courted by Mr. Islam’s community outreach program as front organizations for the pro-extremist Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr. Coughlin based the memorandum on documents released as evidence in a federal terrorism trial that he stated “are beginning to define the structure and outline of domestic jihad threat entities, associated nongovernmental organizations and potential terrorist or insurgent support systems.”

Mr. Coughlin noted that the documents identified one of the Muslim Brotherhood front groups as the Islamic Society of North America, whose leaders were hosted by Mr. England in April at the Pentagon, raising concerns that the deputy defense secretary does not understand clearly the nature of the Islamist threat he is working against as the No. 2 official.

Mr. England has been a leading advocate of what critics in the Pentagon say is a misguided attempt to reach out to the wrong Muslims, regardless of their views, in an effort to counter Muslim extremism.

The trial referred to is the messy Holy Land Foundation trial in Dallas, in which the ISNA was also accused of supporting terrorism. That trial ended with a hung jury and is likely to be retried. The Pentagon isn’t the only government entity that has linked up with ISNA: The Department of Justice has a similar problem.

In an otherwise important article published by Newsweek this past Wednesday (An Unwelcome Guest), reporters Mike Isikoff and Mark Hosenball detailed a Department of Justice outreach event, cancelled at the last minute because of one of the invitees was a high ranking official with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) – a potentially embarrassing fact since ISNA was recently named as an un-indicted co-conspirator in the current trial against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) in Dallas.

The fact that our agencies are so inept that they keep finding themselves linked to groups like the ISNA, and the fact that there seem to be apologists for those groups who also advocate taking a soft line on extremism within the agencies while purging those who advocate knowing more about these groups, all point to a dark fact: We’re screwed. If we can’t even take the most cursory look at Islamic doctrine or what Islamic groups that operate here in the US do with the millions of dollars they raise here every year, we can’t understand who is and isn’t an enemy and we therefore can’t win the war.