On Friday, I criticized Diana West’s defense of the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Baghdad. Over the weekend, Diana fired back at me on her blog. She begins:
Alas. Contentions, the blog of Commentary magazine, has a problem with this week’s column. Abe Greenwald writes:
Over on her blog, Diana West gets a little hysterical about the fallout over the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Bagdhad.
Nice, ad hominem opener.
She objects to the reprimand the soldier received and the general air of apology from the U.S.
Which included, just to refresh, a deferential public apology from Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond during which another US officer presented the assembled locals (likely insurgents, not long ago) with a brand new Koran after kissing it. Abe then quotes briefly from my column:
“Let’s play around some more with the story. Imagine if, during the Allied occupation of post-Nazi Germany, a GI had been discovered using “Mein Kampf” for target practice. Would Gen. George S. Patton have kissed a new copy of the Nazi bible as he presented it to a cadre of former Nazis?”
And then he writes:
That won’t do, Diana.
What won’t “do,” Abe–comparing Gen. Patton and “Mein Kampf” with Gen. Hammond and the Koran? Why not?”
Critics like to say that for neoconservatives it’s always 1938. So I take particular relish in pointing out to Diana that the 1938 framework in which she’s placed the war on terror is a functional nonstarter.
Yes, there are many nasty injunctions in the Qur’an. Yes, there are calls to anti-Semitism and supremacy. But Diana’s line of argument–that the West is up against nothing less than the Qur’an itself–is inevitably countered by one of two points. First, there are nasty parts in the foundational works of other major religions. Second, there are Qur’anic passages promoting humanity and understanding. This is rebutted in turn: “But there are more nasty bits in the Qur’an than in other holy books.” And once you’ve reached that less-than-stellar point, your crusade has lost a good deal of its moral clarity. If you’re going to wage wholesale war on an entire religion, you’ll need more than a tabulation showing that the religion’s core text is, on balance, nastier than the next.
Why are the Iraqi Kurds such reliable American allies? Why, last week, did a Turkish Muslim sit down with me for a glass of wine? After all, they read the same Qu’ran bearing the same proclamations about infidels and the same prohibition on alcohol. Religion is personal, fluid, mysterious. Yes, I know: the Qur’an is supposedly the direct word of God and therefore not open to interpretation. But in reality, it is interpreted and reinterpreted constantly. In various times and various locales, Muslims have given different parts of Qur’anic text different weight. Because of the U.S.’s indefatigable efforts on both the military and diplomatic fronts, we are currently witnessing the rejection of jihad among the Sunni and Shia of Iraq. Nothing spurs religious dynamism like major shifts in the political landscape. I have a hard time seeing how the unapologetic desecration of the Qur’an puts America on a better footing in the war on terror.
Diana goes on:
“I’m not sure whether Abe disputes my argument, but he certainly thinks it shouldn’t be made. Here’s why he says “that won’t do”:
While the Qur’an is sacred to our enemies in Iraq, it is also sacred to our allies in that country. Moreover, it is sacred to the millions of Muslims who are citizens of the United States, to say nothing of the thousands who serve in uniform.
Notice that this fact is given as a rationale for silence, not as a cause for concern.“
Not silence, merely restraint from vandalism. Bluster about shooting up a Qur’an is no substitute for beneficial inquiry into the relationship between moderate and radical Islam. I’m proud to note that COMMENTARY does not shy away from exploring such questions at length. I refer Diana to “In Search of Moderate Muslims” by Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom in the February 2008 issue, and to these dissenting letters from Stephen Schwartz and COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes.
I understand Diana’s concerns and I share some of them. But all in all it’s a good thing that the U.S. is not in the habit of waging war on religions. Such undertakings would contradict the noblest intentions of our Constitution. And on a purely strategic level, doing battle with Islam itself would surely lose us our most important allies. I always enjoy fielding the anti-war charge that America is trying to oppress Muslims worldwide: there’s not a shred of evidence to support it. And forfeiting that assurance would be the same thing as giving up the fight.