Commentary Magazine


Topic: Catholic Church

Stupak Is the Last Man Standing?

Eventually, Nancy Pelosi’s reality-proof rhetoric reaches its limits. She’s denied that ObamaCare, in its Senate and latest White House versions, alters the status quo on abortion funding. But anyone who really cares enough about the issue knows this isn’t so. And thus Pelosi, obviously short of her majority to pass ObamaCare, must negotiate with Rep. Bart Stupak and the pro-life Democrats. Politico reports:

Despite the speaker’s repeated denials, it looks like the final act in the year-long health care fight could once again come down to abortion – so much so that Pelosi invited a group of women’s rights groups to the Capitol on Thursday, along with a number of her closest allies, for a preliminary discussion to strategize about the way ahead…

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) met with Stupak on Thursday, starting a conversation that could shape the path of reform. The former state trooper authored an amendment to the House bill that bars anyone receiving subsidies through the new insurance exchange from purchasing coverage for elective abortions. Without a final package, it’s too early to tell where the votes are, but Hoyer seemed to acknowledge that Stupak, true to his threat, has the votes to derail the broader bill.

But here’s the hitch:

Changing the Senate language at this point could prove troublesome for leaders, even if they are able to broker a compromise. The abortion section of the bill likely won’t qualify under the rules for reconciliation — since it doesn’t have a direct dollar impact on overall cost — so Democrats would either need to muster 60 votes in the Senate to override the parliamentarian or draft a third bill with fixes in it that would also need 60 votes for passage. Both would require Republican support, making each a very heavy lift for party leaders, even if the Catholic Church lends a hand.

So what’s the way out? There may not be one. And frankly, Stupak would be doing his fellow Democrats, not just the pro-life contingent, a huge favor. If he holds firm, he will spare many a moderate Democrat from walking the plank and suffering the wrath of the voters. For if Pelosi is a dozen votes short, as we surmise, do we really think there will be a humiliating floor vote? Of course not. She will be forced to pack it in, regroup, and perhaps finally arrive at a bill that does not send the electorate shrieking for the scalps of her members. Or if she simply did nothing more on health care and turned to other issues, that, too, might spare a handful or two of her members. But then again, it seems she and Obama do not care so much about saving her troops. For them, Stupak may be the last, best hope.

Eventually, Nancy Pelosi’s reality-proof rhetoric reaches its limits. She’s denied that ObamaCare, in its Senate and latest White House versions, alters the status quo on abortion funding. But anyone who really cares enough about the issue knows this isn’t so. And thus Pelosi, obviously short of her majority to pass ObamaCare, must negotiate with Rep. Bart Stupak and the pro-life Democrats. Politico reports:

Despite the speaker’s repeated denials, it looks like the final act in the year-long health care fight could once again come down to abortion – so much so that Pelosi invited a group of women’s rights groups to the Capitol on Thursday, along with a number of her closest allies, for a preliminary discussion to strategize about the way ahead…

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) met with Stupak on Thursday, starting a conversation that could shape the path of reform. The former state trooper authored an amendment to the House bill that bars anyone receiving subsidies through the new insurance exchange from purchasing coverage for elective abortions. Without a final package, it’s too early to tell where the votes are, but Hoyer seemed to acknowledge that Stupak, true to his threat, has the votes to derail the broader bill.

But here’s the hitch:

Changing the Senate language at this point could prove troublesome for leaders, even if they are able to broker a compromise. The abortion section of the bill likely won’t qualify under the rules for reconciliation — since it doesn’t have a direct dollar impact on overall cost — so Democrats would either need to muster 60 votes in the Senate to override the parliamentarian or draft a third bill with fixes in it that would also need 60 votes for passage. Both would require Republican support, making each a very heavy lift for party leaders, even if the Catholic Church lends a hand.

So what’s the way out? There may not be one. And frankly, Stupak would be doing his fellow Democrats, not just the pro-life contingent, a huge favor. If he holds firm, he will spare many a moderate Democrat from walking the plank and suffering the wrath of the voters. For if Pelosi is a dozen votes short, as we surmise, do we really think there will be a humiliating floor vote? Of course not. She will be forced to pack it in, regroup, and perhaps finally arrive at a bill that does not send the electorate shrieking for the scalps of her members. Or if she simply did nothing more on health care and turned to other issues, that, too, might spare a handful or two of her members. But then again, it seems she and Obama do not care so much about saving her troops. For them, Stupak may be the last, best hope.

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Vatican’s Pius Plea Does Little to Help

Catholic-Jewish relations have gotten shakier since the death of Pope John Paul II and the accession of his successor Pope Benedict XVI. John Paul was an extraordinary and historic figure. Having grown up among Jews and witnessed the Holocaust in Poland, the late pope had a special understanding of the difficult issues as well as of the history of persecution that divided Catholics and Jews. Building on the work of Pope John XXIII, John Paul helped reverse centuries of the teaching of contempt for Judaism that marked so much of Catholic thinking. In his comments as well as his actions—it was during his reign that the Vatican finally recognized the State of Israel—the pope exemplified a new spirit of reconciliation that did honor to his church as well as to the whole of humanity.

There is no reason to believe that Benedict XVI would like to change any of this. Indeed, he was a bulwark of his predecessor’s efforts. But the German-born Benedict has none of John Paul’s charm or his innate feel for what to say. Even when controversies arise that are not entirely his fault, the pontiff and his advisers tend to strike the wrong note, especially when it comes to the church’s contacts with Jews, as his blunder in revoking the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop revealed earlier this year.

The latest instance of Benedict’s maladroit manner comes with a Vatican statement yesterday, which claimed that the pope’s decision to move wartime Pope Pius XII closer to sainthood status “is in no way to be read as a hostile act towards the Jewish people, and it is to be hoped that it will not be considered as an obstacle on the path of dialogue between Judaism and the Catholic Church.”

This past weekend, Benedict confirmed the “heroic virtues” of Pius—as well as those of John Paul II. This means that either would be beatified once a miracle is attributed to each. Sainthood could be conferred once a second miracle is credited to them.

The move to beautify Pius is a sore point for Jews who see him as, at best, an ineffectual moral leader who did little or nothing to save the victims of the Holocaust. Though some Catholics have expended a great deal of energy in defending or rationalizing his record, it has done little to reclaim his reputation. Pius was a careful politician who took few risks in his relations with the Nazis when what the world needed then was a man of sufficient moral stature to stand up against them and to excommunicate any Catholic who was part of the German war and extermination machines.

Coupling Pius with the truly saintly John Paul may be the Vatican’s attempt to dampen down the controversy but it is a mistake. The fact is, the more the church talks about this issue the worse it gets. Nevertheless, Jewish groups that chose to make a major issue out of this are also making a mistake. As much as Jews and other people of good conscience may be pained by the elevation of Pius, the question of who is or is not a Catholic saint is a strictly Catholic affair. It is not the business of the Jews or Protestants or anyone else to tell Catholics what they should believe any more than it would be the business of Catholics to tell others how to worship.

But if Pope Benedict wishes to emulate the path blazed by John Paul than he is going to have to realize that the series of blunders he has committed may well be interpreted as “hostile” acts that signal a reversal of the good feelings that his predecessor created. At a time when militant Islam is still on the rise in the world, threatening the entire West, both Jews and Catholics do well to concentrate on what they have in common rather than to pointlessly exacerbate theological or historical differences. That is a lesson that Pope Benedict should take to heart.

Catholic-Jewish relations have gotten shakier since the death of Pope John Paul II and the accession of his successor Pope Benedict XVI. John Paul was an extraordinary and historic figure. Having grown up among Jews and witnessed the Holocaust in Poland, the late pope had a special understanding of the difficult issues as well as of the history of persecution that divided Catholics and Jews. Building on the work of Pope John XXIII, John Paul helped reverse centuries of the teaching of contempt for Judaism that marked so much of Catholic thinking. In his comments as well as his actions—it was during his reign that the Vatican finally recognized the State of Israel—the pope exemplified a new spirit of reconciliation that did honor to his church as well as to the whole of humanity.

There is no reason to believe that Benedict XVI would like to change any of this. Indeed, he was a bulwark of his predecessor’s efforts. But the German-born Benedict has none of John Paul’s charm or his innate feel for what to say. Even when controversies arise that are not entirely his fault, the pontiff and his advisers tend to strike the wrong note, especially when it comes to the church’s contacts with Jews, as his blunder in revoking the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop revealed earlier this year.

The latest instance of Benedict’s maladroit manner comes with a Vatican statement yesterday, which claimed that the pope’s decision to move wartime Pope Pius XII closer to sainthood status “is in no way to be read as a hostile act towards the Jewish people, and it is to be hoped that it will not be considered as an obstacle on the path of dialogue between Judaism and the Catholic Church.”

This past weekend, Benedict confirmed the “heroic virtues” of Pius—as well as those of John Paul II. This means that either would be beatified once a miracle is attributed to each. Sainthood could be conferred once a second miracle is credited to them.

The move to beautify Pius is a sore point for Jews who see him as, at best, an ineffectual moral leader who did little or nothing to save the victims of the Holocaust. Though some Catholics have expended a great deal of energy in defending or rationalizing his record, it has done little to reclaim his reputation. Pius was a careful politician who took few risks in his relations with the Nazis when what the world needed then was a man of sufficient moral stature to stand up against them and to excommunicate any Catholic who was part of the German war and extermination machines.

Coupling Pius with the truly saintly John Paul may be the Vatican’s attempt to dampen down the controversy but it is a mistake. The fact is, the more the church talks about this issue the worse it gets. Nevertheless, Jewish groups that chose to make a major issue out of this are also making a mistake. As much as Jews and other people of good conscience may be pained by the elevation of Pius, the question of who is or is not a Catholic saint is a strictly Catholic affair. It is not the business of the Jews or Protestants or anyone else to tell Catholics what they should believe any more than it would be the business of Catholics to tell others how to worship.

But if Pope Benedict wishes to emulate the path blazed by John Paul than he is going to have to realize that the series of blunders he has committed may well be interpreted as “hostile” acts that signal a reversal of the good feelings that his predecessor created. At a time when militant Islam is still on the rise in the world, threatening the entire West, both Jews and Catholics do well to concentrate on what they have in common rather than to pointlessly exacerbate theological or historical differences. That is a lesson that Pope Benedict should take to heart.

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Standing up to the Obami

This report tip-toes around the facts related to how Honduras ousted Manuel Zelaya and achieved remarkable success in thwarting the Obami bullies. The report prefers to characterize it an as “elite” victory:

The story of how the second-poorest country in the hemisphere defied a superpower involves smooth-talking U.S. lobbyists and a handful of congressional Republicans. Perhaps most of all, it features a Honduran elite terrified that their country was being hijacked by someone they considered an erratic leftist.

But that’s not quite right. In fact, the support for Zelaya’s ousting came from the Honduran Congress, military, supreme court, business community, and the Catholic church. It was, at the very least, the victory of a wide and broad “elite.” Nor is there any evidence that Zelaya stood with non-elites. He stood with Hugo Chavez against virtually every institution and segment of Honduran society. Nor was this a “coup” in the way the term has historically been used in Latin America. The report grudgingly concedes as much:

Still, it was hardly an old-style Latin American coup. The soldiers were acting on a secret Supreme Court arrest warrant charging Zelaya with abuse of power. Legislators replaced him with a civilian. As promised, the de facto government proceeded with regularly scheduled presidential elections in November.

Ironically, the Honduran interim government wound up isolating the Obami — not the other way around. They smartly made their case to Republicans in Congress (“They won support from a handful of Republicans, who held up diplomatic appointments, weakening the State Department’s Latin America team”) and pushed forward with the only feasible solution — free and fair elections. Eventually the Obami were forced to back down: “As the crisis dragged on, U.S. diplomats got both sides to agree in October to allow the Honduran Congress to decide on Zelaya’s restoration. Until the end, Washington publicly supported his return. But after many delays, lawmakers finally voted Wednesday — no.”

There is a lesson there for small democracies. If they abide by democratic principles, sustain a united front domestically, and refuse to accede to the arrogance of Foggy Bottom and the White House, they can control their own destiny. (Hmm, seems to also have worked out in Israel.) That it should require such a Herculean effort to resist the strong-arming tactics of the United States is sobering and distressing.

This report tip-toes around the facts related to how Honduras ousted Manuel Zelaya and achieved remarkable success in thwarting the Obami bullies. The report prefers to characterize it an as “elite” victory:

The story of how the second-poorest country in the hemisphere defied a superpower involves smooth-talking U.S. lobbyists and a handful of congressional Republicans. Perhaps most of all, it features a Honduran elite terrified that their country was being hijacked by someone they considered an erratic leftist.

But that’s not quite right. In fact, the support for Zelaya’s ousting came from the Honduran Congress, military, supreme court, business community, and the Catholic church. It was, at the very least, the victory of a wide and broad “elite.” Nor is there any evidence that Zelaya stood with non-elites. He stood with Hugo Chavez against virtually every institution and segment of Honduran society. Nor was this a “coup” in the way the term has historically been used in Latin America. The report grudgingly concedes as much:

Still, it was hardly an old-style Latin American coup. The soldiers were acting on a secret Supreme Court arrest warrant charging Zelaya with abuse of power. Legislators replaced him with a civilian. As promised, the de facto government proceeded with regularly scheduled presidential elections in November.

Ironically, the Honduran interim government wound up isolating the Obami — not the other way around. They smartly made their case to Republicans in Congress (“They won support from a handful of Republicans, who held up diplomatic appointments, weakening the State Department’s Latin America team”) and pushed forward with the only feasible solution — free and fair elections. Eventually the Obami were forced to back down: “As the crisis dragged on, U.S. diplomats got both sides to agree in October to allow the Honduran Congress to decide on Zelaya’s restoration. Until the end, Washington publicly supported his return. But after many delays, lawmakers finally voted Wednesday — no.”

There is a lesson there for small democracies. If they abide by democratic principles, sustain a united front domestically, and refuse to accede to the arrogance of Foggy Bottom and the White House, they can control their own destiny. (Hmm, seems to also have worked out in Israel.) That it should require such a Herculean effort to resist the strong-arming tactics of the United States is sobering and distressing.

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If You Are Asking About Me, That’s Different

John McCain has been silent on the subject of Reverend Wright. But yesterday, when the media guns were turned on him over Reverend John Hagee’s endorsement, McCain made an exception. In fending off tough questions, McCain repeated again and again that Hagee’s comments on Katrina and the Catholic church were “nonsense.” Then he finally reached for the sword:

Q: You and your Democratic opponents spend a certain amount of time commenting on surrogates and endorsers, on what they said. Do you think that is in any way interfering with how you’re trying to conduct your campaign?

A: …I didn’t attend Pastor Hagee’s church for 20 years. There’s a great deal of difference in my view between someone who endorses you and other circumstances.

Ah! When his back is to the wall and his own endorsement is at issue, then the Wright issue is fair game. This seems intellectually tangled and politically unfeasible. If McCain only discusses Wright when he’s on defense, the issue (which many contend goes to Obama’s judgment and values) become little more than a cover for McCain’s acceptance of endorsements from questionable characters.

Far better to take a page from Hillary Clinton’s book, who calmly stated in the last debate:

Obviously, one’s choice of church and pastor is rooted in what one believes is what you’re seeking in church and what kind of, you know, fellowship you find in church. But I have to say that, you know, for Pastor Wright to have given his first sermon after 9/11 and to have blamed the United States for the attack, which happened in my city of New York, would have been intolerable for me. And therefore I would have not been able to stay in the church, and maybe it’s, you know, just, again, a personal reflection that regardless of whatever good is going on — and I have no reason to doubt that a lot of good things were happening in that church — you get to choose your pastor. You don’t choose your family, but you get to choose your pastor. And when asked a direct question, I said I would not have stayed in the church.

What’s wrong with that? It beats playing defense (which inevitably leads to a tit-for-tat squabble) and hushing (or insulting) your allies the entire campaign.

As to the North Carolina ad featuring Obama and Reverend Wright, McCain in a blogger call today repeatedly said he thought the ad was “not appropriate” and did not reflect the “tenor of the campaign we want to run.” But by indicating that he thought Americans were entitled to consider any issue they wished, he left the issue muddled: what’s wrong with him talking about Wright?  And why condemn those who do?

John McCain has been silent on the subject of Reverend Wright. But yesterday, when the media guns were turned on him over Reverend John Hagee’s endorsement, McCain made an exception. In fending off tough questions, McCain repeated again and again that Hagee’s comments on Katrina and the Catholic church were “nonsense.” Then he finally reached for the sword:

Q: You and your Democratic opponents spend a certain amount of time commenting on surrogates and endorsers, on what they said. Do you think that is in any way interfering with how you’re trying to conduct your campaign?

A: …I didn’t attend Pastor Hagee’s church for 20 years. There’s a great deal of difference in my view between someone who endorses you and other circumstances.

Ah! When his back is to the wall and his own endorsement is at issue, then the Wright issue is fair game. This seems intellectually tangled and politically unfeasible. If McCain only discusses Wright when he’s on defense, the issue (which many contend goes to Obama’s judgment and values) become little more than a cover for McCain’s acceptance of endorsements from questionable characters.

Far better to take a page from Hillary Clinton’s book, who calmly stated in the last debate:

Obviously, one’s choice of church and pastor is rooted in what one believes is what you’re seeking in church and what kind of, you know, fellowship you find in church. But I have to say that, you know, for Pastor Wright to have given his first sermon after 9/11 and to have blamed the United States for the attack, which happened in my city of New York, would have been intolerable for me. And therefore I would have not been able to stay in the church, and maybe it’s, you know, just, again, a personal reflection that regardless of whatever good is going on — and I have no reason to doubt that a lot of good things were happening in that church — you get to choose your pastor. You don’t choose your family, but you get to choose your pastor. And when asked a direct question, I said I would not have stayed in the church.

What’s wrong with that? It beats playing defense (which inevitably leads to a tit-for-tat squabble) and hushing (or insulting) your allies the entire campaign.

As to the North Carolina ad featuring Obama and Reverend Wright, McCain in a blogger call today repeatedly said he thought the ad was “not appropriate” and did not reflect the “tenor of the campaign we want to run.” But by indicating that he thought Americans were entitled to consider any issue they wished, he left the issue muddled: what’s wrong with him talking about Wright?  And why condemn those who do?

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A Papal Kowtow

On Friday, the Dalai Lama said that he was sorry that he would not be meeting the Pope during his visit to Italy. The Pontiff met with the exiled Tibetan last October in what the Vatican termed “a private courtesy visit.” This time, however, the Pope refused to have any contact with him. The turn-down was unexpected: a December 13 audience between the two spiritual leaders was unofficially announced in late October.

Why would Pope Benedict change his mind and shun one of the world’s most respected figures? Beijing in early November said such a meeting would “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.” Most Chinese, frankly, do not care; it’s the Chinese leaders who would be upset. Their campaign to isolate the Dalai Lama is failing. So far this year, the Tibetan has met the leaders of Germany, New Zealand, Austria, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Moreover, Tibetan lands that the Chinese rule are going through another cycle of instability—disturbances there are occurring with increasing frequency. It’s exhilarating to watch the Chinese repressors on the run both at home and abroad.

Yet it is so depressing to watch the Pope perform the kowtow to atheistic autocrats in Beijing. One of Benedict’s top priorities is to establish relations with the modern Chinese state. He has made some progress recently—China’s state-run Catholic Church ordained two Vatican-approved bishops within the month (it often chooses clergymen who do not have Rome’s blessing). The timing of the elevations suggests they were directly related to Benedict’s refusal to see the exiled Tibetan.

The Pope, in a 55-page open letter dated May 27, indicated that the Vatican was willing to switch recognition from Taiwan to the mainland under certain conditions, including those relating to the selection of bishops. That would be a betrayal of millions of souls. Now, to please the Communist Party, he is breaking the Holy See’s long relations with the Dalai Lama. The Pontiff, unfortunately, is becoming just another craven figure in a world with too many of them. We expect better from religious leaders. Benedict, I am sad to say, is a disappointment.

On Friday, the Dalai Lama said that he was sorry that he would not be meeting the Pope during his visit to Italy. The Pontiff met with the exiled Tibetan last October in what the Vatican termed “a private courtesy visit.” This time, however, the Pope refused to have any contact with him. The turn-down was unexpected: a December 13 audience between the two spiritual leaders was unofficially announced in late October.

Why would Pope Benedict change his mind and shun one of the world’s most respected figures? Beijing in early November said such a meeting would “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.” Most Chinese, frankly, do not care; it’s the Chinese leaders who would be upset. Their campaign to isolate the Dalai Lama is failing. So far this year, the Tibetan has met the leaders of Germany, New Zealand, Austria, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Moreover, Tibetan lands that the Chinese rule are going through another cycle of instability—disturbances there are occurring with increasing frequency. It’s exhilarating to watch the Chinese repressors on the run both at home and abroad.

Yet it is so depressing to watch the Pope perform the kowtow to atheistic autocrats in Beijing. One of Benedict’s top priorities is to establish relations with the modern Chinese state. He has made some progress recently—China’s state-run Catholic Church ordained two Vatican-approved bishops within the month (it often chooses clergymen who do not have Rome’s blessing). The timing of the elevations suggests they were directly related to Benedict’s refusal to see the exiled Tibetan.

The Pope, in a 55-page open letter dated May 27, indicated that the Vatican was willing to switch recognition from Taiwan to the mainland under certain conditions, including those relating to the selection of bishops. That would be a betrayal of millions of souls. Now, to please the Communist Party, he is breaking the Holy See’s long relations with the Dalai Lama. The Pontiff, unfortunately, is becoming just another craven figure in a world with too many of them. We expect better from religious leaders. Benedict, I am sad to say, is a disappointment.

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Mosques Are Not above the Law

Last Sunday, I had reason to be grateful that places of worship are under the law of the land. At my local Catholic church in Kensington, I found myself helping to restrain a menacing and evidently inebriated young man who had ventured inside, accompanied by his German Shepherd dog.

Swaying slightly, the intruder advanced up the steps towards the altar during the most solemn part of the Mass, the prayers of consecration, and began to wave his arms about, mocking the priest—a newly ordained and rather nervous young Cuban—as he did so. On their knees, the congregation looked on aghast, wondering what the man would do next.

At this point I, together with another layman of military bearing and one of the older altar servers, took it upon ourselves to intervene. The parish priest (not the one celebrating Mass) quickly appeared and together we coaxed the man, uttering threats and racist abuse, out of the building. The police arrived and quietly took him away.

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Last Sunday, I had reason to be grateful that places of worship are under the law of the land. At my local Catholic church in Kensington, I found myself helping to restrain a menacing and evidently inebriated young man who had ventured inside, accompanied by his German Shepherd dog.

Swaying slightly, the intruder advanced up the steps towards the altar during the most solemn part of the Mass, the prayers of consecration, and began to wave his arms about, mocking the priest—a newly ordained and rather nervous young Cuban—as he did so. On their knees, the congregation looked on aghast, wondering what the man would do next.

At this point I, together with another layman of military bearing and one of the older altar servers, took it upon ourselves to intervene. The parish priest (not the one celebrating Mass) quickly appeared and together we coaxed the man, uttering threats and racist abuse, out of the building. The police arrived and quietly took him away.

Such an incident can and does take place regularly at churches and temples in this or any other capital. In the case of a London synagogue, the drunk would not have been able to get past the door: synagogue security is tight, due to the threat of Islamist terrorists and anti-Semitic vandals of various stripes. But if the police had requested access from a rabbi, it would have been granted without question. The same would have applied at most other places of worship.

Not necessarily, however, at a mosque. The British police practically never set foot inside a mosque, for fear of giving offense to the Muslim community.

The exception that proves this rule was the North London Central Mosque in Finsbury Park. Within a few years of its erection in 1990, this mosque had become associated with radical Islam and became notorious for its one-eyed, hook-handed preacher Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is now in prison for terrorist crimes. In 2003, the Finsbury Park mosque was raided by hundreds of armed police, who arrested several men and found a terrorist arsenal. Those indoctrinated there by Abu Hamza have since been linked to many terrorist conspiracies around the world.

But the raid on Finsbury Park has never been repeated, despite plenty of evidence of illegal activities, such as the glorification of terrorism or incitement to hatred of Jews and “Crusaders,” in a number of other British mosques. Even when a fugitive from justice is believed to be hiding in a mosque or its outbuildings, the police decline to enter.

This wariness about mosques on the part of the British authorities is not only inimical to the rule of law, but also damaging to Muslim interests. Turning mosques into no-go areas fuels suspicions about what goes on inside. Mosques must indeed be treated with the same respect other places of worship are, but they are certainly not outside the jurisdiction of the secular law.

The reluctance of police to enter a mosque actually betrays a dangerous ignorance about Islam. Mosques are modeled not on the Temple in Jerusalem (as both synagogues and churches are), but on the courtyard in Medina where Mohammed preached. They are places not of ceremony or sacrifice. Unlike synagogues or churches, mosques do not have an ark or sanctuary containing sacred objects, such as the Torah scroll for Jews or the consecrated host for Catholics. Islam does not teach that the mosque is a forbidden place to non-Muslims, nor is there a Muslim tradition of giving sanctuary to fugitives in mosques. It is precisely the simplicity and informality of the mosque that has always appealed, to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The novelist E.M. Forster wrote a paean of praise to the mosque in his 1936 collection Abinger Harvest, and in his greatest novel, A Passage to India (1924), he sets the crucial opening scene in a mosque. The Muslim Dr. Aziz is sitting alone in the evening in his favorite mosque, when he notices the arrival of an elderly Englishwoman. Aziz is angry and shouts at her: “Madam, this is a mosque, you have no right here at all; you should have taken off your shoes; this is a holy place for Muslims.” The woman, Mrs. Moore, replies: “I have taken them off.” Aziz begs her pardon and apologizes. She asks whether, unshod, she is allowed to enter, and he says: “Of course, but so few ladies take the trouble, especially if thinking no one is there to see.” She replies: “That makes no difference. God is here.”

This is fiction, of course, and an Islamophile Englishman’s fiction, to boot. In most of the mosques in Britain today (let alone in the Middle East) even a Muslim woman would not gain entrance, let alone a Christian one. As I understand it, however, Forster is correct in his interpretation of Islamic doctrine, at least as Muhammad himself taught it. The mosque is in principle accessible to all, men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims, who treat it with due respect.

That ought to include the police, too.

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Appeasing the Imam?

It is not easy for a non-Muslim to gain the approval of Sheikh Abdal-Hakim Murad. A prominent British convert to Islam, he is the secretary of the Muslim Academic Trust in London and director of the Sunna Project at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge University. He is also the imam of the Cambridge mosque and an influential commentator on the BBC and in the British press.

Abdal-Hakim regards himself as a moderate, and is taken at his own valuation by the British media. A careful study of his website (which, as it happens, shares its name with this one) causes me to doubt the sheikh’s moderation. This, after all, is a man who sees the Bush administration as “theocratic” but who warns the West that “the Caliph’s first task will be to flog those who call Islam an ideology.” It is clear that the years he spent at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and later in Saudi Arabia, have left their mark: Abdal-Hakim is a Sunni fundamentalist.

He is, however, broad-minded enough to write for a Christian newspaper, the Catholic Herald. Last week he reviewed Islam: Past, Present, and Future, the new book on Islam by Hans Küng. Küng is a controversial Swiss theologian who has been in conflict with the Catholic Church for some 30 years, but remains a Catholic priest “in good standing,” as he likes to remind his critics.

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It is not easy for a non-Muslim to gain the approval of Sheikh Abdal-Hakim Murad. A prominent British convert to Islam, he is the secretary of the Muslim Academic Trust in London and director of the Sunna Project at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge University. He is also the imam of the Cambridge mosque and an influential commentator on the BBC and in the British press.

Abdal-Hakim regards himself as a moderate, and is taken at his own valuation by the British media. A careful study of his website (which, as it happens, shares its name with this one) causes me to doubt the sheikh’s moderation. This, after all, is a man who sees the Bush administration as “theocratic” but who warns the West that “the Caliph’s first task will be to flog those who call Islam an ideology.” It is clear that the years he spent at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and later in Saudi Arabia, have left their mark: Abdal-Hakim is a Sunni fundamentalist.

He is, however, broad-minded enough to write for a Christian newspaper, the Catholic Herald. Last week he reviewed Islam: Past, Present, and Future, the new book on Islam by Hans Küng. Küng is a controversial Swiss theologian who has been in conflict with the Catholic Church for some 30 years, but remains a Catholic priest “in good standing,” as he likes to remind his critics.

Here is Abdal-Hakim’s approving summary of Küng’s treatment of Islam:

Its bearer, the Prophet Mohammed, must be regarded by Christians as a true messenger from God. The Qu’ran is, “in principle,” God’s word. Islam was not imposed at the point of a scimitar; on the contrary, the early Muslim conquests were generally welcomed by Christians and Jews who had been oppressed by Byzantine officialdom. Jihad is not “holy war,” but is comparable to Christian just-war traditions. Islamist terrorism is not organically related to the religion, but is denounced by the religion’s leaders, being the consequence of external factors, chief among them being the creation of the state of Israel.

What a meeting of minds between the “moderate” Muslim and the “liberal” Catholic who asserts the truth of Islam! (Though I think it unlikely that the sheikh will be writing a book any time soon that returns any of these favors.)

And yet, not even this obeisance before Islam is enough. Küng is a theologian notorious for scathing attacks on his own church leadership, particularly the last pope and the present one, and has nothing but praise for “the Other.” But Murad denounces his book’s “huge crop of factual errors,” its “disengagement from Muslims,” and its repetition of “old myths” that “will make this book useless to historians of ideas despite some moments of profound and, some would say, long-overdue insight.”

It is reasonable to conclude from this rebuff that Küng’s attempt at appeasement is not only intellectually disreputable but almost entirely ineffectual. It seems that nothing other than an abjuration of Küng’s minimalist Catholicism in favor of a full-scale embrace of Islam—in short, conversion—would satisfy Abdal-Hakim Murad. The literal meaning of “Islam” is “submission,” and that is what it demands from the infidel—nothing more but certainly nothing less.

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The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism

The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel, and Liberal Opinion.
Bernard Harrison
Rowman & Littlefield. 224 pp. $22.95.

According to the famous 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910), “Anti-Semitism is a passing phase in the history of culture.” Since that sanguine declaration, anti-Semitism has had several very good rolls of the dice, culminating in the destruction of European Jewry.

The latest recrudescence of anti-Semitism is by now the subject of at least a half dozen books, published in America, England, France, and Italy. Their shared conclusion, set forth from a variety of perspectives, is that the physical violence of the new Jew-hatred is largely the work of young Muslims, but that the ideological violence is the work primarily of leftists, battlers against racism, professed humanitarians, and liberals (including Jewish ones). The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism, Bernard Harrison’s superb new book, deals almost entirely with this drifting of liberals and leftists into anti-Semitism, and it brings to the subject a new authorial identity, a different academic background, and a distinctive and (despite the topic) exhilarating voice. Resurgence is also the first book on contemporary anti-Semitism by a Gentile, and a British one to boot. (According to Harrison, a professor of philosophy, this has also made him privy to the expression of anti-Semitic prejudice by apparently respectable academic people “when Jews are absent.”)

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The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel, and Liberal Opinion.
Bernard Harrison
Rowman & Littlefield. 224 pp. $22.95.

According to the famous 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910), “Anti-Semitism is a passing phase in the history of culture.” Since that sanguine declaration, anti-Semitism has had several very good rolls of the dice, culminating in the destruction of European Jewry.

The latest recrudescence of anti-Semitism is by now the subject of at least a half dozen books, published in America, England, France, and Italy. Their shared conclusion, set forth from a variety of perspectives, is that the physical violence of the new Jew-hatred is largely the work of young Muslims, but that the ideological violence is the work primarily of leftists, battlers against racism, professed humanitarians, and liberals (including Jewish ones). The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism, Bernard Harrison’s superb new book, deals almost entirely with this drifting of liberals and leftists into anti-Semitism, and it brings to the subject a new authorial identity, a different academic background, and a distinctive and (despite the topic) exhilarating voice. Resurgence is also the first book on contemporary anti-Semitism by a Gentile, and a British one to boot. (According to Harrison, a professor of philosophy, this has also made him privy to the expression of anti-Semitic prejudice by apparently respectable academic people “when Jews are absent.”)

Recent years have furnished a great deal of material suited to his talents and expertise. Harrison brings to his subject the “habitual skepticism, bitterly close reading, and aggressive contentiousness” produced by “forty years in the amiable sharkpool of analytic philosophy.” His merciless deconstruction of the anti-Israel invective and smug clichés of the New Statesman, the Guardian, the Independent, the BBC, and other bastions of anti-Jewish sentiment in England reminds one of the powerful literary scrutiny pioneered in this country by the New Critics.

Harrison’s method is to scrutinize the statements of Israel-haters for internal contradictions, inconsistencies, specious reasoning, misstatements of fact, and outright lies. To read the fulminations of such people as John Pilger, Robert Fisk, or Jacqueline Rose concerning Israel ordinarily requires the mental equivalent of hip-boots; Harrison, however, takes up a rhetorical scalpel and dissects their ravings with surgical precision.

He devotes all of the book’s second chapter, for example, to a single infamous issue of the New Statesman. The cover of January 14, 2002 showed a tiny Union Jack being pierced by the sharp apex of a large Star of David, made of gold. Below, in large black letters, was a question posed with characteristic English understatement: “A Kosher Conspiracy?” It would not have been out of place in Der Stürmer; and the articles that followed it had at first suggested to Harrison that he entitle his analysis of them “In the Footsteps of Dr. Goebbels.” (He decided, however, that this would be “inadequate to the gravity of the case.”)

Among the many canards that Harrison dismembers in the book: “Israel is a colonialist state”; “Israel is a Nazi state, and the Jews who support it are as guilty as Nazi collaborators were”; “Anybody who criticizes Israel is called an anti-Semite”; “Jews do not express grief except for political or financial ends.” Take, for example, the way in which he draws out the implications of the Israel-Nazi Germany equation, without which people like Noam Chomsky would be rendered almost speechless: “To attach the label ‘Nazi’ to Israel, or to couple the Star of David with the swastika is . . . not just to express opposition . . . to the policies of one or another Israeli government. It is to defame Israel by association with the most powerful symbol of evil, of that which must be utterly rejected and uprooted from the face of the earth.”

Harrison consistently criticizes contemporary liberals who have allowed their moral indignation on behalf of Palestinians to pass into something “very hard to distinguish from anti-Semitism of the most traditional kind.” Yet he just as consistently refrains from calling them anti-Semites. (He does, however, wonder whether, in their dreams, they call themselves anti-Semites.) Thus the editor of the New Statesman who approves a cover worthy of Julius Streicher is “an entirely honest, decent man,” and Dennis Sewell, author of the essay on the Anglo-Jewish “kosher conspiracy” belongs to the rank of “sincere humanitarians.”

Two factors play a role in Harrison’s mitigation of his criticisms. One is his assumption, oft-repeated, that liberals and leftists in the past were almost always opposed to anti-Semitism. But this is open to question. In France, for example, the only articulate friends of the Jews prior to the Dreyfus Affair were conservative writers who denounced anti-Jewish attitudes as “one of the favorite theses of the 18th century.” French leftist movements of the 19th century had been outspoken in their antipathy to Jews until the Dreyfus Affair forced them to decide whether they hated the Jews or the Catholic Church more. (They became Dreyfusards.) In England, Dr. Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby and father of Matthew, called English Jews “lodgers” and wanted them barred from universities and citizenship. Gladstone referred to Disraeli as “that alien” who “was going to annex England to his native East & make it the appanage of an Asian empire.” Ernest Bevin, Labor foreign minister from 1945-51, was notoriously short of sympathy in the Jewish direction.

The other, more positive motive for Harrison’s use of such delicate epithets stems, perhaps, from his education in philosophy: he seems to believe genuinely in the ability of people to self-correct, to be swayed by reason. Let us hope that he is right. My own, darker view is that a thinker’s ideas are an expression of character. If Harrison believes that he can reason into decency people like his fellow philosopher Ted Honderich, who espouses “violence for equality” and effusively sings the praises of Palestinian suicide bombers, I wish him joy in his efforts. But deductions have little power of persuasion, and I have no great hopes for his success.

Despite my quibbles, Harrison’s book is one of the necessary and indispensable utterances on the subject of these new, liberal anti-Semites, the people who are busily making themselves into accessories before the fact of Ahmadinejad’s plan “to wipe Israel off the map.” The fact that this eloquent and elegantly argued book has until now been totally ignored by book review editors is itself testimony to the alarming dogmatism that Harrison has so vividly criticized.

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Israel and the German Bishops

“In the morning at Yad Vashem, photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto; in the afternoon, we go to the ghetto in Ramallah. It’s enough to make you blow your top.” This outburst in Bethlehem by Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt was only one of several provocative comments made during a much-heralded pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian terroritories by all 27 German Catholic bishops last week.

The Bishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa, accused the Israelis of “racism,” while the most senior member of the delegation, the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, compared Israel’s security fence to the Berlin Wall and predicted that it, too, would be torn down. “This is something that is done to animals, not people,” Cardinal Meisner declared.

While in Israel, the bishops were given VIP treatment by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and other senior officials. At the Yad Vashem memorial, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference, gave a respectful speech. But the tone changed dramatically after the bishops left Israel and entered Palestinian-controlled territory.

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“In the morning at Yad Vashem, photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto; in the afternoon, we go to the ghetto in Ramallah. It’s enough to make you blow your top.” This outburst in Bethlehem by Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt was only one of several provocative comments made during a much-heralded pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian terroritories by all 27 German Catholic bishops last week.

The Bishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa, accused the Israelis of “racism,” while the most senior member of the delegation, the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, compared Israel’s security fence to the Berlin Wall and predicted that it, too, would be torn down. “This is something that is done to animals, not people,” Cardinal Meisner declared.

While in Israel, the bishops were given VIP treatment by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and other senior officials. At the Yad Vashem memorial, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference, gave a respectful speech. But the tone changed dramatically after the bishops left Israel and entered Palestinian-controlled territory.

Despite sharp reactions from Shimon Stein, the Israeli ambassador to Germany, and from German Jewish leaders (described by the Iranian news agency as “German Zionist lobbyists”), the bishops seem unrepentant. They issued a statement vehemently denying that they had “demonized” Israel, adding that the “emotional consternation” of their visit to Bethlehem had evoked some “very personal remarks” that had already been “self-critically corrected.” In fact, however, Bishop Hanke merely said that “comparisons between the Holocaust and the present situation in Palestine are unacceptable and were not intended.” Neither he nor Cardinal Meisner and Bishop Mixa offered any apology.

I do not know what to make of this lamentable tale. Do the German bishops really need to be reminded of the collaboration with the Nazis of many of their predecessors during the Third Reich? Do they need to be reminded of what the Germans actually did in the Warsaw Ghetto? Does an East German like Cardinal Meisner need to be reminded of the difference between the Berlin Wall, built to stop people fleeing from Communist tyranny, and Israel’s fence, built to protect its people from Palestinian terrorists? Do the German bishops still know so little of the tragic struggle for survival of the Jewish people that they need to be reminded of their own unique responsibility, as Germans and as Christians, to counter the revival of anti-Semitism in Europe?

I hope that Pope Benedict XVI will summon the offending bishops to Rome and discipline them. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he encouraged John Paul II to make unprecedented gestures toward the Jewish people and the state of Israel. As the first German pope for a thousand years, he declared his intention to continue to lead the Church down the path of reconciliation. As a man who knows the Third Reich from personal experience—he was a member of the Hitler Youth and served in an anti-aircraft unit during the last months of the war—Pope Benedict has a special duty to distance the Catholic Church from comparisons between Israel and the Nazis. Such comparisons, though commonplace in the Islamic world, are not a Muslim monopoly.

This incident has a particular resonance for me, as a philo-Semitic Catholic, a friend both of Israel and of Germany. Quite simply, I feel ashamed of these bishops. Nobody wants the Germans to be perpetually beating their breasts to atone for the crimes of the Nazis. Like anybody else, they are entitled to criticize the Israeli government. After all, Israelis themselves criticize their own government all the time. But I am angry that German bishops, of all people, should come out with extremist propaganda that delegitimizes Israel, a state that is threatened with a second Holocaust at the hands of a nuclear-armed Iran.

These campaigns of vilification against Israel have done terrible harm. A new BBC poll conducted in 27 countries finds that Israel has the most negative image of all, ahead of Iran, the United States, and North Korea. This grotesque attitude to the beleaguered Jewish state is fuelled by comments like those of the German bishops, and reinforced by their failure to apologize.

In medieval times, Christians knew how to do penance for their sins. The German Emperor Henry IV went to Canossa, in Tuscany, to beg Pope Gregory VII to lift a sentence of excommunication. The monarch stood in the snow outside the castle for three days, wearing only a hairshirt, before the pope forgave him.

To repair the damage they have done to German-Israeli and Catholic-Jewish relations, these three German bishops must make their own journey to Canossa. They don’t have to wear hairshirts, but they do need to show that they have grasped the magnitude of their folly. They owe that much to the younger generation of Germans—some of whom last week destroyed a medieval Jewish cemetery in Bavaria.

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