Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Islam “Expert” Axed

Neoconservative hawks recently suffered another loss in the Bush administration when Stephen Coughlin, a controversial government expert on jihad, lost his post...

Neoconservative hawks recently suffered another loss in the Bush administration when Stephen Coughlin, a controversial government expert on jihad, lost his post in the Defense Department. Citing budget cuts, in mid-January the Pentagon announced it had decided not to renew the contract of its "foremost" specialist on Islamic law and Islamic extremism when it ends in March.

Coughlin’s supporters contend he was unjustly fired because his message was too politically hot and far too inconvenient for government bureaucrats eager to make nice with Muslim groups that—so decry right-wing hawks—serve as front organizations for nefarious "Islamofascists." And it appears they are waging a campaign in the conservative press to combat what they believe amounts to a double standard within the warm and fuzzy "politically correct" Washington bureaucracy. While most policy-makers and experts acknowledge that Washington has a serious public diplomacy problem on its hands, especially in regard to Arabs and Muslims, Coughlin’s dismissal and its aftermath reflect the latest salvo by neocons to retain the dubious language of the war on terror.

"If allowed to stand, the effect of Major Coughlin’s dismissal would be a surgical strike on a man who is arguably one of the most knowledgeable opponents of Sharia—not only in the Defense Department, but inside the entire U.S. government," wrote right-wing polemicist Frank Gaffney, who also heads the Center for Security Policy, in the Washington Times. As a casualty in the war of ideas, he sarcastically wrote, Coughlin may perhaps "receive its first Purple Heart."

Gaffney and others continue their efforts to wrest the "battle of ideas" from the jaws of what they presume to be "political correctness," arguing for an aggressive and unapologetic doctrine that dares to confront "radical Islam"—to clarify a choice between two fundamentally inconsistent strategies. Either we protect the nation, or we choose to be politically correct. Either we confront the threat of "radical Islam" head on, or we perform ill-advised outreach to Muslim groups.

Coughlin was presumably the model soldier in the battle of ideas, delivering tough and blunt analysis, and he didn’t mince words. From the laudatory statements of his supporters, it appears he was a powerful bulwark against the Islamofascist threat currently facing the U.S. mainland. And for his service to the cause of battling Islamic extremism, he became a victim of the type of misguided sensitivity that fears to lift the veil from radical Islamist front groups.

Wrote Washington Times editorial columnist Diana West about Coughlin and a brief he wrote: "’Islamist’ and ‘extremism’—like ‘Islam fascism’ and other euphemisms—are words that draw a PC curtain over mainstream Islam. They effectively shield the religion and its tenets from the scrutiny necessary to assess the ideology driving our jihadist enemies. Of course, lifting that PC curtain on Islam and its jihadist tenets is precisely the effect of Stephen Coughlin’s Pentagon brief. It goes against what political correctness tells us; it also goes against what Islamic advocacy groups tell us."

But for all his motivation and zeal, Coughlin may not be the Islam "expert" he and his supporters claim. In fact, he has no academic background in Islamic law or extremism. A reservist in the U.S. Army, Coughlin holds a master’s degree in strategic intelligence from the National Defense Intelligence College, with a focus on global terrorism and Jihadist movements, as well as a law degree from the William Mitchell School of Law.

Said former CIA agent Larry Johnson, who has helped script exercises for the U.S. military forces that conduct counterterrorism missions: "Does [Coughlin] speak Arabic? No. How about Urdu? Nope. He studied Islam where? No clue. But he graduated from an ABA-sanctioned second-tier law school. A good school, but it is not known as a center of Islamic study. Unfortunately, Coughlin’s broad brush approach to Islam is more polemics that scholarship."

As reported by Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, Coughlin’s recent misfortunes transpired after a confrontation with Hasham Islam, a high-level aide to Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who reportedly asked Coughlin to "soften his views on Islam" after the "specialist" emphasized the relationship between Islamic law and Islamist jihad doctrine, a belief that runs contrary to the White House view of Islam as a religion of peace hijacked by extremists.

The Fox News Channel spun the centrifuges of Islamo-hysteria faster, featuring an interview with self-declared terrorism expert Steve Emerson, who alleged that radical Islamists had infiltrated the U.S. government and had gained enough clout to manipulate who gets hired and fired. Emerson called Islam, Gordon’s aide, "an Islamist with a pro-Muslim Brotherhood bent who has brought in groups to the Pentagon who have been indicated as co-conspirators."

Emerson said that Coughlin had analyzed "hundreds of thousands of documents" released during the trial of the Muslim charity Holy Land Foundation in Dallas, Texas. He said that the documents showed that there was a secret Muslim Brotherhood plan to acquire influence in the United States in order to undermine democracy and establish a caliphate.

"Mr. Coughlin wrote a memo spelling out the implications of these documents and the profound nature of what would happen if the U.S. government decided to start doing dialogue and embracing the very organizations that were intent on undermining U.S. national security," said Emerson.

The Holy Land case, which ended with no convictions in late October 2007, was widely viewed as the Bush administration’s flagship terror-financing case. President Bush announced he was freezing the charity’s assets in 2001 because he said the radical Islamist group Hamas had "obtained much of the money it pays for murder abroad right here in the U.S."

Prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to convince jurors that the foundation and five of its backers had supported terrorism by sending more than $12 million to charitable zakatcommittees, social services organizations that build hospitals and feed the poor. Prosecutors claimed that the committees were controlled by Hamas and contributed to terrorism by helping the group spread ideology and recruit supporters.

The most pointed criticism of Coughlin’s approach to analyzing extremist doctrine has come from terrorism experts who believe that by directly linking the Koran to Islamic extremism, Coughlin unwittingly bolsters the message of terrorist groups such as al Qaeda.

After being falsely accused by Coughlin of being sympathetic to the presumably criminal aspirations of the Muslim Brotherhood, Jim Guirard—a longtime chief of staff to U.S. senators Allen Ellender (D-LA) and Russell Long (D-LA) and current antiterrorism strategist—wrote in the blog SmallWarsJournal.com: "The truth of the matter is that while I am trying to undermine bin Ladenism’s self-canonizing language of ‘jihad by mujahedeen and martyrs destined for Paradise as a glorious reward for killing all of us infidels and for destroying the Great Satan,’ it is Mr. Coughlin and others of his persuasion in the Government, the media, the universities and elsewhere who are busy parroting and promoting this perverse [al Qaeda] and Muslim Brotherhood narrative as the true face of Islam—rather than as a satanic deviancy and an apostasy toward that religion."

Khody Akhavi writes for the Inter Press Service.

Citations

Khody Akhavi , "Islam “Expert” Axed," Right Web Analysis (Somerville, MA: Political Research Associates, February 7, 2008).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Update was slow, but still no lag in the editor window, and footnotes are intact.     This has been updated – Bernard Lewis, who passed away in May 2018, was a renowned British-American historian of Islam and the Middle East. A former British intelligence officer, Foreign Office staffer, and Princeton University professor, Lewis was…


Bernard Lewis was a renowned historian of Islam and the Middle East who stirred controversy with his often chauvinistic attitude towards the Muslim world and his associations with high-profile neoconservatives and foreign policy hawks.


John Bolton, the controversial former U.S. ambassador to the UN and dyed-in the-wool foreign policy hawk, is President Trump’s National Security Adviser McMaster, reflecting a sharp move to the hawkish extreme by the administration.


Michael Joyce, who passed away in 2006, was once described by neoconservative guru Irving Kristol as the “godfather of modern philanthropy.”


Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Michael Flynn is a former Trump administration National Security Advisor who was forced to step down only weeks on the job because of his controversial contacts with Russian officials before Trump took office.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Trump is not the problem. Think of him instead as a summons to address the real problem, which in a nation ostensibly of, by, and for the people is the collective responsibility of the people themselves. For Americans to shirk that responsibility further will almost surely pave the way for more Trumps — or someone worse — to come.


The United Nations has once again turn into a battleground between the United States and Iran, which are experiencing one of the darkest moments in their bilateral relations.


In many ways, Donald Trump’s bellicosity, his militarism, his hectoring cant about American exceptionalism and national greatness, his bullying of allies—all of it makes him not an opponent of neoconservatism but its apotheosis. Trump is a logical culmination of the Bush era as consolidated by Obama.


For the past few decades the vast majority of private security companies like Blackwater and DynCorp operating internationally have come from a relatively small number of countries: the United States, Great Britain and other European countries, and Russia. But that seeming monopoly is opening up to new players, like DeWe Group, China Security and Protection Group, and Huaxin Zhongan Group. What they all have in common is that they are from China.


The Trump administration’s massive sales of tanks, helicopters, and fighter aircraft are indeed a grim wonder of the modern world and never receive the attention they truly deserve. However, a potentially deadlier aspect of the U.S. weapons trade receives even less attention than the sale of big-ticket items: the export of firearms, ammunition, and related equipment.


Soon after a Saudi-led coalition strike on a bus killed 40 children on August 9, a CENTCOM spokesperson stated to Vox, “We may never know if the munition [used] was one that the U.S. sold to them.”


The West has dominated the post-war narrative with its doctrine of liberal values, arguing that not only were they right in themselves but that economic success itself depended on their application. Two developments have challenged those claims. The first was the West’s own betrayal of its principles: on too many occasions the self interest of the powerful, and disdain for the victims of collateral damage, has showed through. The second dates from more recently: the growth of Chinese capitalism owes nothing to a democratic system of government, let alone liberal values.


RightWeb
share