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Despite this, Mandell Ganchrow, a former Orthodox Union president and longtime leader of a major pro-Israel political action committee, recently posted an item on his Web site suggesting Obama’s early exposure to Islam could make him a danger to Israel.
“In the Jewish religion when someone is far away from observance, however at a certain time he has a spark of Jewishness, we call it a ‘pintele Yid’ — a smattering, or a deep-seated unconscious attachment to one’s roots,” Ganchrow wrote. “With a Muslim father, and being surrounded in his early youth in a Muslim environment, is there such a thing as a ‘pintele Muslim,’ with deep-seated feelings which could color decisions re: terrorism and the Middle East?” ~The Jewish Week
This wouldn’t be quite so ludicrous if Obama had ever shown the slighest hint of disagreeing with most U.S. policies in the Near East and had ever gone beyond beyond standard left-liberal criticisms of the treatment of Palestinians. Of course, except for Iraq (which a rather large number of non-Muslims who actually knew something about the Near East also opposed), he hasn’t. I have argued before that this perception of an affinity for Muslims or attachment to the Islamic world would hurt him politically, and that it was crazy for him and his supporters to keep emphasising his foreign roots and attachments. Whatever else you want to say about this, it really isn’t a vote-getter.
I would like to use some of my personal history to explore just how ridiculous this line of criticism of Obama is. First, as any long-time readers know, I am not a fan of Obama and I think he would make a terrible President. The problem with his foreign policy views is not that they are too passive or “friendly” (or whatever counts as a grave sin in the eyes of such people) to Near Eastern and Islamic countries, but that he is essentially indistinguishable from the foreign policy consensus views of Washington, except when he overcompensates out of fear of looking “weak” by proposing sending American forces into Pakistan whether or not Islamabad agrees. In other words, when he isn’t being merely conventional, he may be more dangerous than the people we have in power now. This is not the result of his family background or upbringing, but a result of his inexperience and his misguided ideas about the U.S. role in the world that many of his colleagues share.
As has been brought up elsewhere, for a very short time (about six months) I professed Islam (albeit pretty idiosyncratically–I doubt if my “conversion” would have ever been recognised as a proper one), mostly out of an attraction at the time to a somewhat coherent monotheism that was neither Jewish nor Christian, since I had been raised with no real religious education and had been conditioned by my multiculti private schools to an aversion to Christianity about whose teachings I knew relatively little and which I understood even less. After a few years of syncretistic dabbling in various religious literatures, I came to Islam, mostly through the English translations of Rumi and the like, but rather like the dabbling before it this was not, on reflection, a serious conversion and it was one I could never enter into fully. (Incidentally, anyone who would like to make more out of this than that is wasting his time.) In a way slightly similar to Obama’s conversion to Christianity, I approached Orthodoxy at first intellectually that then became more firmly grounded in a practicing Orthodox parish. So while I have no sympathy with Obama’s politics, I have found the persistent effort to label him falsely as a Muslim or crypto-Muslim, when he very definitely decided, as I did, to become a Christian (however liberal a denomination he may have joined), and the credulity of stupid voters to believe this falsehood, to be obnoxious. There are dozens of reasons not to support Obama. But the problem is not that he was raised for a few years in Indonesia with an Indonesian step-father or that his grandfather was a Muslim, but that he actually claims that living for a few years in Indonesia in his youth and having a Kenyan grandmother still living in a village in Kenya give him relevant foreign policy experience. The problem is not where he grew up, but that he is substituting a kind of symbolic capital for expertise.
As for the effect of my brief time as a self-described Muslim on my policy views, my attitude towards the world overseas had been poisoned much more by reading The Economist and The Wall Street Journal than by reading the Qur’an. I had far more sympathy for Bosnian Muslims and Chechens as an ignorant American teenager than as a putative Muslim thanks to interventionist agitation on their behalf. By the time of this brief Islamic phase, I had stopped thinking of foreign policy as a morality play in which other countries could be simplistically portrayed as incarnate evil. Indeed, perhaps this kind of thinking only really works for thoroughly secular people who must find their great moral struggles in politics rather than in asceticism and worship. Who knows? In any case, Western media reported incessantly that the perpetually evil Slavs were the villains of the story, and that it was as simple as that, and, young, foolish kid that I was, I believed them. Mujahideen in the Balkans? Why worry? Truthfully, as a result of reading Chronicles more regularly, becoming better educated in European and Near Eastern history and becoming more familiar with Christianity, I began to move away from the pro-jihadist positions of the WSJ, Weekly Standard and the like, while the war against Yugoslavia and its aftermath finally brought me around to the non-interventionist views that I have held ever since. I base my current views on what is in the American interest and how justice obliges us to act towards other nations.
If there were anything to this idea that Obama’s experience of growing up around and among Muslims (for a relatively shot period of his life in his earliest youth) would have an effect on his policy views, he would have to have policy views that were not virtually identical with every other conventional Democratic hawk.
P.S. Ross, Yglesias and Ambinder talk about Obama and the Muslim charge.
I appreciate Mark Krikorian’s fair description of my post criticising this idea of his about how to combat and defeat “radical Islam.” We are still in disagreement about his proposal, but let me say a couple of things about his response. He wrote:
Islam will change, but only (or at least sooner) if we pursue some variation of what Larry Auster calls “separationism.” “Separationism” is the isolation of Islam from the rest of the world through military action, restrictions on immigration, and other means, presumably including a radically more aggressive search for alternative automobile fuels.
I grant Mr. Krikorian that Islam will change, as any religion with so many adherents spread across the globe would inevitably change over time, and it has changed before. The first difficulty is that certain kinds of Islam already have changed in the past, and many of the changes wrought by revivalism and Salafism have been to take Islam in quite the opposite direction of the “moderate” Islam Mr. Krikorian envisions emerging in the aftermath of this apparently militarised embargo of the Islamic world. As a kind of glorified sanctions regime, it would have many of the adverse, undesirable effects of a sanctions regime. Militarised embargoes are also not generally known to help bring down their targets, but rather reinforce the more hard-line and radical elements inside a country while the population is cut off from the outside world and forced to fall back on whatever the local authorities tell them.
I think the separationism described here (with which I do not entirely disagree, at least as far immigration is concerned) would certainly cause a change in the Islamic world. It is not clear to me, however, that the change would necessarily be the kind Mr. Krikorian hopes to see. If such an isolation of the Islamic world from the West were possible, the isolation of that world from the rest would never be complete in any case, as large parts of the rest of the world are not interested in isolating themselves from the Islamic world. India cannot isolate itself from that world without cutting itself in two and closing itself off from markets for its labour. China would probably opportunistically try to fill any void left by Westerners. A policy of isolation combined with military action would seem to combine the worst of both worlds, since it would reinforce the most violent instincts among jihadis and build up sympathy for them while rejecting any alternative connection. It would be our Cuba policy writ large, but with an added refusal to take in refugees. I suppose the idea here is to create sufficient internal pressures within the Islamic world such that something gives way in dramatic fashion, but if the end result would be to encourage internecine strife inside this isolated Islamic world it seems as if this would simply strengthen the worst elements and produce an Islamic world in far worse shape, politically, socially and economically, than exists today. Everything that fuels jihadism would remain, and the indigenous forces that oppose it would probably have been swept away and purged in the process.
Pluralistic though it was, Islamic Spain was no democracy. ~Alexander Kronemer
Additionally, Kronemer writes of a generic “Islamic Spain,” as if there were no difference between Umayyads, Almoravids and Almohads. The latter two dynasties were decidedly much less interested in perpetuating whatever toleration and good intercommunal relations there had been before, and they were, in fact, much more fanatical. It is remarkable how these dynasties play no role in Kronemer’s description of the worsening relations between Christians and Muslims in Spain.
There was no manger, Christ is not the Messiah [bold mine-DL], and the crucifixion never happened. A forthcoming ITV documentary will portray Jesus as Muslims see him. ~The Guardian
I don’t know whether this is a mistake by The Guardian or by ITV’s documentary, but a mistake it surely is. Set aside for the moment that the phrase “Christ is not the Messiah” sounds really stupid (since Christos means “anointed one” and thus Messiah), and consider the claim behind it. The claim is that Muslims do not accept Jesus as the Messiah, which is incorrect. The relevant point, obviously, is that they deny His Divinity and do not recognise His Divine Sonship in His role as Messiah. This is one of the two major points of disagreement between the religions, and it is rather central to how Muslims see Jesus. One would have thought that a report on a documentary designed to foster some minimal understanding of the Islamic view would have managed to get this much right.
The Qur’an (Sura 3:48) says (Pickthall translation):
(And remember) when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a word from Him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary…
Idh qaalat al-malaika ya Maryam inna Allah yubathiruki bi-kalimat-in minhu ismuhu al-masih-u ‘Isa ibn-u Maryam…
But after the inevitable failure of Islamic movements to provide an adequate response to the challenge of modernity, what will Muslims embrace? The only thing left, at that point, will be the ever elusive “moderate Islam,” a new, modernity-compatible faith that retains the name of Islam but jettisons all the substance (kind of like mainline Protestantism).
But Muslims have to come to that conclusion on their own, by living under regimes that will exemplify that failure (like Iran). Our hearts-and-minds efforts, like the north poles of two magnets, can only repel Muslims from drawing the necessary, inescapable conclusion that Islam, as it has existed for 14 centuries, is a failure as an ideology and way of life in the modern world. ~Mark Krikorian
No offense to Mr. Krikorian, but does he really think that Muslims are going to conceive of their religion as an “ideology” and “way of life” that have failed? If they believe, as I assume they do, that their religion is the final revelation of God to humanity, it will take a lot more than its “inadequacy” to adapt to modernity to persuade them to abandon it. The substitute will also have to be a lot more powerful than the Islamic equivalent of the via media.
The lesson of mainline Protestantism, to follow his comparison, is that religion without substance and conviction is dead and uninspiring and doomed to stagnation and irrelevance. People flee it as they would from the plague. Those inclined to belong to religious communities are going to seek out communities where there is a sense that the religion they practice is true and edifying. Looked at this way, Islamic revivalism and fundamentalism stand a much better chance of spreading and thriving, much as Pentecostalism has been doing for many decades, which means that the failues to adjust to modernity will simply persuade even more people to follow a revivalist and fundamentalist path. For every person who thinks that a religion needs to be updated to match the modern world there will always be at least one other who thinks that it is the modern world that must be adjusted to the dictates of the old time religion, and probably more than one. It seems to me that one of the handicaps of a lot of Westerners in understanding the appeal of Islamic fundamentalism is the idea that such fundamentalism is not modern. It is anti-modernist, but it is itself a modern phenomenon that addresses the needs (or seems to address them) of people today. To say that it does not result in good results by the standards of our modernity is to miss the point entirely–the people who embrace such fundamentalism do not want such results, or if they do they want them less than they want the certainty and deliverance offered them by revelation.
Via Pithlord, I see that Prof. Bainbridge has commented on this story about a Dutch bishop proposing that Dutch Catholic churches use the name Allah in their services “to ease tensions between Muslims and Christians.” Pithlord is, of course, right that the concession, such as it is, is actually only a linguistic one. Allah does mean God, or literally “the God” in Arabic. As far as it goes, the change is fairly innocuous as a matter of literal meaning, but therefore all the more unnecessary and symbolically discouraging in that it is another example of Dutch natives accommodating and assimilating themselves to the immigrant communities rather than vice-versa. The Islamic understanding of God is obviously quite different and opposed to that of Christians, but the bishop was not proposing introductions of Qur’anic passages, such as Ma qataau-hu wa ma salabu-hu during Communion and La taqu thaalatha during the Sanctus. It is a trivial proposal in a way, but this makes it all the more foolish and pointless. It is the ultimate in condescending tokenism while also managing to introduce a pointless change into the liturgical life of the bishop’s flock. Should Anglicans begin saying Khuda Hafiz to make their Muslim neighbours feel more at home?
It is not exactly an embrace of relativism, as Prof. Bainbridge fears, but it is fairly stupid all the same. It is an example of the embrace of rather pointless symbolic gestures that are intended to foster ecumenical dialogue and such, but which routinely backfire and are viewed either as insults, attempts to muddy the waters or even aggressive attempts at appropriating someone else’s beliefs. Do you suppose that a Muslim in the Netherlands will have a better view of non-Arabic-speaking Christians if they begin using the name Allah? Would this not, in fact, inspire some resentment against those using this name to refer to the Trinity or to Christ Himself, when Muslims recognise neither the existence of the former nor the divinity of the latter? At best, it would not achieve the intended goal, but would become one more episode in European Christianity’s own self-marginalisation.
Update: On the other side of the world, there is apparently no small controversy over the changing usages from Khuda Hafiz to Allah Hafiz, as this older article also relates. I had noticed that Allah Hafiz had been cropping up in more and more Bollywood movies over the past few years, but I suppose I had not realised that this reflected such significant changes in South Asian Islam.
If you’re wondering why you haven’t been able to follow all the columns and editorials in the American press denouncing all this homicidal nonsense, it’s because there haven’t been any [bold mine-DL]. And, in that great silence, is a great scandal.
Is there something beyond the solidarity of the decent that ought to have impelled every commentator and editorial page in the U.S. to express unequivocal support for Sir Salman this week? ~Tim Rutten
Something occurs to me as I read this. The first point has to be that everyone has already taken Salman Rushdie so terribly seriously for decades that many people are perhaps more than a little tired of hearing or talking about him in any context. Goodness knows I am. I have some difficulty feeling very sympathetic for someone who, given his background, knew perfectly well that his words would incite the responses they incited and went ahead and wrote them anyway, all the while claiming great victimhood in the process. Obviously, the man should not be threatened with death for what he writes–that is the bare minimum fundamental to a free society–but one reason you may see fewer excited apologies for Rushdie is that he had to be a fool to write what he wrote, knowing full well what it would mean to Muslims. Will we still be running around declaring our admiration for Ayaan Hirsi Ali in this fashion thirty years hence? With any luck, we will have forgotten all about her, just as we may one day be free of having to hear about Salman Rushdie’s ego.
The second point is that this claim of a “great silence” by Mr. Rutten is complete nonsense. There have been plenty of papers that have been decrying the threats made against Rushdie, just as many people defended the Jyllands-Posten when its editor chose to publish the “Muhammad” cartoons. More examples could undoubtedly be found, if I were inclined to waste more time tracking them down to disprove Mr. Rutten’s false hyperbole, but if both the Sun-Times and the Chronicle can agree that Britain should stand by its decisison there would seem to almost be a broad consensus across the gamut of mainstream opinion in support of Rushdie’s knighthood, or at least in support of Rushdie’s right to write whatever he might wish to write. If it has not become a week-long obsession for all media outlets, perhaps this is because the headline, “Innocuous event occurs, Muslims claim deep offense, begin rioting” has become rather predictable and uninteresting. Why, just today we have two columns rallying to Rushdie’s defense (while complaining about the supposed lack of concern everyone is showing), and I have yet to see anyone in this country saying that Britain should withdraw the knighthood under pressure or justifying the Muslim response to it. If there really is less commentary on this than on other controversies, perhaps some people don’t say much about a topic because the situation seems so clear that there is no need to say anything else. Mr. Rutten does understand that there are other things going on that may actually be more important than controversy over Salman Rushdie’s bauble, yes?
Rutten’s memory of the controversy last year seems distinctly skewed:
You may recall that most of the American news media essentially abandoned Rose and the Danes to the fanatics’ wrath, receding into cowardly silence, as mullah after mullah called for the cartoonists’ death, mobs attacked diplomatic and cultural offices and one Muslim country after another boycotted Danish goods.
Well, no, I don’t recall that exactly, because I’m pretty sure this did not happen, just as I’m pretty sure Rutten doesn’t know what he’s talking about with respect to the response of the American news media to the recent controversy. The only thing worse than the phoney tolerance and sensitivity that he attacks in his article is the even phonier intolerance against non-existent phoney tolerance. It’s absolutely right to mock the pretensions of multicultis when you can actually uncover them engaging in pretentious, faux tolerance of outrageous things. When the reality seems to contradict this criticism, it comes off as just so much lazy media-bashing. It would be like my saying, “Why don’t American academics speak out against the absurd attempt by some British academics to boycott Israeli academics? This is outrageous!” That would sound pretty good, except that many American academics have spoken out against the boycott. If I were someone who wanted to engage in some lazy attacks about the inherent anti-Israel bias of the American academy, because this already confirms my prejudices about the academy, I would not bother to have found this out, just as Mr. Rutten seems intent on doing with the media in this country.
A digression on this business of the proposed boycott of Israeli academics and universities: I can think of few more stupid and counterproductive efforts to a) force policy change in another country and b) advance whatever cause it is the people engaged in this boycott believe they are advancing. Even if we all agreed that Israeli policy vis-a-vis Palestinians ought to change (and I think it should), what possible good would it accomplish to punish Israeli academics and educational institutions with international boycotts? Are they the ones setting policy? Of course they aren’t. On the contrary, their members may well be among those pushing for different policies of the sort that the would-be boycotting academics want to see adopted. Punishing Israeli academics for the mistakes or even crimes of the Israeli government is like holding Turkish academics accountable for the repression of the Turkish state, even when that repression is directed against those academics themselves. It would be like other nations forbidding British scholars from participating in conferences because they oppose the policies of the Blair Government in Iraq, or banning American researchers from their work overseas because of something the Bush administration has done. This is an insane, unprincipled approach and one that is almost certain to perversely strengthen domestic political support for the policies the boycotters wanted to change, as it also lends to these policies now the respectability of being associated, in a roundabout way, with the cause of Israeli academic freedom. Incidentally, why has Tim Rutten not actively denounced this boycott? Silence is a scandal, or so some pretentious columnist once told me.
Rutten also mentions the higher numbers of journalist deaths during the last few years in the Iraq war than had happened during Vietnam, asking:
Why so little attention to this toll?
So little attention by whom? Journalists have been paying quite a lot of attention to the deaths of their colleagues in Iraq and around the world in the last few years. Indeed, it has been one of the distinguishing features of the Iraq war and has been the cause for a fair amount of reporting and commentary in its own right.
If you want to find a cause for why this has received less attention, look to the usual suspects who actively vilify all of journalism as the repository of disloyalty and anti-patriotism and who consistently inspire in their audiences contempt for news reporting by complaining about its insufficiently pro-war content. Can you imagine the outcry against ”the MSM” if they were to spend a lot of time focusing on the deaths of journalists in Iraq? You can almost imagine some Hugh Hewitt clone, if not the master himself, saying, “Serves ‘em right for refusing to report all the good news in Iraq!” We would see a lot of commentary talking about how these stories about journalists’ deaths are proof of why the media are undermining the war effort, and that this “explains” why the journalists are subverting the cause out of loyalty to their fellow journalists. The thinking here would be that if the war is getting journalists killed, this would give journalists some special incentive to help end the war. Any media critic would immediately recognise the absurdity of this, since it has been the major media that have made sure to make the possibility of withdrawing from Iraq seem absolutely crazy and irresponsible, but that wouldn’t matter to those who are already invested in the idea that all journalists in this country yearn for our defeat. Additional coverage of the deaths of journalists would simply confirm this prejudice.
The four defendants were identified as Russell Defreitas, a U.S. citizen and native of Guyana who was arrested in Brooklyn. Authorities said Defreitas was the former airport employee.
They said two suspects were in custody in Trinidad and Tobago, and identified those two as Abdul Kadir, a citizen of Guyana and former member of its parliament, and Kareem Ibrahim, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago.
The fourth was named as Abdel Nur, described as a citizen of Guyana. They provided no other immediate information on Nur’s whereabouts, but said Kadir and Nur were associates of Jamaat Al Muslimeen, which was behind a deadly coup attempt in Trinidad in 1990.
“Any time you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to the United States. To hit John F. Kennedy, wow … they love John F. Kennedy like he’s the man … if you hit that, this whole country will be mourning. You can kill the man twice [bold mine-DL],” Defreitas said in another conversation, it said.
“Even the twin towers can’t touch it,” referring to the September 11 attacks in another comment that the law enforcement authorities said was recorded last month. “This can destroy the economy of America for some time.” ~Reuters
Ross notes that we have been fortunate recently in having very stupid enemies. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this Defreitas was not what you might call a fully assimilated newcomer. If Defreitas was already a naturalised U.S. citizen, it is not hard to imagine that there are other Defreitases operating beneath the radar. It makes amnesty seem rather foolish, doesn’t it?
It is worth noting that the only planned attack (and it was only in the “planning stages” at that) against American targets originating from Latin America had its beginnings in Guyana and Trinidad. These are not the normal bogeymen of interventionist fearmongering (they are both next to Venezuela, but that is about as much connection as there is). This makes some sense, since 10% of Guyana’s population is Muslim and around 6% of Trinidad and Tobago’s population is Muslim. (Interestingly, Guyana is also 35% Hindu–it makes sense, given the past British connection, but I confess I had no idea this was the case.)
The much-feared “triangle” in southern South America is a border region where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet, and it is one part of the continent that interventionists have been screaming warnings about (when they haven’t been engaged in their favourite pastime of Venezuelophobia). These would all be countries with very, very few Muslims, and this “triangle” would seem to be an area that has so far, at least as far as the public knows, not generated any threats against the United States. Perhaps if more anti-jihadists were more focused on anti-American enemies, rather than worrying about Hizbullah fundraising, we might begin to develop some sort of coherent and intelligent policy to oppose them.
The foundation published Ramadan’s book To Be a European Muslim in 1999, and it enjoyed a modest success. To Be a European Muslim was regarded as a thoughtful argument for healthy new relations between old-stock non-Muslim Europe and the new-stock immigrant Muslim population. Daniel Pipes in the United States was among the expert observers who offered applause–though, if you visit Pipes’s website, you will see that, ever since his initial review, Pipes has been posting additional remorseful observations about how wrong he was, and what could possibly have gotten into him? ~Paul Berman
Berman’s essay, which is more like a small book, on Tariq Ramadan may or may not be worth reading in full (I have just waded in and I am not sure that I will finish), but this remark about Pipes was interesting. Pipes is, of course, the embodiment of neocon Arabophobic Islamophilia. No, I’m not kidding. When they do not happen to live in the immediate vicinity of the Levant, Islamic fundamentalists have had few better allies–both conscious and unwitting–than neoconservatives.
Pipes himself peddles all the standard pro-Islamic myths or exaggerations: Islam as “religion of peace,” Islam as guardian of Greek learning in the middle ages, medieval Islamic civilisation as a Golden Age of rationality and tolerance, and so on and so forth. He is also ardently in favour of attempts to forcibly “reform” the Islamic world from the outside and supports all efforts to crush as many Arab states as possible in the process. He believes that Islam is essentially good, but has gone awry somewhere and must be pummeled and shaped by outside intervention to return to its pristine goodness. It is impossible to understand the creation of a word like “Islamofascism” without understanding just how deeply neocons have embraced this myth of the peaceful, enlightened Islamic world and their narrative of a small fraction of that world that has gone astray. While the word is intended to conflate and confuse multiple, mutually opposed groups and states, this conflation is done for specific policy reasons, one of which is to target all forces hostile to Israel and to create an ideological identifier for all of them. The word itself implies and its users constantly reiterate that Islam itself is fine and no problem at all; there is nothing inherent in it that should or could lead to what they called “Islamofascism.” As they are obsessed with telling us (and as Joseph Bottum insists on claiming again now, citing Bernard Lewis), modern jihadis are not just supposed to be theoretically totalitarian but can be tied to 20th century totalitarian ideologies as a matter of intellectual genealogy, and furthermore they will claim that jihadism is a political ideology. Hence Islamofascism, which is something that a secular audience can more readily grasp. Last year I proposed an explanation for why neocons do this:
For secular people like these prominent neocons, it is horrifying to consider the possibility that some people have motivations that cannot be explained in secular language, because they, lacking in religious imagination of any kind, are at a loss to even begin to really understand what motivates a jihadi. Even when they acknowledge the supposed goal of Paradise or the religious nature of the duty these people believe themselves to be carrying out, it is always with a certain level of incomprehension, almost as if they cannot really accept that anyone not attached to some intelligible ideology firmly bounded in this world really exists. Their inability to understand the religious desire for transcendence in some of its most appalling forms stems, I suspect, in no small part from their own depressingly optimistic and immanentist ideology. Their inability to understand a drive for religious purity and intolerance of other religions as anything other than fascism stems in part from their own reflexive commitments to religious pluralism and a latent or not-so-latent hostility to dogmatic Christianity: everything not on the side of pluralism and “freedom” somehow all gets pushed into a big box called fascism.
In any case, it is not surprising that Pipes would have had a soft spot for someone like Tariq Ramadan, especially pre-9/11, because in the late ’90s encouraging Muslim immigration into Europe (like encouraging Third World immigration into any Western country) was quite natural for neocons, who were, after all, leading advocates of intervening in the Balkans on behalf of Muslims (no bigoted Westerners were they!) and calling for Turkish entry into the EU. (The argument for Turkish entry was a twofer for the neocons: they were able to idealise a “democratic” Islamic country while also mocking the small-minded Europeans.) Just as they have winked and nodded approvingly at Chechen terrorism, they endorsed the entry of mujahideen into Europe for the greater glory of killing Serbs. Just as it had been fashionable in England to romanticise the Algerian rebel Abd al Qadir because he was killing Frenchmen (though they would take a rather dim view of locals rebelling against their authority some twenty-five years later), it became acceptable to write admiringly about the self-determination of Bosnian and Albanian Muslims. Neocon outrage against jihadis, such as it is, is really more that of a jilted lover than that of a dedicated foe. When they lament the jihadi threat, you can almost hear them saying, “Come on, guys, we’ve had such good times together. Remember when the KLA staged the Racak massacre and we pretended to believe it? That was great. We should get the gang back together.”
“They want to bring down the West, particularly us,” Romney declared. “And they’ve come together as Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, with that intent.” ~The Boston Globe
The Globe story tries to make the statements cited in it into something rather more sinister and manipulative than I think they actually are. No doubt, these candidates want to demagogue terrorism and they are trying their best to do that, but the quotes the article cites do not give the impression so much of deliberate obfuscation as simple ignorance and confusion on the part of the speakers. Read the rest of this entry »
A bit late to the D’Souza-bashing party, Cathy Young reviews The Enemy at Home and concludes (as everyone already had four months ago) that…Andrew Sullivan is wrong about people on the right in general and the reaction to D’Souza’s book in particular. In the course of a review that ends with the (terribly surprising) conclusion that a contributor to Reason supports freedom, she gets really carried away and says something strikingly similar to what Kevin Drum had said about a remark by Glenn Beck, which had echoed part of D’Souza’s thesis:
In effect, D’Souza, Colson, Buchanan and company agree with the familiar sentiment that the terrorists “hate us for our freedoms.”
It is a strange article indeed that can use the phrase, “D’Souza, Colson, Buchanan and company” without a powerful sense of irony. It would be like a conservative saying, “Lindsey, Sager, Rockwell and company,” as if these people were really all part of the same group of “libertarians” who were arguing for a common position. As I argued at some length back in February, saying that Muslims “hate us for our freedoms” is almost completely the opposite of saying that they object to Western cultural decadence. Everything hinges on the implications of the two different statements: one implies that we are virtuous and innocent and have been inexplicably wronged because we carry the torch of liberty, while the other says that we are a sinful, wretched lot who have been chastised by the secular equivalent of God sending the Assyrians against us. The former assumes that there is nothing wrong with us at all, their response is wholly without cause and irrational (or is essential to who they are and therefore unchangeable and also not worth trying to understand in any depth) and “they” react violently against “us” because “we” are the embodiment of more or less pure secular good and “they” are the embodiment of pure secular evil. The latter view assumes not only that “we” are capable of error and corruption, but that this moral corruption has additional consequences beyond social disorder, family disruption and degeneracy at home. With these two responses you can begin to discern the difference between nationalists and conservatives. According to the latter view, one of the other consequences to cultural decadence is the outraged reaction of traditional societies subjected to the fruits of that decadence by way of globalisation. There is some validity to this line of argument, but it hardly explains everything (and D’Souza is the only one who is trying to use it to explain everything vis-a-vis the Islamic world).
As I said before, where D’Souza goes badly wrong–because he is desperately covering up for interventionist foreign policy–is to pin the blame entirely on the export of cultural liberalism, rather than seeing this as an aggravating factor that simply intensifies the hostility generated by other things, such as U.S. foreign policy, and he then gets even more ridiculous when he proposes the solution that we team up with “traditional Muslims” for ecumenical jihad against the godless pagans and the supposedly distinct “radical Muslims.” This issue becomes timely, since we are once again debating the absurd charge of “blaming America” that has been aimed at Ron Paul, because he insists on recognising that bad, provocative policies have bad (albeit unintended) consequences. Giuliani’s response to Ron Paul is very similar to the general response to D’Souza in the common thread of Republicans’ objecting to “blaming America,” but notably D’Souza has continued to enjoy the support and benefit of the doubt of many conservatives, even those who think he is deeply mistaken. D’Souza enjoys this relatively better treatment because he does not pin 9/11 in any way on U.S. foreign policy, which means that the Republicans who have contributed to the errors of this foreign policy are off the hook. D’Souza “blames America first,” but the America he blames is that of the coastal megalopoleis, “Blue” America, which is a relatively more acceptable target for the conservatives who are trashing his book. Of course, GOP orthodoxy is that you should never “blame America” in any way, by which they mean you should never engage in criticial thinking or criticism with respect to anything to do with the U.S. government or American culture in relation to the rest of the world, so that it is still in poor taste to trace 9/11’s causes back to cultural liberals (even though all of the D’Souza critics would otherwise be happy to trash these people all day long as traitors and the like). At other times, it may be acceptable to bash cultural liberals in the most vehement ways, but that is something that “we” keep in the family. The idea seems to me: don’t argue in front of the Muslims, but maintain a front of unity and solidarity to the outside world.
There is evidence that our involvement in the Middle East has made some people living in the region angry enough to want to kill Americans. That fact doesn’t automatically dictate what our foreign policy should be, nor does it follow that if we were to leave the region tomorrow that Islamist terrorism would cease to be a problem. But it shouldn’t be beyond the pale to bring up. ~Jim Antle
Jim’s post makes many important points. I have to agree that Ron Paul failed as a matter of debating tactics when he did not try to finesse the answer to play to the emotions of the crowd, but then Ron Paul never finesses his answers to play to the emotions of the crowd. This is why he is frequently right and doesn’t get swept up in mass hysteria. When his colleagues were foolishly plunging ahead on Iraq–which most of Paul’s current critics still believe to have been the right thing to do, which ought to obliterate their credibility at once–he was virtually alone on his side of the aisle in opposing the war. The mindless Republican near-unanimity that took us into Iraq persists and causes most Republicans to fail to think critically about the nature and purpose of our foreign policy. If Giuliani appears to have “won” the debate yesterday, he and the other candidates have made it clear in their Paul-bashing that the GOP is a party that favours myth and visceral emotionalism over serious thought. Such is the deplorable nature of mass democracy that this sort of party might still do well in an electoral contest, but I think most of the country has grown sick of this stuff after all these years and the majority has been trying to purge its system of this toxic irrationalism. Little noted in all of the post-debate commentary were Paul’s remarks that 2006 was lost because of the war and the majority of the country is against the standard GOP view: political realism, to say nothing of sane policy, dictates that the candidates offer some evidence of adjustment and reflection that actually amounts to more than mentioning “Islamic fascism” or “extremism” every three sentences.
As much as I and others who support Paul are thrilled that he is out there challenging these other candidates, it does make you ask the question: what would make anyone believe that a party that is 70% or more behind the Iraq war is going to be receptive to a lesson in how fundamentally they have departed from their own foreign policy traditions? If the calamity of Iraq has not sobered them up, what good will history lessons do? Even if they will acknowledge that this departure from tradition is true, they won’t want to hear that they have fallen into the ditch of hegemonism. Denial in action is an awesome thing to behold. Besides, many of these are people so far gone that they think that criticising policy as flawed and dangerous and “blaming America first” are the same thing. (Incidentally, accusing someone of “blaming America first” is simply the code that these people use when their adversary engages in cultural or political criticism that they cannot answer with argument and feel compelled to resort to flag-waving and sloganeering–it is an ideological reflex totally divorced from thinking.) Many can’t even manage the most elementary distinction between government and country, regime and people, and so cannot begin to grasp that opposition to ongoing policy implemened by the state is almost always motivated by devotion to the country’s welfare.
Of course, it’s possible that departing from the Near and Middle East entirely would not bring an end to jihadi attacks on American targets. Not likely, but possible. Lessons from past insurgencies suggest that the attacks cease when the policies or actions that have been met with violent responses have been stopped. It seems to me that you could make an argument that, say, having friendly ports in the Gulf is significant enough for our national interests that our government would be irresponsible as a matter of national interest to yield to demands that we never use those ports or base anyone in those countries. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that argument, but that is the kind of argument that someone would need to make to even begin to sound credible in defending an interventionism that provokes terrorist responses. The benefits of intervention would have to clearly outweigh the costs that it brings with it. The point normally made by non-interventionists is, of course, that the costs are almost always much higher and there are almost never any meaningful benefits for America. In response interventionists say, “The sacrifice is worth it.” They don’t elaborate, because I imagine they’re not even sure what they mean when they say this. Anyway, there would need to be an argument that could credibly say that remaining in Iraq for the foreseeable future is so vital to the American interest that it is worth the risk of Iraqis (or some other jihadi motivated by anger over our presence there) one day possibly launching terrorist strikes on American soil. Obviously, it’s nowhere near that important to America. Continuing the Iraq war creates additional unacceptable and unnecessary risks for American security that can be eliminated by ending the war.
This is the real question of any policy debate: every approach entails risk of one kind or another, and the wise and prudent man tries to find the policy that involves the least risk while securing essential national goods. Part of the debate then involves determining what those national goods are. Some people think voting Arabs belong in this category, while most do not. Some think that propping up an openly sectarian government friendly to Iran is worth the lives of American soldiers, while opponents of the war do not. Some believe that ruining our military in the sands of Iraq is essential to winning the “war on terror,” while others disagree. Who seems to be more in the right?
The Vice President was a great one for talking about risk before the invasion–the risk of inaction was too great! Well, as it turns out, the risk of inaction was substantially less than he claimed and much more in line with what opponents of the invasion said it was. It doesn’t require someone to be a dedicated America Firster to know that the current policy advocated and defended by the majority of the Republican candidates, most Republican voters and this administration is failing to secure American interests and is exposing this country to increased, unnecessary risks. Our presence in Saudi Arabia, which did directly contribute to the motivations of the 9/11 hijackers, has now been replaced by a presence in Iraq that seems to have no logical or obvious conclusion and which also seems to be serving no obvious American interest. Ron Paul proposes trying to shield America from these unnecessary risks, and for this he is routinely denounced and belittled by this supposed “big tent” party that is brimming with ideological diversity.
It is amusing to watch the gaggle of these other Republican candidates hold forth about the threat of Islam (Giuliani now claims to be some sort of expert), when they seem to have absolutely no historical perspective on any of this. Tancredo expressed this view most absolutely when he cut to the heart of the issue: “…whether Israel existed or didn’t, whether or not we were in the Iraq war or not, they would be trying to kill us because it’s a dictate of their religion, at least a part of it, and we have to defend ourselves.” Tancredo is sort of right, and yet also so horribly wrong that I cringed when I heard this.
Is jihad an integral part of Islam? Yes. Will there always be those who pursue jihad and try to subject non-Muslims to Islamic rule? Yes. Of course, where and under what circumstances jihadis will be doing this are all determined by any number of other factors. There are jihadis in Kashmir, but not terribly many in Gujarat–perhaps that has something to do with the political disputes over Kashmir? There are or have been jihadis in the Caucasus, Kosovo and Bosnia, but not terribly many in Indonesia, which may have something to do with violent contestation for power in the former. It seems plain that jihad comes to the fore when Muslims are caught up in conflict with non-Muslims, but otherwise the “dictate of their religion” remains more or less dormant. So, I put it to the majority of Republicans, why would you pursue policies that seem intent on provoking more conflicts with Muslims if you are interested in quelling jihadism and undermining its appeal? Either you have no idea what you are doing, in which case the rest of us should not heed your advice, or you are going about seeking the right goal in entirely the wrong way.
Jihad has existed in its fully formalised and elaborated form for approximately one thousand years, and yet jihadis (very broadly defined) took an interest in attacking Americans only in 1979. For some reason, Maghrebi Muslims were not gathering themselves into boats to raid the Jamestown settlement in a trans-Atlantic razzia. For some reason, the ruler of Morocco was among the first to recognise the independence of the United States; one of our earliest treaties was with the Moroccan monarchy. There was a war against Tripoli to secure our shipping in the Mediterranean, which was a war against piracy. From 1805 until 1979, it is exceedingly difficult to think of many episodes when the “dictate of their religion” so motivated zealous Muslims to attack Americans. As ties with Israel have deepened and our military profile in the region has increased, jihadi attacks have also increased. Now, as the old saying goes, correlation is not causation, but it is awfully curious that Muslims studiously overlooked a ”dictate of their religion” for most of our national history in our dealings with them and only happened to rediscover them at the moment that we embarked on policies that were not all together friendly to at least certain Muslim groups and states. Of course, we have enjoyed geographical distance from the Islamic world, and as inhabitants of this continent we have a certain luxury of distance that our cousins in Europe do not have, which is why it is so perplexing why anyone would actively promote a narrowing of this distance to bring us into ever-greater contact with people who are, in Mr. Tancredo’s estimation, out to kill us. The point is, surely, even if Tancredo were right (and he largely is not right), we would be far better advised to limit our points of contact with the Islamic world in every imaginable way than to expand them through ever-wider rounds of intervention, democratisation efforts and the like. Even by the standards of the wild Republican vision of the conflict with jihadis, the Republicans have been going about things in almost entirely the wrong way.
The history of Islam from the beginning has been one involving much strife, bloodshed and the invasions of non-Muslim lands, and anyone talking about this should harbour no illusions on this score (I certainly don’t), but as a result of political fragmentation of the Ottoman territories after WWI there has been no Islamic polity capable of projecting power or significantly threatening Europe or any of the countries bordering the Islamic world. The pathetic political and economic weakness and general geopolitical irrelevance of the Islamic world (Luttawak is right on this) has contributed to the eruption of mujahideen on the borders of that world where there are relatively small-scale conflicts. Terrorism and even the pursuit of an “Islamic bomb” are the responses of a world desperately outclassed and outmatched in almost every measurable way by its neighbouring civilisations. Those who have been on the losing end of global cultural and economic transformations almost always grasp for the sword and try to redeem their losses through power–the American conservative movement can understand this response a little too well, I think–and thereby confirm their own lack of deeper reserves of strength.
Of another excessively hyped and misunderstood, albeit real, threat, George Kennan said 54 years ago:
They [anti-communists] distort and exaggerate the dimensions of the problem with which they profess to deal. They confuse internal and external aspects of the communist threat. They insist on portraying as contemporary things that had their actuality years ago. They insist on ascribing to the workings of domestic communism evils and frustrations which, in so far as they were not part of the normal and unavoidable burden of complexity in our life, were the product of our behaviour generally as a nation, and should today be the subject of humble and contrite soul-searching on the part of all of us, in a spirit of brotherhood and community, rather than of frantic and bitter recrimination. And having thus incorrectly stated the problem, it is no wonder that these people consistently find the wrong answers. (from George Kennan: A Study of Character by John Lukacs, p. 193-194)
Though not entirely applicable to the present situation, this quote points to many of the flaws in what passes for a lot of anti-Islamist or anti-jihadi thought today. If Kennan was the anticommunist anti-anticommunist (where he was opposed to communism, but also strongly critical of populist, ideological anti-communism), perhaps the time has come for an anti-jihadi anti-anti-jihadist.
Religious leaders from all the major faiths, who disagree on some of the most fundamental questions, managed to put aside their differences to agree that Rushdie had it coming. ~Michael Kinsley
Right. I believe the Catholics began collecting a tithe to pay for hitmen to take him out. This is insane. It is one thing to say that many other religious leaders may have said (I have no idea whether they had anything to say about the matter one way or the other, but I am extremely skeptical that they said anything) that Rushdie was incredibly stupid to engage in militantly public apostasy from his inherited religion, given what he knew about that religion’s prescriptions for apostasy, but to say that leaders “from all the major faiths” agreed that Rushdie “had it coming” is just ridiculous.
Did the Dalai Lama say, “Rushdie really had that fatwa coming!”? Did Pope John Paul II send a note to Khomeini saying, “Nice fatwa–I agree!”? Presumably the United Methodists burned his image in effigy out of solidarity with their Muslim brethren, yes? Give me a break!
Incidentally, in the wild and wacky world of liberal religious tolerance, it would normally be considered a move of ecumenical generosity to side with Islamic religious authorities against those who denigrate their teachings, except when they supposedly side with those authorities against someone who has discovered the evils of religion. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, si, Western critics of Islam, no. One is an enlightened visionary breaking out of the oppressive coils of patriarchal oppression, and the others are “Islamophobic” nuts, even though they often say more or less the same things.
Frankly, I do admire Romney’s consistency, it shows professionalism - some candidates don’t even know what talking points their campaigns communicate. However, I’d like to hear Romney’s view on the fact that democratic elections in the Middle East in the past few years have quite legally, and under US-sanctioned balloting, increased the political clout of Hezbollah (Lebanon), Hamas (Palestine), and the Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt). ~George Ajjan
This was a point I didn’t get to in the post where I united two of my favourite hobbyhorses (bashing Romney, mocking people who talk about Islamofascism). Now I can add two more of my preoccupations to the mix: questioning the wisdom of democratisation in the Near East and rejecting optimism.
There are three consistent positions one can take on the question of democratisation:
1) Democratisation is good for the peoples of the Near East and is naturally bound to create a more pro-Western, pro-American, pro-Israel Near East (see Turkey for why this one is wrong).
2) Democratisation is probably bad for American and Israeli interests, but must be pursued for the long-term development, security and sanity of the region. See interwar Europe, Latin America at almost any time in the last 200 years or modern Africa as counter-examples of the rather terrible results when fragile developing democracies are created in inhospitable times and climes, whether they are being established in badly tribally, ethnically or religiously-divided nations or in nations with insufficient experience with the norms and practices of democratic governance.
3) Democratisation is an inherently destabilising and all-around bad idea that is both inappropriate to the nations of the Near East now and for the foreseeable future and fundamentally dangerous to international security. In this view, the “global democratic revolution” may even be potentially far more dangerous to the peace of the world than global communism.
Naturally, Republican elites, including Romney, have generally endorsed #1 and have been gradually moving towards #2 as they have begun to count the costs and have been forced to acknowledge that nothing pro-American is emerging in the democratic or quasi-democratic regimes arising in the region. Those Republicans who once endorsed #1 and have since thrown up their hands in despair do not usually move over to #3, but very frequently retain their powerful faith in democracy as an engine of peace, freedom and development (looking over the hideous history of the most democratic century in history, I really have no idea why they think this). They are incapable of doubting the virtues of democracy and soon adopt a fourth position, which might be called the Ralph Peters view or the “damn ingrates” position: democratisation in the Near East was a fine and noble idea, and we are fine and noble people for trying to implement it, but those stupid Arabs just couldn’t get their act together, so let’s just kill as many as we can. This is sometimes hard to distinguish from the advocates of the #1 position, since the #1 folks also tend to be very vocal about killing as many Arabs as possible (see Ledeen and “crappy little country”-against-wall-throwing approach to foreign policy or Rice and “birth pangs of a new Middle East”). It is amazing to watch the transformation of some of these unbounded optimists, who were not long ago preaching the universality of human dignity, into the most cynically monstrous of amoralists, who now believe that the Iraqis failed us, because they weren’t able to pick up on the fly in a war zone something that takes hundreds of years to nurture, cultivate and develop. This is a powerful confirmation of the potential evils of optimism: no one is more savage and cruel than an optimist disappointed by the people he was going to save through his naive idealism.
Coming back to Romney, it is intriguing that he at once takes the far-out confrontational posture of a “Gathering Storm” Santorum vis-a-vis Iran, while at the same time listing the Muslim Brotherhood as part of the general jihadi foe that must be fought. That ends up putting Romney in the odd position of defending the Syrian government as a “moderate Muslim government” as he breathes in, and then implicitly damning them by targeting Hizbullah as another part of the jihadi foe as he breathes out. Even though the Syrians oppose one part of the ”worldwide jihadist effort” in repressing the Brotherhood, we will no doubt be told that they are also part of the “worldwide jihadist effort” because they lend support to Hizbullah, which tends to show just how useless and unwise this sort of rhetoric about a “worldwide jihadist effort” really is. It is safe to say that anyone who thinks that there is a “worldwide jihadist effort” that includes both the Brotherhood and Hizbullah working for the same goals is playing directly into the hands of those, such as al Qaeda, who want nothing more than to convince as many Sunnis as possible that Washington is intent on indiscriminate war against Muslims everywhere. Nothing better aids jihadi propaganda that presents them as champions of an Islam besieged all over the world than clumsy, ham-fisted descriptions of a “worldwide jihadist effort” that validates the jihadis’ own description of the nature of the war. Romney wants us to play the jihadis’ game, and in this he is hardly alone on the right–shouldn’t someone be asking why Romney wants to fight the war on the enemy’s terms?
Rather than exploiting the cleavages that exist between different kinds of Muslims and different groups of jihadis, as a savvy George Kennan-like foreign policy thinker might propose, the insane plan of leading Republican candidates and the party leadership is to keep reinforcing the image of a monolithic, unified “worldwide jihadist effort.” The net result of this thinking will be that America will have that many more implacable enemies to fight and we will have missed that many more opportunities to turn jihadi against jihadi and use natural Baathist hostility to the same to our advantage. Rather than playing on national and sectarian divisions and exploiting opposition between relatively secular Muslims and their religious counterparts, talk of a “worldwide jihadist effort” helps to push these groups into collaboration where none existed before. Of course, having created this collaboration, it will then be taken as proof by these same clever people that these groups were “inevitably” going to ally with one another because of their fundamental agreement with one another.
Mitt Romney’s War: the total conflation of all Islamist movements. Not only is the Muslim Brotherhood not a jihadist organization, but its very lack of jihadiness is what spawned Ayman Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Suffice it to say that there is no caliphate on heaven or earth that will simultaneously satisfy Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, which goes a long way toward explaining why there is no concerted “worldwide jihadist effort” by these groups to establish one. ~Spencer Ackerman
Ackerman is right that Romney’s remarks in the debate make no sense, but they are worse than he thinks. Not only is there “no caliphate on heaven or earth that will simultaneously satisfy Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood,” Hizbullah presumably wouldn’t even want a caliphate at all, since the last intertwining of Shi’ism and ideas of having a khalifat as such was in Fatimid Egypt more than a few years ago. Plus, the Fatimids were Ismailis (though not, strictly speaking, Seveners), and Hizbullah today is from the Imamiyyah or Twelver Shi’ite branch, which makes the likelihood of this predominant strain in Iranian and Lebanese Shi’ism indulging dreams of a restored caliphate in Cairo (where virtually no Shi’ites today dwell) even more remote.
Not that anyone is keeping score, but I would like to point back to a pre-debate post in which I zeroed in on Romney’s foreign policy and historico-cultural ignorance on display in his speech at Yeshiva University. In the debate Romney offered up the same “gibberish,” as Drum called it, that he offered in the speech. Few, if any, have called him on it in the past when he has said ridiculous things about “the enemy,” and so he keeps on repeating them, because they give him the superficial appearance of knowledgeability and understanding. There are no candidates on the Republican side, except perhaps Ron Paul, who would either know to correct Romney or who would feel any strong desire to do so. In the view of most of the candidates who were up on that stage Thursday, Hizbullah and Hamas must be our enemies because they are Israel’s enemies, and so any lazy or overbroad concept that unite them all together under a single umbrella term will do.
For some of the ridiculous candidates (Brownback and Huckabee), and the Rick Santorums of the world, the catch-all idea is “Islamic fascism” or “Islamofascism,” a phrase and a word respectively so stupid that they must win some sort of prize for being the most stupid of the current century. Romney shares in their profound confusion (or deliberately misleading rhetoric) for the same reason: all these diverse and disparate groups must be brought together under a single, frightening label and they must be made out to be enemies of America, whether or not these descriptions are plausible, true or reasonable. As has been stated by some of the biggest supporters of the term Islamofascism, its value lies in its vagueness and its all-purpose application: everyone even nominally Muslim or remotely authoritarian can be classified as an Islamofascist, whether he is a Baathist, a member of al-Ikhwan, or a partisan of Hizbullah. As May said in September of last year:
The problem, as I see it with using the term “Bin Ladenism”: It can’t be applied to the ideologies of the ruling Iranian mullahs, Saddam Hussein loyalists or other Baathists (e.g. in Syria).
In other words, the word we use to describe our enemies must be meaningless in order to accommodate the maximum number of enemies. If there were ever a politician who was perfectly suited to an age in which words should be entirely malleable and subject to the political needs of the moment, it would have to be Romney. Romney and rhetoric about Islamofascism were made for each other.
In Istanbul last Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest the nomination of Abdullah Gul as president of Turkey. In Paris next Sunday, Nicolas Sarkozy will very likely be elected president of France. These two events are geographically distant but closely connected in political terms. Together they explain a bald fact of life: Turkey is not going to join the European Union. And they also illustrate one more contradiction—and failure—of the neoconservative project. ~Geoffrey Wheatcroft
There is a relationship between the events unfolding in Turkey and France, and happily both do signal setbacks for the politics and policies neocons in America would like to see in these countries. But tying these events in with neoconservatism is a bit overdone. Goodness knows I would love any opportunity to point out yet another example of neocon failure, but this time their failure, such as it is, is a pretty small part of the story. The protests against Abdullah Gul represent the profound schism within Turkish politics between the predominantly secular elite and urban middle class and the rural masses and the working class. The neocons might never have existed, and this would still have happened. Sarkozy’s rise is the result of a backlash against the rather more multiculti, hands-off approach to questions of immigration and assimilation (and, related, law and order) that France had sought to pursue under both Socialist and Gaullist governments. The 2005 riots discredited lax law enforcement and the lax approach to integration and made Sarko the man to watch, because he alone among top-level French politicians seemed to understand that this was a burning issue (no pun intended) that had to be addressed, both for his own political advantage (naturellement) and for what he considered the good of the country. Likewise, these events internal to France would have occurred in one form or another had The Weekly Standard never wasted the life of a single tree by being printed.
Both events do repudiate core ideas of latter-day neoconservatism: that nations are a function of shared ideals and “values” and nothing more; that Muslim populations can and should be smoothly and easily incorporated into the West and/or that Islam and democracy are readily compatible; that mass, non-Western immigration is a good in and of itself and must be maximised. Either in Turkey or in France or sometimes in both countries, these ideas are not doing very well at the moment. However, all of the actors in these events are not thinking about the neocons at all, except when they completely misunderstand what a neocon is and think that Nicolas Sarkozy, who is a kind of French Thatcher if not even a French Pat Buchanan in certain ways, fits the bill. In fact, the failure of Turkish entry has as much to do lately with Turkish hyper-nationalism, the continued denial of the Armenian genocide, the prosecutions of dissidents who insist on talking about the genocide and the state-encouraged murder of Hrant Dink as it has to do with anything related to AKP per se. Turkish poverty and booming demographics would make the EU wary of admitting the country regardless of anything that was happening in Turkish politics. Except for the despicable coat-holding that the administration does for such genocide denialism, one cannot actually pin any of that on the neocons, either, though their general silence and implicit hypocrisy on this matter are amazing. They ignore genocide denialism while they are only too happy to meddle in every foreign crisis by calling it a genocide and demanding that something be done about it.
So it is true that neoconservatives tend to be unduly enthusiastic for Turkish entry into the EU. They seem to like to encourage anything that would weaken and/or destroy Europe, especially when it comes to Christians in Europe, and they continue to operate under the strange assumption that advocating for Turkish entry into the EU will somehow win America a nice finish in the Global Muslim Opinion Derby. This is like the sad spectacle of Republicans voting for Puerto Rican statehood in a lame attempt to win Hispanic votes in California and Texas, when these voters don’t care about Puerto Rico, or the sadder spectacle of selling out on immigration in a desperate bid to win over Hispanic voters who don’t like illegal immigration anyway. How many times have we heard the neocon lament: “Why don’t these Saudi and Egyptian Muslims appreciate all that we’ve done for the Albanians?” Um…maybe because they‘re not Albanians?
In the end, Mr. Wheatcroft does not demonstrate any clear connection between neocons and the secularist resistance to Gul or the voters’ support for Sarkozy. He only vaguely outlines the connection between Turkish membership in the EU and Sarko’s popularity. The connection is obvious, if we understand that Sarko’s popularity is driven in no small part by French anxiety about Muslim and African immigration. If French leftists think of Sarko as a “neocon with a French passport,” they obviously don’t understand neocon views on immigration. Mr. Wheatcroft mentions that the war has inflamed Turkish anti-Americanism, which is true, and it has encouraged the worst tendencies of the Turkish hyper-nationalists in viewing the Kurdish population as a fifth column and traitors, but if anything opposition to American policy in Iraq and opposition to an independent Kurdistan have served as things holding together such disparate political forces as the hyper-nationalists, the CHP and AKP. Turkey is badly politically divided, but with their war the neocons have given all Turks something they can all hate together. In the end, neocons are not even on the stage in these dramas. Indeed, they have become entirely irrelevant to large parts of the world they would try to rule, and that may be the most damning indictment of them one can make.
Yet even the most thinly qualified of middle east experts [bold mine-DL] must know that Islam, as with any other civilisation, comprehends the sum total of human life, and that unlike some others it promises superiority in all things for its believers, so that the scientific and technological and cultural backwardness of the lands of Islam generates a constantly renewed sense of humiliation and of civilisational defeat. ~Edward Luttawak
Yet there are quite a few people who speak and act as if they were experts on the Near and Middle East who show little or no comprehension of this totalising quality of Islam. This all-encompassing nature of Islam is not a jihadi trick or part of their propaganda–it is supposed to be one of the more appealing aspects of Islam, because it proposes to have the right answer for every sphere of life.
Just consider how many people want to give Islamists the benefit of the doubt that Islamist rule is somehow compatible with constitutional rule. These would be the people who think real constitutional or liberal government is possible in the Islamic societies of these regions. It might be possible to have some sort of mass participatory Islamic republic (such as, say, Iran), replete with candidates and maybe even parties, provided that everyone involved understood the unassailable position and final authority of Islam. A constitution in which Islam was not established and empowered as the religion of the state seems highly unlikely.
Ironically, the correct comparison is to the Republican Party in the United States. This is a political party that draws much of its support from the political mobilization of Christian sentiment. ~Matt Yglesias
Yglesias is responding to a Michael Rubin item here, which was an update on his original post about anti-AK rallies. The comparisons with Christian Democrats and Republicans alike are pretty sorry, and I’ll tell you why. AK is an allegedly ”reformed” Islamist party, which means that it has changed absolutely nothing about itself except for its packaging and rhetoric. Christian Democratic parties are typically very secular outfits in practice, even if most of their voters are still nominal or active churchgoers. The Republicans are even more secular in practice and more secular in the makeup of their constituencies in that even most “conservative Christians” in America are political secular liberals through and through when it comes to the relationship between government and religion. Yes, there is a part of the GOP that is itself fairly religious and this occasionally carries over into the party’s policy prescriptions in very limited ways, but this part does not even constitute the substance of the whole.
AK is a party of political Islam, voted into power by Islamist voters and they make up virtually the entirety of the party. AK (standing for the Turkish for Justice & Development: Adalet ve Kalkinma) is the redesigned, “acceptable” form of the National Salvation, Welfare, Virtue, Felicity and Motherland parties that came before it. The constituencies of these successive parties are essentially the same–Erdogan was mayor of Istanbul as a member of Welfare. If Islamist governments are generally undesirable or ultimately incompatible with constitutional government, the Turkish AK government must be found similarly wanting. It might be that Kemalism is doomed to collapse and an Islamist Turkey is unavoidable, so it might be wise to learn how to live with that kind of Turkey, but pretending that AK is just the GOP or CDU with a headscarf is not the correct response.
Or, as I wrote a couple years back:
The example of Turkey is not heartening, as it took a full seventy years from the establishment of the republic before a mostly free election could result in the election of a government the majority truly desired, and even that government was soon thrown out on account of its Islamism. Only by minimising its Islamism in public and in its rhetoric has Mr. Erdogan’s party been allowed by the army and the constitutional court to remain in power–this is hardly the ideal situation to hold up as proof of a successful synthesis of Islam and democracy. Turkey’s secular republic has succeeded in becoming more democratic to the extent that it has because its republican reforms very deliberately circumscribed the role of Islam in public and political life. The two are inherently incompatible–one must give way for the other to advance…
No, it was secular nationalism that killed them, the pseudo-religion that exalts the Turkish nation. ~Morning’s Minion
Undoubtedly pan-Turanism and Turkish nationalism masquerading as Ottomanism were profoundly significant ideological factors in driving the genocide, and I wouldn’t even object to allowing that they were the most significant factors for the architects of the genocide. In addition to pointing to the basic Muslim identity of the irregulars, both Turkish and Kurdish, who carried out most of the actual looting and killing, I would point to an important feature of the ideology of the CUP leadership that is very often glossed over in many traditional accounts of this group. Taner Akcam, who will probably not be mistaken for a “right-wing culture warrior” (though I might fairly be described as such), wrote in his masterful A Shameful Act on the Islamic background to the genocide:
In addition to the general subjugation of all its subjects, the Ottoman state specifically oppressed and discriminated against non-Muslims. Indeed, in the course of Ottoman rule, long-standing assumptions of Muslim superiority evolved into the legal and cultural attitudes that created the background for genocide. This is not to say that the Ottoman Empire rested only on violence, but that without a grasp of the particular circumstances of the Muslim-non-Muslim relationship, we cannot understand the process that led to a decision for a “final solution” to the Armenian question….The Muslim-Christian clashes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the Armenian genocide must be considered against this background. Accordingly, the view that relative peace prevailed prior to the emergence of nineteenth-century nationalism, [sic] is not only incorrect but also misleading. (p.19-20)
Solidarity among the empire’s Muslims, no matter what, was the psychological product of decline and disintegration coupled with the belief of being surrounded by hostile forces desiring the state’s elimination. Thus Pan-Islamism was transformed into state ideology.
For this reason the attacks, mainly against the Armenians, had the nature of pogroms. The state unleashed its attacks on the slightest provocation, calculating that this would bind Muslims more closely to the empire. The Austrian ambassador to the Porte reported that Muslims were being armed and set into action against Christians, calling this a policy a “Muslim Crusade.” From reportss of the various diplomatic missions in Istanbul and eyewitness accounts, it is clear that the massacres of 1894-96 were centrally planned. (p.44)
And again Dr. Akcam wrote:
For all their differences, these divergent currents–Ottomanism, Islamism, Turkism, and Westernism–shared one core premise: the nationalism of a dominant ethnic group, which was understood to mean the Turks. (p.49)
Elsewhere he stresses the flexibility of the CUP in stressing different aspects of their ideology according to perceived need; when it helped to speak of jihad, they spoke of jihad, and when it helped to speak in racialist terms, they spoke as racialists. Whichever way you slice it, this was a nasty bunch. They were motivated by a number of different senses of their rightful superiority over Armenians and other minorities, one of which in this case was Islam, albeit an Islam as mediated through a particularly Turkist filter.
Speaking of “right-wing culture warriors” and the Armenian genocide together is notable for another reason, since relatively few “right-wing culture warriors” over here have any familiarity with the genocide and even fewer care very much. I have noticed that almost the only people who have shown any interest in what I have had to say about the genocide have been on the left or center-left. It is not for nothing that it is the Democrats who consistently push for recognition of the genocide, if only because Armenian-Americans overwhelmingly vote Democratic. Christian conservatives, who might theoretically be natural allies for the Diasporan Armenians in this area, seem to be generally uninterested in the question.
Depressingly, any sense of solidarity with Armenian Christians that one might think Christians in this country would or ought to have is virtually non-existent. For obvious reasons, American Jews are much more aware of the genocide and they tend to be more involved in promoting knowledge about the Armenian genocide. Likewise, the slaughter of the Assyrians undertaken at around the same time is also largely unknown to American Christians, just as the sorry fate of today’s Assyrians is overshadowed by an unfortunate commitment to Mr. Bush’s War. This deplorable neglect of Near Eastern Christians is repeated time and again across much of the American right. The response tends to be one of ignorance, indifference or some mixture of the two, so I would be very interested to see more “right-wing culture warriors” at least paying some lip service to remembering the Armenian genocide.
So Sarko and Royal have advanced, pretty much restoring French presidential politics back to its dreary pre-2002 normality, even though the major parties have hardly done or even said much to suggest that they are understand the deep apathy and disgust with government of so many of their citizens. There are obviously two important differences between now and 2002. The first is the existence of a sizeable center vote (18% for Bayrou) over which the major parties must compete. The second is that Sarko has apparently found a way to pilfer Le Pen’s voters without actually doing all that much to get them, because Le Pen has thrown away his immediate political support from France’s native working-class population for the sake of making a bargain with the Muslims for the future. The oft-mentioned 8% of Muslims backing Le Pen and Le Pen’s open embrace of the cause of the people who tried to burn sizeable parts of France to the ground probably went over badly with his natural constituencies. Go figure.
Unfortunately, the competition over the center will make both Sarko and Royal pursue ever-less interesting and ambitious proposals. It is not really that much in doubt that Bayrou himself and the people likely to have supported him are going to fall in line behind Sarkozy. Given that Royal is fairly batty by anyone’s standards and evidently not very knowledgeable about the rest of the world, the election is Sarko’s to lose and he is not going to lose, as I said last week. Sarkozy will extend the Gaullist/UMP control of the presidency at least through 2012.
A few wrote to remind him [Pope Benedict] that, as far as “reason” was concerned, it was Arab rationalists like Avicenna and Averroës who, with their commentaries on Aristotle, had saved Greek thought from obliteration during Europe’s undeniably dark Dark Ages. ~Jane Kramer
This would be nice, if it were true. Yes, Muslims preserved the Greek learning that they found in the lands they conquered, but it wasn’t as if Greek thought was ever in danger of “obliteration,” since the vast majority of Greek literature and history was preserved by the, er, Greeks in Byzantium. Muslims were especially keen on philosophy and scientific texts, and these they made use of and recopied down through the centuries, which then facilitated their introduction into western Europe. But they had little use for the playwrights, poets and historians, whose works we have primarily because of the Byzantines, who were also preserving the philosophical and scientific texts at the same time.
It might also be worth noting that Avicenna and Averroes were notoriously “unorthodox” by the Islamic standards of their day with beliefs about the eternity of the world and the like standing in direct contradiction to Islamic revelation. One of these philosophers felt the need to imagine truth as running on two tracks that did not intersect very often: the truths of reason and revelation were both true, but they were not going to fit together or be reconciled. Even when Islam had a place for philosophy, it was never as a “handmaid” to theology, but usually more in the role of a scullery maid who would be allowed to scrub the floors as long as she made sure to stay out of the master’s way. The obvious points would be that al-Kindi, Avicenna and Averroes represent a limited phenomenon that rather underscores and proves Pope Benedict’s Regensburg observation about the nature of Islam. These three, with perhaps a couple others, represent the greatest achievements of Islamic philosophy for its first six centuries, but they are relatively few in number and ultimately had much less significance for the overall development of Islamic thought than the jurists and mystics had. There was a moment when a kind of actually Islamic rationalism was on the rise, and it was squashed in the ninth century and never really fully reappeared. Even then, it was a highly eccentric movement within Islam and one deemed to be wrong on fundamental questions of theology, as indeed it would have to have been if the divinity of Qur’anic authority was going to be confirmed.
Mark Krikorian is optimistic that we are not approaching a point of no return with respect to amnesty and mass immigration. I think he is probably too optimistic. He cites as a supporting example Muslim support for the National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen. As Mr. Krikorian writes:
Jeez — if Arabs can vote for a guy like Le Pen, then a Republican Party that is optimistic and welcoming toward immigrants, but firm in its support of muscular enforcement and lower numbers, shouldn’t have any problem holding its own among Hispanics, especially if we reduce new inflows and let our still-strong (compared to Europe) assimilative forces do their work.
Certainly there is a kind of irony of the old paratrooper who fought in Algeria making a deal with the children and grandchildren of some of the people he fought against, but as The New York Sun reported two months ago Le Pen had started moving towards an alliance with French Muslims. As a cynical move to latch on to the fastest-growing population in the country, it is very clever. As a massive sell-out to the entire platform to which the National Front was supposedly dedicated, it is hardly a very encouraging example for restrictionists in America.
The Sun article also said:
The National Front is surprisingly popular among Muslim immigrants or second-generation Muslim citizens. For all its campaigning about immigration, Mr. Le Pen’s party has always extended support to Arab and Islamic causes abroad, from Saddam’s Iraq to Arafat’s or Hamas Palestine, and from Al Qaeda to Iran. And it is as firmly anti-American and anti-Jewish as the Muslim community itself tends to be.
Even taking this with the grain of salt that any reporting about Le Pen in the Sun requires, it makes sense that there are other, non-immigration positions that draw Muslim voters to support the FN. Le Pen making a deal with the Muslims in France is the equivalent of surrender and collaboration in the hopes of creating favourable conditions for yourself in the new order. It is rather less encouraging news and feeds into pessimism that Europe really is finished if some of the most vehement opponents of mass immigration from the south are effectively throwing in the towel.
Being critical of Israel is hardly unusual on either left or right in Europe, and opposition to the Iraq war is also hardly unique, but Le Pen has always been consistently much more, er, vehement in his denunciations of both. By comparison, I know of very little in the Republican Party platform that would actually trump the many natural advantages the Democrats have with a growing Hispanic immigrant population. Enforcement and reduced numbers probably are somewhat popular with second or third-generation, more assimilated Hispanic voters, but there is too little working in the GOP’s favour with these voters otherwise.
None of this is to say that we shouldn’t have enforcement and reduced numbers (we certainly should), but it is to say that it will not be possible for the GOP to have its cake and eat it, too. Le Pen’s example can only encourage the “pro-amnesty Republicans” who hope to make a deal with Hispanic voters. If the French example is any indication of what will happen here, it also means that there will eventually be a tipping point when restrictionists will find themselves so badly outnumbered that they may feel compelled for other reasons to de-prioritise immigration restriction and try to join forces with the people they have been working to keep out of the country.
If you were a traditional Muslim, would you want to associate yourself with people who were constantly attacking your prophet, your holy book, your values, and your religion? ~Dinesh D’Souza
Well, obviously not. I don’t expect them to do any such thing. It is the neocon Islamophiles who think they can “win over” part of the Islamic world against the ”Islamofascist” part, and they are the more foolish for it. I don’t expect Muslims of any stripe to associate with me–I wouldn’t want them to be associationists! (Okay, that was a bad Islamic theology joke–does D’Souza even get it?) But, then, as a Christian, I don’t want to associate myself with people who say–indeed whose scripture requires them to say–that my Saviour and God was a mere man, who deny His Resurrection (and even His Crucifixion!), mock the Holy Trinity, desecrate and destroy the sites dedicated to His glory and His holy Name, deface the sacred images of His beloved saints and His All-Holy, Most Pure and Ever-Virgin Mother and kill my co-religionists without mercy. The people most inclined to agree with some of the moral judgements (if not the juridical punishments) of “traditional Muslims” are the very people who have no time at all for people whose entire religion is a shoddy, warmed-over version of the worst heresies and deviations from our religion. With Islam, significant doctrinal differences really do make all the difference, not least because these differences have dramatic, immediate real-world consequences (as, indeed, does almost every significant theological difference). I generally tend to think that agreement on “common values” is not entirely possible with people who have a completely different doctrine of God, since in some of their most basic convictions they believe something that I regard as manifest falsehood. If they are that wrong about God, how much less will they understand about the less important things of worldly matters? If they are actively hostile to the Church’s teaching about God and His saving economy, how in the world can I justify taking their side in any quarrel, no matter how many superficial points of agreement D’Souza can throw out there?
Never mind that the Islamic tradition helped to pioneer the figurative reading of biblical texts. ~Andrew Sullivan
Yes, what would Origen have done without Muhammad? It’s interesting that Muslims could have pioneered something that predated their religion by many centuries, especially when they explicitly reject figurative interpretations of their own scripture, since it is taken to be the uncreated Word. Unlike our understanding of Christian Scripture, which is one of divinely revealed truth with multiple layers of meaning, there are no other “senses” of Islamic scripture, at least not in traditional Sunnism (in other words, the bulk of Islam throughout its history).
I only just read Sullivan’s review in its entirety today, so I had not seen this amazing statement until today. The folks at The New Republic should be embarrassed to run something with such a manifestly false, easily checked statement as this–and Sullivan has the gall to make this statement as a way to take a shot at D’Souza. As Dr. Trifkovic has shown, D’Souza’s ignorance about the religion of his proposed allies is impressive and extensive, but this is not part of it.
This is perhaps the single-most ignorant statement Sullivan has ever made. There are so many competitors for this honour, but I think this one wins by a good distance. I welcome nominations for runners-up.
I wish we knew more about the theological differences between the historic American Muslim groups and Sunnis. ~Mollie
How could it be that Danish cartoons of Muhammad led to mass violent protests, while unspeakable violence by Muslims against Muslims in Iraq every day evokes about as much reaction in the Arab-Muslim world as the weather report? Where is the Muslim Martin Luther King? [bold mine-DL] Where is the “Million Muslim March” under the banner: “No Shiites, No Sunnis: We are all children of the Prophet Muhammad.” ~Thomas Friedman
There are so many moments when Friedman’s commentary causes pained grimaces or hysterical laughter that it is hard to know if this is the most foolish thing he has ever written. Why do the Friedmans of the world write columns that pose what should be absurd rhetorical questions as if they were earnest inquiries after truth? How could it be that the Danish cartoons provoked more outrage? Well, for starters, the campaign against the cartoons was not spontaneous, it had been organised over the course of many months (adding three additional, far more insulting cartoons to the twelve originals) and the outrage, to the extent that it wasn’t entirely ginned up by demagogues, focused on what these people considered a grave insult to the man they regard as the most virtuous and noble in history. Plus, it was an occasion to dictate Islamic norms to Westerners in a demonstration of their presumed superiority. Their view of Muhammad is deeply wrong and their presumption to dictate our behaviour ludicrous, but that is why they responded more vehemently.
Why would they respond with great outrage about a relative few Sunnis and Shias killing each other? For both sides, they might respond by saying: what else is new? In Shia historical memory, Sunnism is identified with the people who caused the death of ‘Ali and with Karbala and the martyrdom of his son, Husayn. Husayn was literally a direct descendant of Muhammad through his mother, Fatima, and a legal heir through Muhammad’s adopted son. Down across the centuries sayyids (those who are accepted as descended from Muhammad through the male line) have been typically respected in both sects because everyone acknowledged that not all Muslims were “children of Muhammad.” Therefore, appealing to Muslims to stop killing one another on the basis of some mythical shared descent from Muhammad (even assuming that those engaged in the violence do not accuse members of the opposing sect through the process of takfir) would be to rub salt in the wound of Shias and uncomfortably remind the Sunnis of Shia claims to authority (which the appeal would probably also effectively endorse).
Perhaps in his flight of fantasy in which a Muslim MLK gives his “I have a fatwa” speech of reconciliation and brotherhood, Friedman was using children metaphorically. You have to hope that he was. Even so, in using this metaphor he accidentally stumbles into one of the long-running causes of opposition between the sects, and thus unknowingly answers his own question about the relative indifference to the violence (since each side will undoubtedly lament its own dead, but not that those killing and being killed are fellow Muslims). At the same time, he unwittingly invokes the remembered past of suffering and repression that feeds modern Shia attitudes (reinforced by more recent repression at the hands of Sunni authorities) in the unintended allusion to the violent deaths of the first two Imams at the hands of Sunnis.
A separate query: if many Western liberals insist that the Islamic world is in need of an Enlightenment of its own, and these same people consider such an Enlightenment vital to the future moderation of Islam (which assumes, I think erroneously, that Islam’s experience with such a phase would yield results similar to the European Enlightenment with respect to the eventual establishment of religious toleration, pluralism, etc.), and if these same people also believe that our Enlightenment was possible only in the wake of the destruction and disillusionment caused by the “long” century of the Religious Wars (1525-1648), should they not rather cynically welcome Sunni-Shia carnage as their hoped-for vehicle of introducing religious disenchantment into the Islamic world?
I don’t say that these developments are desirable, nor do I think much of large parts of our Enlightenment (so I would hardly want to inflict such a thing on anyone else), but for the people, like Friedman, who prattle on about liberalisation and reform within Islam and dream of future fantastical Muslim MLKs, it seems to me that they ought to embrace the Muslim-on-Muslim bloodletting, to borrow from our famous “student of history” Secretary Rice, as necessary and the “birth pangs of a new Islamic world.” That this would reveal the full madness of the drive to “fix” the Islamic world according to our lights, which Westerners will never accomplish, is probably why they hold back from the very logical conclusion of their arguments for liberalisation and reform. That it would demonstrate the ultimate futility of all attempts at introducing or encouraging reform and liberalising elements would weigh heavily on the minds of the Friedmans, assuming they gave much thought to their false premises.
Soon, the Christianists will be recruiting ayatollahs to give them back-up in their war on Western freedom. ~Sullivan
Yes, we here in the Christianists Local, No. 38, have a meeting over at the mosque later today. The agenda? Sure enough: “How to destroy Western freedom.” Sullivan sure is sharp.
Presumably the “Christianists” include Rev. Hagee, who declared the bombing of Lebanon a “miracle of God.” The ayatollahs–and the Christians and Muslims of Lebanon getting bombed by the “miraculous” IAF–will probably not view kindly this kind of “alliance.” Herein lies the biggest reason why D’Souza’s idea of such an alliance between conservatives here and Muslims around the world is obviously absurd: almost to a man, the people whom Sullivan loathes and denounces as “Christianists” have an irremediably negative view of Islam, for both religious and political reasons, and would be the last ones to entertain the idiocy of making a pact with Islamic fundamentalists. These are people who are conservative, to the extent that they are, because they are Christian and because they take Christianity to be the True Faith. For all the reasons that Sullivan hates these people, almost all could never closely cooperate with Muslims or most other non-Christians to the degree that D’Souza is talking about. I suspect they would sooner go to a gay discotheque than make such a deal with Muslims, which is one way to say that they would never make such a deal.
Sullivan writes as if there were a natural unity among all those whom he calls, often erroneously, “fundamentalists,” when it has to be one of the basic traits of any actual fundamentalist to view fundamentalists from another religion as being among the worst people in the world. Sullivan’s fear of a Christianist-ayatollah connection is the product of what some of us like to call “paranoia,” where the subject believes that contradictory and opposed forces in the world are all working together and out to get him because, under the surface, they are all really on the same side in their loathing of, in this case, the subject’s sexual habits.
From the perspective of a real believer, for someone to embrace religious error is bad enough, but to embrace it in such a thoroughgoing and intense way strikes the believer as the height of insanity. In some sense, a Christian believer will assume that the fundamentalists from another religion might often be the “best” representatives of their religion in that they are holding most strictly to their religion’s teachings, and he may even understand that a Hindu or Islamic fundamentalist, let’s say, is only doing what he believes his religious duty mandates. That does not really excuse what those fundamentalists do–for example, what they do to Christians and Christian churches–but makes their actions the logical outcome of their religion, which further confirms the believer’s negative view of that religion.
Such a believer might even have some passing respect for the commitment and devotion of such a person, before coming back to reality and realising that religious commitment and devotion are only virtuous if they are aimed at the Good, which false religions are capable of doing only imperfectly. He will probably take the other religion’s fundamentalists at their word that they represent the pure and true form of their religion, which will only reconfirm in his mind the view that this religion is profoundly wrong. This is why some Christians, even a few conservative Christians, are willing to cheer on Muslim apostates and “liberal Muslims” who reject both “traditional” and “radical” forms of their religion, even though they would respond in horror if the same sort of anti-traditional and subversive arguments were made by members of their own religion.
When a conservative’s book is lambasted in The New York Times book review section, as Dinesh D’Souza’s The Enemy at Home was today, I can usually take it for granted that the review, if hostile, will probably be ridiculous and virtually self-refuting. Alan Wolfe has not disappointed me. In a review entitled, none too subtly, “None (but Me) Dare Call It Treason,” he excoriates D’Souza’s book as a “national disgrace” and calls the author ”childish.” Tom Piatak had a very different reading of the “disgrace”:
Dinesh D’Souza’s The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 is really three separate books jammed together in one package: a persuasive though hardly original account of the Culture War in America; an engaging rendition of the Left’s hostility toward traditional cultures around the world and its attempt to break down the morality undergirding those cultures; and an unconvincing attempt to link the first two books to the third, a defense of the Bush administration’s policies in the Middle East. Because of this odd juxtaposition, there is much of interest in D’Souza’s book, though its parts are definitely greater than the whole.
However, my bad reaction to the NYT review does not mean that I am a great D’Souza fan, and I have already written a little about Tom Piatak’s TAC review of the same book. My impression of the book has not much improved with the reading of a second review, even though Wolfe’s tone and argument make me want to be sympathetic with D’Souza in spite of myself.
Let me start by acknowledging that I have not read D’Souza’s book, nor will I be rushing out to buy it. I am working from what these two reviews tell me. Based on those reviews, D’Souza seems to say some things that are true (it is true, for example, that Bin Laden has not launched any attacks on Israel and also true that few Americans are terribly distressed at the tens of thousands of dead Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan), but also unfortunately elaborates his “grand strategy” for a sort of international culture war in alliance with “traditional Muslims” that inevitably summons to mind the phrase “ecumenical jihad.” This is a very, very bad idea, but the proposal itself deserves some consideration so that we can understand fully just how bad of an idea it is.
Some of D’Souza’s irony is clearly lost on Mr. Wolfe. For instance, he does not seem to grasp what I take to be the point behind D’Souza’s remark about polygamy and Western sexual freedom. From Wolfe’s review:
Polygamy exists under Islamic law, but the sexual freedom produced by feminism in this country is, at least for men, “even better than polygamy.”
Perhaps D’Souza is simply being nihilistic here and saying: “They mistreat their women one way, and in certain respects we mistreat them even more in another, so why get on your high horse about their treatment of women?” On the other hand, he might very well be saying (though why he is saying this, I have no idea, so ripped from context is this excerpt), “A sane society would oppose polygamy on the grounds that it is a disgrace and travesty of the marital bond, which should be a monogamous and faithful union, but we are a deeply sick society that does so much to undermine and wreck the institution of marriage and we mistreat our women in some ways that are more degrading in the name of “sexual freedom,” but still have the gall to attack traditional societies for the practice of polygamy.” In other words, I think D’Souza probably accepts that polygamy is wrong–I am going to guess that he is not really engaged in cultural relativism here–but recognises that polygamy is relatively better, as a matter of social stability and public morality, than rampant mass fornication dressed up as “freedom.” Does Mr. Wolfe understand the difference between these two positions? Does he care about figuring out what D’Souza means? I assume he does not. He has the polemical bit between his teeth and he is racing down the track.
Ecumenical jihad is initially, but only very briefly, an appealing concept. Its core assumption, taken to its logical conclusion, is that a conservative would and should prefer “traditional Muslims” to, say, Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris. In a global struggle against the cultural leftists, Islam thus supposedly becomes the ally. This is a sort of Brzezinskian-Reaganite approach to a global cultural conservatism: support the mujahideen against the godless. The core problem with this idea, besides its complete impracticability, the damage it would do to our civilisation and the scorn with which it would be met on the Muslim side, is that it presupposes a common ground and a consensus on basic moral truths that don’t actually exist.
Strict conservatives in the West quite rightly have a very dim view of the sexual revolution. The trouble is that most “traditional Muslims” think, for example, that women appearing in public without accompaniment from a male relative is a form of absolutely unacceptable sexual revolution and indecency and that it can be punishable by violence. I assume that most conservatives, including many social conservatives, would view this as extreme and excessive. D’Souza’s alliance rests on the assumption that this is what most of us would like to establish in this country if only we could somehow manage it. I can believe that many social conservatives want a restored public morality and decency that would impose many, many strictures on people that have since fallen by the wayside without confusing what they want with the codes of Islamic fundamentalists.
D’Souza’s alliance only makes sense in the very limited, binary analysis of for/against. “Oh, Muslims are also against homosexuality–let’s join together with them to fight this abomination!” Except that their idea of the fight is to stone or otherwise execute sexual deviants. That does almost put them in the Old Testament tradition, or at least the punishment bears close resemblance to Leviticus, but then even the blackest of black reactionaries in the West are unlikely to bring back Levitical punishments that have been in abeyance for centuries and are unlikely to sympathise very much with those still inflicting such punishments.
As a matter of foreign policy, I am convinced that what Muslims do in their own countries is generally their business, which is why I find D’Souza’s weird combination of Islam and Imperialism so bizarre. In his view, we should go out of our way to make concessions to traditional Muslim sensibilities all over the place, but then also dictate the political and economic future of their countries through interventionist foreign policy that is sure to anger, humiliate and outrage the very same constituency D’Souza seems intent on satisfying.
But if D’Souza is incoherent, Wolfe is laughably silly. Here is Wolfe in high dudgeon:
Unlike President Bush, who once said he could not understand how anyone could hate America, D’Souza knows why Islamic radicals attack us. “Painful though it may be to admit,” he admits, “some of what the critics or even enemies say about America and the West … may be true.” Susan Sontag never said we brought Sept. 11 on ourselves. Dinesh D’Souza does say it.
Leave aside the strange contrast between Mr. Bush’s understanding–which is so widely respected as deep and penetrating!–and D’Souza’s. This is one of those cases where D’Souza says, “Some of what our critics say may be true” and Wolfe cries, “Anti-American!” faster than a neocon columnist on a deadline. From the excerpt given here, D’Souza does not say that we brought 9/11 on ourselves. It says that some of the criticisms of America and the West are not entirely without merit. That is a perfectly defensible statement, and it happens to be true. More might be said in this vein, but from what Wolfe tells us D’Souza did not say it.
Another excerpt that proves the book to be a disgrace? Wolfe recounts:
And the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that the West has a taboo against questioning the existence of the Holocaust, while “pooh-poohed by Western commentators,” was “undoubtedly accurate.”
Here D’Souza has invited trouble for himself by even bringing up Ahmadinejad and failing to engage in a ritual denunciation. But, according to this excerpt, what did he say was “undoubtedly accurate”? Ahmadinejad’s claim that there was a taboo against questioning the existence of the Holocaust. That is “undoubtedly accurate.” There is a taboo against this. Wolfe presumably finds D’Souza’s comment about this offensive precisely because there is such a strong taboo that even mentioning that there is a taboo is frowned upon–it’s simply understood and left at that. Most people in the West happen to think this is a well-founded taboo, since the Holocaust (i.e., the mass killing of Jews in lands under Nazi German authority) did happen.
One might query (Wolfe does not) why D’Souza mentions this, since Ahmadinejad obviously does not make this observation out of a deep sensitivity about the problems of imposing what are effectively political limitations on historical inquiry. He uses it as a way to show that there are things “we” in the West consider unquestionable and inviolable and, so he would probably claim, thus our commitment to freedom of speech is a fraud. However, while I might say that locking people up for making statements about the Holocaust contrary to the generally accepted historical record is stupid and tyrannical, just as I consider the French law outlawing Armenian genocide denial to be foolish and counterproductive (not least since it allows members of the Turkish establishment to pose as some sort of defenders of academic or political freedom, when that is exactly what they are not), Ahmadinejad uses this inconsistency on the part of Westerners to advance the claims of Islam over and against us and to insist that we cannot violate their taboos in what we do because we are supposedly hypocrites when it comes to protecting freedom of speech. Many European countries are hypocrites about this, but that remains irrelevant. If Europeans lifted all hate-speech and Holocaust-denial laws tomorrow, Ahmadinejad and other Muslims with him would not change a bit. D’Souza exposes himself rather stupidly here to the obvious attacks that he had to know would come and doesn’t really make much of point, as far as I can see from this excerpt, except to say, ”Ahmadinejad occasionally says things that are factually true.” This is not very interesting. It is a sad commentary on the pathetic, super-politicised state of Iran commentary that to say something as mild and inoffensive as this merits special derision from an agent of the Grey Lady.
D’Souza’s book evidently proposes a fool’s errand of allying with Islam as a path towards the defense of our own culture. Wolfe does make a couple of the same points I have already made before (e.g., the distinction between traditional and radical Muslims is largely illusory), but largely fails to focus on the central conceptual flaw of D’Souza’s proposal: you cannot drag the Islamic world kicking and screaming towards secular modernity while at the same time hoping that the “traditional” forces within Islam will strengthen or somehow aid in the conservative fight against the cultural left. This is an idea even more crazy and potentially disastrous than the tired cliche of the fine “family values” of Latin American immigrants who are coming fortify conservatism in America and become loyal GOP voters. That is why people should throw down D’Souza’s book and move away, and not because he has accused subversives of being just what they are.
In his enthusiasm for belittling Obama (something of which I can heartily approve), Mark Steyn declares in his characteristically slapdash fashion:
The madrassah stuff was supposedly leaked to Insight Magazine by some oppo-research heavies on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s team. Which if true suggests that Hillary’s losing her touch. It’s certainly the case that a foreign education doesn’t always assist in electoral politics: John Kerry didn’t play up the Swiss finishing school angle. But look at it from a Democratic primary voter’s point of view, the kind who drives around with those ‘’CO-EXIST'’ bumper stickers made up of the cross and the Star of David and the Islamic crescent and the peace sign. Your whole world view is based on the belief that deep down we’d all rub along just fine and this neocon fever about Islam is just a lot of banana oil to keep the American people in a state of fear and paranoia. What would more resoundingly confirm that view than if the nicest, most non-bitter, nonpartisan guy in politics turns out to have graduated from the Sword of the Infidel Slayer grade school in Jakarta?
Before Steyn can make this into the usual narrative of stupid liberal/virtuous and wise neocon, let’s not forget that neocons have been rather late to the game of being concerned about Islam, being old hands at Islamic fundamentalist-empowerment in the Balkans, the Caucasus and every other corner of the globe so long as it was deemed useful to advance their idea of U.S. hegemony and superiority over other great powers and their clients. No one was more shocked–or at least no one expressed greater shock–post-9/11 that Muslims around the world had not been more grateful for all the times America had come to the aid of Muslim causes in different parts of the world than neocon pundits. The litany was always the same: “Afghanistan! Somalia! Bosnia! Kosovo! You people owe us. We are on your side–why have you betrayed us?” Having cheered on Clinton’s dealmaking with Iranian and Saudi-backed jihadis in Bosnia, they were over the moon when NATO came to the aid of the church-burning, monastery-destroying Islamic terrorists of the KLA.
Imagine their surprise when an entirely different set of Muslims from other parts of the world were not grateful that the government and, in a supporting role, the neocons had helped to crush a Christian country for the sake of their co-religionists. The neocon lament, which has since become an insane rage against the more specifically Iraqi ingrates, was profound, as if to cry, “Didn’t you Muslims pay attention? We helped your guys in virtually every street fight in the ’80s and ’90s, and still you have bad feelings towards us! How many more Christians do you want us to bomb? Don’t worry, we’ll be glad to oblige.” Their militant overreaction to Islamic terror is the overcompensation for years of encouraging and supporting the very same kinds of people against those, mostly Orthodox Christians by heritage, whom they despised even more. Yet their every policy preference seems designed to perpetuate on the one hand the myth of their “moral clarity” in facing down Islamic fundamentalism (about which they were fairly indifferent in the ’90s) while also maintaining the remarkable fiction–embodied in official administration positions–that there are “moderates” and “reformers” within Islam whom we must support.
I have written before on neocon Islamophilia, which is a phrase that seems bizarre at first until you recognise how and why neocons oppose jihadis–they do not oppose them because they are jihadis as such, much less because they are Muslims and heirs to nearly a millennium and a half of hostility to our civilisation, but because they are like fascists and totalitarians. Hence the idiotic “Islamofascist” tag. If only the Islamic world could know the benefits of Enlightenment universalism and the religious moderation that would supposedly flow from it, they tell us, all would be well. On the political front, since they have determined jihadis to be adherents of a kind of fascism, how else should we combat that fascism except according to the established script of war, occupation and political “re-education” of entire countries as liberal democracies? Having completely misunderstood the problem, they endorse remedies that have no chance of working, but which are likely to empower jihadis and the like through the spread of violent conflict and the insane enfranchisement of jihadi voting blocs.
Back to Steyn. Steyn’s claim about the prevalence of sappy Democratic multiculti sentiments sounds good. It reinforces myths that Democrats like to believe about themselves: that they are the party of tolerance, diversity and heroic indifference to the more appalling aspects of foreign cultures. These are the same myths that Republicans like to perpetuate about them to make all of them appear as foolish and ridiculous as their most looney members. However, the myths aren’t entirely true.
If we believe the latest Diageo/Hotline poll, which tallied American attitudes towards four religions, it is true that Republicans (11% fav/58% unfav) and independents (14% fav/41% unfav) tend to have much lower opinions of Islam than do Democrats, but it is still a relative thing. For every Democrat who views Islam favourably, there is another Democrat who views it unfavourably (27% vs. 27%). The remainder is made up of all those Democratic voters too ignorant to know what to make of Islam one way or the other. Add together the people who don’t know any better with those who already have a dim view of Islam, and you have well over a majority of Democrats. If Clinton can show those with a low opinion of Islam that Obama was raised as a Muslim, and if she can convince the ignorant 47% that he deceived the public or omitted these details from his biography, she might very possibly cripple his campaign before it starts.
If the leak to Insight was indeed the Clinton team’s work, it was not at all the sloppy or foolish thing Steyn makes it out to be. It was a great potential momentum-killing revelation with the added advantage that the leak to the Washington Times‘ magazine protects HRC from a left-wing backlash. If they did indeed use a conservative publication to reveal the information, Clinton’s team has managed to throw the blog left into an uproar at right-wing dirty tricks while making her appear to be a victim of still other right-wing dirty tricks that aim to sully her name with supposed prejudice that would theoretically hurt her with her primary voters.
The funny thing about this blogger outrage on Clinton’s behalf is that an appeal to what silly people will inevitably call “Islamophobia” will not backfire with that many Democratic primary voters. It may actually cause other voters to turn away from Obama when they might have otherwise supported him. As the de facto front-runner with the most money and best organisation as of right now, all Clinton needs to do is prevent Obama from gaining momentum through this year. Throwing up a hurdle like this–which will do amazingly bad things to Obama’s prospects as an “electable” candidate for the general–creates real problems for Obama. It may not even harm him that much right now, but it will linger in the background until he comes under real media scrutiny and will then reappear with a vengeance.
And yet, literally billions of our neighbors deem the contents of the Bible and the Qur’an to be so profound as to rule out the possibility of terrestrial authorship. ~Sam Harris
If I made it my business to be a professional religion-basher, and if I thought getting my criticism of religion was right as an important way to shine the light of reason on the darkened corners of religious minds, I would at the very least get my facts straight about certain key elements of the religions I was bashing. Christians and Muslims agree that their scriptures are authored by God in the sense that they accept that the revelation comes from God. They do not agree that revelation came in unmediated form and that the text as set down in its complete form (which, of course, was a redacted and edited form also in the case of the Qur’an) is the uncreated Word of God. Muslims believe this, Christians do not.
Therein lies one of the most significant differences between the two religions, and the one that has possibly has done the most damage of the intellectual culture of the Islamic world than any other. As I understand it, the Qur’an is not open to hermeneutics of any kind, and there is no other way to understand it except literally, where by literally I mean there is no possibility of interpreting the same text in several different senses. That creates certain obvious problems for the possibility of reconciling revelation and other sources of truth, since multivalence in a religious text is effectively impossible without some room for interpretation. On the other hand, Christians acknowledge, as they have acknowledged since the beginning, that Scripture is a divine revelation mediated through inspired authors and the composition of the texts is attributed to various patriarchs and apostles. (We can set aside for the moment the high criticism’s doubts about the traditional attributions of books of the Bible.) Terrestrial authorship, in the sense that it was understood that the Scriptures themselves were set down by men according to the revelation, is not only a possibility for Christians, but it is taken for granted and assumed to be the case.
Muslims do not have a tradition of remembering the Composers of the Qur’an as they remember the Companions of the Prophet, because they believe that Jibril spoke the Qur’an to Muhammad and that was it. Christians commemorate and many venerate the Evangelists and others in recognition of what can only be called terrestrial authorship of Scripture. That they also take Scripture to be true and inerrant is not surprising, but they plainly do not rule out “the possibility of terrestrial authorship.”
There was an awareness from the beginning that the accounts of the Gospels differed and there was also an awareness of the potential problems and contradictions in Scripture. Because of the possibility of having multiple senses in which one could read Scripture, it became possible to interpret revelation on the assumption that God guided the Fathers and the authorities of the Church in this work of interpretation and teaching. Undoubtedly Mr. Harris will spew forth venom at all of this as well, but for him to do that he would first have to know about it, which he evidently does not from the comments that he made.
He fails, however, to explain adequately how Third World opposition to “a decadent American culture” led to 9/11, still less why those Americans who share his opposition to this decadent culture should support the Bush administration’s Middle East policy. To be sure, D’Souza is right about a number of things that more conventional defenses of the Bush administration are likely to get wrong: he recognizes that Muslims do not “hate us for our freedom”; that Islamic radicalism is not a form of fascism; that we are not at war with terror; that Abu Ghraib horrified the Muslim world because it involved the sexual humiliation of men, not because it violated treaties that are widely ignored when interrogating prisoners in the Middle East. And he expresses at least some skepticism, though hardly enough, about making the forcible export of democracy the centerpiece of American foreign policy. Unfortunately, these lapses into common sense and reality do not redeem D’Souza’s stubborn, ideological defense of the Bush administration.
“The only way to win the war,” D’Souza believes, “is to create a wedge between Islamic radicals and traditional Muslims, and to support traditional Islam against radical Islam.” But he does not produce any evidence that Bush’s invasion of Iraq, rhetorical belligerence toward Iran and Syria, and dismissive dealings with Palestinian leaders of whom Israel disapproves have endeared the U.S. to traditional Muslims. The reality is quite the opposite. ~Tom Piatak, The American Conservative
Tom does a nice job separating the different strands of D’Souza’s argument in The Enemy at Home and recognising the things that D’Souza manages to get right in spite of his other biases. Tom does very well to focus on the incoherence of an argument that requires us to believe that Muslims are revolted by the cultural imperialism of the decadent, modern West to the point of fanatical violence while also holding that the only way to stop the fanatical violence is through increased political imperialism (or at least a hegemonic position sustained by interventionist wars that is in many respects indistinguishable from empire). In other words, if you believe what D’Souza believes about the cause of the problem, the Bush administration’s remedy appears to be not simply counterproductive but perfectly mad.
Tom rightly acknowledges that our decadence and the promotion of it around the world by cultural liberals serve to antagonise Muslims and all other sorts of people from traditional societies, but asks the obvious question: if Islamic terrorism is primarily a response to this, and not a reaction against what the jihadis themselves claim it to be a reaction against (namely, formal U.S. policy in the Near East), why haven’t they focused their greatest outrage on Amsterdam and other places in Europe that have thrown out traditional morality even more openly and forcefully? For that matter, when targeting America why aim for symbolic and real centers of economic and political power? Why not hit Hollywood, Las Vegas and San Francisco? Perhaps because moral decadence is simply an aggravating factor, which may help to stoke Muslim outrage but does not make that outrage the main reason for violence. It is not one of the principal causes of why the jihadis target America. Recognising that jihad is integral to Islam and is not some distortion or degeneration of the religion is important (and it is almost certainly something that the distinction between “traditional Islam” and “radical Islam” is meant to obscure or deny), but even this does not explain why jihadis are preoccupied with attacking America first rather than targeting infidels and apostates closer to home.
From what Tom presents in his review, the greatest problem with D’Souza’s proposal for how to respond to jihadis seems to be his view that there is a significant difference between “traditional Muslims” and “Islamic radicals.” If there is a difference, and I might be persuaded that there is some real difference, it is surely one of degree only. It is unfortunately mostly the difference between the jihadis who are directly involved in the fighting and killing and those who, for whatever reason, are not directly involved but who by and large sympathise with and support what the jihadis are doing. As poll after poll from across the Islamic world has confirmed, the surefire way to guarantee that the “traditional Muslims” around the world who routinely declare their opposition to the policies of the U.S. government will increasingly strongly sympathise with jihadis is to engage in ham-fisted invasions of Muslim lands.
This approach has two additional liabilities. This not only provides jihadis with the immediate pretext that they are fighting infidel occupiers of Muslim land, thus lending their cause added credibility, but tends to confirm their historical narrative that explains the weakness and failures of the Islamic world in terms of Western domination rather than because of flaws in their indigenous religious and political cultures. To the extent that such invasions confirm the jihadi picture of an infidel world that is putting Islam under siege in an attempt to destroy it, the more readily they can call upon Muslims, be they “traditional” or “radical,” to do their duty to defend Islam and the response they receive will be all the greater.
If there is one psychological bias that Kahnemann and Renshon did not discuss quite as much as they ought to have done in their recent FP essay, it is the tendency that people have to assume that they are never aggressors and are always the ones responding justifiably to someone else’s aggression. This is a powerful bias that helps drive “hawkish” policies as much as anything. Many Americans will be literally shocked and outraged when you suggest that invading Iraq was an act of aggression. Why, just look at all the “provocations” “we” have had to endure! I mean, the Iraqis had the nerve to fire at planes that were enforcing an illegal no-fly zone in their airspace–outrageous! Who do they think they are? We can find pretexts for why we did what we did–look at all those Security Council resolutions! (Not that anyone who invoked these resolutions normally cared a whit for the authority of the U.N. the rest of the time, but no matter.) In the same way, there are probably more than a few “traditional Muslims” who will look at 9/11 and see, at worst, a more or less justified response to the injuries they believe have been inflicted on Muslims by our government. They will make the same chilling, monstrous arguments that some apologists for Hiroshima and Dresden make over here: “They supported the enemy regime, so they deserved what they got.” (Has anyone noticed that the people who typically display the most demonstrative outrage over 9/11 are often some of the same people who most loudly affirm the rightness of the mass slaughter of civilians in WWII through “strategic” bombing?) These Muslims will see it as a necessary response for the sake of defending “the weak and the oppressed,” and in this way make murder into an act of nobly defending their brethren. Both of these positions are quite mad, but the tendency to want to refuse to see the aggressiveness of one’s own side is a habit shared by all. It is a habit that is only overcome with great effort, and for most people this an effort not worth making. To make such an effort is to somehow sympathise with “the enemy” and to turn against your own side. To suggest that your “side” has engaged in aggression at any point is to be unceremoniously labeled “unpatriotic” and the like (leave aside for the moment the profound confusion of country and government that this kind of thinking requires). When people complain about someone “blaming America first,”‘ they usually mean that he is holding America to the same standard that Americans routinely apply to all other nations. Part of applying the same standard involves questioning the government’s official explanations for its use of military force, which historians and long-time observers of international politics will know are often fraudulent, misleading or self-serving in the extreme.
Making the effort to break this habit can certainly undermine a war effort if the war is one of aggression. This is why it was so important to the Germans in WWI, for instance, to engage in the collective delusion that they were fighting a war of self-defense. There was an iota of truth to this, but not much more, so they clung to that iota for all they were worth. Of course, when they ended up being blamed (quite unjustly) for the entire thing they were doubly incensed at the injustice of it because they firmly believed they had been fighting a defensive war all along. Almost everyone believes he is fighting some kind of defensive war. Well, almost everyone since at least since the 18th century has believed that, when wars for conquest and loot increasingly had to be dressed up in the finery of high principle and justice or at least in the respectable clothing of reasonable economic and political interests. In the last two hundred years, calling wars “wars of liberation” has become the alternative justification for wars that are clearly not really wars of defense but which are supposedly nonetheless deeply admirable and worthwhile. The invasion of Iraq is fairly unusual in that some of its supporters routinely claim that it is at once a kind of war of self-defense and a war of liberation all rolled into one. Some might be more willing to stress its supposedly defensive character, because they are not terribly interested in liberating Iraqis, while others recognise that the war cannot credibly be described as defensive and so they must find some other way to put it beyond reproach.
I have been remiss in getting links to the latest material at Chronicles‘ website this week, where they have a number of very good articles up.
Here is Paul Craig Roberts on the war:
Obviously, sending more U.S. troops will not succeed in dismantling the Iraqi sectarian militias. However, a U.S. attempt to dismantle the militias will result in the militias joining the insurgency and turning on the U.S. troops. The situation would deteriorate, not improve. It is frightening that the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee does not understand this.
As we have seen already in recent days, there are many things Mr. Reyes does not understand and it is rather frightening. What is worse is that I am unsure whether Jane Harman, who would have been chairman of the committee were it not for Pelosi’s catfighting instincts, would have understood any of this any better than Reyes does.
Also at Chronicles‘ site is Pat Buchanan’s article on the Iraq Study Group’s report:
It is a time for truth. The strategic retreat recommended by Baker-Hamilton is not going to win this war, or end it well for the United States—it is going to advance the timetable of our impending defeat.
When U.S. combat forces leave, Iraq is going to be lost to those who ran us out. Our friends there are going to endure what our abandoned friends in Vietnam and Cambodia endured. The forces of Islamic radicalism will be emboldened to take down our remaining allies in the Middle East. Our days as a superpower will be over.
Scott Richert reports on an important story of domestic Islamic terrorism in Rockford that you will probably not have heard much about anywhere else:
So, what’s going on here? Why the radio silence from the major media on the link to Islam? Are we to believe that, because federal authorities say that Shareef was not part of a broader conspiracy, Islam had nothing to do with it? Or that, because he is a Black Muslim, Islam had nothing to do with it?
Islam, as readers of Chronicles know, and as anyone with any understanding of history is aware, is not a religion of peace. There is no reason not to take Shareef’s statements about his motivations at face value, and there are very good reasons to publicize them.
Out here in the middle of the American heartland, Islam has a greater foothold than many people realize. I’ve discussed this at length, most recently in the December 2006 issue of Chronicles. Aaron Wolf and I spent a day at the local mosque and Islamic school in February 2002, and I’ve written about that day here and here. Read those pieces. See what Muslim students are learning in Rockford, Illinois. Pay attention to the words of a prominent Muslim doctor, the chairman of the board of the school, when he praises Osama bin Laden and talks about the way in which sharia will be imposed in the United States. Look at the understanding of peace—the submission of all men to Allah—that the current imam at the mosque preaches.
Here is Pat Buchanan’s latest on intra-GOP quarreling over who is responsible for the failure in Iraq, which I have noted would probably become one of the main dividing lines in the next presidential race:
This deepening fissure in the GOP presages a civil war inside the party by 2008, over whether to stay in Iraq—or, if the war has ended in a debacle or defeat, over “Who Lost Iraq?”
In urging intensified training of the Iraqi army and an expedited withdrawal, the Baker Commission is laying down the predicate for the case that America did not lose this war, Iraqis lost their own war.
This ISG report is less about saving Iraq than about saving the U.S. establishment from being held responsible for the worst strategic blunder in U.S. history. It is about giving Bush and Congress a “decent interval” before Iraq goes down and a Saigon ending ensues.
The neocons are also preparing their defense before the bar of history. Realizing the Baker Commission recommendations point to slow-motion defeat, they are savaging Baker and calling for tens of thousands more U.S. troops to be sent to Baghdad and a new strategy of victory, no matter how much it costs or how long it takes.
If Bush fails to follow their counsel, they will then say: “It was not our fault. It was Bush’s rejection of our advice that lost the war.”
There is also more from Paul Craig Roberts here.
And for that matter, why on earth does the Orthodox Patriarch believe gaining more legal liberty for the few Orthodox remaining in the former Constantinople is worth Europe’s opening the gates to massive legal Muslim immigration — especially with Western Europe so spiritually and culturally weak, and failing to reproduce itself?
What am I missing here? ~Rod Dreher
With respect to his support for Turkish EU entry, Patriarch Bartholomew is in a fairly difficult situation and presumably feels compelled by the intense political pressure on the Phanar to support what the Turkish government wants. That does not make his position any better, but it makes it more understandable. I don’t know whether he believes that this will really contribute to greater religious freedom for Christians. If he does, I’m afraid this is a mistaken judgement, as the winds are blowing in a very different direction under the AK government.
Pope Benedict’s apparent endorsement of Turkish entry is somewhat more troubling, though both are very unfortunate, because he has a certain real political independence that should allow him to continue to speak forthrightly against Turkish entry if he believes, as he once held, that Turkey is alien to the culture and faith of Europe and consequently does not belong in the EU.
If allowed, Turkish entry will, of course, hasten the Islamicisation of Europe as Turkish migrant workers move across the Continent and begin to take up permanent residence and Turkey becomes the second largest member state with significant clout in all future decision-making. If the Turks were admitted, you could stop worrying about Eurabia and say hello to Euturkiye. The good news, such as it is, is that as the Vatican has become more friendly to Turkish membership a lot of the secular politicians in western Europe have become more hostile. The only old EU-12 governments daft or short-sighted enough to support it openly seem to be the British and the Greek (the latter in stunning defiance of all public opinion). New member states who have entered in the last dozen years or so seem to me to have always been more skeptical of the proposed entry of Turkey, but I may be misinformed on that point.
Now I gave Trent Lott a hard time for saying that he didn’t understand the sectarian rivalries in Iraq. “How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me,” he said. Indeed. Well, apparently, Lott has a lot of company in Washington among people who couldn’t tell the Twelfth Imam from the closed doors of ijtihad. They wouldn’t even get the references I just made. (For the uninitiated, the “closing of the doors of ijtihad” is a metaphor for the end of Qur’anic interpretation among the Sunni; the Twelfth Imam, as we all know, returned on August 22 of this year in a blinding flash of light and now rules the world in glory with Jesus…oh, wait, that’s Bernard Lewis’ line!) Here is some of the report from The New York Times:
Mr. Everett responded with a low chuckle. He thought for a moment: “One’s in one location, another’s in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something.”
To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. “Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.” [bold mine-DL]
Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who heads a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, was similarly dumbfounded when I asked her if she knew the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.
“Do I?” she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. “You know, I should.” She took a stab at it: “It’s a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa. But I think it’s the Sunnis who’re more radical than the Shia.” [bold mine-DL]
Did she know which branch Al Qaeda’s leaders follow?
“Al Qaeda is the one that’s most radical, so I think they’re Sunni,” she replied. “I may be wrong, but I think that’s right.”
It suddenly makes a lot more sense to me that Mr. Bush would be completely at a loss that these sects existed. “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims,” he declared in his befuddlement at the prospect of two different Islamic sects existing in the same country. Apparently, that is about as much as the responsible committee chairs in Congress knew about Iraq and the differences between the different groups. I now understand how the idiotic tactic of lumping all Islamic fundamentalists, regardless of sect, and secular Baathists together in one big “Islamofascist” blob can work and can take hold with our political class. For a time, I thought these people just had to be willfully perverse in their ideological need to distort the realities of the Near East and draw connections and alliances between mortal enemies. That dubious honour belongs to the likes of Ledeen and Hanson alone; the politicians truly are clueless. I am beginning to understand that these people are horrifyingly ignorant to a degree I didn’t believe was possible. A word of advice: whenever someone says, “The government knows more than you do,” it’s time to start looking for the exits, because people in government by and large almost certainly do not know more than a reasonably well-informed citizen. Apparently not when it comes to history, culture or the religion of our avowed enemy. No wonder the buffoons could keep going on about the “religion of peace” for years without any sense that they were being had by CAIR and the renegade apologists for Islam. Granted, these people are politicians, and in their line of work actually knowing something can be a real drawback, but come on! A genuine moron who takes a basic world religions class in college will end up knowing more about Islam than these people. Unfortunately, it isn’t limited to ignorant Congressmen:
It’s not all so grimly humorous. Some agency officials and members of Congress have easily handled my “gotcha” question. But as I keep asking it around Capitol Hill and the agencies, I get more and more blank stares. Too many officials in charge of the war on terrorism just don’t care to learn much, if anything, about the enemy we’re fighting. And that’s enough to keep anybody up at night.
If Muslims are apparently outraged by “Apple Mecca,” they must really be incensed at the portrayal of the Mahdi Paul Muad’Dib in Frank Herbert’s Dune series. I mean, obviously, Herbert has been distorting Muad’Dib’s teachings of peaceful inner struggle and has been giving people the idea that the Fremen are a bunch of fanatical warriors with glowing eyes. He has been getting away with misrepresenting Muad’Dib’s jihad for decades! Where will the madness end?
There are days and places in history when time seems to stand still and, in the space of a moment, the fate of future centuries is decided. At dawn on October 7, 1571, the spectacle would have made a strong impression on anyone who looked out at the waters breaking upon the straits that join the Gulf of Patras to the Gulf of Corinth, formerly called the Gulf of Lepanto, after an old fortified city that rose up from the sea. A gigantic fleet advanced slowly, with the south wind at its back. About 270 galleys and a massive number of light craft formed an enormous and threatening semicircle that occupied the seas from the mountainous coasts of Albania to the north and the shoals of Peloponnesus to the south. At the center of the advancing crescent, on the admiral’s flagship (the Sultana), a green banner waved in the breeze. The flag had been brought all the way from Mecca, and into its fabric the name of Allah was woven in gold 28,900 times. In September 622 of the Christian era, a man declaring himself the prophet of this deity had issued a call for the conquest of the world. The religion he founded summed up its mission in its name: Islam, submission.
Now, confronting the power of Islam, came a smaller fleet. Sailing into the wind, using only the power of oars, the ships lined up in the shape of a cross. The red and white flagship, the Royal, was flying a blue damask silk standard bearing the image of a crucifix. From the precious blood of this God made Man, crucified at Calvary, the Church developed and gave birth to a great civilization, the highest that has ever been known: Christendom. This civilization was under attack. ~Roberto de Mattei, ChroniclesMagazine.org (April 2002, Chronicles)
This very statement–that Islam is incompatible with democracy–is why I fight so hard with many of my friends on the Right: accepting that statement means we have to declare war on the entire Muslim world if we’re to hope for human freedom to survive.
To me it would be akin to, in World War II, declaring ourselves at war with “Germanic People,” “Latin People,” and “Southeast Asians.” Not Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy and Tojo’s Japan. No, we would have declared that we were at war with anyone of Germanic or Latin descent, and anyone who happened to be short, yellow, and slant-eyed (to put it rudely and crassly). ~Dean Esmay
Thanks to Paul Cella for picking up on Mr. Esmay’s post and writing a fine response to it, particularly the crucial observation at the end:
Human freedom’s survival, thank God, does not depend on the universalism of democracy.
To say that Islam and our sort of democracy are incompatible is simply to state the obvious. There are elected governments in Bangladesh, Turkey, Mali and Indonesia, all of which have large or majority Muslim populations, and Iran does go through the process, though heavily influenced by the clerics, of having elections for parliament and president; Muslims in India on the whole participate within the Indian political system. So it is conceivable to have some kind of democracy with Islam, but it is extremely doubtful that it would be our kind. ”Islamic democracy” would likely ultimately degenerate in one of two directions: an authoritarian Islamic populism, presaged by Ahmadinejad’s popularity among poor Iranians as the Hugo Chavez of the East, or a more plain rule of clerics and mujahideen. In the case of the latter, Muslim nations can have what I have sometimes thought of calling mass theocracy, which may even involve mechanisms of voting and formal constitutions, but in the end produces the religious rule you would expect. To the extent that there are success stories of compatibility, however, it is where the Islam is much less strict, much less doctrinaire and much less affected by the intense and fanatical hard-line of Wahhabism or Deobandism. So far Indonesia and Bangladesh have been reasonably successful because of this relatively milder form of Islam and, in Bangladesh’s case, the construction of a national identity based on language and ethnicity as opposed to the definition of Pakistan, of which it once was a part, which was and remains to this day Islam.
Cross-posted at Enchiridion Militis
That also reminds me that, unlike all the respectable voices, I’ve always been even more upset by the murder of Pym Fortuyn, a potential Prime Minister of the Netherlands, in 2002 than by the murder of Theo van Gogh in 2004. The van Gogh murder was the obvious result of letting a whole bunch of Muslims into the country, a problem that can be solved (granted, at vast expense) by paying them to leave and other sensible reforms. The only solution to the West’s Muslim problem is to disconnect.
But Fortuyn’s assassination was carried out by a well-educated Dutch-born white leftist the day after the climax of the “Two-Week Hate” against immigration-restrictionists that swept Europe when Le Pen won a spot in the French Presidential final. When Fortuyn was murdered, respectable voices across Europe opined that Fortuyn more or less had it coming. The European Establishment excused themselves from any responsibility by blaming it all on animal rights craziness.
For example, the Dutch-born Ian Buruma asserted in The New Yorker in 2005 that Fortuyn was “assassinated in 2002 by a deranged animal-rights activist.” Nothing to look at here, folks, just move along. Just a random lunatic. Didn’t have nuthin’ to do with immigration.
I completely agree with Steve Sailer on this one. The hatemongering carried out by then-PM Wim Kok and the other leading representatives of Dutch “consensus” politics was as hideous a display of multiculti fanaticism as any I have ever seen. The express desire to erect a cordon sanitaire around Fortuyn’s political appeal and the condemnation of him as a kind of neo-Nazi directly contributed to his murder, and the appalling extent to which some Europeans were willing to go suppress dissident speech on questions of immigration was revealed for all to see.
Fortuyn’s murder is more worrisome in a way than Van Gogh’s (though both are horrible) because it shows the derangement that Westerners have inflicted on themselves on questions of immigration and tolerance, such that native Westerners will be moved to murder one of their fellow citizens for his alleged “bigotry” sooner than they will lift a finger to protest the violence wrought by immigrants against natives who offend their “values.”
Fortuyn’s appeal heralded a shift in Dutch politics that did not disappear after his violent death. Van Gogh’s murder intensified the feeling that something had gone terribly wrong in the pursuit of endless tolerance, but without Fortuyn blazing the trail in talking openly about these problems (and paying for it with his life) Van Gogh’s death would probably not have resonated as much as it did in the Netherlands and elsewhere in the West. Of course, Fortuyn was able to make his appeal to the extent that he did because he was able to make it in defense of a very liberally defined kind of liberal society; as a Marxist academic and openly homosexual man, he possessed some immunity from the boilerplate accusations of prejudice that would dog conservative and far-right opponents of immigration. In the end, he did not possess nearly enough immunity. Fortuyn’s death was far more chilling in its way because it showed the extent to which Westerners were willing to adopt the tactics of religious and ideological fanatics to enforce an unthinking tolerance that has been sapping Europe from within for decades and which makes combating the kind of person who murdered Van Gogh that much more difficult through an unwillingness to confront the violence and drive for domination within Islam.
The doctrine of jihad—violence in the path of Allah with the objective of converting, killing, or else subjugating and taxing the “infidel”—was Muhammad’s most significant original contribution to world history and to the history of ideas, as I have argued elsewhere at some length. It defined Islam in its earliest days, it has defined the relations between “the world of faith” and “the world of war” ever since, and—as we’ve seen from the reactions to Pope Benedict’s lecture—it continues to define the mindset of Islam to this day. ~Srdja Trifkovic
This is also the only segment of Pope Benedict’s lecture with which a reasonable person will take issue. He seems to suggest that Muslims can be “our partners in the dialogue of cultures” on the basis of God-as-Logos, and if that is so, he is wrong.
For all of the reasons quoted above, Islam is not amenable to dialogue. Among non-Muslims it seeks converts or subjects, not partners. After two decades of “dialogue,” many Christians have made many concessions and uttered many apologies for their side’s supposed past misdeeds, without getting anything in return. They merely encouraged the other side in the belief that there is no need for any “dialogue” since the apparent lack of rock-solid faith and conviction on the Christian camp makes their ultimate embrace of Allah and his prophet a logical outcome. Their expectations were kindled in 2001 when Benedict’s predecessor kissed the Kuran inside a mosque in Damascus—built from a desecrated Christian cathedral—and exclaimed, “May the hearts of Christians and Muslims turn to one another with feelings of brotherhood and friendship.” Such gestures encourage the hope that clear re-stating of Islamic dogma will prompt infidels to see the light. ~Srdja Trifkovic
Islam has a moral philosophy and a legal code that explicitly denies the possibility of judgment based on natural morality or on the allegiance to any other source of authority but itself. It mandates submission to the letter of revealed law (Kuran) or to the precedent of the Prophet (Hadith). Analogies thus derived stand above reason, conscience, or nature. A Muslim knows that a thing is right simply because Allah says so, or because his prophet has thus said or done. There is no “spirit of the law” and no rationality behind the revealed law for human reason to discover. There is no critical discernment and revelation and tradition must not be questioned. No other standard of good and evil can be invoked. Islam’s denigration of the individual conscience befits the demand for an obedient servant’s prostration before a capricious master whose commands have no rational basis. The political consequences are crucial for societies that derive their concept of authority from this image. Any notion of freedom distinct from that implicit in that complete submission is forbidden and sinful.
It should be added that the Mutazila Islamic sect Mu’tazili in eighth-to-tenth century Baghdad tried to use the categories and methods of Hellenistic philosophy to assert free will and responsibility for one’s actions, and claimed—as per Professor Varisco—that Allah would be unjust if he predestined all human actions; but they were denounced as heretics. In orthodox Islam, any notion of freedom distinct from that implicit in the complete submission to the will of Allah is not an ideal, but a perilous trap. Only Allah creates our acts and enables us to act, while we are but transmission belts with a preordained balance of debit or credit that determines our destiny in the hereafter. Even prayer is a payment of debt, not communication, offered in the hope of placating a capricious and unpredictable Master. ~Srdja Trifkovic
It is often said—and was said by Ratzinger when he was an underling of the last Roman prelate—that Islam is not capable of a Reformation. We would not even have this word in our language if the Roman Catholic Church had been able to have its own way. ~Christopher Hitchens, Slate
I should have remarked on this yesterday, but actually thought it so weak that it was not even worth criticising. But then it occurred to me that there are people who think “clever” references to the Reformation are the perfect way to undermine a Catholic authority’s arguments, because, you know, the Reformation did so much ”good” for the world and the Catholic Church was against it, which obviously proves that Catholics can never have anything to say about reform in any context ever again. So there. This is a tactic perfected by irresponsible teenagers who try to justify their disobedience and stupidity by pointing to their dad’s fondness for strong drink: “Sure I drove the car through the living room, but you…drink…liquor!”
The weakness and irrelevance of Hitchens’ point here are made most clear when you consider the content of the rest of the speech to which Hitchens was trying to respond. In that speech, Pope Benedict made it very clear that a terrible distortion of the relation between reason and faith, and the first example of the process of “de-Hellenisation” that he was speaking about, was a result of the Reformation:
De-Hellenization first emerges in connection with the fundamental postulates of the Reformation in the 16th century. Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system.
The principle of “sola scriptura,” on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself. When Kant stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this program forward with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen. He thus anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.
So there is a real question whether Pope Benedict could, ecumenical understanding notwithstanding, really approve of the effects of the Protestant Reformation to which Hitchens makes his predictable reference. But, you might ask, what other reformation was there? Hitchens also would have to be ignorant of the fact that reformatio was a word that had been used in the context of the monastic and spiritual renewal movements of the twelfth century (and made known to modern audiences in the late Giles Constable’s The Reformation of the Twelfth Century–an excellent book that serves as a fine introduction to the spirituality and social context behind the founding of religious orders such as the Cistercians) and had long had meaning for Latin Christians in the context of spiritual renewal. It was on this tradition that the Reformers themselves were drawing, though obviously the authorities in Rome did not agree with either the spirit or the content of much of what they proposed for their reforms. This did not mean that there was no effort at reform on the Catholic side before Luther, but simply that the Reformed churches do not have some kind of monopoly on the use of that language and it is not hypocritical or contradictory, as Hitchens suggests, for Catholics to speak in terms of reformation since the word was, if you like, theirs before it was anyone else’s. Obviously the Catholic Reformation itself tends to obviate this objection anyway.
When then-Cardinal Ratzinger or anyone else says that Islam is not capable of a ”Reformation,” they mean something far more serious than what many moderns take this to mean. This is not a claim that Islam cannot ultimately become a religion that eventually after a century of internecine warfare embraces the principle of freedom of conscience–that much is obvious–but that Islam does not even have the theological-philosophical apparatus for self-criticism because of the very fundamental assumptions of all Muslims about the uncreated and perfect nature of the scripture they use as their authority and the untouchable paragon of virtue into which Islamic tradition has made Muhammad. This obviously has little to do with things like practical abuses of power and privilege such as simony and questionable theology in the form of the sale of indulgences; this has to do with the very nature of the religion, its proper form, which reform and revival cannot make any better because the foundation is so lacking in the necessary essential qualities.
What is perhaps more annoying about this remark is that it suggests that Hitchens buys into the old progressive narrative (since he is a progressive, I guess he would!) that the Reformation was some Great Leap Forward for human freedom and individual rights, which must be one of those things that Whig Protestants told themselves at night to make them feel better about the anti-Catholic massacres they committed. In fact, the Reformation at its best and in the minds of its advocates was a deeply conservative, even reactionary, opposition to what some of the Reformers saw as excessive reliance on philosophy and humanism. If the Islamic world were to undergo a Reformation (and who says that it hasn’t undergone the closest thing to it with the various Islamic revivalist movements of the last 300 years?) of this sort, it would actually have to become even more rigid, inflexible and doctrinaire in its emphasis on scriptural literalism and moral purity.
If, as some have suggested, the Reformation was the attempt to apply the rigour of the monastic ethic to the laity, an Islamic Reformation would not make Islam more liberal, more open to “modernity” and all the things that people who talk about Islamic Reformations want to see, but would likely make it more hostile to all of these things. Protestants did retain some respect for reason and philosophy, because they derived this respect from the common tradition that had incorporated the best elements of Hellenism into Christian thought, whereas Islam on the whole does not benefit from this tradition. While it has become something of a commonplace in recent days among some defenders of the Pope to say that Pope Benedict was harder on the Protestants (who have, as of yet, failed to bomb or burn down any Catholic churches in response–what can they be waiting for?) than on the Muslims, even in his remarks on the Reformation he could just as well have been saying to the Muslims: “As mistaken as the Reformation was in separating faith and reason as much as it did, the Protestants at least have a fighting chance, because they still partake from the same tradition that we do; Islam doesn’t even have that going for it. You should look into why that is.”
“If we called it speed dating, it will end up with real dating,” said Shamshad Hussain, one of the organizers, grimacing. ~The New York Times
Strange as it may sound (and my readers may not find it all that strange if they have been reading my blog long enough), and as laughable as calling a speed date a ”matrimonial banquet” is (for starters, it doesn’t do much for the reputation of real “matrimonial banquets”), I can appreciate the idea behind it. Though I cannot speak from experience as a parent, I think there are a lot of parents who would appreciate an organisation like Mothers Against Dating. For those who like euphemisms, ”assisted marriage” is as nice a way to describe arranged marriage as I can think of. You’re not being forced to marry someone–you’re being helped along the way!
Why this aversion to referring to dating, even for these limited meetings? Well, for a different generation the reasons would have been obvious, and the reasons are actually even more compelling today in their way:
Basically, for conservative Muslims, dating is a euphemism for premarital sex. Anyone who partakes risks being considered morally louche, with their marriage prospects dimming accordingly, particularly young women.
The sad thing is not just that it is often a euphemism for that, but that there can sometimes be nothing more to it than that. Is it any wonder that traditional, morally conservative immigrants have to concoct things as odd as speed “matrimonial banquets” to cope with the age of hook-ups and Promiscuous Girl? As I read over these sorts of stories, I have to ask: why should these people want to assimilate to our society, when it genuinely does appear to be something of a moral wasteland?
Still, Benedict went about this noble business in a very imprudent way. The statement he quoted—that everything new Mohammed brought was “evil and inhuman”—is simply untrue and so obviously hurtful that it will prevent anything else the pope might say from getting a hearing. Given the predictable reactions in the Muslim world, it is patently counterproductive to try to make the legitimate point that Muslims have sometimes used violence to spread their faith by quoting, even without endorsing, the untrue and much more sweeping statement that everything peculiar to Islam is “evil and inhuman.” If Benedict wishes to call Muslims to account for wrongful acts, current and historical, committed by Muslims against Christians, well and good, but he ought not do so by grossly overstating the case in an obviously provocative way that he himself does not believe and then apologize in stages for having done so. ~Robert Miller, First Things
If the quote is so obviously untrue, why did Pope Benedict need to specifically repudiate it in the course of the speech? Would he not assume that everyone could see that it was false? If it is true–and I have reason to agree with this view–then why would Pope Benedict not have included it in his speech? Even if Pope Benedict does not believe it to be true, and he has stated that he does not believe it to be true, it could still be true. If it were true, but still hurtful, would we want to suppress it? Here’s the thing: what did Muhammad introduce? What was new to his religion? It was the combination of a fierce monotheism mixed with the call to struggle violently on behalf of the one transcendent deity. From a Christian perspective, how was Manuel II’s description of these things wrong and “simply untrue”?
Mohammedanism was a heresy: that is the essential point to grasp before going any further. It began as a hersey, not as a new religion. It was not a pagan contrast with the Church; it was not an alien enemy. It was a perversion of Christian doctrine. Its vitality and endurance soon gave it the appearance of a new religion, but those who were contemprary with its rise saw it for what it was—not a denial, but an adaptation and a misuse, of the Christian thing. It differed from most (not from all) heresies in this, that it did not arise within the bounds of the Christian Church. The chief heresiarch, Mohammed himself, was not, like most hersiarchs, a man of Catholic birth and doctrine to begin with. He sprang from pagans. But that which he taught was in the main Catholic doctrine, oversimplified. It was the great Catholic world—on the frontiers of which he lived, whose influence was all around him and whose territories he had known by travel—which inspired his convictions. He came of, and mixed with, the degraded idolaters of the Arabian wilderness, the conquest of which had never seemed worth the Romans’ while… ~Hilaire Belloc (via John Derbyshire)
It is not only the case that St. John of Damascus listed Islam as the 100th heresy in his De haeresibus. St. Anastasios of Sinai in some of the first patristic references to Islam described Islam principally in terms of its Christological errors–which he likened to Nestorianism–and blamed the rise of Islam on (who else?) the monophysites, because their extreme heresy had, as Anatasios saw it, forced the Arabs who came into contact with them to adopt the equal and opposite heresy. This is probably not exactly the case, though I believe it is generally accepted that Muhammad learned what little he knew of Christianity from a Nestorian monk whom he met along the caravan routes north. In any case, Islamic objections to Christianity are those of any anti-Trinitarian heresy mixed with Arian denial of Christ’s divinity and Nestorian contempt for the Mother of God. I doubt that Islam derives directly from any of these in any measurable way, but it is not entirely ridiculous to think that the domination of Yemen by the monophysite Ethiopians could have influenced how Arabs in that region perceived Christianity and influenced them in such a way that pushed them towards an intense hostility to the idea that Christ was God. Naturally, Podhoretz ignores the potential relevance of Belloc’s observation to the discussion of the nature of Islam and satisfies himself with an anecdote reminding us that (surprise!) Belloc didn’t like Jews (gosh, nobody knew that!). Of course, it is not entirely clear to me why Derbyshire thought to bring this up, but it is an idea that is neither far-fetched nor without basis in the Christian tradition of anti-Islamic polemics.
Now, you do not have to be a Muslim to think that for the bishop of Rome to cite this is the most perfect hypocrisy. There would have been no established Byzantine or Roman Christianity if the faith had not been spread and maintained and enforced by every kind of violence and cruelty and coercion. To take Islam’s own favorite self-pitying example: It was the Catholic crusaders who sacked and burned Christian Byzantium on their way to Palestine—and that was only after they had methodically set about the Jews, so the Muslim world was actually only the third victim of this barbarity. (Sir Steven Runciman’s A History of the Crusades is the best source here.) ~Christopher Hitchens, Slate
Well, in fact, established Christianity and violently coercive Christianity are not the same thing, as I have been reiterating again and again and again. There have been periods in Christian history where there has been violent coercion by the state against heretics. But Christians’ first recourse has historically typically not been to violent persecution or to warfare. Certainly if we are comparing the records of the Byzantines in particular with the record of Islam, the contrast becomes even more remarkable. So we can dismiss Hitchens on that point. Next we might note that Hitchens cannot even get his facts straight–the purported ultimate target of the Fourth Crusade was supposed to be Egypt, not Palestine, just as the ill-fated Fifth Crusade would be as a way of knocking out the Ayyubid support structure that kept the Crusader States pinned to their narrow strips of Levantine territory.
And as much as I respect the late Sir Steven Runciman and enjoy his works enormously (and I have heard tell that he converted to Orthodoxy at the end of his life), Hitchens might try something more modern than Crusades histories that are half a century old and out of date. Sir Steven was a great friend to Byzantium and a great protector of her reputation; he did a good deal to revive interest in and respect for Byzantium as a worthy subject of study and as an admirable civilisation, for which all Byzantinists should be grateful, but his own love for Byzantium tended to make him an extremely harsh and sometimes unbalanced critic of the western Europeans who were the main actors of the drama. He famously referred to the sack of Constantinople in 1204 as the greatest “crime against humanity” ever, which is flattering to the Constantinopolitans but hardly accurate. Michael Angold has written a book on the Fourth Crusade offering a radical corrective view of this assuredly exaggerated judgement of the Crusade. For the best general Crusades historians, look to Riley-Smith or Madden, who have done great work attempting to understand the phenomenon of the Crusades rather than sit in judgement over it.
Seems to me that the Byzantine emperors, including the Palaeologan line from the thirteenth century, persecuted religious minorities, including Jews, Manichaeans and dissident Christians, during centuries in which the Islamic world showed relative tolerance. I’ve read the texts of anathemas that virtually everyone in some parts of the Empire was obliged to pronounce publicly in the sixth century: “I renounce Mani, Buddha his teacher,” etc. On pain of death, basically. There was no division between church and state. Many Byzantine Jews welcomed the initial Muslim Arab advances, providing relief from Christian persecution. ~Gary Leupp, Counterpunch
The claim about church and state is just hideously wrong. You cannot be more wrong about Byzantium than to say “there was no division between church and state.” Of course there was a division–the division was consciously maintained at several key moments in Byzantine history, particularly when there were heretical emperors on the throne; the role of emperors in the Church was strictly circumscribed and defined by precedents and canons; there was an entire (slightly idealistic) theory of symphoneia composed in the prologue of the Epanagoge, a ninth-century law code of Basil I that elaborated a similar division of labour outlined in Justinian’s Sixth Novella. Anyone with a vague familiarity with late Byzantine history knows just how controversial and divisive attempts to dictate church policy for the sake of political expediency were, and how they ultimately always failed because the Church retained its sense of independence and its conviction that the bishops, not the emperor, defined doctrine and governed the affairs of the Church. The intolerant aspects of Byzantine Orthodoxy also served as a guard against state control of the Church. Of course the emperor had influence and could briefly, but ultimately futilely, exert power over the Church, but to say something as simplistic and risible as “there was no division between church and state” is to prove that you have no business talking about the subject in question. And if “there was no division between church and state,” what on earth was the situation in the Islamic world, where the supreme secular authority and the supreme religious authority during the Caliphates was the same person?
Many Byzantine Jews also welcomed the Persian invasions of the early seventh century and even allegedly helped in the sack of Jerusalem in 614, so I’m not sure why Prof. Leupp wants to bring this up as a particular example of Byzantine Christian flaws. (It cannot be a promising sign for the quality of education at Tufts University that Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion.) Yes, there was legal discrimination against heretics and non-Christians, just as there were legal codes prescribing inferior status for non-Muslims in Islamic lands. In those lands there was no “tolerance,” relative or otherwise, but simply the toleration that said for all intents and purposes ”we will probably not attack and kill you–probably.” There were exceptional cases in Byzantium of violent punishment, forcible coercion and execution, but these were very rare in Byzantine history. For every emperor you can find that engaged in such things, I can show you five who didn’t do any such thing and a considerable number of Church Fathers who explicitly condemned such things. For every anathema against Manichees you can show me, I’ll show you the martyrs of Gaza or the neo-martyrs of the Turkokrateia or any of the nameless thousands butchered under the green flag.
There was nothing comparable in all of Byzantine history to the ninth-century anti-Mu’tazilite Islamic inquisition in the court of Baghdad under Ma’mun, try as some might to make the trial of John Italos into a great attack on all things rational. Presumably the Mu’tazilites did not appreciate just how tolerant their persecutors were. What is more, Italos was condemned for excessive Hellenism, which means reliance on pagan philosophy to the detriment of revelation in this context, not the use of reason applied to Scripture all together–the Mu’tazilites were condemned and persecuted because they dared to say that the Qur’an was created and that man had free will. They were the first–and last–Islamic rationalists, the last, great hope, so to speak, of every apologist for the good side of Islam–and they were crushed, never to be seen again. The contrary positions–that the Qur’an was eternal and man does not really have free will, but all things are done by Allah–became normative and all but universally accepted. The fate of the Mu’tazilah alone confirms what Pope Benedict was saying about relationship of Islam and reason. I would like to assume that Prof. Leupp is simply painfully ignorant about all of this, because otherwise he would be something of a gross liar.
There are no Byzantine Christian groups comparable to such “tolerant” folk as the Almohads and Almoravids, who showed just how ”tolerant” Islam could be with their spate of brutal persecutions. The “relative tolerance” of the Aghlabids led to the decay and disappearance of North African Christianity, which had barely hung on into the 11th century before going extinct. The fate of Anatolian Christianity at the hands of Turkomen raiders needs no introduction. In more recent times (i.e., the 1920s), Kurdish Muslims showed their “relative tolerance” towards the Assyrian communities of Iraq by slaughtering them. One looks largely in vain for similar treatment meted out to Muslim populations by Christian authorities and peoples. The Zoroastrians received similarly “tolerant” treatment in Iran, and the Muslim raiders and conquerors of India were not all together model spokesmen for religious tolerance, to put it mildly. When the Il-Khanids converted to Islam under Gazan Khan, the former protection extended to Nestorians in Iran diminished rapidly. Indeed, the record of toleration under the Muslim Mongol states compares very poorly with that of their more barbarous, pagan predecessors–because the pagan Mongols didn’t care whether anyone else worshipped Tengri, but Muslim Mongols took a dim view of those who did not submit to Allah. In fairness, rulers such as Timur killed all kinds of people, but his devastations of Armenia and Georgia were particularly severe.
The “Golden Age” mythology of Islam, which seems to be the extent of Mr. Leupp’s knowledge base, rests on a very few moments in Islamic history in a very few places: Abbasid Baghdad, Umayyad Cordoba, Mughal Delhi. Take these away and the picture gets unbelievably bleak. Where dhimmis were treated “well,” they were second-class people just as heretics had been under the Byzantines, and where they were not treated well they were outside the protection of the law and subject to violence and harrassment when the government didn’t actively engage in mass murder (Caliph al’Hakim is representative of the latter). There is nothing remotely similar on the Byzantine side in the treatment of Muslims in the reconquered territory in Syria to the Fatimid treatment of Christians in their domains. People who blithely refer to the “tolerance” of Islam relative to Byzantium either know nothing about Byzantium and Islam or simply shill for Islam because it serves other purposes.
Almost all dissidents in the great Christological controversies suffered exile or loss of the opportunity to serve in the civil service and military; bishops were deposed, priests defrocked, but only an ignoramus would imply that the penalties for Manicheanism extended to the empire’s treatment of all heretics. Manicheans were the only heretics for whom the death penalty was mandatory, because it was held that they were a particularly destructive heresy that seemed to reject any and all earthly authorities. Manichees were treated similarly in the Sasanian Empire as well as the Roman and was the case long before there were ever Christians on the throne of Constantinople. Maybe that doesn’t make it any better, but everyone despised the Manichees wherever they went because they were seen as a menace to public order.
Anyone who was a heretic and wanted to become a communicating member of the Orthodox Church had to denounce all sorts of errors and affirm others. There were typically no death penalties for heretics in Byzantium, and anyone who tries to give a different impression doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Manichees were considered a special category of subversive. They were also largely extinct in most places by the time of the sixth century. Different sects in later medieval Byzantine history would be identified sometimes with the Manichees as a way of aligning them with the most hateful thing imaginable, and polemicists loved to apply the title Manichean to people whom they particularly disliked as a way of insulting them, but Manichees as such had all but disappeared. No one would have been punished for refusing to renounce Mani because no one was following Mani. Denouncing Manicheanism in the sixth century was largely a sort of moral and spiritual stand, akin to denouncing fascism today–very few are actually in favour of reviving fascism, but to listen to the way we obsess about fascist-this and fascist-that you would think it was still a live issue. It is a way of declaring that you are committed to the right things.
Manuel I Komnenos was in some ways an atypical Byzantine ruler, but he took the interesting step of forcing a controversy over the ritual of renouncing Islam that shows one aspect of the difference between the Byzantine Christian and the Muslim. Manuel was definitely on shaky theological ground for obvious reasons, but he supported a move to change the renunciation of Islam so that converts to Christianity would only have to reject Muhammad and not Muhammad’s God. There was a willingness, however rare, at the highest levels in Byzantium to acknowledge that Muslims worshipped the same God but followed a false prophet, while there was not and could never have really been a similar willingness on the other side. There are many things modern people could learn from a serious study of the careers of Manuel I and Manuel II, among others, but that would require knowing something about Byzantium. Or you can spout tired cliches about Orientalism and the “tolerance” of Islam and think that you have demonstrated something other than your own ignorance.
Vatican officials had earlier sought to placate spreading Muslim anger by saying Benedict held Islam in high esteem and stressed that the central thrust of his speech was to condemn the use of any religious motivation for violence, whatever the religion. ~The Guardian
Actually, I had thought the central thrust of the speech was that God is rational by nature and nothing irrational pleases Him. This is why most Christians have entirely put away the bloody and irrational sacrifices of old for the rational sacrifice of the Eucharist. This is why I never cease to find it difficult to understand why someone who believes this would hold in high esteem a religion that denies the divinity of Christ, Who was Reason Incarnate, when such a denial is not only what the early and medieval Fathers would have regarded as a mark of insanity (the proverbial “madness of Areios”) but is itself a denial of the personal union of humanity in the Person of the Logos Himself. Denying Christ’s divinity is, from a Christian perspective, denying the substantial joining of humanity to Reason and denying the possibility of the perfection of our own reason. Presumably Pope Benedict does not hold Arianism in high esteem, so what can it mean to say that he holds Islam in “high esteem”? Did Elijah hold the prophets of Baal in high esteem?
These sorts of statements remind me why I am always so skeptical of ecumenism–to carry on a “dialogue,” you are compelled for the sake of dialogue to say things you cannot possibly believe and make statements praising other religions that you cannot really mean, which in turn does violence to the truth and reduces said dialogue to something of a sham. Such a “dialogue” cannot produce anything except pro forma expressions of goodwill, which are ultimately empty and amount to saying nothing more than, “I am going to show the world what a reasonable, tolerant fellow I am–why, look, I have even said something nice about the Hindus!” There are two kinds of ecumenists: those who really think that there are many equally valid paths to truth (these people typically are not terribly keen on taking any of the paths very far, since deep down they can sense that there is no point) and those who think that giving the appearance of ecumenical goodwill helps with public relations. In other words, I don’t think there are really any good reasons to be an ecumenist. If there are sincere ecumenists who nonetheless believe that their religion alone possesses the fullness of truth, I would very much like to know how they reconcile the two ideas. It is, of course, possible to have a conversation with people who hold radically different religious beliefs, but it will usually be a short conversation, especially when each time you draw attention to what you consider the flaws in their religion they believe themselves justified in threatening you with death. Most Christian ecumenist dialogue does not draw attention to the flaws, intellectual and moral, of other religions, presumably because all historical religions have some sort of flaws on account of the flawed people involved, which is why Pope Benedict’s speech seemed promising as a starting point for , among other things, discussing seriously the role of reason in Islam and the place of violent jihad in Islamic theology and history. His speech did not really make any concessions, or at least it was not obvious to me that it did, but now it would seem that the Vatican has made the biggest concession of them all: Islam is worthy of high esteem. Manuel II and, for that matter, St. John of Damascus would not have understood why.