Commentary Magazine


Topic: Islamism

Liberalism Ends at Home

It is striking that America’s campuses, a sphere arguably dominated by liberals and their agenda, have become places where real tolerance and freedom of expression are increasingly under attack. While left-wing progressives love to claim that they advocate talking truth to power and champion dissenting voices, when presented with views that transgress their own thought system they all too reflexively reach for the censorship button. Kevin Williamson in his piece The Liberal Gulag cites a plethora of examples of liberals having not only demonized those out of line with the prevailing liberal orthodoxy, but he even details instances where “liberals” have advocated the taking of harsh measures against those not sufficiently adhering to left-think.   

The matter of how Islam is discussed on our campuses is a case in point. Recent events demonstrate how the doctrine of political correctness is being used to try and shut down the kind of discussion about Islam that other cultures and religions are routinely subject to. Yesterday brought the announcement by Brandeis University that it has withdrawn its decision to award human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali with an honorary degree. These moves come in the wake of a campaign similar to the one currently pressuring universities into not showing the documentary Honor Diaries which highlights the work of Muslim women speaking out against the domestic abuse that women are subject to in parts of their community. In both of these cases the accusation of Islamophobia has been employed in an effort to drive out those who have been in anyway critical of practices in the Islamic world.   

Having been raised in Somalia, and then forced to flee ‘tolerant’ Holland when police informed her they could no longer protect her from those threatening to kill her as an apostate, Ayaan Hirsi Ali certainly knows about the dark side of hard-line Islam. Once she’d escaped her background, it would have been so easy for someone who suffered the abuse Ali did to have simply kept her head down and lived a quiet life. Instead she has valiantly and tirelessly campaigned for women’s rights in the Islamic world and having served as a member of the Dutch parliament she is now a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. An honorary degree from Brandeis would have been just a small token of recognition to her unimaginable fearlessness. Instead the university authorities have caved in the face of a campaign by Muslim groups that accuses Ali of having demonized all Islam. It may be true that at times Ali has not expressed such a clear distinction between extremist and moderate Islam, but one cannot help but feel that in many of these people’s eyes her real crime was to have spoken out all. For having dared to criticize Islam Ali has risked her life, but in revoking the award, Brandeis sets itself on the same side of the spectrum as those who insist it is unacceptable to criticize Islam.

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It is striking that America’s campuses, a sphere arguably dominated by liberals and their agenda, have become places where real tolerance and freedom of expression are increasingly under attack. While left-wing progressives love to claim that they advocate talking truth to power and champion dissenting voices, when presented with views that transgress their own thought system they all too reflexively reach for the censorship button. Kevin Williamson in his piece The Liberal Gulag cites a plethora of examples of liberals having not only demonized those out of line with the prevailing liberal orthodoxy, but he even details instances where “liberals” have advocated the taking of harsh measures against those not sufficiently adhering to left-think.   

The matter of how Islam is discussed on our campuses is a case in point. Recent events demonstrate how the doctrine of political correctness is being used to try and shut down the kind of discussion about Islam that other cultures and religions are routinely subject to. Yesterday brought the announcement by Brandeis University that it has withdrawn its decision to award human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali with an honorary degree. These moves come in the wake of a campaign similar to the one currently pressuring universities into not showing the documentary Honor Diaries which highlights the work of Muslim women speaking out against the domestic abuse that women are subject to in parts of their community. In both of these cases the accusation of Islamophobia has been employed in an effort to drive out those who have been in anyway critical of practices in the Islamic world.   

Having been raised in Somalia, and then forced to flee ‘tolerant’ Holland when police informed her they could no longer protect her from those threatening to kill her as an apostate, Ayaan Hirsi Ali certainly knows about the dark side of hard-line Islam. Once she’d escaped her background, it would have been so easy for someone who suffered the abuse Ali did to have simply kept her head down and lived a quiet life. Instead she has valiantly and tirelessly campaigned for women’s rights in the Islamic world and having served as a member of the Dutch parliament she is now a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. An honorary degree from Brandeis would have been just a small token of recognition to her unimaginable fearlessness. Instead the university authorities have caved in the face of a campaign by Muslim groups that accuses Ali of having demonized all Islam. It may be true that at times Ali has not expressed such a clear distinction between extremist and moderate Islam, but one cannot help but feel that in many of these people’s eyes her real crime was to have spoken out all. For having dared to criticize Islam Ali has risked her life, but in revoking the award, Brandeis sets itself on the same side of the spectrum as those who insist it is unacceptable to criticize Islam.

It is this same argument about the failure to acknowledge a difference between moderate and extremist Islam that is being used to prevent Honor Diaries from being shown on campuses. Both the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois have been pressured into canceling screenings. Yet here, those speaking in the documentary have been very clear about drawing a distinction between moderate and hardline Islam. When the Council on American Islamic Relations—which has been loudly opposed to the film—was invited to debate the subject the group reportedly responded that the film was “so hopelessly anti-Muslim that they couldn’t dignify it with their presence.” This only adds to the suspicion that this whole campaign is actually about wishing to prevent critical discussion of anything relating to Islam.

Qanta Ahmed, who worked on Honor Diaries, wrote in National Review that, “Just like the women and girls it portrays, the movie has been silenced and its progenitors shamed.” Exactly the same shaming is now being inflicted on Ali because she has dared to speak out. In the petition opposing Ali, one signatory writes “She is not a role model, and certainly not someone whose ideas should be welcome in a university campus, where tolerance should be spread through kind words and loving spirit.” But this is precisely the problem, when the left-liberal notion sets in that tolerance means endorsing all cultures and ideologies, including intolerant ones. Accordingly, the only people who cannot be tolerated are those who refuse to embrace this ultra-tolerance of all things, such as Ali. 

Responding to the idea that Ali might receive the award, Brandeis’s chairman of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies Joseph Lumbard remarked, “this makes Muslim students feel very uneasy.” But as we have seen with Jewish students and the demonization of Israel, hurt feelings are not considered reason for censorship, and rightly so. Nevertheless, the anti-Israel campaign has turned from fair debate to outright intimidation and bigotry and still university authorities have been reluctant to intervene. The fact that Muslim student groups seem to be gaining a veto over what is “offensive” is a sign that this is really about the contours of political correctness.

As Ahmed writes, “Constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom does not mean that we can censor the examination of cultures…does not mean abandoning difficult debate for fear of offending believers.” Yet a dangerous precedent is being set. Liberals delight in ridiculing religious conservatives in the West, but within their own sphere of influence—the universities—they refuse to promote liberal values where other cultures are concerned.  

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What Next for Egyptian Islamists?

Cairo has an outsized role in Islamic history. Alongside Baghdad and Damascus, it has always served as a cultural, intellectual, and often political capital for the Arab world. Thanks in large part to Al-Azhar University, perhaps the most prestigious center of Sunni learning in the Islamic world, it has also been a center for religious thought. In the modern era, it was home for a time to Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, an Iranian pan-Islamist thinker who called Cairo home, and later Muhammad Abduh, a nineteenth and early twentieth century Muslim reformer. In the twentieth century, Cairo was the home base of the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement founded by schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna, which soon grew to become the preeminent Islamist movement challenging the established political order.  

The Muslim Brotherhood, seldom far beneath the surface, rose to prominence in the wake of the Arab Spring protests that led to President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. But the movement was hardly the only Islamist group to seek political power, nor was it necessarily a monolith, although Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi sought to run it as one.

Since the July 2013 coup, the Egyptian government has moved to delegitimize the Muslim Brotherhood, and drive its remnants underground, a policy which, quite frankly, I support. Still, it’s important to embark on any such policy with eyes wide open. While I believe the interim Egyptian government is, frankly, a better match for U.S. national security than Morsi’s government, and while I also believe Egypt is more likely to achieve a more democratic order from the current situation than from when the Muslim Brotherhood was in control, it would be foolish to consider the current Egyptian government democratic and fully committed to the rule of law. What goes on inside Egyptian prisons remains atrocious, and the Egyptian military remains as involved in the crony capitalist order as it was in the decades before the Arab Spring.

In assessing Egyptian Islamism in the wake of the coup, the Center for American Progress has just published an excellent new study that maps out the current state of Egypt’s Islamist movements. Based on a series of recent interviews, they depict a Brotherhood still in disarray amidst the new government’s crackdown:

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Cairo has an outsized role in Islamic history. Alongside Baghdad and Damascus, it has always served as a cultural, intellectual, and often political capital for the Arab world. Thanks in large part to Al-Azhar University, perhaps the most prestigious center of Sunni learning in the Islamic world, it has also been a center for religious thought. In the modern era, it was home for a time to Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, an Iranian pan-Islamist thinker who called Cairo home, and later Muhammad Abduh, a nineteenth and early twentieth century Muslim reformer. In the twentieth century, Cairo was the home base of the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement founded by schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna, which soon grew to become the preeminent Islamist movement challenging the established political order.  

The Muslim Brotherhood, seldom far beneath the surface, rose to prominence in the wake of the Arab Spring protests that led to President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. But the movement was hardly the only Islamist group to seek political power, nor was it necessarily a monolith, although Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi sought to run it as one.

Since the July 2013 coup, the Egyptian government has moved to delegitimize the Muslim Brotherhood, and drive its remnants underground, a policy which, quite frankly, I support. Still, it’s important to embark on any such policy with eyes wide open. While I believe the interim Egyptian government is, frankly, a better match for U.S. national security than Morsi’s government, and while I also believe Egypt is more likely to achieve a more democratic order from the current situation than from when the Muslim Brotherhood was in control, it would be foolish to consider the current Egyptian government democratic and fully committed to the rule of law. What goes on inside Egyptian prisons remains atrocious, and the Egyptian military remains as involved in the crony capitalist order as it was in the decades before the Arab Spring.

In assessing Egyptian Islamism in the wake of the coup, the Center for American Progress has just published an excellent new study that maps out the current state of Egypt’s Islamist movements. Based on a series of recent interviews, they depict a Brotherhood still in disarray amidst the new government’s crackdown:

These Brothers remain steadfast in the face of state repression. Their commitment to continued street mobilization is firm, and they help organize and fund the protests to bring pressure on the interim government. While they express concern over the growing tendency by some youth in their ranks to engage in violence, they are increasingly unlikely to condemn the use of violence by protestors considered to be acting in self-defense. But the impact of the crackdown is palpable. In speaking with members up the chain of command and across Cairo and Alexandria, differing opinions emerged on key issues and core challenges before the Brotherhood. While they are shoulder to shoulder in skirmishing with the security forces, their views diverge as they look back over Morsi’s tenure and forward to matters of politics and reconciliation. At times, this dissonance borders on incoherence and draws into question their ability to maintain unity of purpose.

Nor is there consensus about a way forward for those who have fled into exile:

Further complicating the group’s cohesiveness is the growing number of Brotherhood leaders and members outside Egypt that try to influence the actions and strategy of the group. Many of these leaders have sought shelter in Qatar and Turkey, while others have set up shop in London. The largely uncoordinated and seemingly haphazard efforts have ranged from dead-on-arrival calls to form a government in exile to more ambitious designs to take the group’s fight to the International Criminal Court whose governing Rome Statute was blocked from ratification by the group when it was in power.

While many young Egyptians gave the Brotherhood a shot but abandoned it when they saw the group’s rhetoric of democracy did not match the reality of its internal decision-making culture, other young Egyptians drew opposite conclusions, and determined that the problem was that the Brotherhood wasn’t hardcore enough:

These activists resent the senior Brotherhood leadership, whom they believe abandoned core Islamist principles, and are actively seeking to convince the rank and file of the necessity to resort to violence… These youth have come to reject the Egyptian state and believe that the country can progress only if the traditional centers of power—the military, the intelligence, the police, bureaucracy, and business networks—are taken apart rather than co-opted.

As valuable is the report’s survey of Egypt’s other Islamists: the Salafi Da’wa and the Nour Party, the Watan Party, as well as other Salafi splinter groups and factions.

While the Muslim Brotherhood seeks “to kill the state through a thousand cuts,” hoping that the new government’s brutal reaction will turn public opinion against it, the Salafi Da’wa has aligned itself with the state and against the Brotherhood. While this weakens the Brotherhood somewhat, it also suggests that the post-Brotherhood order will not be as secular as many in the West imagine. Whatever the tactical political maneuvering of their leaders, some within the Salafi Da’wa and Nour Party may ultimately put religion above politics. This might encourage further radicalization, especially among the youth who face the same problems as before the Arab Spring.

While I disagree with some of the report’s recommendations—promoting political dialogue sounds good, but in a battle of absolutist ideologies, it seldom does any good—“Fragmenting Under Pressure,” is probably the best platform from which to have a real debate about a pro-active rather than reactive U.S. policy toward Egypt, and is certainly worth a read not only by the Center for American Progress’s normal political allies on the left, but also by any serious political analyst on the right as well, for quality should never be defined by politics.

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The Silence of the Imams

In discussing the horrendous massacre of children in Nigeria, stabbed and burned alive by Muslim extremists as they slept, Bob Beckel, on Fox News’s The Five wondered why incidents such as this—and such incidents are frequent—are never condemned by Muslim leaders, secular or religious. It’s a good point. The silence on the part of the leaders of the Muslim world, even avowed moderates, is deafening. Even 9/11 and the attack at Fort Hood were not condemned.

But the reason for that silence is, I suspect, simple: moderates in the Muslim world are afraid to speak out and condemn these atrocities carried out in the name of Islam.

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In discussing the horrendous massacre of children in Nigeria, stabbed and burned alive by Muslim extremists as they slept, Bob Beckel, on Fox News’s The Five wondered why incidents such as this—and such incidents are frequent—are never condemned by Muslim leaders, secular or religious. It’s a good point. The silence on the part of the leaders of the Muslim world, even avowed moderates, is deafening. Even 9/11 and the attack at Fort Hood were not condemned.

But the reason for that silence is, I suspect, simple: moderates in the Muslim world are afraid to speak out and condemn these atrocities carried out in the name of Islam.

The situation is highly reminiscent of Japan of the 1930s, when secret societies carried out politics by means of assassinations and coups. Anyone who advocated anything but militant aggression and ultra-patriotism or who criticized atrocities carried out in the name of that ideology was very likely to find himself dead.  Organizations that didn’t advocate militarism and an all-powerful army were destroyed. The fanatics effectively silenced all opposition and Japan, held in the grip of their militant ideology, hurtled down the road to utter disaster.

The Muslim world, of course, is not a unified state, still less, thank heavens, a great power as Japan was. That makes the defeat of the poisonous ideology espoused by such groups as Boko Haram, which carried out the massacre in Nigeria, that much more difficult to accomplish. But defeated it will have to be if the Muslim world is ever to enjoy the fruits of modernity.

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Inside the UAE’s Muslim Brotherhood

I have written a number of pieces recently examining the efforts of the self-described human-rights organization Alkarama (whose head the U.S. Treasury Department designated as a terror financier) to advance the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood inside the United Arab Emirates.

The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report, a one-stop shop on articles and analysis relating to the Muslim Brotherhood (and which regularly breaks news days ahead of other press outlets, such as President Obama’s reception of Anas Altikriti, the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood figure), flags this article from the United Arab Emirates’ Gulf News which claims the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence in the United Arab Emirates is in decline.

The most interesting element in the article revolves around the Muslim Brotherhood’s recruitment and structure in the region:

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I have written a number of pieces recently examining the efforts of the self-described human-rights organization Alkarama (whose head the U.S. Treasury Department designated as a terror financier) to advance the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood inside the United Arab Emirates.

The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report, a one-stop shop on articles and analysis relating to the Muslim Brotherhood (and which regularly breaks news days ahead of other press outlets, such as President Obama’s reception of Anas Altikriti, the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood figure), flags this article from the United Arab Emirates’ Gulf News which claims the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence in the United Arab Emirates is in decline.

The most interesting element in the article revolves around the Muslim Brotherhood’s recruitment and structure in the region:

Most members of the movement are recruited during high school or college years and, in many cases, serve in top administrative positions within the Brotherhood’s nationwide structure before being promoted to the Guidance Office, the organization’s top executive authority. They also could be nominated for political office to ensure leaders have all been vetted over the course of decades in their willingness to comply with the internal Shura committee’s decisions, said Tharwat  Al Kherbawi, a  lawyer who has written memoirs exposing the secrets of the Brotherhood after he left the movement, addressing a recent symposium titled ‘Challenges and threats posed by the Muslim Brotherhood to UAE and countries of the Region.’

“Emirati members of the Muslim Brotherhood take a proxy allegiance oath, where these members swear allegiance before another veteran leader in the UAE, who in turn swears allegiance before the Supreme Guide in Cairo,” said Al Kherbawi, who is among the most vocal critics of the organization. He said that young initiates were taught that joining the movement was a religious obligation, like prayer, and that the supreme guide is above any mistakes. “These novices are raised on obedience and allegiance to the supreme guide, accepting no critique of him or his acts. They are taught to regard the movement as their home and that standing to the national anthem of their country is polytheism,” he added.

The notion of recruitment in schools, hierarchy, and demands for strict obedience seem consistent from country to country. Indeed, the strict hierarchy and autocratic internal political culture are what repelled so many young Egyptians who once saw the Muslim Brotherhood as an alternative to the corrupt regime of Hosni Mubarak.

While the transnational nature of the movement is well-known to those familiar with the Brotherhood, the notion of a supreme guide with international reach also depicts the Muslim Brotherhood as in many ways the Sunni equivalent of the political and religious structure which Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini sought to establish inside Iran.

Recognizing this fact has implications for U.S. policy. First, blanket funding of schools in the region, whether directly or through United Nations organizations, should cease unless those schools can certify they are not beds for Muslim Brotherhood recruitment (especially as teachers often identify targets for recruitment). Second, engaging national Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, for example, as diplomats or NGOs work with political parties in each country, is naive and akin to engaging Hezbollah without recognizing that organization’s ties to Iran. Lastly, the decline of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE suggests that investigating Brotherhood organizations with the aim of driving them underground, if not eradicating them, can work.

That does not mean cheerleading repression, but rather recognizing that not all opposition is legitimate or desirable. There are many flavors of political opposition that do not act as transnational or religious insurgencies. Only those political oppositions that accept national sovereignty, seek tolerance and equality under the law for all citizens regardless of religion, and practice democracy within their own political hierarchies should be engaged and encouraged by the U.S. government.

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Amnesty Doubles Down on Islamism

I had blogged here last week regarding how bizarre it was that Human Rights Watch would partner with Abd al-Rahman al Nuaimi, who not only founded Al-Karama, a self-declared human-rights organization, but also served as the secretary-general of the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign, a fiercely anti-American group whose statement of purpose reads:

The Muslim ummah – in this era – is facing a vicious aggression from the powers of tyranny and injustice, from the Zionist power and the American administration led by the extreme right, which is working to achieve control over nations and peoples, and is stealing their wealth, and annihilating their will, and changing their educational curriculums and social orders.  And this aggression of a totalitarian nature has been portrayed through falsifying truths about Islam’s teachings and in attacks against the Quran and the prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, as well as through misleading media campaigns and economic extortion.

That Human Rights Watch would partner with al-Karama, accept their research apparently without a critical eye, and not withdraw or revise reports once Nuaimi’s apparent terror connections and anti-American, pro-jihadist agenda became clear is their shame.

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I had blogged here last week regarding how bizarre it was that Human Rights Watch would partner with Abd al-Rahman al Nuaimi, who not only founded Al-Karama, a self-declared human-rights organization, but also served as the secretary-general of the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign, a fiercely anti-American group whose statement of purpose reads:

The Muslim ummah – in this era – is facing a vicious aggression from the powers of tyranny and injustice, from the Zionist power and the American administration led by the extreme right, which is working to achieve control over nations and peoples, and is stealing their wealth, and annihilating their will, and changing their educational curriculums and social orders.  And this aggression of a totalitarian nature has been portrayed through falsifying truths about Islam’s teachings and in attacks against the Quran and the prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, as well as through misleading media campaigns and economic extortion.

That Human Rights Watch would partner with al-Karama, accept their research apparently without a critical eye, and not withdraw or revise reports once Nuaimi’s apparent terror connections and anti-American, pro-jihadist agenda became clear is their shame.

Amnesty International, however, has behaved just as poorly in the wake of the scandal, if not worse. Nuaimi’s colleague Muhammad al-Roken is the head of al-Islah, the United Arab Emirate’s local affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. That Roken would endorse the founding statement of the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign says a lot about who he is and for what he stands. He certainly is not a paradigm of non-violence.

Indeed, last year the United Arab Emirates disrupted a coup plot by Al-Islah and tried its members. Some were convicted, while others were released. Among those convicted was Roken who, with Nuaimi’s designation, we now know not only headed the Muslim Brotherhood chapter, but also was in close partnership with al-Qaeda. To Amnesty International, however, Roken is a martyr. Here are some recent Amnesty tweets demanding Roken’s release from prison. It almost seems that Amnesty International and its local UAE affiliate believe that politics trumps human rights. Roken’s fierce anti-Americanism illustrated in the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign’s statement seems to be exculpatory to Amnesty and its local affiliates, many of whom seem to share Roken’s politics, if not his ideology. It seems that rather than base their conclusions on rigorous and apolitical conceptions of human rights, the analysts at Amnesty International believe that intolerant Islamism should make politicians immune from the consequences of their actions. Releasing Roken would not only be a travesty of justice for those whom he targeted with extreme violence, but would also lead to more violence down the road as ideological terrorists seldom reform on their own personal recognizance.  

There are serious human-rights issues that the United Arab Emirates should address; as with many countries in the region, police abuse remains a problem and many South Asian expatriate workers there complain of unequal treatment under the law. The United Arab Emirates, however, has made progress and continues to address such issues. How sad it is that Amnesty International, like Human Rights Watch, would take such a political line and soil their own brand name by letting a political agenda trump a human-rights one.

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When the Syrian Rebels Return…

While Secretary of State John Kerry is bending over backwards to find any sign of moderation among the Syrian opposition, regional authorities are confronting reality. Sometimes the enemy of our enemy is not a friend, but rather simply a partisan of al-Qaeda. Now, to be fair to Kerry (and to Sen. John McCain who has long advocated for support to the Syrian opposition), it hasn’t always been this way. Many Syrians left to their own devices would like nothing better than to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and replace his regime with something more moderate and representative. But President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s disinterested approach to the initial rebellion left the door open to the conflict’s internationalization. What Afghanistan was to the 1980s, Chechnya was to the 1990s, and Iraq became in the 2000s, Syria is today. Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah help prop up the Assad regime, while Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and a host of international jihadists and al-Qaeda affiliates from across the globe now fight for if not lead the opposition. Increasingly, Syrians play second fiddle in their own struggle.

I am a frequent visitor to Iraq and, as I have written before, what once seemed a sectarian complaint leveled by the Iraqi government against the Syrian opposition is no longer: In my last visit to Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, not only Iraqi Shi’ites, but also Sunnis, Kurds, and Christians all described the Syrian opposition as hopelessly radicalized and sympathetic to al-Qaeda. I spent much of last week in Morocco and, in Rabat, had the opportunity to speak to a number of senior security officials. They have identified several hundred Moroccans who have gone to Syria to “wage jihad.” (One of the ironies of the political correctness of American universities and military institutions is the prohibition on using the term jihadist as somehow demeaning to Islam when that is the term Muslims across the Middle East use to describe the phenomenon).

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While Secretary of State John Kerry is bending over backwards to find any sign of moderation among the Syrian opposition, regional authorities are confronting reality. Sometimes the enemy of our enemy is not a friend, but rather simply a partisan of al-Qaeda. Now, to be fair to Kerry (and to Sen. John McCain who has long advocated for support to the Syrian opposition), it hasn’t always been this way. Many Syrians left to their own devices would like nothing better than to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and replace his regime with something more moderate and representative. But President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s disinterested approach to the initial rebellion left the door open to the conflict’s internationalization. What Afghanistan was to the 1980s, Chechnya was to the 1990s, and Iraq became in the 2000s, Syria is today. Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah help prop up the Assad regime, while Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and a host of international jihadists and al-Qaeda affiliates from across the globe now fight for if not lead the opposition. Increasingly, Syrians play second fiddle in their own struggle.

I am a frequent visitor to Iraq and, as I have written before, what once seemed a sectarian complaint leveled by the Iraqi government against the Syrian opposition is no longer: In my last visit to Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, not only Iraqi Shi’ites, but also Sunnis, Kurds, and Christians all described the Syrian opposition as hopelessly radicalized and sympathetic to al-Qaeda. I spent much of last week in Morocco and, in Rabat, had the opportunity to speak to a number of senior security officials. They have identified several hundred Moroccans who have gone to Syria to “wage jihad.” (One of the ironies of the political correctness of American universities and military institutions is the prohibition on using the term jihadist as somehow demeaning to Islam when that is the term Muslims across the Middle East use to describe the phenomenon).

The Moroccans—like those flocking to Syria from other nationalities—travel by airline into Turkey, and then take the Turkish Air flight to Gaziantep, or some other town near the Syrian border. Rather than raise their eyebrows at flights packed with Moroccans, Mauritanians, Uighurs, Pakistanis, and Yemenis to towns where once none cared to go, Turkish police are happy simply to take their standard $40 bribe and wave them across the border into Syria. Just last week, according to SITE Monitoring, the Sham al-Islam Movement, a Moroccan-manned jihadi group fighting in Syria, released a video depicting the role of Moroccan jihadists participating on a raid on the prison complex in Aleppo.

The question states across the region are now considering is what happens when the veterans of the Syrian fighting return. The Moroccan jihadists did not buy return Turkish Air tickets, but instead will fly to Libya and then make their way overland through Algeria and re-enter Morocco through the permeable mountainous border in the northern region of both countries (the same route African migrants hoping to make it to Europe take). Tunisian jihadists likewise will return to Tunisia, Saudis to Saudi Arabia, and so on. What we are seeing in Syria is really just the first act. Act II will be how these battle-hardened jihadis conduct terrorism and destabilize the region upon their return. Perhaps rather than debate how to aid the foreign jihadis aiding the Syrian rebels, the time has come to have an uncomfortable discussion about how to intercept, neutralize, and, if necessary, eliminate them.

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De-Radicalization the Right Way

The real fight within the Islamic world remains between the forces of moderation and more extreme elements who justify terrorism in theology. A host of contractors and NGOs have responded by creating a de-radicalization industry which, alas, has too often become the contemporary equivalent of snake oil salesmen from centuries past. The State Department and its European counterparts are willing to give cash to anyone who says the right thing, and promises a magic formula to transform religious radicals into non-violent moderates. Countries like Saudi Arabia learn they can bypass real accountability for their funding of hate if they design a program, never mind its high recidivism rate shows it to be little more than a diplomatic scam. Al-Qaeda and art therapy seldom mix.

The real victory of moderation over radicalism will be internal to Islam, and will likely involve women. I have written here before that young Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai did more to delegitimize the Taliban than 15 years of State Department and Pakistani government programs. And I have also written more recently about how Morocco has in many ways become a model for moderation throughout the Middle East. Nowhere is that more true than when it comes to promoting religious moderation and inclusive and tolerant interpretations and practices within Islam. A case in point is the Mourchidat program in Morocco, in which women train in Islamic theology alongside their male counterparts. The men and women are treated as equals and master the exact same theological curriculum, although women will not be able to lead public prayer. Both men and women take classes in psychology and communications to better perform their functions as community counselors and confidants.

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The real fight within the Islamic world remains between the forces of moderation and more extreme elements who justify terrorism in theology. A host of contractors and NGOs have responded by creating a de-radicalization industry which, alas, has too often become the contemporary equivalent of snake oil salesmen from centuries past. The State Department and its European counterparts are willing to give cash to anyone who says the right thing, and promises a magic formula to transform religious radicals into non-violent moderates. Countries like Saudi Arabia learn they can bypass real accountability for their funding of hate if they design a program, never mind its high recidivism rate shows it to be little more than a diplomatic scam. Al-Qaeda and art therapy seldom mix.

The real victory of moderation over radicalism will be internal to Islam, and will likely involve women. I have written here before that young Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai did more to delegitimize the Taliban than 15 years of State Department and Pakistani government programs. And I have also written more recently about how Morocco has in many ways become a model for moderation throughout the Middle East. Nowhere is that more true than when it comes to promoting religious moderation and inclusive and tolerant interpretations and practices within Islam. A case in point is the Mourchidat program in Morocco, in which women train in Islamic theology alongside their male counterparts. The men and women are treated as equals and master the exact same theological curriculum, although women will not be able to lead public prayer. Both men and women take classes in psychology and communications to better perform their functions as community counselors and confidants.

A recent report in Reuters details how the program provides a moderate alternative by inserting those who can explain religion to both men and women, rather than simply requiring rote memorization and practice:

Farah Cherif D’Ouezzan, Founder and Director of the Center for Cross Cultural Learning in Rabat, says that the program is effective in promoting the “spiritual security” Saqi speaks of and directing ideological power away from fundamentalist sects. “I think it’s filling that gap that only Wahhabis and Salafis were filling-the gap that people needed someone to explain religion to them – especially in a country with so much illiteracy and where religion is such an important part of culture. In the past you either had to follow the Wahhabis or Salafis or you were not Islamic,” said Cherif. Both the Wahhabi and Salafi movements practice strict, uncompromising forms of Islam which have often brought them into conflict with Western values.

The whole article is worth reading.

Having American taxpayers throw money at the problem of radicalization will achieve little, nor will working through organizations like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) or the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which often do more to obfuscate the problem of radicalism rather than resolve it. Sometimes it’s important to sit back and observe the best practices which actually breed long-term success. For this, Morocco’s Mourchidat program seems to be the clear model for the region to replicate.

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The Consequences of Kerry’s Vanity Project

The Russian-brokered deal for the West to partner with Bashar al-Assad to start clearing out his chemical weapons seemed to announce what everyone had already figured out: the Obama administration’s goal in Syria was not a rebel victory. Yet in truth the turning point in public perception of President Obama’s approach to Syria probably took place when the Wall Street Journal broke the news that the White House still hadn’t fulfilled its pledge to provide weapons to the moderate opposition.

The reason for the cold feet was calculating–and devastating to the rebels:

The Obama administration doesn’t want to tip the balance in favor of the opposition for fear the outcome may be even worse for U.S. interests than the current stalemate.

U.S. officials attribute the delay in providing small arms and munitions from the CIA weapons program to the difficulty of establishing secure delivery “pipelines” to prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands, in particular Jihadi militants also battling the Assad regime. …

The White House wants to strengthen the opposition but doesn’t want it to prevail, according to people who attended closed-door briefings by top administration officials over the past week. The administration doesn’t want U.S. airstrikes, for example, tipping the balance of the conflict because it fears Islamists will fill the void if the Assad regime falls, according to briefing participants, which included lawmakers and their aides.

So the message was clear: the Obama administration had given up on the moderates. The only non-Assad alternative to the moderates was victory by Islamists, who had gained strength and taken over the lead in opposition. It was more important to prevent an Islamist takeover of Syria, according to the administration, than to roll the dice on moderates. And yet we read today a very curious addendum to this, one that undermines the administration’s previous justification for inaction but helps illuminate the administration’s approach to the entire region, including the Iranian issue and Israeli-Palestinian talks.

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The Russian-brokered deal for the West to partner with Bashar al-Assad to start clearing out his chemical weapons seemed to announce what everyone had already figured out: the Obama administration’s goal in Syria was not a rebel victory. Yet in truth the turning point in public perception of President Obama’s approach to Syria probably took place when the Wall Street Journal broke the news that the White House still hadn’t fulfilled its pledge to provide weapons to the moderate opposition.

The reason for the cold feet was calculating–and devastating to the rebels:

The Obama administration doesn’t want to tip the balance in favor of the opposition for fear the outcome may be even worse for U.S. interests than the current stalemate.

U.S. officials attribute the delay in providing small arms and munitions from the CIA weapons program to the difficulty of establishing secure delivery “pipelines” to prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands, in particular Jihadi militants also battling the Assad regime. …

The White House wants to strengthen the opposition but doesn’t want it to prevail, according to people who attended closed-door briefings by top administration officials over the past week. The administration doesn’t want U.S. airstrikes, for example, tipping the balance of the conflict because it fears Islamists will fill the void if the Assad regime falls, according to briefing participants, which included lawmakers and their aides.

So the message was clear: the Obama administration had given up on the moderates. The only non-Assad alternative to the moderates was victory by Islamists, who had gained strength and taken over the lead in opposition. It was more important to prevent an Islamist takeover of Syria, according to the administration, than to roll the dice on moderates. And yet we read today a very curious addendum to this, one that undermines the administration’s previous justification for inaction but helps illuminate the administration’s approach to the entire region, including the Iranian issue and Israeli-Palestinian talks.

The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration is seeking to protect what really matters to them–the diplomatic photo op:

The Obama administration is willing to consider supporting an expanded Syrian rebel coalition that would include Islamist groups, provided the groups are not allied with al-Qaeda and agree to support upcoming peace talks in Geneva, a senior U.S. official said Thursday. …

The emergence last month of the Islamic Front has presented the administration with a dilemma as it seeks to maintain military pressure on the Syrian government before an opposition-government peace conference next month that it hopes will lead to the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad and the installation of a transitional government.

The SMC, whose Free Syrian Army is the only opposition armed force the United States backs in Syria, has lost both strength and influence to anti-Assad Islamic groups. Among them is the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the al-Nusra Front, both of which have been labeled terrorist groups by Washington.

There are the obvious questions: how will the Obama administration vet the groups? What really constitutes an al-Qaeda “affiliation?” Doesn’t this incentivize Islamists to simply create front groups and workarounds? Why is official affiliation more important than, say, ideology and tactics? The answer to that last question is easy: the administration has decided that it is not fighting a war on terror; it’s fighting a war on al-Qaeda.

That also helps us understand the strategy, such as it is, that underpins the Obama administration’s problem-solving agenda. What the president wants is to preserve the superficial appearance of peace by gathering people in Geneva and signing whatever agreement can be cobbled together. This president prefers style over substance, and he has the perfect compliment in a secretary of state mildly obsessed with resume-padding.

So we got the deal with Assad that took the air out of the tires of his opposition and enabled him to go on killing with glee. Then we got the nuclear deal with Iran, which wasn’t a good deal and in fact may not have been a “deal” at all, just a flaky Potemkin escape hatch for the overmatched Western negotiators.

And now Kerry is back in Israel, where he is claiming that the talks are on schedule to produce a comprehensive, full peace agreement by the end of April. It’s possible that Kerry’s right, and he’s not leading the dangerously delusional vanity project he appears to be–gambling with the lives of others so he can secure a few more of those shiny, overtly ridiculous media profiles he’s been scoring lately. But it remains the case that the talks have stalled after Israel had to release terrorists for the privilege of being part of Kerry’s charade.

That is, Kerry appears to have been played by the Palestinians after getting played by Iran and played by Assad and the Russians before that, and is angling for a chance to be played by Islamist extremists for his next act. This process, of pointless photo ops and clumsy negotiations, is the metric by which this administration grades its foreign policy. And its got another mendacious “victory” planned for Syria.

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The Utter Failure of Obama’s Syria Policy

That sound you hear is President Obama’s Syria policy shattering into a million pieces. The latest sign of the ongoing catastrophe is the administration’s decision to suspend nonlethal aid to the mainstream Syrian resistance after fighters from the Islamic Front seized warehouses in northern Syria belonging to the Supreme Military Council, as the moderate rebel faction is known. The head of the council’s military wing, Gen. Salim Idris, had to beat a hasty retreat to Turkey and Qatar.

That the non-Islamist opposition is collapsing is utterly predictable given the administration’s hesitancy to provide it with more backing. The Islamic radicals are the obvious winners on the rebel side, while Hezbollah and the Iranian Quds Force grow stronger on the other end.

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That sound you hear is President Obama’s Syria policy shattering into a million pieces. The latest sign of the ongoing catastrophe is the administration’s decision to suspend nonlethal aid to the mainstream Syrian resistance after fighters from the Islamic Front seized warehouses in northern Syria belonging to the Supreme Military Council, as the moderate rebel faction is known. The head of the council’s military wing, Gen. Salim Idris, had to beat a hasty retreat to Turkey and Qatar.

That the non-Islamist opposition is collapsing is utterly predictable given the administration’s hesitancy to provide it with more backing. The Islamic radicals are the obvious winners on the rebel side, while Hezbollah and the Iranian Quds Force grow stronger on the other end.

Yet somehow the administration, and in particular Secretary of State John Kerry, is still hoping to cobble together a Syria peace conference on January 22 in Switzerland. How, one wonders, is a deal going to be reached between an increasingly powerless and disjointed moderate opposition and a Syrian president who is growing increasingly confident in his ability to hold onto power?

This is so crazy that it makes you wonder whether the administration policy is on the level. Is it a total coincidence that Obama is trying to reach a deal with Iran and at the same time he is suspending aid to the Syria rebels fighting an Iranian-backed regime in Damascus? Is there perhaps a quid pro quo involved here?

That may, however, be giving the administration more credit than it deserves for strategic thinking. The Occam’s razor explanation here is that the administration has simply been incompetent and incoherent when it comes to Syria. The costs of its policy failures are, unfortunately, being paid by the poor Syrian people: more than 100,000 have already died and more are dying all the time. The war shows little sign of ending, and as it goes on extremists grow stronger, to the detriment of the U.S. and its moderate allies in the region.

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The Problem with Turkey’s “Zero-Problem” Foreign Policy

With the Iranian nuclear deal dominating news from the Middle East last week, another significant development got less attention than it deserved: the expulsion of Turkey’s ambassador from Egypt. For a country that once boasted of “zero problems with its neighbors,” losing ambassadors in three Mideast countries–Israel, Syria, and Egypt–in roughly two years is no mean feat. To grasp how extraordinary this latest downgrade is, consider the fact that Cairo has never expelled Israel’s ambassador, even during high-tension periods like the second intifada.

This, of course, shows once again that Arab leaders care much less about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than their rhetoric might imply. But beyond that, it points to a serious problem with Turkey’s foreign policy that ought to prompt some rethinking in Washington–not only about its reliance on Turkey hitherto as its key Mideast partner, but also about its burgeoning romance with Iran.

Ostensibly, Turkey’s breaks with Israel, Syria, and Egypt are completely unrelated: They were prompted, respectively, by Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza, the Syrian uprising, and Egypt’s military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood government. In fact, however, all stem from a common cause: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist worldview and policies.

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With the Iranian nuclear deal dominating news from the Middle East last week, another significant development got less attention than it deserved: the expulsion of Turkey’s ambassador from Egypt. For a country that once boasted of “zero problems with its neighbors,” losing ambassadors in three Mideast countries–Israel, Syria, and Egypt–in roughly two years is no mean feat. To grasp how extraordinary this latest downgrade is, consider the fact that Cairo has never expelled Israel’s ambassador, even during high-tension periods like the second intifada.

This, of course, shows once again that Arab leaders care much less about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than their rhetoric might imply. But beyond that, it points to a serious problem with Turkey’s foreign policy that ought to prompt some rethinking in Washington–not only about its reliance on Turkey hitherto as its key Mideast partner, but also about its burgeoning romance with Iran.

Ostensibly, Turkey’s breaks with Israel, Syria, and Egypt are completely unrelated: They were prompted, respectively, by Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza, the Syrian uprising, and Egypt’s military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood government. In fact, however, all stem from a common cause: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist worldview and policies.

This worldview is what led him to actively support the flotilla, sponsored by a terror-affiliated Islamist organization, despite knowing violence might ensue; downgrade ties with Israel in a fit of pique after a UN investigation of the incident upheld the legality of Israel’s naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza; and refuse to restore them even after President Obama personally brokered a reconciliation deal, since the deal didn’t include ending the blockade. Supporting his fellow Islamists in Hamas trumped realpolitik and his country’s interests.

This is also what led him to actively support the Sunni rebels–and particularly the most radical Islamists among them–against Syria’s Alawite regime, and why he’s never stopped denouncing the Egyptian coup, even as the rest of the world has long since accepted that it’s not only a fait accompli, but enjoys broad popular support. In these cases, too, loyalty to his fellow Islamists trumped realpolitik and his country’s interests.

Such a principled foreign policy might be admirable if it weren’t for one problem: The principle Erdogan is supporting–Islamism–happens to be a destabilizing one. Inter alia, the Islamist governments and movements he’s supported have produced nonstop rocket fire on Israel from Gaza, a brutal civil war in Syria, and governmental abuses and incompetence in Egypt on a scale that generated massive support for the coup. Hence Erdogan’s commitment to his Islamist foreign policy has only further destabilized an unstable region.

Iran, of course, is also committed to Islamism, albeit the Shi’ite rather than the Sunni variety. Indeed, its foreign policy has been even more aggressive and destabilizing than Turkey’s: Witness its support for the Assad regime’s brutality in Syria and for Hezbollah’s virtual takeover of Lebanon. And since Islamism is the Iranian regime’s raison d’etre, no deal with Washington is going to end its commitment to an Islamist foreign policy.   

The lesson for America ought to be that Islamists–even “moderate” ones, to quote the Washington elite’s favorite adjective for both Erdogan and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani–don’t make good foreign-policy partners. Unless, that is, one thinks even more instability in a volatile region is a good idea.

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Rand Paul and the War on Christians

Senator Rand Paul may be the leading advocate of a new isolationism in American foreign policy but he sounded an appropriate note of alarm over the weekend when he decried a worldwide war on Christianity at the Values Voter Summit. Noting the vast upsurge in attacks on Christians throughout the Muslim world, Paul rightly blamed “a fanatical element of Islam,” rather than all adherents of the faith. But he also made it clear that this upsurge in violence is not the product of a tiny outlier minority but of an international movement of Islamists who number in the tens of millions.

Paul said the primary responsibility to deal with this problem rests with moderate, peaceful Muslims and he’s right about that. However, it is impossible to separate this religious conflict from the broader terrorist aims of Islamists rendering his call to action on this issue at odds with his other foreign policy stands in which he favors what would in effect be an American withdrawal from a forward policy against these forces. But I’ll leave my fervent disagreements with his worldview that constitutes a genuine threat to a viable U.S. foreign and defense policy aside for the moment. Let’s give him credit for speaking up on an issue of grave concern that most politicians ignore and which most of the foreign policy establishment has been actively seeking to bury. Even more important, let’s address some of the criticism he has been receiving over this speech from some liberals as well as those who claim to speak for American Muslims. Whatever the political motivations for Paul’s speech (one suspects he is trying to woo Evangelicals who dislike his cool attitude toward Israel), those who deny this problem or, even worse, try to depict anyone who calls attention to Muslim intolerance as a bigot, are doing neither Islam nor Muslims any good.

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Senator Rand Paul may be the leading advocate of a new isolationism in American foreign policy but he sounded an appropriate note of alarm over the weekend when he decried a worldwide war on Christianity at the Values Voter Summit. Noting the vast upsurge in attacks on Christians throughout the Muslim world, Paul rightly blamed “a fanatical element of Islam,” rather than all adherents of the faith. But he also made it clear that this upsurge in violence is not the product of a tiny outlier minority but of an international movement of Islamists who number in the tens of millions.

Paul said the primary responsibility to deal with this problem rests with moderate, peaceful Muslims and he’s right about that. However, it is impossible to separate this religious conflict from the broader terrorist aims of Islamists rendering his call to action on this issue at odds with his other foreign policy stands in which he favors what would in effect be an American withdrawal from a forward policy against these forces. But I’ll leave my fervent disagreements with his worldview that constitutes a genuine threat to a viable U.S. foreign and defense policy aside for the moment. Let’s give him credit for speaking up on an issue of grave concern that most politicians ignore and which most of the foreign policy establishment has been actively seeking to bury. Even more important, let’s address some of the criticism he has been receiving over this speech from some liberals as well as those who claim to speak for American Muslims. Whatever the political motivations for Paul’s speech (one suspects he is trying to woo Evangelicals who dislike his cool attitude toward Israel), those who deny this problem or, even worse, try to depict anyone who calls attention to Muslim intolerance as a bigot, are doing neither Islam nor Muslims any good.

One such example comes in today’s Daily Beast from Dean Obeidallah who writes that Paul’s attempt to draw attention to the problem is nothing less than an act of hate speech and even likened it to utterances of Al Qaeda leaders seeking to inflame Muslims against Westerners. He writes:

Paul’s speech is likely a mirror image of one that would be given by an al Qaeda recruiter.  The difference being that an al Qaeda leader would cite isolated bad actions committed by the West and claim these incidents were proof that the West was waging an all out war on Islam.

Let’s be brutally honest: If Rand Paul had given a 19 minute speech listing every bad act committed by Jews anywhere in the world under the guise of “warning” people about Jews, he would rightfully be dubbed an Anti-Semite.  Or if Paul had given a similar speech setting forth a litany of crimes committed by African-Americans in the US as defining that race, he would be deemed a racist.

The problem with this formulation is not just that, for all of his faults, there isn’t the slightest comparison between Paul and a terrorist movement. It’s that treating a worldwide upsurge in anti-Christian violence as merely the acts of a few random malefactors is an act of brazen denial that is divorced by the reality of the Muslim world.

Let me brutally honest in reply to Obeidallah. If Jews were committing violence against Christians or Muslims around the world on the scale that Muslims are doing against non-Muslims, and if a branch of Judaism that could call on the support of a substantial plurality if not the majority of most Jews in many countries were using faith to justify terrorism or to wage war against all non-Jews, such a statement would be justified.

But, of course, we know just the opposite is true. The Muslim world is the driving force behind the international upsurge of anti-Semitism in which hatred for the state of Israel is used as a thinly veiled cover for traditional Jew hatred. The one Jewish state on the planet may have its faults but its Muslims citizens are equal before the law, something that cannot be said of those nations with a Muslim majority. And please don’t waste our time citing puppets like the intimidated remnant of Iranian Jewry as an example of Islamist tolerance or democratic Israel’s attempts to defend itself against a war fought by those who seek to destroy it as an analogy to al-Qaeda.

Radical Islam is a threat not just because of its vicious nature but because it can draw on the support of a large body of Muslim opinion and a long tradition of jihadist warfare against non-believers. The reason why there are virtually no Jews left in Muslim countries and an embattled, discriminated against remnant of Christians there is not due to the actions of outliers who can be easily disowned but a culture and a political system that regards such people as Dhimmi who can be abused with impunity.

What is really troubling about the debate about Paul’s speech is the way that purveyors of the myth of the post-9/11 backlash against Muslims will use it to justify their attempt to impose a new political correctness on discussions of Islamism. To listen to groups like CAIR, a group that masquerades as a defender of civil rights but which was founded as a political front for Hamas fundraisers, to even speak of terrorism or of Islamist violence against non-believers offends the sensibilities of Muslims. In so doing, they seek to effectively silence critiques of American Islamists and to stifle investigations of homegrown terrorism. To this end, they’ve largely succeeded in convincing most of the media that Islamists are more sinned against than they are culpable. Every time an act of Islam-inspired terror occurs, the reflex action of both the government and the media is to deny that religion plays any role in the crime even when we know that it has done so.

Discrimination or prejudice against Muslims is as hateful as that aimed against Jews or Christians. But what those who would damn Paul as a bigot for his speech are doing is, despite their disclaimers, to deny the reality of Islamist hate and to silence those who wish to bring attention to crimes that should outrage all Americans. American Christians should heed Paul’s speech (at least on this topic) and treat religious persecution of non-Muslims as an important issue. And they should ignore those who seek to distract us from the reality of mainstream Muslim intolerance.

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Will Sense Prevail in the War on the NYPD?

Tomorrow’s Democratic Primary in New York City offers a variety of personalities for voters to choose from but very little diversity when it comes to attitudes toward the efforts of Gotham’s Police Department to ensure the public safety of its citizens. All the Democrats seem to be intent on trashing the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” procedures that have helped reduce crime in the city. But it should also be noted that none seem willing to come to the defense of the cops as they come under attack for their equally successful efforts to combat homegrown terrorism. As I wrote last month, a report (that is the core of a forthcoming book on the subject) by a pair of AP reporters that seems to be largely based on information leaked by the FBI and dissident cops aims to discredit the NYPD’s counter-terrorist program. Though there is no evidence that the police broke the law or did anything unethical or inappropriate in their surveillance of places where Islamists gathered, including mosques, liberals and others determined to forget the lessons of 9/11 seek to shut down these efforts.  That campaign was endorsed again today in a New York Times editorial that was short on evidence of wrongdoing and long on innuendo about Islamophobia.

Over the last several years the Times editorial page has been a consistent campaigner for reinstating a 9/10/2001 mentality about terrorism. But what is particularly troubling this week as we observe the 12th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center is how these destructive attitudes have been allowed to become mainstream political opinion among New York Democrats who ought to know better. While some have speculated on the likelihood that whoever emerges from tomorrow’s primary as the likely nominee and therefore the favorite to be the next mayor will replace the NYPD’s dynamic leader Ray Kelly, the real issue isn’t personnel; it’s policy. If the Times and other left-wing critics get their way on effectively shelving the department’s counter-terrorist unit, the safety of New Yorkers will be put at risk.

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Tomorrow’s Democratic Primary in New York City offers a variety of personalities for voters to choose from but very little diversity when it comes to attitudes toward the efforts of Gotham’s Police Department to ensure the public safety of its citizens. All the Democrats seem to be intent on trashing the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” procedures that have helped reduce crime in the city. But it should also be noted that none seem willing to come to the defense of the cops as they come under attack for their equally successful efforts to combat homegrown terrorism. As I wrote last month, a report (that is the core of a forthcoming book on the subject) by a pair of AP reporters that seems to be largely based on information leaked by the FBI and dissident cops aims to discredit the NYPD’s counter-terrorist program. Though there is no evidence that the police broke the law or did anything unethical or inappropriate in their surveillance of places where Islamists gathered, including mosques, liberals and others determined to forget the lessons of 9/11 seek to shut down these efforts.  That campaign was endorsed again today in a New York Times editorial that was short on evidence of wrongdoing and long on innuendo about Islamophobia.

Over the last several years the Times editorial page has been a consistent campaigner for reinstating a 9/10/2001 mentality about terrorism. But what is particularly troubling this week as we observe the 12th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center is how these destructive attitudes have been allowed to become mainstream political opinion among New York Democrats who ought to know better. While some have speculated on the likelihood that whoever emerges from tomorrow’s primary as the likely nominee and therefore the favorite to be the next mayor will replace the NYPD’s dynamic leader Ray Kelly, the real issue isn’t personnel; it’s policy. If the Times and other left-wing critics get their way on effectively shelving the department’s counter-terrorist unit, the safety of New Yorkers will be put at risk.

Though the Times and the AP duo huff and puff about the law, they know this is a dead end since the NYPD has rigorously followed court rulings about what they may and may not do. But the problem here is more about institutional rivalries and politics than legal concerns. As I’ve noted previously, part of the pushback against the NYPD’s reasonable decision to keep an eye on local Islamists stems from a turf war with the FBI. The Bureau is famously jealous of its prerogatives. It is also deeply committed to a politically correct version of counter-terror surveillance that buys into the false notion that the government should be more worried about offending the sensibilities of some Islamists than in ferreting out radicals who encourage, aid, and abet terror. While the overwhelming majority of American Muslims are hard-working, law-abiding citizens, the myth of a post-9/11 backlash against Arabs and adherents of Islam in this country has led some to treat any effort to monitor the Islamist minority as an act of prejudice against all members of this religious group.

The point of these critiques as well as the nuisance civil-rights lawsuits brought against the NYPD is to create a zone of immunity around all Islamist institutions that would render them off limits to police surveillance. While that might sound like a defense of that community’s First Amendment rights, what it really does is give impunity to radicals who have repeatedly sought to inspire Muslim individuals to commit acts of terror. Should New York’s next mayor put such an anti-anti-terrorism policy in place, the result will not be a strengthened defense of individual rights but a return to the September 10th mentality where cops and federal authorities slept (and failed to cooperate with each other) while Islamists plotted mass murder.

We can only hope that in the weeks left before the November election, somebody on the ballot, no matter which party they represent, speaks up for the NYPD and sanity and against the Times’s effort to rout common sense on counter-terrorism.

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The FBI and the War on the NYPD and Counter-Terrorism

This morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly denounced as fiction allegations in an Associated Press article published today that the NYPD “labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations” in order to spy on imams and members without any prior proof of wrongdoing. Kelly said the piece’s purpose was to “hype a book” that the authors of the article have written. He went on to insist that the federal judiciary has specifically authorized the activities of the NYPD’s counter-terrorism unit. Moreover, Kelly hinted that the agenda the AP reporters and their book is furthering is not so much one of innocent Muslims or the ACLU but that of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that is still angry that the NYPD had been allowed to poach on their territory and work on counter-terrorism rather than ordinary police work.

Indeed, even a quick reading of today’s AP piece, which is more or less a summary of many previous articles on the subject, indicates that although many of the official sources remain unidentified, the FBI’s fingerprints are all over what must be viewed as a hatchet job on the NYPD. But though this sort of federal-local rivalry is the stuff of numerous Law and Order episodes, the stakes in this dispute are bigger than even the egos of the personalities involved. At the heart of the tussle is the plain fact that after the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD felt that they could no longer play by the old rules of engagement that had led to the murder of thousands of New Yorkers at the hands of Islamist terrorists. Instead, they got to work investigating not only al-Qaeda imports but also the very real threat of homegrown Islamist terror.

The NYPD has come under a steady barrage of criticism for using its resources to seek out potential terror suspects in exactly the places where they are known to congregate: religious institutions led by people who encourage support for extreme Islamist views. While the FBI has chosen to avoid flack by treating Islamists with kid gloves, the NYPD did their job. The AP’s hit pieces should be viewed in the context of a long campaign by many in the liberal mainstream media to falsely assert that there has been a post-9/11 backlash of discrimination against American Muslims. But more than that, it is also part of an effort to demonize counter-terrorism work at a time when paranoia about government spying fed by the controversy over the National Security Agency is running high. But while many in Congress and the media are feeding the spirit of complacency about terror, Kelly has rightly tried to remind us that efforts such as those of the NYPD are all that stands between the nation and new atrocities.

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This morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly denounced as fiction allegations in an Associated Press article published today that the NYPD “labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations” in order to spy on imams and members without any prior proof of wrongdoing. Kelly said the piece’s purpose was to “hype a book” that the authors of the article have written. He went on to insist that the federal judiciary has specifically authorized the activities of the NYPD’s counter-terrorism unit. Moreover, Kelly hinted that the agenda the AP reporters and their book is furthering is not so much one of innocent Muslims or the ACLU but that of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that is still angry that the NYPD had been allowed to poach on their territory and work on counter-terrorism rather than ordinary police work.

Indeed, even a quick reading of today’s AP piece, which is more or less a summary of many previous articles on the subject, indicates that although many of the official sources remain unidentified, the FBI’s fingerprints are all over what must be viewed as a hatchet job on the NYPD. But though this sort of federal-local rivalry is the stuff of numerous Law and Order episodes, the stakes in this dispute are bigger than even the egos of the personalities involved. At the heart of the tussle is the plain fact that after the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD felt that they could no longer play by the old rules of engagement that had led to the murder of thousands of New Yorkers at the hands of Islamist terrorists. Instead, they got to work investigating not only al-Qaeda imports but also the very real threat of homegrown Islamist terror.

The NYPD has come under a steady barrage of criticism for using its resources to seek out potential terror suspects in exactly the places where they are known to congregate: religious institutions led by people who encourage support for extreme Islamist views. While the FBI has chosen to avoid flack by treating Islamists with kid gloves, the NYPD did their job. The AP’s hit pieces should be viewed in the context of a long campaign by many in the liberal mainstream media to falsely assert that there has been a post-9/11 backlash of discrimination against American Muslims. But more than that, it is also part of an effort to demonize counter-terrorism work at a time when paranoia about government spying fed by the controversy over the National Security Agency is running high. But while many in Congress and the media are feeding the spirit of complacency about terror, Kelly has rightly tried to remind us that efforts such as those of the NYPD are all that stands between the nation and new atrocities.

As Kelly said:

“We have an agreement that has been authorized by a federal judge,” Kelly answered. “We follow that stipulation to the letter, and it authorizes us to do a whole series of things. Certainly investigations are part of it. We follow leads wherever they take us. We’re not intimidated as to where that lead takes us.”

Yet that is exactly what the NYPD and the anti-anti-terror lobby led by those who claim to speak for American Muslims and civil liberties extremists want.

The point of the AP piece is to portray the police investigations as a threat to the freedom of religion and the First Amendment protections that would theoretically protect sermons or other activities at mosques from any scrutiny. But the idea that the Constitution allows people to preach violence or to create places where potential terrorists are inspired or given guidance with impunity is absurd. If some religious institutions have come under such scrutiny it is because the NYPD has had a reasonable suspicion that such activities have taken place there. To treat any such investigations as inherently prejudicial not only ignores the duty of the police to follow criminals to their source but also ignores the reality that radical Islamists have found a foothold on our shores.

While I have little doubt that the actions of Kelly and the NYPD will be upheld in the courts against suits brought by critics of their policies, what their opponents are shooting for is just as important as a legal victory: the delegitimization of counter-terrorism work that is willing to address the problem of domestic Islamist terror. That is the agenda pursued by some Arab and Muslim groups that have even counseled their members not to cooperate with the authorities when they investigate terror cases.

But it is even more troubling to see that the FBI is willing to help this cause via leaks and prejudicial anonymous quotes whose purpose is to pursue their rivalry with the NYPD. It should be remembered that such turf wars was one of the principle causes of the failure of the FBI and other authorities in the 9/11 case. To see the FBI revert to this sort of lamentable behavior now in order to settle scores with the NYPD is nothing less than a tragedy.

The NYPD deserves the applause and the gratitude of the city as well as the people of the country as a whole for their sterling work that has served to ferret out potential and actual terror plots. Kelly is resolute in his determination that on his watch, those trusted with defending the safety of New Yorkers will not revert to the sort of September 10th mentality that has characterized many of those who wish to pretend there is no such thing as Islamist terror. We can only hope that the next mayor of New York will empower him and his successors to keep up the good fight to keep the city and the nation safe.

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Egypt Begs a Broader Strategy

President Obama has been rightly criticized for his response to Libya, Syria, and Egypt. The problem is two-fold: slow reaction and inconsistency. After all, why a responsibility to protect in Libya, but not in Syria and Egypt? Leading from behind is often not leading, and certainly forfeits American leverage: see the disastrous aftermath of Libya’s liberation from mad dictator Muammar Gaddafi. More broadly, it is evident that the United States simply lacks a strategy when it comes to political Islam.

The Bush administration to some extent and the Obama administration that followed certainly reached out and experimented with embracing political Islam: witness both Bush and Obama with regard to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party in Turkey, as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s decision to welcome Hamas’s participation in the 2006 Palestinian elections. Obama has reached out to the Muslim Brotherhood from his first months in office, as the group became a more frequent target of engagement by the U.S. embassy in Cairo. In Libya, Tunisia, Turkey, and Egypt—and also among the Syrian opposition, with all due respect to Sen. John McCain—it is clear that American outreach to Islamists has not resulted in any benefit to U.S. national interests.

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President Obama has been rightly criticized for his response to Libya, Syria, and Egypt. The problem is two-fold: slow reaction and inconsistency. After all, why a responsibility to protect in Libya, but not in Syria and Egypt? Leading from behind is often not leading, and certainly forfeits American leverage: see the disastrous aftermath of Libya’s liberation from mad dictator Muammar Gaddafi. More broadly, it is evident that the United States simply lacks a strategy when it comes to political Islam.

The Bush administration to some extent and the Obama administration that followed certainly reached out and experimented with embracing political Islam: witness both Bush and Obama with regard to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party in Turkey, as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s decision to welcome Hamas’s participation in the 2006 Palestinian elections. Obama has reached out to the Muslim Brotherhood from his first months in office, as the group became a more frequent target of engagement by the U.S. embassy in Cairo. In Libya, Tunisia, Turkey, and Egypt—and also among the Syrian opposition, with all due respect to Sen. John McCain—it is clear that American outreach to Islamists has not resulted in any benefit to U.S. national interests.

Perhaps it’s time to recognize that militant Islamism isn’t simply the motivator of “workplace violence” as Obama has characterized the Fort Hood massacre, but a noxious political ideology which means both the United States and traditional notions of Western liberalism harm. The reason why so many proponents of the Muslim Brotherhood respond with ad hominem attacks when such arguments are advanced is that they simply have not substantive argument to respond constructively.

What we need is to take a lesson from the Cold War and begin to roll back political Islam: First in Egypt, and then in Gaza, Turkey, and elsewhere, but supporting opposition groups. Political Islamists will never be our friends, and so we should not waste time or effort siding with them but should rather engage with their adversaries. That does not mean Cold War-era embrace of dictatorship, but it does mean standing aloof from Islamist groups, recognizing that the Islamist embrace of the ballot box extends to Election Day only, and not beyond. Sometimes the best hope for democracy as an end result is not full democracy in the initial process.

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Will China Experience Islamist Blowback?

For the better part of two decades, China has paid nothing and benefited greatly from the American willingness to secure international waterways and police the Persian Gulf. While Washington did the heavy lifting, Beijing played it both ways: Trade with oil-rich American allies and markets guaranteed by U.S. security, while at the same time supporting rogue regimes as part of an anti-American chess match.

In both Syria and Pakistan, China may finally learn that it can only play both sides of an issue for so long. While the Chinese government supports Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Chinese Muslims have been fighting within the Syrian opposition. Jihadi chat forums have posted eulogies, for example, to Chinese Uighurs who came to Syria to fight alongside Turkish, Saudi, Swedish, and British co-religionists.

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For the better part of two decades, China has paid nothing and benefited greatly from the American willingness to secure international waterways and police the Persian Gulf. While Washington did the heavy lifting, Beijing played it both ways: Trade with oil-rich American allies and markets guaranteed by U.S. security, while at the same time supporting rogue regimes as part of an anti-American chess match.

In both Syria and Pakistan, China may finally learn that it can only play both sides of an issue for so long. While the Chinese government supports Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Chinese Muslims have been fighting within the Syrian opposition. Jihadi chat forums have posted eulogies, for example, to Chinese Uighurs who came to Syria to fight alongside Turkish, Saudi, Swedish, and British co-religionists.

At its root, China is an imperialist power, one more brutal than Europe’s formerly colonialist powers who, to this day, continue to beat themselves up over their nineteenth and early twentieth century pasts. The Tibetans have been victims, Taiwan—whose unique identity is apparent to any visitor—might become a victim, and the Uighur Muslims are victims, as are any group who are not Han Chinese. Muslim restaurants in touristy areas of Beijing are one thing, but real cultural and religious diversity is another. Few Uighurs in far Western China like being part of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

As my colleague Dan Blumenthal points out, China is increasingly wary about Islamist blowback from the Middle East (and South Asia). Beijing has recently blamed Syrian rebels for Xinjiang violence, and may finally be recognizing in the way that Russia has that the American retreat from Afghanistan will put them on the front lines of Islamist radicalism. Indeed, Chinese President Xi has already put Pakistani Islamist assistance to the Uighur Muslims on the bilateral agenda.

If China believes that international jihadism derives from grievances against Western countries only and that China will be immune, the Chinese are mistaken: Islamist radicalism promotes hatred toward both West and East. China may soon find that being a global power has a cost, and that not all countries care enough or are even able to restrain Islamists who may be unwilling to turn their back on their Chinese brethren. Get ready, China: The next decade is going to be a very bumpy ride.

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Does Turkey Know What Backward Is?

It is no surprise that the Turkish ruling party—itself an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood—castigated Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster as a sign of backwardness in Egypt, and AKP spokesman Hüseyin Çelik urged the Muslim Brotherhood supporters to reverse the coup through violence, if necessary. “I curse the dirty coup in Egypt. I hope the broad masses who brought Morsi to power will defend their votes, which mean democratic honor,” he tweeted.

Certainly what occurred was a coup, but it’s pretty farfetched to call Mohamed Morsi democratic. As Eric Trager explains in the Wall Street Journal:

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It is no surprise that the Turkish ruling party—itself an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood—castigated Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster as a sign of backwardness in Egypt, and AKP spokesman Hüseyin Çelik urged the Muslim Brotherhood supporters to reverse the coup through violence, if necessary. “I curse the dirty coup in Egypt. I hope the broad masses who brought Morsi to power will defend their votes, which mean democratic honor,” he tweeted.

Certainly what occurred was a coup, but it’s pretty farfetched to call Mohamed Morsi democratic. As Eric Trager explains in the Wall Street Journal:

The turning point in Mr. Morsi’s presidency came on Nov. 22, when he asserted unchecked executive authority through a constitutional declaration and, weeks later, rammed an Islamist constitution through to ratification. When mass protests erupted in response, Mr. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood colleagues dispatched Brotherhood cadres to attack the protesters, and seven people were killed in the fighting.

It seems strange to have Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Hüseyin Çelik, or Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lecture on backwardness. Perhaps it would be worthwhile for the Turkish triumvirate to consider what backward really means:

What happened in Egypt was unfortunate, but sometimes such actions are a last resort when leaders dispense with the rule of law, forget their own accountability to the public, and believe they can undertake authoritarianism without consequence. When Egypt holds new elections, let us hope the process of democratization can continue. In the meantime, let us hope that the Turkish government recognizes that it is Turkey that has moved backward, away from the 21st century and headlong into the past.

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The UK’s Spiteful Double Standard

Sometimes it helps to restate the obvious. So when Jack Straw, who served as a minister for both domestic and foreign affairs in Tony Blair’s Labor government in the UK, recently told an audience at a literary festival that the “point about living in a democracy is that you have to put up with people expressing views you really disagree with,” he struck exactly the right note in a country still traumatized by the brutal murder, in broad daylight on a south London street, of a British soldier by an Islamist fanatic.

Sadly, Straw’s observation was not heeded by his successor as Home Secretary, Theresa May, who announced today that two prominent American opponents of Islam, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, have been banned from entering the UK. The pair had been due to address a rally convened by the English Defense League, an extremist right-wing organization, this Friday in the same neighborhood where the soldier, Lee Rigby, met his gruesome end.

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Sometimes it helps to restate the obvious. So when Jack Straw, who served as a minister for both domestic and foreign affairs in Tony Blair’s Labor government in the UK, recently told an audience at a literary festival that the “point about living in a democracy is that you have to put up with people expressing views you really disagree with,” he struck exactly the right note in a country still traumatized by the brutal murder, in broad daylight on a south London street, of a British soldier by an Islamist fanatic.

Sadly, Straw’s observation was not heeded by his successor as Home Secretary, Theresa May, who announced today that two prominent American opponents of Islam, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, have been banned from entering the UK. The pair had been due to address a rally convened by the English Defense League, an extremist right-wing organization, this Friday in the same neighborhood where the soldier, Lee Rigby, met his gruesome end.

One does not have to an admirer of Geller and Spencer–to my mind, their views are terrifyingly shrill and bigoted–in order to consider this decision outrageous. The letter which Geller received from the Home Office informed her that she was being excluded by the “British government’s measures for excluding or deporting extremists under the Unacceptable Behaviour policy.” It expressed concern at two remarks made by Geller, one in which she equated Islam with al-Qaeda, the other in which she claimed that the survival of Muslims depends on “constant jihad,” before concluding that her espousal of such views on UK soil would not be “conducive to the public good.”

No explanation was offered as to exactly how Geller and Spencer’s presence in Britain might “foment or justify terrorist violence” or “foster hatred that might lead to inter-community violence in the UK.” There will be those who argue that their sledgehammer rhetoric encourages violence, but that same slippery logic could be applied to almost anyone, including the myriad Islamist organizations for whom the UK is a convenient base. According to Student Rights, a British group that monitors Islamist extremism in universities, over the last year speakers with “a history of extreme or intolerant views” addressed meetings at 60 different institutions, many of which were gender-segregated. 

Is it, then, reasonable to accuse the UK government of operating a double standard, especially as there is a long-standing anxiety that the policy of keeping out Muslim extremists is faltering? It’s true that Geller and Spencer are not the first rabble-rousers to be banned from Britain. Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, was famously prohibited from entering the country back in 1986, a decision which led to a 20-year court battle that finally resulted, in 2008, in the ban against him being upheld. Similarly, the Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi was eventually banned in 2008, four years after he was feted by the then mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, a key proponent of an alliance between the far left and Islamist organizations.

The problem with these bans, however, is that they are reactive–and frequently imposed after the offending individual has spent substantial time in the UK. For example, Omar Bakri Mohammed spent several years in the UK advocating jihadist violence against Jews, gays and other groups before being deported to Lebanon, while the Jordanian-born cleric Abu Qatada still remains in Britain despite government efforts to have him thrown out once and for all. In marked contrast, neither Geller nor Spencer has a criminal past, nor a track record of involvement with groups promoting violence. Their sole offense appears to be the promulgation of ideas and beliefs that are indecent–exactly the sorts of beliefs that any healthy democracy should be able to withstand in the name of freedom of speech.

The real challenge for Britain is that extremism of all stripes is homegrown. Just as the EDL doesn’t need Geller and Spencer to promote its message, neither do British Islamists–whose proclivity for violence has been amply demonstrated over the last decade, from the London subway bombings of 2005 to the murder of Lee Rigby this year–require foreign-born clerics to fire up their own supporters.

In the weeks since Rigby’s death, the country has engaged in a furious debate about whether to ban Islamist preachers from the airwaves and block Islamist websites. As Shiraz Maher and Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens of London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation pointed out in their paper “Jihad at Home,” the case of a Muslim couple arrested for conspiring to attack Jewish targets in the north of England:

highlights the ongoing threat of ‘self-radicalisation’ through the internet, and the continued influence of jihadist publications, such as Inspire magazine, which are aimed at Westerners.  It also demonstrates the lingering potency of deceased ideologues such as Anwar al-Awlaki, whose ideas continue to present a challenge to Western security agencies.

Banning Geller and Spencer will not mollify those British Muslims already on the path to self-radicalization. Nor is it likely to end the disturbing spate of attacks on mosques in the wake of Lee Rigby’s killing. The main result of Theresa May’s decision will be to make British democracy look weak and spiteful at precisely the time it needs to look strong and confident.

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Sacrificing Security for Mythical Backlash

After the Boston Marathon bombing there were questions as to how the FBI missed the threat from the Tsarnaev brothers despite warnings from the Russian security services about Chechen extremists. But just as alarming were the reports that the elder of the two terrorists had become an advocate of extremism within his mosque, creating scenes that scared and alienated fellow congregants. That story brought to mind the beating the New York City Police Department has taken in the last two years after it was revealed that the cops were devoting resources to monitor suspicious activities at local mosques that might be gathering places for terrorists. But instead of the example of the failure of Boston-area police to pick up on signs that the Tsarnaevs might be dangerous serving to bolster support for NYPD policies, the department finds itself under siege for seeking to do its job.

The New York Times issued another broadside against the NYPD today which expresses support for a lawsuit brought against the police in federal court for surveillance of Muslim sites. Like the attack on the department for its stop and frisk policy, the decision of the Times and other liberals to go all in on efforts to halt scrutiny of places where terror may be advocated approaches the issue with little concern for the safety of New Yorkers or for the Constitution. The NYPD’s actions are not only constitutional but also, as the Boston case illustrated, necessary. Just as important, the lawsuit seems rooted in the notion of a mythical post-9/11 backlash that remains unproven except in the minds of the liberal media and groups that purport to represent Muslims.

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After the Boston Marathon bombing there were questions as to how the FBI missed the threat from the Tsarnaev brothers despite warnings from the Russian security services about Chechen extremists. But just as alarming were the reports that the elder of the two terrorists had become an advocate of extremism within his mosque, creating scenes that scared and alienated fellow congregants. That story brought to mind the beating the New York City Police Department has taken in the last two years after it was revealed that the cops were devoting resources to monitor suspicious activities at local mosques that might be gathering places for terrorists. But instead of the example of the failure of Boston-area police to pick up on signs that the Tsarnaevs might be dangerous serving to bolster support for NYPD policies, the department finds itself under siege for seeking to do its job.

The New York Times issued another broadside against the NYPD today which expresses support for a lawsuit brought against the police in federal court for surveillance of Muslim sites. Like the attack on the department for its stop and frisk policy, the decision of the Times and other liberals to go all in on efforts to halt scrutiny of places where terror may be advocated approaches the issue with little concern for the safety of New Yorkers or for the Constitution. The NYPD’s actions are not only constitutional but also, as the Boston case illustrated, necessary. Just as important, the lawsuit seems rooted in the notion of a mythical post-9/11 backlash that remains unproven except in the minds of the liberal media and groups that purport to represent Muslims.

Contrary to the Times, these measures do not inspire “suspicion and distrust.” Instead, they are quite rational reactions to an unfortunate rash of religion-based terrorism in this country that can be traced directly back to a brand of extremist Islam. Try as they might, critics of the NYPD cannot pretend that a strain of Islamist practitioners has promoted hatred of the West and the United States. All too often, the United States has paid for its indifference to these terror promoters in the blood of its citizens as organized groups and loan wolves threaten mayhem.

It should be specified, as Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has often said, that the overwhelming majority of American Muslims are loyal and hardworking citizens. But asking the police to ignore major sources of terror in the name of restoring the country to its September 10, 2001 mindset is a recipe for potential disaster.

Kelly is absolutely right to dismiss criticisms of his anti-terror policies. The critics of the department have failed to prove that the investigations of some mosques have in any way hindered the First Amendment rights to freedom of religion of the congregants. What they have done is made it harder for extremists to hijack religious institutions for criminal purposes.

It is to be hoped that the courts will uphold the NYPD’s decisions, but the cumulative weight of efforts to curb the necessary scrutiny of terror on our home shores may yet overwhelm the efforts of those who have taken the responsibility to prevent such crimes. In this case the sympathies of the courts, as well as those of the American people, should be with those who are seeking to defend America, not those who are trying to stop them from doing their jobs.

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Pompeo’s Challenge to Islamic Clergy

I have been traveling in Azerbaijan and Iraq for the better part of a month with sometimes limited Internet access, and so I missed this speech by second-term congressman Mike Pompeo. It is worth watching. Pompeo serves on the House Intelligence Committee, and is a graduate both of West Point and Harvard Law School. Pompeo notes:

There have now been at least a dozen attacks by Muslim terrorists on U.S. soil since Ramzi Yousef’s parked rental van exploded in the basement of the World Trade Center on February 26 of 1993. Some have caused death and injury—such as the 9/11 attacks in 2001and Nidal Hasan’s mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas. Other attacks—such as Faisal Shahzad’s fizzled Times Square bombing or the unsuccessful underwear bombing of a flight—were thwarted or aborted…

He then argues that it is no longer enough simply to dismiss those who justify terrorism in religion as misunderstanding religion:

If a religion claims to be one of peace, Mr. Speaker, its leaders must reject violence that is perpetrated in its name. Some clerics today suggest that modern jihad is non-violent and is only about making oneself a better Muslim. Perhaps that’s true for moderate Muslims, but extremists seek to revive the era when most Islamic clerics understood jihad to be holy war.

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I have been traveling in Azerbaijan and Iraq for the better part of a month with sometimes limited Internet access, and so I missed this speech by second-term congressman Mike Pompeo. It is worth watching. Pompeo serves on the House Intelligence Committee, and is a graduate both of West Point and Harvard Law School. Pompeo notes:

There have now been at least a dozen attacks by Muslim terrorists on U.S. soil since Ramzi Yousef’s parked rental van exploded in the basement of the World Trade Center on February 26 of 1993. Some have caused death and injury—such as the 9/11 attacks in 2001and Nidal Hasan’s mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas. Other attacks—such as Faisal Shahzad’s fizzled Times Square bombing or the unsuccessful underwear bombing of a flight—were thwarted or aborted…

He then argues that it is no longer enough simply to dismiss those who justify terrorism in religion as misunderstanding religion:

If a religion claims to be one of peace, Mr. Speaker, its leaders must reject violence that is perpetrated in its name. Some clerics today suggest that modern jihad is non-violent and is only about making oneself a better Muslim. Perhaps that’s true for moderate Muslims, but extremists seek to revive the era when most Islamic clerics understood jihad to be holy war.

And he takes on an issue which too many scholars and institutions dependent on Saudi, Qatari or Persian Gulf money are afraid to address:

Decades of Middle Eastern oil money have propounded this more extreme, violent interpretation in mosques around the world. Less than two months after the 9/11 atrocities an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood preacher who is probably the most influential Sunni cleric [Yusuf Qaradawi] today, declared suicide bombing to be legitimate. He said:  “These are heroic commando and martyrdom attacks and should not be called suicide.”

He recognizes that not every organization has tainted itself with Saudi or Qatari funding, and that many do not hide behind false accusations of “Islamophobia” so often leveled by groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) or the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) to silence discussion of the battle about theological interpretation within Islam, giving well-deserved shout-outs to both Zuhdi Jasser’s American Islamic Forum for Democracy, and Zainab al-Suwaij’s American Islamic Congress, who have tackled the problem of extremism head on.

Nor does he ignore the fact that similar battles of interpretation have occurred within Christianity:

My own faith has occasionally been hijacked in the name of violence and cruelty, including in Kansas—my home state—by Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. In response, hundreds of Protestant ministers preached that Mr. Phelps’ actions violate the most fundamental Christian traditions and denounced he and his church’s evil acts.

Here is Pompeo’s final challenge, his call for what Muslim leaders must do if they want to defeat the scourge of terrorism:

So what is it that these Islamic leaders must say?  First, that there is never any justification for terrorism. No political goal legitimizes terrorism. Terrorism is never excusable as “resistance.”  Imams must state unequivocally that terrorist actions—killing and maiming—sully Islam. They must also publicly and repeatedly denounce radical clerics who seek to justify terrorism. There is a battle of interpretation within Islam. It is not enough to deny responsibility by saying one’s own interpretation doesn’t support terrorism. Moderate imams must strive to ensure that no Muslim finds solace for terrorism in the Qu’ran. They must cite the Qu’ran as evidence that the murder of innocents is not permitted by good, believing Muslims and must immediately refute all claims to the contrary. Finally, Muslim leaders must say that there is no room for militant Islamism in the religion of peace. These statements must be made publicly, frequently and in the mosques… You know we have to call evil by its name in order to stamp it out. Downplaying atrocities and rampages ensures more of them.

Radicalism is a problem that must be tackled head on, not one that will disappear if those who discuss it are muzzled or threatened. Pompeo’s analogy between the reaction to the Westboro hate and that of radical Islamism is apt. Indeed, perhaps the response to Westboro should be the model American imams adopt to counter the cancer of radicalism in their midst.

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AKP Official: Annihilate Atheists

I’ve been traveling quite a bit and so this initially escaped my attention, but it does shed some light on why the Turks in Taksim Square are increasingly worried about intolerance and the increasingly open religious agenda of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party, best known by its Turkish acronym, AKP.

Mahmut Macit, an AKP official in Ankara, raised hackles last week when he tweeted: “My blood boils when spineless psychopaths pretending to be atheists swear at my religion. These people, who have been raped, should be annihilated.” He continued to declare, “Insulting Islam could not be considered freedom of expression.”

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I’ve been traveling quite a bit and so this initially escaped my attention, but it does shed some light on why the Turks in Taksim Square are increasingly worried about intolerance and the increasingly open religious agenda of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party, best known by its Turkish acronym, AKP.

Mahmut Macit, an AKP official in Ankara, raised hackles last week when he tweeted: “My blood boils when spineless psychopaths pretending to be atheists swear at my religion. These people, who have been raped, should be annihilated.” He continued to declare, “Insulting Islam could not be considered freedom of expression.”

This, of course, comes against the backdrop of a tweet by Ahmet Kavas, Turkey’s ambassador to Chad (and a product of one of Turkey’s religious high schools) who declared, “al-Qaeda is not a terrorist organization.” On February 6, 2012, Erdoğan unleashed a furor when he declared, “We want to raise religious generations,” and, indeed, he has also counseled Turkish women about how many children to have and when. A number of earlier statements by Erdoğan from his tenure as Istanbul mayor should have raised eyebrows, for seldom do intolerant men suddenly find tolerance overnight.

All of this, of course, is open source and readily available. Turks may be religious, but many of them—including some in Taksim Square—consider Islam to be a personal choice, not something to be imposed by the government. When Erdoğan, Macit, Erdoğan bagman Egemen Bağış, and other aides counsel restricting free speech to avoid insult to religion, they are in practice seeking to muzzle criticism not of religion, but of their own politicized interpretation of it.

How disappointing it must have been for the Turkish liberals who today stand watch in Taksim that just last month, President Obama stood side-by-side Erdoğan, joking once again about how he solicited Erdoğan’s advice about how to raise teenage daughters, while keeping the erosion of their own human rights off the table.

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