On Steve Inskeep’s interview with Sebastian Gorka

Steve Inskeep tried mightily again to get an answer to the question, “Does Donald Trump believe Islam is a religion?” when Sebastian Gorka, the deputy assistant to the president, appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition for the second time in a month and got the question again.

In the earlier interview, Gorka told Inskeep he didn’t know President Trump’s opinion on Islam as a religion and so on Wednesday he asked him if he’d found out yet.

“It would be nice if you actually reported things accurately,” Gorka responded. “I didn’t say I would refuse to do anything of the sort. This is not a theological seminary. This is the White House. And we’re not going to get into theological debates. If the president has a certain attitude to a certain religion, that’s something you can ask him. But we’re talking about national security and the totalitarian ideologies that drive the groups that threaten America.”

Inskeep persisted, asking if a war on radical Islam is a war on Islam.

“Well, of course it isn’t,” Gorka replied. “That would be asinine. As I’ve written in my book, this isn’t a war with Islam, this is a war in Islam. As the king of Jordan, King Abdullah, as the president of the most populous Arab nation in the world, President Sisi, has stated, this is a war for the heart of Islam. Which version is going to win, an atavistic, 7th century, blood curdled version such as propagated by al-Qaida and ISIS or whether it’s going to be the one that is our allies’ version, the Jordanian, Egyptian the Emirates?”

Which led into yesterday’s controversy about whether the White House thinks Jews have been committing attacks against their own synagogues and cemeteries and Jewish Community Centers — so called “false flag operations.”

Gorka dismissed the assertion, then lent it credibility.

“But if you deny the fact that we have found individuals red-handed across college campuses and elsewhere manufacturing fake graffiti attacks or threats of attacks have been found out to be simply doing so because they don’t like President Trump and his administration. Both things can exist at the same time, Steve. And that’s the reality,” he said.

Like when?

Gorka didn’t say because Inskeep didn’t ask.

“In this wave of anti-Semitic threats to 90 Jewish Community Centers and Jewish day schools across the country, there is no credible evidence that such a false claim exists,” Vox’s Sarah Wildman writes this afternoon. “Much like with the question of Islam’s place in the theological discourse, Inskeep allowed the idea of a faked threat to stand, normalizing what was once a fringe idea in American society.”

“The fact that Inskeep feels the need to keep asking about Trump’s view of Islam is in and of itself a form of normalizing rhetoric that has only recently come into the mainstream,” she said.

Jesse Singal, writing on New York Magazine’s Science of Us, says there was another “striking moment’ with a key piece of information on fighting terrorism by the new administration.

… but the key moment comes right at the end. “We’re not going to listen to so-called terrorism experts who are linked in any way to the last eight years of disastrous counterterrorism,” says Gorka, seeming to disqualify a huge swath of the CVE (countering violent extremism) establishment and promising that the Trump administration will “take a new approach.” What will that approach look like? “The last eight years of denying what the threat is, saying we need ‘jobs for jihadis,’ it’s about root causes and upstream factors, is wholly fallacious. If it were — if poverty and lack of education were the cause of education — then half of India would be terrorists, but they’re not. So it’s time for a new policy.”

It’s chilling to hear someone in such a position of power describe the vital, lifesaving hunt for root causes of terrorism as “wholly fallacious.” While Gorka is correct — albeit in what feels like a stopped-clock kind of way — that sometimes the links between socioeconomic opportunity and propensity to commit terror acts are overstated, no legitimate CVE expert anywhere thinks environmental factors play no role or that root causes are unimportant. If a country descends into civil war or is invaded, for example, it is inevitably going to turn a bunch of people who might otherwise have lived normal lives into terrorists. India has plenty of problems, but it is not Syria or Iraq, countries which have both dealt with protracted, bloody conflicts, and both of which — surprise — have also generated (and attracted) a lot of terrorists.

In an article today, however, the National Review’s Andrew McCarthy says “the swamp” has put a target on Gorka’s back for naming radical Islam.

There is wide diversity in the observance of Islam, and significant diversity — though less of it — in Islamic doctrine. If that were not the case, there would be no Muslim reformers, since there would be nothing objectionable to reform. I’ve argued that there is enough internecine conflict among Muslims to call into question whether there actually is a “true Islam”; and that it has thus been a waste of precious national-security energy to debate for nearly the last 40 years whether jihadists — who are practicing a scripturally endorsed form of warfare — are “un-Islamic.” From the perspective of Americans concerned about security and liberty, what matters is that (a) a sizable plurality of the world’s 1.5 billion-plus Muslims believes classical sharia — which fundamentally contravenes our Constitution — is the required framework for governing society, and (b) some percentage of that plurality is active in the pursuit of that belief, including a small but not insubstantial subset of violent jihadists. Whether these sharia-supremacist Muslims are faithful or heretical is not something non-Muslims are going to decide for Muslims, nor are Muslims much interested in our meanderings on the subject.