Islamists and the Left
To the Editor:
Joshua Kurlantzick cites an allegedly criminal incident involving the activist attorney Lynne Stewart and her client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, as an example of a dangerous partnership between the Left and radical Islamists [“The Left and the Islamists,” December 2004].
But Stewart is not a very important figure on the Left, locally, nationally, or internationally. She is a skillful, “grandmotherly” (in Mr. Kurlantzick’s word) figure, armed with a law degree. If found guilty in her criminal trial, she will serve time and be expelled from the bar. But is she a threat to our democratic way of life, or just a nasty irritant? And how many figures like her exist on the left side of the political landscape in the U.S.?
Mr. Kurlantzick writes that “[t]he partnership between Islamists and the international Left poses its most immediate threat to Jews.” But the perpetrators of the bombing of a Spanish commuter train in March 2004 were surely not looking for Jews to exterminate. As for the French Trotskyists, SDS types, Weatherpeople, and British radicals discussed by Mr. Kurlantzick, they are indeed a motley collection of totalitarian misfits, but have these tiny groups successfully penetrated the large Islamic workforce in Europe so as to create a bona-fide threat to Europe’s one million Jews?
I do not doubt that the hard Left remains convinced that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and that this may account for the sympathy some feel toward Islamists. But clear-minded observers should accurately measure the political weight of this phenomenon.
Brooklyn, New York
To the Editor:
In “The Left and the Islamists,” Joshua Kurlantzick uses the clichéd language of “Left” and “Right” to draw strikingly one-sided conclusions about the recent history of U.S. encounters with religious fundamentalists and terrorists.
Just as remarkable as the “shifting allegiances” of the radical Left with regard to Islamic groups has been the shifting position of U.S. officialdom toward those same groups. Viewed from a global perspective, the latter phenomenon has been far more important in determining the current state of world affairs. Mr. Kurlantzick fails to consider the possibility that the views of the Left might themselves have been influenced by these shifts in U.S. policy, rather than the other way around.
The U.S., like the world as a whole, needs to find realistic strategies to confront the threat of terrorist organizations. Knocking over a few straw men in order to score points against your political opponents might be a pleasant diversion, but in the end gets us nowhere.
Joshua Kurlantzick writes:
Lawrence Gulotta suggests that my choice of Lynne Stewart, not “a very important figure on the Left,” undermines my thesis. Nor does he think that links among the far Left and Islamists rise to the level of truly grave threats.
I used Stewart merely as an illustration, as representing a generation; my case hardly rested on her alone, but on a plethora of Islamist links with the hard Left that I described in some detail. And even the Stewart case goes beyond her to involve other, more prominent figures on the political far Left. The blind sheik was represented not only by Stewart but also by former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, one of the intellectual leaders of the American Left and a founder of International ANSWER. (Clark has not been charged with any crimes.) And Stewart has been supported in her fight by some of the most prominent attorneys in America.
Stewart’s case has also been covered prominently by Democracy Now, the flagship program of many radio stations in the Pacifica group, the most organized medium on the far Left. Stewart herself has appeared several times on Democracy Now, where she has received a highly respectful hearing and has been able to count on her host’s skimming over Sheik Omar’s alleged crimes as well as his noxious views on a range of social issues.
As for whether the Green-Red alliance is the gravest or most immediate threat to the world, or even to the Jews, I did not say and do not believe that. I did and do insist that it is a threat, and to Jews most immediately.
Rajan Venkataraman, for his part, is convinced that the views of the far Left are themselves greatly influenced by how the U.S. government acts toward Islamists and the Islamic world in general. I do not doubt that if George W. Bush were suddenly to retire and hand the Oval Office directly to Jimmy Carter, the far Left would have to recalibrate some of its thinking. But in many respects the actions of the far Left are immune to particular government policies or administrations. This was so during the cold war, as David Horowitz shows, when the strategies pursued by the far Left changed little even as the official American posture underwent a number of shifts and even as the Soviets’ horrific crimes were revealed to the world.
The same is true today, when, for example, both the actions and the rhetoric of anti-globalization groups on the far Left have remained essentially constant even as the White House has gone from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush and as global trade institutions have begun to take leftist criticisms into account. But this is another way in which the far Left shares something with hard-core Islamists. After all, Islamist opposition to the U.S. and to liberal values has hardly been affected by who happens to be President or what policies he pursues; famously, the plans for 9/11 were laid even as the Israel-Palestinian peace process was at its most optimistic.
The threat, moreover, is not necessarily one of direct violence—though Hizballah, among others, certainly has no aversion to violence. The threat is that this strange alliance will bleed into mainstream politics, as it already has done in Europe through the medium of the Islamic workforce, and will start to poison the political discourse of the mainstream Left, of which I consider myself a member. The solution, as Mustafa Akyol suggests, is for the Muslim world, and the Western Left, to turn away from unholy partners and to channel their energies into the context of civil, liberal, and democratic order.