Commentary Magazine


Radical Islam; New York City politics; Bosnia; etc.

Radical Islam TO THE EDITOR: Daniel Pipes states that some 100 to 150 million peo- ple worldwide embrace rad- ical Islam, and that some 500 million other Muslims "con- cur with its rank anti-Amer- icanism," sympathizing more with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban than with the United States ["Who Is the Enemy?" January].

But having answered the question posed by his arti- cle’s title, Mr. Pipes fails to ask its obvious corollary: what have we done to invite this enmity? He thus miss- es the most important thing we can do for moderate Muslims in their attempt to combat anti-Americanism: taking responsibility for the wrongs we have committed (and continue to commit) against Muslim and other third-world countries. For too long, we have seen them as pawns to be used in any way we see fit, without re- gard for their own well- being. After all, it was the U.S., in its struggle against the Soviet Union, that armed the fighters who would be- come the Taliban.

MAX RIVERS Shutesbury, Massachusetts To THE EDITOR: Daniel Pipes argues that the conflict in which Amer- ica is now engaged is not- to use Samuel P. Hunting- ton’s term-a "clash of civ- ilizations" between Islam and the West. Mr. Pipes takes a more optimistic view, seeing the conflict pri- marily as an internecine af- fair between radical and moderate Muslims. As he points out, Islamists are no less vicious in eradicating dissent among their coreli- gionists than in their enmi- ty toward the West. Is- lamism, he suggests, is just another ideology, like So- viet Communism. Given adequate time, commit- ment, and resources, it too can be contained until its eventual demise.

But Huntington’s thesis is hardly disproved by the existence of internal dissent in the Islamic world. If any- thing, the zeal with which Islamic fundamentalists seek to stifle the expression of pluralism and individual liberty by other Muslims shows the chasm between their civilization and our own.

Moreover, Islamism- unlike Communism in the countries where it was im- posed-is a home-grown, grassroots phenomenon.

Perhaps moderate Muslims are "weak, divided, intimi- dated, and generally inef- fectual," as Mr. Pipes writes, precisely because radical Is- lam more closely reflects the national aspirations and religious passions of the most energetic segment of Muslim society.

Radical Islam may be a consequence of greater contact between the Mus- lim world and the West over the past half-century.

But the values and ideas that sustain it are centuries old, and run deeper than mere ideologyv. The containment of a civilization could make fighting the cold war look simple by comparison.

GREG LUMELSKY New York City To THE EDITOR: Daniel Pipes’s claim that Islam itself is not the ene- my is unsubstantiated and dubious. It disregards the fact that there is no serious opposition to attacks upon America from within the Muslim community. To him, the real clash is be- tween Islamists and "mod- erate Muslims." Apparent- ly, we simply got in the way.

Mr. Pipes disputes the notion that our enemy is Is- lam by pointing out that there is "Islamist enmity to- ward Muslims." But this makes no sense. Did the Nazis’ persecution of some of their fellow Germans or the Soviets’ oppression of some of their fellow Rus- sians make those regimes any less our enemies? ALLEN WEINGARTEN Morristown, New Jersey [3] .7,COMMENTARY APRIL 2002 TO THE EDITOR: Daniel Pipes writes: "If roughly half the population across the Islamic world hates America, the other half does not." But even moderate Mus- lims are not moderate on the question of Zionism; their hatred for Israel is close to universal. They do not dissent from expressions of genocidal sentiment like those, cited by Mr. Pipes, of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the ex- tremist sheikh who declared on al-Jazeera television, "On the hour of judgment, Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them." Anti-Semitism and its child, anti-Zionism, are powerful in a way that de- fies comprehension. Eth- nic and religious hostilities are often destructive, yet anti-Semitism stands out as especially dangerous. If moderate Islam is to be- come a political force, it must separate itself from the radical anti-Zionism in the face of which it has been silent and impotent.

GEORGE JOCHNOWITZ Staten Island, New York DANIEL PIPES writes: "What have we done to invite" the enmity of mili- tant Islam? asks Max Rivers.

That is the wrong question, I reply. Islamists hate Amer- ica for what it is, not for the policies it pursues. In this, as in much else, Islamists replicate the pattern estab- lished by their fascist and Communist precursors.

Would Mr. Rivers ask what the United States did to in- cur Pearl Harbor or the wrath of Hitler and Stalin? I doubt it. To all totalitari- ans, including the Islamist variant, America represents an ineluctable challenge that they must fight.

Greg Lumelsky and Allen Weingarten both chide me for what Mr. Lumelsky calls an "unsubstantiated and du- bious" distinction between Islam the religion and mili- tant Islam the ideology.

Again, I return to the analo- gy of earlier totalitarians. In World War II, the aim of the U.S. war effort was to change the way Germany, Italy, and Japan were ruled, ousting the fascist leaders and bringing in leaders with whom Amer- ica could coexist. In the cold war, the goal was once again to oust the Soviet leadership and pave the way for Rus- sians with whom we could coexist. The same applies to- day with militant Islam: the ultimate goal is to weaken or even destroy this movement and bring in decent leaders, as has already been done in Afghanistan. The Nazis and Communists were the ene- my, not the German or the Russian peoples; likewise, the enemy today is militant Is- lam, not the whole Muslim world.

It is a curious fact, by the way, that Messrs. Lumelsky and Weingarten concur with the Islamists on the key point that militant Islam equals Islam, dismissing other ap- proaches to the religion as inauthentic, insignificant, or otherwise irrelevant. I dis- agree, on the simple grounds that most Muslims reject militant Islam.

George Jochnowitz makes the valid observation that nearly all Muslims subscribe to anti-Zionism and anti- Semitism, and that true moderation requires that these be tamed, if not elim- inated. I agree and note that, as so often in the past, attitudes toward Jews serve as a vital touchstone of moderation and decency. In this respect, moderate Mus- lims have nearly as far to travel as do their Islamist coreligionists.

New York City To THE EDITOR: In his article on the top- sy-turvy world of New York City politics ["Suc- ceeding Giuliani," Janu- ary], Fred Siegel overlooks the role played by two topsy-turvy policies: cam- paign finance and its step- child, mandatory term lim- its.

Political campaigns in New York City are expen- sive; it takes a lot of money to get a message out to vot- ers. But campaign-finance reform has limited the abil- ity of challengers to raise large sums, thereby con- centrating power in the hands of party hacks like Mark Green, Fernando Fer- rer, and Al Sharpton, and conferring significant ad- vantages on incumbents.

The result is that only a challenger with an indepen- dent fortune like Michael Bloomberg has the resources to compete.

Of course, one way to neutralize the advantages incumbents enjoy is to force them out of office with mandatory term lim- its. But rather than give New Yorkers more choice, this policy gives them less.

In the last election, they were deprived of Rudolph Giuliani, the candidate with the most experience and skill at a time when these qualities mattered most.

New York was fortunate to get a Giuliani from this system. But make no mis- take: this was by luck, not by design. If the city wants to right itself, as Mr. Siegel hopes, it should adopt plans that make it easier, not harder, for good candidates to run.

ERIC HALPERN West Hartford, Connecticut FRED SIEGEL writes: Has campaign-finance reform concentrated pow- er in the hands of party hacks? Of the three poli- ticians cited by Eric Hal- pern, only one, Freddy Ferrer, can in any sense be considered a hack.

Al Sharpton is a race man, whose career has been built on threats to defeat the nominees of the Democrat- ic party; indeed, the 2001 election represented the sec- ond time he tried, success- fully, to undermine Mark Green in a campaign for of- fice. As for Green himself, he has many failings, but he has never been embraced by the party leadership.

Where Mr. Halpern is closer to the mark is in sug- gesting that Green proba- bly helped defeat himself by sticking to campaign- spending limits in the face of Michael Bloomberg’s onslaught of television ads.

When you add Bloom- berg’s charitable contri- butions to nonprofit or- ganizations with electoral influence, the new mayor probably spent around $100 million to win. Such, as Mr. Halpem rightly notes, are the effects of campaign finance "reform." Term limits are a different matter. Given the disastrous history of third terms in both New York City and New York State, my feelings about them are not so straightfor- ward as Mr. Halpern’s.

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Should Governor George Pataki be returned to office a third time (the state, unlike the city, has not imposed term limits), we can expect no better.

What to do about any of this is still another question.

I would caution against drawing too many conclu- sions from a campaign that took place in the wake of an unparalleled physical attack on the city and in which the outgoing mayor became a national hero whose en- dorsement was given un- precedented value.To par- aphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes on the law, unusu- al elections make for bad political generalizations.

Human Rights To THE EDITOR: Bravo to Adrian Karatny- cky and Arch Puddington for their article about Am- nesty International and Hu- man Rights Watch ["The Human-Rights Lobby Meets Terrorism," January]. I had not known that both groups support the Palestinians’ "right of return"-a "right" that even a dove like Amos Oz agrees would mean "the elimination of Israel"-but I cannot say that I was sur- prised to learn of the depth of their animosity toward the Jewish state.

Some months ago, I at- tended a Human Rights Watch film festival in New York and was shocked by the audience’s response to Souha: Surviving Hell, a documentary about Souha Becharre. In 1989, this young Lebanese woman-a Chris- tian and a Communist- slipped into the home of General Antoine Lahad, leader of the South Leba- non Army, Israel’s ally at the time, and shot him twice in the chest. Somehow, he sur- vived. After serving ten years in prison, Souha was released. The film takes us with her as she journeys tri- umphantly through Leba- non, cheered by admirers at Communist and Hizbullah rallies held in her honor.

The audience at the film festival cheered happily along with Souha’s admirers on screen. I had never quite grasped the ugly, partisan nature of much "human- rights" activism.

GARY SPRUCH New York City Bosnia To THE EDITOR: According to Jacob Heil- brunn [Books in Review, January], David Halberstam in War in a Time of Peace criticizes the first Bush ad- ministration for its "too cau- tious" policy toward Yu- goslavia, and particularly its reluctance to back what Mr.

Heilbrunn calls "the break- away province of Bosnia." The implicit assump- tion-whether it is Halber- stam’s or Mr. Heilbrunn’s, I do not know-that seces- sion was the core issue in Bosnia is simplistic. Seces- sion was the exclusive issue in largely homogeneous Slovenia and Croatia, both of which, without foreign military assistance, soon overcame Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and achieved in- dependence from Belgrade.

In Bosnia, however, the crux of the problem was not that the province wanted to "break away" from Yugo- slavia but rather that its population was almost even- ly divided among mutually antagonistic Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, most of whom-at least the Serbs and Croats-wanted to se- cede from Bosnia.

Instead of recognizing this reality, the U.S. pro- ceeded on the delusional premise that a multiethnic Bosnian state could be vi- able. This leap of faith re- sulted in ethnic cleansing and ultimately in de-facto partition, requiring the in- definite presence of outside forces, including our own, to maintain a tenuous peace.

It would have been far bet- ter had the West recognized reality at the outset and pressed for a partition that would have allowed the Bosnian Serbs to join Ser- bia and the Croats to join Croatia, if that was their choice, with a Western pro- tectorate, if necessary, for a Muslim-dominated state around Sarajevo.

One wonders if the cur- rent American infatuation with "diversity" and multi- ethnic harmony might have had something to do with this misbegotten policy, which has never been open- ly disavowed and whose un- happy consequences remain with us to this day.

ANDY ANDERSON Bronxville, New York JACOB HEILBRUNN writes: Andy Anderson offers a highly misleading account of the Serbian assault on Bosnia. Secession was, in fact, the issue. Bosnians were confronted with a tough choice after Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from the Yu- goslav federation in June 1991. Continued member- ship in the federation would have left the province’s Muslims and Croats at the mercy of Slobodan Milose- vic; independence, they knew, would lead to war. In March 1992 the Bosnians held a referendum on inde- pendence, and 99.4 percent of the voters elected to se- cede. Ethnic cleansing by Bosnian Serb irregulars quickly followed.

Mr. Anderson’s contention that Bosnia could have been neatly partitioned is prepos- terous. The population was not "evenly divided," as he puts it. Bosnia was 43 per- cent Muslim, 35 percent Or- thodox Serb, and 18 percent Roman Catholic Croat, and the ethnic groups had inter- married to a large extent. It is hard to see how partition could have been carried out peacefully. Today’s de-facto partition of Bosnia is not the result of the West’s moralistic reluctance to divide up the province, as Mr. Anderson would have it, but of the West’s failure to intervene at a point when Milosevic and his Bosnian Serb henchmen might still have been stopped in their tracks.

Learning the right les- sons from Bosnia-where the most recent election was conducted relatively clean- ly, with the active participa- tion of Muslims, Croats, and Serbs alike-is not a trivial matter. In Afghani- stan, the West is once again trying to balance different ethnic factions to create a stable democracy. What Mr.

Anderson calls our "infatu- ation" with multiethnic har- mony is likely to serve us well again.

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