Fox News ran a story on December 16, 2008 about Guantanamo Bay that featured an interview with Army Brig. Gen. Gregory Zanetti, the deputy commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo since February 2008. Gen. Zanetti, a West Point graduate who holds advanced degrees from Boston University and a master's degree in strategic studies from the Army War College, is a professional money management expert in civilian life. So, while it is understandable that many things about this National Guard general's first overseas deployment might have been new and different to him, the ideology of the prison's high profile Muslim inmates should not have been one of them. And yet, for this highly educated, superb professional soldier, the reality that al Qaeda's top commanders are in fact devout Muslims seems to have left him completely perplexed. That this level of our national leadership in the War Against Islamic Jihad does not yet grasp the fundamental nature of the enemy threat deployed against us is, in its way, even more terrifying than what that enemy wants to do to us.
It was on a recent tour of the Guantanamo Bay maximum security cells that General Zanetti took the opportunity to talk to the Fox News reporter about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al Qaeda master planner of 9/11 and perhaps the best-known of Gitmo's notorious inmates. The General said that KSM, as he is known, "wants to die – he wants to be a martyr for the cause." He showed the reporter the arrow provided for maximum security cells that points towards Mecca so the Muslim prisoners know which way to orient themselves for prayer.
What Gen. Zanetti said next, though, betrayed his utter confusion about the terrorists under his guard. He said that KSM prays for hours on end in his cell – and then he blurted, "What God are you praying to? What are you thinking, what is going on up there?"
In 1998, Osama bin Laden (UBL), Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and a loose-knit association of Bangladeshi, Egyptian, and Pakistani terrorist groups (including Lashkar-e Toiba) who termed themselves the International Islamic Front Against Jews and Crusaders declared war on the United States, Jews and the State of Israel, and liberal democracy everywhere. Attacks on our Embassies in East Africa, the USS Cole, and eventually the American homeland followed. Since 9/11, Islamic Jihadis have struck in Baghdad, Bali, Glasgow, Jerusalem, Kabul, Madrid, London, Mumbai, Thailand, and elsewhere. Countless manifestos from these killer Jihadis leave no doubt about why they do what they do: they believe that Allah and the example of the Prophet Mohammed command them to fight until "religion be only for Allah." (Q 2:193) The very excellent Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI) issues a steady stream of translated fatwas, Friday sermons, and TV interviews with leading Islamic scholars that all attest to the Islamic belief system with voluminous citations from Islamic doctrine, law, and scriptures, the hadith, and scholarly consensus and interpretation.
The fact that KSM is a U.S. university-educated professional with a degree in mechanical engineering seems not to have diminished his hatred of all things Western in the slightest, but rather actually contributed to his ability to plan the Twin Towers attack. In this, his experience is not unlike that of his Muslim Brotherhood predecessor, Sayyid Qutb, who studied at the Colorado State Teachers College in Greeley between 1948-50 but came away from that exposure to the values of the heartland appalled, horrified, and full of visceral loathing for the American way of life. Qutb's written works, including In the Shade of the Qur'an and Milestones, remain classics of Islamic Jihadist ideology to this day.
Well might Gen. Zanetti puzzle at how this could possibly be. As a military professional with constitutional responsibility to command the front lines of the U.S.'s war with Islamic Jihad, though, he is required to know how educated professionals (including medical doctors such as al Qa'eda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri) can yet place their allegiance to Islam above all considerations for human dignity, individual liberty, or pluralistic tolerance. The reason, as anyone who does his homework with the Islamic texts would know, is that these concepts are Western concepts, born of a civic, philosophical, and theological tradition out of Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome. They have nothing whatsoever to do with the Islam of such as KSM or UBL.
That Islam, the Islam of Jihad against all unbelievers, is nonetheless sacred to its adherents. The mindset of a KSM was formed from childhood in the unshakeable belief that Islam and Muslims are truly and morally superior to all other people and faiths. Islamic supremacism holds that Allah commands the subjugation of all the world to Islam and that Paradise awaits those who follow his orders. This is not a devotion that would be easily recognizable to Gen. Zanetti – and yet he is bound by his oath of service to comprehend it. Because if he does not, then he cannot effectively confront and defeat either the enmity or the strategy of those like his prisoner KSM who would convert, subjugate, or kill us all.