Commentary Magazine


Topic: Islam

Re: The Shame of Brandeis

John Podhoretz rightly castigates Brandeis for rescinding an honorary degree for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an important critic of the manner in which many women are treated in the Islamic world. While I do not always agree with Ayaan, whom I have met two or three times, John is absolutely right to call the decision of the president of Brandeis an act of a “gutless, spineless, simpering coward.”

That said, it’s important not to see such an act in isolation, for what happened at Brandeis is increasingly the rule rather than the exception. When I was in New York in February, I picked up a copy of Greg Lukianoff’s Unlearning Liberty, an expose and study of campus censorship. I was lucky I did, because while I have visited the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) website from time to time (where Lukianoff is president) Unlearning Liberty ties together all the threads and cases and unfortunately paints a pretty distressing picture of just how far universities have fallen from being bastions of tolerance, free speech, and ideological diversity.

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John Podhoretz rightly castigates Brandeis for rescinding an honorary degree for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an important critic of the manner in which many women are treated in the Islamic world. While I do not always agree with Ayaan, whom I have met two or three times, John is absolutely right to call the decision of the president of Brandeis an act of a “gutless, spineless, simpering coward.”

That said, it’s important not to see such an act in isolation, for what happened at Brandeis is increasingly the rule rather than the exception. When I was in New York in February, I picked up a copy of Greg Lukianoff’s Unlearning Liberty, an expose and study of campus censorship. I was lucky I did, because while I have visited the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) website from time to time (where Lukianoff is president) Unlearning Liberty ties together all the threads and cases and unfortunately paints a pretty distressing picture of just how far universities have fallen from being bastions of tolerance, free speech, and ideological diversity.

He describes—with ample evidence and numerous anecdotes—the implication of the 1990s political correctness movement; the rise of campus speech codes; bureaucracies and lack of due process; the transformation of identity politics into a religion and the sacrifice of respect for individual religious choices at the altar of identity politics; the lack of due process in campus judiciaries and their prosecution of ideological crimes; and much, much more. Alas, it’s not just students who suffer: Few professors say they feel free expressing their opinion openly, and administrators who have many opinions but shallow academic background often seek to censor what can be taught so as to insulate students from offense.

Hands down, Unlearning Liberty was the most impressive book I have read in quite some time; that I finished it just two days prior to Brandeis’s decision was an unfortunate coincidence, but one that simply transformed the Brandeis case into the final exclamation point in a far broader problem.

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Britain’s Worsening Sharia Creep

Britain has seen yet another landmark step that deepens and expands the growing influence of Islamic religious law over the people who live in that country. The UK’s highly prestigious Law Society has issued guidelines for attorneys on how to draw up Sharia-compliant legal documents, shockingly setting a precedent for sanctioning the implementation of legal discrimination against both women and non-Muslims. Up until now those concerned with trying to resist the growing inertia of Sharia law in British society have been mostly focused on the matter of the expanding network of unauthorized Sharia courts that exist throughout Britain. Now, for the first time, Sharia practices will in effect be recognized at the level of the British court system.

Law Society President Nicholas Fluck spoke as if completely blind to the devastating damage that these guidelines will do to civil liberties in Britain. Fluck said that this new guidance would promote “good practice” in applying Islamic principles to the British legal system. The guidelines specifically advise on how to draft wills that comply with Islamic dictates while still appearing valid under British law. Indeed, these guidelines even suggest how Sharia principles could be used to overrule British practices in certain disputes, providing examples of areas that could be tested in English courts. It is astonishing to see how the Law Society blandly outlines how female heirs are to receive half what is to be allotted to male heirs while also acknowledging both the likelihood of multiple wives and ways in which widows can be penalized.

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Britain has seen yet another landmark step that deepens and expands the growing influence of Islamic religious law over the people who live in that country. The UK’s highly prestigious Law Society has issued guidelines for attorneys on how to draw up Sharia-compliant legal documents, shockingly setting a precedent for sanctioning the implementation of legal discrimination against both women and non-Muslims. Up until now those concerned with trying to resist the growing inertia of Sharia law in British society have been mostly focused on the matter of the expanding network of unauthorized Sharia courts that exist throughout Britain. Now, for the first time, Sharia practices will in effect be recognized at the level of the British court system.

Law Society President Nicholas Fluck spoke as if completely blind to the devastating damage that these guidelines will do to civil liberties in Britain. Fluck said that this new guidance would promote “good practice” in applying Islamic principles to the British legal system. The guidelines specifically advise on how to draft wills that comply with Islamic dictates while still appearing valid under British law. Indeed, these guidelines even suggest how Sharia principles could be used to overrule British practices in certain disputes, providing examples of areas that could be tested in English courts. It is astonishing to see how the Law Society blandly outlines how female heirs are to receive half what is to be allotted to male heirs while also acknowledging both the likelihood of multiple wives and ways in which widows can be penalized.

The Law Society’s guidance recommends to attorneys how they might delete or amend accepted legal terms to ensure that Islamic practices on inheritance are followed. For instance, the guidelines suggest removing the word “children” so as to prevent anyone considered illegitimate by Islamic law from having a claim to inheritance. In this way non-Muslims and non-Islamic marriages are disqualified from being considered valid for the purposes of inheritance and the children from any such unions are also classified as illegitimate.

What is most troubling about these guidelines is the way in which they are clearly intended for use by non-Muslim attorneys bringing cases to British courts, meaning that Britain’s legal system will effectively be able to function in such a way as to discriminate against those born out of Muslim wedlock, anyone who has been adopted, non-Muslims, and women generally. It is simply bizarre that at precisely the same time that British society and politicians have been pursuing programs for attempting to guarantee greater rights for women and minorities, now we also see parallel moves to implement other kinds of discrimination.

The principle of equality before the law is a foundational value of Western civilization, never mind liberal democracy. While clearly everyone has the right to draw up their will however they choose, it is simply unacceptable for legal guidelines to be issued that openly advise on how to systemically implement this type of discrimination. It is unthinkable that, after all the progress that has been made in the name of greater freedom and civil rights, we would witness in a country like Britain the imposition of religiously based legal practices for discriminating against people on such grounds as gender. Once again, in the name of attempting to accommodate and show tolerance toward its Muslim minority, Britain appears to be prepared to sacrifice some of the most fundamental rights that the majority of its citizenry has long believed in.

Some years ago, a Muslim friend of mine who lives in England confided in me that his greatest concern was not the threat of Islamist terror, but rather the onset of Islamic practices permeating civil life. It seems his worse fears are continuing to be borne out.       

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Is Morocco the Antidote to Saudi-Sponsored Extremism?

Emeritus Princeton University professor Bernard Lewis, probably the greatest living historian of the Middle East, once tried to explain the impact of Saudi Arabia upon the practice of Islam in the modern era by the following analogy:

“Imagine if the Ku Klux Klan or Aryan Nation obtained total control of Texas and had at its disposal all the oil revenues, and used this money to establish a network of well-endowed schools and colleges all over Christendom peddling their particular brand of Christianity. This is what the Saudis have done with Wahhabism. The oil money has enabled them to spread this fanatical, destructive form of Islam all over the Muslim world and among Muslims in the west. Without oil and the creation of the Saudi kingdom, Wahhabism would have remained a lunatic fringe in a marginal country.”

Lewis is right, of course, that the Saudi use of petrodollars to fund an intolerant interpretation of Islam has greased radicalism from West Africa through Southeast Asia and, of course, throughout the Middle East, Europe, and North America as well.

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Emeritus Princeton University professor Bernard Lewis, probably the greatest living historian of the Middle East, once tried to explain the impact of Saudi Arabia upon the practice of Islam in the modern era by the following analogy:

“Imagine if the Ku Klux Klan or Aryan Nation obtained total control of Texas and had at its disposal all the oil revenues, and used this money to establish a network of well-endowed schools and colleges all over Christendom peddling their particular brand of Christianity. This is what the Saudis have done with Wahhabism. The oil money has enabled them to spread this fanatical, destructive form of Islam all over the Muslim world and among Muslims in the west. Without oil and the creation of the Saudi kingdom, Wahhabism would have remained a lunatic fringe in a marginal country.”

Lewis is right, of course, that the Saudi use of petrodollars to fund an intolerant interpretation of Islam has greased radicalism from West Africa through Southeast Asia and, of course, throughout the Middle East, Europe, and North America as well.

De-radicalization may be fashionable among European officials, Western NGOs, and the State Department, but there is little evidence that U.S. and European programs are anything more than an expensive boondoggle.

Increasingly, Morocco appears to be the antidote to decades of Saudi-sponsored radicalism. I have highlighted here before the innovative “Mourchidat” program. Now Morocco is beginning to expand its imam training program to Tunisia and Libya in North Africa, as well as Guinea in West Africa. This follows a similar program conducted on behalf of imams in Mali, which has faced a severe challenge from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

President Obama will soon travel to Saudi Arabia. This is wise, as Obama seeks to repair ties with the Saudi Kingdom undercut by his own diplomatic tin ear. Still, if Obama really wants to support friends, he should move to bolster U.S. ties with Morocco, which is pulling far beyond its weight in efforts to promote peace, stability, and moderation not only among Arab states, but also across Africa, a continent Obama once described as a priority. Rather than throw money at de-radicalization programs that don’t have anything to show for their efforts, perhaps it is time to actually work through allies to support what does work.

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Preserving Burma’s Last Synagogue

Voice of America picked up a fascinating story about efforts to preserve Burma’s (Myanmar’s) last synagogue:

The Mesmuah Yeshua synagogue is in a neighborhood typical of colonial Rangoon. Mosques, Hindu temples, churches, and Buddhist pagodas dot busy streets of markets, hawkers, and hardware shops. The protected heritage building dates back to 1896, and has been under the care of a member of the Samuels family for generations… Author and historian Thant Myint-U heads the Yangon Heritage Trust, an organization dedicated to saving Rangoon’s heritage buildings. He says the synagogue’s preservation effort is about more than just the building: it’s about recovering Burma’s past, to help people understand the city’s rich multiethnic history.

The whole story is worth reading, especially against the backdrop of the destruction of Java’s last synagogue earlier this summer, the razing of the Jewish quarters in both Sulaymani and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, the end of the Jewish community in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the start of what might well become a Jewish exodus from an increasingly intolerant Turkey. Sixteen years ago, I watched the Jewish community in Tajikistan build a guest house near the Jewish cemetery to prepare for the end of what they assumed would be that country’s permanent Jewish community.

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Voice of America picked up a fascinating story about efforts to preserve Burma’s (Myanmar’s) last synagogue:

The Mesmuah Yeshua synagogue is in a neighborhood typical of colonial Rangoon. Mosques, Hindu temples, churches, and Buddhist pagodas dot busy streets of markets, hawkers, and hardware shops. The protected heritage building dates back to 1896, and has been under the care of a member of the Samuels family for generations… Author and historian Thant Myint-U heads the Yangon Heritage Trust, an organization dedicated to saving Rangoon’s heritage buildings. He says the synagogue’s preservation effort is about more than just the building: it’s about recovering Burma’s past, to help people understand the city’s rich multiethnic history.

The whole story is worth reading, especially against the backdrop of the destruction of Java’s last synagogue earlier this summer, the razing of the Jewish quarters in both Sulaymani and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, the end of the Jewish community in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the start of what might well become a Jewish exodus from an increasingly intolerant Turkey. Sixteen years ago, I watched the Jewish community in Tajikistan build a guest house near the Jewish cemetery to prepare for the end of what they assumed would be that country’s permanent Jewish community.

Religious intolerance is spreading across the Middle East and many places in Asia as populist and radicalized clergy urge their followers to make life intolerable for Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist minorities. Traveling over the years in Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, and Iran, I have heard older generations describe the cosmopolitan atmosphere of their youth, playing with friends of different religions. One former associate remembers how he was taught the Lord’s Prayer in Peshawar, Pakistan, by a Muslim babysitter because she figured since he was Catholic and it was bedtime, he should learn to pray as Catholics do. That she would know Catholic prayer was simply the result of growing up in a multicultural, multi-ethnic environment that is now a faded memory.

The story out of Rangoon seems a good idea not only for Burma but for other countries as well. To allow the tolerance and diversity of past generations to be forgotten simply confirms the victory of radicals, populists, and forces of intolerance. Three cheers for Thant Myint-U and the Yangon Heritage Trust, which provide a model that should be replicated.

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Norway Moves Against Circumcision

Almost one year after Chancellor Angela Merkel successfully leaned on the German parliament to pass legislation guaranteeing the rights of parents to have their infant boys circumcised, the practice is now under threat in another European country. This week, Norway’s health minister, Bent Hoie, announced that new legislation is in the pipeline to “regulate ritual circumcision.”

Hoie took his cue from Anne Lindboe, Norway’s children’s ombudsman, who believes that “non-medical circumcision”–in other words, circumcision of boys in accordance with the laws of both Judaism and Islam–is a violation of children’s rights. JTA quoted Lindboe as having told the leading Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten: “This is not due to any lack of understanding of minorities or religious traditions, but because the procedure is irreversible, painful and risky.”

Lindboe is certainly not a lone voice in this debate. A large number of parliamentarians from the opposition Labor Party have expressed support for a ban, while the Center Party, which controls 10 of the seats in Norway’s 169-member legislature, is officially in favor. Small wonder, then, that Ervin Kohn, the head of Norway’s tiny Jewish community of 700 souls, has described the issue as an “existential matter.” Clearly, the push factors that led nearly 50 percent of Jews in Belgium, Hungary, and France to confess, in a survey on anti-Semitism conducted by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, that they are considering emigration have manifested in Norway also.

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Almost one year after Chancellor Angela Merkel successfully leaned on the German parliament to pass legislation guaranteeing the rights of parents to have their infant boys circumcised, the practice is now under threat in another European country. This week, Norway’s health minister, Bent Hoie, announced that new legislation is in the pipeline to “regulate ritual circumcision.”

Hoie took his cue from Anne Lindboe, Norway’s children’s ombudsman, who believes that “non-medical circumcision”–in other words, circumcision of boys in accordance with the laws of both Judaism and Islam–is a violation of children’s rights. JTA quoted Lindboe as having told the leading Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten: “This is not due to any lack of understanding of minorities or religious traditions, but because the procedure is irreversible, painful and risky.”

Lindboe is certainly not a lone voice in this debate. A large number of parliamentarians from the opposition Labor Party have expressed support for a ban, while the Center Party, which controls 10 of the seats in Norway’s 169-member legislature, is officially in favor. Small wonder, then, that Ervin Kohn, the head of Norway’s tiny Jewish community of 700 souls, has described the issue as an “existential matter.” Clearly, the push factors that led nearly 50 percent of Jews in Belgium, Hungary, and France to confess, in a survey on anti-Semitism conducted by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, that they are considering emigration have manifested in Norway also.

The Norwegian developments follow the October vote by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a 47-member body that is not institutionally linked to the EU, recommending restrictions on ritual circumcision. The ensuing outcry among European Jewish leaders and Israeli politicians led a nervous Thorbjorn Jaglund, the council’s secretary-general, to assure the Conference of European Rabbis “that in no way does the Council of Europe want to ban the circumcision of boys.” But given that the Council of Europe has no control over national legislatures, that statement is essentially toothless.

The abiding question here is why hostility to ritual circumcision has become such a hot topic in European states. When it comes to circumcision, the kinds of survivors groups that push for tougher legislation on, say, child sexual abuse or violence against women simply don’t exist. Hence, if the vast majority of men who have undergone ritual circumcision aren’t clamoring for a ban, why the insistence on portraying them as victims?

According to Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the head of the Conference of European Rabbis, the anti-circumcision campaign is an integral component of a continent-wide “offensive” against Muslim communities, in which Jews represent “collateral damage.” There is some merit to this view, yet it ignores the fact that legal measures against Jewish ritual have a long and dishonorable pedigree in Europe. It’s widely known that the Nazis banned shechita, or Jewish ritual slaughter, three months after coming to power in 1933, but they were beaten to the punch by Switzerland in 1893 and Norway in 1930–and you don’t need to be an expert on European history to know that there were no Muslim communities of any meaningful size in these countries when these legislative bills were passed. 

Moreover, it can be argued that by grouping male circumcision with the horrific practice of female genital mutilation, which in Europe mainly afflicts women from Muslim countries, the Council of Europe was going out of its way not to target Muslim communities specifically. In a classic example of the cultural relativism that plagues European institutions, its resolution on the “physical integrity of children” listed as matters of concern, “…female genital mutilation, the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons, early childhood medical interventions in the case of intersex children, and the submission to or coercion of children into piercings, tattoos or plastic surgery.”

As this week’s edition of the Economist argues, this categorization is nonsensical:

Our intuition tells us that the circumcision of baby boys is probably okay, at worst harmless and culturally very important to some religions, while the excision practised on baby girls in some cultures certainly is not okay.

The same piece observes that, in any case, the determination of European leaders to prevent a ban on circumcision will likely foil any parliamentary legislation to that end. A similar point was made in a recent Haaretz piece by Anshel Pfeffer, who derided fears among Israeli legislators of a ban on circumcision as just so much hyperbole.

However, what’s missing here is the understanding that a practice doesn’t have to be proscribed for it to be frowned upon. Large numbers of Europeans already regard circumcision as a backward ritual, and the current Norwegian debate is likely to persuade many more that circumcision should be opposed in the name of human rights. Over the last decade, European Jews have watched helplessly as their identification with Israel has been stigmatized: with a similar pattern now emerging over Jewish ritual, an adversarial political climate that falls short of actual legislation may yet be enough to persuade them that their future on the continent remains bleak.

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Turkey Seeks More Gender Segregation

While Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) depicts itself to the West as committed to democratic reforms, increasingly it has moved to impose its conservative religious vision upon Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has instructed women to have at least three children, and promised lawmakers that his goal was to raise a religious generation of youth in Turkey. Now, he has gone further, and spoken out against university dormitories which house both men and women. According to a Hürriyet Daily News report:

“This is against our conservative, democratic character,” the prime minister said during a closed-door meeting Nov. 3 with Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies at a key party meeting in Ankara’s Kızılcahamam district. “We witnessed this in the province of Denizli. The insufficiency of dormitories causes problems. Male and female university students are staying in the same house. This is not being checked,” Erdoğan said, voicing his displeasure with the situation.

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While Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) depicts itself to the West as committed to democratic reforms, increasingly it has moved to impose its conservative religious vision upon Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has instructed women to have at least three children, and promised lawmakers that his goal was to raise a religious generation of youth in Turkey. Now, he has gone further, and spoken out against university dormitories which house both men and women. According to a Hürriyet Daily News report:

“This is against our conservative, democratic character,” the prime minister said during a closed-door meeting Nov. 3 with Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies at a key party meeting in Ankara’s Kızılcahamam district. “We witnessed this in the province of Denizli. The insufficiency of dormitories causes problems. Male and female university students are staying in the same house. This is not being checked,” Erdoğan said, voicing his displeasure with the situation.

While the more politically savvy AKP officials serve in Ankara and Istanbul and so show a more cosmopolitan face to Western interlocutors, the true face of the AKP is in the provinces. Here, some officials are even more extreme. As Hürriyet continued, “Last August, a provincial education director in Trabzon had caused public outrage after lamenting that female and male students were using the same sets of stairs on the way to their rooms.”

Many Turkish liberals are placing hopes that upcoming mayoral elections in Istanbul might reverse the past decade of remarkable AKP success. Alas, even if the opposition wins Istanbul, Turkey may already be too far gone for it to matter, as the birthrates among Kurds and the more conservative Anatolians remain higher than those of more Middle Class, Western-leaning Turks.

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The Big Problem in Jerusalem Isn’t the Jews

In time for the Jewish calendar’s fall holiday season (Jews around the world are celebrating Sukkot—the feast of tabernacles—this week), today’s New York Times took up the delicate issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount where, we are told, troublemaking Jews are breaking the rules and making coexistence, if not peace, that much more difficult. Since some Jewish extremists do foolishly dream of replacing the mosques that are atop the Mount (which looks down on the Western Wall) with a rebuilt Third Temple, a scheme that would set off a religious war no sane person would want, Israel has always sought to keep the peace in the city by limiting Jewish visits and prohibiting Jewish prayer there. So with increasing numbers of Jews wanting to look around and perhaps even surreptitiously utter a prayer, the conceit of the Times piece appears to be that this is just one more instance in which Israelis are giving their Arab neighbors a hard time and pushing them out of a city that is sacred to the three monotheistic faiths.

But however dangerous any idea of endangering the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque might be to world peace, the Jews are not the problem in Jerusalem. That’s because the dispute in the city isn’t really so much about who controls the Temple Mount but the Muslim effort to deny the Jewish history that is literally under their feet. Were it just a question of sharing sacred space, reasonable compromises that would give full Muslim autonomy over their holy sites while allowing Jewish prayer at the spiritual center of Judaism would be possible since Jewish extremists who want to evict Islam from the place are a tiny minority. Yet as long as the official position of both the Muslim Wakf religious authority, which has been allowed by Israel to govern the place since the 1967 Six-Day War, and the Palestinian Authority is that the Temples never existed and that Jews have no rights to their ancient capital, that will constitute the real obstacle to peace.

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In time for the Jewish calendar’s fall holiday season (Jews around the world are celebrating Sukkot—the feast of tabernacles—this week), today’s New York Times took up the delicate issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount where, we are told, troublemaking Jews are breaking the rules and making coexistence, if not peace, that much more difficult. Since some Jewish extremists do foolishly dream of replacing the mosques that are atop the Mount (which looks down on the Western Wall) with a rebuilt Third Temple, a scheme that would set off a religious war no sane person would want, Israel has always sought to keep the peace in the city by limiting Jewish visits and prohibiting Jewish prayer there. So with increasing numbers of Jews wanting to look around and perhaps even surreptitiously utter a prayer, the conceit of the Times piece appears to be that this is just one more instance in which Israelis are giving their Arab neighbors a hard time and pushing them out of a city that is sacred to the three monotheistic faiths.

But however dangerous any idea of endangering the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque might be to world peace, the Jews are not the problem in Jerusalem. That’s because the dispute in the city isn’t really so much about who controls the Temple Mount but the Muslim effort to deny the Jewish history that is literally under their feet. Were it just a question of sharing sacred space, reasonable compromises that would give full Muslim autonomy over their holy sites while allowing Jewish prayer at the spiritual center of Judaism would be possible since Jewish extremists who want to evict Islam from the place are a tiny minority. Yet as long as the official position of both the Muslim Wakf religious authority, which has been allowed by Israel to govern the place since the 1967 Six-Day War, and the Palestinian Authority is that the Temples never existed and that Jews have no rights to their ancient capital, that will constitute the real obstacle to peace.

At the heart of this conundrum is an error in Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren’s story. In an effort to give some historical background to the dispute, she writes the following:

In 2000, a visit by Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s opposition leader, accompanied by 1,000 police officers, prompted a violent outbreak and, many argue, set off the second intifada.

Many may argue that, but it is a flat-out lie. As figures within the Palestinian Authority have long since publicly admitted, the intifada was planned by then leader Yasir Arafat long before Sharon took a stroll on the site of the Temples around the Jewish New Year. The intifada was a deliberate strategy in which Arafat answered Israel’s offer of an independent Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem that would have included the Temple Mount. The terrorist war of attrition was intended to beat down the Israelis and force them and the United States to offer even more concessions without forcing the Palestinians to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. Sharon’s visit was merely a pretext that has long since been debunked.

Rudoren deserves to be roasted for passing along this piece of propaganda without even noting the proof to the contrary. But the problem here is more than just an error that shows the way she tends to swallow Palestinian lies hook, line, and sinker. That’s because the significance of the Sharon story lies in the way, Palestinian leaders have used the Temple Mount for generations to gin up hate against Israelis.

It bears pointing out that almost from the very beginning of the Zionist enterprise, those seeking to incite an Arab population that might regard the economic growth that came with the influx of immigrants as a good thing used the mosques on the Mount to whip up anti-Jewish sentiment. The pretext for the 1929 riots in which Jews were attacked across the country and the ancient community of Hebron was wiped out in a pogrom was a false rumor about the mosques being attacked. Arafat used the same theme to gain support for his otherwise inexplicable decision to tank the Palestinian economy in his terrorist war. Similarly, inflammatory sermons given in the mosques have often led to Muslim worshippers there raining down rocks on the Jewish worshippers in the Western Wall plaza below.

Israelis can argue about whether restoring even a minimal Jewish presence on the Temple Mount is wise. Some Orthodox authorities have always said that due to doubt about the presence of the Temple’s most sacred precincts no Jew should step foot on the plateau, although that is a point that seems less salient due to recent archeological discoveries. Others believe that any effort to contest Muslim ownership of the site converts a territorial dispute into a religious or spiritual one and should be avoided at all costs.

But, like so many internal Jewish and Israeli debates, these arguments miss the point about Arab opinion. As with other sacred sites to which Muslims lay claim, their position is not one in which they are prepared to share or guarantee equal access. The Muslim view of the Temple Mount is not one in which competing claims can be recognized, let alone respected. They want it Jew-free, the same way they envision a Palestinian state or those areas of Jerusalem which they say must be their capital.

It is in that same spirit that the Wakf has committed what many respected Israeli archeologists consider a program of vandalism on the Mount with unknown quantities of antiquities being trashed by their building program. Since they recognize no Jewish claim or even the history of the place, they have continued to act in this manner with, I might add, hardly a peep from the international community.

Thus while many friends of Israel will read Rudoren’s article and shake their heads about Israeli foolishness, the real story in Jerusalem remains the Palestinians’ unshakable determination to extinguish Jewish history as part of their effort to delegitimize the Jewish state. In the face of their intransigence and the fact that such intolerance is mainstream Palestinian opinion rather than the view of a few extremists, the desire of many Jews to visit a place that is the historic center of their faith (the Western Wall is, after all, merely the vestige of the Temple’s outer enclosure) doesn’t seem quite so crazy.

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Embrace the Anti-Islamist Backlash

Against the backdrop of Washington’s collective Attention Deficit Disorder, the coup in Egypt is ancient history and the Gezi Park demonstrations in Turkey are forgotten. Neither should be, as they are indicative of a trend that the United States should both recognize and upon which it should act.

The coup in Egypt was against political Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood had promised Egyptians accountability and economic development, but ousted President Mohamed Morsi gave the ol’ bait-and-switch and focused on imposing the Brotherhood’s intolerant and religiously conservative social agenda. To convince Egyptians, disgusted with decades of the military’s corrupt and authoritarian rule, to reconsider the military as the lesser of evils took special skill. Read More

Against the backdrop of Washington’s collective Attention Deficit Disorder, the coup in Egypt is ancient history and the Gezi Park demonstrations in Turkey are forgotten. Neither should be, as they are indicative of a trend that the United States should both recognize and upon which it should act.

The coup in Egypt was against political Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood had promised Egyptians accountability and economic development, but ousted President Mohamed Morsi gave the ol’ bait-and-switch and focused on imposing the Brotherhood’s intolerant and religiously conservative social agenda. To convince Egyptians, disgusted with decades of the military’s corrupt and authoritarian rule, to reconsider the military as the lesser of evils took special skill.

This summer’s protests in Turkey were also the result of a long-simmering liberal backlash against the ruling party’s autocracy and Islamism.

Now, there are signs that Islamists have jumped the shark in Jordan as well. David Schenker—the best analyst of Jordan (and Syria) in Washington—points me to this story, from the Arabic press in Jordan: An Islamist deputy proposed a bill that would mandate that Jordan’s laws be harmonized with Sharia, Islamic law. Bad news for the Islamists, though: They could muster only 27 votes out of 150. Jordan is by no means a democracy and its elections are far from free and fair, but it does allow Islamists to run and, at times, the Muslim Brotherhood has been effectively the largest parliamentary bloc.

In Tunisia, secularists are also rallying as Islamists increasingly turn to assassination and show their true, anti-democratic colors. In the United Arab Emirates as well, the Islamist al-Islah party is on the defensive, its own coup plot disrupted.

Iranians repeatedly have shown their disgust with the theocrats who have eviscerated their sovereignty in the name of religion.

For too long, the United States has reacted to events without a clear strategy. While George W. Bush articulated a strategy in the wake of 9/11, his national-security staff lacked the will and ability to transform vision into reality and enforce policy discipline on the interagency process.

Democratization is an important—and laudable—goal, but it cannot come instantly, only when the right circumstances are set. This should not be an excuse to embrace the status quo (as too many in the State Department do), but to push the region in a direction where true liberalism is possible. To do so requires defeating the ideology of political Islam, an ideology no less noxious than the various autocratic ideologies which blighted the 20th century. In the current issue of National Review, I argue that the United States should embrace a ‘roll-back’ strategy against the Muslim Brotherhood and, more broadly, political Islamism.

The signs are many that ordinary Arabs, Turks, and Iranians have started to recognize that religion is no panacea for worldly ills. How unfortunate it is that U.S. policymakers are not seizing this opportunity—and even appear willing to seize defeat from the jaws of victory in Iran, Turkey, and across the region.

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Rabbi Sacks on Multiculturalism’s Dangers

In the two decades that he served as the United Kingdom’s Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks continued the tradition of his predecessor, the late Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, of positioning the office as a key voice in national debates. While Jakobovits was famously aligned with the views of Margaret Thatcher, in marked contrast to the established Church of England, Sacks adopted a more non-partisan approach, venturing insights into a range of issues–most importantly, on multiculturalism–that were not beholden to the orthodoxies of either the Conservative or Labor parties.

This week, Sacks again dived into the multiculturalism debate. In an interview with the London Times (subscription only) to mark his departure from office, Sacks reiterated his dismay at how the concept of multiculturalism has been interpreted and applied in Britain. “The real danger in a multicultural society,” Sacks argued, “is that every ethnic group and religious group becomes a pressure group, putting our people’s interest instead of the national interest.”

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In the two decades that he served as the United Kingdom’s Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks continued the tradition of his predecessor, the late Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, of positioning the office as a key voice in national debates. While Jakobovits was famously aligned with the views of Margaret Thatcher, in marked contrast to the established Church of England, Sacks adopted a more non-partisan approach, venturing insights into a range of issues–most importantly, on multiculturalism–that were not beholden to the orthodoxies of either the Conservative or Labor parties.

This week, Sacks again dived into the multiculturalism debate. In an interview with the London Times (subscription only) to mark his departure from office, Sacks reiterated his dismay at how the concept of multiculturalism has been interpreted and applied in Britain. “The real danger in a multicultural society,” Sacks argued, “is that every ethnic group and religious group becomes a pressure group, putting our people’s interest instead of the national interest.”

As Sacks explained in his 2007 book, The Home We Build Together, this societal Balkanization is inimical to a healthy democracy. “Liberalism is about the rights of individuals, multiculturalism is about the rights of groups, and they are incompatible,” he stated baldly. In his conversation with the Times, Sacks honed in on Britain’s unresolved anguish over the integration of its growing Muslim population. The radical contrast between the Jewish and Muslim experiences of living as minorities is, Sacks said, critical to understanding why uncomplicated integration has succeeded with the former, but not the latter: “The norm was for Muslims to live under a Muslim jurisdiction and the norm, since the destruction of the first Temple, was for Jews to live under a non-Jewish jurisdiction.”

Interestingly, the firestorm of outrage that typically greets such remarks has centered not on Sacks, but on the unlikely figure of media mogul (and Times owner) Rupert Murdoch, whose appreciative tweet–”Good for UK Chief Rabbi Sacks! ‘Let’s put multiculturalism behind us’. Societies have to integrate. Muslims find it hardest.”–angered Muslim activists in his native Australia. Mohammed Tabbaa of the Islamic Council of Victoria warned that Muslims “feel the full brunt” of such comments, while Nareen Young of Australia’s Diversity Council bemoaned the fact that Murdoch’s support for Sacks had left “a whole lot of Muslim Australians” nursing “hurt feelings.”

One is tempted to say that these reactions deliberately miss the point. Sacks has contested neither the reality nor the desirability of a multi-ethnic society; instead, he has consistently argued that the communally-centered model of multiculturalism that prevails in Britain has frustrated attempts to forge an overarching British identity. No one is talking about how to persuade Muslims to leave the historically Christian nations in which they’ve settled, but rather how they might remain on peaceable terms.

The example of Britain’s Sharia courts, which provide an alternative venue for Muslims to settle their legal disputes, neatly illustrates the wider problem which Sacks has addressed. As the BBC reported last year, an estimated 85 Sharia councils are now operating in Britain, all of them dealing with a growing caseload. “On average, every month we can deal with anything from 200 to 300 cases,” Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad of the Islamic Sharia Council told reporter Divya Talwar. “A few years ago it was just a small fraction of that.”

What al-Haddad didn’t say is that the judgments arrived at in Sharia courts routinely violate the sensibilities of a liberal democratic society. Indeed, al-Haddad himself is a notorious offender in that regard; as the blogger Ben Six has noted, here is an individual who “endorses genital mutilation, tells parents to marry their daughters off while they are young, orders women to obey their husbands, and tells people not to question men who beat their wives.” (You can see a video of al-Haddad nonchalantly supporting the practice of female genital mutilation here.)

To paint objections to this Saudi-esque judicial philosophy as a hangover from the days when opposition to immigration was grounded upon race–as the British Muslim writer Sunny Hundal did in a recent piece for the Guardian–doesn’t just willfully misrepresent what critics of multiculturalism, like Sacks, are saying. It also condemns the victims of Sharia courts, many of whom are women seeking a way out of abusive marriages, to an indefinite purgatory in the name of tolerance. While Hundal insists that multiculturalism’s critics refuse “to get to grips with how Britain has changed,” the truth is more nuanced: registering that these changes have occurred does not imply a duty to passively acquiesce to them.

In highlighting the historic unwillingness within Islam to accept that there are situations in which Muslims will be a minority, Sacks has captured one of the key reasons why British Muslim leaders are preventing their flocks from following the precedent set by other immigrant groups–like the French Huguenots, the Jews, and the Afro-Caribbeans–in maintaining their native identities while embracing the broader notion of Britishness. Perhaps the violent collapse of Islamist rule in Egypt, at the fulcrum of the Muslim world, will persuade nervous Britons that Sacks has a point after all.

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In the Middle East, Follow the Violence

“Follow the money” has become a catchphrase in both journalism and politics, seemingly applicable to almost any subject. But if you want to understand what really matters to Middle Eastern Muslims, a better rule might be “follow the violence.”

A case in point is the still widespread delusion that what Muslims care about most is “Western aggression”–firstly Israel’s “occupation” of the Palestinians, and secondly America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Based on Muslim rhetoric, that’s a plausible conclusion. But if you look at what Muslims care enough to put their lives on the line for–a far better indication of concern than mere talk–a very different conclusion emerges.

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“Follow the money” has become a catchphrase in both journalism and politics, seemingly applicable to almost any subject. But if you want to understand what really matters to Middle Eastern Muslims, a better rule might be “follow the violence.”

A case in point is the still widespread delusion that what Muslims care about most is “Western aggression”–firstly Israel’s “occupation” of the Palestinians, and secondly America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Based on Muslim rhetoric, that’s a plausible conclusion. But if you look at what Muslims care enough to put their lives on the line for–a far better indication of concern than mere talk–a very different conclusion emerges.

Two recent developments made this blindingly evident. The first was a religious ruling by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most influential clerics in the Sunni Muslim world, whose weekly television show on Al Jazeera attracts tens of millions of viewers. As Thomas Hegghammer and Aaron Y. Zelin reported in the July 7 issue of Foreign Affairs, on May 31, Qaradawi said that any Sunni “trained to fight … has to go” join the war in Syria. What makes this noteworthy, the report said, is that Qaradawi hasn’t issued similar rulings in other cases: “In 2009, he wrote a book titled Jurisprudence of Jihad, in which he dismissed the individual duty argument for the jihad in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan.”

Though Qaradawi deemed all those cases “legitimate jihad,” meaning any Muslim who wished to fight there was permitted to do so, only in Syria’s case did he say that Muslims able to do so must join the fight. Thus he clearly views the Syrian war as more important than those in “Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” even though the latter all pitted Muslims against either Israel or America, while the former is a strictly intra-Muslim affair pitting Sunnis against Shi’ites, with no Israeli or American involvement whatsoever.

In short, important parts of the Sunni Muslim world view the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict as more important than the battle against either Israeli or American “aggression.”

The same conclusion emerges from last week’s New York Times report on the rising number of Western Muslims joining the war in Syria–about 600 so far. “More Westerners are now fighting in Syria than fought in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or Yemen,” the report says. Western Muslims have also largely sat out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (a 2003 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv perpetrated by two British Muslims made headlines precisely because it was so anomalous). And the same goes for non-Western Muslims: Altogether, the Times reported, some 6,000 non-Syrian Muslims are now fighting in Syria; by contrast, only a handful of non-Palestinian Muslims have fought in the West Bank and Gaza in recent decades.

Again, the implication is clear: To many Muslims, the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict is much more important than the conflict with either Israel or America.

Unfortunately, Western governments don’t seem to have gotten the message: Stuck in their time warp, America and Europe are still obsessing over the Israeli-Palestinian sideshow rather than focusing on the conflict Muslims actually care about.

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Free Speech and Islamic Sensibilities

One of the most discouraging trends in international affairs is the way some Western nations have kowtowed to the calls of Muslim nations to treat “blasphemy” against Islam as a human rights offense. As the controversy over the publication of Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, as well as the YouTube video that the White House falsely claimed incited the murder of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya have shown, many in the West are generally more concerned with appeasing terrorists than they are with standing up for freedom of expression.

But however abject the Western stand has been abroad, most Americans probably thought no such concerns were needed about defending our rights at home. Yet a story in Politico brings to our attention the fact that such complacence may be unfounded. Apparently a United States attorney in Tennessee is seeking to use civil rights statutes to criminalize criticism of Islam or inflammatory statements that offend Muslims. According to the Tullahoma News, Bill Killian, the U.S. attorney for Eastern Tennessee, believes “Internet postings that violate civil rights are subject to federal jurisdiction.” Though the newspaper makes clear that Killian’s intent is to promote better community relations and to prevent discrimination against Muslims that is based on the false notion that all are terrorists, his willingness to dump the First Amendment rights of some in order to protect the sensibility of others ought to scare all Americans.

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One of the most discouraging trends in international affairs is the way some Western nations have kowtowed to the calls of Muslim nations to treat “blasphemy” against Islam as a human rights offense. As the controversy over the publication of Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, as well as the YouTube video that the White House falsely claimed incited the murder of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya have shown, many in the West are generally more concerned with appeasing terrorists than they are with standing up for freedom of expression.

But however abject the Western stand has been abroad, most Americans probably thought no such concerns were needed about defending our rights at home. Yet a story in Politico brings to our attention the fact that such complacence may be unfounded. Apparently a United States attorney in Tennessee is seeking to use civil rights statutes to criminalize criticism of Islam or inflammatory statements that offend Muslims. According to the Tullahoma News, Bill Killian, the U.S. attorney for Eastern Tennessee, believes “Internet postings that violate civil rights are subject to federal jurisdiction.” Though the newspaper makes clear that Killian’s intent is to promote better community relations and to prevent discrimination against Muslims that is based on the false notion that all are terrorists, his willingness to dump the First Amendment rights of some in order to protect the sensibility of others ought to scare all Americans.

Killian is, of course, right to point out that the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists. The vast majority are law abiding citizens whose rights should be protected the same as those of anyone else. It is also true that those who fear that Muslims will impose sharia law on Tennessee or any other American state are largely unfounded, though that issue is not a fringe concern in Africa and Asia where the rights of non-Muslims are threatened by just that threat. If all Killian wants to do is to make sure American Muslims are not targeted for discrimination or violence (though there is, in fact, no evidence that a post-9/11 backlash of bias or attacks has actually taken place) that is also all well and good.

But there is a vast difference between defending the civil rights of a minority and seeking to silence those who hold views that are offensive to that minority.

If hate speech leads directly to violence or is used to create an atmosphere of intimidation or attacks against a minority group, the government does well to look into the manner. But for a person with the vast resources and power of the federal government at his disposal, such as a U.S. attorney, to threaten prosecution of those who say offensive things about Muslims on the Internet is to place free speech in jeopardy. Indeed, rather than silencing those who complain about sharia law, statements such as those of Killian are likely to fuel such fears–and rightly so–since he appears to be setting Muslims up as a protected class who cannot be offended without fear of recourse to the law.

What’s especially frightening about this is that the discussion of what offends Muslims has very little to do with actionable hate speech. As was the case with the YouTube video about Muhammad that the administration initially claimed to have been the cause of the Benghazi attacks, the video was something that was perfectly legal even if it was ill considered and nasty as well as inept. But just as the maker of that video was jailed on a parole violation (a turn of events that would have been inconceivable had he not been subjected to international opprobrium including condemnation by the president and the secretary of state), there now appears to be a double standard by which the government seems to view offenses to Islam. Attacks on Islam or even rude remarks about its prophet may be uncivil, but they are no more illegal than abuse directed at Jews or any other form of hate that the government rightly forebears from prosecuting.

Even more to the point, while the efforts of Killian to protect American Muslims are correct, if they are not also accompanied by calls for this community to do some soul searching about the way it has enabled and even coddled extremists who are fomenting or carrying out terrorism they do the nation a disservice.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke directly to this issue in a courageous piece published in the Daily Mail in which he rightly pointed out that the radicalism that led to the murder of a British soldier last week—as well as to other outrages such as the Boston Marathon bombing and a host of other terrorist attacks in the United States carried out by persons primarily motivated by an interpretation of Islam—requires both Muslims and non-Muslims to face facts:

There is a problem within Islam – from the adherents of an ideology that is a strain within Islam. We have to put it on the table and be honest about it. Of course there are Christian extremists and Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu ones. But I am afraid this strain is not the province of a few extremists. It has at its heart a view about religion and about the interaction between religion and politics that is not compatible with pluralistic, liberal, open-minded societies.

But instead of honesty about this threat, what Muslims are hearing from people like Killian is that the government may punish offenses against their faith. That not only trashes freedom of speech, statements such as Killian’s and others that stick to the “Islam is a religion of peace” line while ignoring the very real problem of Islamist extremism that is fomenting terror add to our problems.

Killian must retract his statement or at least clarify it to show that he has no intention of prosecuting those who merely offend Islam, no matter how objectionable their utterances. If not, he should be fired. But even more than that, his foolish attempt to mollify Muslims show just how clueless many government officials—including those, like Killian, who are connected to the security establishment—are about the nature of the threat from Islamist terror.

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A Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim Walk Into a Bar…

No, I’m not going to tell a religious joke here on the blog, but I will staunchly defend anyone’s right to poke fun or criticize religion (or anything else) on the pretext of free speech. Defending religious sensibility, however, has become the latest front in a war pursued by diverse politicians to curtail free speech.

There has been much attention, for example, on efforts by leaders of Muslim states—from Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Indonesia’s Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai—to outlaw Islamophobia which, despite its name, has less to do with “fear” of Islam and more to do with constraining an internal debate about some of its more noxious interpretations.

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No, I’m not going to tell a religious joke here on the blog, but I will staunchly defend anyone’s right to poke fun or criticize religion (or anything else) on the pretext of free speech. Defending religious sensibility, however, has become the latest front in a war pursued by diverse politicians to curtail free speech.

There has been much attention, for example, on efforts by leaders of Muslim states—from Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Indonesia’s Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai—to outlaw Islamophobia which, despite its name, has less to do with “fear” of Islam and more to do with constraining an internal debate about some of its more noxious interpretations.

It would be wrong to single out leaders of majority-Muslim states for seeking to muzzle criticism and parody of religion at the expense of free speech or open debate. According to Russia’s Channel One (as translated by the Open Source Center), Russian parliamentarians have again approved a ramped-up anti-blasphemy law:

If the bill makes it through both houses of parliament and is then signed into law by Putin, those suspected of breaching its provisions will be liable to criminal prosecution. Those found guilty of “behavior in public that shows clear disrespect for society and is aimed at offending religious feelings” will face a fine of up to R3,000 (just under 100 dollars) or up to one year in prison. If the offense occurs in a place of worship, the maximum penalty will be a fine of R5,000 (just over 150 dollars) or up to three years in prison.”

It was an earlier iteration of this blasphemy law that Russian President Vladimir Putin used to send members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot to prison. Pussy Riot’s performance might not be my cup of tea—and their staging it impromptu in a cathedral certainly demonstrates bad taste—but bad taste is often a characteristic of youth.

The assault on free speech is not simply an Islamist problem, but now goes much deeper. It is simply the latest tactic for autocrats to achieve their desired result of muzzling speech and individual liberty. The fact that the erosion of rights is conducted in the name of tolerance and other buzzwords of the human rights community shows both how cynical autocrats have become and how politicized the human rights community is today. The tyranny of political correctness is far from defeated.

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Ignoring the Line from Saturday to Sunday

In explaining his staunch support for Israel, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper frequently cites the lessons of history: that those who make Jews “a target of racial and religious bigotry will inevitably be a threat to all of us.” The truth of that statement is visible throughout the Islamic world today, where countries that first got rid of their Jews are now turning in vicious fury on their Christians. Yet many Christian churches seem blind to the connection.

Christianity is currently the world’s most persecuted religion, and the heart of that persecution is the Islamic world. Churches have been attacked in Iraq, Egypt and Libya, among other countries; Christian ministers have been assassinated; and thousands of ordinary Christians have been killed. In Iraq, fewer than 500,000 Christians are thought to remain, down from 800,000 to 1.4 million a decade earlier (estimates vary widely). In Egypt, about 100,000 Coptic Christians have fled just in the last few months. This isn’t a new development; scholars estimate that “between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the region have left or been killed over the past century.” But it has accelerated greatly in recent years.

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In explaining his staunch support for Israel, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper frequently cites the lessons of history: that those who make Jews “a target of racial and religious bigotry will inevitably be a threat to all of us.” The truth of that statement is visible throughout the Islamic world today, where countries that first got rid of their Jews are now turning in vicious fury on their Christians. Yet many Christian churches seem blind to the connection.

Christianity is currently the world’s most persecuted religion, and the heart of that persecution is the Islamic world. Churches have been attacked in Iraq, Egypt and Libya, among other countries; Christian ministers have been assassinated; and thousands of ordinary Christians have been killed. In Iraq, fewer than 500,000 Christians are thought to remain, down from 800,000 to 1.4 million a decade earlier (estimates vary widely). In Egypt, about 100,000 Coptic Christians have fled just in the last few months. This isn’t a new development; scholars estimate that “between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the region have left or been killed over the past century.” But it has accelerated greatly in recent years.

There’s a clear line running from the disappearance of the Islamic world’s Jews in the mid-20th century to today’s accelerated persecution of Christians. When these Jewish communities still existed, they were the favorite target on which enraged Muslim mobs could vent their fury: See, for instance, the pogroms in Baghdad, Cairo and Tripoli in the 1940s. But in the years after Israel’s establishment in 1948, all these Jewish communities either were driven out or fled.

For a while, the Jews of Israel served as a substitute: Arab regimes launched three full-scale wars against Israel, provided bases and funding for Palestinian terrorists, whipped up anti-Israel sentiment through state-owned media, and encouraged anti-Israel demonstrations, thereby channeling popular discontent away from themselves. But while anti-Israel (and anti-Jewish) outbursts are still common in Arab countries, Israel’s insistence on growing and thriving despite these efforts made it an unsatisfactory target for mobs who actually wanted to see their victims suffer.

So, stymied on the Jewish front, they increasingly turned to the next target on their list, which had the advantage of being nearby and vulnerable. As the old Islamic taunt puts it, “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.”

Yet rather than understand, as Harper has, that the same religious intolerance and dysfunctional political culture is behind both anti-Israel sentiment and the persecution of Christians–and that consequently, if Israel disappeared tomorrow, this victory would only provide a tailwind for the war against the “Sunday people”–many Christian churches seem to think the solution is to win the Muslim world’s love by joining the anti-Israel onslaught: See, for instance, the disgraceful report published by the Church of Scotland earlier this month, which said that Christians shouldn’t support Jewish claims to the Land of Israel on either biblical grounds or “as a compensation for the suffering of the Holocaust”; a similar document issued by a Catholic bishops’ synod; or the Presbyterian Church’s Israel Palestine Mission Network, which has pushed resolutions equating Israel with apartheid and vocally supports the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement.

The truth is that Muslim persecution of Christians won’t end until the Islamic world abandons the fantasy that others–whether it’s Israel, Christians or the West–are at the root of their problems. Yet by adopting the Muslim habit of blaming Israel for all the region’s ills, Christian churches are actively feeding that fantasy. And they are thereby ultimately encouraging their own coreligionists’ persecution.

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ACLU More Islamist than the Islamists

British scholar Denis MacEoin points me to this article, which appeared yesterday in USA Today:

Lawyers for American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh asked a federal judge Wednesday to find the Federal Bureau of Prisons in contempt for not allowing Muslim inmates in a high-security Indiana prison unit to pray together five times a day, as required by their faith… The prisons agency has said inmates of all religions housed in the Terre Haute federal prison’s Communications Management Unit have been allowed to pray together three times daily after a federal judge ruled in Lindh’s favor in a lawsuit seeking the prayer time. The ACLU of Indiana argues that isn’t what Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson’s Jan. 11 ruling required. Magnus-Stinson said Lindh, 32, sincerely believes Islam mandates Muslims pray together five times a day and federal law requires the prison to accommodate his beliefs.

This is nonsense: There is no requirement in Islam that Muslims pray communally five times a day, or three times a day. Communal prayers are on Friday at noon so, if the ACLU was truly concerned about religious rights rather than shilling for terrorists, it would seek to ensure that the young murderer Mr. Lindh would be able to join such prayers once each week.

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British scholar Denis MacEoin points me to this article, which appeared yesterday in USA Today:

Lawyers for American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh asked a federal judge Wednesday to find the Federal Bureau of Prisons in contempt for not allowing Muslim inmates in a high-security Indiana prison unit to pray together five times a day, as required by their faith… The prisons agency has said inmates of all religions housed in the Terre Haute federal prison’s Communications Management Unit have been allowed to pray together three times daily after a federal judge ruled in Lindh’s favor in a lawsuit seeking the prayer time. The ACLU of Indiana argues that isn’t what Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson’s Jan. 11 ruling required. Magnus-Stinson said Lindh, 32, sincerely believes Islam mandates Muslims pray together five times a day and federal law requires the prison to accommodate his beliefs.

This is nonsense: There is no requirement in Islam that Muslims pray communally five times a day, or three times a day. Communal prayers are on Friday at noon so, if the ACLU was truly concerned about religious rights rather than shilling for terrorists, it would seek to ensure that the young murderer Mr. Lindh would be able to join such prayers once each week.

As to the ACLU’s claim that Mr. Lindh’s sincere belief is more important than theology, perhaps the ACLU can advocate for my daughter’s right to have her own unicorn, because it is her sincere belief that unicorns are real.

It is not only ridiculous to try to bestow religious rights upon prisoners not found in their declared religion, but it is also strange that the ACLU in its zeal for advocacy would preference the most radical interpretations of religion over the reality of that religion. Alas, while the ACLU has a valuable role to play, it seems that this is one instance when it has chosen to prioritize politics above its own declared mission.

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School Choice Versus Religious Prejudice

Last week I wrote about the victory scored in Indiana by school choice advocates when a far-reaching bill allowing parents of poor and middle class children to send their kids to private and religious schools rather than a failing public system. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled constitutional a measure that rightly allows a percentage of state education funds to follow the kids to whatever school was best for them. The principle here is that allowing a government monopoly on public education is something that prioritizes the needs of unions and bureaucracies rather than then needs of children. Vouchers create more engagement of families in education and provide much-needed competition for a public system that needs it in order to be forced to improve.

However, there was one argument against school choice that I did not address last week. That is the possibility that public funds could be used to finance private or religious schools that teach hate or undermine democracy. Ironically, the emptiness of that point was underscored by a news story out of Tennessee where Governor Bill Haslam is trying to shepherd his own vouchers bill through the legislature. In contrast to other venues throughout the country where liberal ideologues who wish to defend the government education monopoly are the prime obstacles to reform, in the Volunteer State the problem is a faction of conservatives who have no objection to helping parochial schools, so long as the faith upheld in them is their own.

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Last week I wrote about the victory scored in Indiana by school choice advocates when a far-reaching bill allowing parents of poor and middle class children to send their kids to private and religious schools rather than a failing public system. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled constitutional a measure that rightly allows a percentage of state education funds to follow the kids to whatever school was best for them. The principle here is that allowing a government monopoly on public education is something that prioritizes the needs of unions and bureaucracies rather than then needs of children. Vouchers create more engagement of families in education and provide much-needed competition for a public system that needs it in order to be forced to improve.

However, there was one argument against school choice that I did not address last week. That is the possibility that public funds could be used to finance private or religious schools that teach hate or undermine democracy. Ironically, the emptiness of that point was underscored by a news story out of Tennessee where Governor Bill Haslam is trying to shepherd his own vouchers bill through the legislature. In contrast to other venues throughout the country where liberal ideologues who wish to defend the government education monopoly are the prime obstacles to reform, in the Volunteer State the problem is a faction of conservatives who have no objection to helping parochial schools, so long as the faith upheld in them is their own.

A number of Republican members of the Tennessee state senate have expressed opposition to school choice because they fear that it would mean some children would have the ability to choose a Muslim school. According to reports there is only one such school in the state that would qualify for the plan, but Senator Jim Tracy doesn’t want any money to follow students to any institution where the Koran might be taught. Tracy and other colleagues who share this concern don’t seem to have the ability to distinguish between Islamists who preach jihad on the West and those that do conceive of their faith as a religion of peace. Another senator who sponsored a 2009 bill to ban the application of Sharia law in the state is also willing to end any chance for reform because of his anti-Muslim agenda. Their position is that choice is OK so long as it is not extended to a religion they don’t like.

While there are legitimate issues with Islamist governments elsewhere in the world that persecute the followers of other faiths and support terrorism, any attempt to inject that discussion into one about school policy in Tennessee is an absurdity. The Muslim minority there and throughout the nation has no more power to impose Sharia law on non-believers than Jews can impose halachah—Jewish religious laws—on other Americans. While no religion should be allowed to impose its tenets on others, the position that the law can and should allow for reasonable accommodation of faith is one that most conservatives understand and intuitively support. But when Muslims are involved some people lose their perspective and adopt positions such as the ones espoused by Tracy and his friends that can only be described as prejudicial.

I have long maintained that the allegation that American Muslims labor under a wave of persecution as part of a post-9/11 backlash is a myth. If anything, the government and most Americans have bent over backwards to ensure that Muslims are protected against prejudice and negative images of Islam have been few and far between in our popular culture, despite the best efforts of al-Qaeda and Iran to identify that faith with America’s enemies. But accounts of what is being said in the Tennessee legislature are enough to convince me that while Islamophobia is rare, it is not entirely a figment of the media’s imagination.

But even as we condemn a position that seems to be rooted strictly in a bias against a specific faith, it is important to address the issue as it relates to school choice. Bigots in Tennessee aren’t the first ones to raise the specter of school choice being a boon for schools run by extremists. Liberals worry that they can be used to bolster Christian fundamentalists as much as others don’t want them to aid schools that might promote Islamism.

But the question of extremist schools is a red herring that ought not to be allowed to derail choice in Tennessee or anywhere else.

Public schools may not be the only kind of public education, but that doesn’t mean states don’t have the right and the responsibility to ensure that any institution, be it a public charter, private or parochial adhere to basic standards and teach core curriculum items such as civics. Whether a school is private, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist should not be an issue, provided that it adhere to general standards including instruction in democratic values along with reading, writing, arithmetic as well faith.

It needs to be remembered that prohibitions against public funding of religion-based schools dates back not to the founders of our republic–most of whom considered faith to be an integral part of education–but to the late 19th century. It was then that so-called “Blaine amendments”—named after James G. Blaine, the 1884 Republican presidential candidate—swept the nation fueled by a wave of anti-Catholic prejudice. Their purpose was to hamstring Catholic parochial schools because Protestant bigots saw them as tools of a papist conspiracy that would allow the pope to take over the United States.

Americans should look back on that madness with regret and shame, but it is no coincidence that an effort to undo a Blaine-style ban on funding non-government schools should be derailed by a different variety of the same hateful virus. Radical separationism of the sort that would prohibit allowing government funds to follow children to religious schools isn’t necessarily identical with prejudice, but is unsurprising to see this cause going back to its biased roots.

The cause of school choice is rooted in good public policy and the needs of children who deserve an escape route from a disastrous public school system that has heretofore only been the privilege of the wealthy. It can be defended against misleading charges that it will benefit extremists. But as was the case in our country’s past, it remains vulnerable to ancient hates that continue to resurface.

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Religious Persecution and Safe Havens

In recent months, a new consensus has emerged: For the first time in millennia, Judaism has lost its title as the world’s most persecuted religion; today, that dubious honor goes to Christianity. “Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers,” wrote Rupert Shortt in a 54-page report for the London-based Civitas institute in December, which meticulously documented their persecution on a country-by-country basis. Even politicians have begun grasping this fact: German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly deemed Christianity “the most persecuted religion in the world” in November. In short, as one commentator put it last week, Christians have become the new Jews.

There are two reasons why Christianity has displaced Judaism as the world’s most persecuted religion. One, obviously, is increased persecution of Christians, which stems largely from the rise of radical Islam: Though non-Islamic countries like China also repress Christians, only radical Islamists kill them wholesale. The other is that today, Jews face less persecution than ever before in history. And that is entirely due to the existence of the State of Israel.

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In recent months, a new consensus has emerged: For the first time in millennia, Judaism has lost its title as the world’s most persecuted religion; today, that dubious honor goes to Christianity. “Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers,” wrote Rupert Shortt in a 54-page report for the London-based Civitas institute in December, which meticulously documented their persecution on a country-by-country basis. Even politicians have begun grasping this fact: German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly deemed Christianity “the most persecuted religion in the world” in November. In short, as one commentator put it last week, Christians have become the new Jews.

There are two reasons why Christianity has displaced Judaism as the world’s most persecuted religion. One, obviously, is increased persecution of Christians, which stems largely from the rise of radical Islam: Though non-Islamic countries like China also repress Christians, only radical Islamists kill them wholesale. The other is that today, Jews face less persecution than ever before in history. And that is entirely due to the existence of the State of Israel.

Were hundreds of thousands of Jews still scattered throughout the Islamic world, as was true a century ago, they would assuredly face persecution no less severe than Christians do. But they aren’t, because most have relocated to Israel. In fact, for the last 64 years, any Jew anywhere who felt sufficiently threatened to want to leave his country has been able to find sanctuary in Israel, and Israel has repeatedly gone to great lengths to try to rescue those who want to leave but can’t.

Many Christians, too, might like to leave places like Egypt or Iraq. But unlike the Jews, they have nowhere to go: No country on earth will automatically open its doors for them–with no questions asked and no numerical limitations–the way Israel does for Jews. And still less would any country do so for Jews if Israel didn’t exist.

A decade ago, at the height of the intifada, a fellow Israeli complained to me that Israel had failed in its mission to be a safe haven for Jews. On the contrary, she charged, Israel today is the most dangerous place on earth for Jews to live.

Technically, she’s correct: A Jew in Israel is far more likely to be killed just because he is Jewish than a Jew in Europe or North America. What she failed to grasp is that this is precisely the measure of Israel’s success: Israel today is the most dangerous place to be a Jew because any Jew living someplace more dangerous can relocate to Israel instead–and almost all of them have. In short, the fact that almost no Jews today live someplace more dangerous than Israel is proof positive of Israel’s success as a haven.

Though there are many reasons why Israel, for all its flaws, deserves support from all decent people, and especially all Jews, this is the most basic of all: If Israel didn’t exist, Judaism would still top the list of the world’s most persecuted religions, and Jews would be slaughtered throughout the Islamic world just as their Christian brethren are today. And nobody who cares about the Jewish people–or about saving human lives in general–could truly think that alternative is preferable.

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Sound Familiar? Islamists Storm U.S. Embassy and America Apologizes

Is it possible to learn from history? Apparently not if you are an American president determined to win the love of the Islamic world. Over 33 years ago, Islamist rioters stormed an American embassy. U.S. sovereignty was violated and hostages were taken. The immediate response from America, though, was conciliatory–as if those who had insulted the United States could be convinced to think better of their target if those who had just been attacked made enough apologies. The result was the Iran hostage crisis that helped bring down the administration of Jimmy Carter. You might think American diplomats would have learned the lessons of Carter’s Iran debacle but judging by the statement issued today by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, perhaps that chapter of history is no longer considered required reading in the age of Obama.

Today a mob numbering in the hundreds stormed the Cairo embassy on the pretext of being upset about the alleged appearance on YouTube of a film made by Egyptian-American that is derogatory to Islam. The mob scaled the wall of the embassy, entered the courtyard and tore down and burned the U.S. flag that flew over the diplomatic enclave and raised in its place a black Islamic banner that is associated with al-Qaeda. According to the Associated Press, no embassy personnel were hurt since nearly all of them had fled the compound before the mob arrived. Egyptian riot police did not stop the rioters.

In response to this outrage, this is the statement issued by the United States in Egypt:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others

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Is it possible to learn from history? Apparently not if you are an American president determined to win the love of the Islamic world. Over 33 years ago, Islamist rioters stormed an American embassy. U.S. sovereignty was violated and hostages were taken. The immediate response from America, though, was conciliatory–as if those who had insulted the United States could be convinced to think better of their target if those who had just been attacked made enough apologies. The result was the Iran hostage crisis that helped bring down the administration of Jimmy Carter. You might think American diplomats would have learned the lessons of Carter’s Iran debacle but judging by the statement issued today by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, perhaps that chapter of history is no longer considered required reading in the age of Obama.

Today a mob numbering in the hundreds stormed the Cairo embassy on the pretext of being upset about the alleged appearance on YouTube of a film made by Egyptian-American that is derogatory to Islam. The mob scaled the wall of the embassy, entered the courtyard and tore down and burned the U.S. flag that flew over the diplomatic enclave and raised in its place a black Islamic banner that is associated with al-Qaeda. According to the Associated Press, no embassy personnel were hurt since nearly all of them had fled the compound before the mob arrived. Egyptian riot police did not stop the rioters.

In response to this outrage, this is the statement issued by the United States in Egypt:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others

No mention was made to the invasion of the embassy or the insult to the symbol of the United States that is as dear to Americans than Islam is to Egyptians. Rather than making it clear that this breach of diplomatic immunity and common decency requires the apology of the Egyptian government and the punishment of those responsible, the Obama administration bowed and apologized.

Americans do respect all faiths and religious believers including Islam. But we also respect freedom of speech and that gives the person who made the offending film — a member of the Egyptian Coptic faith that has suffered bitter persecution and violence at the hands of the Muslim majority — the right to say what he likes whether the Egyptians like it or not. More to the point, it is not the business of the State Department, the Cairo Embassy or any American official to apologize for or to in any engage in the controversy over this film, let alone issue a statement that appears to rationalize a violent assault on a U.S. embassy on the 9/11 anniversary.

Ruthie Blum’s new book To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama and the “Arab Spring,” traces the eerie parallels between Carter’s Middle East blunders and those of the current administration as it has failed to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat and the Arab Spring. The fiasco in Cairo is just one more piece of evidence proving her thesis.

It should also be pointed out that Democrats have scoffed at Mitt Romney’s criticism of President Obama’s inveterate apologizing for America and claimed it was an inaccurate Republican calumny of the president. Romney, who has been taking an unjustified beating in the press on foreign and defense policy, should have something to say about this latest instance of Obama’s supine attitude toward America’s foes.

UPDATE: Subsequent developments have made it clear that the timeline for the U.S. embassy apology was not as damning as it first appeared. Further thoughts on why the problem here is bigger than one ill-considered apology can be found here.

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Pinkwashing? Gay Rights Shows the Difference Between Israel and Palestinians

Some people don’t want to talk about gay rights in the Middle East. The left calls it “pinkwashing” and treats it as irrelevant to any analysis of the region. But it remains a fascinating window into two societies. As the Times of Israel reports, gay Palestinian Arabs are flocking to supposedly repressive Israel. In the West Bank and Gaza, they face persecution and death. In Israel, they find freedom.

Palestinian gays not only can’t come out at home. If they want to meet as a group, the only place they can go is Tel Aviv, where as the Times of Israel notes, a monthly gathering called the Palestinian Queer Party convenes. That’s because the repressive Muslim culture that predominates in the territories considers gays to be anathemas while Israel is a liberal democracy where, despite deep differences between various elements of society, people can live and do as they please. Though the “Israel is apartheid” crowd is at pains to stifle discussion of the gay angle to the Middle East conflict, it actually tells you all you need to know about the difference between the two societies and why hopes for peace need to wait until Palestinians embrace freedom for their own people as well as coexistence with Jews.

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Some people don’t want to talk about gay rights in the Middle East. The left calls it “pinkwashing” and treats it as irrelevant to any analysis of the region. But it remains a fascinating window into two societies. As the Times of Israel reports, gay Palestinian Arabs are flocking to supposedly repressive Israel. In the West Bank and Gaza, they face persecution and death. In Israel, they find freedom.

Palestinian gays not only can’t come out at home. If they want to meet as a group, the only place they can go is Tel Aviv, where as the Times of Israel notes, a monthly gathering called the Palestinian Queer Party convenes. That’s because the repressive Muslim culture that predominates in the territories considers gays to be anathemas while Israel is a liberal democracy where, despite deep differences between various elements of society, people can live and do as they please. Though the “Israel is apartheid” crowd is at pains to stifle discussion of the gay angle to the Middle East conflict, it actually tells you all you need to know about the difference between the two societies and why hopes for peace need to wait until Palestinians embrace freedom for their own people as well as coexistence with Jews.

The stories in the Times of Israel piece don’t speak to the national conflict between Arabs and Jews. But they do speak volumes about one of the main points Israel’s defenders harp on: the fact that it is the region’s only true democracy. What the Palestinians have created for themselves in their independent state in all but name in Gaza and their autonomous government in the West Bank are two more places on the globe where human rights are not respected and violence rules.

The connection between the violence the ruling Palestinian groups use on their own people is not unrelated to the violence they attempt to inflict on the Israelis. The absence of political freedom makes peace with Israel a difficult proposition under the best of circumstances. But the influence of radical Islamist ideology, even in the West Bank that is supposedly more liberal than Hamas-ruled Gaza, makes it even more unlikely. That’s why the ability of the Islamist clerics and their supporters to terrorize gays is an indicator of a lack of desire for peace.

Israel is a free country, something you wouldn’t know if your only view of the Jewish state was delivered to you by mainstream media coverage. The anti-Israel crowd can call mentions of gay rights “pinkwashing.” But all that means is that they don’t wish to acknowledge the difference between Israeli and Palestinian cultures.

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Islamophobia at the BBC

Earlier this week, the director-general of Britain’s license fee-funded BBC, Mark Thompson, gave an astonishing interview, revealing that the BBC consciously and deliberately treats Muslim themes more sensitively than those pertaining to Christianity. A practicing Catholic, he treats Christianity with less sensitivity because it is ‘‘pretty broad-shouldered.’’ Islam, however, is a different story.

Non-Christian faiths are more aligned with ethnicity, he explained, and race is more sensitive, therefore careful treatment is warranted. Moreover, broadcasters must consider the possibility of ”violent threats” when crafting satire:

‘‘Without question, ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms,’ is different from, ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms and I am loading my AK47 as I write.’ This definitely raises the stakes.’’ Read More

Earlier this week, the director-general of Britain’s license fee-funded BBC, Mark Thompson, gave an astonishing interview, revealing that the BBC consciously and deliberately treats Muslim themes more sensitively than those pertaining to Christianity. A practicing Catholic, he treats Christianity with less sensitivity because it is ‘‘pretty broad-shouldered.’’ Islam, however, is a different story.

Non-Christian faiths are more aligned with ethnicity, he explained, and race is more sensitive, therefore careful treatment is warranted. Moreover, broadcasters must consider the possibility of ”violent threats” when crafting satire:

‘‘Without question, ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms,’ is different from, ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms and I am loading my AK47 as I write.’ This definitely raises the stakes.’’

This much has long been obvious to observers of Western media, but that does little to diminish the odium of the admission, because it proudly elevates hypocrisy and double standard (again, both longstanding features of BBC coverage) to policy. For instance, when the BBC aired “Jerry Springer: The Opera” in 2005, it did so in the face of Christian opposition. In the interview, Thompson was asked whether it would have been aired had it dealt with Islamic themes. He said no.

It is noteworthy that the inexplicable obsession with race in Britain – historically less racked with racial, than with religious, conflict – has now impinged on religious sensitivity. This is, in a sense, unsurprising, for those very conflicts engendered a spirit of religious toleration – toleration which made Christianity so ‘‘broad-shouldered.’’ Toleration, of course, is best pursued reciprocally, but, unlike the Hindu, Sikh, and many decent Muslim immigrants to the UK, the Islamists have yet to learn that. Acquiescing to their demands made at bayonet point is, it seems, to forego the very lessons the British learned centuries ago.

Furthermore, the sensitivity afforded to non-Christian faiths because they are more aligned with ethnicity is obviously unfair, not just to Christianity, but to Judaism also, which, though legally considered in racial terms (anti-Semitism falls under race-relations legislation), is culturally not seen as an ethnicity – a category reserved for more recent immigrants. Today, though, Judaism is aligned rather with a nationality, and the BBC’s remarkably biased and even inaccurate reportage of Israel is no less ‘‘insensitive’’ – indeed it is considerably dangerous to the safety of Jews in Britain and elsewhere. Thompson sees insensitivity toward Islam as ‘‘racism by other means’’ towards Muslims. If so, then its treatment of Israel is ‘‘racism by other means’’ toward Jews. The BBC’s ongoing refusal to release its internal Balen Report, which evaluates its coverage of the Middle East, can only continue to inspire the conclusion that the BBC knows this too.

At the end of the day, the ethnicity rationale is nonsense. This is literal Islamphobia: fear of Islamists, and the ‘‘AK-47s’’ they wield and use. There is a welcome debate to be had about the limits of acceptable religious satire, but the BBC cannot have it both ways. And the lesson the BBC appears to be teaching – a lesson we always knew and apparently is also policy – is that complaints get more credence if they are backed up by force.

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Afghan Apologies Beside the Point

The latest attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan put the ongoing debate about the many apologies made by President Obama and members of our government over the inadvertent burning of Korans by U.S. personnel in new perspective. While I completely agree with the points that Max Boot made on Thursday about the president being right to apologize, it’s clear that it doesn’t matter how many times Obama or Secretary of State Clinton or any American general utter contrite statements. The incident has merely served as the latest excuse for Islamist violence and riots whose purpose is to vent hatred against the West and perhaps also to serve the interests of our al Qaeda and Taliban foes in Afghanistan.

As Max said, the United States is not in Afghanistan as a favor to President Hamid Karzai but to buttress our security needs. Yet as much as Obama is obligated to say what he can to lessen the chances of attacks on U.S. soldiers there, the spectacle of continual apologies from members of the administration does grate on the sensibilities of many Americans. As with previous incidents in which Muslims sensibilities are said to be offended, whatever sympathy we might have for those who are angry about the incident is overwhelmed by disgust at their resort to violence and murder in the name of their faith. The problem here is not so much what Obama said in this instance but a willingness by this administration and much of the mainstream press to buy into a false narrative in which the history of interactions between the United States and the Muslim world is a one-sided story of Western insults to Islam. As Charles Krauthammer said on FOX News, Americans are sick of seeing their government grovel. It is high time to point out that Muslim violence against non-believers far outweighs the few isolated incidents for which a Western apology to Muslims is in order.

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The latest attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan put the ongoing debate about the many apologies made by President Obama and members of our government over the inadvertent burning of Korans by U.S. personnel in new perspective. While I completely agree with the points that Max Boot made on Thursday about the president being right to apologize, it’s clear that it doesn’t matter how many times Obama or Secretary of State Clinton or any American general utter contrite statements. The incident has merely served as the latest excuse for Islamist violence and riots whose purpose is to vent hatred against the West and perhaps also to serve the interests of our al Qaeda and Taliban foes in Afghanistan.

As Max said, the United States is not in Afghanistan as a favor to President Hamid Karzai but to buttress our security needs. Yet as much as Obama is obligated to say what he can to lessen the chances of attacks on U.S. soldiers there, the spectacle of continual apologies from members of the administration does grate on the sensibilities of many Americans. As with previous incidents in which Muslims sensibilities are said to be offended, whatever sympathy we might have for those who are angry about the incident is overwhelmed by disgust at their resort to violence and murder in the name of their faith. The problem here is not so much what Obama said in this instance but a willingness by this administration and much of the mainstream press to buy into a false narrative in which the history of interactions between the United States and the Muslim world is a one-sided story of Western insults to Islam. As Charles Krauthammer said on FOX News, Americans are sick of seeing their government grovel. It is high time to point out that Muslim violence against non-believers far outweighs the few isolated incidents for which a Western apology to Muslims is in order.

The problem here is not that Obama and Clinton continue to apologize in a vain effort to assuage the Afghan mobs. It is the mute acceptance of a situation in which any insult to Islam by any American or European under any circumstance is seen by the Muslim world as a justification for violence and murder while no amount of bloodshed or act of terror or deliberate insult to non-Muslim faiths is considered worthy of any notice by either side.

Throughout the Muslim world, Christian churches are burned and Jews are persecuted, as are Bahais and other minorities. Christians are under siege in Egypt. Jewish shrines have been attacked and desecrated in the West Bank. Synagogues were burned in Gaza. Yet none of this is considered important enough to notice by most in the West let alone to demand an apology from Muslims. Attacks and murder of Israeli Jews in the name of Islam over the years has become such a routine event that such crimes must be of the spectacular variety to attract much attention. The official media of Egypt, Iran and the Palestinian Authority crank out vicious hate speech about Jews and few care.

Yet let a cartoon satirizing the Prophet Muhammad be published or if a crackpot American pastor burns a Koran to get attention and we are told these acts are sufficient to justify mayhem and bloodshed.

It is to this set of unfortunate facts, and not just the president’s statement, that many Americans are reacting this week. This resentment is not so much at an apology that was probably be justified as it was at the entire tenor of this administration’s attitude toward the Muslim world. This is, after all, the same president who went to Cairo in June of 2009 to reach out to Muslims with a speech that symbolized his attempt to appease Islamic sensibilities. Predictably, that effort failed, as did his overtures to the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring protests. The weakness of our posture has only invited more extremist attempts to inflate minor incidents into causes for violence and murder.

America’s dilemma is that it is locked in a life-and-death struggle with Islamist forces. After all, the only reason we are in Afghanistan is that its Taliban government allowed its soil to be used a base for attacks on American citizens such as the 9/11 atrocities. In order to prevail we must seek and win allies within the Muslim world who want nothing to do with the Islamist agenda of unending war. To do that, we must show respect to their faith but so long as we accept a situation where we do not demand or expect respect in return, we are doomed to failure.

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