Commentary Magazine


Topic: Islamism

Jihadists Using Liberalism Against Itself

While the West’s enemies become ever more unrestrained in the barbaric nature of their attacks, Islamist militants are increasingly pursuing tactics aimed at limiting what the West can do in its own defense. As a recent case in Britain has demonstrated, jihadists and their supporters are more than happy to fabricate the most outlandish allegations in an often successful attempt to hinder the fight against them. This is the kind of thing that Israel has been having to deal with for decades, and at some point other Western states need to comprehend that they are all up against the same enemy, one which is willing to employ the same underhanded tactics against all of us.

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While the West’s enemies become ever more unrestrained in the barbaric nature of their attacks, Islamist militants are increasingly pursuing tactics aimed at limiting what the West can do in its own defense. As a recent case in Britain has demonstrated, jihadists and their supporters are more than happy to fabricate the most outlandish allegations in an often successful attempt to hinder the fight against them. This is the kind of thing that Israel has been having to deal with for decades, and at some point other Western states need to comprehend that they are all up against the same enemy, one which is willing to employ the same underhanded tactics against all of us.

In May 2004, British troops became embroiled in a three-hour gun battle with insurgents of the Mahdi Army at Al Amara, Iraq. Following the battle it was alleged that British soldiers tortured, executed, and then mutilated the bodies of twenty Iraqi detainees. These accusations have dragged on for a decade now and in response the UK government commissioned the al-Sweady Inquiry, an investigation which has cost the British taxpayer almost $49 million, with the accusers having been able to claim financial assistance from the British state to fund their case against it.

And what did the tribunal discover? The al-Sweady Inquiry has stated unequivocally that the allegations made against the British soldiers are “without foundation,” and that those making these accusations had given evidence that was “unprincipled in the extreme” and “wholly without regard for the truth.”

So after years of investigation, and tens of millions in public money spent (much of it having been used to assist those bringing claims against the British army), the soldiers have at long last had their names cleared while the jihadi militants have been exposed as liars. Hardly surprising; it’s simply delusional to imagine that those who are so unprincipled as to use terrorism to achieve their aims would suddenly become upstanding and honest witnesses once stood before a war-crimes investigation. What these people are, however, is mendacious and calculating, and regardless of what al-Sweady may have concluded, by using public money to advance these outrageous allegations the jihadists have won by hijacking the West’s liberalism and respect for the rule of law for their own advantage.

Quite apart from the tremendous financial cost that this investigation and many more like it have carried, the decade that these allegations circulated for have been an outstanding public-relations victory for the insurgents. The media–large parts of which were eager to see Western forces fail in Iraq and Afghanistan–were all too ready to believe the stories spun by the militants and to think the worst of our soldiers. By parroting these lies ad nauseam, the Western media assisted the militants in undermining public morale at home, eroding belief in the rightness of the cause we were fighting for and convincing many that intervention overseas is rarely a defensible or admirable undertaking. In Europe particularly, these tales provide the recruiting fodder that radicalizes young Muslims into believing that their host societies are evil and that they too must join the war against the West. If nothing else, the constant fear of these damaging war crimes allegations persuade Western governments and militaries to be still more restrained in the tactics that they feel able to use in the increasingly muted attempt to counter our enemies.

This of course is the war that Israel has been fighting for years, ever since its creation in fact. Most recently there have been feverish blood libels about the IDF harvesting Palestinian organs, of summary executions during the 2010 flotilla incident, and of a supposed massacre and mass graves in Jenin during the Second Intifada. With all of these accusations Israel is obliged to investigate the conduct of its military, and so it does. That was what was so outrageous about the UN’s Goldstone investigation and indeed the subsequent attempt to have a Goldstone II following the war in Gaza this summer. Such international inquiries are only supposed to be mandated where a state has failed to adequately investigate itself first–but in Israel’s case the international community simply steps in and puts on its own investigation regardless, usually with the conclusion having been written at the outset.

Israel, like Britain and America, does undertake costly and time-consuming investigations where there are allegations of war crimes. But as we have seen so many times before, within hours the international media will have beamed the most tarnishing accusations against Israel around the world several times over. Months later when investigators have established the allegations as baseless, no one is listening anymore and the damage is done.

The debacle of the al-Sweady Inquiry has naturally caused some outrage in Britain, and so one hopes that some lessons will have been learned. But if observers have been reminded that jihadists are readily prepared to use war crimes accusations as a second front in the war against the West, they should also recognize the same tactic when they see it being deployed against Israel. The problem is that while many of them may now realize that the Islamists their armies encounter are unreasonable fanatics, they are equally convinced that the Islamists Israel faces have a legitimate grievance and a just cause.

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Pakistan: Incubator of Evil

Jihadist terrorist attacks are, sadly, not a rarity these days. They are, in fact, a daily occurrence. So it takes a special kind of depravity to break through the numbness that repeated atrocities induce. The Pakistani Taliban have done just that by sending their gunmen into a military-run school for the children of Pakistani military personnel. The result was an eight-hour gun battle which apparently left 145 people dead, most of them school children. There are few parallels to such an atrocity beyond the Beslan school massacre in 2004 in which Chechen separatists struck a Russian school, leaving a reported 385 hostages dead, including 186 children.

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Jihadist terrorist attacks are, sadly, not a rarity these days. They are, in fact, a daily occurrence. So it takes a special kind of depravity to break through the numbness that repeated atrocities induce. The Pakistani Taliban have done just that by sending their gunmen into a military-run school for the children of Pakistani military personnel. The result was an eight-hour gun battle which apparently left 145 people dead, most of them school children. There are few parallels to such an atrocity beyond the Beslan school massacre in 2004 in which Chechen separatists struck a Russian school, leaving a reported 385 hostages dead, including 186 children.

It is hardly surprising, of course, that in both cases the perpetrators of these horrifying outrages were killing in the name of Islam. That is not because Islam is a religion uniquely conducive to this sort of evil. Recall that in the 17th century massacres every bit as vile were routinely carried out in Germany in the name of Christianity during the Thirty Years War. In more recent years Serb Orthodox extremists murdered Muslim Bosnians in similar fashion during the wars of Yugoslav succession in the early 1990s. And of course the most costly conflict of modern times, the civil war in Congo, has nothing to do with Islam–it is, rather, all about tribal antagonisms.

But there is no doubt that Islamism–not Islam, per se, but the extremist variant practiced by groups such as the Taliban and ISIS–has become the most important animating philosophy for terrorism today and Pakistan has established itself as one of the centers of this violent faith. For this development Pakistani leaders have no one to blame but themselves: They have been promoting violent Islamism as a state policy since the early 1980s when then-President Zia al Huq was supporting the most extreme elements of the Afghan mujahideen.

More recently Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency has emerged as one of the two leading state sponsors of terrorism in the world (the other being the Iranian Quds Force). It is directly responsible for a long string of atrocities carried out in Afghanistan and India by ISI proxies such as the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba. In short, the Pakistani state has a lot of blood on its hands–not only Indian and Afghan blood but a lot of American blood too, because a lot of Americans have died in Pakistani-sponsored attacks in Afghanistan. And not just in Afghanistan: There is also good cause to think the ISI consciously gave Osama bin Laden shelter in Pakistan after he had to leave Afghanistan in a hurry.

Unfortunately for Pakistan it cannot control where extremists strike. The old adage holds that if you keep snakes in your backyard you can expect to be bitten. Pakistan proves how true that is–and now it has been bitten especially hard by monsters who deliberately set out to kill children. True, these particular monsters are from the Pakistani Taliban (the TTP) which is not exactly the same group as the Afghan Taliban. But the two in fact share an ideology, among other things. Both, for instance, acknowledge Mullah Omar as their spiritual leader.

Sooner or later the Pakistani army must learn that it cannot fight some Islamist extremists while making common cause with others. My fear is that after decades of cooperation with these fanatics, the army itself may be so sympathetic to this extremist ideology that significant elements of it have essentially gone over to the enemy. Aside from an Iranian nuke, it is hard to imagine a scarier scenario in the world today than these Pakistani extremists-in-uniform getting access to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

For too long America has tended to look away from the problem or pretended that Pakistan is really our friend. I don’t know what the solution is to this enormous menace, but at a minimum we need to stop lying to ourselves and recognize Pakistan for what it is: an incubator of evil.

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Sinai Terror Shows the Danger of Ungoverned Places

Egypt has given residents living along the Gaza border 48 hours’ warning before their homes will be demolished to make way for a 500-meter-wide buffer zone that will segregate the strip from the Sinai Peninsula. This move comes in the wake of last week’s terror attack in which over 30 Egyptian soldiers were killed by Islamist militants. Despite protestations from Hamas, Egyptian officials have stated that they believe the attack was carried out with the assistance of Palestinian operatives. As such, Egypt plans to create a buffer zone that will destroy some 680 homes—one can scarcely imagine the international reaction if Israel undertook such a security measure. However, it is a sign of how the Sisi government is becoming increasingly serious about ending the lawlessness that has plagued the Sinai in recent years.

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Egypt has given residents living along the Gaza border 48 hours’ warning before their homes will be demolished to make way for a 500-meter-wide buffer zone that will segregate the strip from the Sinai Peninsula. This move comes in the wake of last week’s terror attack in which over 30 Egyptian soldiers were killed by Islamist militants. Despite protestations from Hamas, Egyptian officials have stated that they believe the attack was carried out with the assistance of Palestinian operatives. As such, Egypt plans to create a buffer zone that will destroy some 680 homes—one can scarcely imagine the international reaction if Israel undertook such a security measure. However, it is a sign of how the Sisi government is becoming increasingly serious about ending the lawlessness that has plagued the Sinai in recent years.

When Israel withdrew from the Sinai as part of the peace agreement signed with Egypt in 1979, it had good reason to believe that the territory was being transferred to a nation state that was at least relatively stable and that could secure the border. But what we have witnessed across the region more recently is that it is in those geographic areas where states have failed or have become weak to the point of absence that terrorist groups have best been able to flourish. The story has been played out repeatedly from Afghanistan to Yemen, Libya to Somalia, and from southern Lebanon to Syria and northern Iraq. And today large parts of the Sinai have become just such an ungoverned vacuum where al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups have dug themselves in and established strongholds. There, jihadist groups have carried out a spate of attacks against Egyptian police and military personnel, and have repeatedly targeted the Arab Gas Pipeline, disrupting the supply between al-Arish, Jordan, Syria, and the wider region.

The problems in the Sinai have been dramatically compounded by the peninsula’s proximity to another area of unstable statelessness: Gaza. When Israel withdrew in 2005, Gaza was theoretically handed into the care of the Palestinian Authority, but as some on Israel’s right had already predicted, it did not take long before the power vacuum created by the absence of the IDF was replaced by the militiamen of Hamas. The same, of course, had already happened after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, as the non-state actor Hezbollah entrenched its position in the area, turning it into a kind of Iranian backed fiefdom.

Militant groups in the Sinai, and the relative weakness of the Egyptian state in this large sparsely populated area, would ultimately prove to be of huge strategic significance for Hamas, with smuggling along the Sinai-Gaza border providing Gaza’s Islamist rulers with their primary source of weaponry, which otherwise would have been kept out by the Israeli blockade. At the same time jihadist groups in Gaza provided training and assistance to militants in the Sinai, while they in turn would periodically fire missiles toward Eilat and Israel’s Negev border communities.

The Sisi government, however, with its fierce crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, finds itself squarely at odds with the Brotherhood’s Palestinian offshoot Hamas. Since the overthrow of President Morsi, the Egyptians have pursued a sustained and serious policy of eradicating the hundreds of smuggling tunnels around Rafah, and during this summer’s war in Gaza Egypt intensified its operations against militants operating close to that border. Indeed, it would appear that under Sisi there has been a concerted effort to reassert the power of the Egyptian state throughout the peninsula. Now, with the Egyptians convinced of the Gaza connection to this latest deadly attack on their troops, the authorities have closed the Rafah border crossing and advanced plans for the construction of deep water-filled trenches to block any restoration of terror tunnels.

Most importantly, the Gaza-Sinai experience must be instructive for both Israel and the wider region. Israelis already look to the turmoil in Syria and consider their good fortune given the failure of both Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert in their misguided efforts to hand over Israel’s Golan Heights buffer to Assad. Similarly, as the wider region becomes more tumultuous and not less, Israelis must be all the more wary of gambling their national security on further territorial withdrawals in the West Bank, not least at a time when the PA has already proved so ineffective at maintaining order in the few localities it is currently entrusted with. And given the weak position of the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan, it would not be difficult to imagine ISIS rapidly spreading from northern Iraq to the West Bank hilltops overlooking Tel Aviv.

Desperate to appear as if it has any clout on the world stage, the EU will continue to push for Israeli concessions in the West Bank. Equally desperate to distract from its multiple failings throughout the region, the Obama administration will also increase its pressure on Israel to give ground. But as the Gaza-Sinai experience shows, creating another area of ungoverned lawlessness and instability on their doorstep is not an option Israelis can afford.

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Democracy in Tunisia

This was a busy weekend for elections–a presidential race in Brazil (which saw the reelection of Dilma Rousseff) and parliamentary elections in Ukraine (which saw a victory for pro-European candidates) and in Tunisia (a victory for secularists over Islamists). From the American perspective it is tempting to see this as generally good news–Rousseff may be a leftist who has presided over a slide in the Brazilian economy but she is no threat to the U.S. The victory of pro-European parliamentarians is a welcome rebuke to Vladimir Putin’s attempts to fragment Ukraine.

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This was a busy weekend for elections–a presidential race in Brazil (which saw the reelection of Dilma Rousseff) and parliamentary elections in Ukraine (which saw a victory for pro-European candidates) and in Tunisia (a victory for secularists over Islamists). From the American perspective it is tempting to see this as generally good news–Rousseff may be a leftist who has presided over a slide in the Brazilian economy but she is no threat to the U.S. The victory of pro-European parliamentarians is a welcome rebuke to Vladimir Putin’s attempts to fragment Ukraine.

And what of Tunisia? That’s where I spent the last few days serving as an election observer for the International Republican Institute, a foundation supported by the U.S. government (along with the National Democratic Institute and others) to promote democracy. I was heartened to see how free and fair Tunisia’s election was–the second held by that country since longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country in 2011.

It was actually his overthrow which triggered what became the Arab Spring and which elsewhere has turned into the winter of our discontent. Tunisia, along among the states in the region, has continued to make democratic progress even though it faces big problems from a stagnant economy and a worrisome security situation–a Salafist terrorist group known as Ansar al-Sharia has been held responsible for storming the U.S. Embassy in Tunis in 2012 and assassinating a couple of leftist politicians in 2013.

From what I could tell, as I visited polling places in the northwest of the country, Tunisia’s voting was transparent and honest. The problem is that voting is only one stage toward the blooming of liberal democracy. You also need a free press, freedom of assembly, free speech, an independent judiciary, an active opposition, and a general climate of peaceful resolution of differences. Tunisia has made some progress toward the independent press, free speech, and freedom of assembly–it is now possible to vent one’s public views without fear of a visit from the secret police. But much of the old corrupt bureaucracy which once served Ben Ali remains on the job, serving as a bar to further progress and stifling economic development with its heavy-handed, French-style socialism and cronyism.

Interestingly enough, the Islamist party, known as Ennahda, is more committed to free-market reforms than the big secular bloc known as Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia), which bested it in Sunday’s voting. Ennahda shares this characteristic with the Turkish AKP party which, while Islamist, has also been more free-market oriented than most of its secular predecessors. And indeed Ennahda is trying to position itself as the “moderate” face of Islam, claiming it is committed both to Islam and to pluralistic democracy.

It tried to prove its bona fides by avoiding the kind of power grab that characterized Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. After winning power in the first post-Ben Ali election in 2011, Ennahda governed in cooperation with secular parties and gave up power altogether when it was criticized for not doing more to crack down on Salafist terrorists. But most secularists are not convinced–they think Ennahda is pursuing a policy of dissimulation and that, if granted power, it would try to create an Islamist dictatorship.

Now Ennahda won’t take power except possible as part of a ruling coalition and it will be up to Nidaa Tounes to reform a moribund bureaucracy and get the economy moving again. There is little reason to expect that Nidaa Tounes will be up to the task; its leaders appear to be united by little more than their opposition to Ennahda. Many of them have backgrounds in the Ben Ali administration, which they tout as evidence of their managerial experience–but keep in mind that it was the very stagnation of the country in those years that led to the revolution that toppled Ben Ali.

I came away from Tunisia cheered that democracy is functioning and happy that it is not leading automatically in an Islamist direction, but I also came away skeptical about the ability of Tunisia’s political class to address its deep-seated malaise. It tells you something that hope for change rests with the frontrunner for president in next month’s elections, the leader of Nidaa Tounes, Beji Caid Essebsi, who happens to be 87 years old. Can an octogenarian really shake a country out of its lethargy? We are about to find out.

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Islamism’s Appeal to the Discontented

There are striking similarities between Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who killed a Canadian soldier in Ottawa, and Zale Thompson, who wounded two New York police officers with a hatchet. Both were loners raised in North America with a history of drug use, petty crime, and apparent mental problems who turned for salvation to a radical form of Islam. Apparently motivated by jihadist websites, they each committed heinous acts of terrorism against what they mistakenly believed were the enemies of Islam. In this respect they were not that different from Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Chechen-American brothers who carried out the Boston marathon bombing in 2013.

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There are striking similarities between Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who killed a Canadian soldier in Ottawa, and Zale Thompson, who wounded two New York police officers with a hatchet. Both were loners raised in North America with a history of drug use, petty crime, and apparent mental problems who turned for salvation to a radical form of Islam. Apparently motivated by jihadist websites, they each committed heinous acts of terrorism against what they mistakenly believed were the enemies of Islam. In this respect they were not that different from Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Chechen-American brothers who carried out the Boston marathon bombing in 2013.

Sadly we can expect more such “lone wolf” attacks in the future, which are almost impossible to predict and very difficult to prevent. One obvious line of defense is to maintain vigilant surveillance of the Internet–which is what the NSA was doing before some of its most successful programs were exposed and curtailed by the traitor Edward Snowden. People who regularly surf jihadist websites should trigger alarm bells somewhere. But even that will not keep us totally safe from such individuals who find in radical Islam the same kind of solace that previous generations of troubled loners found in extreme political movements such as Nazism, fascism, and Communism or in religious cults such as David Koresh’s Branch Davidians or in James Jones’s People’s Temple.

One of the striking aspects of the history of terrorism, as I noted in my book Invisible Armies, is that radical groups tend to follow intellectual fads. Some of the first modern terrorists were motivated to hurl bombs in the 19th century because of their allegiance to Nihilism or anarchism. Those ideas were edged into irrelevance by the rise of Communism as the dominant ideology of the revolutionary set. In the 1960s-70s another wave of terrorists were motivated by admiration for the likes of Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong. These were the “radical chic” revolutionaries such as the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Red Army Faction, the Weather Underground, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Their decline by the 1980s can be traced to the general loss of appeal of Communism. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was not easy anymore to find anyone willing to fight and die for proletarian ideals.

But by then another new ideology–Islamism–was already on the rise, offering the appeal of earthly paradise for troubled and disgruntled individuals eager to rebel against their society. Like these previous “isms,” Islamism offers the possibility of a meaningful and even heroic existence to young men otherwise doomed to live out their lives as nonentities. So potent is the appeal of this radical ideology that it even has some appeal to non-Muslims who convert simply so they can become terrorists or at least fellow travelers of terrorists. Oddly enough one of these converts is Carlos the Jackal, the Venezuelan Marxist revolutionary who once committed terrorism in the name of Palestine and then converted to Islam while sitting in a French prison.

History suggests that the appeal of Islamist ideology for adventurers and malcontents will only dim once it is definitively exposed to be as bankrupt a governing philosophy as anarchism or Communism. Unfortunately that will not happen anytime in the near future–groups such as ISIS, horrific as they may seem to most people, still maintain a potent allure for some no matter how many atrocities they commit, or perhaps because they are committing so many atrocities. Defeating ISIS and its ilk on the battlefield will not instantly or permanently remove their ideological appeal. But it’s a good start. Only movements that seem to have some chance of success are likely to draw many recruits.

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How Do You Fight a Hundred Years’ War?

Most Americans are understandably reluctant to send troops back into Iraq let alone Syria. But, given the fact that, as Max Boot noted earlier today, bombing isn’t stopping the ISIS terrorists from making progress toward their initial goal of taking over either or both countries, more U.S. action is likely to follow. That has provoked the usual anti-war chorus on the left to proclaim that all American action is ultimately futile. But as worthless as many of those arguments may be, it is important to address the more substantive of these complaints head on and explain why it is that Americans are fated, like it or not, to be drawn into conflicts with radical Islamists now and in the years to come.

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Most Americans are understandably reluctant to send troops back into Iraq let alone Syria. But, given the fact that, as Max Boot noted earlier today, bombing isn’t stopping the ISIS terrorists from making progress toward their initial goal of taking over either or both countries, more U.S. action is likely to follow. That has provoked the usual anti-war chorus on the left to proclaim that all American action is ultimately futile. But as worthless as many of those arguments may be, it is important to address the more substantive of these complaints head on and explain why it is that Americans are fated, like it or not, to be drawn into conflicts with radical Islamists now and in the years to come.

In Saturday’s Washington Post, historian and former soldier Andrew Bacevich wrote to say that it didn’t matter whether the battle with ISIS was won or not. By his count, the U.S. had invaded, occupied, or bombed 14 Islamic countries in the last 35 years and that this latest chapter of a long-running war wasn’t likely to end any more satisfactorily than any of the others. To summarize Bacevich’s thesis, he thinks each successive U.S. intervention has only made things worse than its predecessors and that the end result is as futile as American military efforts in Vietnam, a telling analogy as it betrays his frame of reference about these conflicts.

What does Bacevich advise to do instead of attacking ISIS? On that point, he’s a bit hazy other than to imply that staying out will be less messy than going in. Moreover, he believes that since the U.S. is no longer as dependent on Middle Eastern oil, there’s no real need to fuss about the future of the region, a point that also betrays his cynical and somewhat dated echo of the original discredited arguments about the reason the U.S. went into Iraq in 2003.

Bacevich, who lost a son in Iraq, has a right to feel bitter about that conflict but though George Will praised his piece yesterday on Fox News Sunday, his plea for isolationism offers us little that is useful in untangling the current conflict or about the options the U.S. currently faces in Iraq and Syria.

Let’s start by noting that Bacevich’s list of 14 Islamic countries attacked by the U.S. is more than a bit misleading. Including Kosovo, a conflict in which NATO mercilessly bombed the Serbian Christian enemies of Kosovo Muslims, in this roster of invasions is absurd. The whole point of that effort was to defend Muslims and to ultimately aid their creation of another Muslim state at the expense of their neighbors who had themselves misbehaved. But he’s right that Americans have gotten little satisfaction out of any of our encounters in the other 13 nations.

Yet his idea that the U.S. is only making the problem worse is looking at the problem from the wrong perspective.

Radical Islamists do use American actions as a recruiting tool, but to claim that their atrocities or campaigns are primarily a reaction to the West rather than something that reflects the desperate state of their own political culture is fundamentally mistaken. Conflicts with Iran or Libya didn’t create the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Rather the growth of these radical movements is a reflection of the dire state of the Islamic world as it attempts to confront modernity and instead seeks a solution in the old formula of jihad and world domination.

It is comforting to think that the West can simply ignore the war being waged on it by a host of ever-changing Islamist groups whose names change but whose methods are consistently barbarous and whose goals are uncompromising. But every time we do, whether in the ’90s when al-Qaeda’s rise was considered insignificant or during an Obama administration that pretended it could take credit for “ending” wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or staying out Syria, we end up paying a price.

Bacevich is right to note that the conflict against ISIS won’t be easy. Nor will we be able to conclude it with victory parades the way Americans prefer to end wars. Instead, it will require a long-term commitment that recognizes that our foes view this as a hundred years’ war and not a neat little battle that can be quickly won and then forgotten.

The Islamists aren’t looking to behead Westerners, take over Arab countries, and then extend their terror to Americans and our allies because we stumbled into Iraq or bombed Libya in the distant past. Nor is it about our supposed sins in Iran in the 1950s or any other oft-repeated tale of Islamic woe. Rather, it is a function of a basic conflict between Islamist belief and the West and those Muslims who prefer peace and coexistence to Sharia law and endless war.

The call to retreat from the Middle East is advice that President Obama and the American people would do well to ignore. Sooner or later, if we stay out of the conflict with ISIS, that group or those that ultimately replace it will bring their war to America. Contrary to Bacevich and Will, our choice is not whether or not to fight Islamists but where we will fight them. It is simply common sense to do so on their home turf and at a point when Western military superiority can be brought to bear on the group and their allies before they become even more dangerous. The outcome of each battle in this new hundred years’ war won’t be satisfying, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary to fight. The enemy will make sure to remind us that giving up isn’t an option.

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Oklahoma Beheading: Nothing to See Here

The beheading last week of a 54-year-old woman and the attempted beheading of a second by a radicalized Muslim convert in Oklahoma is certainly an outrage. But as so often happens with such cases, the event itself has quickly become obscured by a secondary outrage as the authorities display an almost compulsive need to push a farcical politically correct line about what really happened. The suspected killer’s background and the nature of the incident itself should be enough to convince anyone of the role that a particularly warped and extremist strain of Islam played in this murder. And yet, as we have seen on previous occasions, the powers that be will have none of it.

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The beheading last week of a 54-year-old woman and the attempted beheading of a second by a radicalized Muslim convert in Oklahoma is certainly an outrage. But as so often happens with such cases, the event itself has quickly become obscured by a secondary outrage as the authorities display an almost compulsive need to push a farcical politically correct line about what really happened. The suspected killer’s background and the nature of the incident itself should be enough to convince anyone of the role that a particularly warped and extremist strain of Islam played in this murder. And yet, as we have seen on previous occasions, the powers that be will have none of it.

First, there has been the question of whether or not the Oklahoma attack was an act of terrorism. Governor Rick Perry has been particularly vocal about the need for the White House to come out and address the killing as what it “appears to many people that it is—and that is an act of violence that is associated with terrorism.” The word “associated” here is probably the most accurate one. The suspect, Alton Nolen, apparently carried out the murder shortly after having been fired, and indeed the victims he targeted were his co-workers at the Vaughan Foods Plant. So this does not appear to be a standard premeditated terror attack—although that is not to say that Nolen wasn’t planning to eventually carry out a beheading of this kind anyway; his postings on social media show that he was more than a little enamored with the subject.

The problem is that FBI investigators have outright rejected even an association with Islamist terrorism. As the Washington Post reported, having labelled Thursday’s attack as simply a standard incident of “workplace violence” an FBI official stuck to the line that “there was also no indication that Nolen was copying the beheadings of journalists in Syria by the Islamic State.” But that just isn’t at all credible. Not only is murdering one’s co-workers hardly the standard reaction to losing one’s job, but beheading is also far from the preferred method for most would-be killers in this country today. Besides, it’s not as if the FBI are unaware of Nolen’s extremist background and his armchair support for ISIS.

On Facebook, where Nolen goes by the name Jah’keem Yisrael, there is a trail of incriminating postings that glorify Islamist violence against America. Nolen uploaded photographs of Osama bin Laden and pictures of the World Trade Center in flames. He posted a picture of a woman receiving a Sharia-mandated flogging and added the caption “Islam will dominate the world. Freedom can go to hell.” In another post he simply wrote “Jihad. Jihad. Jihad.” But if all of this isn’t explicit enough for the FBI, still apparently convinced that Nolen was in no way seeking to imitate ISIS, then perhaps they might consider reviewing a picture that Nolen posted to his Facebook page back in March; it is none other than a picture showing an ISIS-style beheading. But then, the FBI has already confirmed that Nolen had been watching Islamist beheading videos online.

This macabre interest clearly derived from Nolen’s newly found Islamic extremism. Along with the image of the beheading uploaded by Nolen came the attempt to justify such acts with the inclusion of the Koranic quotation: “I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers; smite ye about their necks.” As Michael Rubin explained here recently, this verse has been seized upon by those Islamic extremists following a hardline Wahhabi literalism, and as such has come to be associated with the recent resurgence of beheadings among Islamists.

For the FBI to continue to insist that this was a standard act of workplace violence, with no terrorist association, is simply absurd. As MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough asked incredulously, “and who exactly are they afraid of offending? ISIS?” After all, as Scarborough alluded, to suggest that the Islam connection here must be hushed up for fear of offending moderate Muslims would be pretty appalling. Presumably any genuinely moderate Muslim would be as eager as the rest of us to have this kind of extremism exposed and stamped out.

Yet we’ve been here before. This is the same perverse attempt to distort reality that we witnessed following the 2009 Fort Hood massacre. There, when the base’s resident psychiatrist went on a shooting rampage, murdering 13, the PC line pushed by the liberal media was that the assailant had suffered from “compassion fatigue.” Apparently Nidal Hasan had been so moved by the heartrending war stories of his patients returning from Afghanistan that eventually he couldn’t take it anymore and ended up murdering the people he just felt too much compassion for.

The fact that Hasan carried a business card that declared his occupation as “Soldier of Allah” apparently had nothing to do with it. Just as the FBI would have us believe that Alton Nolen posting pictures of ISIS fighters and beheadings online has nothing to do with the events in Oklahoma on Thursday. As Scarborough so eloquently put it, “How stupid does the FBI really think we are?”

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Has Obama Finally Grown Up?

For most of his six years as president, Barack Obama has behaved as if the U.S. could opt out of the war Islamist terrorists have been waging on it and to pretend that outreach or the magic of his personality could bridge the gap with the Muslim and Arab worlds. But in his speech today to the United Nations General Assembly, the president seem to find a new, tougher, and more realistic voice about this threat. Instead of pious liberal platitudes at times he sounded like the grown up America needs at its helm. While the change is heartening, it remains to be seen if the means he is rallying to meet the threat is equal to the challenge he outlined.

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For most of his six years as president, Barack Obama has behaved as if the U.S. could opt out of the war Islamist terrorists have been waging on it and to pretend that outreach or the magic of his personality could bridge the gap with the Muslim and Arab worlds. But in his speech today to the United Nations General Assembly, the president seem to find a new, tougher, and more realistic voice about this threat. Instead of pious liberal platitudes at times he sounded like the grown up America needs at its helm. While the change is heartening, it remains to be seen if the means he is rallying to meet the threat is equal to the challenge he outlined.

The contrast between Obama’s speech today and previous statements, such as his June 2009 address to the Arab and Muslim worlds in Cairo, Egypt was stark. Rather than placing the blame for conflicts on the West and, in particular, the United States, Obama seems finally to have woken up to the fact that engagement won’t make radical Islam go away. In its place, the president spoke up forcefully in recognition of the fact that there is no alternative to the use of force against radical Islamists such as the al-Qaeda affiliates and the ISIS group running amok in Syria and Iraq:

No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.

Even more importantly, he recognized that the foundation of any effort to deal with these terrorists must come from recognition by Muslims and Arabs to clean up their own house:

It is time for the world – especially Muslim communities – to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIL.

It is the task of all great religions to accommodate devout faith with a modern, multicultural world. No children – anywhere – should be educated to hate other people. There should be no more tolerance of so-called clerics who call upon people to harm innocents because they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim. It is time for a new compact among the civilized peoples of this world to eradicate war at its most fundamental source: the corruption of young minds by violent ideology.

That is exactly right. While in Cairo he pretended that there was no real conflict, now he seems to understand that while this needn’t be a clash of civilizations between the West and the East, the rhetoric of his predecessor about nations having to choose whether they were with the U.S. or not is closer to the mark than the platitudes he used to spout. Having come into office acting as if the commitment of President George W. Bush to fight a war against Islamist terror was a historical mistake that could be redressed by conciliatory speeches and withdrawals of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama now seems to have learned the error of his ways. The delusion that the U.S. could bug out of the war in Iraq and ignore the crisis in Syria without cost has been exposed by the rise of ISIS. Though he continues to insist that American ground troops won’t take part in this latest round of a war that began long before he took office, there can at least be no mistaking that the U.S. is back in the fight and understands that this time there can be no premature withdrawals or foolish decisions to opt out of the conflict.

Such tough-minded and more realistic positions also characterized the president’s attitude toward other, not entirely unrelated issues.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he stuck to his belief in a two-state solution and his commitment to making it a reality. But he also finally acknowledged a major truth:

The situation in Iraq, Syria and Libya should cure anyone of the illusion that this conflict is the main source of problems in the region; for far too long, it has been used in part as a way to distract people from problems at home.

While relations remain frosty between Washington and Jerusalem, at long last, with this speech, the administration seems to have rid itself of the delusion that pressuring Israel into territorial concessions would solve all the problems of the Middle East.

Also to his credit, the new hard line from Obama was not limited to the Middle East. His rhetoric about Russian aggression against Ukraine was equally tough and left no room for doubt that the United States supports Kiev against the Putin regime’s provocations and will stand by its NATO allies in Eastern Europe.

And though the president has repeatedly weakened the West’s position in negotiations over the threat from Iran’s nuclear program, here, too, he was at least ready to again demand that Tehran commit to a process that will make the realization of their ambitions impossible.

Leaving aside recriminations about all the mistakes that preceded this moment, it must be acknowledged that the president has gone a long way toward correcting some, though not all, of his most egregious foreign-policy errors. But the problem is that it will take more than rhetoric to address these challenges.

Without adequate resources, American military efforts in Iraq and Syria are bound to fail. Nor can we, if we really believe that ISIS and other al-Qaeda affiliates are a genuine threat to U.S. security, rely entirely on local Arab forces to do a job they have proved unable to do for years. As our Max Boot wrote earlier today, America can’t bomb its way out of this problem.

Nor can the challenges from Iran and its terrorist allies waging war against Israel be met with only words. The same is true for the effort to halt Russia’s campaign to resurrect the old tsarist and Soviet empires. Without military aid to Ukraine and similar efforts to bolster the Baltic states and Poland, Vladimir Putin will dismiss the president’s speech as empty bombast.

By giving a speech that included major elements that often sounded like those given by his predecessor, the president turned a corner today in a speech that seemed to embody his transformation from a man lost in his own delusions and ego to one who knew he was the leader of a nation embroiled in a generations-long war not of its own choosing. But in the coming weeks and months and the last two years of his presidency, he will have to match his actions to the fine rhetoric we heard today. Based on his past history, it is impossible to be optimistic about Obama’s ability to meet that challenge. Throughout his address, the president seemed to be drowning in multilateral platitudes and the kind of liberal patent nostrums that have helped bring us to this terrible moment in history. But at least for a few minutes on the UN podium, the president gave us the impression that he understands the large gap between the illusions that helped elect him president and the harsh reality in which the nation now finds itself.

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Checking in with Tawakkol Karman

The Middle East is on fire. ISIS is on the rise and Jordan and perhaps Lebanon are in its crosshairs. Foreign jihadis are beheading kidnapped journalists and perhaps aid workers as well, and gleefully capturing UN peacekeepers. A generation of women is being repressed. The Bahraini government has arrested prominent Shi‘ite activist Maryam al-Khawaja and is thumbing its nose at international condemnation. Turks have embraced autocracy, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan makes no secret of his disdain for the democratic order that empowered him.

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The Middle East is on fire. ISIS is on the rise and Jordan and perhaps Lebanon are in its crosshairs. Foreign jihadis are beheading kidnapped journalists and perhaps aid workers as well, and gleefully capturing UN peacekeepers. A generation of women is being repressed. The Bahraini government has arrested prominent Shi‘ite activist Maryam al-Khawaja and is thumbing its nose at international condemnation. Turks have embraced autocracy, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan makes no secret of his disdain for the democratic order that empowered him.

Given everything going on, I figured it would be time to check in with Tawakkol Karman, the young Yemeni activist who shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. I have written here before about Tawakkol Karman, especially to criticize her silence in the wake of the Pakistani Taliban’s assassination attempt against then 14-year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.

Now, Tawakkol was a Yemeni opposition activist and the daughter of a Yemeni Islamist official who grew to fame for her peaceful protests against the dictatorship of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. She was not picked simply for her work in Yemen, however, but rather to make a political point. At the time, Thorbjoern Jagland, a Labour Party activist who heads the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, explained to the Associated Press:

The prize is “a signal that the Arab Spring cannot be successful without including the women in it.” He also said Karman belongs to a Muslim movement with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, “which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy.” He added that “I don’t believe that. There are many signals that, that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution.”

In other words, Jagland and his colleagues wanted a symbol: A woman, an Arab, and an Islamist and they searched until they found someone that could put check marks in all the right boxes.

So what has Karman done since her silence on Malala?

She has joined with other female Nobel laureates to condemn Israel’s fight with Hamas in Gaza, but could find no time to even consider Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel or the role of Hamas’s genocidal ideology encapsulated in its charter.

She is much more prolific on Facebook and Twitter. She celebrated Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rise to the presidency in Turkey, never mind his repression of the press or women. There seems to be little if any condemnation of the Islamist beheading of journalists and aid workers or the arrest of non-violent Shi‘ite activists in Bahrain. My Arabic is poor and so I may be missing passing mention she may have given, but Karman certainly declines to make condemnation of Islamist abuses central to her activity, even though she is perhaps more empowered than anyone else to do so.

To Tawakkol Karman, peace and human rights seem to be less of a priority than the promotion of Islamism. She interprets human rights through a sectarian lens. How tragic that the Nobel Committee, so desperate to make a politically correct statement, ended up empowering someone who may embrace non-violent protest, but stands very much for the opposite of peace and universal human rights. And as for Mr. Jagland, he may have believed that the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates were part of the solution, but his experiment seems to confirm that they are much more part of the problem.

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Turkey Doubles Down on Conspiracy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not only an Islamist and an autocrat disdainful of the rule of law, but he is also a full-blown conspiracy theorist. As he has faced challenges—whether from homegrown environmentalists, foreign diplomats, followers of Fethullah Gülen, or anti-corruption officers who question how he has become a multimillionaire several times over during his time as a public servant, he or his proxies will increasingly launch into ever more ridiculous conspiracy theories.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not only an Islamist and an autocrat disdainful of the rule of law, but he is also a full-blown conspiracy theorist. As he has faced challenges—whether from homegrown environmentalists, foreign diplomats, followers of Fethullah Gülen, or anti-corruption officers who question how he has become a multimillionaire several times over during his time as a public servant, he or his proxies will increasingly launch into ever more ridiculous conspiracy theories.

There was, for example, the “Interest Rate Lobby,” a thinly-disguised attack on allegedly Jewish-run finance. Erdoğan subsequently dispensed with the niceties promoted by his aides and blamed Jews directly. A bit over a year ago, one of Erdoğan’s favorite newspapers accused me personally of plotting the unrest that culminated in the Gezi Park protests, never mind that I’ve never met (or am not on speaking terms) with so many of the officials supposedly participating in my secret meeting, and I wasn’t even in Washington at the time. (My response to that bout of Erdoğan craziness is here.) Buzzfeed listed nine conspiracy theories used to explain the corruption scandal in Turkey. Whenever Al Jazeera calls you out on conspiracies and suggests you’re becoming a banana republic, you probably have something to worry about.

Because the Erdoğan regime has taken over the independent press—press freedom in Turkey, of course, now ranks below even Russia and is on par with Iran—conspiracy theories now substitute for news and analysis. What is missed in fact is made up for in repetition. Given how conspiracies have become the new normal, it says something when the craziness of any particular one shines through. Such was the case last summer when Turkish journalist and longtime Erdoğan mouthpiece Yiğit Bulut claimed that Israel was trying to assassinate Erdoğan by telekinesis. (Of course, this was always silly claim: didn’t Bulut know that to build up lethal telekinetic power is a seven-day task, but many Israelis would have to rest on Saturday and that it’s hard to focus telekinetic power simultaneously upon interest rates and telekinetic assassination?)

Well, rather than end Bulut’s career, Bulut’s loyalty and his ardent defense of Erdoğan against Israel’s evil telekinesis plot have paid off (so much for Jews being able to trash careers in such enlightened societies such as Turkey). Erdoğan has announced that he has appointed Bulut to be his chief economic adviser. With dark clouds looming on the horizon for Turkey’s economy, let’s hope that Bulut’s credentials go beyond his constant vigilance against malevolent telekinesis and the machinations of the Interest Rate Lobby. Let us hope that he keeps an open mind so he can dream up and expose ever more conspiracy theories to explain Erdoğan failures. In the meantime, however, Erdoğan’s appointment of Bulut is as clear a sign that investors should flee and flee fast from what Turkey is becoming.

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Congress Last Holdout to Break Turkey Embrace

Kudos to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Obama entered office blind to the anti-democratic agenda that Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sought to impose on Turkey, even going so far as describing the Turkish strongman as among his most trusted friends. Never mind that under Erdoğan, the murder rate of women skyrocketed. During a recent trip to Turkey, a female member of parliament waved off suggestions that the increased murder rate was simply because more people were reporting crimes; rather, she suggested, it was because Erdoğan’s constituents understood they could impose their savage notions of honor with impunity.

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Kudos to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Obama entered office blind to the anti-democratic agenda that Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sought to impose on Turkey, even going so far as describing the Turkish strongman as among his most trusted friends. Never mind that under Erdoğan, the murder rate of women skyrocketed. During a recent trip to Turkey, a female member of parliament waved off suggestions that the increased murder rate was simply because more people were reporting crimes; rather, she suggested, it was because Erdoğan’s constituents understood they could impose their savage notions of honor with impunity.

Turkish journalists and even former budget officials privately acknowledged and detailed how Erdoğan used Islamist backers in Qatar and Saudi Arabia to amass political slush funds, a practice I detailed here, and which history has proven correct. Erdoğan also reoriented Turkish foreign policy and society away from Europe and the West and into the Islamist world, a mission of which he placed Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, in charge. It’s no coincidence that he appointed Davutoğlu to be his Medvedev now that Erdoğan is moving onto the presidency. At any rate, I’ve detailed Turkey’s change repeatedly in the pages of COMMENTARY, but I summarize most of them in this lecture delivered at the Chautauqua Institution last year.

Obama might be forgiven for not being aware of just how corrosive Erdoğan has been to Turkey’s democratic development and rule of law. After all, a succession of U.S. ambassadors to Turkey—Eric Edelman being a notable exception—had long carried water for Erdoğan. Had they acknowledged that Erdoğan wasn’t as progressive as they claimed, they might have condemned what they believed to be an enlightened notion of just what “moderate Islamism” could become. In recent months, many of these former ambassadors have gone silent, and some have even noticeably and publicly switched sides, for example by signing this letter. If they had previously defended Erdoğan publicly, their counsel to Obama and his aides was even more dismissive of the notion that Erdoğan was up to no good.

Well, that’s all past, it seems. As Erdoğan gears up for his presidential inauguration, the Turkish press notes the foreign dignitaries who will be attending:

Fifteen countries are to be represented at the level [of] president or heads of state, 6 countries at the level of parliament speaker, 12 countries at the level of prime ministers, 3 countries at level of vice presidents, 7 countries at the level of deputy prime ministers and around 40 countries at the level of ministers.

The highest American official? The chargé d’affaires at the embassy, a clear sign that the United States is not supportive of how Erdoğan acts and what his true agenda is.

Too bad that so many congressmen have not gotten the message, and still lend their names through their membership in the “Caucus on US Turkey Relations & Turkish Americans” (more often called simply the “Congressional Turkey Caucus”) to endorse a regime that supports Hamas, engages in anti-Semitic propaganda, allows international jihadists and perhaps even arms to cross unmolested into Syria, makes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attitude to the press look positively enlightened, and even lends assistance to Iranian sanctions-busting. Perhaps such positions could be expected of folks like Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a former member of the Nation of Islam and a cheerleader for more radical causes, or Gerry Connelly (D-Va.), who has flirted with groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations. But dozens of other congressmen should know better, and not allow themselves to be used by the Turkish government for its own propaganda purposes.

Congress so often takes the lead to seek to defend religious freedom, to ensure that the White House doesn’t subvert American national security in its rush to cement deals with regimes like Iran’s and Russia’s, and to try to prevent the State Department from allowing U.S. money to be used by terror-sponsoring groups. And yet when it comes to Turkey, it now trails behind even Obama and the State Department in recognizing just how destructive Turkey has become. It’s time to quit the Congressional Turkey Caucus; Istanbul is a lovely city, but the junkets membership allows do not enhance American security, diplomacy, and interests and are simply are not worth the price.

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Why Are We Letting Qatar Play This Game?

Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, calls out Qatar in a New York Times op-ed today pointing out how that small, oil-rich sheikhdom has become a leading financier of extreme Islamist groups such as Hamas and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria:

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Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, calls out Qatar in a New York Times op-ed today pointing out how that small, oil-rich sheikhdom has become a leading financier of extreme Islamist groups such as Hamas and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria:

It harbors leading Islamist radicals like the spiritual leader of the global Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who issued a religious fatwa endorsing suicide attacks, and the Doha-based history professor Abdul Rahman Omeir al-Naimi, whom the United States Department of Treasury has named as a “terrorist financier” for Al Qaeda. Qatar also funds a life of luxury for Khaled Meshal, the fugitive leader of Hamas.

And of course its Al Jazeera TV station regularly broadcasts in favor of extremist Islam.

Prosor, because of the position he holds in the Israeli government, can’t offer much of a solution to this problem beyond “isolating” Qatar, but retired General Jack Keane and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute are under no such restrictions. They have an excellent suggestion: “We have alternatives to our Combined Air and Operations Center in Doha, the al Udeid air base, other bases and prepositioned materiel. We should tell Qatar to end its support for terrorism or we leave.”

It is high time that the U.S. government delivered the ultimatum they suggest. For too long Qatar has gotten away with playing both sides of the street–supporting radical Islam while also hosting the U.S. military. One suspects its wily rulers think they are covering themselves no matter what happens in the region by ingratiating themselves both with the jihadists and the “Great Satan.” It’s understandable why Qatar would play this game. Less understandable is why the U.S. government would tolerate it.

It’s about time President Obama borrowed a page from his predecessor and told Qatar (as George W. Bush never did): “You’re either with us or against us.”

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If the Yazidis Were Mainstream Muslims, Would the West Still Save Them?

The decision to strike ISIS in Iraq and airlift supplies to save the besieged Yazidis from their Islamist pursuers is the right thing to do. Never was a genocide so easily prevented, and the United States has an obvious stake not just in Iraq’s future and the (relative) stability of the region but in containing, wherever possible, the spread of ISIS terrorism and tyranny. And yet, there is something disquieting in the self-satisfaction and backslapping pride the West is taking in this supposedly most moral of doctrines.

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The decision to strike ISIS in Iraq and airlift supplies to save the besieged Yazidis from their Islamist pursuers is the right thing to do. Never was a genocide so easily prevented, and the United States has an obvious stake not just in Iraq’s future and the (relative) stability of the region but in containing, wherever possible, the spread of ISIS terrorism and tyranny. And yet, there is something disquieting in the self-satisfaction and backslapping pride the West is taking in this supposedly most moral of doctrines.

The support for saving the Yazidis has brought the realist right and the humanitarian-interventionist left to join traditional interventionists in a broad call for action. It’s a heartening coalition, and it’s always encouraging to see what’s left of American realists assert the primacy of moral action, just as it is encouraging to see the remaining interventionist Democrats free themselves from the angry gaze of the antiwar left long enough to take a stand. Nonetheless, the rhetoric coming from some of these quarters, while meant well, does not reflect nearly as well on the Western conscience as it appears.

The Yazidis fit certain qualifications, according to this coalition of the willing. Foremost among them is that they are a persecuted community on the verge of being the victims of genocide. They are an ethnoreligious minority sect in Iraq (and elsewhere) whose theology has traces of Islamic and other influences, often mentioned alongside Zoroastrianism.

But what if they weren’t? What if they were mainstream Muslims indistinguishable from those around them, being persecuted because of a political rivalry gone violent? I think the answer is: the West wouldn’t lift a finger to save them. And this is not something to be proud of. Noninterventionists who support helping the Yazidis are certainly in the right here. But they also seem eager to check a box–to have something on their resume to dispute their characterization as heartless or borderline isolationist.

“I’ve said before, the United States cannot and should not intervene every time there’s a crisis in the world,” President Obama said when announcing the airstrikes. Fair enough, and he described the plight of the Yazidis:

In recent days, Yezidi women, men and children from the area of Sinjar have fled for their lives.  And thousands — perhaps tens of thousands — are now hiding high up on the mountain, with little but the clothes on their backs.  They’re without food, they’re without water.  People are starving.  And children are dying of thirst.  Meanwhile, ISIL forces below have called for the systematic destruction of the entire Yezidi people, which would constitute genocide.  So these innocent families are faced with a horrible choice:  descend the mountain and be slaughtered, or stay and slowly die of thirst and hunger.

Good for the president for going back to Iraq when the situation called for it, and certainly preventing genocide is an admirable, if obvious, red line. But the Yazidis are neither the first nor the last Iraqi minority to find itself in the ISIS crosshairs. “Most analysts agree there’s not a religious or ethnic minority in northern Iraq — Shabaks, Turkmens, Yazidis, Christians — that isn’t in danger,” the Washington Post reported last week. After the establishment of a self-styled ISIS caliphate, the Post went on, “one day in mid-July, Christian homes were marked.” While the Christians were being erased, “militants were hunting Shiite Turkmens, who speak a language that derives from Turkish and, according to Islamic State dogma, are apostates.” And on and on.

There’s another argument being deployed that I’m not particularly fond of. In an otherwise eloquent and forceful column, Ross Douthat writes that the case for action has three elements: “a distinctive obligation, a distinctive (and thus potentially more expansive) evil,” and “a clear strategic plan”:

But in this case, such a plan is visible. We do not need to re-invade or restabilize Iraq to deal ISIS a blow and help its victims, because Kurdistan is already relatively stable, and the line of conflict is relatively clear. And the Kurds themselves, crucially, are a known quantity with a longstanding relationship to the United States — something that wasn’t on offer in Libya or Syria.

Yes, we know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Except the same good guys–the Kurds–and the same bad guys–ISIS–are in Syria too. The borders in this conflict have become essentially meaningless. There are enclaves we’d like to protect, minorities in the line of fire, and savage terrorists all throughout the region.

What’s the message to other groups, especially Sunni or Shiite Muslims, staring into the barrel of a gun? You’re not on the edge of extinction? You’re not being killed with certain kinds of chemical weapons, only other kinds of chemical weapons that aren’t on a random list, plus conventional weapons? You look or sound too much like the other guys for us to figure out who’s who?

We should save the Yazidis. But we should do so because it’s the right call, not because they look and sound distinctive enough for us to tell the difference between them and their enemies.

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Turkey’s Pariah President

Turks head to the polls today and all indications are that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will win the presidency, most likely in the first round. The campaign has been anything but even: Erdoğan refused to resign from the premiership after declaring his candidacy for the presidency, effectively allowing him to use the resources of the state to campaign. State television began the campaign by giving Erdoğan a more than 400-to-one advantage in airtime over his competitors and ended by giving the prime minister an only 25-to-one advantage in coverage over his opponents.

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Turks head to the polls today and all indications are that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will win the presidency, most likely in the first round. The campaign has been anything but even: Erdoğan refused to resign from the premiership after declaring his candidacy for the presidency, effectively allowing him to use the resources of the state to campaign. State television began the campaign by giving Erdoğan a more than 400-to-one advantage in airtime over his competitors and ended by giving the prime minister an only 25-to-one advantage in coverage over his opponents.

But with votes counted, Erdoğan will claim a popular mandate, no matter how shady his path to the presidency. How ironic it is, then, that Turkey has effective elected a pariah to be president. Erdoğan began his tenure as prime minister committed to neo-Ottomanism, the idea that Turkey should lead a community of nations that once had the commonality of being in the Ottoman Empire. And his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, promised a policy that would lead to good relations with all Turkey’s neighbors.

Consider the reality: Turkey seeks to be a big player in the Middle East, but as Turks wryly noted during a visit last month, Erdoğan is now unwelcome in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, something no previous Turkish statesman had ever achieved. So much for the role of respected mediator. Nor is Erdoğan anymore welcome in the White House; even the Turkish government acknowledges that Erdoğan and President Obama no longer talk directly on the telephone, quite a status change for the man Obama once described as one of his most trusted foreign friends.

True, Erdoğan is not completely isolated. He might still receive a hero’s welcome from Hamas’s leadership, and in Iran. Russian strongman Vladimir Putin will embrace his Turkish counterpart not only as a friend but also as a business partner. And Qatar, of course, will always lay out the red carpet for any supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Erdoğan has been one of its key investments.

Erdoğan is not completely isolated, but the fact that his most trusted friends and allies are Hamas, Iran, and Russia confirm the facts: Turks have elected as their president not a statesman, diplomat, or respected representative but rather a pariah, one who has contributed not to peace and stability, but rather to war, unrest, and insecurity throughout the region. He has become not a symbol of progressive Turkey, but rather one of backwardness, misogyny, corruption, and dictatorship.

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Why No One Cares About the Christians of Mosul

No one cares about the Christians of Mosul–or perhaps we should say the Christians formerly of Mosul. The reports in recent days suggest that the last Christians have now fled that city, forced out by Islamist militants who implemented a “convert or die” policy for Iraq’s ancient Christian community. The most assistance they have received thus far is an offer of asylum from France. If they can make it there, that is, since they have faced robbery, torture, and murder as they’ve made their exodus.

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No one cares about the Christians of Mosul–or perhaps we should say the Christians formerly of Mosul. The reports in recent days suggest that the last Christians have now fled that city, forced out by Islamist militants who implemented a “convert or die” policy for Iraq’s ancient Christian community. The most assistance they have received thus far is an offer of asylum from France. If they can make it there, that is, since they have faced robbery, torture, and murder as they’ve made their exodus.

None of this has gone entirely unreported. These events have been allotted some headlines and the kind of procedural news coverage that the persecution of Christians usually elicits. But if the last remnants of Iraq’s beleaguered Christian population were hoping for any real outrage or anguish from the West, then they were setting themselves up for disappointment. Not only has it long been apparent that no one was ever going to take any action on behalf of these people, but as we have seen, Western publics weren’t even going to trouble themselves to get too worked up about these atrocities.

Given the huge demonstrations, United Nations Security Council resolutions, and endless hours of reporting on events in Gaza, one is tempted to say that Iraq’s Christians had the misfortune of not being Palestinian. However, that suggestion would be unfair. The world has also neglected the suffering of thousands of Palestinians murdered and starved by the Assad regime in Syria. It is not being Palestinian that wins the world’s attention; it is the accusation that culpability rests with Israel that really provokes some strength of feeling. If only the Christians fleeing Mosul could somehow frame the Israelis for their plight, then they might stand a chance of seeing their cause championed by a host of tweeting celebrities, UN delegates, far-left radicals, and perhaps even the West’s Muslim immigrant populations who have turned out in huge numbers to passionately demonstrate on behalf of Gaza like they never did for their coreligionists in Syria or Libya.

With reports of how the doors of Christian homes were ominously marked by Islamists so as to streamline this campaign of ethnic cleansing, with incidents of Christians having been crucified–yes, crucified–you might have thought that some of those avid humanitarian activists attending the recent anti-Israel rallies could have at least organized a sub-contingent to highlight the terrible fate of the Iraqi Christians, but no, that might have risked detracting in some way from the anti-Israel political objectives of these protests.

There is always something distasteful about playing the numbers game with such situations. It is, however, the favorite pastime of Israel’s detractors. The body count in Gaza is endlessly wheeled out to justify the preeminent importance that so many attribute to this cause. You can almost feel the most hardline anti-Israel activists willing it upwards so as to better serve their campaign. Undoubtedly that is Hamas’s calculation. Yet if the liberal college kids and left-leaning journalists who refer to these figures as justification for their obsessive focus on the subject were being remotely honest with themselves, then they would have to find some way of explaining the utter disinterest that they have shown events in Iraq and Syria, where the death toll has been surpassing that in Gaza on almost a weekly basis.

The long-suffering Christians of Mosul are perhaps considered by the anti-Israel campaigners with the same suspicion with which they viewed the victims of MH17. When news of that attack broke, the first reaction of prominent British news anchor Jon Snow was to unguardedly tweet out: “Awful danger that the shooting down of flight MH17 will provide cover for an intensification of Israel’s ground war in Gaza.” Those attending demonstrations against Israel’s actions in Gaza essentially made the same complaint, that that incident was being awarded too much media attention. The only reason that they weren’t expressing the same accusation regarding the Iraqi Christians is because those atrocities have only been allotted the most token coverage.

The contrast between the world’s non-reaction to the decimation of Mosul’s once 60,000-strong Christian community and the hysterical hate-fueled frenzy being directed against Israel over the casualties in Gaza reminds us that in the liberal imagination, all human suffering is not considered equal. The determining factor here is not the identity of the victims, but rather who can be framed for the crimes. No one has protested Hamas’s execution of Gazan “collaborators” or the reports of the many Palestinian children killed during the construction of Hamas’s terror tunnels. Every misfiring rocket that kills Gazans is attributed to Israel if at all possible. The only Palestinian casualties that anyone has claimed to be concerned with are those that can be used as ammunition in the war to delegitimize Israel and its right to self-defense.

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Turkey’s Last Chance?

Turks will go to the polls on August 10 to elect a new president, the first time that office will be filled by direct election. This weekend, incumbent Abdullah Gül, a Justice and Development Party (AKP) acolyte, has announced he will step down and the AKP will determine its nominee on July 1. The party’s nominee will likely be Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist, corrupt, and increasingly authoritarian prime minister.

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Turks will go to the polls on August 10 to elect a new president, the first time that office will be filled by direct election. This weekend, incumbent Abdullah Gül, a Justice and Development Party (AKP) acolyte, has announced he will step down and the AKP will determine its nominee on July 1. The party’s nominee will likely be Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist, corrupt, and increasingly authoritarian prime minister.

Rather than roll over and accept Turkey’s slide into autocracy or kleptocracy without a fight, the center-left Republican Peoples Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have nominated a joint candidate, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Turkish history reflects the significance of such a choice: For decades, the CHP and MHP were at each other’s’ throats. Gangs affiliated with each targeted supporters of the other. The heightened political polarization in Washington today is nothing compared to what the CHP and MHP wrought. What happened in Turkey is as if Valerie Jarrett and Karl Rove suddenly decided to mount a joint candidate against a greater threat.

I spent the last week in Turkey, talking to several CHP and MHP officials as well as contacts who aren’t involved in politics about the İhsanoğlu choice and Turkey’s way forward. Admittedly, many CHP and MHP members are uneasy: İhsanoğlu’s credentials are primarily because of his Islamic scholarship. While members bend over backwards to say he is not an Islamist, he is far different from the typical CHP and MHP candidate, and their respective bases suggest as much. Some outside the parties suggest that the choice of İhsanoğlu effectively acknowledges the end of secularism in Turkey, although party leaders hotly deny this.

What there does appear to be consensus about, though, is that an Erdoğan presidency will permanently end the Republic of Turkey as anyone knows it. Erdoğan is increasingly blunt in his desire to remake Turkey and Turkish society, hence his declaration that “We will raise a religious generation.” Some politicians even suggest Erdoğan sees himself more as a caliph responsive to the Islamic umma (community) rather than simply a leader for Turks. The autocracy under which Turkey now suffers was reflected in the debate about which “Medvedev” might succeed Erdoğan as prime minister.

If Erdoğan wins the presidency—either in the first round on August 10 or, if he receives less than 50 percent, in the second round on August 24—then Turks believe he will increasingly rule as a dictator, remaking the once more ceremonial presidency even as his old party withers under his thumb or falls apart. Indeed, given accusations that the AKP has fiddled with ballot boxes, some Turkish politicians suggested that Erdoğan would automatically gain a fraud bonus of perhaps five percent, which the opposition will have to overcome.

Under Erdoğan, Turkey has shifted its diplomatic posture away from Europe and toward the Middle East. Rather than even align with the more secular dictators of the Middle East, Erdoğan has aligned instead with religious radicals, whether in Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood, or Hamas. Elections matter. But after 12 years of electoral wins, the August polls might mean the end of meaningful elections in Turkey, for an Erdoğan victory would likely mean years more of using the institutions of state to attack anyone in politics, business, or society who dares to stand in his way.

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The Left’s War on Moderate Muslims

After years of effort to promote the myth of a post-9/11 backlash against American Muslims, the left is breaking some new ground in the debate about terror. Instead of merely trying to make Americans feel guilty about defending themselves against radical Islamists, they have a new goal: banning the use of the term “moderate Muslim.”

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After years of effort to promote the myth of a post-9/11 backlash against American Muslims, the left is breaking some new ground in the debate about terror. Instead of merely trying to make Americans feel guilty about defending themselves against radical Islamists, they have a new goal: banning the use of the term “moderate Muslim.”

That’s the conceit of a piece in the New Republic by Georgetown University’s Nathan Lean in which he argues that to attempt to differentiate between Islamists who seek to pursue a war on the West and those Muslims who wish to live in peace with non-Muslims is itself an act of prejudice. For Lean, any effort to ascertain whether Muslims are supportive of the radical ideologues that have supported not only al-Qaeda but also other Islamist terror movements is wrong because it feeds the “Islamophobia” which he believes is at the core of all Western attitudes toward Muslims. In doing so, he is attempting not only to discourage efforts to combat the radicals but to delegitimize those Muslims who choose to speak up against the Islamists.

Lean’s problem with the term stems from the criteria that he thinks are used to ascertain whether a Muslim is one of the many millions who support radical terror groups or subscribe to an ideology of perpetual war on the West whether or not they personally pursue violence. According to Lean, the best way to win the title of “moderate” is:

By supporting Western foreign policies in the Middle East, cheering continued military aid to Israel, and even rejecting certain Islamic tenets.

That definition tells us more about Lean’s belief that the U.S. shouldn’t be waging a pro-active effort to fight Islamist terrorists abroad and his animus for Israel than anything about Muslims. But by seeking to discredit the attempt, as he put it, to divide the Muslim world into “good” and “bad” types, he is attempting to both deny that there is a large segment of that population that support the radicals while simultaneously treating their beliefs as normative and inoffensive.

This is, of course, ludicrous. Violent Islamism is not the figment of a paranoid Western imagination or the preserve of an infinitesimal minority. It is backed, whether actively or passively, by huge segments of the Muslim population in the Middle East and Africa. It is manifest not only in the work of al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers but also in other terror groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Taliban as well as movements that have attempted to straddle the divide between terror and politics such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. It is also the ideology of governments such as that of Iran and Sudan and is supported by huge segments of the population and even ruling elites in nations such as Pakistan. Even in the West, where genuine moderates prevail, the network of Islamist mosques provide a breeding ground for home-grown terrorists as well as those willing to engage in fundraising or moral support for foreign radicals.

In other words, Islamism is a genuine threat and can count on a huge base of support around the globe. Lean’s farcical attempt to argue that just because the tens, if not hundreds of millions of Islamist supporters don’t personally engage in terror attacks on the West means that there is no such thing as a moderate/radical divide is the height of illogic as well as an insult to the intelligence of his readers.

Lean has an uphill battle in his campaign to convince even Americans who are weary of foreign wars that there aren’t a lot of radical Muslims abroad who support violence against the U.S. and its allies. But his goal is to alter the terms of the debate about this threat so as to intellectually disarm Americans to cause them to think there is no real threat.

Integral to this effort is the attempt to label the act of speaking up against Islamists as inherently prejudicial. An example of this kind of argument came earlier this month when the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank embarrassed himself by writing an account of a Heritage Foundation event that made false accusations about the panelists and audience taunting a Muslim woman. As it turned out the tape of the incident showed that while the speakers had some tough words about radical Islamists and those Muslims who don’t actively oppose them, the woman who spoke up in opposition to the prevailing view of the audience was actually treated respectfully. Both liberals and conservatives called out Milbank for this act of journalistic malpractice, with even Politico’s media columnist Dylan Byers describing his article as a “disaster” in which he “misrepresented” the views of the panelists.

But Lean takes Milbank’s false account as the starting point for his piece because it backs up the false narrative that he is promoting about anti-Islamism being a thin cover for anti-Muslim views.

This is, of course, somewhat odd. Since most of those who speak out against the rise of Islamism are always at pains to point out that the majority of Muslims, especially those in the United States, don’t support the radicals, it is curious that Lean is especially offended by the use of the term “moderate.” His argument is not to deny the existence of moderates but rather to pretend that there are no violent radicals, or at least not enough to care about.

Were several major Muslim countries not in the grips of the radicals or if there had been no 9/11, Benghazi, or a campaign of terror waged around the globe in countless places, he might have a point. Were radical mosques not filled with imams and congregants espousing support for these attacks and the movements that spawn them, it would also make sense not to differentiate between moderates and radicals. But, sadly, that is not the case.

To claim, as he does, that we don’t use the terms to describe Jews and Christians actually makes the opposite point from the one he intends to support. Were there a critical mass of violent radicals at war with the West within Christianity or Judaism, it would also be appropriate to split those groups up into radicals and moderates. But, again, that is not a reflection of reality.

But even if we ignore Lean’s more foolish arguments along these lines, the problem with this debate lies in one of the statements made by one of Heritage’s speakers that he found so offensive. At the event author and speaker Brigitte Gabriel said that it didn’t make a difference that the majority of peaceful Muslims were irrelevant to the discussion of 9/11 in the same way that peaceful Germans were irrelevant during the Holocaust.

Holocaust comparisons are almost always a mistake and the analogy probably confuses more than it illuminates. But at the root of this comment is the plain fact that if Muslims are not willing to speak out against those who wage war on the West in the name of their religion, they are allowing the radicals to define their faith. We don’t need “moderate” Muslims because of a compulsion to divide or categorize non-Western faiths or peoples. We need them because in their absence, the Islamists are allowed, as they have been in many places around the world, to define what it is to be a Muslim.

The West doesn’t need to be at war with Islam but it must be aware of the fact that Islamists are at war with the West and that it must, whenever possible, ally itself with moderates who oppose the impulse to legitimize jihad against non-Muslims. Contrary to Lean’s thesis, we aren’t trying to make Muslims fit into our notion of acceptable behavior but to embrace those who reject the seductive call of the Islamists.

Islamist terror is real but so is the existence of a large body of moderate Muslims who are often, even in this country, cowed into silence by the radicals. The real myth here is not the one about moderate Islam but the attempt by many on the left to promote the idea that awareness of the threat from radicals is something they call Islamophobia. Smearing those who attempt to remind us that the Islamists are still at war with the West is the objective of this line of argument. That the New Republic, which was once a bulwark of support for the defense of the West against Islamism, should become the soapbox for such dangerous idiocy as that of Lean is a disgrace.

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Liberals Longing for Saddam

When the invasion of Iraq took place, many left-liberal commentators—particularly those in Britain and Europe—had a curious response. Of course they detested Saddam, they assured us, but might it not be the case that Saddam—a strong man—was the only person who could govern “a place like that”? This stunning suggestion that human rights and basic freedom might not be for everyone, that some human beings are just better off under despotism, was shocking then and its shocking to consider now. But for the most part these arguments faded from discussion as a jittery democratic reality got off the ground in Iraq. What good liberal would want to consign the Iraqi people back to the dark days of Saddam? Besides, one got the impression that most of these voices weren’t actually that favorable toward the Baathist regime, they just hated the thought of the use of Western power far more.

Now, however, with Iraq descending into chaos once again—arguably much the result of Maliki’s poisonous sectarian politics—these “liberals” are dusting off those old arguments and wheeling them back out in another attempt to bamboozle a public they’ve already spent over a decade misleading. Yet, one voice has gone much further. Chris Maume, an editor at the UK Independent, who by all accounts spent much time in Iraq during the glory days of Saddam, not only takes this opportunity to sow doubts about the wisdom of the war in Iraq, but even does so by mounting the most astonishing defense of life under Saddam.

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When the invasion of Iraq took place, many left-liberal commentators—particularly those in Britain and Europe—had a curious response. Of course they detested Saddam, they assured us, but might it not be the case that Saddam—a strong man—was the only person who could govern “a place like that”? This stunning suggestion that human rights and basic freedom might not be for everyone, that some human beings are just better off under despotism, was shocking then and its shocking to consider now. But for the most part these arguments faded from discussion as a jittery democratic reality got off the ground in Iraq. What good liberal would want to consign the Iraqi people back to the dark days of Saddam? Besides, one got the impression that most of these voices weren’t actually that favorable toward the Baathist regime, they just hated the thought of the use of Western power far more.

Now, however, with Iraq descending into chaos once again—arguably much the result of Maliki’s poisonous sectarian politics—these “liberals” are dusting off those old arguments and wheeling them back out in another attempt to bamboozle a public they’ve already spent over a decade misleading. Yet, one voice has gone much further. Chris Maume, an editor at the UK Independent, who by all accounts spent much time in Iraq during the glory days of Saddam, not only takes this opportunity to sow doubts about the wisdom of the war in Iraq, but even does so by mounting the most astonishing defense of life under Saddam.

Whitewashing the poverty suffered by most Iraqis compared to the obscene wealth enjoyed by the Saddam’s ruling clan, Maume reflects, “Baghdad was noisy and mucky and full of building sites, but it was bustling and thriving. There wasn’t a huge amount in the shops, but people had all they needed to get by.” Perhaps they did, but you can’t imagine writers for the Independent ever insisting that the underprivileged in Western countries have long “had all they needed to get by.”

Maume writes particularly glowingly about the healthcare available in Iraq, as well as the order and stability compared to today. Back in the good old days it was “a fully functioning state in which it was possible to live a fulfilled life.” Of course Maume wouldn’t be so callous as not to spare a thought for Saddam’s victims; “If you were Kurdish, or a dissident, life wasn’t like that, and I’m not suggesting for a second that we should forget their suffering. But by and large, life was OK in Saddam’s dictatorship.” And of course to the estimated 180,000 Kurds murdered by Saddam, one should also add the oppression of the marsh Arabs. But it sounds as if Maume accepts what happened to them as the price for the “benefits” that other Iraqis enjoyed under Saddam. And yet it isn’t hard to think of other despotic regimes where, provided you weren’t the wrong ethnic group, perhaps for a time life was perfectly pleasant for everyone else.

But of course that wasn’t the case in Saddam’s Iraq. Those who point to the violence and anarchy that succeeded Saddam all too easily forget the wars and turmoil that Iraq suffered during Saddam’s rule. In addition to the terrible losses suffered in the course of the lengthy Iran-Iraq war, there was also the blood-letting and mayhem of the Shia part of the 1991 uprising. Indeed, sectarianism in Iraq was not some invention of post-Saddam era. Yet Maume wistfully recalls, “It was a secular state, and Sunnis and Shias seemed to bump along together.”

But even if Baathist Iraq had been a rather more peaceful and prosperous place than it actually was, that doesn’t get around that minor matter of liberty. Maume himself alludes to the censorship, although he doesn’t appear to think truth a necessary ingredient for Iraqi wellbeing: “True, all we had to go on was the English-language newspaper the Baghdad Observer, with its daily cover stories about Saddam’s latest visit to an adoring Kurd village…..but national misery is difficult to keep off the streets, and people seemed happy.”

Whatever one thinks of what has gone on in Iraq post-Saddam, nowhere in the piece does Maume give the impression that in an ideal world the Iraqis should enjoy democracy, freedom, or human rights. Indeed, there is a total absence of the suggestion that such things are human goods, for Iraqis or Westerners; “it was possible to live a fulfilled life” under Saddam, remember. The whole piece reads as a defense of autocracy. So long as people have order and social services, what more could they reasonably ask for? And this from a leading “liberal” newspaper.

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Tory Rivalry Obscures Islamism Debate

In Britain, the storm surrounding the attempted Islamist takeover of several public schools continues to play out, but much of the debate is becoming willfully side-tracked. I wrote about the case itself on Monday; since the story initially broke, a number of other spin-off debates have emerged. Not least among them has been a particularly fraught war of accusations at the top of Britain’s governing Conservative party. This, as it turns out, has had as much to do with internal rivalries for the party leadership as it has with a fundamental disagreement over the handling of the matter itself. Then there have been attempts by the left to stoke a debate about Islamophobia and another about Britain’s state-funded parochial schools—a real red herring given that the problem here had nothing to do with faith schools and exclusively concerned events at secular public schools. The preference of many in the media for focusing on these secondary debates is perhaps itself an indication of just how poisonous confronting radical Islam can be in Britain.

That said, the embarrassing and all-too-public fight that has broken out among government ministers has brought to the surface significant factional rivalries as well as some key disputes regarding Britain’s strategy for dealing with Islamic extremism. The fight involves two particularly charismatic and powerful figures within David Cameron’s cabinet: Home Secretary Teresa May and Education Minister Michael Gove. It is widely speculated that May is positioning herself as a potential successor to Cameron, while Gove is understood to be more closely allied with the chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne, who has been suggested as another potential candidate for the leadership, although in truth neither May nor Osborne is particularly liked by the British public. Still, they haven’t acquired quite the reputation that Michael Gove has. His proactive and radically conservative education reforms have seen him wildly demonized by teachers unions and a large part of the British press. Gove’s efforts to roll back the follies of “child-centered learning,” to drive up standards through a traditional curriculum, and his latest policy advocating that “British values” be taught in school have won him admiration with a conservative hardcore, while provoking fierce criticism from many other quarters.

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In Britain, the storm surrounding the attempted Islamist takeover of several public schools continues to play out, but much of the debate is becoming willfully side-tracked. I wrote about the case itself on Monday; since the story initially broke, a number of other spin-off debates have emerged. Not least among them has been a particularly fraught war of accusations at the top of Britain’s governing Conservative party. This, as it turns out, has had as much to do with internal rivalries for the party leadership as it has with a fundamental disagreement over the handling of the matter itself. Then there have been attempts by the left to stoke a debate about Islamophobia and another about Britain’s state-funded parochial schools—a real red herring given that the problem here had nothing to do with faith schools and exclusively concerned events at secular public schools. The preference of many in the media for focusing on these secondary debates is perhaps itself an indication of just how poisonous confronting radical Islam can be in Britain.

That said, the embarrassing and all-too-public fight that has broken out among government ministers has brought to the surface significant factional rivalries as well as some key disputes regarding Britain’s strategy for dealing with Islamic extremism. The fight involves two particularly charismatic and powerful figures within David Cameron’s cabinet: Home Secretary Teresa May and Education Minister Michael Gove. It is widely speculated that May is positioning herself as a potential successor to Cameron, while Gove is understood to be more closely allied with the chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne, who has been suggested as another potential candidate for the leadership, although in truth neither May nor Osborne is particularly liked by the British public. Still, they haven’t acquired quite the reputation that Michael Gove has. His proactive and radically conservative education reforms have seen him wildly demonized by teachers unions and a large part of the British press. Gove’s efforts to roll back the follies of “child-centered learning,” to drive up standards through a traditional curriculum, and his latest policy advocating that “British values” be taught in school have won him admiration with a conservative hardcore, while provoking fierce criticism from many other quarters.

The latest dispute has erupted as both May and Gove’s offices sought to very publicly implicate one another for the failings that allowed hardline Muslims to seize control of the running of several schools in Birmingham. The criticism from Gove’s side appears to have been that the Home Office has been too focused on targeting terrorism at the expense of efforts to counter the culture of hardline Islam that breeds the terror threat in the first place. For her part, May accused the ministry of education of having failed to act upon warnings from 2010 that Islamist practices were being implemented in some of Birmingham’s state schools. Over the weekend the prime minister was forced to intervene, Gove was required to apologize, and May was obliged to fire one of her advisers.

It is unfortunate to see these two figures squabbling in this way. While May’s record is somewhat mixed, as home secretary she has shown a serious commitment to confronting both law and order issues and the threat from radical Islamic preachers, who she has gone to great lengths to have extradited where possible. Michael Gove is arguably even stauncher in his opposition to radical Islam. His 2006 book Celsius 7/7: How the West’s Policy of Appeasement Has Provoked Yet More Fundamentalist Terror and What Has to Be Done Now is one of the few serious intellectual defenses of the war on terror to have come out of Britain.

It is hard to imagine that this fight is nearly as significant as the Conservative party’s more fundamental split over Europe, or between Cameron’s “modernizing” faction and the social conservatives in the party. Yet in addition to the pages and pages given over to that story, much of the media has kicked the real issues into the long grass, concentrating instead on arguments about parochial schools and Islamophobia. While the BBC has continued to express skepticism about the authenticity of the so called “Trojan Horse” letter that first sparked this episode, the findings of the government investigation have at least done something to demonstrate that the initial concerns were warranted. Now, however, those who were always hostile to the notion of state-funded parochial schools are seeking to use this scandal as another opportunity to advocate for their abolition. And of course Jewish faith schools have been a common point of reference, despite how relatively few of Britain’s faith schools are affiliated with the Jewish community. Yet whether one favors parochial schools or not, that debate is irrelevant here. The issue at hand concerns secular public schools, and presumably this whole affair could have happened in a Britain in which faith schools never existed.

The preoccupation with internal Conservative party wrangling, with arguments about Islamophobia, and the campaign pieces for and against faith schools all demonstrate just how spooked many British journalists are by the prospect of having to grapple with the actual facts of this case. Only a very few have actively done so. It would be a very great mistake to shy away from having a hard-headed discussion about the influence of Islamism in British public life and civil society by instead becoming side-tracked with these secondary debates.

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Radical Islam Infiltrating UK Public Schools

While concerns about the growth of radical Islam have been with British society for some years now, few imagined that Islamists might ever attempt anything so bold as a takeover of parts of the public education system. Yet a government investigation overseen by a former counter-terror chief has revealed that this is precisely what has been happening at certain British schools. The report would seem to confirm allegations of an ambitious effort on the part of a set of hardliners who have been attempting to take over the administration of secular state schools in the city of Birmingham, Britain’s second city and home to one of Europe’s largest Muslim populations.

The matter first reached public attention back in March when an anonymous letter came to light stipulating how Britain’s state schools could be hijacked for the purpose of pushing Islamic values and teachings. As a result twenty-one schools in Birmingham were placed under investigation.

The reports that have emerged regarding the practices at several of the schools are truly shocking. Of most concern were the allegations that senior staff members had been openly promoting jihadists such as al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki and that lectures by pro-al-Qaeda speakers were being advertised in the school bulletin. Additional allegations concerned reports of classes on “holy war” and of students receiving anti-American diatribes from the principle at one of the schools. While some attempted to brush aside these claims, the report by the government investigators has indeed now confirmed that several of the schools have been failing to protect their students from extremism and that in one instance an “extremist speaker sympathetic to al-Qaeda” did address the school.

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While concerns about the growth of radical Islam have been with British society for some years now, few imagined that Islamists might ever attempt anything so bold as a takeover of parts of the public education system. Yet a government investigation overseen by a former counter-terror chief has revealed that this is precisely what has been happening at certain British schools. The report would seem to confirm allegations of an ambitious effort on the part of a set of hardliners who have been attempting to take over the administration of secular state schools in the city of Birmingham, Britain’s second city and home to one of Europe’s largest Muslim populations.

The matter first reached public attention back in March when an anonymous letter came to light stipulating how Britain’s state schools could be hijacked for the purpose of pushing Islamic values and teachings. As a result twenty-one schools in Birmingham were placed under investigation.

The reports that have emerged regarding the practices at several of the schools are truly shocking. Of most concern were the allegations that senior staff members had been openly promoting jihadists such as al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki and that lectures by pro-al-Qaeda speakers were being advertised in the school bulletin. Additional allegations concerned reports of classes on “holy war” and of students receiving anti-American diatribes from the principle at one of the schools. While some attempted to brush aside these claims, the report by the government investigators has indeed now confirmed that several of the schools have been failing to protect their students from extremism and that in one instance an “extremist speaker sympathetic to al-Qaeda” did address the school.

What was made most apparent by the findings of the investigation has less to do with jihad and more to do with the implementation of Sharia law and the promotion of radical Islam within these schools. In some instances this took the form of compulsory gender-segregated seating in the classroom; in others the study of the humanities and particularly art, music, and religions other than Islam were essentially erased from the curriculum. When it came to the matter of religious studies specifically, it was found that non-Muslim students were simply being left to teach themselves while the teachers were directing their time toward the majority of the students who were being taught about Islam. With regard to biology what was being presented in the classroom had been altered to fit a hardline Islamic teaching, regardless of the requirements of the exam syllabus. More disturbing still are the accounts from some staff members who reported to the investigators that children as young as six were being taught about such completely inappropriate subjects as “white prostitute” and “hell-fire,” while pupils were also being encouraged to join in with “anti-Christian chants.”

Naturally, this entire saga has put the British government under considerable pressure—not least because it has been claimed that the government had actually been informed about these practices as early as 2010—and this has led to a rather public and damaging row between the education secretary and the home secretary. It is true that in Britain the concern about the radicalization of young Muslims has been an ongoing one. Previously there had been the exposé of how Saudi-funded Islamic schools were also making use of Saudi textbooks and Wahhabi teachings along with the petrol dollars provided by the sheikhs. And in 2009 the then-Labor government came under fire when it emerged that the state was channeling taxpayer money to the education group the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation, which was tied to the extremist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir (which the government simultaneously claimed it was trying to have outlawed). But never before have secular British state schools come under the direct influence of those seeking to promote hardline Islam.

This attempted takeover of public schools by Islamists can be seen as simply being the next logical step from their point of view. And if it is true that the alarm was sounded years ago and nothing was done, then that, too, would hardly be surprising. Even in the face of this latest affair, both the BBC and writers at the Guardian have expressed a strong degree of skepticism about these reports, just as some local community leaders and Muslim political figures have questioned the motives of those driving the investigation. Indeed, from the pages of the Guardian Salma Yaqoob—formerly the leader of George Galloway’s Respect Party and now a spokesperson for Birmingham Central Mosque—even likened the investigation to McCarthyism.

For now it appears that the hardliners have been stopped in their tracks. But it is alarming that they managed to get as far as they did. It had always been pretty much assumed that undesirable things were likely being taught in the Sunday schools of certain backstreet Mosques, but who wanted to risk their political career amidst the backlash provoked by attempting to take on the vast network of Islamic faith schools? Yet the fact that state-run secular schools should have come under the influence of Islamists and their sympathizers is a worrying indication of the degree of confidence that this group feels today. Britain may have so far been relatively successful in countering the terror threat, but how exactly it intends to deal with the much deeper social issues surrounding ultra-conservative Islam and a rapidly growing Muslim population is a much more troubling question.     

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