Commentary Magazine


Topic: sharia law

Radical Islam Infiltrating UK Public Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Muslims and the First Amendment

For the past several years, there have been two competing narratives about Islam in America. One put forward by groups that purport to represent believers in Islam and the liberal media would have it that in the post-9/11 era, American Muslims are besieged by a wave of hatred and violence (even though there is no statistical evidence to back up such claims). The other is one articulated by critics of Islam who argue that Muslims are demanding and getting accommodations from government and other institutions that are an unconstitutional establishment of Islamic or Sharia law. Advocates of this point of view are the driving force behind efforts to enact laws that would prohibit recognition or use of Sharia law in U.S. courts. This cause has often seemed to be, at best, the result of overblown fears because, unlike in Asia and Africa where Muslim efforts to make Sharia the law of the land, there is little danger of that happening in Oklahoma or other states where anti-Sharia statutes have been proposed.

However, every now and then a story pops up which makes such fears seem more reasonable. One concerns the assault by a local Muslim on a man wearing a costume during a Halloween parade in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, last year. The attacker said the costume depicted a zombie version of the Prophet Muhammad. The attack was recorded on film and witnessed by a police officer who promptly arrested the assailant, who was later charged with harassment. But, as legal scholar Jonathan Turley notes in his blog, the judge who heard the case not only dismissed the case on the grounds that the offense to Islam was not protected speech but also lectured the victim on the wrongheaded nature of his views. Judge Mark Martin’s decision was based on the idea that the assailant, one Talaag Elbayomy, was merely defending “his culture.” Turley, who posted a video of the assault and a partial transcript of the judge’s comments, concludes that Martin’s decision “raises serious questions of judicial temperament, if not misconduct.” But I would go farther and point out that the judge’s behavior seems to reflect a bizarre notion of Muslim entitlement that is by no means unrelated to the attempt to sell the country on the myth of a post 9/11 backlash.

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For the past several years, there have been two competing narratives about Islam in America. One put forward by groups that purport to represent believers in Islam and the liberal media would have it that in the post-9/11 era, American Muslims are besieged by a wave of hatred and violence (even though there is no statistical evidence to back up such claims). The other is one articulated by critics of Islam who argue that Muslims are demanding and getting accommodations from government and other institutions that are an unconstitutional establishment of Islamic or Sharia law. Advocates of this point of view are the driving force behind efforts to enact laws that would prohibit recognition or use of Sharia law in U.S. courts. This cause has often seemed to be, at best, the result of overblown fears because, unlike in Asia and Africa where Muslim efforts to make Sharia the law of the land, there is little danger of that happening in Oklahoma or other states where anti-Sharia statutes have been proposed.

However, every now and then a story pops up which makes such fears seem more reasonable. One concerns the assault by a local Muslim on a man wearing a costume during a Halloween parade in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, last year. The attacker said the costume depicted a zombie version of the Prophet Muhammad. The attack was recorded on film and witnessed by a police officer who promptly arrested the assailant, who was later charged with harassment. But, as legal scholar Jonathan Turley notes in his blog, the judge who heard the case not only dismissed the case on the grounds that the offense to Islam was not protected speech but also lectured the victim on the wrongheaded nature of his views. Judge Mark Martin’s decision was based on the idea that the assailant, one Talaag Elbayomy, was merely defending “his culture.” Turley, who posted a video of the assault and a partial transcript of the judge’s comments, concludes that Martin’s decision “raises serious questions of judicial temperament, if not misconduct.” But I would go farther and point out that the judge’s behavior seems to reflect a bizarre notion of Muslim entitlement that is by no means unrelated to the attempt to sell the country on the myth of a post 9/11 backlash.

Martin called Ernie Perce, the Pennsylvania director of American Atheists, a “doofus” and, citing his own experiences serving in Iraq and other Muslim countries, told him his conduct could be punished by death in such countries. He went on to claim the Framers did not intend the First Amendment to be used to “piss off other peoples and cultures” and therefore did not protect his right to criticize Islam even in the context of a Halloween parade. Martin not only seemed to accept the idea that Elbayomy was conditioned to attack critics of Islam by his background and faith but that the law ought to recognize his need to not be so offended. This “cultural defense” seems to treat Muslims as so inherently aggrieved by living in a country where their religion is not the law of the land that they deserve some sort of special legal protection for their own blatantly illegal behavior.

As Turley states, the fact that the victim was a recognized antagonist of the Muslim faith had no bearing on whether he ought to be allowed to exercise his right to speak his mind without being physically attacked. Though insulting the prophet is a death-penalty offense in much of the world, such behavior is not illegal in a country that recognizes the right to free speech.

It should be specified that this is just one clearly incompetent judge who used his godlike control of his courtroom to vent his personal opinions and perpetrated a miscarriage of justice. But what is really troubling is the way his decision seems to reflect a growing sense that Muslim sensibilities are so delicate they may override the rights of others to comment on their faith. One need not endorse the insult of any faith to understand Perce’s conduct was legal and his attacker was in the wrong.

It is hardly a stretch to point out the connection between this case and something all too common in Muslim countries where insults or perceived attacks on Islam — such as the recent incident in Afghanistan — are treated as justifying riots and murder. For all of the unsubstantiated talk about a rising tide of Islamophobia, critics of Islam are still far more likely to be subjected to attacks than are Muslims. Like all Americans, Muslims are entitled to the full protection of the law for the expression of their beliefs. But attempts to enshrine their notion of what is a sacrilege into secular law are a path to the destruction of the Constitution.

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Misguided Alarmism About Sharia Law

Rumors about the supposed ascendancy of sharia law in the West–a staple of a certain strain of conservative alarmism–are greatly exaggerated. That at least is the only conclusion I can reach based on the news from Canada where three members of an immigrant family from Afghanistan were convicted of murder in the deaths of four female relatives who had supposedly dishonored their clan. Those found guilty were Mohammed Shafia, his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son, Hamed, 21. The elder Shafia was apparently the ring leader, masterminding a conspiracy to kill three of his daughters and his “other” wife–he was living in a polygamous marriage–because he believed the young women, ranging in age from 13 to 19, were “whores” who had been polluted by the licentious ways of the West–they were wearing revealing clothes, running around with boyfriends, etc. Shafia’s first wife was killed along with them because he blamed her for their daughters’ supposed immorality.

The case was widely reported to be one of “honor killing,” with Shafia and his wife and son engaging in murder to supposedly cleanse the stain on their family’s honor. If Canadian courts were in fact respectful of such an extreme interpretation of sharia, they might have gone along or at least handed out a reduced sentence. But that is not what happened. The judge sentenced the culprits to life in prison and strongly denounced their behavior: “It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous, more honorless crime,” the judge told the defendants. “The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honor, a notion of honor that is founded upon the domination and control of women.”

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Rumors about the supposed ascendancy of sharia law in the West–a staple of a certain strain of conservative alarmism–are greatly exaggerated. That at least is the only conclusion I can reach based on the news from Canada where three members of an immigrant family from Afghanistan were convicted of murder in the deaths of four female relatives who had supposedly dishonored their clan. Those found guilty were Mohammed Shafia, his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son, Hamed, 21. The elder Shafia was apparently the ring leader, masterminding a conspiracy to kill three of his daughters and his “other” wife–he was living in a polygamous marriage–because he believed the young women, ranging in age from 13 to 19, were “whores” who had been polluted by the licentious ways of the West–they were wearing revealing clothes, running around with boyfriends, etc. Shafia’s first wife was killed along with them because he blamed her for their daughters’ supposed immorality.

The case was widely reported to be one of “honor killing,” with Shafia and his wife and son engaging in murder to supposedly cleanse the stain on their family’s honor. If Canadian courts were in fact respectful of such an extreme interpretation of sharia, they might have gone along or at least handed out a reduced sentence. But that is not what happened. The judge sentenced the culprits to life in prison and strongly denounced their behavior: “It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous, more honorless crime,” the judge told the defendants. “The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honor, a notion of honor that is founded upon the domination and control of women.”

What are the odds that in the future any other sentence could possibly be reached in such a case in Canada, the U.S., or any other part of the West?  I’d say the odds are pretty slim. Which is one reason–not the only one–why alarmism about the spread of sharia is so misguided. In fact, only the most fanatical interpretations of sharia would countenance such cold-blooded murder.

The meaning of sharia is as vague and open for debate as the meaning of the Talmud or Catholic theology. Some people will have fundamentalist interpretations, but other interpretations will be more moderate. There is nothing particularly alarming about Muslims volunteering to agree to abide by the laws of their faith in certain matters pertaining to family law, just as some observant Jews, Catholics, and other religious believers do. What would be repugnant and alarming is if some cockamamie interpretation of sharia were infringing on the freedoms of unbelievers or jeopardizing the safety and well-being of those entitled to the full protection of the law. But as the Shafia case in Canada shows, that is not what is happening. And I predict it will not happen in the future either.

 

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Court Deems Oklahoma Sharia Law Ban “Unconstitutional”

A federal appeals court found that an Oklahoma amendment banning Sharia law is unconstitutional, and upheld an injunction on the law. You can read the court’s full decision here (via Doug Mataconis). CBS reports that the anti-Sharia amendment can now be challenged by Muneer Awad, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, who sued a state board to prevent the law from going into effect:

An amendment that would ban Oklahoma courts from considering international or Islamic law discriminates against religions and a Muslim community leader has the right to challenge its constitutionality, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.

The court in Denver upheld U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange’s order blocking implementation of the amendment shortly after it was approved by 70 percent of Oklahoma voters in November 2010.

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A federal appeals court found that an Oklahoma amendment banning Sharia law is unconstitutional, and upheld an injunction on the law. You can read the court’s full decision here (via Doug Mataconis). CBS reports that the anti-Sharia amendment can now be challenged by Muneer Awad, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, who sued a state board to prevent the law from going into effect:

An amendment that would ban Oklahoma courts from considering international or Islamic law discriminates against religions and a Muslim community leader has the right to challenge its constitutionality, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.

The court in Denver upheld U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange’s order blocking implementation of the amendment shortly after it was approved by 70 percent of Oklahoma voters in November 2010.

The main issue the court took with the amendment was that it singled out Sharia law, while ignoring other forms of religious law. In the court’s decision, it said the amendment was subject to the “Larson test,” from Larson v. Valente, which held that “The State may not adopt programs or practices…which aid or oppose any religion.”

Supporters of the ban countered that the amendment did in fact ban all religious law – it simply didn’t specify these other religions by name. But the court disagreed:

The only religious law mentioned in the amendment is Sharia law, which is defined in SQ 755 in religious terms: “Sharia law is Islamic law. It is based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teachings of Mohammad.” …

The language prohibits Oklahoma courts from upholding and adhering to laws of other states that include Sharia law but does not prohibit Oklahoma courts from upholding and adhering to laws of other states that include the laws of any other religion. On this basis alone, application of Larson strict scrutiny is warranted. …

The amendment bans only one form of religious law – Sharia law.

In order to pass the Larson test, supporters of the Sharia ban needed to prove there was a compelling state justification for the law. But as the court noted, the appellants couldn’t name a single example of an Oklahoma court even applying Sharia law. Ever:

Appellants do not identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to resolve. Indeed, they admitted at the preliminary injunction hearing that they did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations of cultures, let alone that such applications or uses had resulted in concrete problems in Oklahoma.

This fight over the Oklahoma Sharia law ban isn’t over by a long shot, but this decision definitely highlights its futility. If Sharia opponents can’t name a single instance of Islamic law being used in the state courts, what exactly is the point of banning it — beyond vague and unsubstantiated fears?

On the other hand, there isn’t exactly a compelling counter-argument in favor of Sharia law. The U.S. courts should avoid applications of religious law in general. And Sharia has a particularly horrific reputation, since it’s used to justify the state-sanctioned oppression of women, the silencing of journalists and human rights workers, religious persecution, and vicious executions across the Islamic world.

But the good news for Sharia law opponents is that these things are already illegal in the United States, and Sharia is rarely applied to anything in this country beyond executions of wills and personal financing matters. Unless that changes, attempts to “ban” it are based on little more than hysteria and conspiracy theories.

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Don’t Let Extremists Define the Terms

Last week, I wrote that by fighting in Afghanistan, we were “honoring the memory of America’s 9/11 shaheeds (martyrs) — the victims of al-Qaeda and their Taliban facilitators.” Some people took offense at my (ironic) use of the Islamic term shaheed to describe the victims of Islamist terrorism. Andy McCarthy, for example, wrote: “Shaheeds are militants, and today they are guilty of the most barbaric acts imaginable. Applying the term shaheeds to those killed and wounded by shaheeds does not raise the cachet of the term, but it is certain to offend those who have been maimed or terrorized, as well as the families of those who have been murdered.”

I used to work across the street from the World Trade Center, and I was downtown on September 11, 2001. I saw the Twin Towers fall. The last thing in the world I would ever want to do would be to dishonor the memory of the victims or offend their friends and relatives. I apologize if I have inadvertently caused offense. But anyone who is offended is misreading the term shaheed.

Yes, al-Qaeda and its ilk describe dead terrorists as shaheeds. But as three different, well-respected scholars of the Middle East have confirmed to me, militants hardly have a monopoly on a word that literally means “witness” but generally denotes anyone who dies while fulfilling a religious commandment. Anwar Sadat, Rafik Hariri, and Ahmed Shah Massoud — all moderate Muslims slain by extremists — are referred to by their admirers as shaheeds, while to their enemies, their murderers are the shaheeds. The word’s elasticity should not be a surprise; it is also true of a term such as “sharia law,” which can connote everything from Indonesian democracy to Iranian theocracy. Extremists have their definitions of Islamic terms; moderate Muslims (who constitute the great majority) have differing interpretations. We should not make the mistake of assuming that the most extreme view is the “correct” one.

Last week, I wrote that by fighting in Afghanistan, we were “honoring the memory of America’s 9/11 shaheeds (martyrs) — the victims of al-Qaeda and their Taliban facilitators.” Some people took offense at my (ironic) use of the Islamic term shaheed to describe the victims of Islamist terrorism. Andy McCarthy, for example, wrote: “Shaheeds are militants, and today they are guilty of the most barbaric acts imaginable. Applying the term shaheeds to those killed and wounded by shaheeds does not raise the cachet of the term, but it is certain to offend those who have been maimed or terrorized, as well as the families of those who have been murdered.”

I used to work across the street from the World Trade Center, and I was downtown on September 11, 2001. I saw the Twin Towers fall. The last thing in the world I would ever want to do would be to dishonor the memory of the victims or offend their friends and relatives. I apologize if I have inadvertently caused offense. But anyone who is offended is misreading the term shaheed.

Yes, al-Qaeda and its ilk describe dead terrorists as shaheeds. But as three different, well-respected scholars of the Middle East have confirmed to me, militants hardly have a monopoly on a word that literally means “witness” but generally denotes anyone who dies while fulfilling a religious commandment. Anwar Sadat, Rafik Hariri, and Ahmed Shah Massoud — all moderate Muslims slain by extremists — are referred to by their admirers as shaheeds, while to their enemies, their murderers are the shaheeds. The word’s elasticity should not be a surprise; it is also true of a term such as “sharia law,” which can connote everything from Indonesian democracy to Iranian theocracy. Extremists have their definitions of Islamic terms; moderate Muslims (who constitute the great majority) have differing interpretations. We should not make the mistake of assuming that the most extreme view is the “correct” one.

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The War Against Extremism

News travels slowly when you’re on vacation, especially when you’re on vacation in the French countryside, so I have only now read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wall Street Journal op-ed from a couple of days ago updating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. While Huntington identified nine “civilizations” that are supposedly in conflict (“Western,” “Latin American,” “African,” “Islamic,” “Sinic,” “Hindu,” “Orthodox,” “Buddhist,”  “Japanese”), Hirsi Ali not surprisingly focuses on one such “civilization” — the Islamic one. She sees recent controversies involving Muslims providing confirmation of this thesis, including “the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France.” So, too, in her view the increasingly anti-Western orientation of Turkey provides evidence that all Muslim countries are destined to be opposed to all Western countries.

She sets up the “clash of civilizations” thesis against a straw man she labels the “One World” thesis, which she attributes to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” writings and to an “equivalent neoconservative rosy scenario” of “a ‘unipolar’ world of unrivalled American hegemony.” This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet. Up close, all sorts of differences emerge that stymie most attempts at generalization. France and the United States, for instance, are both part of “Western” civilization, but (as I have been discovering in the past week) they are very different culturally and, not surprisingly, they have very different outlooks on the world. (Indeed some commentators posit an “Anglosphere” pitting English-speaking countries against other “Western” nations.) So too with, say, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Malaysia. All are, according to Hirsi Ali, part of an “Islamic civilization,” yet anyone who has ever visited those countries knows that, notwithstanding a common religion, their differences are vast.

Lee Smith confirms the point in a typically smart essay on sharia law: “Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people.”

Indeed, as many people have noted, the War on Terror is not a reflection of an Islam vs. the West clash; it is part of a clash within Islam pitting fanatical Islamists against the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. What is striking to me, looking back on several decades of such strife, is not how successful the Islamists have been but how unsuccessful.

Which states have succumbed to Islamism? Iran since 1979. Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. That’s about it. To be sure, there are powerful Islamist movements elsewhere, and one such group may be close to taking over Somalia. Other Islamists have effectively taken over part of Pakistan’s tribal areas, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, and are trying to undermine many other governments — but so far with little success. In other words, the Islamic world, while expressing some sympathy with some of the views of the extremists, has proved remarkably resistant to actually letting the fanatics take control. Al-Qaeda has not been able to topple a single government.

This provides cause for hope and an obvious strategy for the U.S. and its allies to pursue: we must buttress the forces of moderation in the Islamic world against those of the extremists. And that is precisely what we are doing in countless countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Djibouti. That strategy is much more likely to pay long-term dividends than are crude fulminations against “Islamic civilization,” which is precisely what Osama bin Laden & Co. long to hear.

News travels slowly when you’re on vacation, especially when you’re on vacation in the French countryside, so I have only now read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wall Street Journal op-ed from a couple of days ago updating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. While Huntington identified nine “civilizations” that are supposedly in conflict (“Western,” “Latin American,” “African,” “Islamic,” “Sinic,” “Hindu,” “Orthodox,” “Buddhist,”  “Japanese”), Hirsi Ali not surprisingly focuses on one such “civilization” — the Islamic one. She sees recent controversies involving Muslims providing confirmation of this thesis, including “the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France.” So, too, in her view the increasingly anti-Western orientation of Turkey provides evidence that all Muslim countries are destined to be opposed to all Western countries.

She sets up the “clash of civilizations” thesis against a straw man she labels the “One World” thesis, which she attributes to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” writings and to an “equivalent neoconservative rosy scenario” of “a ‘unipolar’ world of unrivalled American hegemony.” This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet. Up close, all sorts of differences emerge that stymie most attempts at generalization. France and the United States, for instance, are both part of “Western” civilization, but (as I have been discovering in the past week) they are very different culturally and, not surprisingly, they have very different outlooks on the world. (Indeed some commentators posit an “Anglosphere” pitting English-speaking countries against other “Western” nations.) So too with, say, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Malaysia. All are, according to Hirsi Ali, part of an “Islamic civilization,” yet anyone who has ever visited those countries knows that, notwithstanding a common religion, their differences are vast.

Lee Smith confirms the point in a typically smart essay on sharia law: “Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people.”

Indeed, as many people have noted, the War on Terror is not a reflection of an Islam vs. the West clash; it is part of a clash within Islam pitting fanatical Islamists against the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. What is striking to me, looking back on several decades of such strife, is not how successful the Islamists have been but how unsuccessful.

Which states have succumbed to Islamism? Iran since 1979. Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. That’s about it. To be sure, there are powerful Islamist movements elsewhere, and one such group may be close to taking over Somalia. Other Islamists have effectively taken over part of Pakistan’s tribal areas, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, and are trying to undermine many other governments — but so far with little success. In other words, the Islamic world, while expressing some sympathy with some of the views of the extremists, has proved remarkably resistant to actually letting the fanatics take control. Al-Qaeda has not been able to topple a single government.

This provides cause for hope and an obvious strategy for the U.S. and its allies to pursue: we must buttress the forces of moderation in the Islamic world against those of the extremists. And that is precisely what we are doing in countless countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Djibouti. That strategy is much more likely to pay long-term dividends than are crude fulminations against “Islamic civilization,” which is precisely what Osama bin Laden & Co. long to hear.

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Will They Do What Must Be Done?

In the case of the Christmas Day terror attack, the Obama administration has gone from denying error to acknowledging a systematic failure of intelligence. But nothing the president and his hapless advisers have said, nor the reviews ordered by the president, suggest that they are re-examining the fundamental policy errors that, if unaddressed, will continue to undermine the safety and security of Americans. Yes, we should fire the ball-droppers (Dennis Blair should be preparing to “spend more time with his family”). And we should figure out how to elevate suspected terrorists to the “no fly” watch list when their parents turn them in to the CIA. But there is more to the problem than that. Unfortunately, one has the sense that in all the new-found frenzy to “report what went wrong,” no one will report that the president’s own ideological predispositions and outlook are at the root of the problem. Three of these come to mind.

First, if we persist in treating terrorists as criminal defendants, we will not get the maximum amount of information required to prevent further attacks. Andy McCarthy explains:

A terrorist submitted to the criminal justice system immediately after arrest must be brought to court and have counsel assigned promptly — generally, within six hours. As a defendant, the terrorist is empowered because once he has counsel and a case to fight, he realizes he has cards to play — he is incentivized to hold back the most critical, fresh, operational intelligence in order to pressure the prosecutors into dropping charges, dropping the death penalty, and agreeing to various other accommodations. His confederates are empowered because the discovery provided for his criminal case, and then the public trial, provide a window into what the government knows about the enemy.

Second, we cannot, as Cliff May puts it, make ourselves “inoffensive” to our enemies:

President Obama’s Cairo speech, his respectful outreach to Iran’s radical mullahs, his pledge to close Guantanamo, his ban on coercive interrogations, his multicultural family history and his middle name — none of this has had the slightest impact on those dedicated to waging holy war against what they see as the “Satanic” West.

Our enemies have many grievances — from our support of Israel to our interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen to our laissez-faire attitudes toward women and homosexuals. Nothing we do to appease them will be enough because what they really want is to humiliate, defeat, and dominate us; to force us to live under sharia law, embrace their religion as they interpret it, or suffer the consequences due arrogant infidels. We know this because they tell us.

And third, by refusing to identify our enemies — Islamic fundamentalists — we encourage officials (from Major Nadal Hassan’s colleagues to State Department bureaucrats) to ignore red flags that suggest a radicalized jihadist may be ready to strike. We refuse to profile terrorists when we know their profiles. (As Newt Gingrich noted, “Today, because our elites fear politically incorrect honesty, they believe that it is better to harass the innocent, delay the harmless, and risk the lives of every American than to do the obvious, the effective, and the necessary.”) Yes, that means going into mosques when we believe there is intelligence to be gathered there. It means empowering, not penalizing, members of the armed services who report that one of their own may have fallen under the sway of jihadism. The cult of political correctness, which excuses aberrant behavior, has to end. And that cannot happen if the commander in chief refuses to speak candidly about the identity of our enemies and their ideological motivations.

All of this would, of course, require that the Obami rethink their “not Bush” approach to the war on terror. That would be a bitter bill indeed to swallow. But unless and until they do so, they are gambling with the lives of Americans, and with their own political futures. The country would forgive them a reversal in policy; it will likely not forgive them should a terrorist catastrophe occur.

In the case of the Christmas Day terror attack, the Obama administration has gone from denying error to acknowledging a systematic failure of intelligence. But nothing the president and his hapless advisers have said, nor the reviews ordered by the president, suggest that they are re-examining the fundamental policy errors that, if unaddressed, will continue to undermine the safety and security of Americans. Yes, we should fire the ball-droppers (Dennis Blair should be preparing to “spend more time with his family”). And we should figure out how to elevate suspected terrorists to the “no fly” watch list when their parents turn them in to the CIA. But there is more to the problem than that. Unfortunately, one has the sense that in all the new-found frenzy to “report what went wrong,” no one will report that the president’s own ideological predispositions and outlook are at the root of the problem. Three of these come to mind.

First, if we persist in treating terrorists as criminal defendants, we will not get the maximum amount of information required to prevent further attacks. Andy McCarthy explains:

A terrorist submitted to the criminal justice system immediately after arrest must be brought to court and have counsel assigned promptly — generally, within six hours. As a defendant, the terrorist is empowered because once he has counsel and a case to fight, he realizes he has cards to play — he is incentivized to hold back the most critical, fresh, operational intelligence in order to pressure the prosecutors into dropping charges, dropping the death penalty, and agreeing to various other accommodations. His confederates are empowered because the discovery provided for his criminal case, and then the public trial, provide a window into what the government knows about the enemy.

Second, we cannot, as Cliff May puts it, make ourselves “inoffensive” to our enemies:

President Obama’s Cairo speech, his respectful outreach to Iran’s radical mullahs, his pledge to close Guantanamo, his ban on coercive interrogations, his multicultural family history and his middle name — none of this has had the slightest impact on those dedicated to waging holy war against what they see as the “Satanic” West.

Our enemies have many grievances — from our support of Israel to our interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen to our laissez-faire attitudes toward women and homosexuals. Nothing we do to appease them will be enough because what they really want is to humiliate, defeat, and dominate us; to force us to live under sharia law, embrace their religion as they interpret it, or suffer the consequences due arrogant infidels. We know this because they tell us.

And third, by refusing to identify our enemies — Islamic fundamentalists — we encourage officials (from Major Nadal Hassan’s colleagues to State Department bureaucrats) to ignore red flags that suggest a radicalized jihadist may be ready to strike. We refuse to profile terrorists when we know their profiles. (As Newt Gingrich noted, “Today, because our elites fear politically incorrect honesty, they believe that it is better to harass the innocent, delay the harmless, and risk the lives of every American than to do the obvious, the effective, and the necessary.”) Yes, that means going into mosques when we believe there is intelligence to be gathered there. It means empowering, not penalizing, members of the armed services who report that one of their own may have fallen under the sway of jihadism. The cult of political correctness, which excuses aberrant behavior, has to end. And that cannot happen if the commander in chief refuses to speak candidly about the identity of our enemies and their ideological motivations.

All of this would, of course, require that the Obami rethink their “not Bush” approach to the war on terror. That would be a bitter bill indeed to swallow. But unless and until they do so, they are gambling with the lives of Americans, and with their own political futures. The country would forgive them a reversal in policy; it will likely not forgive them should a terrorist catastrophe occur.

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Cuddling Kafir Law

In Malaysia Islamic lawyers want to extend an existing ban on cuddling between unwed Muslims to cover flirty infidels, too. Here’s Reuters:

Experts in sharia law, which currently applies only to Malaysia’s majority Muslims, proposed at a seminar that there should be a civil law to deal with non-Muslims found committing the Islamic crime of khalwat, or close proximity, with a Muslim.

This may come as devastating news to Barack Obama, who has pledged to meet with leaders of all Muslim nations and, in his own terminology, “bridge the gap” between Muslims and Westerners. A teleconference may have to suffice, after all.

“The Muslims can be sentenced in sharia courts and the non-Muslim partners can probably be sentenced in the civil courts, to be fair to both parties,” said a senior Malaysian sharia-court judge.

Novel use of the word “fair.”

In Malaysia Islamic lawyers want to extend an existing ban on cuddling between unwed Muslims to cover flirty infidels, too. Here’s Reuters:

Experts in sharia law, which currently applies only to Malaysia’s majority Muslims, proposed at a seminar that there should be a civil law to deal with non-Muslims found committing the Islamic crime of khalwat, or close proximity, with a Muslim.

This may come as devastating news to Barack Obama, who has pledged to meet with leaders of all Muslim nations and, in his own terminology, “bridge the gap” between Muslims and Westerners. A teleconference may have to suffice, after all.

“The Muslims can be sentenced in sharia courts and the non-Muslim partners can probably be sentenced in the civil courts, to be fair to both parties,” said a senior Malaysian sharia-court judge.

Novel use of the word “fair.”

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Re-branding Capitulation

The Dutch were arguably the first to harness the capital and military potential of the sea and establish a muscular free-trade empire; England followed, and then the U.S. In accordance with a simple timeline school of history the undoing of Dutch culture should proceed that of England or America. Sometimes history can be frighteningly simple.

Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports that Dutch Catholics have “re-branded” the Lent fast “Christian Ramadan.” Martin Van der Kuil, director of the Catholic charity Vastenaktie said, “The image of the Catholic Lent must be polished. The fact that we use a Muslim term is related to the fact that Ramadan is a better-known concept among young people than Lent.”

Meanwhile, the second great sea power lays the groundwork. The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has recommended that England formally adopt certain aspects of shari’a law to “help maintain social cohesion.”

Williams’ sentiment is echoed by Van der Kuil, who said of Lent and Ramadan: “The agreements are more striking than the differences. Both for Muslims and Catholic faithful the values of frugality and spirituality play a central role in this tradition.”

As this plays out, former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was forced to flee the Netherlands under Islamist death threats, can’t find her way to the “social cohesion” of an interfaith Europe. She’s going from country-to-country in the hopes of convincing a government to protect her from would-be assassins. Hard to say what her chances are in Denmark, where police just arrested three men plotting to kill a cartoonist who drew a picture of the Prophet Mohammad.

The “re-branding” of Lent is really a re-defining of several things: Catholicism, European culture, and the fate of nations. “Re-branding” is one of those weaselly terms common to market-driven societies such as the Netherlands, Great Britain, and the U.S.. What’s really happening isn’t marketing, but product development: Anglican shari’a and Catholic Ramadan. When some version of this trend hits America, us savvy consumers should at least be able to call it by its name.

The Dutch were arguably the first to harness the capital and military potential of the sea and establish a muscular free-trade empire; England followed, and then the U.S. In accordance with a simple timeline school of history the undoing of Dutch culture should proceed that of England or America. Sometimes history can be frighteningly simple.

Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports that Dutch Catholics have “re-branded” the Lent fast “Christian Ramadan.” Martin Van der Kuil, director of the Catholic charity Vastenaktie said, “The image of the Catholic Lent must be polished. The fact that we use a Muslim term is related to the fact that Ramadan is a better-known concept among young people than Lent.”

Meanwhile, the second great sea power lays the groundwork. The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has recommended that England formally adopt certain aspects of shari’a law to “help maintain social cohesion.”

Williams’ sentiment is echoed by Van der Kuil, who said of Lent and Ramadan: “The agreements are more striking than the differences. Both for Muslims and Catholic faithful the values of frugality and spirituality play a central role in this tradition.”

As this plays out, former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was forced to flee the Netherlands under Islamist death threats, can’t find her way to the “social cohesion” of an interfaith Europe. She’s going from country-to-country in the hopes of convincing a government to protect her from would-be assassins. Hard to say what her chances are in Denmark, where police just arrested three men plotting to kill a cartoonist who drew a picture of the Prophet Mohammad.

The “re-branding” of Lent is really a re-defining of several things: Catholicism, European culture, and the fate of nations. “Re-branding” is one of those weaselly terms common to market-driven societies such as the Netherlands, Great Britain, and the U.S.. What’s really happening isn’t marketing, but product development: Anglican shari’a and Catholic Ramadan. When some version of this trend hits America, us savvy consumers should at least be able to call it by its name.

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Shari’a in Britain

Yesterday, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, suggested that shari’a law apply in Britain in limited circumstances. In a BBC interview, he said that it is “a bit of danger” that “there’s one law for everybody and that’s all there is to be said.” So it would be okay if, for example, marital disputes or financial matters would be tried in an Islamic court. Williams argues “a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law” will help social cohesion. (He must have had this in mind.)

Whatever happened to the concept that one law applies to everyone? In the country that greatly contributed to the concept of the West’s legal principles, there is already precedent for separate law and tribunals. The Archbishop of Canterbury noted that Britain’s Jewish community has its religious courts, the Beth Din. What’s good for Jews, Dr. Williams argues, is also good for Muslims.

So shouldn’t each person have the right to choose his or her own legal system? In the contractual setting, parties can select their own law as well as designate the court that will hear any dispute. They may even decide on arbitration—in other words, private settlement largely outside the judicial system. Yet this is voluntary, as are cases in Britain’s Jewish tribunals. “There’s no compulsion,” says David Frei, the registrar of the London Beth Din. “We can’t drag people in off the streets.” Moreover, the Jewish courts hear only civil disputes, and then only within the strictures of British law. In essence, the Beth Din is a private arbitration organization.

The risk of applying shari’a is drawing—and enforcing—the line for adherents who seek no bounds. The BBC reports that Somalis living in Britain have their unofficial courts, or “gar,” which have, without legal justification, begun to handle criminal cases. Unfortunately, Britain’s Muslims are already growing apart from the rest of society, as the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, noted when he said last month that parts of England had become “no-go” areas for infidels. So the risk of introducing Muslim law is that it will, as a practical matter, become compulsory in Britain’s increasingly exclusionist and radical Islamic communities.

So I’m with the Sun, Britain’s tabloid. “It’s easy to dismiss Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as a silly old goat,” the paper said today. “In fact he’s a dangerous threat to our nation.” And Western society as well.

Yesterday, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, suggested that shari’a law apply in Britain in limited circumstances. In a BBC interview, he said that it is “a bit of danger” that “there’s one law for everybody and that’s all there is to be said.” So it would be okay if, for example, marital disputes or financial matters would be tried in an Islamic court. Williams argues “a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law” will help social cohesion. (He must have had this in mind.)

Whatever happened to the concept that one law applies to everyone? In the country that greatly contributed to the concept of the West’s legal principles, there is already precedent for separate law and tribunals. The Archbishop of Canterbury noted that Britain’s Jewish community has its religious courts, the Beth Din. What’s good for Jews, Dr. Williams argues, is also good for Muslims.

So shouldn’t each person have the right to choose his or her own legal system? In the contractual setting, parties can select their own law as well as designate the court that will hear any dispute. They may even decide on arbitration—in other words, private settlement largely outside the judicial system. Yet this is voluntary, as are cases in Britain’s Jewish tribunals. “There’s no compulsion,” says David Frei, the registrar of the London Beth Din. “We can’t drag people in off the streets.” Moreover, the Jewish courts hear only civil disputes, and then only within the strictures of British law. In essence, the Beth Din is a private arbitration organization.

The risk of applying shari’a is drawing—and enforcing—the line for adherents who seek no bounds. The BBC reports that Somalis living in Britain have their unofficial courts, or “gar,” which have, without legal justification, begun to handle criminal cases. Unfortunately, Britain’s Muslims are already growing apart from the rest of society, as the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, noted when he said last month that parts of England had become “no-go” areas for infidels. So the risk of introducing Muslim law is that it will, as a practical matter, become compulsory in Britain’s increasingly exclusionist and radical Islamic communities.

So I’m with the Sun, Britain’s tabloid. “It’s easy to dismiss Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as a silly old goat,” the paper said today. “In fact he’s a dangerous threat to our nation.” And Western society as well.

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His Name Is Ezra Levant

David Frum and Mark Steyn draw our attention to Ezra Levant–former publisher of the Western Standard, a Canadian political magazine–who, like Steyn, is being harassed by Canadian “human rights” commissars over his apparent lack of sensitivity to fundamentalist Muslims who wish to impose Shari’a law on Canada. In men like Steyn and Levant, the professional grievance hustlers have their hands full.

Levant has his own blog, where he posts missives about his case and republishes statements he’s made to the “human rights” commission. He says rousing things like this:

It is especially perverted that a bureaucracy calling itself the Alberta human rights commission would be the government agency violating my human rights. So I will now call those bureaucrats “the commission” or “the hrc”, since to call the commission a “human rights commission” is to destroy the meaning of those words.

And:

The first [complaint against me] was filed by a radical imam in Calgary, Syed Soharwardy, a tin-pot fascist who has publicly called for Canada to be ruled by sharia law.

And:

Why would my intentions as publisher be relevant in determining whether or not the publication was illegal? The answer is that these ‘human rights’ commissions are interested in what George Orwell called ‘thought crimes’.

And:

No six-foot brownshirt, no police cell at midnight. Just Shirlene McGovern, an amiable enough bureaucrat, casually asking me about my political thoughts, on behalf of the government of Alberta. And she’ll write up a report about it, and recommend that the government do this or that to me. Just going through checklists, you see.

This man deserves not only our support, but a standing ovation–for he is not just defending the basic principles of a free society, but doing so in high style and with a sense of confident outrage that puts his detractors on the defensive, which is the best place they should ever hope to be. His website, again, can be found here.

UPDATE: A Facebook group has been created on behalf of Levant’s cause. It can be found here.

David Frum and Mark Steyn draw our attention to Ezra Levant–former publisher of the Western Standard, a Canadian political magazine–who, like Steyn, is being harassed by Canadian “human rights” commissars over his apparent lack of sensitivity to fundamentalist Muslims who wish to impose Shari’a law on Canada. In men like Steyn and Levant, the professional grievance hustlers have their hands full.

Levant has his own blog, where he posts missives about his case and republishes statements he’s made to the “human rights” commission. He says rousing things like this:

It is especially perverted that a bureaucracy calling itself the Alberta human rights commission would be the government agency violating my human rights. So I will now call those bureaucrats “the commission” or “the hrc”, since to call the commission a “human rights commission” is to destroy the meaning of those words.

And:

The first [complaint against me] was filed by a radical imam in Calgary, Syed Soharwardy, a tin-pot fascist who has publicly called for Canada to be ruled by sharia law.

And:

Why would my intentions as publisher be relevant in determining whether or not the publication was illegal? The answer is that these ‘human rights’ commissions are interested in what George Orwell called ‘thought crimes’.

And:

No six-foot brownshirt, no police cell at midnight. Just Shirlene McGovern, an amiable enough bureaucrat, casually asking me about my political thoughts, on behalf of the government of Alberta. And she’ll write up a report about it, and recommend that the government do this or that to me. Just going through checklists, you see.

This man deserves not only our support, but a standing ovation–for he is not just defending the basic principles of a free society, but doing so in high style and with a sense of confident outrage that puts his detractors on the defensive, which is the best place they should ever hope to be. His website, again, can be found here.

UPDATE: A Facebook group has been created on behalf of Levant’s cause. It can be found here.

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Sharif’s Return

The differences are greater than the similarities, but somehow the Saudi decision to send exiled politician Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan on an airplane belonging to King Abdullah reminds me of the Germans’ decision to transport V.I. Lenin from his exile in Switzerland back to Russia in a sealed railway car in 1917. Winston Churchill famously wrote of the Germans: “It was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus into Russia.”

The German hope that Lenin would launch a revolution that would undermine the czarist regime fighting Germany was fully realized. But, while the short-term consequences were extremely favorable to Germany (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, concluded by the new Bolshevik regime, took Russia out of the war and granted Germany huge territorial concessions), in the long term, the German move backfired. The Communist regime proved to be a more formidable and ruthless adversary to Germany than its czarist predecessor had been. By 1945 Russian soldiers were wandering through the ruins of Berlin, thanks to an offensive overseen by Lenin’s successor.

Will the Saudi move to send Sharif to Pakistan backfire as badly? Probably not. But it could still have negative repercussions.

The Saudis are more comfortable with Nawaz Sharif, an Islamic conservative who tried to impose sharia law during his tenure as prime minister in the 1990′s, than with Benazir Bhutto, a liberal, pro-Western woman. From the Saudi perspective, a woman shouldn’t be driving a car, much less running a country, especially not an Islamic country. No doubt the Saudis were alarmed by the sight of Bhutto returning to Pakistan with American help, and they wanted to get “their” candidate back into the political arena. Significantly, Sharif had spent the past eight years living on Saudi soil, while Bhutto spent her wilderness years in the freer air of Dubai and London.

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The differences are greater than the similarities, but somehow the Saudi decision to send exiled politician Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan on an airplane belonging to King Abdullah reminds me of the Germans’ decision to transport V.I. Lenin from his exile in Switzerland back to Russia in a sealed railway car in 1917. Winston Churchill famously wrote of the Germans: “It was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus into Russia.”

The German hope that Lenin would launch a revolution that would undermine the czarist regime fighting Germany was fully realized. But, while the short-term consequences were extremely favorable to Germany (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, concluded by the new Bolshevik regime, took Russia out of the war and granted Germany huge territorial concessions), in the long term, the German move backfired. The Communist regime proved to be a more formidable and ruthless adversary to Germany than its czarist predecessor had been. By 1945 Russian soldiers were wandering through the ruins of Berlin, thanks to an offensive overseen by Lenin’s successor.

Will the Saudi move to send Sharif to Pakistan backfire as badly? Probably not. But it could still have negative repercussions.

The Saudis are more comfortable with Nawaz Sharif, an Islamic conservative who tried to impose sharia law during his tenure as prime minister in the 1990′s, than with Benazir Bhutto, a liberal, pro-Western woman. From the Saudi perspective, a woman shouldn’t be driving a car, much less running a country, especially not an Islamic country. No doubt the Saudis were alarmed by the sight of Bhutto returning to Pakistan with American help, and they wanted to get “their” candidate back into the political arena. Significantly, Sharif had spent the past eight years living on Saudi soil, while Bhutto spent her wilderness years in the freer air of Dubai and London.

The Saudis are understandably determined to preserve their long-standing links with Pakistan. The ties are long and deep: the Saudis and Pakistanis worked closely together in the 1980′s, for example, to support the mujahideen fighting the Red Army in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis provided bases, training, and handlers; the Saudis (along with the Americans) provided the cash.

There are even unproven suspicions (denied vehemently by both sides) that the links may include Saudi financial contributions for the development of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, in return perhaps for an understanding that Pakistani nuclear technology will be made available to the Saudis should they ever need it. That possibility is no longer so far-fetched: If Iran develops its own nuclear bomb, Saudi Arabia may well feel compelled to match the “Persians.”

That could set off a destabilizing Middle Eastern arms race and raise the odds that a nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of jihadist terrorists. But from the Saudi perspective, going nuclear could be a necessary step toward preserving their security and prestige. If so, it would be helpful to the Saudis to have in Pakistan a leader who would offer Riyadh all the cooperation it needs. And Sharif fits the bill better than Bhutto.

But the Saudis had better be careful what they wish for. If Sharif is less dogged than, say, Bhutto would be in cracking down on jihadists, the results could come back to haunt the Saudis. Pakistan, after all, has become a haven of al Qaeda extremists who hate the Saudi regime at least as much as they hate America and Israel. It is in the Saudis’ interests to have the Pakistan government defeat the jihadists—something that Pervez Musharraf has not been willing or able to do and that Sharif may or may not be willing to do either, but that Bhutto has promised to do. Of course the ability of any of these leaders to stop the growth of Islamic radicalism may be limited because of the unwillingness or inability of many in the Pakistani security forces to fight especially hard against their Muslim “brothers.” But it would certainly be helpful to have a leader who appears more emotionally committed to the fight than Musharraf has been or than Sharif may be.

There is nothing wrong with allowing Sharif to compete in free elections; they would not have any credibility if he were barred. But one wonders how much covert support the Saudis may be providing him beyond simply his plush ticket back.

The Saudis had better be careful not to compromise their long-term interests in return for short-term gain—a mistake they last made in the 1990′s when, working hand-in-glove with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, they funded the most radical mujahideen groups fighting in Afghanistan. Many of those Afghan veterans then journeyed back to Saudi Arabia and formed the nucleus of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group that Saudi security forces have been battling for the last several years.

Saudi Arabia has already imported one plague bacillus; it should be wary of a re-infection.

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Polling the Muslim World, Part II

In my last post, I described the distressing amount of support for al Qaeda revealed by a recent poll of public opinion in four U.S.-allied Muslim-majority countries: Egypt, Morocco, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

This was not the only disconcerting finding of the survey. Asked whether one of the goals of U.S. global policy is “to weaken and divide Islam,” 79 percent answered in the affirmative, including 92 percent of Egyptian respondents. Asked whether the U.S. aimed “to spread Christianity in the Middle East,” 64 percent said yes. The poll then asked for the “primary goal” of the U.S. war on terror. Offered three choices, 36 percent said it was “to achieve political and military domination to control Middle East resources.” Thirty-four percent thought it was “to weaken and divide the Islamic religion and its people.” Only 19 percent thought the reason was “to protect itself from terrorist attacks.” (Please note, all numbers above and below have been rounded.)

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In my last post, I described the distressing amount of support for al Qaeda revealed by a recent poll of public opinion in four U.S.-allied Muslim-majority countries: Egypt, Morocco, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

This was not the only disconcerting finding of the survey. Asked whether one of the goals of U.S. global policy is “to weaken and divide Islam,” 79 percent answered in the affirmative, including 92 percent of Egyptian respondents. Asked whether the U.S. aimed “to spread Christianity in the Middle East,” 64 percent said yes. The poll then asked for the “primary goal” of the U.S. war on terror. Offered three choices, 36 percent said it was “to achieve political and military domination to control Middle East resources.” Thirty-four percent thought it was “to weaken and divide the Islamic religion and its people.” Only 19 percent thought the reason was “to protect itself from terrorist attacks.” (Please note, all numbers above and below have been rounded.)

In addition to such paranoia, the poll pointed to other delusions. Asked to identify the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, for every three respondents who pointed to al Qaeda, four pointed the finger at the U.S. or Israel.

As for the roots of this hostility to the U.S., the poll cast doubt on some common assumptions. It is often said that the publics in Muslim countries are angry at U.S. support for the regimes that oppress them. But asked if they favored pushing the U.S. “to stop providing support to such governments as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan,” only a modest plurality agreed. The one country that registered strong agreement with this proposition was the one democracy, Indonesia. By contrast, in Egypt—the only country surveyed that was also mentioned in the question—a narrow plurality opposed pushing the U.S. to cut aid. So much for the idea that Egyptians are hostile to us because we support their government.

A second explanation of anti-Americanism that the survey cast into doubt is the war in Iraq. There is no question that the war has fueled rage at the U.S.: when respondents were asked whether they approved of attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, slightly more than half said yes, slightly more than one-quarter said no, and the rest were undecided.

But then came the interesting part. When the same question was asked about attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the proportions were scarcely different. Then, when asked about attacks on U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf, support dropped, but only by a few percentage points. This suggests a hostility to the U.S. that goes well beyond our actions in Iraq.

Finally, there is hostility to U.S. support for Israel. When asked to identify al Qaeda’s goals and their own attitude toward these goals, 76 percent said they agree with al Qaeda’s goal of making the U.S. “stop favoring Israel.” But virtually identical numbers said they agreed with other goals, namely “keep[ing] Western values out of Islamic countries” (75 percent); “stand[ing] up to America and affirm[ing] the dignity of the Islamic people” (75 percent); and forcing a removal of U.S. bases “from all Islamic” countries (74 percent). Nearly as large a share (71 percent) said they agreed with the goal of “strict application of shari’a law in every Islamic country”; and a somewhat smaller but still substantial majority (65 percent) agreed with al Qaeda’s goal of “unify[ing] all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or Caliphate.”

In sum, Muslim publics are undeniably angry at the U.S. because of our actions in Iraq and our support for Israel. But they are angry at us for many other reasons, too, some of them having far less to do with our actions than with their own self-definition.

Given this much agreement with al Qaeda’s goals, it is little wonder that Osama bin Laden was relatively popular with these respondents. Thirty percent said they had positive feelings about him; 29 percent said their feelings were mixed; only 19 percent reported having negative feelings.

I don’t know what all these data mean, but they certainly dispel the bromide that the terrorists are little more than a renegade band out to hijack Islam. They may indeed be attempting to hijack it, but, if this survey is accurate, a disturbing number of their co-religionists are ready to go along for the ride.

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Power to Powerline

Powerline.com has a broad national following. But one of the things that makes it such an engaging and successful site is the way it reports on local happenings in and around Minneapolis. Today, for example, it takes apart a column about local real estate by a Star Tribune regular, whom powerline calls, in its unabashed voice, “a third-rate columnist for a second-rate newspaper.” Never mind that the issue—the size of a particular house on the shore of Minneapolis’s Lake Calhoun—is of little moment to a Brooklynite like me. Powerline manages to bring alive the mindless passions and petty resentments and politically correct politics that seem to permeate the local newspaper of record.

The point is that many of the local stories powerline brings to a national audience are not local at all. The website has been on top of the Flying Imams case from the beginning. It has introduced us to the imposition of shar’ia law in Minneapolis, with “Somali taxi drivers who refuse to transport passengers carrying alcohol” and “Target cashiers who refuse to ring up pork products.” Are such things happening elsewhere in the country, one wonders, or only in the twin cities?

My own hunch, on that score, is that the only thing truly special about Minneapolis is the presence there of a small band of extraordinary guys working away in their pajamas.

To dress for success as a pundit, click here.

To dress for success as a blogger, click here.

Powerline.com has a broad national following. But one of the things that makes it such an engaging and successful site is the way it reports on local happenings in and around Minneapolis. Today, for example, it takes apart a column about local real estate by a Star Tribune regular, whom powerline calls, in its unabashed voice, “a third-rate columnist for a second-rate newspaper.” Never mind that the issue—the size of a particular house on the shore of Minneapolis’s Lake Calhoun—is of little moment to a Brooklynite like me. Powerline manages to bring alive the mindless passions and petty resentments and politically correct politics that seem to permeate the local newspaper of record.

The point is that many of the local stories powerline brings to a national audience are not local at all. The website has been on top of the Flying Imams case from the beginning. It has introduced us to the imposition of shar’ia law in Minneapolis, with “Somali taxi drivers who refuse to transport passengers carrying alcohol” and “Target cashiers who refuse to ring up pork products.” Are such things happening elsewhere in the country, one wonders, or only in the twin cities?

My own hunch, on that score, is that the only thing truly special about Minneapolis is the presence there of a small band of extraordinary guys working away in their pajamas.

To dress for success as a pundit, click here.

To dress for success as a blogger, click here.

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From Baghdad to Birmingham

Any doubts that Britain has become a major theater in the war on terror should have been dispelled by the arrest in Birmingham of a jihadist cell that was plotting to kidnap, torture, and behead Muslim soldiers or other “collaborators” involved in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nine suspects were apprehended in a series of dawn raids on Wednesday, after police—who had been watching them for months—decided that the abduction of a Muslim soldier living nearby was imminent. Prime Minister Tony Blair was kept informed about this operation, which required some 700 officers, presumably because of the possibility of protests by the local Muslim population.

A heavy responsibility for creating the climate in which this hideous plot could be hatched is borne by Muslim community leaders in Britain. After Lance-Corporal Jabron Hashmi, a British Muslim and resident of Birmingham, was killed in Afghanistan last year, the Muslim Council of Britain could barely disguise its contempt. MCB spokesman Inayat Bunglawala commented: “It would be entirely wrong . . . to smear him [Hashmi] as being a supporter of the war. When you are a soldier, you have no choice about where you are sent.” Bunglawala made no mention of Hashmi’s courage, patriotism, or sense of duty.

After London, Birmingham is home to Britain’s largest Muslim community, and it has become a bastion of Islamism. Green Lane Mosque, one of the most prominent in Birmingham, has fallen under Wahhabist influence. It was recently revealed by the BBC’s Channel Four that the mosque is providing Islamists with a platform to preach hatred against the West. Salma Yaqoob, the most prominent Muslim woman politician in Britain, represents Birmingham Central Mosque and was elected to the city council for the Respect party, which promotes an extremist anti-Western Islamist agenda and polls ahead of the mainstream parties in Muslim districts of Birmingham. (Speaking in London a fortnight ago, Ms. Yaqoob described the 7/7 terrorist attacks on the London subway as “reprisal events.”)

Earlier this week, the think tank Policy Exchange published a poll showing that 40 percent of British Muslims age sixteen to twenty-four say they want to live under shari’a law, and that one in eight admires al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations that “fight against the West.” It seems that in Birmingham they don’t intend to leave it at that: admiration of al Qaeda is giving way to emulation.

A century ago Joseph Chamberlain, Birmingham’s greatest statesman, gave a speech there in which he declared: “The day of small nations has long passed away. The day of Empires has come.” What would he have said to the people of his beloved “Brummagem” today, when the empire so many of them dream of is a caliphate?

Any doubts that Britain has become a major theater in the war on terror should have been dispelled by the arrest in Birmingham of a jihadist cell that was plotting to kidnap, torture, and behead Muslim soldiers or other “collaborators” involved in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nine suspects were apprehended in a series of dawn raids on Wednesday, after police—who had been watching them for months—decided that the abduction of a Muslim soldier living nearby was imminent. Prime Minister Tony Blair was kept informed about this operation, which required some 700 officers, presumably because of the possibility of protests by the local Muslim population.

A heavy responsibility for creating the climate in which this hideous plot could be hatched is borne by Muslim community leaders in Britain. After Lance-Corporal Jabron Hashmi, a British Muslim and resident of Birmingham, was killed in Afghanistan last year, the Muslim Council of Britain could barely disguise its contempt. MCB spokesman Inayat Bunglawala commented: “It would be entirely wrong . . . to smear him [Hashmi] as being a supporter of the war. When you are a soldier, you have no choice about where you are sent.” Bunglawala made no mention of Hashmi’s courage, patriotism, or sense of duty.

After London, Birmingham is home to Britain’s largest Muslim community, and it has become a bastion of Islamism. Green Lane Mosque, one of the most prominent in Birmingham, has fallen under Wahhabist influence. It was recently revealed by the BBC’s Channel Four that the mosque is providing Islamists with a platform to preach hatred against the West. Salma Yaqoob, the most prominent Muslim woman politician in Britain, represents Birmingham Central Mosque and was elected to the city council for the Respect party, which promotes an extremist anti-Western Islamist agenda and polls ahead of the mainstream parties in Muslim districts of Birmingham. (Speaking in London a fortnight ago, Ms. Yaqoob described the 7/7 terrorist attacks on the London subway as “reprisal events.”)

Earlier this week, the think tank Policy Exchange published a poll showing that 40 percent of British Muslims age sixteen to twenty-four say they want to live under shari’a law, and that one in eight admires al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations that “fight against the West.” It seems that in Birmingham they don’t intend to leave it at that: admiration of al Qaeda is giving way to emulation.

A century ago Joseph Chamberlain, Birmingham’s greatest statesman, gave a speech there in which he declared: “The day of small nations has long passed away. The day of Empires has come.” What would he have said to the people of his beloved “Brummagem” today, when the empire so many of them dream of is a caliphate?

Read Less




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