Commentary Magazine


Topic: Islamism

How Turkey Helps Jihadists in Syria

The problem of Islamist extremism among the opposition groups in Syria has become a major rallying cry for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and a source of concern even among those in the United States sympathetic to the opposition. The Syrian opposition has always been fissiparous, and so it is hard to ensure that weaponry given to the “moderate” opposition wouldn’t be transferred to more radical groups let alone simply seized by them.

Rather than simply shrug shoulders and walk away, however, it is well past time the international community moved to stop the most radical elements from entering Syria. Many policymakers might imagine that this is an impossible task: Syria has more than 1,350 miles of borders. But it is not true that most extremists or al-Qaeda wannabes hide out in the middle of the desert and crawl on their bellies under cover of night to reach Syria. The simple fact is that many of the radicals fighting in Syria and sullying the name of the moderates transit Turkey.

Read More

The problem of Islamist extremism among the opposition groups in Syria has become a major rallying cry for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and a source of concern even among those in the United States sympathetic to the opposition. The Syrian opposition has always been fissiparous, and so it is hard to ensure that weaponry given to the “moderate” opposition wouldn’t be transferred to more radical groups let alone simply seized by them.

Rather than simply shrug shoulders and walk away, however, it is well past time the international community moved to stop the most radical elements from entering Syria. Many policymakers might imagine that this is an impossible task: Syria has more than 1,350 miles of borders. But it is not true that most extremists or al-Qaeda wannabes hide out in the middle of the desert and crawl on their bellies under cover of night to reach Syria. The simple fact is that many of the radicals fighting in Syria and sullying the name of the moderates transit Turkey.

CNN has reported on the jihadis flying into Hatay and then paying bribes to Turkish border guards to cross into Syria. Now the Kurdish media based in Syria has interviewed captured jihadis who have talked about how they, too, transited Turkey.

It is ironic that Turkey has, for mainly ideological and sectarian reasons, largely led the diplomatic calls for the United States to be more active in its assistance to the Syrian opposition but has, through its very actions, created the chief impediment to such action. Perhaps rather than organize high-profile conferences or new photo opportunities replete with empty American promises, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to instead pressure Turkey to stop serving as the chief route for terrorists flooding into Syria.

Read Less

Disarming the NYPD Against Terror

In the years after the 9/11 attacks, the New York City Police Department scrambled to do what it could to ensure that the horror of that day wasn’t repeated. To their eternal credit, they succeeded. While the worldwide counteroffensive conducted by U.S. military and intelligence forces helped make it harder for foreign al-Qaeda groups to repeat that atrocity, the NYPD’s intelligence work concentrated on any footholds Islamists might have found in the Greater New York region. The terrorists failed in no small measure due to the excellent intelligence work conducted by the NYPD. But rather than getting credit for their efforts, New York’s finest have been attacked relentlessly for their counter-terrorism operations in recent years. The September 10th mentality of much of the liberal media and the political left has taken its toll on the department. After the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City last year, veteran NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly was replaced and the new regime seems more interested in avoiding false charges of Islamophobia than in worrying about the possibility that Islamists were plotting mayhem.

As I noted last month, a long assault on the NYPD’s Demographics Unit that sought to keep tabs on mosques and other places where Islamists were likely to gather was disbanded. Though the intelligence work was both legal and important to protecting the lives of New Yorkers, that effort has been halted after a press campaign that treated surveillance of known hotbeds of Islamism as an unnecessary intrusion on the privacy of American Muslims. But with that source of information gone now the last vestige of the NYPD’s counter-terrorism efforts is under siege. A front-page feature in today’s Sunday New York Times must be seen as the first shot in a new campaign to prevent the police from recruiting Muslims who are in police custody on charges unrelated to terrorism from being asked about their knowledge of Islamist activity. Like the work of the Demographics Unit, this practice is not only legal but also a commonsense police activity. But once again we are being fed the line that it is somehow an act of prejudice for the cops to look for intelligence on possible terror plots. Like the myth that Muslims were subjected to a discriminatory backlash since 2001, the Times article seems rooted in a false narrative that seeks to edit Islam out of the story of 9/11 and the conflict with Muslim terrorists.

Read More

In the years after the 9/11 attacks, the New York City Police Department scrambled to do what it could to ensure that the horror of that day wasn’t repeated. To their eternal credit, they succeeded. While the worldwide counteroffensive conducted by U.S. military and intelligence forces helped make it harder for foreign al-Qaeda groups to repeat that atrocity, the NYPD’s intelligence work concentrated on any footholds Islamists might have found in the Greater New York region. The terrorists failed in no small measure due to the excellent intelligence work conducted by the NYPD. But rather than getting credit for their efforts, New York’s finest have been attacked relentlessly for their counter-terrorism operations in recent years. The September 10th mentality of much of the liberal media and the political left has taken its toll on the department. After the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City last year, veteran NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly was replaced and the new regime seems more interested in avoiding false charges of Islamophobia than in worrying about the possibility that Islamists were plotting mayhem.

As I noted last month, a long assault on the NYPD’s Demographics Unit that sought to keep tabs on mosques and other places where Islamists were likely to gather was disbanded. Though the intelligence work was both legal and important to protecting the lives of New Yorkers, that effort has been halted after a press campaign that treated surveillance of known hotbeds of Islamism as an unnecessary intrusion on the privacy of American Muslims. But with that source of information gone now the last vestige of the NYPD’s counter-terrorism efforts is under siege. A front-page feature in today’s Sunday New York Times must be seen as the first shot in a new campaign to prevent the police from recruiting Muslims who are in police custody on charges unrelated to terrorism from being asked about their knowledge of Islamist activity. Like the work of the Demographics Unit, this practice is not only legal but also a commonsense police activity. But once again we are being fed the line that it is somehow an act of prejudice for the cops to look for intelligence on possible terror plots. Like the myth that Muslims were subjected to a discriminatory backlash since 2001, the Times article seems rooted in a false narrative that seeks to edit Islam out of the story of 9/11 and the conflict with Muslim terrorists.

The practice of using those under arrest as a general source of information is as old as police work itself. Those in custody may see it as coercive, but the relationship between cops and their sources is a two-way street in which both sides get something. Yet in the current atmosphere the political left seems to think that it is an offense to the sensibilities of Muslims to recognize that a portion of their community holds extremist views and that some terrorist activity is rooted in a version of their faith. Thus, anything done by the police that would open a window on those who might plot against America, even if it is perfectly legally and eminently reasonable, is now treated as prima facie proof of bias.

One critic of the practice of asking those under arrest to provide information about potential terrorists is Bobby Haddad, a former police sergeant who is Muslim immigrant from Algeria.

“We are detectives of the New York City Police Department Intelligence Division,” he said. “We are there to collect intelligence about criminal activity or terrorism. Why are we asking, ‘Are you Muslim?’ ‘What mosque do you go to?’ What does that have to do with terrorism?”

This is one of those “if you have to ask, you’ll never know” questions. The reason why the NYPD focused its efforts on seeking to know what was happening at mosques where Islamist imams may have preached hatred of the West or sympathy with al-Qaeda and its allies or where Islamists may gather is obvious. They did so because it was terrorists who believed their faith commanded them to slaughter Americans.

To state this does not brand all American Muslims as terrorists. To the contrary, the vast majority are honest, hard-working loyal citizens. But to pretend that Islam had no role in 9/11 or other Islamist terror activity is not merely false, it undermines any effort to combat homegrown terrorism.

The justification for this pushback against scrutiny of potential terror sources is the myth that Americans have been engaging in a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims. But the truth is that nothing of the kind has happened. No proof of any backlash exists and FBI hate crime statistics have shown that attacks on Muslims, while deplorable in any numbers, are nowhere near as prevalent as those on Jews.

The campaign to disarm the NYPD in the war against terror is part and parcel of the attempt to transform the 9/11 narrative from one of Islamists at war with the United States to one in which Muslims are portrayed as the true victims of the attacks. This is not only a libel against America; if it persists it will make it more likely that law enforcement will fail to stop the next 9/11. Those who haven’t succumbed to the siren song of this false approach need to draw the line and insist that the NYPD be allowed to continue seeking intelligence about terrorism in the places where it is most likely to be found.

Read Less

The Backlash Against Boko Haram

When Islamist terrorists seized more than 1,000 school children in Beslan, North Ossetia, abusing and ultimately murdering hundreds, the international response was pure and utter revulsion. Chechen and Daghestani separatists—and even many Islamists—could stomach no excuse for the action and rejected the religious justification espoused by the mostly Ingush and Chechen terrorists. Indeed, rather than enhance the Chechen or Daghestani causes, the Beslan massacre marked the end of most remaining international and Islamist sympathy for the their struggles against a brutal and abusive Russian regime.

If there is any silver lining to the horror occurring in northeastern Nigeria, it is that Boko Haram’s kidnapping of several hundred Nigerian school girls—and the leader’s threats to sell them off like chattel—may be a bridge to far for even those sympathetic to more militant strains of Islamism. And make no mistake, what Boko Haram is doing is rooted in Islam, albeit an archaic and twisted interpretation of it far from the mainstream. Indeed, anyone who denies the religious component has simply ignored the statement of Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader and the man apparently responsible for the kidnapping, in his claim of responsibility:

Read More

When Islamist terrorists seized more than 1,000 school children in Beslan, North Ossetia, abusing and ultimately murdering hundreds, the international response was pure and utter revulsion. Chechen and Daghestani separatists—and even many Islamists—could stomach no excuse for the action and rejected the religious justification espoused by the mostly Ingush and Chechen terrorists. Indeed, rather than enhance the Chechen or Daghestani causes, the Beslan massacre marked the end of most remaining international and Islamist sympathy for the their struggles against a brutal and abusive Russian regime.

If there is any silver lining to the horror occurring in northeastern Nigeria, it is that Boko Haram’s kidnapping of several hundred Nigerian school girls—and the leader’s threats to sell them off like chattel—may be a bridge to far for even those sympathetic to more militant strains of Islamism. And make no mistake, what Boko Haram is doing is rooted in Islam, albeit an archaic and twisted interpretation of it far from the mainstream. Indeed, anyone who denies the religious component has simply ignored the statement of Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader and the man apparently responsible for the kidnapping, in his claim of responsibility:

My brethren in Islam, I am greeting you in the name of Allah like he instructed we should among Muslims. Allah is great and has given us privilege and temerity above all people. If we meet infidels, if we meet those that become infidels according to Allah, there is no any talk except hitting of the neck; I hope you chosen people of Allah are hearing. This is an instruction from Allah. It is not a distorted interpretation it is from Allah himself. This is from Allah on the need for us to break down infidels, practitioners of democracy, and constitutionalism, voodoo and those that are doing western education, in which they are practicing paganism…

We know what is happening in this world, it is a Jihad war against Christians and Christianity. It is a war against western education, democracy and constitution. We have not started, next time we are going inside Abuja; we are going to refinery and town of Christians. Do you know me? I have no problem with Jonathan. This is what I know in Quran. This is a war against Christians and democracy and their constitution, Allah says we should finish them when we get them.

According to SITE Monitoring, however, a subscription service which monitors and translates Islamist (and other extremist) websites, Boko Haram’s actions have become too much for even many extremists to accept: It is one thing to talk about religious war in theory; it is quite another thing to see the human toll when it is implemented in practice. Let us hope that the girls are rescued with minimal casualties, both among the hostages and those seeking to free them. And let us also hope that men like Abubakar Shekau will soon join the masterminds of the Beslan attack in hell. But, most of all, let us hope that those who until now might have been following and–in  the case of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar–funding these radical preachers will see in these Boko Haram actions not righteousness, but true evil. Perhaps out of this horror, Nigeria can turn a corner.

Read Less

Why Does the Clarion Project Endorse Mujahedin al-Khalq?

The Clarion Project dedicates itself “to exposing the dangers of Islamic extremism while providing a platform for the voices of moderation and promoting grassroots activism.” Progressive organizations like the Center for American Progress as well as those close to the Muslim Brotherhood like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Islamic Society of North America have condemned the group, more often than not by labeling it to try to stigmatize it and its supporters so as to avoid a much-needed debate on issues surrounding radical Islamism.

A truism of radical Islamism is that those most in its cross hairs are moderates. For all American officials talk about “green on blue” violence in Afghanistan, they often omit that rates of “green on green” violence is about three times as high. An extremist’s attempted assassination of then-14-year-old school girl Malala Yousefzai was followed by the silence of Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni activist awarded the Nobel Peace Prize precisely because the committee wanted to depict the Muslim Brotherhood, an affiliate of which she is a member, as a peaceful organization. CAIR, an unabashed supporter of Hamas, often keeps its powder dry to attack groups like the American Islamic Congress or the American Islamic Forum for Democracy precisely because they refuse to deny the links between terrorism and more extreme interpretations of Islam.

Read More

The Clarion Project dedicates itself “to exposing the dangers of Islamic extremism while providing a platform for the voices of moderation and promoting grassroots activism.” Progressive organizations like the Center for American Progress as well as those close to the Muslim Brotherhood like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Islamic Society of North America have condemned the group, more often than not by labeling it to try to stigmatize it and its supporters so as to avoid a much-needed debate on issues surrounding radical Islamism.

A truism of radical Islamism is that those most in its cross hairs are moderates. For all American officials talk about “green on blue” violence in Afghanistan, they often omit that rates of “green on green” violence is about three times as high. An extremist’s attempted assassination of then-14-year-old school girl Malala Yousefzai was followed by the silence of Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni activist awarded the Nobel Peace Prize precisely because the committee wanted to depict the Muslim Brotherhood, an affiliate of which she is a member, as a peaceful organization. CAIR, an unabashed supporter of Hamas, often keeps its powder dry to attack groups like the American Islamic Congress or the American Islamic Forum for Democracy precisely because they refuse to deny the links between terrorism and more extreme interpretations of Islam.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Clarion Project, as it is dedicated to countering radical Islam, lists  a number of progressive Muslim organizations. What is surprising is that they list among them the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the front organization of the Mujahedin al-Khalq, an Iranian opposition group. The Mujahedin al-Khalq may be a lot of things, but it is neither progressive nor is it non-violent. Progressive movements tend not to dictate to women who to marry and who to divorce. It has its roots in the same Islamist currents that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini drank from, and only abandoned the Islamic Republic when its revolutionary vortex turned on the movement. Then it attached itself to Saddam Hussein and allowed itself to be used almost as a mercenary organization against both Kurds and Iraqi Shi’ites.

That does not excuse Iran’s targeting of the group, but the logic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is not always wise, unless those who criticize Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was too close to Iran really want to embrace Muqtada al-Sadr. To accept the Mujahedin al-Khalq as a moderate organization is analytically shallow given the group’s record of behavior, its dishonesty in its written work, its past targeting of Americans, and the fact that its rhetoric about democracy does not match its practice.

To counter Islamist radicalism and the totalitarianism and anti-liberalism it represents is a noble goal. And those on the front line are the moderate Muslim organizations that are willing to take on radicals like CAIR and weather the often-unhinged hostility of the progressive left in America. But to lump the Mujahedin al-Khalq in with progressive Muslim organizations not only erodes the credibility of Clarion, but tars legitimate progressive Muslim organizations that already have an uphill battle.

Read Less

The Myth at the Heart of the 9/11 Museum Film Backlash

Can you tell the story of the 9/11 attacks without frequent mention of the words “Islamist” and “jihad?” To anyone even remotely familiar with the history of the war being waged on the United States and the West by al-Qaeda, such a suggestion is as absurd as it is unthinkable. The 9/11 terrorists were part of a movement that embarked on a campaign aimed at mass murder because of their religious beliefs. Those beliefs are not shared by all Muslims, but to edit them out of the story or to portray them as either incidental to the attacks or an inconvenient detail that must be minimized, if it is to be mentioned at all, does a disservice to the truth as well as to the public-policy aspects of 9/11 memorials. But, as the New York Times reports, that is exactly what the members of an interfaith advisory group to the soon-to-be-opened National September 11 Memorial Museum are demanding.

After a preview of a film that will be part of the museum’s permanent exhibit titled “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” the interfaith group is demanding the movie be changed to eliminate the use of terms like Islamist and jihad and to alter the depiction of the terrorists so as to avoid prejudicing its audience against them. They believe that the film, which is narrated by NBC’s Brian Williams, will exacerbate interfaith tensions and cause those who visit the museum to come away with the impression that will associate all Muslims with the crimes of 9/11. They even believe that having the statements of the 9/11 terrorists read in Arab-accented English is an act of prejudice that will promote hate.

Yet the impulse driving this protest has little to do with the truth about 9/11. In fact, it is just the opposite. Their agenda is one that regards the need to understand what drove the terrorists to their crimes as less important than a desire to absolve Islam of any connection with al-Qaeda. At the heart of this controversy is the myth about a post-9/11 backlash against American Muslims that is utterly disconnected from the facts. But by promoting the idea that the nation’s primary duty in the wake of the atrocity was to protect the good name of Islam rather than to root out Islamist extremism, interfaith advocates are not only telling lies about al-Qaeda; they are undermining any hope of genuine reconciliation in the wake of 9/11.

Read More

Can you tell the story of the 9/11 attacks without frequent mention of the words “Islamist” and “jihad?” To anyone even remotely familiar with the history of the war being waged on the United States and the West by al-Qaeda, such a suggestion is as absurd as it is unthinkable. The 9/11 terrorists were part of a movement that embarked on a campaign aimed at mass murder because of their religious beliefs. Those beliefs are not shared by all Muslims, but to edit them out of the story or to portray them as either incidental to the attacks or an inconvenient detail that must be minimized, if it is to be mentioned at all, does a disservice to the truth as well as to the public-policy aspects of 9/11 memorials. But, as the New York Times reports, that is exactly what the members of an interfaith advisory group to the soon-to-be-opened National September 11 Memorial Museum are demanding.

After a preview of a film that will be part of the museum’s permanent exhibit titled “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” the interfaith group is demanding the movie be changed to eliminate the use of terms like Islamist and jihad and to alter the depiction of the terrorists so as to avoid prejudicing its audience against them. They believe that the film, which is narrated by NBC’s Brian Williams, will exacerbate interfaith tensions and cause those who visit the museum to come away with the impression that will associate all Muslims with the crimes of 9/11. They even believe that having the statements of the 9/11 terrorists read in Arab-accented English is an act of prejudice that will promote hate.

Yet the impulse driving this protest has little to do with the truth about 9/11. In fact, it is just the opposite. Their agenda is one that regards the need to understand what drove the terrorists to their crimes as less important than a desire to absolve Islam of any connection with al-Qaeda. At the heart of this controversy is the myth about a post-9/11 backlash against American Muslims that is utterly disconnected from the facts. But by promoting the idea that the nation’s primary duty in the wake of the atrocity was to protect the good name of Islam rather than to root out Islamist extremism, interfaith advocates are not only telling lies about al-Qaeda; they are undermining any hope of genuine reconciliation in the wake of 9/11.

As I first wrote in COMMENTARY in 2010 at the height of the debate about the plans to build a mosque in the shadow of the remains of the World Trade Center, the media-driven narrative about a wave of discrimination against Muslims after 9/11 is largely made up out of whole cloth. No credible study of any kind has demonstrated that there was an increase in bias in this country. Each subsequent year since then, FBI statistics about religion-based hate crimes have demonstrated that anti-Muslim attacks are statistically insignificant and are but a fraction of those committed against Jews in the United States. But driven by the media as well as by a pop culture establishment that largely treated any mention of Muslim connections to terror as an expression of prejudice, the notion that 9/11 created such a backlash has become entrenched in the public consciousness.

While the Ground Zero mosque was never built in spite of the support that the idea drew from most of New York’s elites and political leadership, the narrative that emerged from the controversy in which the need to absolve Islam from any ties to the terrorists or al-Qaeda has prevailed. And it is on that basis that the interfaith group protesting the 9/11 museum film may hope to force the institution to surrender.

But the argument about the museum film goes deeper than just the question of whether a group of Lower Manhattan clerics have the political pull to force the museum to pull the film. As 9/11 recedes further into our historical memory, the desire to treat the events of that day as a singular crime disconnected from history or from an international conflict that began long before it and will continue long after it has become more pronounced. Part of this is rooted in a desire to return to the world of September 10, 2011, when Americans could ignore the Islamist threat–a sentiment that has gained traction in the wake of the long and inconclusive wars fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But rather than think seriously about the implications of a significant segment of the adherents of a major world faith regarding themselves as being at war with the West and the United States, many Americans prefer to simply pretend it isn’t true. They tell us that jihad is an internal struggle for self-improvement, not a duty to wage holy war against non-Muslims that is integral to the history of that faith’s interactions with the rest of the world. They wish to pretend that the radical Islam that motivated al-Qaeda on 9/11 and continues to drive its adherents to terror attacks on Westerners and Americans to this day is marginal when we know that in much of the Islamic world, it is those who preach peace with the West who are the outliers.

In promoting this sanitized version of 9/11 in which Islam was not the primary motivation for the attackers, they hope to spare Muslims from the taint of the crime. But what they are really doing is disarming Americans against a potent threat that continues to simmer abroad and even at home as the homegrown extremists who have perpetrated several attacks since then, including the Boston Marathon bombing whose anniversary we just commemorated, have shown.

Rather than seek to edit Islam out of the 9/11 story, those who truly wish to promote better interfaith relations must continue to point out the dangers of these beliefs and the peril of either tolerating them or pretending that they are no longer a threat. As I wrote in October 2010:

Unlike planned memorials at Ground Zero that should serve to perpetuate the memory of the thousands of victims of 9/11 who perished at the hands of Islamist fanatics determined to pursue their war against the West, Park51’s ultimate purpose will be to reinterpret that national tragedy in a way that will fundamentally distort that memory. The shift in the debate threatens to transmute 9/11 into a story of a strange one-off event that led to a mythical reign of domestic terror in which Muslims and their faith came under siege. It exempts every major branch of Islam from even the most remote connection to al-Qaeda and it casts the adherents of that faith as the ultimate sufferers of 9/11.

This account is an effort to redirect, redefine, and rewrite the unambiguous meaning of an unambiguous event. To achieve this aim, those who propound it are painting a vicious and libelous portrait of the United States and its citizens as hostile to and violent toward a minority population that was almost entirely left in peace and protected from any implication of involvement in the 9/11 crimes.

It now appears that in the absence of the proposed Muslim community center, interfaith advocates seek to transform the official September 11 memorial into a place where that false narrative and misleading mission may be pursued. Those who care about the memory of 9/11 and those who regard the need to defend Americans of all faiths against the Islamist threat must see to it that they don’t succeed.

Read Less

Blair’s Puzzling Middle East Address

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

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

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Turning a Blind Eye to Homegrown Terror

On Tuesday, Americans commemorated the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing with solemn ceremonies and appropriate vows to not forget the victims. But in an ironic juxtaposition that few noted, the anniversary fell on the day when it became known that the New York City Police Department had abandoned an effort that was directly aimed at preventing more such instances of homegrown Islamist terrorism. As the New York Times noted in a news story and then celebrated in an editorial, the administration of new Mayor Bill de Blasio has disbanded the NYPD’s Demographics Unit that had the responsibility of monitoring extremists in the local Muslim community. For the Times and de Blasio, the decision by Police Commissioner William Bratton is a campaign promise vindicated and a victory for civil rights. They viewed the surveillance activities of the NYPD as a violation of the rights of Muslims and an unnecessary intrusion into that community’s affairs that amounted to illegal profiling.

But the notion that the NYPD’s efforts “undermined the fight against terrorism” is a noxious myth promulgated by radical Muslim groups who regard any scrutiny of Islamists as a threat to all Muslims rather than a prudent measure aimed at keeping tabs on preachers and groups that help incite hatred and violence. The decision of the NYPD to abandon the intelligence work that had helped keep the city safe in the last decade is not only yet another indication of the country’s return to a September 10th mentality. It is a case of willful blindness about the roots of homegrown terrorism that may, as the slip-ups in the investigation of the Boston bombers demonstrated, prove to be a costly mistake.

Read More

On Tuesday, Americans commemorated the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing with solemn ceremonies and appropriate vows to not forget the victims. But in an ironic juxtaposition that few noted, the anniversary fell on the day when it became known that the New York City Police Department had abandoned an effort that was directly aimed at preventing more such instances of homegrown Islamist terrorism. As the New York Times noted in a news story and then celebrated in an editorial, the administration of new Mayor Bill de Blasio has disbanded the NYPD’s Demographics Unit that had the responsibility of monitoring extremists in the local Muslim community. For the Times and de Blasio, the decision by Police Commissioner William Bratton is a campaign promise vindicated and a victory for civil rights. They viewed the surveillance activities of the NYPD as a violation of the rights of Muslims and an unnecessary intrusion into that community’s affairs that amounted to illegal profiling.

But the notion that the NYPD’s efforts “undermined the fight against terrorism” is a noxious myth promulgated by radical Muslim groups who regard any scrutiny of Islamists as a threat to all Muslims rather than a prudent measure aimed at keeping tabs on preachers and groups that help incite hatred and violence. The decision of the NYPD to abandon the intelligence work that had helped keep the city safe in the last decade is not only yet another indication of the country’s return to a September 10th mentality. It is a case of willful blindness about the roots of homegrown terrorism that may, as the slip-ups in the investigation of the Boston bombers demonstrated, prove to be a costly mistake.

As I wrote last year when former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly came under fire for these surveillance tactics as a result of a lawsuit and a book that claimed the department had wronged Muslims, the charges were unfounded. Not only was the work of the Demographics Unit all authorized by the courts and completely legal, much of the criticism of its efforts stemmed as much from a rivalry with the FBI, some of whose agents resented the fact that the NYPD was infringing on what they considered to be their turf. Such turf battles were part of the reason that the 9/11 plotters succeeded, but years later the same lamentable trends in American law enforcement have resurfaced. Yet rather than sit back and wait for the feds to do their jobs, after 9/11 New York cops rightly decided they had to do whatever was necessary to ensure that they were not surprised again.

What the NYPD did was not an effort to besmirch all American Muslims, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding citizens. But it did seek to go after Islamists who do pose a threat to U.S. security where they congregate: at religious institutions led by individuals who encourage support for extreme Islamist views. Though the FBI has been heavily influenced by criticism from radical groups like CAIR—which masquerades as a civil-rights group despite its origins as a political front for Hamas terrorist fundraisers—and has treated homegrown Islamists with kid gloves, the NYPD was more tough-minded. As the Wall Street Journal noted earlier this week, this effort paid off to help make New York safer. But the department was lambasted by those who regard counter-terrorism intelligence work as intrinsically wrong because it is directed at the minority of Muslims who do pose a threat to public safety.

Much of this stems from the much-ballyhooed myth of a post-9/11 backlash that alleged American Muslims were subjected to discrimination and a wave of attacks. Though there is no proof that such a backlash ever existed, the notion that attention paid to the actual sources of Islamist hate is somehow intrinsically prejudicial has taken hold and helped to chip away at support for necessary police work. Even as Americans sadly remembered the horrors of the Boston bombing, the demonization of counter-terrorism continued on various fronts. Edward Snowden’s collaborators won a Pulitzer for their help in undermining U.S. intelligence work. But the celebration of the disarming of the NYPD demonstrates just how insidious the myth of the post-9/11 backlash has been in treating commonsense precautions as an affront to all those who wish to pretend that radical Islam is not a threat.

New Yorkers must now pray that their security has not been sacrificed on the altar of misguided political correctness based in fictions spread by radical apologists for terror. If homegrown terrorists like the Boston bombers slip through the fingers of the police in the future, de Blasio, Bratton, their supporters at the Times, and others who have waged war on counter-terrorism will bear a great deal of responsibility for what follows.

Read Less

Brandeis and the Real War on Women

Our Tom Wilson and John Podhoretz have already ably dissected the craven decision of Brandeis University to bow to pressure from extremist Muslim groups and to rescind its offer of an honorary degree on Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But now we are beginning to hear some defenses of the university’s decision that tell us more about what is wrong at Brandeis and the left than anything else. Up until now those who are rightly outraged by Brandeis’s cowardice have focused on the way the school’s administration was buffaloed into insulting Hirsi Ali by groups like CAIR and other apologists for radical and violent Islamists. But at this point it’s important to point out that perhaps the most important element of the story is not who is speaking up but who isn’t.

We have heard a great deal in the last couple of years from liberals about a “war on women” that was supposedly being waged by American conservatives. That meme played a crucial part in President Obama’s reelection and Democrats hope to repeat that success in this year’s midterms. Liberals have tried to mobilize American women to go to the polls to register outrage over the debate about forcing employers to pay for free contraception, a Paycheck Fairness Act that is more of a gift to trial lawyers than women, and attempts to limit abortions after 20 weeks. These are issues on which reasonable people may disagree, but what most liberals seem to have missed is the fact that there is a real war on women that is being waged elsewhere around the globe where Islamist forces are brutalizing and oppressing women in ways that make these Democratic talking points look trivial. It is that point that Hirsi Ali is trying to make in her public appearances.

But instead of rising in support of Hirsi Ali’s efforts to draw attention to these outrages, leading American feminists are silent. The only voices we’re hearing from the left are from men who are determined to justify Brandeis.

Read More

Our Tom Wilson and John Podhoretz have already ably dissected the craven decision of Brandeis University to bow to pressure from extremist Muslim groups and to rescind its offer of an honorary degree on Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But now we are beginning to hear some defenses of the university’s decision that tell us more about what is wrong at Brandeis and the left than anything else. Up until now those who are rightly outraged by Brandeis’s cowardice have focused on the way the school’s administration was buffaloed into insulting Hirsi Ali by groups like CAIR and other apologists for radical and violent Islamists. But at this point it’s important to point out that perhaps the most important element of the story is not who is speaking up but who isn’t.

We have heard a great deal in the last couple of years from liberals about a “war on women” that was supposedly being waged by American conservatives. That meme played a crucial part in President Obama’s reelection and Democrats hope to repeat that success in this year’s midterms. Liberals have tried to mobilize American women to go to the polls to register outrage over the debate about forcing employers to pay for free contraception, a Paycheck Fairness Act that is more of a gift to trial lawyers than women, and attempts to limit abortions after 20 weeks. These are issues on which reasonable people may disagree, but what most liberals seem to have missed is the fact that there is a real war on women that is being waged elsewhere around the globe where Islamist forces are brutalizing and oppressing women in ways that make these Democratic talking points look trivial. It is that point that Hirsi Ali is trying to make in her public appearances.

But instead of rising in support of Hirsi Ali’s efforts to draw attention to these outrages, leading American feminists are silent. The only voices we’re hearing from the left are from men who are determined to justify Brandeis.

At the Forward, Ali Gharib ignores the key issue of women’s rights and Hirsi Ali’s personal experiences. He merely repeats the smears of Hirsi Ali as a purveyor of hate speech against Muslims while doubling down on that meme by broadening the attack to the entire “hard line pro-Israel community” in which he includes not only COMMENTARY and the Weekly Standard but also the reliably liberal Anti-Defamation League. He also attacks her for being a talking head in films which critique radical Islamists because they were produced by the Clarion Group, whose principle sin according to the radicals at CAIR (which was begun as a political front for Hamas fundraisers) was that many of those involved were Jews. Gharib is more circumspect and merely says they have ties to “the pro-Israel right.”

A more thoughtful response in defense of Brandeis comes from Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former head of the Union of Reform Judaism, in the Huffington Post. Yoffie acknowledges that Ali Hirsi has a powerful story to tell about her experiences but says her “prejudicial and deeply offensive views on Islam as a violent and fascistic religious tradition” should disqualify her from being honored at Brandeis. The rabbi argues that if any person had made “broadly condemnatory terms about Jews, the Jewish community would be outraged — and rightly so.” While he acknowledges the point made by Lori Lowenthal Marcus that Brandeis has also honored anti-Zionists who shouldn’t have been given honorary degrees, he writes that this is “beside the point now.”

But the problem here is that Rabbi Yoffie takes the smears thrown about by disreputable figures such as Gharib and CAIR as truthful rather than reading them in context. The principal charge against her is an interview she gave in Reason magazine in which she spoke of the need for the West to wage war on and defeat Islam. That sounds like she is attacking all Muslims rather than just the radicals. But her point is that in many contexts, principally in the Third World—something she knows a lot more about than even a distinguished Jewish scholar like Yoffie—the radicals have seized control of mainstream Islam. As she said, “right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.” That analysis of the situation in Iran and her native Somalia—not to mention a host of other Muslim countries—is inarguable.

It is true, as Gharib argues, that Brandeis isn’t silencing Hirsi Ali. No one has a constitutional right to an honorary degree. The problem is that by wrongly tarring her as a hatemonger, what Brandeis’s defenders are doing is to marginalize the issue of the war on women being waged by Islamists.

The issue at stake here goes beyond the vilification of one courageous woman. The refusal of the West to confront the truth about Islamism is the crux of this debate. It may be easy to pretend that Islamists are only a small minority of global Islam in the United States where even radicals like CAIR like to pretend to be liberals. But throughout the world it is increasingly clear that the radicals—“military Islam” as Hirsi Ali calls them—are on the march and have become the voice of mainstream Muslims rather than only a radical fringe.

It is on this dilemma that the fate of hundreds of millions of women hangs. And yet American liberals and feminists feel no compulsion to speak up about this threat. As Hirsi Ali wrote yesterday in the Wall Street Journal:

I stand before you as someone who is fighting for women’s and girls’ basic rights globally. And I stand before you as someone who is not afraid to ask difficult questions about the role of religion in that fight.

The connection between violence, particularly violence against women, and Islam is too clear to be ignored. We do no favors to students, faculty, nonbelievers and people of faith when we shut our eyes to this link, when we excuse rather than reflect.

Seen in that context, the shame of this controversy doesn’t belong only to Brandeis and its leadership but to a broad cross-section of Americans who should be on Hirsi Ali’s side in this fight rather than listening to her opponents.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.  

Read Less

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:

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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:

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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).

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.