Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hudson Institute

With Brothers Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

Following up on Alana’s post, this from the Jerusalem Post: “A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt on Thursday evening repeatedly refused to commit to maintaining the peace treaty with Israel, or even recognizing Israel, if the Brotherhood becomes a player in the future governance of Egypt.”

Remind me again why the Obama administration said earlier this week that a new government in Egypt should “include a whole host of important non-secular actors” — meaning the Brotherhood?

As Hillel Fradkin of the Hudson Institute put it, “If we’re going to deal with people in the opposition, it makes the most sense for us to engage with groups that can be reasonably thought to support a liberal democratic outcome in Egypt. How are we going to persuade [the Muslim Brotherhood] to like us? They don’t, and they won’t.”

So here’s an idea: let’s stop trying to strengthen and legitimize them.

Following up on Alana’s post, this from the Jerusalem Post: “A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt on Thursday evening repeatedly refused to commit to maintaining the peace treaty with Israel, or even recognizing Israel, if the Brotherhood becomes a player in the future governance of Egypt.”

Remind me again why the Obama administration said earlier this week that a new government in Egypt should “include a whole host of important non-secular actors” — meaning the Brotherhood?

As Hillel Fradkin of the Hudson Institute put it, “If we’re going to deal with people in the opposition, it makes the most sense for us to engage with groups that can be reasonably thought to support a liberal democratic outcome in Egypt. How are we going to persuade [the Muslim Brotherhood] to like us? They don’t, and they won’t.”

So here’s an idea: let’s stop trying to strengthen and legitimize them.

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Who Decides What’s ‘Beyond the Pale’ of the Republican Party?

In a speech to the Hudson Institute last week, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, in accepting the Herman Kahn Award, spoke admiringly of Kahn. Daniels quoted from Kahn’s 1982 book, The Coming Boom (it can be found near the 27-minute mark): “It would be most useful to redesign the tax system to discourage consumption and encourage savings and investment. One obvious possibility is a value added tax and a flat income tax, with the only exception being a lower standard deduction.” Daniels went on to add: “That might suit our current situation pretty well. It might also fit Bill Simon’s line in the late 70s that the nation should have a tax system that looks like someone designed it on purpose.”

Governor Daniels’s statement was too much for Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, who said:

This is outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought, and it is only the zone of extremely left-wing Democrats who publicly talk about those things because all Democrats pretending to be moderates wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot poll. Absent some explanation, such as large quantities of crystal meth, this is disqualifying. This is beyond the pale.

Grover has given himself quite a task: defining for the rest of us what is “outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought.” What Daniels said is not simply wrong; it is “disqualifying.” Read More

In a speech to the Hudson Institute last week, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, in accepting the Herman Kahn Award, spoke admiringly of Kahn. Daniels quoted from Kahn’s 1982 book, The Coming Boom (it can be found near the 27-minute mark): “It would be most useful to redesign the tax system to discourage consumption and encourage savings and investment. One obvious possibility is a value added tax and a flat income tax, with the only exception being a lower standard deduction.” Daniels went on to add: “That might suit our current situation pretty well. It might also fit Bill Simon’s line in the late 70s that the nation should have a tax system that looks like someone designed it on purpose.”

Governor Daniels’s statement was too much for Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, who said:

This is outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought, and it is only the zone of extremely left-wing Democrats who publicly talk about those things because all Democrats pretending to be moderates wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot poll. Absent some explanation, such as large quantities of crystal meth, this is disqualifying. This is beyond the pale.

Grover has given himself quite a task: defining for the rest of us what is “outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought.” What Daniels said is not simply wrong; it is “disqualifying.”

Norquist has been an influential figure in the conservative movement for a generation, but his response to Governor Daniels is almost laughably self-important. He acts as if he were speaking ex cathedra. There is an imperiousness and intolerance to Norquist’s words, an effort to shut down debate rather than to engage it. This approach shouldn’t be used in any case — but to employ it against arguably the nation’s most successful governor is very unwise.

As this article in Human Events (!) points out, Daniels’s record as governor is extremely impressive and quite conservative, from job growth to championing free-market reforms to limiting the size of government to cutting taxes. (Daniels did raise taxes, but overall, Human Events points out, “the tax cuts far outweighed the increases.”)

I’d add that one of Daniels’s more attractive qualities is that he’s an idea-oriented politician. He’s clearly at home in the realm of ideas, can speak knowledgeable and easily about them, and likes to provoke discussion and different ways of thinking. It may well be that what Herman Kahn recommended in the early 1980s is a flawed proposal, but what Daniels said hardly qualifies as heresy. For Norquist, however, Daniels is an apostate (apparently for the second time). He needs to be read out of the movement. Perhaps the same standard would have applied to Ronald Reagan, who in 1982 signed what at the time was the largest tax increase in American history (the TEFRA tax).

Norquist’s words reveal a cast of mind that conservatism would be better to avoid. It is the kind of attitude that has come to define many modern universities, which are among the most illiberal and intellectually rigid and stifling institutions in America. A healthy, self-confident conservative movement doesn’t declare what Daniels said to be “outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought”; rather, it allows for and even encourages genuine debate and creative thinking, the probing of ideas and holding them up to scrutiny, self-examination, and self-reflection. Let’s leave it to others to employ the tactics found in a George Orwell novel.

Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Vaclav Havel wrote a powerful essay about Eastern Europe. He spoke about a system committed to “eliminating all expressions of nonconformity” and that had become “ossified.” He went on to speak about the greengrocer who has to put a slogan in his window in order to contribute “to the panorama that everyone is very aware of.” This panorama, Havel went on to write, had a subliminal message: “it reminds people where they are living and what is expected of them. It tells them what everyone else is doing, and indicates to them what they must do as well, if they don’t want to be excluded, to fall into isolation.”

Conservatism found such a system repugnant then. We shouldn’t begin to borrow from it now.

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Western Media Take a Pass on Palestinian Repression

Critics of Israel are fond of saying that a disproportionate focus on Israel’s failings is justified because of American support for the Jewish state. After all, they argue, no matter what goes on elsewhere, Israel’s activities, for good or ill, are in some measure the result of American generosity. But the same can also be said for the Palestinian Authority, whose government and armed forces are far more heavily subsidized by American taxpayers than those of Israel. But there remains little interest on the part of the media in exposing Palestinian misdeeds, besides which Israel’s foibles appear quite insignificant.

This unfortunate fact has been once again illustrated by the lack of interest on the part of the Western media in reporting the story of the PA’s imprisonment of seven Palestinian academics last week. Over at the Hudson Institute’s website, the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh writes that Palestinian journalists did their best to interest their Western colleagues in the fate of these academics. Of course, Palestinian writers didn’t dare report this themselves, knowing all too well the fate of those who cross the PA security services. But unsurprisingly, of all the hundreds of Western reporters and correspondents stationed in Israel, Abu Toameh says only one chose to go with the story. Some blamed their editors back in the United States or Europe, who considered the topic “insignificant.” Others admitted that “they were concerned about their personal safety should they report a news item that was likely to anger the Western-funded PA security forces in the West Bank.”

Abu Toameh says that one Palestinian journalist then pitched a story about a Palestinian academic being denied the right to visit Israel and found that every journalist who had turned down the lead about the seven imprisoned scholars were quite eager to jump on the story that allegedly put the Jewish state in a bad light.

As Abu Toameh notes, the Western reluctance to report anything that shines a light on Palestinian corruption or tyranny isn’t new. The same “see no evil, hear no evil, report no evil” motto characterized Western coverage of Yasir Arafat’s reign of terror at the Palestinian Authority. That the object of their crimes is at times — as the arrest of the academics proved to be — part of Fatah’s civil war against the Islamist thugs of Hamas doesn’t make the Western media’s refusal to tell the truth about the Palestinian Authority any more defensible. Under the rule of Mahmoud Abbas, the thugs of the PA continue to run roughshod over their own people and to intimidate journalists on America’s dime.

Critics of Israel are fond of saying that a disproportionate focus on Israel’s failings is justified because of American support for the Jewish state. After all, they argue, no matter what goes on elsewhere, Israel’s activities, for good or ill, are in some measure the result of American generosity. But the same can also be said for the Palestinian Authority, whose government and armed forces are far more heavily subsidized by American taxpayers than those of Israel. But there remains little interest on the part of the media in exposing Palestinian misdeeds, besides which Israel’s foibles appear quite insignificant.

This unfortunate fact has been once again illustrated by the lack of interest on the part of the Western media in reporting the story of the PA’s imprisonment of seven Palestinian academics last week. Over at the Hudson Institute’s website, the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh writes that Palestinian journalists did their best to interest their Western colleagues in the fate of these academics. Of course, Palestinian writers didn’t dare report this themselves, knowing all too well the fate of those who cross the PA security services. But unsurprisingly, of all the hundreds of Western reporters and correspondents stationed in Israel, Abu Toameh says only one chose to go with the story. Some blamed their editors back in the United States or Europe, who considered the topic “insignificant.” Others admitted that “they were concerned about their personal safety should they report a news item that was likely to anger the Western-funded PA security forces in the West Bank.”

Abu Toameh says that one Palestinian journalist then pitched a story about a Palestinian academic being denied the right to visit Israel and found that every journalist who had turned down the lead about the seven imprisoned scholars were quite eager to jump on the story that allegedly put the Jewish state in a bad light.

As Abu Toameh notes, the Western reluctance to report anything that shines a light on Palestinian corruption or tyranny isn’t new. The same “see no evil, hear no evil, report no evil” motto characterized Western coverage of Yasir Arafat’s reign of terror at the Palestinian Authority. That the object of their crimes is at times — as the arrest of the academics proved to be — part of Fatah’s civil war against the Islamist thugs of Hamas doesn’t make the Western media’s refusal to tell the truth about the Palestinian Authority any more defensible. Under the rule of Mahmoud Abbas, the thugs of the PA continue to run roughshod over their own people and to intimidate journalists on America’s dime.

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Millions for Defense, Not One Cent for Tribute

Seth Cropsey of the Hudson Institute has written twice in the last few weeks (here and here) on a topic integral to U.S. national security: our declining naval dominance. His point at Pajamas Media on Tuesday — that Defense Secretary Gates’s May 3 call for a smaller navy got little attention or criticism in the press — resonates with me. Americans have trouble remembering that we are, most fundamentally, a maritime trading nation. Naval power is a core element of our own national security as well as of the global stability we seek to promote. We can maintain naval dominance or we can fight to get it back, but our position and character as a nation are impossible without it.

The proximate reason for the current debate is the ongoing shrinkage of the U.S. Navy, which has declined nearly 20 percent in the last decade while other navies are expanding and modernizing. China has had a very successful naval expansion program during this period. Russia and Iran have accelerated their efforts at modernization and new construction. Nations from Vietnam to India to Saudi Arabia and Algeria are making major investments in naval weapon systems.

Moreover, the navies of Russia, China, and India are operating in distant waters and cultivating their images as “power projection” forces. Russia has resumed visiting its Cold War-era haunts in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, Pacific, and Western hemisphere. China’s navy conducted its largest and farthest-flung fleet exercise ever in March and April 2010, twice operating provocatively in a Japanese strait. India dispatched a naval task force in 2009 to conduct unprecedented joint drills with European navies in the Atlantic. All three of these navies are now operating in the international antipiracy effort off of Somalia, as are navies like Iran’s and Saudi Arabia’s, which formerly kept to their own coastal waters.

Nations don’t expand their navies or the scope of their operations because they are satisfied with the status quo. Although the Somali piracy problem has been a key catalyst for unprecedented naval deployments, there is no question that the fastest-growing navies — those of China, Russia, India, and Iran — are being enlarged because their political leaders envision an alternative to U.S. maritime dominance.

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Seth Cropsey of the Hudson Institute has written twice in the last few weeks (here and here) on a topic integral to U.S. national security: our declining naval dominance. His point at Pajamas Media on Tuesday — that Defense Secretary Gates’s May 3 call for a smaller navy got little attention or criticism in the press — resonates with me. Americans have trouble remembering that we are, most fundamentally, a maritime trading nation. Naval power is a core element of our own national security as well as of the global stability we seek to promote. We can maintain naval dominance or we can fight to get it back, but our position and character as a nation are impossible without it.

The proximate reason for the current debate is the ongoing shrinkage of the U.S. Navy, which has declined nearly 20 percent in the last decade while other navies are expanding and modernizing. China has had a very successful naval expansion program during this period. Russia and Iran have accelerated their efforts at modernization and new construction. Nations from Vietnam to India to Saudi Arabia and Algeria are making major investments in naval weapon systems.

Moreover, the navies of Russia, China, and India are operating in distant waters and cultivating their images as “power projection” forces. Russia has resumed visiting its Cold War-era haunts in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, Pacific, and Western hemisphere. China’s navy conducted its largest and farthest-flung fleet exercise ever in March and April 2010, twice operating provocatively in a Japanese strait. India dispatched a naval task force in 2009 to conduct unprecedented joint drills with European navies in the Atlantic. All three of these navies are now operating in the international antipiracy effort off of Somalia, as are navies like Iran’s and Saudi Arabia’s, which formerly kept to their own coastal waters.

Nations don’t expand their navies or the scope of their operations because they are satisfied with the status quo. Although the Somali piracy problem has been a key catalyst for unprecedented naval deployments, there is no question that the fastest-growing navies — those of China, Russia, India, and Iran — are being enlarged because their political leaders envision an alternative to U.S. maritime dominance.

As we go forward in this shifting security environment, we need to keep two conceptual touchstones in mind. One is that our dominance can wane meaningfully even if no other navy is a symmetrical rival to ours on a global scale. To confound us effectively, navies like China’s or Russia’s need only be able to enforce unilateral ukases locally, particularly in the easily threatened chokepoints through which trillions of dollars in global trade pass every year.

China, for example, would prefer to gradually establish maritime preeminence in the South China Sea until the point is reached at which the U.S. must either provoke a confrontation or accept China as the dictator of policy there. And China’s policy would not entail keeping the seaways of Southeast Asia free for all nations’ commerce, as ours has. Favoritism and political extortion would be the new norm under Chinese hegemony.

Our Pacific alliances could not survive China’s assumption of de facto maritime hegemony in Southeast Asia. And that leads to the other conceptual touchstone: the efficient use America has long made of maritime dominance and alliances in preserving our own security between the great oceans. Alliances and naval deterrence are difficult and expensive to maintain, but they are far less costly in every way than fighting repeated land wars in the Eastern hemisphere. They are particularly suited, moreover, to our national preference for consensual relations abroad rather than Roman- or colonial-style imperialism.

As Cropsey’s articles suggest, we are at present reworking our national-security strategy and force doctrine. Our choices about defense capabilities today will dictate our political responses in the future. There is no question that waste, pork, service infighting, and bureaucratic inertia make our navy cost more than it needs to, but merely shrinking it to save money is not the answer. Nor is it wise to dismantle the essential tool of maritime deterrence — a navy capable of dominating any other in the regional confrontations that several nations are currently preparing for — in favor of “down-tooling” our force to deal symmetrically with pirates. Somali piracy is the least of the maritime problems we will face in the next two to three decades. Other navies have proven effective at attacking Somali piracy head-on. But there is only one navy that can shoulder aside the challenges from nation-state rivals and keep the world’s vulnerable tradeways open to all. If we do not do it, it will not be done.

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Pointing the Finger at Big Government

Earlier this week, Peter Wallison presented a contrarian speech at the Hudson Institute, New York, detailing how the financial crisis was caused by government policy — not Wall Street greed, or the interconnectedness of financial institutions, or insufficient regulation, or any of the other political scapegoats blamed promiscuously throughout the collapse. (You can find a more detailed, albeit older, version of Wallison’s argument here.)

Most striking was Wallison’s condemnation of the Community Reinvestment Act and the like, which he says arm-twisted financial institutions into knowingly making bad investments, giving funds (subprime and Alt-A loans) to home buyers who were obviously unlikely to ever pay the money back. Those investments — which substantially underpinned the economy — were almost certain to fail from the beginning.

If Wallison is right, the Community Reinvestment Act is a smoking gun, and the hand holding it belongs to Uncle Sam.

To blame the Community Reinvestment Act is not, by any stretch, a new idea. And, not surprising, it has been disputed by Paul Krugman and economists from the Federal Reserve and the FDIC.

But the idea is worth mentioning because conservatives are unnecessarily losing ground in the public arena. Enemies of the free market have made their case with evocative, emotionally charged talking points. They stir public discontent by showing glamorized men of wealth and taste who travel in private planes, sipping champagne and cognac while America burns.

Blaming regulation is less sexy for sure. It’s also more vague. How much of the public can cite the specific ways the government has meddled in the market? How much of the public knows about encroachments like the Community Reinvestment Act?

But especially after ObamaCare, angry citizens want specific talking points. And overreaching politicians are as provocative and sinister as any Wall Street demon. Wallison also noted that if the government really wanted to subsidize housing, it should have done so honestly — by putting the funds to do so on the budget. Instead, it chose to coerce financial institutions to do its dirty work. Conservatives need to point to the regulatory causes — the Community Reinvestment Act being one of many examples — and make their case.

Wallison’s argument is timely because, as part of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, tasked with exploring the origins of the crisis, he’ll be fighting to present his explanation to Congress on Dec. 15, 2010. He’s outnumbered by Democrats on the commission, who might dominate the written report, in which case his ideas will be presented in dissent.

When Congress considers what caused the financial crisis, conservatives should pay attention. Even if those like Wallison must speak as a dissenting minority, there’s an opportunity to revive dinner-table debate. And as elections approach, it’s important to convince Main Street of the truth Wall Street already knows.

Earlier this week, Peter Wallison presented a contrarian speech at the Hudson Institute, New York, detailing how the financial crisis was caused by government policy — not Wall Street greed, or the interconnectedness of financial institutions, or insufficient regulation, or any of the other political scapegoats blamed promiscuously throughout the collapse. (You can find a more detailed, albeit older, version of Wallison’s argument here.)

Most striking was Wallison’s condemnation of the Community Reinvestment Act and the like, which he says arm-twisted financial institutions into knowingly making bad investments, giving funds (subprime and Alt-A loans) to home buyers who were obviously unlikely to ever pay the money back. Those investments — which substantially underpinned the economy — were almost certain to fail from the beginning.

If Wallison is right, the Community Reinvestment Act is a smoking gun, and the hand holding it belongs to Uncle Sam.

To blame the Community Reinvestment Act is not, by any stretch, a new idea. And, not surprising, it has been disputed by Paul Krugman and economists from the Federal Reserve and the FDIC.

But the idea is worth mentioning because conservatives are unnecessarily losing ground in the public arena. Enemies of the free market have made their case with evocative, emotionally charged talking points. They stir public discontent by showing glamorized men of wealth and taste who travel in private planes, sipping champagne and cognac while America burns.

Blaming regulation is less sexy for sure. It’s also more vague. How much of the public can cite the specific ways the government has meddled in the market? How much of the public knows about encroachments like the Community Reinvestment Act?

But especially after ObamaCare, angry citizens want specific talking points. And overreaching politicians are as provocative and sinister as any Wall Street demon. Wallison also noted that if the government really wanted to subsidize housing, it should have done so honestly — by putting the funds to do so on the budget. Instead, it chose to coerce financial institutions to do its dirty work. Conservatives need to point to the regulatory causes — the Community Reinvestment Act being one of many examples — and make their case.

Wallison’s argument is timely because, as part of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, tasked with exploring the origins of the crisis, he’ll be fighting to present his explanation to Congress on Dec. 15, 2010. He’s outnumbered by Democrats on the commission, who might dominate the written report, in which case his ideas will be presented in dissent.

When Congress considers what caused the financial crisis, conservatives should pay attention. Even if those like Wallison must speak as a dissenting minority, there’s an opportunity to revive dinner-table debate. And as elections approach, it’s important to convince Main Street of the truth Wall Street already knows.

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Nuclear-Free? Oh, Except for Iran

Jack David of the Hudson Institute writes that while a “world free of nuclear weapons has been the wish of many people of goodwill since the dawn of the nuclear age,” there’s no evidence that pursuit of such a pipe dream will make us any safer. He explains:

Proponents of “nuclear zero” sometimes argue that if the U.S. and Russia eliminated their nuclear arsenals, other nations would follow their lead. But where’s the evidence? Since 1991, the U.S. has unilaterally moved toward nuclear disarmament. It reduced the number of operationally deployed nuclear warheads to fewer than 2,200 from 13,000. It ended nuclear testing. It neither produced nor designed new nuclear warheads. It ended production of fissile material for nuclear warheads. But these actions have not persuaded any nuclear countries to follow suit.

So long as countries threaten to use nuclear arms, others will require a nuclear answer. Even suspicion of nuclear blackmail will precipitate demands for a countervailing deterrent. As a senior official of a Middle East country told me in 2006, “If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, someone else in the region will become nuclear capable too.”

Nor is enhanced verification a panacea. (“Did the International Atomic Energy Agency inspections thwart covert and illegal programs in North Korea? In Iran? In Iraq? And when illegal nuclear weapons development is discovered, as in Iran, what U.N. or ‘international community’ response will protect the immediately threatened states?”)

Indeed there is something strange and otherworldly about the announced START deal with Russia at the very moment at which Iran is said to be building multiple nuclear enrichment sites. Does the administration really suppose we are safer because of the START deal or that the mullahs are impressed with our efforts? It defies logic. But it fills the time and tends to distract the media from the abject failure of the Obami to impede the Iranian regime’s nuclear ambitions. David notes, “Tough action to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons would be a welcome replacement for current threats and rhetoric.” But the Obami don’t have tough action, or really any action that might do that. So they continue the blather on about a nuclear-free world, as they water down the proposed sanctions and rule out regime change and dismiss any military action that would halt the “unacceptable” — the day when the revolutionary Islamic state announces it has joined the club of nuclear powers.

Jack David of the Hudson Institute writes that while a “world free of nuclear weapons has been the wish of many people of goodwill since the dawn of the nuclear age,” there’s no evidence that pursuit of such a pipe dream will make us any safer. He explains:

Proponents of “nuclear zero” sometimes argue that if the U.S. and Russia eliminated their nuclear arsenals, other nations would follow their lead. But where’s the evidence? Since 1991, the U.S. has unilaterally moved toward nuclear disarmament. It reduced the number of operationally deployed nuclear warheads to fewer than 2,200 from 13,000. It ended nuclear testing. It neither produced nor designed new nuclear warheads. It ended production of fissile material for nuclear warheads. But these actions have not persuaded any nuclear countries to follow suit.

So long as countries threaten to use nuclear arms, others will require a nuclear answer. Even suspicion of nuclear blackmail will precipitate demands for a countervailing deterrent. As a senior official of a Middle East country told me in 2006, “If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, someone else in the region will become nuclear capable too.”

Nor is enhanced verification a panacea. (“Did the International Atomic Energy Agency inspections thwart covert and illegal programs in North Korea? In Iran? In Iraq? And when illegal nuclear weapons development is discovered, as in Iran, what U.N. or ‘international community’ response will protect the immediately threatened states?”)

Indeed there is something strange and otherworldly about the announced START deal with Russia at the very moment at which Iran is said to be building multiple nuclear enrichment sites. Does the administration really suppose we are safer because of the START deal or that the mullahs are impressed with our efforts? It defies logic. But it fills the time and tends to distract the media from the abject failure of the Obami to impede the Iranian regime’s nuclear ambitions. David notes, “Tough action to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons would be a welcome replacement for current threats and rhetoric.” But the Obami don’t have tough action, or really any action that might do that. So they continue the blather on about a nuclear-free world, as they water down the proposed sanctions and rule out regime change and dismiss any military action that would halt the “unacceptable” — the day when the revolutionary Islamic state announces it has joined the club of nuclear powers.

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“Islamic Terrorism” Returns

The Los Angeles Times has a report detailing “a rising threat from homegrown extremism.” It seems that even the Obama administration can’t ignore the obvious:

Anti-terrorism officials and experts see signs of accelerated radicalization among American Muslims, driven by a wave of English-language online propaganda and reflected in aspiring fighters’ trips to hot spots such as Pakistan and Somalia.

The Department of Homeland Security saw fit earlier this year to warn about “right-wing extremism” (all those Second and Tenth Amendment nuts), although strangely it has yet to produce a comprehensive report on the pattern of extreme Islamic terrorist activity. But perhaps Janet Napolitano is waking from her slumber:

Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued her strongest public comments yet on the homegrown threat.

“We’ve seen an increased number of arrests here in the U.S. of individuals suspected of plotting terrorist attacks, or supporting terror groups abroad such as Al Qaeda,” Napolitano said in a speech in New York. “Home-based terrorism is here. And, like violent extremism abroad, it will be part of the threat picture that we must now confront.”

Officials acknowledged that her tone had changed, though they said terrorism has been her focus since becoming Homeland Security chief.

For an administration that had excised “Islamic fundamentalism” and “Islamic extremism” from its vocabulary and referred to the war on terror as “overseas contingent operations,” this is a pleasing turn of events if it does, in fact, mark a change. One by one the excuses for averting our eyes about the nature of the threat we face seem to be losing credibility. Turns out poverty doesn’t breed Islamic radicalism. As the report notes:

Some feel radicalization in the United States has been worse than authorities thought for some time.

“People focused on the idea that we’re different, we’re better at integrating Muslims than Europe is,” said Zeyno Baran, a scholar at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington. “But there’s radicalization — especially among converts [and] newcomers, such as the Somali case shows. I think young U.S. Muslims today are as prone to radicalization as Muslims in Europe.” …

“The profile in Europe is in general quite different [from U.S. extremists]: more working-class or even underclass,” said a European intelligence official who requested anonymity for security reasons. “But it’s a bit simplistic to make assumptions. We have seen everything in Europe — educated people, doctors involved in terrorism. The underclass argument is not enough.”

And the notion, embraced most specifically by the president, that we can defang Islamic terrorism by humbling ourselves, hobbling our own legitimate security needs, and reaching out to the “Muslim World” by parroting back their victimology seems increasingly dubious. Yet the Times seems mystified that these gambits haven’t really helped: “The Obama administration began the year with gestures to the Muslim world. President Obama promised to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and made a historic speech in Cairo. ” Wow, and with all that, still we have an uptick in homegrown terror.

What’s missing here is any indication that the president himself is willing to drop the pretense of political correctness, address the reality of Islamic radicalism, and revise his approach to national security accordingly. In fact, he and his attorney general seem to be going in the opposite direction, returning to a criminal-justice model for terrorism, blissfully unaware of the danger of providing KSM with a civilian trial to preach and convert to the cause of Islamic radicalism even more potential terrorists. When Obama is willing to call Fort Hood an act of Islamic terror and shut down the KSM circus, we’ll know we’re finally making progress.

The Los Angeles Times has a report detailing “a rising threat from homegrown extremism.” It seems that even the Obama administration can’t ignore the obvious:

Anti-terrorism officials and experts see signs of accelerated radicalization among American Muslims, driven by a wave of English-language online propaganda and reflected in aspiring fighters’ trips to hot spots such as Pakistan and Somalia.

The Department of Homeland Security saw fit earlier this year to warn about “right-wing extremism” (all those Second and Tenth Amendment nuts), although strangely it has yet to produce a comprehensive report on the pattern of extreme Islamic terrorist activity. But perhaps Janet Napolitano is waking from her slumber:

Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued her strongest public comments yet on the homegrown threat.

“We’ve seen an increased number of arrests here in the U.S. of individuals suspected of plotting terrorist attacks, or supporting terror groups abroad such as Al Qaeda,” Napolitano said in a speech in New York. “Home-based terrorism is here. And, like violent extremism abroad, it will be part of the threat picture that we must now confront.”

Officials acknowledged that her tone had changed, though they said terrorism has been her focus since becoming Homeland Security chief.

For an administration that had excised “Islamic fundamentalism” and “Islamic extremism” from its vocabulary and referred to the war on terror as “overseas contingent operations,” this is a pleasing turn of events if it does, in fact, mark a change. One by one the excuses for averting our eyes about the nature of the threat we face seem to be losing credibility. Turns out poverty doesn’t breed Islamic radicalism. As the report notes:

Some feel radicalization in the United States has been worse than authorities thought for some time.

“People focused on the idea that we’re different, we’re better at integrating Muslims than Europe is,” said Zeyno Baran, a scholar at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington. “But there’s radicalization — especially among converts [and] newcomers, such as the Somali case shows. I think young U.S. Muslims today are as prone to radicalization as Muslims in Europe.” …

“The profile in Europe is in general quite different [from U.S. extremists]: more working-class or even underclass,” said a European intelligence official who requested anonymity for security reasons. “But it’s a bit simplistic to make assumptions. We have seen everything in Europe — educated people, doctors involved in terrorism. The underclass argument is not enough.”

And the notion, embraced most specifically by the president, that we can defang Islamic terrorism by humbling ourselves, hobbling our own legitimate security needs, and reaching out to the “Muslim World” by parroting back their victimology seems increasingly dubious. Yet the Times seems mystified that these gambits haven’t really helped: “The Obama administration began the year with gestures to the Muslim world. President Obama promised to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and made a historic speech in Cairo. ” Wow, and with all that, still we have an uptick in homegrown terror.

What’s missing here is any indication that the president himself is willing to drop the pretense of political correctness, address the reality of Islamic radicalism, and revise his approach to national security accordingly. In fact, he and his attorney general seem to be going in the opposite direction, returning to a criminal-justice model for terrorism, blissfully unaware of the danger of providing KSM with a civilian trial to preach and convert to the cause of Islamic radicalism even more potential terrorists. When Obama is willing to call Fort Hood an act of Islamic terror and shut down the KSM circus, we’ll know we’re finally making progress.

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RIP William Odom

I was saddened to read of the death of William E. Odom, one of America’s leading soldier-scholars. In recent years he has become known as an outspoken critic of Bush foreign policy and advocate of withdrawal from Iraq. I disagreed with him, and we even debated at least once on the radio. But I never lost my respect or affection for him, formulated initially when, as a graduate student at Yale in 1991-92, I took a class with him on the Russian military. He was a refreshing outpost of pro-military, anti-communist thinking on a campus where neither viewpoint was much encouraged.

Bill Odom spent much of his career as a military intelligence officer specializing in the Soviet Union including serving as a military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. He went to Columbia to receive an MA and Ph.D. in political science. While there he worked closely with a professor named Zbigniew Brzezinski. When Brzezinski became Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Odom became his military assistant. He then went on to become a three-star general and director of the National Security Agency in the Reagan administration. He finally retired in 1988 to pursue a career in the twin worlds of academia and think-tankery, which is how I came to know him.

During the Cold War, Odom had a reputation as a hawk and hardliner. (So, for that matter, did Brzezinski.) In the years since then, both seemed to drift to the left, though, in fairness to Odom, I am sure he would have denied it. He often said that he had opposed the Vietnam War from the start because he thought that containing North Vietnam was in the interests of China, not the United States. He opposed the Iraq War because he thought it was equally ill-advised. Unlike so many leading analysts and politicians, he did not turn into a dove only when it became clear the war was not going well: he was against the war from the beginning, which took some guts considering that he was employed by a conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute.

Where I truly disagreed with him was not in his opposition to the war in the first place-the decision to invade Iraq was a close call and there were good arguments on both sides. I thought he went too far when he said, during the course of the war, that victory was not an option and therefore we should pull out all of our troops, notwithstanding the dire likely consequences. He even puckishly authored an article in 2005 entitled “What’s Wrong with Cutting and Running?”

Notwithstanding his dovish views on Iraq (and related subjects, such as Iran), he remained committed to a fairly expansive view of the American role in the world, as he made clear in his book, co-authored with Robert Dujarric, America’s Inadvertent Empire. He approved of the “empire” in question, even if he never had much patience with those on either the Left or the Right who would place our ideals at the center of our foreign policy.

Agree with him or not, Odom deserves to be remembered for a long and illustrious career of service-a legacy carried on by his son, Mark, an army lieutenant-colonel who was wounded in Iraq. He was particularly notable for managing to combine scholarly achievement with a successful military career-a combination that both academia and the military too often frown upon.

I was saddened to read of the death of William E. Odom, one of America’s leading soldier-scholars. In recent years he has become known as an outspoken critic of Bush foreign policy and advocate of withdrawal from Iraq. I disagreed with him, and we even debated at least once on the radio. But I never lost my respect or affection for him, formulated initially when, as a graduate student at Yale in 1991-92, I took a class with him on the Russian military. He was a refreshing outpost of pro-military, anti-communist thinking on a campus where neither viewpoint was much encouraged.

Bill Odom spent much of his career as a military intelligence officer specializing in the Soviet Union including serving as a military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. He went to Columbia to receive an MA and Ph.D. in political science. While there he worked closely with a professor named Zbigniew Brzezinski. When Brzezinski became Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Odom became his military assistant. He then went on to become a three-star general and director of the National Security Agency in the Reagan administration. He finally retired in 1988 to pursue a career in the twin worlds of academia and think-tankery, which is how I came to know him.

During the Cold War, Odom had a reputation as a hawk and hardliner. (So, for that matter, did Brzezinski.) In the years since then, both seemed to drift to the left, though, in fairness to Odom, I am sure he would have denied it. He often said that he had opposed the Vietnam War from the start because he thought that containing North Vietnam was in the interests of China, not the United States. He opposed the Iraq War because he thought it was equally ill-advised. Unlike so many leading analysts and politicians, he did not turn into a dove only when it became clear the war was not going well: he was against the war from the beginning, which took some guts considering that he was employed by a conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute.

Where I truly disagreed with him was not in his opposition to the war in the first place-the decision to invade Iraq was a close call and there were good arguments on both sides. I thought he went too far when he said, during the course of the war, that victory was not an option and therefore we should pull out all of our troops, notwithstanding the dire likely consequences. He even puckishly authored an article in 2005 entitled “What’s Wrong with Cutting and Running?”

Notwithstanding his dovish views on Iraq (and related subjects, such as Iran), he remained committed to a fairly expansive view of the American role in the world, as he made clear in his book, co-authored with Robert Dujarric, America’s Inadvertent Empire. He approved of the “empire” in question, even if he never had much patience with those on either the Left or the Right who would place our ideals at the center of our foreign policy.

Agree with him or not, Odom deserves to be remembered for a long and illustrious career of service-a legacy carried on by his son, Mark, an army lieutenant-colonel who was wounded in Iraq. He was particularly notable for managing to combine scholarly achievement with a successful military career-a combination that both academia and the military too often frown upon.

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Do Radicals Dominate Islam?

I am seldom accused of being wishy-washy or noncommittal when it comes to major issues of foreign policy. But I was decidedly undecided when I showed up last night for the Intelligence Squared debate in Manhattan on the resolution “Islam is dominated by radicals.”

The pro side was argued by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a former Islamic fundamentalist turned Christian evangelical who is now at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Paul Marshall, formerly of Freedom House, now at the Hudson Institute; and Asra Normani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter (and good friend of the late Daniel Pearl) who has chronicled her own battles against Muslim hardliners at her hometown mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia.

On the con side were Reza Aslan, a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside; Richard Bulliet, a professor of history at Columbia; and Edina Lekovic, a Muslim of Bosnian descent who is director of communications at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (and who was wearing a head scarf).

Both sides threw out a lot of good arguments. Gartenstein-Ross and Aslan, in particular, engaged in some heated exchanges that entertained the audience. The problem is that neither side could really define the crucial terms in the debate—“dominated” and “radicals.”

Both agreed that radicals were certainly a big problem within Islam. The pro side pointed repeatedly to the Saudi and Iranian regimes as emblematic of the problem, and said that the Saudis are spreading their hateful Wahhabi doctrines. All true. But does Wahhabism dominate global Islam? The con side could point to convincing Pew opinion surveys showing that most Muslims reject Al Qaeda and its ideology of violence. They could also point to surveys (and election results in countries like Pakistan) that show most Muslims don’t want to be governed by hard-line Islamic parties.

The pro side replied that the views of the majority were irrelevant: the radicals were able to dominate the institutions of Islam and intimidate the moderate majority into acquiescence. There seemed to be some truth to this. But the pro debaters were, I thought, confused: were they complaining about the dominance of theological conservatism or of violent radicalism?

Normani, in particular, complained that a “patriarchy” dominated Islam: she cannot become an imam preaching to men; in more and more mosques women and men have to sit separately. That may be true, but that’s very different—and much less alarming from my infidel perspective—than saying that more and more Muslims are lining up to practice terrorism in the name of jihad. In fact, most conservative Muslims (e.g., Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq) oppose radical calls for a religious war even while preaching a version of sharia that would be intolerable to Western liberals.

In the end, I concluded that the pro side had not proven their case. They had certainly demonstrated that radicalism is a large and growing problem. But dominant? Not on the evidence presented last night. So I voted with the con side, notwithstanding my occasional annoyance at their leftist rhetorical tics. But I was in the decided minority. 46% of the audience voted “pro” before the debate, a figure that swelled to 73% after the debate.

While the debate was fascinating, the issue is not one that we should lose too much sleep over. Whether radicals actually dominate Islam or are simply trying to dominate it doesn’t really matter from a practical perspective. Either way, we need to do what we can do aid the forces of moderation if we are to prevail in the Long War.

I am seldom accused of being wishy-washy or noncommittal when it comes to major issues of foreign policy. But I was decidedly undecided when I showed up last night for the Intelligence Squared debate in Manhattan on the resolution “Islam is dominated by radicals.”

The pro side was argued by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a former Islamic fundamentalist turned Christian evangelical who is now at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Paul Marshall, formerly of Freedom House, now at the Hudson Institute; and Asra Normani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter (and good friend of the late Daniel Pearl) who has chronicled her own battles against Muslim hardliners at her hometown mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia.

On the con side were Reza Aslan, a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside; Richard Bulliet, a professor of history at Columbia; and Edina Lekovic, a Muslim of Bosnian descent who is director of communications at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (and who was wearing a head scarf).

Both sides threw out a lot of good arguments. Gartenstein-Ross and Aslan, in particular, engaged in some heated exchanges that entertained the audience. The problem is that neither side could really define the crucial terms in the debate—“dominated” and “radicals.”

Both agreed that radicals were certainly a big problem within Islam. The pro side pointed repeatedly to the Saudi and Iranian regimes as emblematic of the problem, and said that the Saudis are spreading their hateful Wahhabi doctrines. All true. But does Wahhabism dominate global Islam? The con side could point to convincing Pew opinion surveys showing that most Muslims reject Al Qaeda and its ideology of violence. They could also point to surveys (and election results in countries like Pakistan) that show most Muslims don’t want to be governed by hard-line Islamic parties.

The pro side replied that the views of the majority were irrelevant: the radicals were able to dominate the institutions of Islam and intimidate the moderate majority into acquiescence. There seemed to be some truth to this. But the pro debaters were, I thought, confused: were they complaining about the dominance of theological conservatism or of violent radicalism?

Normani, in particular, complained that a “patriarchy” dominated Islam: she cannot become an imam preaching to men; in more and more mosques women and men have to sit separately. That may be true, but that’s very different—and much less alarming from my infidel perspective—than saying that more and more Muslims are lining up to practice terrorism in the name of jihad. In fact, most conservative Muslims (e.g., Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq) oppose radical calls for a religious war even while preaching a version of sharia that would be intolerable to Western liberals.

In the end, I concluded that the pro side had not proven their case. They had certainly demonstrated that radicalism is a large and growing problem. But dominant? Not on the evidence presented last night. So I voted with the con side, notwithstanding my occasional annoyance at their leftist rhetorical tics. But I was in the decided minority. 46% of the audience voted “pro” before the debate, a figure that swelled to 73% after the debate.

While the debate was fascinating, the issue is not one that we should lose too much sleep over. Whether radicals actually dominate Islam or are simply trying to dominate it doesn’t really matter from a practical perspective. Either way, we need to do what we can do aid the forces of moderation if we are to prevail in the Long War.

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Dallastan

How are we going to win the long war against Islamic radicalism? The first and most essential step is to understand what we are up against. Part of that effort involves keeping track of the whereabouts and activities of extremist movements and grouplets. But beyond that, it is vitally important to understand how our adversaries think.

Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, a journal published by the Hudson Institute, has already emerged as indispensable source for both purposes. The current issue has a series of extraordinary–and extremely alarming — essays on the Muslim Brotherhood network in the United States.

One of them is by Rod Dreher, an editor at the Dallas Morning News, which recounts in close detail developments in his own community.  It focuses especially on the efforts of various Brotherhood-linked organizations like the Islamic Society of North American and the Council on American-Islamic Relations to use the charge of “Islamophobia” to intimidate the local press into silence about their own linkages to terrorists and terrorist theoreticians.

“I cannot say how typical the Dallas experience is of the broader American experience,” writes Dreher. That question remains to be answered. But what can be said with assurance is that the U.S. government’s response to these groups is not in synch with the danger they present.

In the same issue of Current Trends, Zeyno Baran, a senior fellow at Hudson, takes note of our government’s continuing attempts to conduct a dialog with the domestic radicals:  

When the US government engages with Islamist organizations in conferences or government outreach programs, it lends legitimacy to an ideology that does not represent — at least not yet — the views of the majority of American Muslims. American policymakers who advocate pursuing such a strategy are actually facilitating Islamism by endorsing it as a mainstream ideology. Both at home and abroad, this policy is leading to disaster. Liberal and non-Islamist Muslims — having already been denounced by Islamists as apostates — are now being told by Western governments that they do not represent “real” Islam.

We are still in the early stages of our battle with radical Islam. As in the cold war, it’s going to take time, and serious setbacks, before we settle on policies that are effective in combating a domestic danger that poses a unique challenge to our constitutional order.

How are we going to win the long war against Islamic radicalism? The first and most essential step is to understand what we are up against. Part of that effort involves keeping track of the whereabouts and activities of extremist movements and grouplets. But beyond that, it is vitally important to understand how our adversaries think.

Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, a journal published by the Hudson Institute, has already emerged as indispensable source for both purposes. The current issue has a series of extraordinary–and extremely alarming — essays on the Muslim Brotherhood network in the United States.

One of them is by Rod Dreher, an editor at the Dallas Morning News, which recounts in close detail developments in his own community.  It focuses especially on the efforts of various Brotherhood-linked organizations like the Islamic Society of North American and the Council on American-Islamic Relations to use the charge of “Islamophobia” to intimidate the local press into silence about their own linkages to terrorists and terrorist theoreticians.

“I cannot say how typical the Dallas experience is of the broader American experience,” writes Dreher. That question remains to be answered. But what can be said with assurance is that the U.S. government’s response to these groups is not in synch with the danger they present.

In the same issue of Current Trends, Zeyno Baran, a senior fellow at Hudson, takes note of our government’s continuing attempts to conduct a dialog with the domestic radicals:  

When the US government engages with Islamist organizations in conferences or government outreach programs, it lends legitimacy to an ideology that does not represent — at least not yet — the views of the majority of American Muslims. American policymakers who advocate pursuing such a strategy are actually facilitating Islamism by endorsing it as a mainstream ideology. Both at home and abroad, this policy is leading to disaster. Liberal and non-Islamist Muslims — having already been denounced by Islamists as apostates — are now being told by Western governments that they do not represent “real” Islam.

We are still in the early stages of our battle with radical Islam. As in the cold war, it’s going to take time, and serious setbacks, before we settle on policies that are effective in combating a domestic danger that poses a unique challenge to our constitutional order.

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Who Are the True Jihadists?

The exact meaning of jihad is not a new question. It came up, unsurprisingly, at the Conference on Democracy and Security organized by Natan Sharansky, Václav Havel, and José Maria Aznar in Prague last week (about which Joshua Muravchik has been blogging).

Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, was in the middle of a rousing speech about the mystique of democracy. He warned of the danger to democracies posed by jihadists, who abuse its freedoms to subvert democratic institutions. Up rose Sami Angawi, director general of the Amar Center in Saudi Arabia, to protest: “I am a jihadist!” Angawi explained how, as a Muslim, he saw his struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights in Saudi Arabia as a jihad.

I listened to Angawi develop his point: that jihad is too important a concept for it to be the exclusive property of Islamists, and that it needs to be recaptured and decontaminated by moderate and secular Muslims. I felt real sympathy for Angawi—and not only because he stopped me from walking in front of a Prague streetcar. But there is, depite the best efforts of reformers like Angawi, little likelihood that jihad will lose its ominous connotations for non-Muslims any time soon.

Read More

The exact meaning of jihad is not a new question. It came up, unsurprisingly, at the Conference on Democracy and Security organized by Natan Sharansky, Václav Havel, and José Maria Aznar in Prague last week (about which Joshua Muravchik has been blogging).

Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, was in the middle of a rousing speech about the mystique of democracy. He warned of the danger to democracies posed by jihadists, who abuse its freedoms to subvert democratic institutions. Up rose Sami Angawi, director general of the Amar Center in Saudi Arabia, to protest: “I am a jihadist!” Angawi explained how, as a Muslim, he saw his struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights in Saudi Arabia as a jihad.

I listened to Angawi develop his point: that jihad is too important a concept for it to be the exclusive property of Islamists, and that it needs to be recaptured and decontaminated by moderate and secular Muslims. I felt real sympathy for Angawi—and not only because he stopped me from walking in front of a Prague streetcar. But there is, depite the best efforts of reformers like Angawi, little likelihood that jihad will lose its ominous connotations for non-Muslims any time soon.

The concept is freighted with memories that go back 1,400 years, to the earliest days of Islam. Whether moderate Muslims like it or not, jihad has a history that extends from Muhammad’s farewell address in 632 (“I was ordered to fight all men until they say ‘There is no god but Allah’”) to Osama bin Laden’s deliberate echo of his words in November 2001. The proclamations of jihad against the West that we have witnessed since the Islamic revolution in Iran are not very different from those of Muslim conquerors throughout history (several of whom came close to fulfilling those proclamations).

Nor, it should be noted, does the fact that some of the Islamic warriors of the past were admired for their chivalry (rather than abhorred for their cruelty, as the Islamists of today are) mean that their concept of jihad was any less warlike and apocalyptic. In 1189, Saladin, the great antagonist of Richard Coeur de Lion, threatened to pursue his jihad across the sea to Europe “until there remains no-one on the face of the earth who does not acknowledge Allah.”

Ignác Goldziher, the Hungarian Jew who pioneered modern Islamic scholarship, began in the late 19th century the long effort by Western orientalists to reinterpret the meaning of jihad—an effort ongoing more or less ever since. But the paucity and insularity of Islamic hermeneutics means that no new interpretation of jihad is likely to gain acceptance in the dominant theological schools of Cairo and Mecca. The Wahhabi interpretation of jihad, which deliberately overlooks the prophetic injunction to practice “greater jihad” (peaceful struggle) as well as “lesser jihad” (war against the infidel), is hugely dominant among them, and will remain so. For these scholars, marooned in the 7th century, war against the infidel is not only legitimate, but laudable and even obligatory—however unholy such war may be in the eyes of more moderate Muslims.

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