September’s attack on the Westgate shopping center in Nairobi announced loud and clear that virulent Islamism is now at a mall near you.
Counterterrorism experts’ worst fears came true when the ultimate symbol of secular western consumption -- a glossy, multicultural, family-centered shopping center -- became the latest target for Islamist jihadism.
Welcome to the new jihad.
Smartphone videos captured an interrogation of victims not seen since Hitler’s Third Reich as Islamists halted shoppers demanding proof of authenticity as Muslims. Failure meant execution. No exceptions.
Our complacency, our failure to recognize that the Islamist threat is everywhere is beyond dangerous.
The new jihad is more violent, more intrusive and more immediate than anything we’ve witnessed in the post 9/11 era.
Today’s battlefields are not in Mosul or Malakand, Helmand or the Hindukush but instead at the mall on Main Street near you.
With their actions, Westgate jihadists violated the most profound tenets of Islam. As an observant Muslim woman, let me clarify: no act is singularly more unIslamic than the destruction of human life. No assault is more offensive to Islam (which enshrines free will) than compulsory belief. No law of war in Islam is more violated than the targeting of unarmed men, women, and children.
Islamists are precisely those about whom the Koran warned Muslims, the ‘Munafiqun’ (“the hypocrites).” No enemy imperils Muslims more than the Munafiqun and only we as Muslims can expose them as such. They claim to represent us as they destroy us.
We face a fearsome enemy. Political Islamism is more dangerous than even Nazi supremacism– an ideology which defines the world’s lowest point in human history. Though both ideologies are deadly in their supremacist views, Islamism, because of its false but very potent religious fervor, is singularly more threatening.
Like many Muslims, I wonder: can Islam survive the Islamists?
Twelve years after 9/11, political Islamists continue to broaden their reach. They are bolder, globally more widely entrenched and ever more innovative in their acts.
Daily, they advance the defilement of Islam in the eyes of all humanity.
Yet in spite of their advances, in the West, we continue to deny the truth.
We insist on calling the acts of radical Islamists “terrorism,” the perpetrators of Westgate as “militants.”
By labeling the acts of radical Islamists as mere “terrorism” we imply that there is an Achilles heel to expose -- a political demand or a territorial gain with which they might barter, with which we might naively appease.
The reality is completely different. Their goals are nihilistic and non-negotiable: they want the total elimination of all who are not with them. Nairobi was possibly the most explicit demonstration of such.
Our complacency, our failure to recognize that the Islamist threat is everywhere is beyond dangerous, yet our refusal to acknowledge the threat it evident everywhere.
In the United Kingdom, a reluctance to identify the calculated decapitation of a British soldier one afternoon in Woolich (an area in South London) as the act of a radical Islamist jihadist is just one recent example.
In the United States, the Boston Bombers triggered an avalanche of news reports speculating about their motives, when the Islamist narrative -- restoring Islam to a fictional glory through violence -- was barely acknowledged as the central motivation.
Worse, in the ultimate cultural perversion, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving bomber was aggrandized on the cover of Rolling Stone, transforming him into the soft-focus poster child for Western jihadists now flocking to new battlegrounds in Mali and Syria.
We cannot be cowed by charges of Islamophobia. We must begin the difficult work of delineating the truth. Rather than shying away, non-Muslims must acknowledge that Islamist violence emerges from a deeply religionized ideology of a corrupted Islam. And Muslims must acknowledge we have a powerful, unique contribution to make in this discourse. Only pluralist Muslims committed to the anti-Islamist stance can call out the atrocities we’ve witnessed.
From Westgate to Woolwich, we must expose these acts for what they really represent: nothing less than the new jihad, the mark of the Munafiqun. If we, as anti- Islamist Muslims, don’t expose them, no one else can, and the new jihad will only continue to make gains.
Qanta Ahmed, author of In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom, is a Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion. Follow her on Twitter @MissDiagnosis.