Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 5, 2007

Islam, Women, and Children

Three disturbing news reports crossed my desk recently, which, taken together, reveal anew the hostility of radical Islam toward the rights of women and children. The first was the widely reported story of two adult, male terrorists in Baghdad who drove through a checkpoint in a car with two young children in the back seat. Because of the children, they were waved through. Once on the other side, the two men got out of the car—leaving the boys inside—ran some distance away, and hit the detonator. They children were killed, along with one bystander.

According to the Washington Times, this use of children as camouflage or cat’s-paws has become routine. Al Qaeda in Iraq uses kidnapped children to pick up dropped weapons from battlefields because they know that U.S. soldiers won’t shoot at them. (Last year there was a period when using children with Down syndrome was the fashion.) I suppose we are not surprised by this sort of barbarity anymore. But we should be: Islam is not, by history or nature, a suicide cult. It is important to consider that people willing to do this to their own flesh and blood—for pretty meager tactical payoffs in terms of enemy dead—are not people who can co-exist with civilized society.

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Three disturbing news reports crossed my desk recently, which, taken together, reveal anew the hostility of radical Islam toward the rights of women and children. The first was the widely reported story of two adult, male terrorists in Baghdad who drove through a checkpoint in a car with two young children in the back seat. Because of the children, they were waved through. Once on the other side, the two men got out of the car—leaving the boys inside—ran some distance away, and hit the detonator. They children were killed, along with one bystander.

According to the Washington Times, this use of children as camouflage or cat’s-paws has become routine. Al Qaeda in Iraq uses kidnapped children to pick up dropped weapons from battlefields because they know that U.S. soldiers won’t shoot at them. (Last year there was a period when using children with Down syndrome was the fashion.) I suppose we are not surprised by this sort of barbarity anymore. But we should be: Islam is not, by history or nature, a suicide cult. It is important to consider that people willing to do this to their own flesh and blood—for pretty meager tactical payoffs in terms of enemy dead—are not people who can co-exist with civilized society.

The second piece was, if anything, grimmer still. In the Australian, a report by Martin Chulov detailed the rising tide of Palestinian women found dead in the desert outside Gaza City, hunted down and killed, putatively for the sake of the local notion of female and family honor. In one ten-day period, Chulov counted seven murders and one incident where a woman was abducted at gunpoint, dumped on the sand, and riddled with bullets in her legs.

And what is this “honor killing” about? Apparently, more than just honor. Chulov believes that young men with new clout in the political factions of the Palestinian territories are behind a large part of it. The woman who was shot in the legs, a Fatah supporter, told him that the shooter was her cousin, who is head of the Hamas executive force in northern Gaza. She claims that her cousin and his fellow would-be assassins are also members of a group called the Army of Islam, which is a Taliban-style, al Qaeda-affiliated fundamentalist Sunni organization, advocating strict shari’a law.

The third unsettling story took place much closer to home. A few weeks ago a fire swept through a house in the Bronx, killing one woman and nine children. Mayor Bloomberg spoke at the funeral, quoting from the Qu’ran, and the local African immigrant community came out to show deep sympathy for the bereft father, Moussa Magassa, an immigrant from Mali who had become a U.S. citizen.

According to a rare bit of investigative reporting in the New York Times, in the city’s show of support for Mr. Magassa, an interesting detail of his domestic arrangements was overlooked. To wit, he lived in the house with both of his wives and all of his children. And, indeed, many of his sympathetic fellow immigrants from Africa have also imported their polygamous households to the U.S.

Of course, polygamy is a crime here, and if a would-be citizen admits to it, he is deported. But there is no need to admit to it, since, the story went on to say, all of the city’s social-service providers are trained to turn a blind eye. Many men come here with only one wife, sending later for another or even a third, and helpful relatives make the arrangements, including a tourist visa.

According to women in this community, all of whom spoke to the reporter on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution or social stigma, polygamy is the underlying structure that allows for so many other African/Islamic customs that we in the West generally disapprove of, including genital mutilation, routine domestic violence, and the general status of wives as chattel. None of the women chose it. It is foisted upon them by their husbands, and they are powerless to stop the second wife from moving in. No one knows how big a problem it is here, but in France, the government has ignored the polygamous arrangements of immigrants, and now has an estimated 20,000 such marriages, encompassing 120,000 people. Very sensitive to the demands of a multicultural society, indeed. These stories present a clearer picture of how Islamic fundamentalists treat women and children than we are usually treated to. And the future they suggest for us if we fail to enforce both our laws and our secular and Judeo-Christian customs here is not much better.

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Pelosi’s Pilgrimage

Back in January, in Jews, Muslims, and the Democrats, I pointed to the emergence of a Muslim-Left caucus composed of about 40 to 50 congressmen within the Democratic party who, “in varying degrees of intensity, have felt free to express an uninhibited hostility toward the Jewish state.”

My analysis provoked a sharp rebuke from Ira N. Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, who accused me of “cherry-picking facts, inflating their importance, adding half-truths, and scrupulously avoiding evidence that contradicts [my] thesis.” I answered Forman here (scroll down past the other letters to find my reply).

But now, as if on cue, comes Nancy Pelosi’s pilgrimage to Damascus, demonstrating another way in which some ranking Democrats are being cavalier about Israel’s–and America’s–security. Against the wishes of the Bush administration, in a visit filled with photo-ops, the Speaker has journeyed to the Middle East to jump-start “peace talks” between Israel and Syria.

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Back in January, in Jews, Muslims, and the Democrats, I pointed to the emergence of a Muslim-Left caucus composed of about 40 to 50 congressmen within the Democratic party who, “in varying degrees of intensity, have felt free to express an uninhibited hostility toward the Jewish state.”

My analysis provoked a sharp rebuke from Ira N. Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, who accused me of “cherry-picking facts, inflating their importance, adding half-truths, and scrupulously avoiding evidence that contradicts [my] thesis.” I answered Forman here (scroll down past the other letters to find my reply).

But now, as if on cue, comes Nancy Pelosi’s pilgrimage to Damascus, demonstrating another way in which some ranking Democrats are being cavalier about Israel’s–and America’s–security. Against the wishes of the Bush administration, in a visit filled with photo-ops, the Speaker has journeyed to the Middle East to jump-start “peace talks” between Israel and Syria.

Pelosi’s credulous announcement in Damascus that President Bashar al-Assad was “ready to engage in peace talks” with Israel was one of several gifts she bestowed on the Syrian strongman. His empty utterance, which moved things not even a camel hair from his intransigent hardline stance, was offered up as a diplomatic breakthrough, presenting a terror-supporting dictator as a beacon of friendship and good will.

But peace has not broken out as a result of this exercise in congressional meddling. Even the liberal Washington Post ran a scathing editorial today, calling Pelosi’s venture “foolish,” and her statements in support of it “ludicrous.”

In my article I spoke of a slow-motion collision between the interests of American Jews and the present disposition of the Democratic party. If Pelosi’s foray into Middle East diplomacy is a sign of things to come, my analysis was on target but my timetable was significantly off.

To find out what former President Jimmy Carter thinks about all this, click here.

To find out what President Bashar al-Assad thinks about all this, click here.

 

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“Saul Bellow and the Bad Fish”

Ron Rosenbaum has a fascinating essay up at Slate on Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein—his last novel, a roman à clef centering on Bellow’s friendship with Allan Bloom at the University of Chicago, where they taught together. Rosenbaum admits to being a Bellow skeptic (something Sam Tanenhaus decidedly is not) but a lover of this particular novel, and speculates about the source of Ravelstein‘s great power. He suggests that it resides in an episode of food poisoning that nearly took Bellow’s life (and which appears in the novel). “The cigua toxin didn’t kill [Bellow],” Rosenbaum writes, “it made him, or made his work stronger, more vibrant and luminous, shimmering like Ravelstein’s golden sport coat or like the Caribbean waters that harbored the toxic seafood.”

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Ron Rosenbaum has a fascinating essay up at Slate on Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein—his last novel, a roman à clef centering on Bellow’s friendship with Allan Bloom at the University of Chicago, where they taught together. Rosenbaum admits to being a Bellow skeptic (something Sam Tanenhaus decidedly is not) but a lover of this particular novel, and speculates about the source of Ravelstein‘s great power. He suggests that it resides in an episode of food poisoning that nearly took Bellow’s life (and which appears in the novel). “The cigua toxin didn’t kill [Bellow],” Rosenbaum writes, “it made him, or made his work stronger, more vibrant and luminous, shimmering like Ravelstein’s golden sport coat or like the Caribbean waters that harbored the toxic seafood.”

It’s hard to imagine Bellow failing to find this implicit comparison to Adrian Leverkühn—the subject of Thomas Mann’s novel Doctor Faustus, a brilliant and radical composer spurred to incalculable heights of genius by syphilis—absolutely delightful. Rosenbaum continues in this Mannean vein:

It certainly seems to me that a number of American novelists could benefit from a cruise to the Western Caribbean of the sort Bellow took, and as many sumptuous seafood meals (red snapper and barracuda especially recommended) as necessary to raise the level of their art through a slightly less-than-lethal dose of cigua.

The whole essay is worth reading.

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Hamas and the Europeans

Noting that the EU had been accused of being too pro-Israel by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, I recently wrote that

it seems more and more possible that the recent period of relative quiet with respect to Israel might in itself suffice for Hamas to win a hearing in Europe. If money were to begin flowing again into government coffers in Gaza, the “moderates” can argue, it would strengthen their hold on the PA and make it possible, at long last, for the government to meet the Quartet’s three demands. Hamas would not even have to say this much, only to make the EU believe that this might happen at some point in the future. The EU’s readiness for a diplomatic fire sale is already evident, with France and the UK leading the push to set aside the Quartet’s three burdensome preconditions.

Despite shows of unity with their U.S. partners, the Europeans are doing just that, now that the Palestinian “national unity” government is in place. The foreign minister of Norway traveled to Gaza to confer with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, after Norway’s government recognized the new executive.
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Noting that the EU had been accused of being too pro-Israel by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, I recently wrote that

it seems more and more possible that the recent period of relative quiet with respect to Israel might in itself suffice for Hamas to win a hearing in Europe. If money were to begin flowing again into government coffers in Gaza, the “moderates” can argue, it would strengthen their hold on the PA and make it possible, at long last, for the government to meet the Quartet’s three demands. Hamas would not even have to say this much, only to make the EU believe that this might happen at some point in the future. The EU’s readiness for a diplomatic fire sale is already evident, with France and the UK leading the push to set aside the Quartet’s three burdensome preconditions.

Despite shows of unity with their U.S. partners, the Europeans are doing just that, now that the Palestinian “national unity” government is in place. The foreign minister of Norway traveled to Gaza to confer with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, after Norway’s government recognized the new executive.

Rumor has it that the next Norwegian diplomatic move was a phone call to the EU’s foreign policy czar, Javier Solana, asking EU states to emulate Norway (which is not a member). The EU chose caution instead: it would judge the new government by its deeds, a spokesman said, not only by its words. Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht, visiting Ramallah last Friday, reiterated this message. But he did so at a joint press conference with the new Palestinian foreign minister, Ziad Abu Amr. And Italy’s undersecretary for foreign affairs, Vittorio Craxi, called Haniyeh “in his personal capacity,” but did not pay an official visit.

Next, it was the turn of Marc Otte, the EU special envoy to the Middle East, who met the new PA finance minister, Salam Fayyad (as did the U.S. consul in Jerusalem). As the International Herald Tribune reports, the Swedish foreign minister is next; the Swiss and Russian ambassadors will also meet Fayyad. Switzerland and France have invited him to visit; the UK announced that it, too, will speak to non-Hamas ministers.

Unlike Norway, the EU still has a few problems talking to the PA while Hamas is part of the government: Hamas, after all, is on the EU terror list. And the Quartet, at least officially, still stands by the Roadmap and the three preconditions that any PA government must meet for the international embargo on aid and dialogue to be ended.

But even Europe’s modest overtures are quite astonishing when one considers how Hamas itself views the new “unity” government: as the group’s leaders have repeatedly emphasized, “resistance” in all its forms will continue. True to form, Hamas followed words with deeds, and proceeded to claim responsibility for the shooting of an Israeli worker only two days after the government was sworn in.

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