Commentary Magazine


Topic: Islam

The Sydney Siege and the Lone-Wolf Copout

The phenomenon of “lone-wolf” terrorism is vexing to policymakers because it is so hard to predict and prevent. But it also has too often provided an excuse–a way for the political class or security forces to avoid any blame for a successful domestic attack. Even worse, anti-anti-terrorism commentators use lone-wolf attacks to cast doubt on the whole war on terror enterprise as doing more harm than good, or at least not doing much good. Something similar seems to be taking shape in the wake of the Sydney, Australia siege this week.

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The phenomenon of “lone-wolf” terrorism is vexing to policymakers because it is so hard to predict and prevent. But it also has too often provided an excuse–a way for the political class or security forces to avoid any blame for a successful domestic attack. Even worse, anti-anti-terrorism commentators use lone-wolf attacks to cast doubt on the whole war on terror enterprise as doing more harm than good, or at least not doing much good. Something similar seems to be taking shape in the wake of the Sydney, Australia siege this week.

Iranian immigrant Man Haron Monis took a Sydney café full of customers hostage for about sixteen hours; Monis and two of the hostages were killed before the café was cleared. Monis reportedly had recently converted from Shia to Sunni Islam and professed his desire to hang an ISIS flag during the siege (he displayed a more generic Islamic flag while demanding to be brought an ISIS flag). He holds extremist views and has what appears to be a violent history.

And yet, the narrative forming is one of failed antiterror legislation. As the New York Times reports:

The laws, which passed the Australian Parliament with wide support, made it an offense to advocate terrorism, even on social media; banned Australians from going to fight overseas; allowed the authorities to confiscate and cancel passports; and provided for the sharing of information between security services and defense personnel. The government also deployed hundreds of police officers in counterterrorism sweeps across the country.

None of these measures prevented a man known to both the police and leaders of Muslim organizations as deeply troubled and with a long history of run-ins with the law from laying siege to a popular downtown cafe in Sydney, Australia, this week and holding hostages for 16 hours. The attacker, Man Haron Monis, an Iranian immigrant, and two of the 17 hostages were killed early Tuesday amid the chaos of a police raid. …

The case, like recent lone-wolf jihadist attacks in Brussels, Ottawa and New York, raises troubling questions about the ability of governments to monitor homegrown, radicalized would-be jihadists and prevent them from doing harm.

That’s true as far as it goes … but it doesn’t go very far. There was, in fact, plenty that could have been done and the authorities knew it. As the Times notes, Monis was charged last year as an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife (she was apparently stabbed and then burned alive). He was out on bail. Then in April he was charged in an older sexual assault case. And here’s the kicker: “Forty more counts of sexual assault relating to six other women were later added to that case.”

So here’s what we have: a Muslim extremist whose current charge sheet includes accessory to murder and more than forty counts of sexual assault who was granted bail. He was free until trial, despite all this. So here’s one obvious measure the authorities could have taken: deny him bail, or even rescind bail once the assault charges started getting counted by the dozen. You shouldn’t have to wave the ISIS flag to get attention; murder and sexual assault over a period of more than a decade should be enough.

According to the L.A. Times, Australia’s bail laws were amended to make such action easier, but not in time to stop Monis. That may or may not be a dodge, but it certainly makes clear that there is something that could have been done to keep Monis off the streets. Throwing up your hands and sighing “lone wolf” is just a copout.

What else can governments learn about domestic extremists from the case? Here’s one more clue, from the New York Times:

In Australia, the government even had information that the Islamic State sought to recruit just such an attacker to carry out a bold attack in Sydney. “All that would be needed to conduct such an attack is a knife, a camera-phone and a victim,” Mr. Abbott warned Parliament in September.

Mr. Monis, who was reported to be armed with a gun, did not appear to have put a great deal of planning into his attack at the Lindt Cafe. Lacking an Islamic State banner, he demanded one in exchange for several hostages, local news media reported.

ISIS and groups like them are thus a domestic threat in two ways. First, the obvious: they can plan attacks on the homeland and try to attract jihadists to a war zone who have Western passports. They can provide training and contacts for someone looking to go back home and cause trouble.

And second, they can plan terrorist attacks from abroad without ever having to enter the target country and without the domestic attacker ever having to leave. This is the intersection of foreign policy and domestic security. If ISIS is seeking to turn disaffected radicals into one-man sleeper agents then the “lone wolf” tag isn’t very edifying–or accurate. And it points to a lesson about the futility of shortcuts: There is no substitute for actually defeating the enemy.

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Sydney Siege and Monitoring Extremists

In the annals of terrorism, 2014 will be notable for two trends: the rise of ISIS, eclipsing al-Qaeda, and the rise of “lone wolf” terrorists carrying out heinous attacks with little if any help from anyone. The two trends are, in fact, related, because ISIS is now becoming as much an inspiration for violent fanatics as al-Qaeda once was.

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In the annals of terrorism, 2014 will be notable for two trends: the rise of ISIS, eclipsing al-Qaeda, and the rise of “lone wolf” terrorists carrying out heinous attacks with little if any help from anyone. The two trends are, in fact, related, because ISIS is now becoming as much an inspiration for violent fanatics as al-Qaeda once was.

Both trends are evident in Australia which saw a 16-hour siege of a cafe in Sydney carried out by a 50-year-old Iranian immigrant calling himself Man Haron Monis, a self-styled sheikh who has preached an extremist gospel and recently converted from Shiite to Sunni Islam. His own lawyer calls him a “damaged goods individual” who was apparently on bail in two different criminal cases–he is charged “with being an accessory before and after the fact in the murder of his ex-wife, Noleen Hayson Pal, who was stabbed and set on fire” and with “the indecent and sexual assault of a woman in western Sydney.” In yet another case, he “pleaded guilty in 2013 to 12 charges related to the sending of poison-pen letters to the families of Australian servicemen who were killed overseas.”

What a charmer. A marginal, criminal character, Monis was apparently spurred into taking hostages because he was exercised about Australian military actions, in cooperation with the U.S. and other allies, against ISIS.

There is little that anyone can do to anticipate such random attacks but there is more that can be done to monitor known extremists such as Monis. Unfortunately standing in the way is a misconceived reading of the freedom of religion which is a bedrock of any free society.

It’s absolutely true that anyone should have the freedom to practice any religion–as long as it doesn’t involve advocating or carrying out acts of violence. Extremists should not be able to hide in a mosque any more than in a synagogue or church. That is why it is deeply unfortunate that Mayor Bill de Blasio shut down a New York Police Department program that sent plainclothes officers to mosques, among other locations, to look for signs of terrorist plotting.

Shutting down this surveillance is a politically correct gesture that arises from the same mindset that had Australians tweeting “#IllRideWithYou” after the Sydney siege started to make clear they would accept taxi rides from drivers in traditional Muslim garb–as if the real problem that Australia faces is “Islamophobia” rather than Islamist terrorism. But while silly, the Sydney tweet campaign was also a harmless gesture. De Blasio’s actions are far more significant. They make New Yorkers less safe from the kind of lone wolf attack that just hit Sydney.

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No, Iran Isn’t Protector of the Shi’ites

Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry shrugged off Iranian military involvement in Iraq. Responding to senators’ concern regarding recent Iranian airstrikes, Kerry reportedly said: “Iraq is 80 percent Shi‘a. There are interests.”

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Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry shrugged off Iranian military involvement in Iraq. Responding to senators’ concern regarding recent Iranian airstrikes, Kerry reportedly said: “Iraq is 80 percent Shi‘a. There are interests.”

With all due respect to Mr. Kerry, his comments reflect ignorance of Iranian behavior, Iraqi Shi‘ites, and religious freedom. That the Islamic Republic is the only protector of Shi‘ites around the globe has long been a staple of Iranian propaganda. But the concept of clerical rule imposed by Ayatollah Khomeini (and subsequently by his stepchild, Hezbollah in Lebanon) has long been an outlier among traditional Shi‘ites because it violates the separation of mosque and state at the heart of traditional Shi‘ism.

In short, ordinary Shi‘ites believe that the religious authority to follow is an individual, personal decision and not a state decision. Theologically, mainstream Shi‘ism teaches that only with the re-emergence of the Mahdi, Shi‘ism’s messianic figure, will there be perfect, incorruptible, Islamic government on earth. Therefore, until his return, government is by definition imperfect, corrupt, and un-Islamic, whatever the claims of the politicians who lead it. Khomeini turned this on its head, effectively arguing that the Prophet Muhammad didn’t separate religion and state, so neither would he and that Shi‘ite religious figures could act as the Mahdi’s deputy. Most Shi‘ite religious leaders don’t accept Khomeini and Khamenei’s view, however, nor do most individuals, either in Iran or outside it.

Independent Shi‘ism is, more than political reformism or anything emerging from the amorphous Green Movement, the true Achilles’ heel for the Iranian regime. It created militias like the Badr Corps and Jaysh al-Mahdi not simply to fight Americans, but rather to impose through force of arms and intimidation what is not in the hearts and minds of ordinary Iraqi Shi‘ites. Here’s the basic problem for the Iranian leadership. As supreme leader, Ali Khamenei claims to be the deputy of the Messiah on Earth. Khamenei’s religious credentials are greatly exaggerated, however, and every time he has sought to put himself forward as the chief source of emulation for the Islamic world, for example after the death of Grand Ayatollah Araki in 1994, he has been laughed off the stage, and subsequently withdrew his name to save face.

Earlier this year, my colleague Ahmad Majidyar and I published a short monograph based on travel and interviews which surveyed all the Shi‘ite communities surrounding Iran, and examining the nuanced and diverse strategies each of these communities embraced to maintain their own independence from Iranian attempts to speak and act on their behalf (and AEI produced a short video for its launch, here). Iraqi Shi‘ites have struggled to preserve and protect the religious independence of both Najaf and Karbala from those in Tehran who would seek to speak on their behalf. The Iranian government surely pressures Iraq to do its bidding, a job made all the easier by the American withdrawal. But Iraqi Shi‘ites don’t want to be Iranian puppets, and never have. During the Iran-Iraq War, the Iraqi Shi‘ites did most of the fighting; they didn’t defect en masse just because Khomeini claimed to be the voice of the Shi‘ites. In 2013, the governor of Basra inaugurated a new bridge (built with U.S. money) over the Shatt al-Arab. It was no coincidence that he chose to inaugurate it with a fireworks display on the anniversary of Khomeini’s death. The implication was clear: even Iraqi Shi’ites celebrate on a day when the Islamic Republic officially mourns.

Iran may want to defeat the Islamic State, but they do nothing altruistically. Once they enter Iraq, they will not leave simply because they cannot afford to have any Iraqi ayatollah resident in Najaf or Karbala contradict the word of the supreme leader. How ironic it is that President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry defer so much more to the Iranians than even Iraqi Shi‘ites do. And how sad it is that the United States continues to treat religious freedom in the Middle East, whether practiced by Jews, Christians, or Shi‘ite Muslims, so cavalierly. Make no mistake: the Iranian regime isn’t the protector of the Shi‘ites; it is among their chief oppressors.

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Who Will Listen to Pope’s Call on Middle East Christians?

During his three day visit to Turkey, Pope Francis joined with the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I to offer some words of solidarity with the Middle East’s fast vanishing Christian communities. The sentiments expressed here were valuable, not least because in their joint statement the two Christian leaders called for “an appropriate response on the part of the international community.” Yet one only has to look at the comments by Turkey’s president Erdogan to see just what they are up against.

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During his three day visit to Turkey, Pope Francis joined with the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I to offer some words of solidarity with the Middle East’s fast vanishing Christian communities. The sentiments expressed here were valuable, not least because in their joint statement the two Christian leaders called for “an appropriate response on the part of the international community.” Yet one only has to look at the comments by Turkey’s president Erdogan to see just what they are up against.

The Pope’s comments no doubt went some considerable way toward adding moral clarity to this matter, while President Erdogan—in previous statements—has already been busily muddying the waters. So while on his flight back to Rome the Pope called for Islamic leaders to condemn terrorism and specifically linked the plight of the Middle East’s Christians to the rise of ISIS, Erdogan breathtakingly blamed the rise of ISIS on alleged Islamophobia in the West–a demonstrably absurd claim that was no doubt in part a desperate attempt to divert attention away from Christian suffering and to instead reframe the conversation around Muslim victimhood and the wickedness of the West.

For a sense of just how outlandish the Turkish president’s rhetoric on the subject has now become, in his speech just prior to the pope’s arrival Erdogan stated “Foreigners love oil, gold, diamonds and the cheap labour force of the Islamic world. They like the conflicts, fights and quarrels of the Middle East. Believe me, they don’t like us. They look like friends, but they want us dead, they like seeing our children die.” It is worth noting that Turkey’s own Christian population has diminished considerably. A century ago 20 percent of those living in what is now Turkey were Christian; today that figure stands at a pitiful 0.2 percent. The Greek Orthodox population has been whittled down to fewer than 3,000 while what remains of the Armenian Christian community lives in almost constant fear. Just a few years back Hrant Dink–editor of a leading Armenian newspaper—was murdered by Turkish nationalists.

An unrepentant Erdogan can blame an Islamophobic West for the rise of ISIS all he wants, but his country stands accused of allowing ISIS fighters to flow freely into Iraq and Syria where they have carried out the most unspeakable crimes of murder, rape, and torture against the Christian communities that they find in their path. Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew spoke of how unacceptable they find the prospect of a Middle East free of its native Christianity. And yet, if no one is willing to intervene seriously in the region, then that is precisely what is going to happen.

Knowing this, one has to wonder why Christian leaders have so far failed to create a serious campaign to pressure Western governments to back serious intervention on humanitarian grounds. After all, in the 1990s the West—led by the United States—intervened in Bosnia to stop the massacre of the Muslim population of the Balkans and thus prevent a genocide on Europe’s doorstep that most of Western Europe appeared ready to sit back and let happen. Shouldn’t Christians now be demanding the same kind of meaningful intervention on their behalf?

Christian groups have in recent years campaigned for all kinds of people and causes all around the world. Perhaps it is in some way an expression of the Christian virtue of selflessness that churches have promoted other causes over the welfare of their own coreligionists in the Middle East. Yet it is particularly striking how the denominations at the liberal end of Protestantism have so enthusiastically taken up the campaign against Israel, while almost ignoring the plight of Christians in the same region. From the American Presbyterians and the British Methodists with their boycotts to the annual “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference, it’s the same story. And then there is the Church of England’s flagship St. James’s church in London which, as Melanie Phillips recounted in COMMENTARY earlier this year, previously marked the Christmas festivities with their “Bethlehem Unwrapped” campaign featuring a nine meter high replica of Israel’s security barrier.

This Christmas can we expect to see “ISIS Unwrapped” at St. James’s? Of course not, just more events about the Palestinians. If these denominations focused even half the energy they put into demonizing Israel into instead campaigning in solidarity with Christians in the Middle East then we might see this issue receiving the kind of public attention it deserves. It was of course the former head of the Anglican Church, Rowan Williams, who insinuated that the West was to blame for provoking the persecution of the Middle East’s Christians. And so while it is encouraging that the Pope has decried what ISIS is doing to Christian communities, one wonders how many Christians in the West will actually be more sympathetic to Erdogan’s claim that the real culprit here is Western Islamophobia for having “made ISIS do it” in the first place.

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Erdoğan’s Historical Truthiness

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s declaration that Muslims discovered America, speculation he read in a pamphlet which lacked supporting evidence, tells a lot about the Turkish president’s mind. After all, anyone who has traveled along the book stores of Beirut, or among the book sellers’ stalls in Cairo, will find dozens of similar pamphlets claiming that Islam was actually responsible for everything from the discovery of gravity to the moon landing. And let’s not forget that Shakespeare was really Sheikh Zubayr bin William, a Muslim Arab living in Britain.

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Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s declaration that Muslims discovered America, speculation he read in a pamphlet which lacked supporting evidence, tells a lot about the Turkish president’s mind. After all, anyone who has traveled along the book stores of Beirut, or among the book sellers’ stalls in Cairo, will find dozens of similar pamphlets claiming that Islam was actually responsible for everything from the discovery of gravity to the moon landing. And let’s not forget that Shakespeare was really Sheikh Zubayr bin William, a Muslim Arab living in Britain.

Erdoğan, for his part, doubled down on his claim, demanding that his theory now be taught as reality in Turkey’s schools.

While Western officials might shrug and chuckle at Erdoğan’s declaration, it’s important to realize it’s no outlier for the Turkish president. A Turkish interlocutor (evidently paraphrasing this column by Yılmaz Özdil) noted how historians in Turkey have long chafed at Erdoğan’s theories:

In Antalya, Erdoğan explained how “the word Olympics takes its name from a mountain near Antalya, Mt. Olympus.” The mountain is in northern Greece, and nowhere near Antalya.

It’s not just geography that confuses Mr. Erdoğan. When discussing the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 CE, a battle in which the Muslim Seljuqs defeated the larger Byzantine army and captured the Byzantine emperor, Erdoğan declared, “Seljuq soldiers fought with their swords against the iron balls of the Byzantine artillery, raining on their heads.” Artillery and gunpowder didn’t come to the region for another three centuries. Oops.

Then, again, this wasn’t the only time he was publicly confused about the Seljuqs. In one speech, he described Ankara as “the capital of the Seljuqs.” In reality, though, Konya was the Seljuq capital. Ankara, at the time, was little more than a small town or large village.

Fast forward about 500 years, to the reign of the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. Back in 2011, Erdoğan went on a rant about a popular Turkish serial depicting his life and times, complaining that it concentrated too much on his lavish life in the harem. Erdoğan explained that Suleiman had in reality spent 30 of his 46 years on the throne on horseback, running from battle to battle. During Suleiman’s reign, however, the Ottomans were at war for just ten years, and so were at peace for 36.

He has repeatedly become exacerbated by the constraints of facts. When some historians began using old documents and records, and historical artifacts to research old Istanbul churches, Erdoğan grew annoyed that anyone would record or discuss Istanbul’s pre-Islamic past. He chided, “They don’t know Istanbul’s history. They go around with magnifying glass in their hand like [the Byzantine Emperor] Romanus Diogenes.” He apparently confused Romanus IV with Diogenes of Sinope, a Greek philosopher who lived more than a millennium before, and who went around with a lantern, not a magnifying glass. Philosophers, however, have not been his thing. After all, he once said, “If the Germans have Goethe and if the Spaniards have Socrates….”

Now, it’s perfectly true that other world leaders can occasionally get history wrong. George H.W. Bush once mistakenly commemorated the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day on September 7 rather than December 7. When mistakes happen, however, leaders acknowledge them. President Bush corrected himself; he didn’t order textbooks re-written to make his error the new norm.

Erdoğan may sound foolish, but the importance of his errors extends far beyond himself. Rather, they reflect the future of Turkey. Erdoğan is a product of an İmam Hatip education, the Turkish equivalent of a madrasa. Prior to Erdoğan’s rise, İmam Hatip graduates would primarily become mullahs or perhaps work in family businesses. Their lack of grounding in liberal arts and science disqualified them from most university programs and the government service which might follow. But Erdoğan has bolstered and promoted the İmam Hatips, so that their graduates now dominate Turkey’s bureaucracy. Erdoğan may be no historian, but he has become the rule rather than the exception for the Turkish government he leads. He has ensured that there are thousands if not tens of thousands of protégés marching in lockstep behind him, all of whom treat fact with disdain and embrace mindless revisionism. Welcome to the future of Turkey.

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Forfeiting Hearts and Minds in Southern Iraq

I spent the last week in Karbala, Iraq, invited by local religious authorities to speak at a conference about the writings of Imam Sejjad. Karbala is easily the most vibrant city in Iraq, and one of the most important religiously. It was the site of the martyrdom of the Imam Hussein, whom Shi‘ites venerate, and today home not only to the Shrine of Abbas, but also to the Shrine of Imam Hussein himself.

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I spent the last week in Karbala, Iraq, invited by local religious authorities to speak at a conference about the writings of Imam Sejjad. Karbala is easily the most vibrant city in Iraq, and one of the most important religiously. It was the site of the martyrdom of the Imam Hussein, whom Shi‘ites venerate, and today home not only to the Shrine of Abbas, but also to the Shrine of Imam Hussein himself.

Needless to say, after Mecca, there is no place as important for Shi‘ite Muslims than Najaf and Karbala. It is a major center of pilgrimage. During the day and a half I spent in the Shrine of Imam Hussein itself, I saw delegations of pilgrims from Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Bahrain, India, Lebanon, and Syria. Many had saved up for years to visit the shrine, just as Christians might make a trip to Bethlehem and Jerusalem and Diaspora Jews a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Beyond the casket itself, inside the shrine is a small but very rich museum dedicated to the shrine and to Imam Hussein. It is accessible to all, unlike the trend begun by Salafis to deny access to holy sites, an unfortunate phenomenon that has spread outward from Saudi Arabia to the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, and increasingly across the Sunni world. People can say what they will about Shi‘ites, but I have never been denied access to a Shi‘ite mosque, even in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The museum was excellent: it had Islamic and cultural artifacts dating back centuries, as well as photos of Saddam’s 1991 looting of the shrine, and material recovered in its aftermath. One recent display listed all the invading armies that pillaged and looted Karbala: Ottomans, Saudis, Saddam. Importantly, the United States was not listed. Some American policymakers may believe that Iraqi Shi‘ites are fools for Iran’s anti-American vitriol, but they readily see through the Islamic Republic’s propaganda and recognize the 2003 invasion for what it was: liberation.

I spoke with the museum director. He mentioned that the British ambassador had visited—“the British understand such things”—but the Americans ambassador and, indeed, the embassy has been absent. Karbala is a safe, secure city. Politicians wring their hands that the United States spent blood and treasure in Iraq, and the Iraqis don’t fully appreciate it. But, when American diplomats remain too often behind the blast walls of the American embassy, when the Islamic Republic opens a consulate in Karbala but the United States avoids the symbolic center of the Shi‘ite world, then the United States doesn’t lose hearts and minds, it forfeits them.

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Domestic Radicalization and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Israel appears to be facing a do-it-yourself terrorist offensive. By my count, based on data from this website, ten Israelis have been killed, and many more injured, since October 22 in low-tech attacks.

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Israel appears to be facing a do-it-yourself terrorist offensive. By my count, based on data from this website, ten Israelis have been killed, and many more injured, since October 22 in low-tech attacks.

The trend began on October 22 when a Palestinian rammed his car into a crowd waiting at a light-rail station in Jerusalem. A three-month-old girl and a 22-year-old woman were killed; 8 people were wounded.

On November 5, another Palestinian man drove another car into a light-rail station, this time killing a Border Police officer and injuring 14 individuals.

On November 10, in two separate incidents, Palestinian attackers stabbed and killed a 25-year-old woman near the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut and a 20-year-old soldier who was waiting at a train station in Tel Aviv. Two others were injured in the former attack.

And now on November 17, two attackers armed with a hatchet, knives, and a gun entered a synagogue in West Jerusalem and killed five people, one of them a policeman, the other four immigrants who held either joint U.S.-Israeli or joint British-Israeli citizenship. In addition three of the dead were rabbis.

This is the worst single terrorist attack in Israel in three years and arguably the worst spate of attacks since the defeat of the second intifada a decade ago. In some ways the reliance of these attackers on such primitive weapons–knives and hatchets and cars–is a sign of how successful the Israeli security services have been in shutting down the elaborate suicide-bomber networks which once terrorized Israel. This summer the Iron Dome system, moreover, showed that Israel was more or less safe from rocket attack. So terrorists have to resort to crude attacks with little planning to sow mayhem.

But as we are seeing, even crude attacks can be deadly–and not just in Israel. These “lone wolf” attacks are similar in spirit to those that we have recently seen in Ottawa, New York, Boston, and other place where fanatics inflamed by jihadist propaganda have set out to inflict indiscriminate casualties. Such attacks are inherently less deadly than more planned operations carried out by teams of people–but they are also much harder to stop.

The problem is that such attacks are typically carried out by radicalized Muslims who are citizens of the countries they attack, whether living in East Jerusalem or Cambridge, Massachusetts. And they are radicalized by propaganda that is all but impossible to stop, given the ability of jihadists to get their message out via the Internet.

For the U.S., this so far has been a relatively limited if still dangerous trend because so few American Muslims have been radicalized. For Israel, it is a rather more serious problem given that there are an estimated 1.6 million Arab citizens of Israel. If a substantial number become radicalized, Israeli leaders will face a true nightmare scenario.

Luckily that has not happened and is unlikely to happen despite all of the efforts by groups such as Hamas to raise an internal insurgency. In fact, although Arab Israelis gripe (understandably) about being second-class citizens, most realize they have richer and freer lives than if they lived in one of the dysfunctional Arab states that surround Israel.

Terrible as the recent attacks have been–and worse may be to come–the real story here may be how few Arab residents of Israel have chosen to take up arms against the Jewish state. That is, in part, to be sure, a tribute to the vigilance of the Israeli security services, but it is also a result of the fact that Israel is not a bad place to live even if you’re not Jewish.

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Survey Reveals Extent of French Muslim Anti-Semitism

A new survey has been published revealing the extent of anti-Semitism in France. But what the survey exposed most starkly was the drastic degree to which the Muslim population in France–on the whole–adheres to a radically anti-Semitic outlook. The survey exposes a worrying reality, one in which a sizable minority of the French population holds views about Jews that are by any measure bigoted. Yet when one looks at how French Muslims responded to the same questions in the survey, we see a picture of a religious and ethnic community in which an alarming majority appear to be feverishly anti-Semitic.

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A new survey has been published revealing the extent of anti-Semitism in France. But what the survey exposed most starkly was the drastic degree to which the Muslim population in France–on the whole–adheres to a radically anti-Semitic outlook. The survey exposes a worrying reality, one in which a sizable minority of the French population holds views about Jews that are by any measure bigoted. Yet when one looks at how French Muslims responded to the same questions in the survey, we see a picture of a religious and ethnic community in which an alarming majority appear to be feverishly anti-Semitic.

The recent French survey, which posed the same set of questions to both the general population and to those from Muslim backgrounds, came back with some alarming findings. It is disconcerting that, as the survey revealed, 25 percent of Frenchmen believe Jews have too much influence over the nation’s economy. But compare that to the survey’s parallel finding that 74 percent of French Muslims endorse such a view. When asked if they thought that France’s media is controlled by the Jews, 23 percent of the general population said that they did. That, however, pales in comparison when held up against the 70 percent of the French Muslims polled who held such a belief.

Interestingly, when respondents were asked a question about whether Jews exploit the Holocaust, the gap between the Muslim and general populations diminished somewhat. On this question a much larger than usual proportion of the general population, 32 percent, came out with an anti-Semitic position, answering in favor of the view that Jews use the Holocaust for their own benefit. Yet among French Muslims the numbers holding this anti-Jewish view was down on previous questions, albeit with 56 percent still answering in the affirmative.

Nor do these questions relate to Israel. When both groups were asked about the existence of a global Zionist conspiracy, both seemed less taken with this suggestion than they were with some of the others. So while 16 percent of the general population confirmed that they believe in such an outlandish notion, a similarly reduced proportion of the Muslims polled, 44 percent, held such a view.

This may be surprising. No doubt many would claim that what appears to be anti-Semitism on the part of French Muslims is in fact a somewhat high-spirited expression of solidarity for their Muslim brothers the Palestinians. And yet, according to this survey at least, French Muslims weren’t so taken with the idea of a Zionist plot. Far more popular, however, was the good old-fashioned conspiracy theory that says that Jews control the media and economy. These notions that were once the staple of European anti-Semitism now appear to have been taken up with far greater enthusiasm by the continent’s Muslim immigrants.

The findings from this survey would appear to confirm the picture painted by another from just over a year ago. That survey—released by Europe’s Agency for Fundamental Rights—found Europe’s Jews reporting that a greatly disproportionate degree of the anti-Semitism that they experienced came from the left and those identified as “Muslim extremists” than from any other group. So for instance in France, 73 percent of Jews surveyed said that they had witnessed or experienced anti-Semitism from someone with “Muslim extremist views.”

The problem with that survey was that it simply monitored the Jewish perception of anti-Semitism and so could all too easily be dismissed as nothing more than paranoia from a community that has convinced itself that it is being picked on. That has been a problem across Europe; take this piece from August that the BBC produced, seemingly with no other purpose than to downplay and question the notion that anti-Semitism is on the rise in the West.

And if there have been those who for political reasons have been reluctant to admit that anti-Semitism is a growing problem in Europe, then these same people have tended to be all the more stubborn about conceding the role that parts of Europe’s Islamic population is playing in this trend. When the infamous 2012 terror attack took place on the Jewish school in Toulouse, there was no shortage of those in the media who volunteered the hypothesis that this would turn out to be another far-right Anders Breivik-style attack. By the time of the shooting at Brussels’s Jewish Museum last May, most were prepared for news that this was the work of yet another Islamist radical.

With the anti-Jewish riots witnessed in Paris this summer, accompanied as they were by overtly anti-Semitic protests in Germany and a rise in violent anti-Semitism in Britain, European leaders do now seem ready to acknowledge that they have a problem on their hands. As yet, however, any open and public discussion of which groups are driving that problem is still well off the cards.

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Debating Islamism: How Far We’ve Come

In a viral video that just about everyone has seen by now, movie star Ben Affleck butted heads with Bill Maher about radical Islam on the latter’s HBO show. The subject was about those calling attention to the not inconsiderable support that radical Islamists like the terrorists of ISIS get from mainstream Muslims around the world. But what’s interesting about this controversy is not so much the specifics of the conversation but the way it resonated with the public. The uproar seems to show that more than 13 years after 9/11, Americans are now willing to start talking about what’s motivating terrorists.

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In a viral video that just about everyone has seen by now, movie star Ben Affleck butted heads with Bill Maher about radical Islam on the latter’s HBO show. The subject was about those calling attention to the not inconsiderable support that radical Islamists like the terrorists of ISIS get from mainstream Muslims around the world. But what’s interesting about this controversy is not so much the specifics of the conversation but the way it resonated with the public. The uproar seems to show that more than 13 years after 9/11, Americans are now willing to start talking about what’s motivating terrorists.

The crux of the argument was about whether, as Affleck passionately argued, it is racist to say that ISIS’s ideology is backed by a vast number of Muslims. The actor believes this is just prejudice. He believes that instead of calling out the Muslim world for the actions of the terrorists, we should be merely condemning the individuals involved. Like many others on the left who have promoted the myth that America responded to 9/11 with a backlash against Muslims, Affleck seems to imply that the bigger threat to the country comes from the demonization of the faith of 1.5 billion people.

In reply, Maher, ably assisted by author Sam Harris, pointed out that while there are many Muslims who oppose terrorism, the truth is that ISIS’s Islamist beliefs are shared by at least 20 percent of adherents of Islam around the world and many more than that share the same mindset even if they are not eager to don a suicide vest.

Who won? It was not so much that Maher, who is a bitter opponent of all religions, had the better argument as that Affleck had none at all. Used to operating in the liberal echo chamber of Hollywood—which shares many of Maher’s positions on most other issues—he was out of his league when forced to defend an indefensible position. His was an expression of an attitude in which facts that do not conform to leftist prejudices are ignored, not disputed. When confronted with a position that asserted the reality of contemporary Muslim political culture, he simply yelled racism, the ultimate argument decider on the left, and declared the facts unacceptable if not irrelevant.

Yet the point of interest here is not so much that Affleck, who was applauded by liberals for his stance, spoke nonsense or that Mahr had a rare moment of total clarity, but that this sort of discussion struck a nerve throughout the country.

In the aftermath of 9/11 Americans were told ad nauseam that Islam was a religion of peace, a line that has been said as much by Barack Obama as it has by George W. Bush. Indeed, Obama doubled down on this by repeatedly declaring that ISIS is not Islamic, an odd and rather debatable point of theology for an avowed Christian to make.

But in the wake of the latest ISIS murders and the years of atrocities by other Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Boko Haram that followed 9/11 many Americans have awakened to the fact that tracing the roots of terror requires us to confront the faith for which these killers fight. It is true that not all Muslims are terrorists and that all people should be judged for their actions not as a member of a group. But the willingness of vast numbers of Muslims to subscribe to a version of Islam that is rooted in hatred of the West, America, and Israel cannot be wished away or edited out of the movie as a politically incorrect fact. Vast numbers, especially in the Third World, not only subscribe to 9/11 truther myths but also support the terrorists’ war on the West. Others are leery about the war but share the religious beliefs that are its underpinning.

To confront these facts is not an act of prejudice or Islamophobia. Nor does it serve to foment hate. Rather, it is part of an effort to support and empower those Muslims who believe that the Islamist approach is abhorrent to them but who are often silenced or intimidated by radicals and their supposedly more moderate fellow travelers. A Muslim world in which radical beliefs are part of the mainstream needs to be reformed from within. This is necessary precisely because it is the not the desire of the West or of sane people anywhere to be at war with all Muslims.

While the shouting that is part of such cable scream fests does not make for an edifying spectacle, it says something about how far we’ve come in our thinking about this subject that a prominent liberal—even a professional provocateur like Maher—is willing to publicly enunciate obvious truths even if it means being called a racist by a popular actor. It can only be hoped that this can be the start of a more rational discussion of Islam and those who use it to justify terror. If not, we will remain locked in the same state of denial about the cause of the problem in which Obama, Affleck, and much of the nation remain trapped.

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Teaching U.S. Officials About Radical Islam

When American forces first began fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, criticisms abounded about the lack of troops’ cultural awareness when they entered the Middle East or South Asia. Some of the criticism was unfortunately true, although by the second or third years of fighting, American troops had a better sense of the region and religion than many of those lobbing cheap criticisms.

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When American forces first began fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, criticisms abounded about the lack of troops’ cultural awareness when they entered the Middle East or South Asia. Some of the criticism was unfortunately true, although by the second or third years of fighting, American troops had a better sense of the region and religion than many of those lobbing cheap criticisms.

But while deploying troops must sit through countless hours of cultural awareness training to learn about the region in which they will soon live and fight, many with whom I have talked over the years voice a common criticism about the programs: They are subject to basic, politically correct descriptions of Islam that seem detached from the reality of their missions. U.S. troops who have fought in Iraq and still fight in Afghanistan are fighting not peaceful Muslims who abide by the most benevolent Koranic interpretations, but rather radical jihadis who seek to disfigure and murder in the name of religion.

The same is too often true with Department of Justice training. After having been criticized by Islamist advocacy groups for focusing too much on radicalism, the Justice Department has largely sanitized its training. It avoids controversy by allowing groups like the Council on American and Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)–which embrace or apologize for some of the worst groups–to help set the bounds of permissible interpretation. Letting CAIR determine what can and cannot be taught about Islamist terrorism is like letting the Taliban have final say on the U.S. Army’s counterinsurgency manuals. To have ISNA have sway on how Muslim military chaplains are credentialed suggests a lack of seriousness about combating radicalism.

While no religion has a monopoly on terrorism, cultural equivalence also rings hollow: There is a far greater problem right now with Islamist terrorists operating across the globe and who use theological exegesis to motivate and justify their actions than with groups which root themselves in Christianity, Judaism, or Hinduism. It is disingenuous to suggest otherwise. To teach counter-terror analysts only about the “Five pillars of Islam,” commonalities between the Koran and the Old and New Testaments, and explain only the most sanitized interpretations of the Koran is simply policy malpractice made worse when questions regarding radicalism go unanswered.

Basic theology is not hard to understand. But if U.S. military officers and Department of Justice officials are truly going to understand the environments in which they serve and the adversary against whom they seek to protect the United States and all Americans, then it becomes essential that U.S. officials are able to understand and explain not only what the five pillars of Islam are, when the Prophet Muhammad was born, or what the 21st century definitions of Greater and Lesser Jihad are, but rather be able to discuss:

  • The passages of the Koran which extremists use to justify suicide bombing and precise theological arguments moderate clergy might use to refute those (beyond simply saying Islam forbids suicide).
  • The evolution of Islamic interpretation of the Koranic passages which promote beheading of prisoners.
  • They should also learn that, contrary to common rhetoric, the Koran is not always the same, either historically or in translation and interpretation.
  • All religions evolve. Few Christians would advocate publicly burning at the stake women who might publicly recite the Bible. After all, this is no longer the 14th century. Likewise, while it is important to understand contemporary interpretations of jihad, it is likewise important to recognize that the concept of jihad has evolved over time. That said, when militant groups seek to build a society based on their notion of how Islamic states might have acted 1,350 years ago, it behooves analysts to understand what theological interpretations predominated then.
  • The theology that Osama Bin Laden embraced and expounded, and that advanced by Ayman al-Zawahiri or Abubakr al-Baghdadi. If these men preach something un-Islamic, then an official with understanding should be able to explain why–not simply ignore their theology.

Teaching about radicalism is not Islamophobic nor should those who wish to protect or even advocate for Islam agitate against it. After all, the chief victims of radical Islamism are the moderates.

President Obama may have sought to project seriousness when he outlined a strategy to combat ISIS on September 10. But until the U.S. government—whether the Defense Department focused abroad or the Justice Department at home—refines its curriculum to address rather than avoid tough questions of theological interpretations, any officer or official participating in the fight will not only be entering it blind but, more damningly, will be entering it blind based on the political desire of their leadership. It’s time to equip those manning our front lines with real cultural awareness, not the religious equivalent of My Little Pony.

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Islamist Atrocities and the End of Outrage

When Islamist terrorists stormed a school in Beslan, southern Russia, just over a decade ago, not only Russians and the West were aghast, but so too were many Ossetians, Chechens, and, more generally, Islamists otherwise supportive of militancy and violence. The victimization of the children was too great to bare for many, and led them to question just what it meant to put the rhetoric they once embraced into action. In the aftermath of the Beslan massacre, radicalism did not diminish, but the Chechen and Ossetian ability to fundraise and recruit did and, for a moment at least, men and women of all religions stood against Islamist radicalism.

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When Islamist terrorists stormed a school in Beslan, southern Russia, just over a decade ago, not only Russians and the West were aghast, but so too were many Ossetians, Chechens, and, more generally, Islamists otherwise supportive of militancy and violence. The victimization of the children was too great to bare for many, and led them to question just what it meant to put the rhetoric they once embraced into action. In the aftermath of the Beslan massacre, radicalism did not diminish, but the Chechen and Ossetian ability to fundraise and recruit did and, for a moment at least, men and women of all religions stood against Islamist radicalism.

There were the beginnings of a similar moment when terrorists from Boko Haram, a radical Nigerian group, abducted hundreds of school girls, most of whom remain missing. Even al-Qaeda criticized Boko Haram’s action as destructive to the overall cause which al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists embrace.

Alas, it seems that the public—and Islamists—are becoming accustomed to such brutality and are no longer willing to condemn it on such a broad scale. Cases in point are the capture and enslavement of Yezidi girls and the systematic execution of journalists and aid workers by proponents of ISIS. Now certainly, these have been subject to the usual rote condemnations by governments and by groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) that have taken Saudi and Qatari money and often associate with more radical Islamist movements like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

But, when push comes to shove, many Islamists and the groups and countries which support them are not putting their money where their mouth is. Arab countries—the same countries whose citizens often donated to ISIS and associated charities—have been reluctant to help. Turkey’s excuse—that it is afraid for hostages held in Mosul—does not pass the smell test given that Turkey has not hesitated to wage war against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) even when that group has held Turks hostage. That President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refuses to label ISIS as terrorists simply reinforces the issue.

It’s all well and good to dismiss ISIS actions as “un-Islamic” as CAIR has done or, for that matter, as President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have done. But the truth is that to millions of Muslims, they are very Islamic. To deny the religious component of “Jihad John” or ISIS’s actions is to deny that there is an exegesis within Islamic thought that not only allows but blesses such actions. It is to deny that there is a battle of interpretation which must be won. Nor is it logical to embrace a politically correct and scrubbed 21st century definition of jihad when ISIS reaches back to interpretations of a millennium and more ago when jihad was understood by Islamic theologians to mean an often offensive holy war.

The fact that the visceral outrage which confronted the Beslan murders has now been replaced by pro-forma but ultimately meaningless condemnations of Islamic terror by Muslim majority states and Islamic advocacy organizations suggests that far from rising up with righteous outrage against the actions of the latest Islamist group, the broader Islamic world has become inured to such actions conducted in its name and unwilling to recoil and shame its proponents and supporters in the same way.

Indeed, the thousands of foreign terrorists which now flock to Syria and Iraq did not radicalize in the last two months, nor did they embrace the most radical interpretations of Islam simply because they disliked former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Rather, they were instructed in hundreds of mosques scattered across Europe, North Africa, South Asia, and Turkey. They were taught the Koran and its meaning by thousands of teachers and imams funded by the likes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. These mosques were protected from criticism by so-called Islamic civil-rights and advocacy groups who conflated any criticism of radical Islamist ideology with Islamophobia. If only the same organizations instead began to name and publicly shame the extremists who preach in American, European, or Middle Eastern mosques.

Press releases won’t cut it, nor diplomatic handshakes and symbolic press conferences. The problem lies deeper, and ultimately boils down to the tolerance for extremism in so many European, American, and Middle Eastern mosques upon which ISIS recruiters rely.

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Defining Islam and the Islamophobia Myth

President Obama was going down a well-worn path last night when in his speech about stopping ISIS, he claimed the terrorist group was “not Islamic.” Like his predecessor George W. Bush, the president feels impelled to define America’s Islamist terrorist foes as somehow unrelated to the Muslim religion. The motives for this effort are utilitarian as well as idealistic but it comes with a cost, both in terms of our ability to wage an effective war against this enemy and the way these statements help fuel myths about American attitudes toward Muslims.

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President Obama was going down a well-worn path last night when in his speech about stopping ISIS, he claimed the terrorist group was “not Islamic.” Like his predecessor George W. Bush, the president feels impelled to define America’s Islamist terrorist foes as somehow unrelated to the Muslim religion. The motives for this effort are utilitarian as well as idealistic but it comes with a cost, both in terms of our ability to wage an effective war against this enemy and the way these statements help fuel myths about American attitudes toward Muslims.

As our Michael Rubin noted earlier today, it is not any president’s job to define who is and who is not affiliated with a particular religion. ISIS may practice a form of Islam that we find repellent but to pretend that it has nothing to do with the Muslim religion or that its roots are not very much part of the Islamic tradition isn’t a serious statement. Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, has many variations. But unfortunately, the violent and intolerant brand of Islamism that is championed by ISIS is not only not as much of an outlier as many Americans would like to pretend; in some ways its views are not dissimilar to other more mainstream sects such as the Wahhabi sect that dominates America’s Saudi Arabian ally. The difference between the two lies mainly in Wahhabi clerics’ loyalty to the House of Saud and the radicals’ belief in overthrowing most Muslim regimes, not in any innate contrasts between their views of the non-Muslim world.

In order to understand the strength of ISIS and its ability to rally the support or at least the sympathy of so many Muslims, it is necessary to understand its ability to appeal to those who believe Islam should dominate the world, just as it tried to in its heyday when Christian Europe was holding on for its life against a resurgent Muslim military tide. The intolerance it foments has its origins in a worldview that holds that the world must bow to Muslim sensibilities, even to the point of censoring Western expression about their faith. If it is to be defeated, it will have to be understood in the context of the history of the region and not by treating it as an alien outburst.

Nevertheless, it is necessary for American leaders to be at pains to demonstrate that the U.S. has never and will never be at war with Islam, a faith that commands the allegiance of a billion people, most of whom are not interested in war with the West. It is also important for Americans not to consider the millions of loyal American Muslims as being somehow responsible for the behavior of ISIS, al-Qaeda, or any other Islamist terror group.

But though both Bush and Obama have bent over backwards to avoid portraying the war against Islamist terror as having anything fundamental to do with Islam, their willingness to do so has given credence to those who have claimed that the opposite is true. The notion of a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims in America is a myth that has been repeatedly debunked, yet it continues to thrive and grow.

For example, in today’s Daily Beast, Dean Obeidallah claims “13 years after 9/11, anti-Muslim bigotry is worse than ever.” What proof does he offer for this? Not much. There is a poll sponsored by the Arab-American Institute that shows that less than half of those surveyed have positive views of American Muslims and 42 percent support the use of profiling by law-enforcement agencies that would focus on Arabs and Muslims.

These numbers may seem troubling. But the disconnect here is between what the poll rightly diagnoses as worries about homegrown terrorism committed by Muslims and in some cases supported by radical clerics and any actual evidence of discrimination or hate directed at Arabs or adherents of Islam.

As I have repeatedly noted here, FBI hate-crime statistics for every year since 9/11 have repeatedly demonstrated the emptiness of claims of a backlash against Muslims. In each of the last 12 years, hate crimes against Jews have outnumbered those directed at Muslims. And despite the poll Obeidallah cites, there has never been a single credible study that was able to establish a consistent pattern of discrimination or systematic violence against Muslims.

Even more incredibly, Obeidallah claims American popular culture has furthered the worst image of Muslims and refused to portray them positively. As anyone who has watched television or the movies in the last 13 years can attest, this is nonsense. Hollywood has gone out of its way in much the same way Bush and Obama have done to avoid stereotyping Arabs and Muslims. To the contrary, although some Muslims have been at war against the United States during these years, popular films that portray Arabs and Muslims as typical enemies are few and far between. This avoidance is virtually unprecedented in the history of warfare and culture.

Nor, despite Obeidallah’s attempt to portray a few stray politicians who are worried about the spread of sharia law as mainstream, has there ever been any attempt by the U.S. government to harass Muslims. Though in an era during which al-Qaeda and now ISIS are doing their best to strike Western targets it is simply common sense to pay more attention to Muslims of Middle Eastern origin, police departments around the country have eschewed profiling. The same is true of the Transportation Security Agency, whose airport personnel go out of their way to scrutinize elderly grandmothers so as to avoid the impression that they are keeping an eye on the same group that produced the 9/11 hijackers. In the same spirit, law enforcement personnel have often been more interested in establishing good relations with radical clerics than in monitoring their activities.

Discrimination against Muslims and Arabs is wrong. But those seeking to keep the myth of a backlash against them after 9/11 alive are pursuing an agenda that is not so much anti-bias as it is anti-awareness of the dangers of radical Islam.

Pretending ISIS isn’t Muslim won’t help us defeat them. But by acting as if Americans are barbarians who would resort to violence if they knew the truth about ISIS, the president is playing along with the same false narrative that seeks to establish American Muslims as the true victims of 9/11. That sort of thinking is not only offensive; it breeds a mindset that has often undermined our ability to act decisively against those advocating violent Islam and led some young American Muslims to join ISIS and other terror groups. So long as we keep ourselves in ignorance about both ISIS and its sympathizers we will not only never defeat them, we will also be fomenting a terrible lie about American society.

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On What Is and Is Not Islamic

During his speech last night, President Obama declared, “ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’ No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim.” It is certainly true that the vast majority of the victims of ISIS, as the group is more commonly known, have been Muslim as have been the majority of victims of other radical Islamist movements, it is not the job of any president to decree what is and is not Islam; what is and is not Christianity; and what is and is not Judaism. For all practical purposes, religion is what its practitioners believe it to be, not what an American president says it is.

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During his speech last night, President Obama declared, “ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’ No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim.” It is certainly true that the vast majority of the victims of ISIS, as the group is more commonly known, have been Muslim as have been the majority of victims of other radical Islamist movements, it is not the job of any president to decree what is and is not Islam; what is and is not Christianity; and what is and is not Judaism. For all practical purposes, religion is what its practitioners believe it to be, not what an American president says it is.

On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush was more nuanced when he addressed this issue during his address to the Joint Session of Congress:

Al Qaeda is to terror what the Mafia is to crime. But its goal is not making money, its goal is remaking the world and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere. The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics; a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam. The terrorists’ directive commands them to kill Christians and Jews, to kill all Americans and make no distinctions among military and civilians, including women and children.

National security should never be sacrificed upon the altar of political correctness. Ignoring the problem of religious interpretation by suggesting religion plays no part is disingenuous and ultimately handicaps the understanding of the enemy. No, the enemy is not Islam. But to pretend that the enemy—ISIS in this case—does not root itself in an interpretation of Islam is simply wrong. Obama subsequently paid lip service in his speech to the need to “counter [ISIS’s] warped ideology,” finally recognizing that its terrorism isn’t simply rooted in grievance that can be addressed by concession or incentive. But until we acknowledge what so many Muslims do—that theological interpretation is the problem—no efforts to counter such ideology will be successful.

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Islamic State’s Reality Check on Dhimmitude

Dhimmi are non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state who are allowed to remain in exchange for paying the jizyah, a tax imposed on non-Muslims. As the Prophet Muhammad conquered a new empire, large numbers of Christians, Jews, and others found themselves living under the Islamic Empire’s rule, subject to the jizyah and the limitations of dhimmi status.

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Dhimmi are non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state who are allowed to remain in exchange for paying the jizyah, a tax imposed on non-Muslims. As the Prophet Muhammad conquered a new empire, large numbers of Christians, Jews, and others found themselves living under the Islamic Empire’s rule, subject to the jizyah and the limitations of dhimmi status.

Fast forward almost 1,400 years: Academics today who cover Islamic civilizations and history almost uniformly teach that early Islamic rule was enlightened. If they cover the jizyah and “dhimmitude” at all, they are soft-pedaled. Rather than conquer by the sword, most residents of those areas brought into the Islamic Empire joined voluntarily, it is said.

Certainly, a few authors have taken on the notion of dhimmitude and the whitewashed narrative peddled in Islamic studies courses and texts. Egyptian-born British writer Gisèle Littman, for example, writing under the pseudonym Bat Ye’or, penned Islam and Dhimmitude back in 2001, providing a precise and critically acclaimed study of the subjugation of Jews and Christians in Islamic lands. Likewise, Andrew Bostom’s The Legacy of Jihad provides crucial context and fills out the historical record by including non-Arabic sources which describe subjugation from the point of view of those suffering under Islamic domination. Nevertheless, Bat Ye’or and Bostom remain rare on university syllabuses in courses taught by professors who prefer not to challenge the dominant narrative. Others prefer to seize upon controversial or careless remarks by those focused on the treatment of religious minorities in Islamic history to disqualify the author’s entire body of work. Critics do this deliberately when they cannot counter effectively the historical facts cited or sources revealed.

Perhaps if there’s any silver lining to events in Mosul, where the self-appointed caliph of the Islamic State, Abubakr al-Baghdadi, has demanded Christians pay the jizyah, convert, or die, it will be to force scholars to rethink the benevolent narrative which they often embrace of early Islamic conversions and successive caliphates and Islamic empires’ treatment of minorities. There is nothing benevolent, enlightened, or non-violent about denial of religious freedom or liberty, nor is forcing religious minorities into second-class status on the basis of their faith ever anything other than oppression, plain and simple.

It would be wrong to castigate the Islamic empire and reign of Muhammad, his successor rashidun caliphs, or the Umayyad and early Abbasid dynasties completely. But it is as wrong to whitewash them. Perhaps it is time for a little less hagiography toward Islamic history in American and European institutions, and a little more common sense.

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French Anti-Semitism and the Specter of “Humanitarian Zionism”

Last week, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve made a very smart observation about terrorism in France that other Western officials would do well to consider. On May 24, a man, believed to be 29-year-old Mehdi Nemmouche, shot and killed four at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. After Nemmouche’s arrest about a week after the crime, authorities began using the term “lone wolf” to describe him–including Cazeneuve. But Cazeneuve now thinks that was a mistake and, as JTA reported, had this to say on the term:

The term suggests an assassin or terrorist who is working independently of partners or any larger framework.

But actions such as Nemmouche “begin a long way back,” he said. The processes of radicalization, Cazeneuve added, “have to transcend many stages,” including procuring weapons” and “arriving in conflict zones or terrorism.” He concluded by saying: “What I want to say is that accomplices are important here not only in the procurement of arms that terrorists use. This leads me to think, without any reservation, that the ‘lone wolf’ is anything but.”

Western officials like to use the term “lone wolf” both for self-serving reasons (to avoid blame) and to try to calm the public (there’s no conspiracy afoot, no persistent danger, etc.). But not having an immediate and knowing accomplice is not the same as acting completely alone, and Cazeneuve seems to realize this. In Western Europe, it is especially important to understand how and why crimes like this happen because European Jewry is under attack more consistently and brazenly than has been the case in decades. As the largest European Jewish community, France is something of a test as to whether European Jewry has a future. And right now it’s failing that test.

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Last week, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve made a very smart observation about terrorism in France that other Western officials would do well to consider. On May 24, a man, believed to be 29-year-old Mehdi Nemmouche, shot and killed four at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. After Nemmouche’s arrest about a week after the crime, authorities began using the term “lone wolf” to describe him–including Cazeneuve. But Cazeneuve now thinks that was a mistake and, as JTA reported, had this to say on the term:

The term suggests an assassin or terrorist who is working independently of partners or any larger framework.

But actions such as Nemmouche “begin a long way back,” he said. The processes of radicalization, Cazeneuve added, “have to transcend many stages,” including procuring weapons” and “arriving in conflict zones or terrorism.” He concluded by saying: “What I want to say is that accomplices are important here not only in the procurement of arms that terrorists use. This leads me to think, without any reservation, that the ‘lone wolf’ is anything but.”

Western officials like to use the term “lone wolf” both for self-serving reasons (to avoid blame) and to try to calm the public (there’s no conspiracy afoot, no persistent danger, etc.). But not having an immediate and knowing accomplice is not the same as acting completely alone, and Cazeneuve seems to realize this. In Western Europe, it is especially important to understand how and why crimes like this happen because European Jewry is under attack more consistently and brazenly than has been the case in decades. As the largest European Jewish community, France is something of a test as to whether European Jewry has a future. And right now it’s failing that test.

Cazeneuve was also speaking about a man named Mohammed Merah, the gunman involved in a brief crime spree in Toulouse that included murdering Jews. This week in France, Merah’s name was reportedly found spray-painted in a message praising him. In fact, the phrase “this week in France” is rarely followed by good news, and for Jews the phrase has taken on an even more ominous tone.

On June 11, Tablet reported on “the third disturbing incident from [the] French capital” so far that week, and then listed all the anti-Semitic incidents in Paris in 2014 for good measure. Each such story tends to bring a round of recollections on social media sites of readers’ latest stories of French anti-Semitism.

It’s easy to see how such incidents proliferate when each is treated as a “lone wolf” attack. The willful blindness practically ensures it will continue. It’s possible that a shift in attitude such as Cazeneuve’s will make a difference, though it would take a cultural shift for the correct approach to be prevalent enough to turn the tide. It’s easier to pretend the tide isn’t there.

What does that mean for French Jewry, and for European Jewry? As to the former, JTA also noted last month a survey showing that three-quarters of French Jews are considering leaving the country. More than half the respondents said “Jews have no future in France,” and nearly all (more than 95 percent) said anti-Semitism there is “worrisome” or “very worrisome.” As for what it means for European Jewry, this part of the story is pertinent:

Ninety-three percent said the French state had no efficient means for countering “Islamic exclusionist and pro-Palestinian propaganda,” whereas 93.4 percent said French mass media are partially responsible for France’s anti-Semitism problem. Roughly three-quarters said French Jewish institutions were helpless to stop anti-Semitism.

To take those three points in order: According to Brown University’s Maud Mandel (no relation–that I know of, anyway) “France houses the largest Jewish and Muslim populations living side by side outside of Israel.” That bodes ill, obviously, for Muslim-Jewish relations in Europe in the future (though there are certainly aspects of this that are specific to France). On the second point, European mass media is broadly hostile to the Jewish state, so it’s unlikely any strife caused by the press would be limited to France. (Ahem, BBC.) On the third, I’m not sure what the Jews of France expect, outside of their own private army. Jewish institutions in many cases could do much better than they are, but it’s doubtful they can singlehandedly change the hearts and minds of Europe’s Mehdi Nemmouches and Mohammed Merahs.

If there is any strength to be had in numbers, then France’s treatment of its Jews shows how easily that strength can be negated. The packed aliyah fairs in Paris and the rate of French aliyah itself raise the specter of what Jabotinsky once called “humanitarian Zionism.” If such a Zionism is necessary in 2014, Europe has failed its Jews once again.

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Don’t Abet Academia’s Crackdown on Religious Liberty

By far the most strategically canny aspect of liberal institutions’ multifront attack on religious freedom in America has been the (alas, successful) bid to divide and conquer. From within the Jewish world, for example, it’s been sad to watch Jews insist that obvious violations of religious freedom of Catholics shouldn’t concern Jews, because the Democratic White House has not yet come for them.

The latest instance of non-Christian acquiescence in state-sponsored religious bigotry is on the issue of religious groups on public college campuses. The New York Times reports on the trend of religious groups, usually evangelicals, losing their college affiliation for refusing to sign the loyalty oath masquerading as an “anti-discrimination” agreement.

The Times centers the story on Bowdoin College, but notes that the real issue is the California State University’s public system–the largest of its kind in the country–joining the campaign, which Christian students and leaders understandably see as a possible tipping point against them. Like the Constitutional clergy of revolutionary France who took the oath of allegiance to the new secular state, the Times reports that “At most universities that have begun requiring religious groups to sign nondiscrimination policies, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and mainline Protestant groups have agreed, saying they do not discriminate and do not anticipate that the new policies will cause problems.”

Yet it’s easy to understand the evangelical groups’ concern with the extent, though not the spirit, of the oath:

The evangelical groups say they, too, welcome anyone to participate in their activities, including gay men and lesbians, as well as nonbelievers, seekers and adherents of other faiths. But they insist that, in choosing leaders, who often oversee Bible study and prayer services, it is only reasonable that they be allowed to require some basic Christian faith — in most cases, an explicit agreement that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, and often an implicit expectation that unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex.

“It would compromise our ability to be who we are as Christians if we can’t hold our leaders to some sort of doctrinal standard,” said Zackary Suhr, 23, who has just graduated from Bowdoin, where he was a leader of the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship.

No kidding! Would a Jewish group be comfortable with a non-Jew leading prayer services? In charge of the group’s Torah study? The evangelical groups do not forbid non-believers from participating in their activities. They simply want their religious practice to be led by members of their religious community. And for this, they are paying the price:

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By far the most strategically canny aspect of liberal institutions’ multifront attack on religious freedom in America has been the (alas, successful) bid to divide and conquer. From within the Jewish world, for example, it’s been sad to watch Jews insist that obvious violations of religious freedom of Catholics shouldn’t concern Jews, because the Democratic White House has not yet come for them.

The latest instance of non-Christian acquiescence in state-sponsored religious bigotry is on the issue of religious groups on public college campuses. The New York Times reports on the trend of religious groups, usually evangelicals, losing their college affiliation for refusing to sign the loyalty oath masquerading as an “anti-discrimination” agreement.

The Times centers the story on Bowdoin College, but notes that the real issue is the California State University’s public system–the largest of its kind in the country–joining the campaign, which Christian students and leaders understandably see as a possible tipping point against them. Like the Constitutional clergy of revolutionary France who took the oath of allegiance to the new secular state, the Times reports that “At most universities that have begun requiring religious groups to sign nondiscrimination policies, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and mainline Protestant groups have agreed, saying they do not discriminate and do not anticipate that the new policies will cause problems.”

Yet it’s easy to understand the evangelical groups’ concern with the extent, though not the spirit, of the oath:

The evangelical groups say they, too, welcome anyone to participate in their activities, including gay men and lesbians, as well as nonbelievers, seekers and adherents of other faiths. But they insist that, in choosing leaders, who often oversee Bible study and prayer services, it is only reasonable that they be allowed to require some basic Christian faith — in most cases, an explicit agreement that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, and often an implicit expectation that unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex.

“It would compromise our ability to be who we are as Christians if we can’t hold our leaders to some sort of doctrinal standard,” said Zackary Suhr, 23, who has just graduated from Bowdoin, where he was a leader of the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship.

No kidding! Would a Jewish group be comfortable with a non-Jew leading prayer services? In charge of the group’s Torah study? The evangelical groups do not forbid non-believers from participating in their activities. They simply want their religious practice to be led by members of their religious community. And for this, they are paying the price:

The consequences for evangelical groups that refuse to agree to the nondiscrimination policies, and therefore lose their official standing, vary by campus. The students can still meet informally on campus, but in most cases their groups lose access to student activity fee money as well as first claim to low-cost or free university spaces for meetings and worship; they also lose access to standard on-campus recruiting tools, such as activities fairs and bulletin boards, and may lose the right to use the universities’ names.

“It’s absurd,” said Alec Hill, the president of InterVarsity, a national association of evangelical student groups, including the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship. “The genius of American culture is that we allow voluntary, self-identified organizations to form, and that’s what our student groups are.”

Some institutions, including the University of Florida, the University of Houston, the University of Minnesota and the University of Texas, have opted to exempt religious groups from nondiscrimination policies, according to the Christian Legal Society. But evangelical groups have lost official status at Tufts University, the State University of New York at Buffalo and Rollins College in Florida, among others, and their advocates are worried that Cal State could be a tipping point.

The Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, mainline Protestant, and other non-evangelical groups that have signed this modern-day Civil Constitution of the Clergy probably think they are simply avoiding a fight that doesn’t pertain to them. That’s plain madness, and shameful to boot.

But it’s also counterproductive. When the left-liberal establishment seeks to infringe their own rights, they will have already acceded to this conformist fanaticism and surrendered any right to expect other religious groups to come to their aid. This is particularly careless for the Jewish community, which is such a demographic minority that in such cases they have no strength but in numbers–a lesson they bewilderingly seem intent on unlearning.

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Anti-Semitism at Islamic Conference: a Wakeup Call for Europe?

What would it take for the Europeans to face up to the ever more belligerent degrees of anti-Semitism coming from parts of that continent’s Muslim population? Disturbing reports have emerged about certain anti-Jewish comments made by speakers at one of Europe’s most important Islamic conferences. Writing in Le Figaro Michele Tribalat recounted some of the statements made at the congress of the Union of Islamic Organizations in France, which convened in Paris on Wednesday. The most disturbing statements came from “guest of honor” Hani Ramadan, a prominent Muslim leader in Geneva and the brother of Tariq Ramadan.

Before the delegates Ramadan insisted in his speech that, “All the evil in the world originates from the Jews and the Zionist barbarism.” In his speech Ramadan listed places of conflict across the world and claimed that these wars are being driven by the “hand” of Zionism. Similarly, the audience was informed that Jews control the media and that in America and France no one can be elected to the presidency without first pandering to Jewish organizations. Ramadan was good enough to concede, however, that Europe’s “financial lobbies that practice usury…no longer rely only on Jews.”

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What would it take for the Europeans to face up to the ever more belligerent degrees of anti-Semitism coming from parts of that continent’s Muslim population? Disturbing reports have emerged about certain anti-Jewish comments made by speakers at one of Europe’s most important Islamic conferences. Writing in Le Figaro Michele Tribalat recounted some of the statements made at the congress of the Union of Islamic Organizations in France, which convened in Paris on Wednesday. The most disturbing statements came from “guest of honor” Hani Ramadan, a prominent Muslim leader in Geneva and the brother of Tariq Ramadan.

Before the delegates Ramadan insisted in his speech that, “All the evil in the world originates from the Jews and the Zionist barbarism.” In his speech Ramadan listed places of conflict across the world and claimed that these wars are being driven by the “hand” of Zionism. Similarly, the audience was informed that Jews control the media and that in America and France no one can be elected to the presidency without first pandering to Jewish organizations. Ramadan was good enough to concede, however, that Europe’s “financial lobbies that practice usury…no longer rely only on Jews.”

The fact that these statements could come from such an apparently prominent speaker at such an important Islamic conference surely says something about currents in the wider Muslim community. With such sentiments being bandied around from the podiums of high-profile Islamic conferences, is it any wonder that across Europe there has been such a rise in Muslim hate crime against Jews? In America, liberal Jews have often refused to a hear a word of it. They look at you with wary suspicion if you dare to suggest that Muslims have played a significant part in the upward trend of European anti-Semitism. Even after the harrowing 2012 shootings at a Jewish school in Toulouse and the uncovering of a number of similar anti-Jewish terror plots, many liberals in America seemed to assume that there must be some anti-Muslim prejudice at work on the part of anyone who tried to highlight this phenomenon.

Then last fall the European Union released its own comprehensive survey of anti-Semitism and the figures spoke for themselves. In France, 73 percent of those who reported having experienced anti-Semitism said that it came from what the survey termed “someone with a Muslim extremist view.” Just 22 percent said they had witnessed anti-Semitism from a “Christian extremist” and 27 percent said they had seen it coming from someone with a “right-wing political view.” For what its worth, 67 percent of those surveyed in France said they had heard anti-Semitism coming from someone on the left.

Such trends should hardly be surprising. In recent years Britain has had to deal with the phenomenon of anti-Jewish and hardline Saudi textbooks being used in Muslim education programs for young children. This culture of anti-Jewish education then seems to continue all the way up to the universities, with Muslim student associations still hosting radical preachers who express views no different from those voiced by Ramadan at Wednesday’s conference. Is it any wonder, then, if some members of the Islamic community are ready to believe the most hallucinatory and outlandish conspiracy theories about Jews? And as Ramadan was sure to explain to his audience, “Against these international schemes of Zionist power, there is only one rampart: Islam.”

Given the scale of mass immigration into Europe, the process of acculturation was never going to be immediate or even entirely smooth. Yet, it often appears as if European governments have done less than nothing to westernize immigrant communities, in many instances having even encouraged a certain separateness, just as the doctrines of multiculturalism stipulate. After the horrors of World War Two Europe embraced a kind of post-national cosmopolitan tolerance that forbade calling out bigotry when it emanated from ethnic minorities. As Ed West has written, “the irony is that, out of collective guilt for what happened to Europe’s Jews, Europe imported millions of people from some of the world’s most anti-Semitic countries, [and] made no attempt to counter these prejudices.”

No doubt Ramadan’s comments will make some headlines and provoke some mutters of condemnation and concern, just as the European Union’s recent anti-Semitism survey did. But how many more Toulouse-style terror attacks will Europe go through before it is ready to contemplate getting serious? Perhaps it is incapable of ever doing so. 

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Anti-Semitism and False Moral Equivalence

Yossi Klein Halevi is an admirable Israeli thinker, writer, and Jew, who recently authored Like Dreamers, a terrific book about Israel. I don’t know much about Imam Abdullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke University, except that Mr. Halevi counts him as a “beloved friend,” so I therefore trust that he is admirable as well.

That is why it is puzzling that Halevi and Antepli jointly posted an article last week entitled “What Muslims and Jews should learn from Brandeis,” on The Times of Israel blog. In their piece, they extol Brandeis and its president for rescinding the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom they call a Muslim “renegade.” Halevi and Antepli claim that Brandeis’s president provided Muslims and Jews with an “essential teaching moment,” inasmuch as “one of the ugliest expressions of the antipathy between Muslims and Jews is the tendency within both communities to promote each other’s renegades.” 

This is preposterous. Given the tsunami of anti-Semitism propagated by Muslims all over the world, whether through Jewish “renegades” or otherwise, the moral equivalence the authors posit could not be more misplaced. And this, in an article published just a few days after one of the latest “expressions of antipathy”–the terrorist murder of an Israeli Jew while he was driving his wife and children to a Passover seder.

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Yossi Klein Halevi is an admirable Israeli thinker, writer, and Jew, who recently authored Like Dreamers, a terrific book about Israel. I don’t know much about Imam Abdullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke University, except that Mr. Halevi counts him as a “beloved friend,” so I therefore trust that he is admirable as well.

That is why it is puzzling that Halevi and Antepli jointly posted an article last week entitled “What Muslims and Jews should learn from Brandeis,” on The Times of Israel blog. In their piece, they extol Brandeis and its president for rescinding the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom they call a Muslim “renegade.” Halevi and Antepli claim that Brandeis’s president provided Muslims and Jews with an “essential teaching moment,” inasmuch as “one of the ugliest expressions of the antipathy between Muslims and Jews is the tendency within both communities to promote each other’s renegades.” 

This is preposterous. Given the tsunami of anti-Semitism propagated by Muslims all over the world, whether through Jewish “renegades” or otherwise, the moral equivalence the authors posit could not be more misplaced. And this, in an article published just a few days after one of the latest “expressions of antipathy”–the terrorist murder of an Israeli Jew while he was driving his wife and children to a Passover seder.

To be sure, Halevi and Antepli disingenuously acknowledge, in passing, that the Muslim assault on Jews is “hardly comparable” to what they call the “public campaign in America by some Jews to discredit Islam.” That could and should have been the point of any intellectually and factually responsible piece on the subject. Instead, the entire point of Halevi and Antepli’s piece, beginning with its title, is precisely to compare the two. 

Moreover, calling Ms. Ali a Muslim “renegade” on a par with Jewish “renegades” is an equally false moral equivalence. Halevi and Antepli surely know Ms. Ali’s history. She was genitally mutilated at age 5; she would have been forced into a marriage had she not escaped eventually to Europe; her film-making colleague was stabbed to death in the Netherlands; she is continually threatened with her own murder–all in the name of Islam–and she has heroically devoted her life to trying to stop these kinds of outrages. That’s why she deserves to be honored, and that’s why it was cowardly for Brandeis to withdraw her honor. Are there Jewish renegades with anywhere close to a comparable history? Of course not. To omit these facts is disingenuous at best. 

In any event, for Halevi and Antepli to focus on what they claim is Muslim sensitivity to Ms. Ali’s statements supposedly “demonizing Islam”–statements that, as Ms. Ali says, her detractors take out of context–instead of the outrages that, as anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear knows she is trying to stop, is disgraceful. Given who she is and what she has gone through and what in totality she says, would Brandeis’s honoring her really have sent a message of “contempt” to Muslims, as Halevi and Antepli claim, or would it instead have sent a message of support to those millions oppressed in and by Muslim countries? And as long as we’re comparing, it is impossible to imagine that Halevi and Antepli believe that, as she is accused of advocating, Ms. Ali or anyone else will succeed in destroying Islam–the religion, as they say, of over a billion believers (who, according to them, are exquisitely sensitive to what one woman says); on the other hand, it’s unfortunately not too hard to imagine that, heaven forbid, Israel and thus Judaism itself could be destroyed.

To be worth anything, “civil dialogue” and “profound discussion,” as Halevi and Antepli say they want, must be based on the truth, and truth is absent from their piece.

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Blair’s Puzzling Middle East Address

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who now serves as the Quartet’s Middle East envoy, has given a major speech to Bloomberg, urging greater Western engagement in the Middle East. Perhaps the most significant aspect of Blair’s message was his warning about the ongoing dangers of radical Islam. The speech gets a lot right, and yet some of its conclusions seemed confused–at odds with the sound premises that Blair laid out in other parts of the very same speech.

It is hard to account for this anomaly. Given the “warmonger” status that some in his own country still try to relegate him to, perhaps the former prime minister feels the need to temper his statements with some politically correct platitudes? Still, it is quite possible that Blair’s worldview is just fundamentally a confused one.

As Douglas Murray has already pointed out, Blair’s encouraging statements about the critical threat posed by radical Islam were somewhat offset by his insistence that political Islam “distorts and warps Islam’s true message.” For as Murray reminds us, Blair’s longstanding line about Islam being a “religion of peace” has not always allowed for an entirely honest discussion of the extent to which hardline Islam simply draws on existing themes within the Islamic tradition. Yet, where Blair’s speech really appeared to become confused was on the matter of Israel and the Palestinians. Here there seemed to be an almost inexplicable incongruence between Blair’s premises and his recommendations for policy.

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Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who now serves as the Quartet’s Middle East envoy, has given a major speech to Bloomberg, urging greater Western engagement in the Middle East. Perhaps the most significant aspect of Blair’s message was his warning about the ongoing dangers of radical Islam. The speech gets a lot right, and yet some of its conclusions seemed confused–at odds with the sound premises that Blair laid out in other parts of the very same speech.

It is hard to account for this anomaly. Given the “warmonger” status that some in his own country still try to relegate him to, perhaps the former prime minister feels the need to temper his statements with some politically correct platitudes? Still, it is quite possible that Blair’s worldview is just fundamentally a confused one.

As Douglas Murray has already pointed out, Blair’s encouraging statements about the critical threat posed by radical Islam were somewhat offset by his insistence that political Islam “distorts and warps Islam’s true message.” For as Murray reminds us, Blair’s longstanding line about Islam being a “religion of peace” has not always allowed for an entirely honest discussion of the extent to which hardline Islam simply draws on existing themes within the Islamic tradition. Yet, where Blair’s speech really appeared to become confused was on the matter of Israel and the Palestinians. Here there seemed to be an almost inexplicable incongruence between Blair’s premises and his recommendations for policy.

As ever, Blair’s comments about Israel were hearteningly supportive. He emphasized the importance of Israel as an ally to the West and reminded listeners that the West couldn’t be indifferent to Israel’s fate in the event that Israel should find itself in a regional conflict—a reference to Iran perhaps. Yet, when it came to the matter of the peace process, Blair’s comments turned from reassuring to puzzling. The former prime minister laid out a number of key foundational truths on this matter–truths that Western leaders could do with asserting far more often–and yet Blair still seemed to end up endorsing the same failed conclusions that have so far led Secretary of State John Kerry to such a humiliating defeat in his efforts on this front.

Most importantly, Blair reminded his audience that the Israel-Palestinian dispute is not the cause of the region’s problems, despite the widespread and mistaken thinking to contrary. Blair explained: “It remains absolutely core to the region and the world. Not because the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the cause of our problems. But because solving it would be such a victory for the very forces we should support. Now it may be that after years of it being said that solving this question is the route to solving the regions’ problems, we’re about to enter a new phase where solving the region’s problems a critical part of solving the Israeli/Palestinian issue.”

This mention of “a victory for the forces we should support” of course relates to Blair’s wider point about supporting liberal and democratic forces in the region so as to vanquish the extremist ones. And here Blair was able to outline why all attempts to solve the Israel-Palestinian dispute thus far have failed. “The issue in which we have expended extraordinary energy and determination through US Secretary Kerry, still seems as intractable as ever” Blair conceded, “Yet the explanation for all of these apparently unresolvable contradictions is staring us in the face.” The whole point is that the emphasis on what Israel does or does not do is really immaterial when what we are really facing is an ideology of unappeasable extremism. As Blair outlined:

It is that there is a Titanic struggle going on within the region between those who want the region to embrace the modern world…and those who instead want to create a politics of religious difference and exclusivity. This is the battle. This is the distorting feature. This is what makes intervention so fraught but non-intervention equally so. This is what complicates the process of political evolution. This is what makes it so hard for democracy to take root. This is what, irrespective of the problems on the Israeli side, divides Palestinian politics and constrains their leadership.

And yet after having spoken so much sense, Blair proceeded to praise Kerry and to disagree with those who condemned the secretary of state for the wildly disproportionate amount of energy and time that he has put into forcing hopeless negotiations between the two sides. One wonders if it is only Blair’s position as Middle East envoy that compels him to parrot this pro-peace process line. It is, however, possible that while doing the former, this is Blair’s way of telling the world that there will be no meaningful peace process until extremism can be dealt with and that the last people who should be blamed or undermined are the Israelis. If not, then it is difficult to know how else to explain the confused conclusions of an otherwise praiseworthy address. 

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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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