An imported extremism has flourished on the continent, as has a new form of liberal fellow-traveling.
Only a few years ago, mass-murder attacks on the West in the name of Islam, like those of September 11, would have seemed like a thriller writer’s fantasy. Nor would anyone have imagined that a bombing by Islamists could swing a general election in a European country, that a Dutch movie-maker might be shot dead on the street for a film about the abuse of women in Islam, or that one might find oneself watching, on television, the beheading of Western hostages by men crying out Allahu Akhbar! over their savage deeds. Pakistan now has a nuclear bomb, and this weapon is widely described as an Islamic bomb. To judge by their pronouncements, the Islamist leaders of Iran can hardly wait to perfect and use their derivative of it.
At present, it is not clear whether the religious/ ideological rage that is the motive force behind these developments has any limits, whether it may yet succeed in mobilizing truly huge numbers of Muslim masses, or whether it can be deflected or crushed. What is clear is that a phenomenon that at first looked like a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand has lashed up into a crisis with global implications.
Does this crisis amount to a “clash of civilizations”? Many people reject that notion as too sweeping or downright misleading. Yet whether or not it applies to, say, the situation in Iraq, or to the war on terror, the phrase has much to recommend it as a description of what is going on inside Europe today. As Yves Charles Zarka, a French philosopher and analyst, has written: “there is taking place in France a central phase of the more general and mutually conflicting encounter between the West and Islam, which only someone completely blind or of radical bad faith, or possibly of disconcerting naiveté, could fail to recognize.” In the opinion of Bassam Tibi, an academic of Syrian origins who lives in Germany, Europeans are facing a stark alternative: “Either Islam gets Europeanized, or Europe gets Islamized.” Going still farther, the eminent historian Bernard Lewis has speculated that the clash may well be over by the end of this century, at which time, if present demographic trends continue, Europe itself will be Muslim.
Today’s situation has been a very long time—centuries—in the making. For much of that time, of course, the encounter between Muslims and the West remained stacked in favor of the latter, both militarily and culturally. Which is not to say that Europeans of an earlier age were blind to the danger posed to Western civilization by a resurgent Islam. One watchful observer was Winston Churchill, who wrote about Islam—or Mohammedanism as it was then called—in The River War (1899):
No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step, and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science . . . the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.
Hilaire Belloc had similar premonitions 30 years later in The Great Heresies (1938):
Will not perhaps the temporal power of Islam return and with it the menace of an armed Muhammadan world which will shake the dominion of Europeans—still nominally Christian—and reappear again as the prime enemy of our civilization? . . . Since we have here a very great religion, physically paralyzed, but morally intensely alive, we are in the presence of an unstable equilibrium.
To these early observers, nevertheless, it did seem that Western cultural and military superiority could be counted on to prevail, at least for the foreseeable future. (Belloc is better remembered for his boast, “We have got the Gatling gun, and they have not.”) And prevail it did throughout a good part of the 20th century. In the last decades, however, another historical process has been at work drastically revising the calculus of power.
Contemporary Islamism might be summed up as the effort to redress and reverse the long-ago defeat of Muslim power by European (i.e., Christian) civilization. Toward that end, it has followed two separate courses of action: adopting the forms of nationalism that have appeared to many Muslims to contain the secret of Western supremacy, or promoting Islam itself as the one force capable of uniting Muslims everywhere and hence ensuring their renewed power and dominance. In the hands of today’s Islamists, and with the complicity of Europe itself, these two approaches have proved mutually reinforcing.
In Europe, the world wars of the last century finally undid and discredited the idea of the sovereign nation-state, the engine of the continent’s preeminence and self-confidence. In place of this tried and tested political arrangement, now suddenly seen as outmoded and dysfunctional, institutions like the European Union and the United Nations were thought to offer a firmer foundation for a new world order, one that would be based on universal legal norms and in which sovereign power would be rendered superfluous. It has been the resulting decline of the European nation-state that has helped provide a unique opportunity for Islamism, itself based on a world-wide, transnational community that has been united by faith and custom since its inception and that traditionally has drawn no distinction between the realm of faith and the realm of temporal power.
A number of ideological movements have spread and fortified the modern projection of transnational Islam. Perhaps the most successful has been the Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Hasan al-Banna in Egypt in 1928, with branches today in some 40 to 50 countries. Yasir Arafat and Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s deputy, are among those formed by the Brotherhood. Its more recent inspiration derives from the Egyptian-born Sayyid Qutb, whose three-year stay in the United States in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s convinced him that the West and everything it stood for had to be rejected, while Islam already provided every Muslim with state, nation, religion, and identity all in one. Saudi Arabia has spent billions of its petro-dollars financing groups, including terrorist groups, that promote this idea.
The 1979 revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran was an opening test of the new balance of forces between a rising transnational Islam and the declining Western nation-state. European countries, which in the postwar period seemed largely to have lost the will to respond to aggressive challenges from without, presented no opposition to the totalitarian Khomeini regime and no barrier to its aggrandizement. That left the United States, still a nation-state very much committed to defending its sovereignty. Indeed, to the ayatollahs and their allies, the U.S. represented a final embodiment of the Great Satan, fit to be confronted in holy war.
This remains the case today. In the meantime, though, a battle of a different but no less decisive kind has been taking place within Europe, where some 20 million Muslims have settled. Thanks on the one hand to their high birthrate, and on the other hand to the sub-replacement birthrate that has become the norm among other Europeans, the demographic facts alone suggest a continent ripe for a determined effort to advance the Islamist agenda.
In its global reach and in its aggressive intentions, Islamist ideology bears some resemblance to another transnational belief system: namely, Communism. Like today’s Islamists, Communists of an earlier age saw themselves as engaged in an apocalyptic struggle in which every member of a Communist party anywhere was expected to comport himself as a frontline soldier, and in which terror was seen as a wholly permissible means toward victory in a war to the finish. Compare Stalin’s “If the enemy does not surrender he must be exterminated” with the refusal of the leader of Hizballah in Lebanon to negotiate with or ask concessions from the West because “We seek to exterminate you.” To Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad, a Syrian with British citizenship who until recently led a group called al-Muhajiroun, the terrorists of September 11 were “The Magnificent Nineteen”—or, as he explains, the advance guard of an army of “our Muslim brothers from abroad [who] will come one day and conquer here.”
Throughout the cold-war era, the European democracies under threat from Soviet expansionism were themselves home to Communist parties, as well as to an array of front organizations ostensibly devoted to peace and friendship and culture but in reality manipulated by and for Soviet purposes. In addition, many people from all walks of life accommodated themselves to Communism with varying degrees of emotional intensity and out of various motives, including the wish to be on what they perceived as the winning side and the converse fear of winding up on the losing side.
Each of these elements, in suitably transmuted form, is present today. The pool of local recruits upon which Islamists draw is itself very large. Of Europe’s 20 million Muslims, it is estimated that 5 or 6 million live in France alone, at least 3 million in Germany and 2 million in Britain, 1 million apiece in Holland and Italy, and a half-million apiece in Spain and Austria.
It is true that most Muslim immigrants to Europe come simply with hopes for a better life, and that these hopes are more important to them than any apprehensions they might entertain about living in a society ruled by non-Muslims—something historically prohibited in Islam. Indeed, large numbers have assimilated with greater or lesser strain, and, in the manner of other minorities, have become “hyphenated” as British-Muslim, French-Muslim, Italian-Muslim, and the like. Religious life flourishes: if, a half-century ago, there were but a handful of mosques throughout Europe, today every leading country has over a thousand, and France and Germany each have somewhere between five and six thousand. Muslim pressure groups, lobbies, and charities operate effectively everywhere; in Britain alone there are 350 Muslim bodies of one kind or another.
Among these various organizations, however, a number function as Islamist fronts. Inspired by Saudi Arabia or Khomeinist Iran, by the Muslim Brotherhood or al Qaeda, they work to undermine democracy in whatever ways they can, just as Soviet front organizations once did. They push immigrants to repudiate both the process and the very idea of integration, challenging them as a matter of religious belief and identity to take up an oppositional stance to the societies in which they live. Issues of Islamic concern have been skillfully magnified into scandals in the attempt to foment animosity on all sides and thus further deter or prevent the integration of Muslims into mainstream European life.
The notorious 1989 fatwa condemning the novelist Salman Rushdie to death for exercising his right to free speech as a British citizen was an early example of this tactic of disruption and agitation. Another has been the attempt in Britain to set up a Muslim “parliament” that will recognize only Islamic law (shari’a) as binding, and not the law of the land. Still another has been the insistence, in France, on the wearing of the hijab by girls in public schools, a practice that clearly contradicts the ideals of French republicanism and is in any case not an Islamic requirement. The tactical thinking behind such incitements was well articulated by an al-Qaeda leader who, calling upon British Muslims to “bring the West to its knees,” added that they, “the locals, and not foreigners,” have the advantage since they understand “the language, culture, area, and common practices of the enemy whom they coexist among.”
Still another phenomenon familiar from the Soviet era has lately made a repeat appearance in the West, and that is voluntary accommodation, or fellow-traveling, among non-Muslims. Leftist fellow-travelers once helped to create a climate of opinion favorable to Communism. Many knew exactly what they were doing. Others merely meant well; they were what Lenin called “useful idiots.” In like manner, Islamist fellow-travelers and useful idiots are weaving a climate of opinion today that advances the purposes of radical Islam and is deeply damaging to the prospects of reconciliation.
As in the 30’s and throughout the cold war, intellectuals and journalists are in the lead. Books pour from the presses to justify everything and anything Muslims have done in the past and are doing in the present. Just as every Soviet aggression was once defined as an act of self-defense against the warmongering West, today terrorists of al Qaeda, or the Chechen terrorists who killed children in the town of Beslan, are described in the media as militants, activists, separatists, armed groups, guerrillas—in short, as anything but terrorists. Dozens of apologists pretend that there is no connection between the religion of Islam and those who practice terror in its name, or suggest that Western leaders are no better or are indeed worse than Islamist murderers. Thus Karen Armstrong, the well-known historian of religion: “It’s very difficult sometimes to distinguish between Mr. Bush and Mr. bin Laden.”
One form of Islamist fellow-traveling masquerades as a call for “tolerance,” or “diversity,” and has penetrated right through the world of European opinion and European institutions. The British Communist historian Christopher Hill once concluded a book on Lenin with a reverent recital of the epithets the party had devised to glorify him. Pious Muslims follow the mention of the Prophet Muhammad with the invocation, “Peace be upon him.” This practice has now crept into a biography of the Prophet written by a British writer not ostensibly a Muslim. To encourage such acts of deference, there has been a complementary effort to stifle contrary or less than fully respectful opinions. When the outspoken French novelist Michel Houellebecq pronounced Islam to be hateful, stupid, and dangerous, Muslim organizations and the League for the Rights of Man took him to court, just as the Italian writer Oriana Fallaci was sued for her book tying the 9/11 attacks to the teachings of Islam. Although both writers won their cases, the chilling effect was unmistakable.
The institutions that have been affected by Islamophile correctness run the gamut. In Britain, a judge has agreed to prohibit Hindus and Jews from sitting on a jury in the trial of a Muslim. The British Commission for Racial Equality has ordained that businesses must provide prayer rooms for Muslims and pay them for their absences on religious holidays. In a town in the Midlands, a proposal to renovate a hundred-year-old statue of a pig was rejected for fear of giving offense to Muslims. The British Council, an international organization for cultural relations, fired a staff member who published articles in the Sunday Telegraph arguing that the roots of terror and jihad were nourished in the soil of Islam, while the BBC canceled the contract of a popular television journalist for allegedly using negative language to describe the Muslim Arab contribution to mankind.
Commercial society has likewise rushed to accommodate real or imagined Muslim sensibilities: a British bank boasts that it will comply with shari’a prohibitions on the uses of money, and the German state of Saxony-Anhalt has become the first European body to issue a sukuk, or Islamic bond. Religious society is not far behind: even as bin Laden speaks of wresting Spain (“al-Andalus”) from the infidels by violence, the cathedral of Santiago has considered removing a statue of St. James Matamoros (“the Moor slayer”), lest it give offense to Muslims. For the same reason, the municipality of Seville has removed King Ferdinand III, hitherto the city’s patron saint, from fiesta celebrations because he fought the Moors for 27 years. In Italy, where Islamists have threatened to destroy the cathedral of Bologna because of a fresco illustrating the Prophet Muhammad in the inferno (where Dante placed him), thought has been given to deleting the art-work from the walls. Even the Pope has apologized for the Crusades. In secular Denmark, the Qur’an (but not the Bible) is now required reading for high-school students. And so forth.
The lengths to which apologists for Islamism are prepared to go is nicely illustrated by the case of Tariq Ramadan, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland and a popular writer and speaker. As is well known, the American university Notre Dame recently offered Ramadan a professorship, but U.S. immigration authorities have so far rejected his application for a visa. This has elicited some classic examples of fellow-traveling obfuscation from both Americans and Europeans outraged on his behalf. A letter to the Washington Post protesting Ramadan’s treatment undertook to explicate his supposed message to Western Muslims: they “must find common values and build with fellow citizens a society based on diversity and equality.”
Not quite. What Tariq Ramadan has really proposed in his writings and teachings is that Muslims in the West should conduct themselves not as hyphenated citizens seeking to live by “common values” but as though they were already in a Muslim-majority society and exempt on that account from having to make concessions to the faith of others. What Ramadan advocates is a kind of reverse imperialism. In his conception, Muslims in non-Muslim countries should feel themselves entitled to live on their own terms—while, under the terms of Western liberal tolerance, society as a whole should feel obliged to respect that choice.
Ramadan happens to be a grandson of Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, but he is also a guarded writer. In fact, his is a relatively “moderate” and qualified expression of Islamic reverse imperialism. More overtly, and with an implicit threat of violence, Dyab Abu Jahjah, a Lebanese who has settled in Antwerp, has denounced the Western ideal of assimilation as “cultural rape,” and aims to bring all the Muslims of Europe into a single independent community. He, too, needless to say, has his defenders and apologists among European liberals.
Or consider the European reception of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, heir to Sayyid Qutb as the religious authority of the Muslim Brotherhood. Wanted on charges of terrorism in his native Egypt, al-Qaradawi now lives in Qatar. Like Tariq Ramadan in Switzerland, he emphasizes that Muslims must keep apart from liberal democracy as it is practiced in the West while also availing themselves of its benefits and advantages. But he goes much further. Unlike Ramadan, he approves of wife-beating in the forms sanctioned by the Qur’an; as for homosexuals, he is agnostic on whether they should be thrown off a high cliff or flogged to death. Yet this year, in an official ceremony at London’s City Hall, al-Qaradawi was welcomed as “an Islamic scholar held in great respect” by the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. “You are truly, truly welcome,” gushed Livingstone, an otherwise enthusiastic supporter of gay pride.
Also appearing this year in London was Sheik Abdul Rahman al-Sudayyis, a senior imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca; among his many distinctions, al-Sudayyis has vituperated Jews as “the scum of the human race, the rats of the world, the violators of pacts and agreements, the murderers of the prophets, and the offspring of apes and pigs.” Standing beside this apostle of “diversity and equality” was a junior minister in the Blair government.
The Islamic Foundation, one of Britain’s numerous Muslim bodies, has an offshoot called the Markfield Institute. In July, the London Times linked both the foundation and the institute to terrorism. An offended reader with an English name wrote to protest: “I hope that Markfield . . . will be allowed to help individual Muslims to practice their faith with peace and respect, in a multicultural Britain.” Another reader, an Anglican canon in the Diocese of Leicester (a city with a Muslim majority today), asserted that the institute was simply trying to teach imams and Muslim youngsters alike to work within British institutions.
In just that spirit, and even in that vocabulary, the fellow-traveling Beatrice Webb used to advance the transcendent virtues of the Soviet social model. Gullible, false, and dangerous statements of this kind are now as common as rain.
In the realm of classical Islam, Christians and Jews once lived as dhimmis—that is to say, minorities with second-class rights, tolerated but discriminated against by law and custom. Many contemporary Muslims appear to idealize this long-lost supremacy over others, and aspire to reconstruct it. One way to work for this end is through violence and terror. Another way, the way of Tariq Ramadan and Yusuf al-Qaradawi, is through words. One way and another, the project is advancing. Summing up the collective achievement so far, Bat Ye’or, the historian of “dhimmitude,” has written that “Europe has evolved from a Judeo-Christian civilization with important post-Enlightenment/ secular elements to . . . a secular Muslim transitional society with its traditional Judeo-Christian mores rapidly disappearing.” She calls this evolving entity “Eurabia.”
If that is the case, or is becoming the case, is it any wonder that some Europeans are switching sides, so as to be on the winning one? The sheer élan and cultural confidence displayed by Islamist spokesmen may have something to do with the fact that every year, thousands of people all over Europe convert to Islam. Some of these converts, from Britain, France, and Germany, taking the direct route from words to action, have gone on to play a disproportionate role in terrorism and Islamist militancy. Thus, at a rally organized in London last year by a radical offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, a high proportion of demonstrators were clearly not of Middle Eastern origin. At a recent trial in Cairo in which three British citizens were condemned to prison for subversion and intended terrorism, two were English-born, with English names. They were led away shouting defiance of the West.
There are certainly Muslims in Europe who look with horror upon what is being done in their name, and who wish to have nothing to do with the notion that they are entitled to live in the West as, in effect, conquerors. For wholly understandable reasons, few of them have the courage to speak out. One of the exceptional few recently wrote a letter to the London Times, giving his name and address, and saying that he defines his community as the people with whom he chooses to interact. He went on: “We do not all subscribe to the same way of being a Muslim, neither do we push our beliefs into the civic and political sphere.” But, he continued, “Sadly the public does not always get our point of view, because the only Muslims who are consulted are those who choose to drag Islam into the political sphere.”
One could not ask for a clearer repudiation not only of all Muslim Brotherhood-style proselytizers but, even more bitingly, of the patronizing and indulgent attitude adopted toward them by the European establishment. Those in Europe who have striven in ways great and small to extend special privileges to Muslims while subtly deprecating their own national identity and culture have indeed helped open the way to Islamic separatism and Islamist agitation. They have thereby hastened the very clash of civilizations that they (or some of them) foolishly claim they are avoiding. If Bassam Tibi is correct in stating that “either Islam gets Europeanized or Europe gets Islamized,” powerful forces are at work to foreclose the question.
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The Islamization of Europe?
Must-Reads from Magazine
With the demise of the filibuster for judicial nominations, the Senate has become a more partisan body. Members of the opposition party no longer have to take difficult votes to confirm presidential nominees, and so they no longer have to moderate their rhetoric to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy. Many expected, therefore, that Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings would tempt Democrats to engage in theatrics and hyperbole. Few, however, foresaw just how recklessly the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic members would behave.
The sordid performance to which Americans were privy was not the harmless kind that can be chalked up to presidential ambitions. Right from the start, Democratic committee members took a sledgehammer to the foundations of the institution in which they are privileged to serve.
Sen. Cory Booker made national headlines by declaring himself “Spartacus,” but the actions he undertook deserved closer attention than did the scenery he chewed. Booker insisted that it was his deliberate intention to violate longstanding Senate confidentiality rules supposedly in service to transparency. It turns out, however, that the documents Booker tried to release to the public had already been exempted from confidentiality. Booker was adamant, however, that he had undermined the Senate’s integrity. You see, that, not transparency, was his true objective. It was what he believed his constituents wanted from him.
Booker wasn’t alone. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse appeared to share his colleague’s political instincts. “I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not accept the process,” he said of the committee’s vetting of Kavanaugh’s documents. “Because I do not accept its legitimacy or validity,” Whitehouse added, he did not have to abide by the rules and conventions that governed Senate conduct.
When the committee’s Democratic members were not trying to subvert the Senate’s credibility, they were attempting to impugn Judge Kavanaugh’s character via innuendo or outright fabrications.
Sen. Kamala Harris managed to secure a rare rebuke from the fact-checking institution PolitiFact, which is charitably inclined toward Democratic claims. “Kavanaugh chooses his words very carefully, and this is a dog whistle for going after birth control,” read her comments on Twitter accompanying an 11-second clip in which Kavanaugh characterized certain forms of birth control as “abortion-inducing drugs.” “Make no mistake,” Harris wrote, “this is about punishing women.” But the senator had failed to include mitigating context in that clip, which would have made it clear that Kavanaugh was simply restating the arguments made by the plaintiffs in the case in question.
Later, Harris probed Kavanaugh as to whether he believed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which has never been explicitly ruled unconstitutional, was wrongly upheld by the Supreme Court. Despite calling the decisions of this period “discriminatory,” Kavanaugh declined to elaborate on a case that could theoretically come before the Supreme Court. This, the judge’s detractors insisted, was “alarming” and perhaps evidence of latent racial hostility. In fact, it was an unremarkable example of how Supreme Court nominees tend to avoid offering “forecasts” of how they will decide cases without having heard the arguments—a routine deemed “the Ginsburg Rule” after Ruth Bader, who perfected the practice.
Over a week later, Harris had still not explained what she was getting at. But she doesn’t have to. The vagueness of her claim was designed to allow Kavanaugh’s opponents’ imaginations to run wild, leading them to draw the worst possible conclusions about this likely Supreme Court justice and to conclude that the process by which he was confirmed was a sham.
Harris may not have been alone in appealing to this shameful tactic. On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein shocked observers when she released a cryptic statement revealing that she had “referred” to “federal investigative authorities” a letter involving Kavanaugh’s conduct. It’s human nature to arrive at the worst imaginable conclusion as to what these unstated claims might be, and that’s precisely what Kavanaugh’s opponents did. It turned out that the 35-year-old accusations involve an anonymous woman who was allegedly cornered in a bedroom by Kavanaugh and a friend during a high-school party. Kavanaugh, the letter alleged, put a hand over her mouth, but the woman removed herself from the situation before anything else occurred. All were minors at the time of this alleged episode, and Kavanaugh denies the allegations.
Some thought it was odd for Feinstein to refer these potentially serious allegations to the FBI this week and in such a public fashion when the allegations contained in a letter were known to Democrats for months. The letter was, after all, obtained by Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo in July. But it doesn’t seem confusing when considering the facts that the FBI all but dismissed the referral off-hand and reporting on the episode lacks any corroboration to substantiate the claims made by the alleged victim here. It is hard not to conclude that this is an attempt to affix an asterisk to Brett Kavanaugh’s name. Democrats will not only claim that this confirmation process was tainted but may now contend that Kavanaugh cannot be an impartial arbitrator—not with unresolved clouds of suspicion involving sexual assault hanging over his head.
Ultimately, as public polling suggests, the Democratic Party’s effort to tarnish Kavanaugh’s reputation through insinuation and theatrics has had the intended effect. Support for this nominee now falls squarely along party lines. But the collateral damage Senate Democrats have done to America’s governing institutions amid this scorched-earth campaign could have lasting and terrible consequences for the country.
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While the nation’s attention is focused on the Carolina coast, something very odd is happening across the country in Sunspot, New Mexico.
Sunspot is hardly a town at all–the nearest stores are 18 miles away. It’s actually a solar observatory 9,200 feet up in the Sacramento Mountains. It is open to the public and has a visitor’s center, but don’t visit it right now. On September 6th, the FBI moved in and evacuated all personnel using Black Hawk helicopters. Local police were told to stay away. The only explanation being given by the FBI is that an unresolved “security issue” is the cause of the evacuation.
The sun is the only astronomical body capable of doing major damage to planet earth without actually hitting us. A coronal mass ejection aimed at the earth could have a devastating impact on satellites, radio transmission, and the electrical grid, possibly causing massive power outages that could last for weeks, even months. (It would also produce spectacular auroras. During the Carrington Event of 1859, the northern lights were seen as far south as the Caribbean and people in New England could read newspapers by the light.)
So, there are very practical, not just intellectual reasons, to know what the sun is up to. But the National Solar Observatory right now is a ghost town, and no one will say why. Such a story should be catnip for journalists.
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It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you.
Americans awoke Thursday morning to a familiar noise: The president of the United States waxing conspiratorial and declaring himself the victim of a nefarious plot.
“3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Donald Trump declared on Twitter. He insisted that the loss of life in the immediate aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria topped out in the low double-digits and ballooned into the thousands well after the fact because of faulty accounting. The president did not claim that this misleading figure was attributable to flaws in the studies conducted in the aftermath of last year’s disaster by institutions like George Washington University or the New England Journal of Medicine but to a deliberate misinformation campaign orchestrated by his political opponents. “This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible,” Trump insisted.
If, for some mysterious reason, Trump wanted to attack the validity of these studies, he might have questioned the assumptions and biases that even their authors admit had an unavoidable effect on their confidence intervals. But Trump’s interest is not in accuracy. His desire is to shield himself from blame and to project his administration’s failings—even those as debatable as the disaster that afflicted Puerto Rico for the better part of a year—onto others. The president’s self-consciousness is so transparent at this point that even his defenders in Congress have begun directly confronting the insecurities that fuel these tweets.
Donald Trump has rarely encountered a conspiracy theory he declined to legitimize, and this tendency did not abate when he won the presidency. From his repeated assertions that Moscow’s intervention in the 2016 election was a “hoax,” to the idea that the FBI shielded Hillary Clinton from due scrutiny, to the baseless notion that “millions and millions” of illegal-immigrant voters deprived him of a popular vote victory, all of this alleged sedition has a common theme: Trump is the injured party.
The oddest thing about all this is that these are the golden days. Trump-era Republicans will look back on this as the halcyon period in which all of Washington’s doors were open to them. The president’s ostensible allies control every chamber of government. The power his adversaries command is of the soft sort—cultural and moral authority—but not the kind of legal power that could prevent Trump and Republicans from realizing their agenda. That could be about to change.
The signs that a backlash to unified Republican rule in Washington was brewing have been obvious almost since the moment Trump took the oath of office. Democrats have consistently overperformed in special and off-year elections, their candidates have outraised the GOP, and a near-record number of Republicans opted to retire rather than face reelection in 2018. The Democratic Party’s performance in the generic ballot test has outpaced the GOP for well over a year, sometimes by double-digits, leading many to speculate that Democrats are well positioned to retake control of the House of Representatives. Now, despite the opposition party’s structural disadvantages, some are even beginning to entertain the prospect of a Democratic takeover in the Senate.
Until this point, the Trump administration has faced no real adversity. Sure, the administration’s executive overreach has been rejected in the courts and occasionally public outcry has forced the White House to abandon ill-considered initiatives, but it’s always been able to rely on the GOP majorities in Congress to shield it from the worst consequences of its actions. That phase of the Trump presidency could be over by January. For the first time, this president could have to contend with at least one truly adversarial chamber of the legislature, and opposition will manifest first in the form of investigations.
How will the White House respond when House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings is tasked with investigating the president’s response to a natural disaster or when he subpoenas the president’s personal records? How will Trump respond when Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler is overseeing the investigation into the FBI’s response to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, not Bob Goodlatte? Will the Department of Homeland Security’s border policies withstand public scrutiny when it’s Mississippi’s Bennie Thompson, not Texas’s Michael McCaul, doing the scrutinizing? How will Wall Street react to a Washington where financial-services oversight is no longer led by Jeb Hensarling but Maxine Waters? If the Democrats take the House, the legislative phase of the Trump era be over, but the investigative phase will have only just begun.
In many ways, this presidency behaved as though it were operating in a bunker from day one, and not without reason. Trump had every reason to fear that the culture of Washington and even many of the members of his own party were secretly aligned against him, but the key word there is “secret.” The secret is about to be out. The Trump White House hasn’t yet faced a truly adversarial Washington institution with teeth, but it is about to. If you think you’ve seen a bunker mentality in this White House, you haven’t seen anything yet.
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Podcast: Google and Kavanaugh.
Will Google survive the revelations of its political bias, or are those revelations nothing new? We delve into the complexities of the world in which important tech companies think they are above politics until they decide they’re not. Also some stuff on the Supreme Court and on polls. Give a listen.
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Smeared for doing the job.
When then-presidential candidate Donald Trump famously declared his intention to be a “neutral” arbiter of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian territories and put the onus for resolving the conflict on Jerusalem, few observers could have predicted that Trump would run one of the most pro-Israel administrations in American history.
This year, the Trump administration began relocating the U.S. embassy in Israel to the nation’s capital city, fulfilling a promise that began in 1995 with the passage of a law mandating this precise course of action. The administration also declined to blame Israel for defending its Gaza border against a Hamas-led attack. Last week, the administration shuttered the PLO’s offices in Washington.
The Trump administration’s commitment to shedding the contradictions and moral equivalencies that have plagued past administrations has exposed anti-Zionism for what its critics so often alleged it to be.
This week, Department of Education Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus announced his intention to vacate an Obama-era decision that dismissed an alleged act of anti-Semitism at Rutgers University. Marcus’s decision to reopen that particularly deserving case has led the New York Times to publish an article by Erica L. Green full of misconceptions, myths, and dissimulations about the nature of the anti-Israel groups in question and the essential characteristics of anti-Semitism itself.
In reporting on Marcus’s move, Green declared the education activist and opponent of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement a “longtime opponent of Palestinian rights causes,” a designation the paper’s editor felt fine printing without any substantiating evidence. You could be forgiven for thinking that BDS itself constituted a cause of “Palestinian rights” and not an international effort to stigmatize and harm both Israel and its supporters. If you kept reading beyond that second paragraph, your suspicions were confirmed.
Green contended that Marcus’s decision has paved the way for the Education Department to adopt a “hotly contested definition of anti-Semitism” that includes: denying Jews “the right to self-determination,” claiming that the state of Israel is a “racist endeavor,” and applying a double standard to Israel not “expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” As Jerusalem Post reporter and COMMENTARY contributor Lahav Harkov observed, this allegedly “hotly contested definition” is precisely the same definition used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. In 2010, the IHRA’s working definition was adopted almost in total by Barack Obama’s State Department.
Green went so far as to say that this not-so-new definition for anti-Semitism has, according to Arab-American activists, declared “the Palestinian cause anti-Semitic.” So that is the Palestinian cause? Denying Jews the right to self-determination, calling the state of Israel itself a racist enterprise, and holding it to nakedly biased double standards? So much for the two-state solution.
Perhaps the biggest tell in the Times piece was its reporters’ inability to distinguish between pro-Palestinian activism and anti-Israeli agitation. The complaint the Education Department is preparing to reinvestigate involves a 2011 incident in which an event hosted by the group Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action (BAKA) allegedly imposed an admissions fee on Jewish and pro-Israel activists after unexpected numbers arrived to protest the event. An internal email confirmed that the group only charged this fee because “150 Zionists” “just showed up,” but the Obama administration dismissed the claim, saying that the organization’s excuse—that it expected heftier university fees following greater-than-expected attendance—was innocuous enough.
Green did not dwell on the group, which allegedly discriminated against Jews and pro-Israeli activists. If she had, she’d have reported that, just a few weeks before this incident, BAKA staged another event on Rutgers’s campus—a fundraiser for the organization USTOGAZA, which provided aid to the campaign of “flotillas” challenging an Israeli blockade of Gaza. USTOGAZA’s links to the Turkey-based organization Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), which has long been associated with support for Hamas-led terrorist activities, rendered the money raised in this event legally suspect. Eventually, as Brooke Goldstein wrote for COMMENTARY, even BAKA conceded the point:
After community members demanded that Rutgers, a state-funded university, hold an investigation before handing over any money to USTOGAZA, the school responded by offering to keep the money raised in an escrow account until a suitable recipient could be found. In June 2011, BAKA sent out an e-mail admitting the University had, after “much deliberation” and despite their initial approval, “decided that they are not willing to release the funds to the US to Gaza effort” due to concerns of being found liable for violating the material-support statutes.
Rutgers prudently limited BAKA’s ability to participate in on-campus events after these incidents, but the organization that took their place—Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)—is no better. The Times quoted officials with the Center for Law and Justice who praised Marcus’s move and cited SJP as a source of particular consternation, but the reporters did not delve into the group’s activities. If they had, they’d find that the organization’s activities—among them declaring that “Zionists are racists,” supporting anti-Zionist individuals despite credible accusations of child abuse, and endorsing Hamas’s governing platform, which labels the entire state of Israel “occupied territory”—fits any cogent definition of anti-Semitism. This is to say nothing of the abuse and harassment that American Jews experience on college campuses that play host to SJP’s regular “Israel apartheid weeks.”
Some might attribute the Times’ neutral portrayal of groups that tacitly support violence and people like Omar Barghouti—an activist who “will never accept a Jewish state in Palestine” and has explicitly endorsed “armed resistance” against Jews, who he insists are “not a people”—to ignorance, as though that would neutralize the harm this dispatch might cause. But the Times piece has emboldened those who see Israel’s Jewish character as a threat both to its political culture and our own. That worrying sentiment was succinctly expressed by New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz: “You don’t have to be a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause to question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”
The benefit of the doubt only extends so far. Even the charitably inclined should have discovered its limits by now.