The editors of COMMENTARY addressed four questions about the struggle against Islamism to a group of leading thinkers. Their answers…
To mark the publication of Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism (Doubleday), the editors of COMMENTARY addressed the following questions to a group of leading thinkers:
1. Do you accept the term “World War IV,” or the idea behind it, as an apt characterization of the West’s battle with Islamic extremism, and do you, like Norman Podhoretz, see Iraq as a crucial early theater in that conflict?
2. Six years after 9/11, how would you assess our progress? What would you like to see happen next?
3. On the specific issue of the spread of democracy—a linchpin of the Bush Doctrine and a point of acute controversy between foreign-policy realists and neoconservatives—do you agree or disagree with Podhoretz that “democratization represents the best and perhaps even the only way to defeat Islamofascism and the terrorism it uses as its main weapon against us”?
4. Turning to the political climate at home, do you think the Bush Doctrine has a chance of surviving the elections of 2008, and if so in what form?
You can read the symposium in its entirety below, or you can read each individual response by clicking on its author’s name.
John R. Bolton
Reuel Marc Gerecht
Victor Davis Hanson
Andrew C. McCarthy
James Q. Wilson
R. James Woolsey
This symposium is sponsored by the Edwin Morris Gale Memorial Fund.
Norman Podhoretz’s depiction of the war against Islamist radicalism as World War IV is apt. I have no quarrel with the description: I take it as pedagogy and exhortation and a call to vigilance. The radical Islamists have been sly enemies of order; they have flown under the radar, as it were. Theirs is more, much more, than a problem of freelance terror, to be met by police operations. They have declared nothing less than an unrelenting war against the American presence in the Arab-Islamic world, and they should be taken for the menace they are.
The region they contest—the Arab and Persian heartland of the Islamic world—cannot be ceded to them, for its obvious importance to the global economy. A challenge of this magnitude has to be thoroughly defeated. It is commonplace—but “soft” in the main—to say that this is a war of ideas for the hearts and minds of the populations of that region. What happens on the battlefield will settle this great contest. Hearts and minds will follow, and mirror, the military outcome.
The origins and legitimacy of the Iraq war have been endlessly debated. For me, it is and remains a just and noble war, waged by an American leader who was fated to take on the troubles and malignancies of the Arab-Islamic world. The distinction between the Islamism of al Qaeda and the “secularism” of the Iraqi regime is a distinction without a difference. A road led from Kabul to Baghdad. We took the war from the Afghan front, which the Arab preachers and financiers and jihadists had secured as a base for their operations, to the Arab world itself. In Baghdad, a despot at once cruel and (fortunately) clumsy held out to the Arabs an example of defiance, proof that no price would be paid by those who took on American power. Once we pulled the trigger in 2003, Iraq became the central front in the war on terror. Fail there, and our enemies would have been emboldened beyond measure, and the world would have depicted our failure as evidence that history’s tide was running against us.
We have paid dearly in Iraq, but we held the line, we maintained the American position in the region, we supplied proof that we would not scurry for cover and that we believed there were things worth fighting for. The despots in the region feigned a lack of interest in the fate of Saddam’s brutal sons, and in Saddam’s execution. But make no mistake: these personalistic regimes got the message. There but for the grace of God, they thought, go we. The sacrifices in Iraq paid dividends in Iraq’s neighborhood.
We have done reasonably well since 9/11. American memory is unduly short, and the memory of 9/11 is steadily being lost to us. There is a growing conviction that this was a single day of grief, that the warrant given to our government back then by the most liberal of the liberals should now be withdrawn. The vigilance our country sanctioned after 9/11 is now seen as overly intrusive and given to paranoia. But we take the world as it is, and at least some of the illusions held about Arab and Muslim affairs, about the sources and wellsprings of anti-Americanism, have been shed.
I would very much want to see a more critical assessment of the role of Egypt and of Egyptians in the trail that led to 9/11. Here is a country on the American payroll, a regime in the orbit of American power. But Egypt’s ruler has snookered us all along. He takes America’s coin but rides with its enemies. He has winked at, and fed, a culture suffused with anti-modernism and anti-Americanism—and anti-Semitism, their inevitable companion. The prestige of Egypt in Arab affairs is great, and so is the influence of its radicalism.
Those in the know—and those who pretend to be—have written and spoken about the influence exercised by the Egyptian thinker and pamphleteer Sayyid Qutb (executed by the Nasser regime in 1966) on the course of modern Islamism. This is good as far as it goes. What is needed is a more sustained analysis of the depth of Egyptian radicalism, and of the skill of that despotic regime in directing the wrath of its own thwarted population toward the United States. Beyond this lies the need for a proper response to the Hosni Mubarak regime. We need to cast that regime adrift.
But grant George W. Bush his due: he broke with Scowcroftian realism, he broke with the likes of James Baker. His speech of November 6, 2003, to the National Endowment for Democracy will remain, for decades, a noble American declaration. It had a startling mea culpa:
Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe—because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place for stagnation, resentment, and violence for export.
It was this declaration, and the larger Bush campaign for democracy, that gave heart to the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, which rid that country of a long and cruel Syrian captivity; it was this drive that gave continued justification to the Iraq war after the hunt for weapons of mass destruction there ran aground. The historical truth of Bush’s declaration is indisputable. The Bush Doctrine brought about a veritable reversal in the realm of ideas: here was a conservative President asserting that freedom can travel to distant shores, that we can take it to strangers beyond, and here were his liberal critics at home falling back on a surly argument that Iraq, Lebanon, and other Arab and Islamic domains offer insurmountable obstacles to the spread of freedom.
Natan Sharansky is perhaps on the mark with his observation that Bush, in holding onto his belief, is a lonely man even within his own circle of power. To come to that belief, Bush needed no great literacy in political theory. Intuitively, he grasped the connection between autocracy and terror. Norman Podhoretz’s argument on behalf of liberty reads that landscape with clarity. The peace of pharaohs and autocrats, the stability presented by despotism, is deceptive. The politics of democracy can be messy, of new democracies messier still. But we ought to have the courage of running freedom’s risks.
Yes, a poisoned Palestinian political culture opted for Hamas in a free election in early 2006. This is what it is: an expression of the malady of Palestinian politics. The larger case for democratic reform is bigger, and nobler, than the state of Palestinian politics. Travel to Iraq, as I have done repeatedly since 2003; go to Kurdistan, which had seen endless sorrow. Faith in democracy is all these populations have going for them, their solace and their pride.
What shall stick on the ground here at home of Bush’s campaign for freedom? Hard to say. The peerless Henry Kissinger, in Diplomacy (1994), writes of the great paradox of Woodrow Wilson and his enduring influence on American thought. Wilson’s program for the League of Nations was rebuffed, his dream of collective security was set aside. But oddly, Wilsonianism triumphed. “For three generations,” Kissinger writes, “critics have savaged Wilson’s analysis and conclusions; and yet, in all this time, Wilson’s principles have remained the bedrock of American foreign-policy thinking.”
Whether a similar fate awaits Bush’s diplomacy of freedom cannot be known as yet. I suppose it will be in Iraq, a hard and tough soil, where the proposition on behalf of freedom will meet its test. But Bush rolled history’s dice. He held out to the Arabs a respectful message: that despotism was not necessarily something fated— “written”—for them for all time.
Fouad Ajami is director of Middle East Studies at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, and the author most recently of The Foreigner’s Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq (Free Press). Mr. Ajami was awarded a Prize for Outstanding Achievement by the Bradley Foundation in 2006.
John R. Bolton
Norman Podhoretz correctly and concisely names the war we have been in, consciously or not, since well before September 11, 2001. He accurately depicts the failures of many in America and Europe to understand the nature of the Islamofascist threat, let alone formulate strategies to deal with it. He identifies the terrorist threat posed in Iraq, and places it in the larger context of what will unquestionably be a “long, hard slog.”
Well and good, but let’s cut to the chase: what does any of this have to do with promoting democracy? My response: in the short run, very little, and in the longer run, who knows?
First, I think our emphasis must be more on liberty than democracy, which a careful reading of President Bush’s speeches shows is his real emphasis. To state the obvious, liberty is not the same as democracy, the first being freedom from government, the second being one way to select governments. Many Muslim societies—and many non-Muslim societies, while we are on the subject—need the former more urgently than the latter.
Second, “democracy” is a word used so frequently and so ritualistically that, like many incantations, it loses meaning over time. Parliamentary democracies, for example, merge executive and legislative powers in the hands of one electoral majority, something the framers of our Constitution rejected as dangerous to liberty. Moreover, proportional-representation systems, especially those with national party lists, are not as reflective of electorates as are single-member districts.
Is Europe, where these approaches predominate, as “democratic” as the United States? I think not. Moreover, democracy is not necessarily an end point in politics, but perhaps only a way station. Via the European Union, “Europe” may be passing from a pre-democratic feudal society to a post-democratic bureaucratic one, parts of the continent having sojourned only relatively briefly as actual democracies. Russia may be a place where democracy was a long time in coming but only a short time in going. China, home of the original Mandarins, may never get there. These are hardly models for the Middle East or other Muslim lands.
Third, how feasible is “democracy” right now? Writing in COMMENTARY in November 1979, Jeane Kirkpatrick rebuked the foreign-policy initiatives of the Carter administration by citing John Stuart Mill’s conditions for representative government:
One, that the people should be willing to receive it; two, that they should be willing and able to do what is necessary for its preservation; three, that they should be willing and able to fulfill the duties and discharge the functions which it imposes on them.
And Kirkpatrick went on to observe:
In the relatively few places where they exist, democratic governments have come into being slowly, after extended prior experience with more limited forms of participation during which leaders have reluctantly grown accustomed to tolerating dissent and opposition, opponents have accepted the notion that they may defeat but not destroy incumbents, and people have become aware of government’s effects on their lives and of their own possible effects on government. Decades, if not centuries, are normally required for people to acquire the necessary disciplines and habits.
Fourth, having a Burkean disposition, I shy away from abstract theory. Take three specific cases: Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan.
Iraq does not appear to measure up to the Mill-Kirkpatrick standard. Its Shiites and Kurds are settling scores, retaliating for decades of brutal Baathist rule. Sunnis, acutely aware of their minority status, are engaging in terrorism precisely to prevent scores from being settled. Meanwhile, Shiites are fighting their own internecine terrorist battles, facilitated by Iran.
Once again, Kirkpatrick called the shot: “leaders of all major sectors of the society must agree to pursue power only by legal means, must eschew (at least in principle) violence, theft, and fraud, and must accept defeat when necessary.” Doesn’t sound like Baghdad.
My solution in Iraq is prosaic: praise democracy, but pass the ammunition. Critics of the Bush Doctrine, unjustifiably, will gauge its success almost entirely according to the outcome in Iraq. To preserve the doctrine beyond January 19, 2009, American interests require that no part of Iraq become a base for terrorism. If that can be done with a democratic Iraq, wonderful; if it has to be done with less than Jeffersonian purity, fine.
Next, Iran’s vigorous pursuit of deliverable nuclear weapons is a grave long-term threat to the United States, Israel, and our worldwide interests. Four-plus years of American deference to Europe’s predilection for negotiation has brought Iran that much closer to its goal, and yielded precious few options to prevent it. Of these, unfortunately, only regime change in Tehran or the use of force against Iran’s nuclear program has any realistic prospect of success. Both are grim choices, to be sure. In these very pages, Norman Podhoretz has cogently argued for military action (“The Case for Bombing Iran,” June 2007), eschewing the blossoming of democracy’s flower children in favor of cold steel.
In Pakistan, finally, so far the only Islamic country with nuclear weapons, Pervez Musharraf’s government is under siege by civilian politicians clamoring for a return to democracy. Pakistan’s history is replete with corrupt and incompetent civilian politicians, replaced periodically by the military’s “steel skeleton,” but with neither experience yielding especially happy results. Musharraf is rightly faulted for many things, especially inadequately purging the army of Islamic militants and a listless pursuit of al Qaeda, but does anyone seriously argue that politicians will better harness Pakistan’s military?
With a nuclear arsenal up for grabs, the stakes in Pakistan are high. Bolstered by the Bush administration’s evident support, the politicians continue to try to force Musharraf out, which likely will be hailed as a triumph of democracy. That may be, but I am far from certain that elected civilians running Islamabad will make us safer from a loss of command-and-control over those nuclear weapons, or from the danger that they will come into terrorist hands. This is a risky way to experiment with democratic theory.
In prior world wars, we concentrated on victory first, not the purity of our allies. Similarly, I’d rather win World War IV distastefully than lose it for the sake of purity. I actually think Norman Podhoretz would agree.
John R. Bolton, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2005-2006, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. His new book, Surrender Is Not an Option, is forthcoming this month from Simon & Schuster.
By publishing World War IV, Norman Podhoretz has performed yet another important public service, showing once again why he was such a worthy recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. At a time when our political leaders are split over whether we are actually at war with terrorists, when opposition to the war effort in Iraq is growing, and when apathy and complacency appear to be settling in among the public, he lucidly and compellingly explains why we are fighting, how we can prevail, and why we must do so.
My major disagreement with him is pretty minor. It concerns what to call this conflict. Labeling it World War IV assumes that the cold war was World War III, but almost nobody calls it that. Maybe they should, but they don’t. As a matter of purely historical accuracy, moreover, the cold war should be called World War V, since the first world war was really the Seven Years’ War, known in North America as the French and Indian War, while the second was the Napoleonic War. If we follow this logic, we would relabel the 1914-18 conflict World War III and the 1939-45 conflict World War IV, in the same way that George Lucas relabeled his first Star Wars film “Episode IV” after producing three “prequels.”
But merely to advance this argument is to reveal its impracticality. Accurate or not, certain terms enter widespread public usage and cannot be dislodged by argumentation, no matter how persuasive. Thus the conflict against Communism was called the cold war, not World War III, and the current conflict has been called the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) or the Long War. I am sympathetic to the objections to both those terms, but they have entered the lexicon, and for better or worse we’re stuck with them.
In any case, there is a significant difference between World Wars I and II, on the one hand, and, on the other, the cold war and the GWOT. The former were relatively short bursts of highly concentrated violence in which the U.S. and its allies waged all-out war to defeat nation-states. The latter conflicts are longer and more amorphous. Sometimes they call for direct military action (e.g., the Korean and Vietnam wars, or the Afghanistan and Iraq wars) but more often they require the use of diplomacy, propaganda, intelligence, covert action, foreign military assistance, and other policy tools. And while we sometimes have to contend with nation-state foes, in many cases our enemies are semi-autonomous guerrilla groups or political organizations.
During the latter stages of the cold war, for instance, the U.S. had to deal with organized protests like the nuclear-freeze movement as well as with terrorist groups like the Red Brigades. Both had links to Moscow and its satellites, but were more than merely Russian puppets. Today, we face a wide variety of Islamofascist groups, many of which have only the most tenuous connections with “al Qaeda Central.”
The right way to defeat most of these groups is not to wage classic conventional conflict—as might be implied by the term World War IV—but instead to carry out a global counterinsurgency. This, like all successful counterinsurgencies, must be predominantly political, not military, in its focus.
How are we doing in that counterinsurgency six years after 9/11? By the most important measure—terrorist attacks in the United States—spectacularly well. By other measures, not so well: as a recent National Intelligence Estimate noted, al Qaeda Central has managed to reconstitute itself in Pakistan, and its affiliates around the world have continued to carry out vicious attacks.
Two of the most important fronts in this larger struggle are in Iraq and Afghanistan, and here again the situation is mixed. Afghanistan seems to be doing a bit better than Iraq, while Iraq seems to be doing a bit better than it was a year ago. But it is far too soon to know whether we will succeed in creating long-term stability and representative government in either country. In both cases, but especially in Iraq, our war effort has been marred by serious mistakes on the part of the Bush administration. Whether we can overcome those setbacks at this late date remains unclear, though I believe the “surge” in Iraq is making significant progress.
I agree with Norman Podhoretz that a commitment to democratization must remain a key American objective in the GWOT, and here again the progress report is mixed. I am more critical of the Bush administration than he is for not doing enough to live up to its soaring rhetoric about spreading freedom. In too many cases we are still dancing to the tune of dictators who insist “it’s me or the mullahs” even as their own misrule actually strengthens the hand of the most radical agitators.
I admit that democracy promotion cannot be our only interest, and that we have to be careful about how we go about it. Nevertheless, I think there is more that the President could be doing to carry out his stated agenda. For a start, he should condition further aid to Egypt on the release from prison of the liberal opposition leader Ayman Nour.
For all its problems of implementation, I believe the Bush Doctrine will outlive this administration. Its two central tenets—promoting democracy and taking preemptive action when necessary—are not terribly controversial in the abstract even if one particular application, in Iraq, has become very controversial indeed. None of the major Democratic or Republican presidential contenders is pledging to eschew either one of these ideas. And that is not surprising, because both were a feature of American foreign policy long before George W. Bush was born. The Bush “revolution” primarily consists of elevating their importance rhetorically if not always in practice. (Note that we have not waged any preemptive wars since the invasion of Iraq, and that our support for democracy has become very attenuated in the second Bush term.)
Future Presidents may tone down the rhetoric, but they will still feel compelled to act preemptively against terrorists and in favor of democracy. At least sometimes. But then, as Norman Podhoretz also observes, no President, not even this one, is ever a model of consistency, and any “doctrine” inevitably simplifies the messy reality of policy implementation.
Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a contributor to COMMENTARY’s blog contentions, and the author of War Made New: Weapons, Warriors, and the Making of the Modern World (Gotham).
Reuel Marc Gerecht
If one sees the world as Islamic radicals do, Islam as a faith and as a civilization is locked in a brutal struggle with the West—usually described as a baleful place of aggressive Christians and Jews, or a seductive, immoral realm of atheists (who formerly were aggressive Christians and Jews). Where once this collision was confined primarily to the Middle East, today Islamic radicals regularly concern themselves with the situation, demands, and God-given rights of large Muslim communities living in the West itself. In the last 40 years, Islam has become a truly global faith—something that was not the case when the Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb, one of the most influential modern radicals, was in his prime in the 1950’s, or even when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini joined the ranks of the most successful modern militants.
It is certainly fair to define one’s enemies and their battles as they themselves do. Historians, diplomats, spies, and journalists who fail to do this often commit the sin of mirror-imaging—a common problem for secularized Westerners looking at the Muslim Middle East. So on these grounds it is hard to disagree with Norman Podhoretz’s use of the phrase World War IV to describe the violent onslaught of Islamic holy warriors against the West, and in particular against the United States, its cutting edge.
Nevertheless, I am uncomfortable with the appellation. My objection is both philosophical and mundane: it gives too much coherence to the enemy, and sociologically and geographically it leaves me frustrated.
Islamic radicalism is still a leaderless tempest: the birth of al Qaeda was an attempt to give organization and charismatic inspiration to a movement that was easy to locate (find a Saudi-funded mosque, and you can usually find the component parts) but difficult to define consistently. Islamic extremism’s greatest growth spurt in the 20th century occurred after Saudi Arabia, spooked by Khomeini’s Islamic revolution, met Iranian proselytizing head-on. Absent this clash, which occurred concurrently with Osama bin Laden’s efforts to rouse devout but often uninterested Muslims to war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Sunni extremism would not be so globally developed today.
The United States was by no means incidental to that clash: at the mosque level, both sides gained adherents by preaching hostility to America. But this common hatred is messy and tense. Radical Iranian commentary on al Qaeda, for example, is a hodge-podge of envy, admiration, and disgust. For all Muslim holy warriors, modernity is the cause of the ethical freefall that in turn allows them to regard the slaughter of women and children as permissible. Nevertheless, these men are also at war with the vast majority of Muslims, who, regardless of their attitude toward the United States, are considered moral backsliders eagerly consuming the worst, if not the best, of the Western world.
Side by side with Sunni and Shiite holy warriors there exist fundamentalists who similarly loathe the United States and want to extirpate much of Western culture from their societies—but who are not themselves active participants in a jihad against America. In common with many liberal Arabs and (for that matter) European intellectuals, they may have experienced a gleeful frisson when the Twin Towers fell; and they would certainly prefer it if their governments limited their military and intelligence dealings with the United States. But, while knowing the risks of contamination, they might also well choose to send their children for higher education in the United States. (Iran’s Islamic revolution was born of this contradiction.)
Either voluntarily or under police pressure, devout Muslims like these have been critical to the efforts of Sunni regimes to monitor, corral, and kill violent extremists. In Shiite Iran, clerics and intellectuals who are not really enemies of the regime are at the same time capable of making trenchant, devastating critiques of the ruling mullahs. No American should want to entrust a nuclear weapon to any of these people, but they are more at odds with the clerical regime than they are with the United States.
I do not feel enough of this nuance, contradiction, and internal Muslim turbulence in World War IV. Yes, the United States must defend itself militarily against those Muslims who define their identity inextricably through violent hatred of the West. But characterizing this necessary self-defense as a world war is too unwieldy, too brusque, and too easily abused by Muslims and Westerners who really want to see a more developed clash of civilizations.
Is Iraq pivotal to the war against Islamic extremism? Absolutely. Al Qaeda now describes the ongoing struggle there in more momentous terms than those formerly used by bin Laden to describe the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The view of clerical Iran is not much different. Both parties intend to radicalize Iraq’s Shiites: to create a Hizballah in Mesopotamia. It is difficult to foresee these dueling radicalisms exhausting each other to America’s advantage.
Rating the Bush administration’s progress likewise depends on Iraq. If the administration fails there, then we will have greatly strengthened the forces of radical Islam. By comparison, Bill Clinton, who failed altogether to rise to the challenge of bin Laden, could look very good.
Is democracy the answer to this extremism? Probably yes. Even thoughtful arguments to the contrary, such as those advanced by Martin Kramer, take us back to an embrace of Muslim dictatorships in the hope that under these “stable” regimes, Islamic radicalism will die out. That is possible. But I think Islamic history teaches the opposite. We have been waiting for decades for the Middle East’s autocracies to permit, à la Atatürk, the emergence of the building blocks of freer societies. Instead, most of these oligarchies have gotten worse.
“Muslims as a community cannot agree upon an error” is an old Sunni dictum waiting to be tested in the democratic arena. Muslim democracy is not likely to be pretty or particularly liberal. But it offers a chance to imbue popular will with a divine sanction, and a chance for Muslims to deracinate the holy warriors from their communities. It is hard to see anything more than continuing stagnation emerging from the Mubaraks, the ben Alis, the Assads, the Sauds, or even the Hashemites.
Reuel Marc Gerecht is a resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, a contributing editor of the Weekly Standard, and the author of The Islamic Paradox: Shiite Clerics, Sunni Fundamentalists, and the Coming of Arab Democracy (2004).
Victor Davis Hanson
I do accept the term World War IV, as well as the idea behind it, and here is why I think Norman Podhoretz is right. We are in a long, terrible war with an Islamic fascist ideology that embodies an expansionist, authoritarian creed of religious hatred, anti-Semitism, and reactionary mythology. Fighting, albeit on a sub-state level and against relatively small numbers of combatants, transcends borders, with various fronts even outside the Middle East. Worldwide, Islamists feed on both stealthy state sanction and occasional tacit approval from an aggrieved Muslim “street.” And the tenets of jihadism—best found in the rantings of Ayman al-Zawahiri and reified by the operations of bin Laden’s al Qaeda—are no more disjointed than were the World War II anti-American creeds cobbled together by the various German, Italian, and Japanese militarists.
This present war, brutal though it is, is in military terms not as ghastly as past global wars that cost tens of thousands of American lives. (At least that is the case so far, without the terrorists’ acquisition of nuclear devices.) But politically it is far harder to conduct because of international dependence on an oil-rich tribal Middle East, the influence of instantaneous global communications, and the therapeutic ethos of our own postmodern society. Another obvious difference from past global wars is that belligerents like Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, all of which are involved in funding or aiding the main perpetrators, have denied culpability. Their insidious wink-and-nod diplomacy is aimed at codifying the idea of “stateless terrorists”—and, thus, the corollary idea that we cannot respond with conventional force to national practitioners or enablers of Islamic terror.
Still, this is a wholesale war against the idea of America, both in the real and metaphorical sense, conducted both through violent and non-violent means against us and our friends from Manhattan and London to Beirut and Anbar. The Islamists, like past ideological foes, are existential enemies who do indeed hate the contradictions and destabilization brought to traditional life by Western-inspired modernization. They also thirst to bring us down, empowered both by their alleged military victory over the Soviets in Afghanistan and by the long-term laxity of the West.
Iraqi democracy is an anathema to Islamists, and so Iraq is the crucial front that, magnet-like, draws in terrorists from far and wide. To suppose otherwise is to believe that we simply create terrorists ex nihilo who then flock to Iraq on the news we are there—and will leave and go home if only we would depart. But most will not leave unless and until they are driven out, and besides, their brothers are already ubiquitous and deadly in places where we have no real presence, landscapes as varied as Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia, not to mention Europe.
Progress: the two worst regimes in the Middle East are gone. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the war has shifted to a political/military struggle to stabilize reform governments. Most of the al-Qaeda leadership that started the war is either dead, scattered, or in custody, and bin Laden, supposedly still a magnetic Saladin, dares not leave his cave in Waziristan. More to the point, a recent Pew poll revealed that his popularity is falling in the Middle East, and with it overall support for the tactic of suicide bombing.
Recent changes in European governments and immigration policy, and security measures here at home, have created a Western climate much more inimical to radical Islam than before. Our counter-efforts bear fruit. It simply is harder now—though far from impossible—to pull off an attack of a 9/11 magnitude. Majority-party congressional Democrats may damn Guantanamo, wiretaps, and the Patriot Act, but they still have enough political savvy to do little if anything to repeal such successful instruments of deterrence.
On the downside, and on the ideological front, the jihadists have shown an uncanny ability to recycle or repackage old multiculturalist slurs against Western capitalist democracy, while we too often assert rather than explain why and how we do what we do. In the meantime, still thriving at home are the more outrageous conspiracy theories. The fraud of Michael Moore, the bile of Patrick J. Buchanan, do take a toll; a Bill Maher, a MoveOn.org General “Betray Us” ad, or a Rosy O’Donnell lowers the bar of the shameful, and so too does the mainstream media’s standard narrative of Iraq as all IED’s and suicide belts.
Vietnam aside, I cannot think of any prior war in which our soldiers have been compared with the likes of Nazis, Stalinists, and other mass murderers by senior members of Congress, or pronouncements in mediis rebus by a Senate majority leader that the war is “lost.” Our country is confused and angry, and we are not sure of the morrow.
As is usual in wars, the battlefield will adjudicate things better than those who offer mere opinions. If General David Petraeus stabilizes Iraq enough to allow reconciliation to proceed, then the world will start making the necessary political adjustments in our favor; if he should not, then catastrophe looms.
What next? Immediately there should be more urgent international efforts to isolate Iran entirely, and financially to squeeze that regime by boycotts, embargos, and blockades if its nuclear program continues as envisioned. But the key right now remains Iraq. We must remember that neither the Iranian nor the Syrian regime could spread terror, or perhaps even long endure, once truly reformed governments are in place in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon. In particular, the Iraqis’ success spells their failure.
I admire Norman Podhoretz for using the much-caricatured term “democratization.” Critics seek to equate this with some sort of naïve embrace of mere plebiscites, rather than an evolutionary process toward the entire framework of constitutional government, from independent judiciaries to human-rights guarantees and freedom of expression. In any case, are we to believe that, because the terrorists of Hamas were elected in Gaza, our efforts at stabilizing the Iraqi reform government or prodding Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak have thereby been refuted?
Advocacy of political reform offers choices other than dictatorship and theocracy. Despite the slander against it by opponents of the Bush Doctrine, promotion of democracy remains the best way to address the contradictions of fundamentalist tribal cultures that suddenly have trillions of petrodollars at their disposal to fund anti-Western terrorists. In the meantime, and along the way, a program to reduce the world price of oil through conservation, alternate energies, and increased petroleum production is now a matter not just of free-market economics but of national survival.
As for whether the Bush Doctrine will survive, in the short term I fear not. Today’s Democrats, like so many old-fashioned right-wing isolationists, appear to regard the Iraqis as unworthy of American sacrifice, and the brave emergence of Iraqi voters and reformers as signifying no more than tribal or mob rule. How odd that our pessimistic Left seems rather to have resigned itself to the ultimate triumph of the often cowardly Islamists than mobilized to help the Iraqis who bravely fight them.
For their part, the Republican presidential candidates concentrate mainly on not “losing” Iraq. Most (but not all) would seem to welcome some undefined secular, perhaps authoritarian order that would at least allow us to leave something firm behind. But otherwise, on the Right as on the Left, advocating consensual government abroad now seems to be considered equivalent to engaging in child abuse.
But the long term? The desire for freedom under popular constitutional government will not die, and neither will our national penchant for promoting it—since the alternatives are far worse. A popular desire for reform has awakened in places as diverse and unlikely as Lebanon, Libya, and Pakistan. At some point, in the not-so-distant future, despite the ordeal in Iraq, most will see that the antidote to the current pathology in the Middle East is some constitutional framework wherein the challenge of modernity is dealt with through free inquiry and debate. Otherwise, the present mess will only grow and grow before passing into a far more dangerous nuclear stage.
It was not the neoconservative support for democratization, or a determination to remove fascist regimes, that led to 9/11, but the lethal combination of appeasement of terrorism and the cynical endorsement of a Middle East dictatorial order through the Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton administrations. How peculiar, and how sad, that a mere six years after September 11, many are prepared to deem such policies preferable, if not, absurdly, to proclaim them successful.
Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author most recently of A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.
Before answering whether Norman Podhoretz is correct that we have the misfortune to be living through World War IV, permit me some relevant descriptive narrative.
On the Saturday I traveled down to the Wall Street Journal’s offices in lower Manhattan to write this essay, my trip from the edge of Ground Zero through the World Financial Center’s now-restored Winter Garden took me past five groups of tourists numbering about twenty each. All were there to see Ground Zero. One group was standing by a window overlooking the site itself—still mostly stained concrete walls—while a tour guide explained the events of September 11.
For six years, I have watched these tourist groups arrive here every day. Many are middle-class Europeans, young and old, from Italy, Spain, France, and Germany. Many snap photos, trying to capture the entire sixteen-acre pit. Why do they come? Because virtually everyone in the world, together, while the event was happening, watched the two towers burn and collapse. They know that fanatical Islamic men did it, and the details of their plot. I persist in believing that the world’s watching those two office towers fall in real time produced an event of collective memory unique in history, and that its enduring effect on the consciousness of civilized peoples has been underestimated.
When I turned on my computer at the office that Saturday, the first news story I read was about the alleged leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. On an Islamist website, the pseudonymous al-Baghdadi had offered $100,000 for the murder of Lars Vilks, a cartoonist in Sweden whose drawing of Muhammad “dared insult our prophet.” The offer was upped to $150,000 if Vilks was “slaughtered like a lamb”—that is, with his throat cut. Al-Baghdadi also threatened attacks on Swedish companies, naming Ericsson, Volvo, Ikea, and Electrolux. All are global companies, which could be struck anywhere.
That we are in a war touching most of the world’s peoples, as did previous world wars, and that this war is with a strain of Islam infused with homicidal fanaticism, appears to me irrefutable. And I do not believe that the world’s peoples, particularly here or in Europe, are complacent about it. They know that a determined enemy exists, know what that enemy can do, and, I believe, would like someone to figure out how to lead them against this enemy.
Right now, the world is not being led, in part because the Democratic party has resisted allowing this particular American President to serve in that role, instead dividing the country over the design of the war on terror—detentions, interrogations, surveillance, and the like. Therefore, a big question for the future success of this war is whether, should a Republican win in 2008, the Democratic party will continue its challenge to the traditional world-leadership role of the U.S. presidency.
One of the great benefits of Norman Podhoretz’s intentionally provocative assertion that World War IV has begun is that it forces the argument toward defining the war. I am thinking in terms of a military doctrine. Obviously this war is not likely to involve the massed armies of the past century, much less the array of forces at Constantinople, which fell in 1453 to a Muslim army of several hundred thousand. After defeating Saddam’s conventional army in 2003, the U.S., it seems clear in retrospect, did not find a military doctrine appropriate for the Islamic insurgency until it adopted General David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency plan in January 2007. On the evidence, that plan is making substantial gains.
Its relevance as doctrine, however, is broader. The Iraq insurgency, as with Islamic terror so far, has consisted mainly of highly explosive and dramatic bombings. Bali, the Madrid train station, the London subways—all were bombings. In his testimony to Congress, General Petraeus summed up the components of a strategy to “counter” this kind of warfare:
To do counterterrorism requires conventional as well as all types of special-operations forces, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets.
This encapsulates the worldwide war that must be waged against Islamic extremism. What we face is not the least bit like a conventional world-war battlefield. This war is being fought wholly amid civilian population centers; thus, any conceivable doctrine will have to include surveillance and intelligence as crucial elements. What that means is that the unending political battle in Washington over electronic surveillance and “intel” has to be won. Otherwise, if this internal American political battle is not won, the world’s cities will become increasingly vulnerable to bombs or, once the ingredients of WMD are purchased or assembled, worse.
As for a political doctrine, democratization, in Norman Podhoretz’s view, may be the only force strong enough to contain the centrifugal, messianic ideology of jihadism. The “realist” opposition to this notion has been intense. As with the Democratic refusal to support, say, warrantless wiretaps, the realists’ animosity to the Bush Doctrine and to “the neocons” seems as much personal grudge as theory. Both sides, however, err by undervaluing a force likely to play as great a role in taming Islam as either military containment or elections: namely, economics.
And specifically a more liberalized trade regime. Yes, it is boring, but it is also necessary, and it is explicitly part of the Bush Doctrine. Bush in 2003 proposed the Middle East Free Trade Agreement. Already, however, U.S. labor groups are in opposition to it, and mainly against Jordan, which has attracted investment from Wal-Mart, Liz Claiborne, Kohl’s, L.L. Bean, and others.
What, across history, has been “normal” life for the world’s males? Working at some job during the day and coming home to one’s family at night. Autarky is dead. In the modern world, trade is imperative. If our politics ignore or thwart trade, why feign shock when the young men in Middle Eastern countries spend their idle hours at jihad rather than at an honest job?
The Bush Doctrine had better survive 2008. All the competing ideologies are malign or dangerous: Putin’s market nationalism without democracy; China’s soulless economic determinism; Iran’s Hizballah-ism. Our political class should want, and publicly say it wants, Indonesia’s nascent democracy of more than 200 million Muslims to improve. Why should it be any less difficult to say that we want and will encourage Iran’s people to achieve a politics based on open party competition?
Those are the alternatives to what we have now. What we have now is this war.
Daniel Henninger is deputy editor of the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. His column, “Wonder Land,” appears each Thursday.
Norman Podhoretz wants to alarm us. At a time when many in America dismiss 9/11 as an aberration, and jihadism as a specter we have conjured up to justify military adventure, he insists that the enemy is real. Mired in denial, we have refused to see the obvious pattern in the succession of attacks against us, of which 9/11 constituted one more escalation. And despite 9/11, we have slipped back into our default position of complacency, while our enemies build new capabilities, construct more outposts, and inculcate hatred in the minds of millions. This is a world war, he insists, and our refusal to name it is the most obvious sign of our confusion.
Yet the notion of “World War IV” is also meant to reassure us. The United States prevailed in every great global contest of the 20th century, whether it took four years (World War II) or forty (the cold war). Now we confront a threat from another ideology opposed to freedom and democracy. But we have defeated such ideologies before, we tell ourselves—indeed, they are destined to be defeated—and once we get ourselves in gear, the outcome cannot be in doubt. It will just take a while. This world war, Podhoretz tells us, “will almost certainly go on for three or four decades.”
That is too reassuring.
The 20th-century world wars were preceded by another species of global conflict. For more than a millennium after the rise of Islam in the 7th century, Christendom and Islam were locked in almost constant warfare. Today’s war, unlike the last three world wars, is being fought largely across the very same divide of religion and civilization that separated European Christendom and Islam. The ebb and flow of that conflict extended over centuries. It is a point our enemies emphasize. “This war is fundamentally religious,” bin Laden has said. “The people of the East are Muslims. They sympathize with Muslims against the people of the West, who are the Crusaders.” That is what bin Laden needs this war to be, if he is to fight it on his terms.
We shudder to think the world might be sliding back into that sort of conflict, and so we deny even the possibility while heaping praise on Islam. “This is not a clash of religions,” President Bush has said. “The faith of Islam teaches moral responsibility that ennobles men and women, and forbids the shedding of innocent blood. Instead, this is a clash of political visions.” That is what we need it to be, if we are to fight it on our terms.
Six years after 9/11, the problem is that most Muslims believe bin Laden is right. Over the summer, a poll showed that 80 percent of the people in Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, and Pakistan agree that the United States is trying to “weaken and divide the Islamic world.” Not only have we failed to define the war for ourselves. We have failed to define it for the great mass of Muslims. The widespread belief among Muslims that we are waging war against Islam could extend it well beyond three or four decades.
We also underestimate its breadth. We conveniently prefer to think that Iraq is the central front in this war, because the United States has 150,000 troops there. For all the defeatism deftly exposed by Podhoretz, most Americans know it would be difficult for the United States to lose in Iraq. But the danger now is that we might be outflanked. If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, or Pakistan falls to jihadists, or parts of Europe are colonized by Muslim radicals, the consequences could be dire.
Norman Podhoretz and I are foreign-policy advisers to presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, who sees Iraq as one of many fronts. “The danger of focusing on Iraq too much,” he has said,
is that we miss the fact that the war on terror is broader than Iraq and that it will go on no matter what happens in Iraq. If we accomplish everything we want to accomplish and more in Iraq, it’s not going to win the war on terror. And if we don’t, it’s not going to lose the war on terror.
We have a tremendous stake in the battle for Iraq. But if we invest too little on other fronts because of it, we could lose the war.
Finally, we have underestimated the resourcefulness of our enemies in exploiting our desire for democracy. Neoconservatives continue to deny the obvious: our Islamist enemies turn every “democratic” opening into their opportunity. Norman Podhoretz rightly pillories Jimmy Carter for having sacrificed the shah of Iran and allowed Ayatollah Khomeini, a “radical Islamist despot,” to seize power. The “blind” Carter administration “thought the United States would be better off without allies like the shah.” Alas, this blindness is perfectly emulated today by those who would cast aside Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak on the off chance that the Muslim Brotherhood will not replace him. Democracy promoters compete with jihadists in denouncing the evils of the Saudi monarchy, Pakistan’s president, and even Jordan’s king.
In World War II, Franklin Roosevelt allied with Stalin to defeat Hitler. Norman Podhoretz elsewhere has said that that alliance “was as much a moral imperative as it was a case of realpolitik.” This war cannot be won without similar alliances, and shunning them will only abet our enemies.
For the Bush Doctrine to survive Bush, it will have to incorporate all we have learned since he formulated it. Much of it comes down to this: the Middle East is not Europe, Iraq is not Germany, and Afghanistan is not Japan. (They are not Vietnam, either.) The road to hell is paved with bad analogies, which are no substitute for lived experience and specific knowledge. According to the Greek poet Archilochus, “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” The hedgehogs have taken the Bush Doctrine as far as they can. Now it is the turn of the foxes.
Martin Kramer is the Wexler-Fromer fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and the Olin Institute at Harvard.
Many of the quarrels that dominate American politics today turn on the status of 9/11. Is it to be understood primarily as a tragedy, or as an attack? A moment to move beyond, or a defining moment? A talking point, or a turning point?
Norman Podhoretz considers 9/11 an attack, a defining moment, and a turning point. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who is as prominent a figure in the liberal foreign-policy establishment as Podhoretz is in the neoconservative counterestablishment, would beg to differ. Three years after 9/11, Friedman criticized the Bush administration and its supporters for being “addicted to 9/11.” Friedman looked forward to the day when September 11 would once again be restored
to its rightful place on the calendar: as the day after September 10 and before September 12. I do not want it to become a day that defines us. Because ultimately September 11 is about them—the bad guys—not about us. We’re about the Fourth of July.
Now Norman Podhoretz, whose most recent memoir bears the title My Love Affair with America, is no slouch when it comes to celebrating the Fourth of July. But he would surely diagnose Friedman’s comments as symptomatic of liberals’ lack of seriousness. It would be nice to wish away the significance of 9/11 because one does not “want it to become a day that defines us.” But wishful thinking—however precious—is still wishful thinking.
What neoconservatives know is that we are not simply free to choose what defines us. They also know that 9/11 was not simply “about them—the bad guys.” It was, and is, also about us. It is about acts of heroism in New York and at the Pentagon and aboard United Flight 93. And it is about our subsequent response to that day’s attack—a response that has featured a fair amount of courage and honor and even, on occasion, genuine nobility.
Podhoretz’s book is unembarrassedly framed by 9/11. He quotes one liberal internationalist bemoaning the “post-11 September reorientation of American foreign policy.” In response, he argues that 9/11 demanded just such a reorientation, and that the President deserves great credit for providing one. The Bush Doctrine—at least as proclaimed, if not always in practice—consists of an intolerance of terror or state sponsorship of terror, a willingness to consider preemption, especially against terror-states developing weapons of mass destruction, and a commitment to fostering liberal democracy as part of a solution to the problems of the Middle East. Podhoretz ably makes the case for such a reorientation of American foreign policy.
Is “World War IV” the best term for the struggle we are in? About that I am less convinced. Analogies to the early years of the cold war, or to the rocky course of World War II, can be helpful in stimulating thinking about the challenges we face—but in the end an analogy is just an analogy. And, as is par for the course for many grand historical analogies, the differences in the cases cited are often as striking as the similarities, as Podhoretz himself sometimes acknowledges. I might add that I am also not convinced of the utility of the term Islamofascism, since the modifier seems more fundamental to the phenomenon than the noun. I would incline to use either jihadism, our enemies’ own term, or takfirism, the term favored by mainstream Muslims fighting the terrorists.
But whatever one’s terminological preferences, the core of Podhoretz’s case is eminently sensible: that, post-9/11, we live in a new world, requiring new thinking. He provides much useful guidance to such thinking, especially with respect to the war over the war: i.e., the domestic political fights both over Iraq and over the broader struggle against terror-sponsoring dictators and death-loving jihadists. Podhoretz is alarmed by the strength of the antiwar movement and of anti-Americanism more broadly. But he is heartened by the strengths of America, particularly “the young Americans in uniform, all volunteers.” To them, he offers a striking tribute: “In their determination, their courage, and their love of country, they are by all accounts a match, and more than a match, for their forebears.” The 9/11 generation is one reason Podhoretz is able to resist Whittaker Chambers-like despair.
Doubts are harder to avoid when one turns to the question of our leaders. But here, too, there are reasons for hope. Bush has in many respects risen to the occasion, and today’s leading Republican presidential candidates do not seek to shirk our post-9/11 responsibilities. For their part, the Democratic candidates at least occasionally show signs of knowing better than their campaign rhetoric typically suggests. But it is true that the vacuousness of the mainstream media, the childishness of many in Congress, and the fatuousness of the foreign-policy establishment—these do not fill one with confidence.
The columnist Mark Steyn recently reported on a speech at a 9/11 commemoration ceremony by Deval Patrick, the liberal governor of Massachusetts. September 11, said Patrick, was “a failure of human beings to understand each other, to learn to love each other.” Steyn’s comment:
We should beware anyone who seeks to explain 9/11 by using the words “each other”: they posit a grubby equivalence between the perpetrator and the victim—that the “failure to understand” derives from the culpability of both parties.
And, Steyn continued:
It was the failure of one group of human beings to understand that the second group of human beings was determined to kill them that led the crew and passengers of those Boston flights to stick with the obsolescent 1970’s hijack procedures until it was too late. Unfortunately, the obsolescent 1970’s multiculti love-groove inclinations of society at large are harder to dislodge.
Since 9/11, these destructive inclinations have begun to be dislodged. They would be further dislodged—perhaps even routed—if more of our leaders were animated by just a bit of Norman Podhoretz’s implacable determination and fighting spirit.
William Kristol is the editor of the Weekly Standard.
In his characteristically powerful new book, Norman Podhoretz could not be more right in describing our great struggle against Islamic extremism as World War IV, portraying the stakes involved, and identifying Iraq as a key early theater in the conflict. My disagreements, which are considerably less consequential than our agreements, lie in the area of democracy promotion—both its significance to the Bush Doctrine and its utility as a strategy for victory.
It is profoundly disappointing that, only six years after 9/11, and three decades after the onslaught of militant Islam in its latest iteration, it should still be necessary to discuss whether we are embroiled in an epic battle for the survival of our way of life. Yet that is where we find ourselves, notwithstanding the endurance—indeed, according to the latest National Intelligence Estimate, the resurgence—of an incorrigible enemy.
In several ways, we are better off today than we were six years ago. In the 1990’s, when radical Islam was at war and we were not, the point of the counterterrorism spear (in fact, pretty much its totality) was the criminal-justice system. But prosecutions neutralized only a tiny fraction of the growing enemy: fewer than three dozen convicted over eight years of attacks, and those mostly low-level players. This emboldened the extremists, inviting more attacks. Since President Bush has taken up the challenge and fought the war as a war, we have significantly improved internal security while killing and capturing thousands of jihadists, mainly overseas. It is not an accident that we have not been attacked domestically.
On the other hand, the administration has done a poor job communicating what we are doing and why we must do it—would that it had had Norman Podhoretz on the case full-time. Yes, the President has given several eloquent speeches. Contrary to the case in the first three world wars, however, the nation does not exhibit a vested interest in the outcome. It is as if the burdens of the war have been delegated to the American armed forces and their families while the rest of us blithely go about our lives—an oddity I wish I could better explain after a massive domestic attack and continuous, unabashed promises of a reprise. This national ennui couples dangerously with such revolutionary developments of our age as the rise of international law, the shift in civil-rights emphasis from the common weal to the individual and his privacy, and the suspicion with which we regard executive power.
The result is dangerous vulnerability. The national mood shifts away from war’s sense of urgency, back toward the notion of jihadism as a nuisance to be managed by legal processes and diplomatic engagements. The enemy makes great inroads here at home, where concerns about due process for terrorists generate more angst than does the suffering of terror victims.
Concurrently, al Qaeda is emerging as a stronger network. Immediately after 9/11, with its command-and-control decimated and its hierarchy in flight, the movement become more dependent on widely dispersed cells, which became more autonomous but less capable. Now, however, even as these cells have adapted and become more effective, the network’s leadership has been permitted to reestablish itself in Pakistan and other safe havens. Money (particularly Saudi money) and the Internet have also made the animating ideology more accessible than ever, meaning that cells can emerge without the need of an established jihadist organization to recruit and guide them. And behind it all, Iran grows more capable and menacing—harboring and nurturing al Qaeda, replicating its Hizballah model in Iraq and beyond, and pursuing nuclear weaponry while the West dithers.
This increases the stakes of Iraq—to say nothing of Afghanistan, where NATO’s lack of commitment is a very disturbing development. I have been a supporter of the surge of U.S. forces because it is a necessary step; but it is far from sufficient. Meaningful progress in this war, as Podhoretz has argued, is going to require dealing with Iran. General David Petraeus’s report underscores that unavoidable fact. Some say such talk is war-mongering, but it is actually war-recognition. Iran is at war with us now, just as it and the other components of the jihadist movement were at war with us in the 1990’s. It should not take another 9/11 to come to grips with that reality. That is the cutting edge of the 2008 election: reality, or the return of September 10th America.
I do not question that the rhetoric of democracy promotion has pervaded the President’s articulation of the Bush Doctrine. Nevertheless, the fact that the doctrine has multiple tenets does not mean that each of them is equally important, or that the tenets cohere.
The issue here, moreover, is more complex than “neoconservatives versus realists.” I am a conservative who does not fit in either category. Contrary to the realists, I agree that democracy promotion is in our long-range interest and stability by tyranny is not. But, with due respect to my neoconservative friends, a healthy respect for democracy worthy of the name recognizes that (a) it calls for a cultural transformation that cannot be brought about quickly, (b) it is of dubious value as a counterterrorism tool, and (c) it may be an impossibility in a society committed to maintaining an Islamic identity.
On the last two points, it is noteworthy that jihadist atrocities are commonly planned and carried out inside Western democracies. There are a variety of good reasons to promote democracy abroad, but protection against jihadism is evidently not one of them. Further, the principal root cause of terrorism is Islamic ideology, not a want of the benefits democracy affords; so the premise that democracy would eradicate radicalism is flawed. Finally, we conflate democracy with liberty, but the two are saliently different.
For many Muslims (not just terrorists), rejection of Western democracy is a free choice. In fact, the Islamic conception of freedom, which connotes willful submission to Allah and His law, is critically different from our understanding of the term. We need to understand better the ideology we are dealing with, and to be speaking the same language, before we can realistically assess the prospects of democratization.
In the meantime, as Norman Podhoretz shows, there is a war to be won. We did not start the Marshall Plan in 1943. Assuming for argument’s sake that Muslim countries will eventually democratize (as we understand democracy), that would, at most, suppress this enemy’s resurgence. But first the enemy has to be defeated.
Andrew C. McCarthy is the director of the Center for Law and Counterterrorism at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Norman Podhoretz clarifies the crisis in which we now find ourselves by describing it as World War IV. There are affinities to the preceding World War III, otherwise known as the cold war. Once more, it is hard to separate the hatred our enemies feel for us from their envy. The evident inferiority complex is irrational, therefore intractable. Ever since influential Muslims began to maintain that the weaknesses of their societies were not their fault at all but were inflicted upon them by the malevolent West, World War IV has been in preparation. For a time, it was uncertain whether nationalists or Islamists would wage it.
Ayatollah Khomeini settled that issue. Iran is a country of great potential, and his seizure of power there in 1979 has proved as consequential as the Bolshevik coup of 1917. Khomeini transformed Iran into a testing ground for the view that Islamist jihad is a mobilizing principle strong enough to avenge the political and cultural supremacy of the West. He and now his heirs have made it plain that they see themselves engaged in outright war. In a similar spirit, and with comparable rhetoric, too, the Soviet Union used to project capitalism as a bogey incompatible with peaceful coexistence.
The comparison goes further. Communism divided into the Soviet and the Chinese versions, both of which masked nationalist impulses at their core; and Islamism contains Sunni and Shiite versions that also reflect core nationalist differences between Arabs and Persians. Alarmed by the Iranian Shiite revolution, and therefore fired to emulate it, Saudi Arabia, far and away the richest Sunni state, has fostered al Qaeda and the hate-mongering imams and madrassas behind many of the initial aggressions of World War IV. Although these Sunni and Shiite rivals occasionally collaborate—on the Israel front, for instance—they are more usually in competition to see who can do the most damage to the West while at the same time mustering for armed showdown between themselves.
Islamist terror attacks have brought the war home in one country after another. Since 9/11, better intelligence and doses of luck, coupled with the disgust that many if not most Muslims feel for those committing murder in their name, have restricted these outrages. More directly, we have taken the war to the jihadists in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq. We intend to defend ourselves, in other words, and have the means to do so. Although, for some unfathomable reason, the number of front-line jihadist casualties is never exactly specified, it runs into the thousands, with thousands more held in prison in the whole gamut of Muslim countries.
The hope, the ambition, is to construct peaceful nation-states out of the tribal and sectarian groupings whose various allegiances and identities have generated so much past violence, and are capable of generating still more in the present. The struggle for supremacy among tribes and sects is the real cause of the weaknesses that for centuries have bedeviled Muslim society, and created the feelings of humiliation and inferiority vis-à-vis others. The likes of Khomeini and Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden acquire and hold power by accommodating only those of their very own kind, to the exclusion of everyone else. Absolute rule becomes a self-perpetuating process of oppression and tyranny.
During my own travels in the Middle East over many years, I have made a point of asking what political arrangements people would favor. The almost invariable answer is democracy. This is not to ask for bicameralism and the separation of powers, but more modestly for the rule of law, an end to corruption, and some form of accountability, some process of representation able to pay heed and respond to grievances and injustice.
Such an outcome, however imperfect, would confront the exclusivity of tribe and sect, of Sunni and Shiite, and allow differences to be resolved by compromise rather than violence. After World War I, the British tried to restructure Iraq on just such lines, but the experiment was deemed financially too costly. Ignominious in itself, the British withdrawal condemned the entire population to decades of absolute rule, oppression, and tyranny.
Today’s American intervention is far more serious in scope and implication. Iraqis once more have the choice between a new, politically inclusive model and another relapse into absolute rule, oppression, and tyranny. America’s immediate difficulties only serve to demonstrate beyond doubt that democratization offers the Arab and Muslim world an escape route from its structural weaknesses. Although critics like to denigrate Western pressure to democratize the region as imperialism, it is the way for Muslims and non-Muslims in the end to meet on equal terms.
Nor is this just disinterested altruism. Whatever the outcome in Iraq, the Sunni-Shiite polarity will continue to condition the wider region. In the geostrategic dimension, the United States has created an unexpected three-cornered contest, whereby its armed forces, and therefore its political weight, are in place between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The mutual rivalry of these two countries is a dynamo driving Islamist jihad to spread destruction and death far and wide.
One possibility would be for the West to concede a victory to the Shiites in Iran and Iraq, leaving the Sunnis to make what they could of it. Alternatively, the Sunnis could be expected to be grateful in the event of America’s at last picking up the challenge so regularly and aggressively issued by Iran, and doing whatever has to be done to check the Khomeinist revolution and Iran’s nuclear program. Whichever way one looks at it, the American military presence close to Iran’s borders demonstrates superpower responsibility.
Crucial choices ahead will determine the course of World War IV, and the fate of millions with it. President Bush has put the United States in a position of potential strength as the arbiter of the future order in the Middle East, and it is dismaying that so many people refuse to recognize this. Norman Podhoretz rightly fears yet another possibility: that commentators in the media and opposition personalities have infected public opinion with a thoughtless and unworthy defeatism, and that party politics are assuming priority over the national interest.
If that is indeed the case, the indefinite prolongation of World War IV will have to be accepted, with who knows what damage inflicted by the Islamists on Muslims and non-Muslims alike and the quite unnecessary sacrifice of America’s standing and ultimately its security. More likely, surely, is that whoever is next in the White House will carry on where President Bush left off. Too much is at stake for anything else.
David Pryce-Jones, the British novelist and political analyst, is a senior editor of National Review and the author most recently of Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews.
Yes, we have entered World War IV—and the designation “IV” is telling. Norman Podhoretz correctly identifies this war as the latest round in the long and mutating struggle between totalitarianism and freedom. More broadly, we are entering the second century of a global showdown between systems in which governments answer to their people and systems in which they do not.
In this context, Islamofascism is clearly the most virulent and immediate danger. But the threat hardly ends there. If I have a criticism of Podhoretz’s superb tour and analysis of the hot front in this new world war, it is that he underestimates the damage done to us in this war by some of the major non-Islamic despotisms, which in their own efforts to deflect democracy are only too pleased to strike back-scratching deals with Islamofascist regimes.
Along with such obvious candidates as the totalitarian munitions-merchant North Korea, or our near-neighbor Venezuela, these regimes include the two great powers of Russia and China. Lest that list sound too alarmist, or simply too overwhelming, let me add that I agree with Podhoretz’s warning that we cannot simultaneously tackle every villainous government on earth. But in understanding why we had to topple Saddam early on, and why democracy is the only real answer, I think we must keep in mind that behind Islamofascism is a brew of interests that, however disparate, have this in common: they shun democracy and in various ways tend to support each other in fighting and subverting its spread. Thus do we find China and Russia, our erstwhile allies against Islamo-terrorists, blocking one U.S. attempt after another to shut down or stymie the regimes that produce these killers and their medieval creeds.
In this context, Iraq has been a crucial early theater of World War IV, and not once but twice. To explain why, let us go back to the end of the cold war and exhume a phrase rarely mentioned these days: the New World Order. Whatever follies played out under that label in the 1990’s, there was a basic truth to the idea that as the Soviet empire staggered toward its 1991 collapse, the world was in a greater state of flux than at any time since the end of World War II. For better or worse, much was up for grabs.
And in 1990, one of the first to grab was Saddam Hussein, testing the rules of the nascent order with his invasion of Kuwait. When a UN coalition drove Iraq’s army back out of Kuwait, it was hailed as a victory for a new age of UN-coordinated multilateralism. The terrible mistake, however, was to leave Saddam in power in Baghdad. Not only was Saddam himself a malignant presence, but the message was sent that while there might be penalties to breaking the basic codes of international conduct, the penalties would not be equal to the offense. The rest of the feel-good decade of the 1990’s, in which America tolerated everything from escalating terrorist attacks, to North Korea’s nuclear extortion racket, to Yasir Arafat’s grotesque manipulations of the “peace process,” did not help.
Rectifying that early, signal mistake over Saddam was a profoundly important reason for the current President Bush to choose Iraq as an early front in America’s response to September 11. So was the need to stop the brazen rejuvenation of an unrepentant, expansionist, terror-based Baghdad regime that by 2003 had spent years making a complete mockery of UN sanctions; cheating, corrupting, and rearming its way back into business with or without weapons of mass destruction.
The overthrow of Saddam, the toppling of the Taliban, the declaration of the Bush Doctrine—all these early, aggressive actions by America brought progress on a number of fronts. Libya gave up its nuclear program, Lebanon tried to shake the murderous occupation by Syria. Elsewhere in the Middle East, democratic dissent began bubbling up. And, as of this writing, America for more than six years has escaped any major terrorist assault, something I attribute not solely to our home-front measures but to the Bush Doctrine of preemption and democratization—which has helped keep our enemies preoccupied abroad.
If Bush could give us one parting gift, beyond his determination to stay the course in Iraq, it should be greatly to ease that course by bombing enough of Iran’s nuclear-related infrastructure to persuade not only the mullahs but their Islamofascist neighbors, clients, and rivals that America has no interest in losing its wars. Given the climate in Washington, that seems unlikely. With the Left now ascendant in our domestic debates and howling for denial in our time, Bush himself has retreated on some fronts from the Bush Doctrine—negotiating with terror sponsors and deferring a reckoning with Iran.
Another folly has been our return, post-Saddam, to the corrupt councils of the UN. This institution more often than not comes between America and our would-be allies among the subjugated people of the world, not all of whom look forward to a life of jihad and repression. The UN, by dignifying dictators and attending upon their “votes,” deals one blow after another to those among their captive subjects who aspire to remove them. The gross disservice done to Iranian dissidents by the annual UN-hosted celebrity appearance of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York is one example. The UN’s Orwellian “Human Rights Council” is another.
But if it looks as if America is now in the process of scrapping the Bush Doctrine altogether, I think the next President will not in practice find that so easy. We are in a world war that America cannot avoid. The challenges, if unmet, will continue to grow. The next big attack will come. Primed by the liberty and law of our own democratic system, Americans did much to create today’s world of high technology, instant messages, and global markets. The benefits are vast, including the spread in many quarters of greater wealth, health, and freedom. But along this network, poisonous ideologies and their foot soldiers can also hitch, or hijack, a high-speed ride. We are not fighting for democracy in foreign lands out of altruism—in any event, a treacherous guide. We are fighting to gain strategically vital ground against enemies who must put out the light of the great American experiment of democracy if they are to prevail in their dreams of power and plunder under cover of a new dark age.
That contest, not some whimsical U.S. mission of global good will, is why the Bush Doctrine has it so very right in putting democratization front and center as our natural cause and best hope. For most of us, despite the shock of September 11, the full character of the threat against us has yet to be felt in our daily lives. When it is, this country will go to war to win.
Claudia Rosett is a journalist in residence with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
I have no problem describing the current struggle as World War IV. With varying degrees of intensity, this war is being fought in 22 countries across the globe—from Indonesia and Thailand to the Sudan and Algeria. Many other countries, among them almost all the 57 nations with a Muslim majority and several Western nations as well, are targets of occasional terrorist operations that the jihadists describe as ghazva (holy raids).
The fact that the conflict affects so many nations is not the only reason why we should agree with Norman Podhoretz in considering this a world war. Another and more important reason is that the conflict is not about such mundane things as borders, territory, or access to markets and resources. It is about the future of mankind as a whole. Here we have the clash of two visions of the world’s future. One vision is that of a pluralistic global system based on the shared values of human rights, democracy, free enterprise, and international law. The other vision is inspired by a radical and rigid re-interpretation of Islam as the “Final Truth” dictated by God, abrogating all other faiths and creeds.
The war, then, has clear ideological fronts. But its military fronts are not so clearly drawn, and this has caused some confusion. In this war, many Muslims, perhaps even a majority, are fighting against Islamism, whereas many in the West, including some late avatars of Stalinism and fascism, are objective allies of the Islamists. In other words, this is not a war between the West and the rest but between democracy, which has many supporters in non-democratic societies, and the latest challenger to democracy that is Islamofascism. At times, indeed, the war is an internal one, being fought within the same societies, and even within the same families, both in the Muslim world and in the Western democracies. Moreover, just as there were many kinds of Communism and fascism in World Wars II and III, so there are many different kinds of Islamofascism today. But all have one thing in common: their determination to reshape the world in accordance with their totalitarian vision.
There is no doubt that Iraq is one of the key battlefields in World War IV—perhaps even the key one in this early phase of the global conflict. The reason is that, in Iraq, virtually all versions of Islamofascism, from Salafism to Khomeinism and including al-Qaeda-type terrorism, are present on the battlefield against a coalition of democracies led by the United States and backed by a coalition of Iraqis who reject the Islamofascist vision.
In my opinion, the larger war started in 1979 when Islamofascists seized power in Tehran. But there is no doubt that the 9/11 attacks against the United States led to a more urgent awareness. Today, six years after 9/11, the cause of the democracies and their Muslim allies has not done too badly at all.
Thus, Afghanistan and Iraq have been liberated and set on their respective paths to democratization. Lebanon has expelled the Syrian army of occupation. Algeria, Egypt, and Turkey have effectively defeated their respective terrorist enemies. Yemen has crushed both Sunni and Shiite terrorist groups that tried to create mini-“emirates” on its territory. The Islamofascists have also suffered defeat in Kashmir, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Chechnya. In Iran, civil society has started to organize resistance to the Khomeinist regime, especially with the blossoming of an independent trade-union movement.
In addition, a number of Arab states have inaugurated constitutional reforms and free elections, both at national and municipal levels, in some cases for the first time in their history. Certain democratic ideas, like popular consent as the key source of legitimacy, have similarly been introduced, and are beginning to strike roots in societies that hitherto shunned the global trend toward democratization.
In this connection, Norman Podhoretz is surely right in asserting that “democratization represents the best and perhaps even the only way to defeat Islamofascism and the terrorism it uses as its main weapon against us.”
Critics of the Bush Doctrine assert that democracy cannot be imposed by force. I agree. But as far as I am aware, Bush never suggested otherwise. In fact, he said: “America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.” Nevertheless, there are times and places where force can and must be used in order to remove impediments to democracy. Both the Taliban and the Baathists had to be uprooted by force before Afghanistan and Iraq could have a chance to consider democratization as an option.
I have no doubt that the Bush Doctrine will survive as a key element of American national security even if the Republicans lose the White House next year. As long as there are places on earth where terrorists can regroup, train, and prepare attacks, the U.S., and indeed all democracies, will be threatened. By taking action in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. showed that it had not been cowed by the terrorist attacks and was prepared to fight in distant places and against deadly enemies.
Still, during the past six years, two key battlegrounds have not received the attention they merit. The first is the battleground of public opinion in Western democracies. There, under the banner of anti-Americanism, a broad coalition of Left and Right, in de-facto alliance with the Islamofascists, preaches a gospel of defeat and surrender. This anti-American coalition, which is, in fact, the enemy of democracy, must be taken on and defeated. Some time soon, the U.S. will also have to find ways and means of re-mobilizing its allies, especially in Europe, for the inevitable confrontation with the Khomeinist regime in Tehran.
The second battleground is that of public opinion in Muslim countries. Here, American public diplomacy has been nonexistent or even counterproductive. In some Muslim countries, U.S. diplomacy has even harmed the nascent democratic forces by emphasizing Washington’s support for authoritarian regimes in the name of realpolitik.
Democracy can and must win the current world war, just as it won all three previous ones.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor of Khayan, Iran’s largest daily newspaper, from 1972 to 1979 and is a frequent contributor to publications in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States.
In a sense it is true that “everything changed” on September 11—certainly in our understanding of where things were headed. Before the appearance of al Qaeda on these shores, only an army or an earthquake could kill 20,000 to 50,000 people in a morning. Had 9/11 not been primary day in New York, with many people going first to vote and thus being late for work, the lives lost in that single morning could easily have numbered in the tens of thousands. And that is what al Qaeda wanted.
This escalation in the methods of terror—linking eschatology and mass violence—means that other groups may aspire to at least the same degree of intimidation and wreckage. Violence has been reconceived, to focus on targets with a central place in a society’s self-understanding. The destruction of an Irish pub on the Derry Road has been replaced by the collapse of a major landmark. Al Qaeda advertised this weird aesthetic of obliteration in its earlier 1993 plot in New York, interrupted by the police, that sought to blow up the United Nations, the George Washington bridge, and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels in one grand chaotic gesture. The same nihilism also yielded the al-Qaeda bombing of Iraq’s Golden Mosque of Samarra in February 2006, which not only destroyed a sacred shrine but ransacked a tentative accord between Sunni and Shiite factions, and severely impeded the search for a new balance of power in Iraq.
America and its next President, regardless of party, will thus continue to face extreme difficulty in preserving the safety of our citizens and assisting Islam to regain its bearings. The political parlor game of should-we-or-should-we-not-have-intervened-in-Iraq-in-2003 should not distract from this verity. Even within the four corners of the “Iraq question”—and, with the ferocious intermeddling of Syria, Iran, and al Qaeda, Iraq does not have four corners—no critic of administration policy has stopped to wonder whether the intervention against Saddam might have gone better if we had acted in 1998, when Saddam first kicked out the American inspectors. In the event, we undertook to fight a war after allowing our opponent five years to prepare. Saddam used the time to sequester billions of dollars, truck his equipage to Syria, and empty his prisons, preparing his turn-key resistance during the slow diplomatic burn that preceded the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
And what if we had delayed intervention, past 2003? What then? In the face of French and Russian pressure, the lifting of Security Council sanctions and the opening of a new spigot of money for weapons purchases were all but ordained. And with the progress of Iran’s nuclear program, would not Saddam inevitably have reconstituted his WMD portfolio to fight a second Iran-Iraq war?
We have been sorely challenged in adapting our methods of land warfare against the hydra-headed insurgency in Iraq. The fight has been costly and rugged. It is startling how often in our polite society, with its publishers and professors, we lose sight of the reasons why American soldiers on the ground think the mission is important. There is equally little sense, in our post-ROTC world, of the solemn virtues of selflessness and courage that soldiers live by. Writers who have railed at our passivity in Rwanda might celebrate the braver course we have sustained in Iraq, trying to protect innocent lives from death by car bomb.
The mélange of threats coming from the Muslim world and the demimonde of weapons proliferation will call for different skills and capacities in government. Within the intelligence community, a new generation of linguists must be trained to decrypt conversations conducted in Pashtun, Arabic, Farsi, and Korean, as well as in computer code. Intelligence collection can be stymied when the unit size for lethal combat is limited to al-Qaeda squads of three or four. Analyzing the loose chains of linkage, in phone numbers, leases, and itineraries, is not the conventional way to identify who is a “soldier,” and penetration is far more difficult in this unconventional war.
In addition, there is the problem of states that provide sanctuary. We will face real dilemmas when foreign governments cannot thwart the misuse of their territory by al Qaeda. But international law has been usefully changed by Security Council resolution 1373, and the UN’s imperative demand that states must prevent the use of their soil as training platforms for insurgents.
In a June 2001 essay in the Washington Post’s “Outlook” section, I paid tribute to a federal prosecutor in Manhattan for winning criminal convictions after the bombing attacks on our embassies in East Africa. Truck bombs prepared by al Qaeda had toppled the buildings in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 220 and wounding more than 4,000. Many of the victims were Muslim. Acknowledging a brilliantly-conducted trial, my essay also warned that criminal charges were not enough. Behind every conviction lay an intelligence failure, and our inability to dismantle the infrastructure that generated these attacks meant that more attacks would follow.
I was approached by several veterans of the intelligence community who reported that, to their similar alarm, there was no sharing of information between intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, and hence no integrated picture of al Qaeda. I relayed their account to the senior staff of an intelligence committee on Capitol Hill. The problem was real and serious. But as my interlocutors predicted, nothing would be done about it in the extant political climate.
9/11 changed all that, too, though not soon enough. The national-security doctrine propounded by the Bush administration now holds that it is not adequate to punish mass-casualty bombers after they have attacked. Rather, the duty of any President is to protect his fellow citizens, and other innocent life, before the harm is done. The means should be proportionate, and we should speak in the language of law. But the “responsibility to protect”—a foreign-policy ideal celebrated in both liberal and conservative circles—is not discharged by convicting the suicide bomber who survives a failed attack. The pooling of information and the denial of overseas sanctuary are practical necessities if we are to thwart a terrorist organization that operates in cyberspace before it mounts terrestrial and aerial attacks.
The new mode of catastrophic terrorism can be countered only by dismantling al Qaeda’s leadership, funding, and ideology. Catalyzing the necessary institutional changes in American government, and mustering the courage to act when a moment of opportunity presents itself, are the burdens that belong to any responsible President.
Ruth Wedgwood is a member of the Hoover Institution’s Task Force on National Security and Law, and serves on the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. The views expressed here are her own.
I think we are and should be in a war against Islamofascist terrorism; whether we call it World War IV is, to me, immaterial. It is a war, and perhaps one of the longest and most difficult we will have ever fought.
The Bush Doctrine that defines this war may outlive the 2008 presidential elections, depending on public opinion. If the public believes, as I think it does, that we cannot fight this war on the defensive and that we must take the struggle, where appropriate and where it can make a difference, to rogue or failed nations that support terrorism, then the next President, whichever party he or she belongs to, will, perhaps after making politically suitable but largely rhetorical bows toward “the need for change,” will continue the fight.
Whether this will be done effectively is another matter. As Norman Podhoretz points out in his book, scarcely any President for the last 30 years has responded to the long list of terrorist attacks to which this country has been subjected with anything more than a few cruise missiles fired into empty buildings. But the next terrorist attack (and I believe another one is very likely) will generate a demand for action that will be impossible to resist except among the agitated ranks led by George Soros and Michael Moore.
Apart from whether we will fight, the key issue is how we will know whether we have won. We have made dramatic gains in Afghanistan and Iraq, though much more needs to be done. And happily the American military has adopted a better strategy for doing it, one that we learned from the Marine Corps in Vietnam but that the Army managed to forget until General David Petraeus and his colleagues produced a masterful Army-Marines counterinsurgency field manual that is now being applied in Iraq.
Ideally, democracy is our goal because, with perhaps only a few exceptions, democracies do not invade one another and they leave their people free to improve their lives. But democracy comes slowly and painfully even to countries well suited to receive it.
Of the two dozen or so predominantly Muslim nations in the world, only six can reasonably be called democratic, and acquiring that status required a long time and the overcoming of many reverses. According to Freedom House, Indonesia, Mali, and Senegal are free, and Afghanistan, Morocco, and Turkey are “partly free.” These accomplishments took many years. Indonesia, although it became independent in 1949, was not a competitive democracy until 2003, and in the interim had to endure decades of one-party elections. Mali had an endless series of coups between its independence in 1960 and the establishment not long ago of a civilian government that has held generally free and honest elections. Senegal became independent at about the same time and managed to avoid military coups, but it also had to endure two decades of one-party rule. Today, however, it has a multiparty competition for votes.
Among the partly free Muslim countries, Afghanistan is well known to us since we brought the first hint of political freedom to that country. It is still struggling to end corruption, win the allegiance of independent tribal leaders to a central government, and empower local communities. Morocco has a powerful hereditary king, but the incumbent has helped create a popularly elected legislature and sponsored a reconciliation commission that has publicly criticized past civil-rights abuses and set forth recommendations for preventing them in the future. Turkey has been a secular state since the early 1920’s, but several decades passed before it held genuinely competitive elections. The Turkish army has periodically intervened to protect the country’s secular status, but today a moderate Muslim party is in power and has elected a Muslim president, albeit one who has promised to keep church and state separate.
Obviously the United States cannot be in Iraq for the 40 or 50 years it has taken other Muslim nations, several of which lack Iraq’s ardent Sunni-Shiite rivalry, to become reasonably or wholly democratic. How long, then, do we stay? My answer: until Iraq has displayed the ability to maintain order with a police force that respects fundamental rights and an army that is committed to civilian rule. No doubt we will leave before Iraq enjoys democratic rule of the kind practiced in Canada, Great Britain, or the United States; but we must remain there until a reasonable observer can say that the nation is on a course leading to popular government.
As Max Boot has pointed out in the September COMMENTARY (“How Not to Get Out of Iraq”), no one has devised a “Plan B” that has any reasonable chance of success. It is logistically impossible to leave immediately; the country cannot be divided into religiously coherent states; and Americans must remain in significant numbers to keep Iraqi security forces intact and improving just as NATO forces have been kept in Bosnia for over a decade. We cannot “guard the borders” without running concentration camps for seized infiltrators. Although we may be tempted to back a decent authoritarian (Boot calls this “Saddam Lite”), there is no one available who might play that role and has sufficient force to compel obedience.
The last thing we should do is to announce, as many members of Congress have done, “goals” that the current Iraqi government must meet in order to keep us there. When Congress recently instructed the Government Accountability Office to inform us whether Iraq had formed a constitutional-review committee, enacted a law on de-Baathification, or decided to create a High Electoral Commission, it was not “measuring progress,” it was looking for excuses for us to leave.
In a co-authored September 10 essay in the Wall Street Journal, Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman made the central issue quite clear. The choice we face in Iraq is not between the current government and a perfect one, but “between a young, imperfect, struggling democracy . . . and the fanatical, al-Qaeda suicide bombers and Iranian-sponsored terrorists who are trying to destroy it.” Though there are good reasons to worry that elections will from time to time bring to power undemocratic regimes, there is no reason to believe that Muslims are incapable of democratic government.
In refuting this notion, Podhoretz quotes Bernard Lewis: to think that the Islamic people are incapable of civilized government “shows ignorance of the Arab past, contempt for the Arab present, and unconcern for the Arab future.” And, I would add, a profound ignorance of what has happened in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation.
James Q. Wilson is the Ronald Reagan professor of public policy at Pepperdine University.
I agree that “World War IV” is an accurate characterization of our war against Islamist totalitarianism. But although what the term denotes is sound—a lengthy world-wide struggle against a totalitarian enemy that is analogous to, especially, World War II and the cold war (World War III)—its connotation creates a problem. Hearing “world war,” most people will think of D-Day, Iwo Jima, Stalingrad, etc. and thus quickly conclude that the speaker advocates principally large-scale military operations.
When I begin a conversation by calling the current struggle World War IV, I find that until the second glass of wine I am generally not successful in persuading a friend that I really do not want to invade all our enemies—especially since, like Norman Podhoretz, I supported the invasion of Iraq. So I lean toward “The Long War of the 21st Century,” which, yes, has its own connotation problems. In any case, his point—that we confront a sweeping, ideologically rooted, worldwide, determined enemy whom it will take years to defeat—is the crux of the matter.
Iraq threatens our success in this long World War IV. It is vital for us to prevail there, else we will leave a vacuum for both Sunni and Shiite Islamists to fill. But the current fighting there is, in my view, not an “early theater” in the overall war. We in the U.S. have been at war with the Middle East’s Islamist totalitarians for nearly three decades —at least since our embassy hostages were seized in Tehran in 1979. It is just that, until quite recently, only our enemies have been fighting. We should look at the Sunni and Shiite totalitarians together, since they cooperate with one another (and with secular totalitarians like Iraqi and Syrian Baathists) far more than our press, our diplomats, and our intelligence analysts have generally wanted to admit. These pundits and government officials have served us exactly as well as their grandfathers in the same professions who confidently told the world in the 1930’s that Nazis and Communists would never cooperate.
Beginning with the Carter administration’s dithering, we have done our best for a long time to convince the Islamist totalitarians that we are the “weak horse” that bin Laden rightly says will be disdained by all. In Lebanon, our embassy and our Marine barracks were blown up—and we left. Americans were thereafter kidnapped, tortured, and killed in the 1980’s—and we looked to law enforcement and tried to trade arms for hostages. In 1991 we had a half-million troops in Iraq and encouraged the Kurds and Shiites to rebel—and we then stood aside and watched them be massacred. There was an attempt to murder former President Bush in 1993—and we fired two dozen cruise missiles into an empty Iraqi intelligence headquarters at night, dealing decisively with Iraqi cleaning women and night watchmen. Our helicopters were shot down in Somalia in 1993—and we left. Our World Trade Center was bombed in 1993—and we ignored the fact that one of the leading perpetrators took refuge in Iraq. Our East African embassies, our military barracks in Saudi Arabia, and an American warship were all bombed in the 1990’s—and we fired a few more cruise missiles ineffectually into the sands of Sudan and Afghanistan.
Now we have at least noticed that we are at war, and in Afghanistan and Iraq have begun to fight back. But in the latter case, until nearly four years into the war, we repeated the same ineffective search-and-destroy tactics used by General William Westmoreland for almost exactly the same stretch of years in Vietnam. General David Petraeus has finally been allowed to fight (clear-hold-protect) like General Creighton Abrams and the Marines. It is crucial that he be allowed to succeed. If he does, much else will go well in the overall war. If he does not, the consequences could be disastrous.
As for our progress: the President made a huge mistake after 9/11 by telling us to “shop” instead of rallying us to a long struggle. One rallying point could have been to move us away from oil’s dominance (96 percent) of the world’s transportation market. The Saudi billionaires who fund al Qaeda, the Wahhabi imams who inspire suicide bombers to go to Iraq, the Iranian mullahs who pay for the explosive devices to kill our troops in Iraq—all get their resources from oil. We are late and are only now beginning to support real technologies—unlike such pipe dreams as hydrogen fuel cells for the family car—that can help this transition.
Our broadcasting to the Middle East has been inept and ineffective. The nation that invented Radio Free Europe forgot for years why it was so successful.
In this connection, although I agree with the Bush Doctrine’s emphasis on democratization, balloting may not come first. Instead, in many societies, one should often begin (following John Rawls and Amartya Sen) by building on existing “institutions of public reason” such as the Loya Jirga in Afghanistan. History and ownership of institutions matter. In Iraq, for example, we should have given back to the Iraqis their own 1925 constitution instead of drafting one for them, especially since in doing so we set up a copy of Weimar Germany’s historically disastrous structure of proportional representation and party lists—an electoral system that encourages factions instead of a more stable system based on single-member constituencies that encourage two parties to compete for the center.
But it is certainly true that democracies very rarely fight one another. Since 1945, when there were about 20 democracies, Freedom House indicates that nearly 100 have been added. (Of these, admittedly, some 30 have serious problems like substantial corruption.) Those who said Japan and Germany could never be democracies have been proved wrong, as have those in years past who said the same thing of Asians, of Catholics, and of others. Mongolia, for example, is a well-functioning democracy.
However difficult the transition, giving up on any nation or people by assuming that because of their culture they will ultimately prefer tyranny to freedom is both dangerous and racist. Many of those who sign on to this assumption call themselves “realists”; they are the exact opposite.
R. James Woolsey, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is co-chairman of the Committee on the Present Danger.
What Kind of War Are We Fighting, and Can We Win It?
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t can be said that the Book of Samuel launched the American Revolution. Though antagonistic to traditional faith, Thomas Paine understood that it was not Montesquieu, or Locke, who was inscribed on the hearts of his fellow Americans. Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense is a biblical argument against British monarchy, drawing largely on the text of Samuel.
Today, of course, universal biblical literacy no longer exists in America, and sophisticated arguments from Scripture are all too rare. It is therefore all the more distressing when public intellectuals, academics, or religious leaders engage in clumsy acts of exegesis and political argumentation by comparing characters in the Book of Samuel to modern political leaders. The most common victim of this tendency has been the central character in the Book of Samuel: King David.
Most recently, this tendency was made manifest in the writings of Dennis Prager. In a recent defense of his own praise of President Trump, Prager wrote that “as a religious Jew, I learned from the Bible that God himself chose morally compromised individuals to accomplish some greater good. Think of King David, who had a man killed in order to cover up the adultery he committed with the man’s wife.” Prager similarly argued that those who refuse to vote for a politician whose positions are correct but whose personal life is immoral “must think God was pretty flawed in voting for King David.”
Prager’s invocation of King David was presaged on the left two decades ago. The records of the Clinton Presidential Library reveal that at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, an email from Dartmouth professor Susannah Heschel made its way into the inbox of an administration policy adviser with a similar comparison: “From the perspective of Jewish history, we have to ask how Jews can condemn President Clinton’s behavior as immoral, when we exalt King David? King David had Batsheva’s husband, Uriah, murdered. While David was condemned and punished, he was never thrown off the throne of Israel. On the contrary, he is exalted in our Jewish memory as the unifier of Israel.”
One can make the case for supporting politicians who have significant moral flaws. Indeed, America’s political system is founded on an awareness of the profound tendency to sinfulness not only of its citizens but also of its statesmen. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” James Madison informs us in the Federalist. At the same time, anyone who compares King David to the flawed leaders of our own age reveals a profound misunderstanding of the essential nature of David’s greatness. David was not chosen by God despite his moral failings; rather, David’s failings are the lens that reveal his true greatness. It is in the wake of his sins that David emerges as the paradigmatic penitent, whose quest for atonement is utterly unlike that of any other character in the Bible, and perhaps in the history of the world.
While the precise nature of David’s sins is debated in the Talmud, there is no question that they are profound. Yet it is in comparing David to other faltering figures—in the Bible or today—that the comparison falls flat. This point is stressed by the very Jewish tradition in whose name Prager claimed to speak.
It is the rabbis who note that David’s predecessor, Saul, lost the kingship when he failed to fulfill God’s command to destroy the egregiously evil nation of Amalek, whereas David commits more severe sins and yet remains king. The answer, the rabbis suggest, lies not in the sin itself but in the response. Saul, when confronted by the prophet Samuel, offers obfuscations and defensiveness. David, meanwhile, is similarly confronted by the prophet Nathan: “Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.” David’s immediate response is clear and complete contrition: “I have sinned against the Lord.” David’s penitence, Jewish tradition suggests, sets him apart from Saul. Soon after, David gave voice to what was in his heart at the moment, and gave the world one of the most stirring of the Psalms:
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
. . . Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
The tendency to link David to our current age lies in the fact that we know more about David than any other biblical figure. The author Thomas Cahill has noted that in a certain literary sense, David is the only biblical figure that is like us at all. Prior to the humanist autobiographies of the Renaissance, he notes, “we can count only a few isolated instances of this use of ‘I’ to mean the interior self. But David’s psalms are full of I’s.” In David’s Psalms, Cahill writes, we “find a unique early roadmap to the inner spirit—previously mute—of ancient humanity.”
At the same time, a study of the Book of Samuel and of the Psalms reveals how utterly incomparable David is to anyone alive today. Haym Soloveitchik has noted that even the most observant of Jews today fail to feel a constant intimacy with God that the simplest Jew of the premodern age might have felt, that “while there are always those whose spirituality is one apart from that of their time, nevertheless I think it safe to say that the perception of God as a daily, natural force is no longer present to a significant degree in any sector of modern Jewry, even the most religious.” Yet for David, such intimacy with the divine was central to his existence, and the Book of Samuel and the Psalms are an eternal testament to this fact. This is why simple comparisons between David and ourselves, as tempting as they are, must be resisted. David Wolpe, in his book about David, attempts to make the case as to why King David’s life speaks to us today: “So versatile and enduring is David in our culture that rare is the week that passes without some public allusion to his life…We need to understand David better because we use his life to comprehend our own.”
The truth may be the opposite. We need to understand David better because we can use his life to comprehend what we are missing, and how utterly unlike our lives are to his own. For even the most religious among us have lost the profound faith and intimacy with God that David had. It is therefore incorrect to assume that because of David’s flaws it would have been, as Amos Oz has written, “fitting for him to reign in Tel Aviv.” The modern State of Israel was blessed with brilliant leaders, but to which of its modern warriors or statesmen should David be compared? To Ben Gurion, who stripped any explicit invocation of the Divine from Israel’s Declaration of Independence? To Moshe Dayan, who oversaw the reconquest of Jerusalem, and then immediately handed back the Temple Mount, the locus of King David’s dreams and desires, to the administration of the enemies of Israel? David’s complex humanity inspires comparison to modern figures, but his faith, contrition, and repentance—which lie at the heart of his story and success—defy any such engagement.
And so, to those who seek comparisons to modern leaders from the Bible, the best rule may be: Leave King David out of it.
Three attacks in Britain highlight the West’s inability to see the threat clearly
This lack of seriousness manifests itself in several ways. It’s perhaps most obvious in the failure to reform Britain’s chaotic immigration and dysfunctional asylum systems. But it’s also abundantly clear from the grotesque underfunding and under-resourcing of domestic intelligence. In MI5, Britain has an internal security service that is simply too small to do its job effectively, even if it were not handicapped by an institutional culture that can seem willfully blind to the ideological roots of the current terrorism problem.
In 2009, Jonathan Evans, then head of MI5, confessed at a parliamentary hearing about the London bus and subway attacks of 2005 that his organization only had sufficient resources to “hit the crocodiles close to the boat.” It was an extraordinary metaphor to use, not least because of the impression of relative impotence that it conveys. MI5 had by then doubled in size since 2001, but it still boasted a staff of only 3,500. Today it’s said to employ between 4,000 and 5,000, an astonishingly, even laughably, small number given a UK population of 65 million and the scale of the security challenges Britain now faces. (To be fair, the major British police forces all have intelligence units devoted to terrorism, and the UK government’s overall counterterrorism strategy involves a great many people, including social workers and schoolteachers.)
You can also see that unseriousness at work in the abject failure to coerce Britain’s often remarkably sedentary police officers out of their cars and stations and back onto the streets. Most of Britain’s big-city police forces have adopted a reactive model of policing (consciously rejecting both the New York Compstat model and British “bobby on the beat” traditions) that cripples intelligence-gathering and frustrates good community relations.
If that weren’t bad enough, Britain’s judiciary is led by jurists who came of age in the 1960s, and who have been inclined since 2001 to treat terrorism as an ordinary criminal problem being exploited by malign officials and politicians to make assaults on individual rights and to take part in “illegal” foreign wars. It has long been almost impossible to extradite ISIS or al-Qaeda–linked Islamists from the UK. This is partly because today’s English judges believe that few if any foreign countries—apart from perhaps Sweden and Norway—are likely to give terrorist suspects a fair trial, or able to guarantee that such suspects will be spared torture and abuse.
We have a progressive metropolitan media elite whose primary, reflexive response to every terrorist attack, even before the blood on the pavement is dry, is to express worry about an imminent violent anti-Muslim “backlash” on the part of a presumptively bigoted and ignorant indigenous working class. Never mind that no such “backlash” has yet occurred, not even when the young off-duty soldier Lee Rigby was hacked to death in broad daylight on a South London street in 2013.
Another sign of this lack of seriousness is the choice by successive British governments to deal with the problem of internal terrorism with marketing and “branding.” You can see this in the catchy consultant-created acronyms and pseudo-strategies that are deployed in place of considered thought and action. After every atrocity, the prime minister calls a meeting of the COBRA unit—an acronym that merely stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A but sounds like a secret organization of government superheroes. The government’s counterterrorism strategy is called CONTEST, which has four “work streams”: “Prevent,” “Pursue,” “Protect,” and “Prepare.”
Perhaps the ultimate sign of unseriousness is the fact that police, politicians, and government officials have all displayed more fear of being seen as “Islamophobic” than of any carnage that actual terror attacks might cause. Few are aware that this short-term, cowardly, and trivial tendency may ultimately foment genuine, dangerous popular Islamophobia, especially if attacks continue.R
ecently, three murderous Islamist terror attacks in the UK took place in less than a month. The first and third were relatively primitive improvised attacks using vehicles and/or knives. The second was a suicide bombing that probably required relatively sophisticated planning, technological know-how, and the assistance of a terrorist infrastructure. As they were the first such attacks in the UK, the vehicle and knife killings came as a particular shock to the British press, public, and political class, despite the fact that non-explosive and non-firearm terror attacks have become common in Europe and are almost routine in Israel.
The success of all three plots indicates troubling problems in British law-enforcement practice and culture, quite apart from any other failings on the parts of the state in charge of intelligence, border control, and the prevention of radicalization. At the time of writing, the British media have been full of encomia to police courage and skill, not least because it took “only” eight minutes for an armed Metropolitan Police team to respond to and confront the bloody mayhem being wrought by the three Islamist terrorists (who had ploughed their rented van into people on London Bridge before jumping out to attack passersby with knives). But the difficult truth is that all three attacks would be much harder to pull off in Manhattan, not just because all NYPD cops are armed, but also because there are always police officers visibly on patrol at the New York equivalents of London’s Borough Market on a Saturday night. By contrast, London’s Metropolitan police is a largely vehicle-borne, reactive force; rather than use a physical presence to deter crime and terrorism, it chooses to monitor closed-circuit street cameras and social-media postings.
Since the attacks in London and Manchester, we have learned that several of the perpetrators were “known” to the police and security agencies that are tasked with monitoring potential terror threats. That these individuals were nevertheless able to carry out their atrocities is evidence that the monitoring regime is insufficient.
It also seems clear that there were failures on the part of those institutions that come under the leadership of the Home Office and are supposed to be in charge of the UK’s border, migration, and asylum systems. Journalists and think tanks like Policy Exchange and Migration Watch have for years pointed out that these systems are “unfit for purpose,” but successive governments have done little to take responsible control of Britain’s borders. When she was home secretary, Prime Minister Theresa May did little more than jazz up the name, logo, and uniforms of what is now called the “Border Force,” and she notably failed to put in place long-promised passport checks for people flying out of the country. This dereliction means that it is impossible for the British authorities to know who has overstayed a visa or whether individuals who have been denied asylum have actually left the country.
It seems astonishing that Youssef Zaghba, one of the three London Bridge attackers, was allowed back into the country. The Moroccan-born Italian citizen (his mother is Italian) had been arrested by Italian police in Bologna, apparently on his way to Syria via Istanbul to join ISIS. When questioned by the Italians about the ISIS decapitation videos on his mobile phone, he declared that he was “going to be a terrorist.” The Italians lacked sufficient evidence to charge him with a crime but put him under 24-hour surveillance, and when he traveled to London, they passed on information about him to MI5. Nevertheless, he was not stopped or questioned on arrival and had not become one of the 3,000 official terrorism “subjects of interest” for MI5 or the police when he carried out his attack. One reason Zaghba was not questioned on arrival may have been that he used one of the new self-service passport machines installed in UK airports in place of human staff after May’s cuts to the border force. Apparently, the machines are not yet linked to any government watch lists, thanks to the general chaos and ineptitude of the Home Office’s efforts to use information technology.
The presence in the country of Zaghba’s accomplice Rachid Redouane is also an indictment of the incompetence and disorganization of the UK’s border and migration authorities. He had been refused asylum in 2009, but as is so often the case, Britain’s Home Office never got around to removing him. Three years later, he married a British woman and was therefore able to stay in the UK.
But it is the failure of the authorities to monitor ringleader Khuram Butt that is the most baffling. He was a known and open associate of Anjem Choudary, Britain’s most notorious terrorist supporter, ideologue, and recruiter (he was finally imprisoned in 2016 after 15 years of campaigning on behalf of al-Qaeda and ISIS). Butt even appeared in a 2016 TV documentary about ISIS supporters called The Jihadist Next Door. In the same year, he assaulted a moderate imam at a public festival, after calling him a “murtad” or apostate. The imam reported the incident to the police—who took six months to track him down and then let him off with a caution. It is not clear if Butt was one of the 3,000 “subjects of interest” or the additional 20,000 former subjects of interest who continue to be the subject of limited monitoring. If he was not, it raises the question of what a person has to do to get British security services to take him seriously as a terrorist threat; if he was in fact on the list of “subjects of interest,” one has to wonder if being so designated is any barrier at all to carrying out terrorist atrocities. It’s worth remembering, as few do here in the UK, that terrorists who carried out previous attacks were also known to the police and security services and nevertheless enjoyed sufficient liberty to go at it again.B
ut the most important reason for the British state’s ineffectiveness in monitoring terror threats, which May addressed immediately after the London Bridge attack, is a deeply rooted institutional refusal to deal with or accept the key role played by Islamist ideology. For more than 15 years, the security services and police have chosen to take note only of people and bodies that explicitly espouse terrorist violence or have contacts with known terrorist groups. The fact that a person, school, imam, or mosque endorses the establishment of a caliphate, the stoning of adulterers, or the murder of apostates has not been considered a reason to monitor them.
This seems to be why Salman Abedi, the Manchester Arena suicide bomber, was not being watched by the authorities as a terror risk, even though he had punched a girl in the face for wearing a short skirt while at university, had attended the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Didsbury Mosque, was the son of a Libyan man whose militia is banned in the UK, had himself fought against the Qaddafi regime in Libya, had adopted the Islamist clothing style (trousers worn above the ankle, beard but no moustache), was part of a druggy gang subculture that often feeds individuals into Islamist terrorism, and had been banned from a mosque after confronting an imam who had criticized ISIS.
It was telling that the day after the Manchester Arena suicide-bomb attack, you could hear security officials informing radio and TV audiences of the BBC’s flagship morning-radio news show that it’s almost impossible to predict and stop such attacks because the perpetrators “don’t care who they kill.” They just want to kill as many people as possible, he said.
Surely, anyone with even a basic familiarity with Islamist terror attacks over the last 15 or so years and a nodding acquaintance with Islamist ideology could see that the terrorist hadn’t just chosen the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena because a lot of random people would be crowded into a conveniently small area. Since the Bali bombings of 2002, nightclubs, discotheques, and pop concerts attended by shameless unveiled women and girls have been routinely targeted by fundamentalist terrorists, including in Britain. Among the worrying things about the opinion offered on the radio show was that it suggests that even in the wake of the horrific Bataclan attack in Paris during a November 2015 concert, British authorities may not have been keeping an appropriately protective eye on music venues and other places where our young people hang out in their decadent Western way. Such dereliction would make perfect sense given the resistance on the part of the British security establishment to examining, confronting, or extrapolating from Islamist ideology.
The same phenomenon may explain why authorities did not follow up on community complaints about Abedi. All too often when people living in Britain’s many and diverse Muslim communities want to report suspicious behavior, they have to do so through offices and organizations set up and paid for by the authorities as part of the overall “Prevent” strategy. Although criticized by the left as “Islamophobic” and inherently stigmatizing, Prevent has often brought the government into cooperative relationships with organizations even further to the Islamic right than the Muslim Brotherhood. This means that if you are a relatively secular Libyan émigré who wants to report an Abedi and you go to your local police station, you are likely to find yourself speaking to a bearded Islamist.
From its outset in 2003, the Prevent strategy was flawed. Its practitioners, in their zeal to find and fund key allies in “the Muslim community” (as if there were just one), routinely made alliances with self-appointed community leaders who represented the most extreme and intolerant tendencies in British Islam. Both the Home Office and MI5 seemed to believe that only radical Muslims were “authentic” and would therefore be able to influence young potential terrorists. Moderate, modern, liberal Muslims who are arguably more representative of British Islam as a whole (not to mention sundry Shiites, Sufis, Ahmmadis, and Ismailis) have too often found it hard to get a hearing.
Sunni organizations that openly supported suicide-bomb attacks in Israel and India and that justified attacks on British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan nevertheless received government subsidies as part of Prevent. The hope was that in return, they would alert the authorities if they knew of individuals planning attacks in the UK itself.
It was a gamble reminiscent of British colonial practice in India’s northwest frontier and elsewhere. Not only were there financial inducements in return for grudging cooperation; the British state offered other, symbolically powerful concessions. These included turning a blind eye to certain crimes and antisocial practices such as female genital mutilation (there have been no successful prosecutions relating to the practice, though thousands of cases are reported every year), forced marriage, child marriage, polygamy, the mass removal of girls from school soon after they reach puberty, and the epidemic of racially and religiously motivated “grooming” rapes in cities like Rotherham. (At the same time, foreign jihadists—including men wanted for crimes in Algeria and France—were allowed to remain in the UK as long as their plots did not include British targets.)
This approach, simultaneously cynical and naive, was never as successful as its proponents hoped. Again and again, Muslim chaplains who were approved to work in prisons and other institutions have sometimes turned out to be Islamist extremists whose words have inspired inmates to join terrorist organizations.
Much to his credit, former Prime Minister David Cameron fought hard to change this approach, even though it meant difficult confrontations with his home secretary (Theresa May), as well as police and the intelligence agencies. However, Cameron’s efforts had little effect on the permanent personnel carrying out the Prevent strategy, and cooperation with Islamist but currently nonviolent organizations remains the default setting within the institutions on which the United Kingdom depends for security.
The failure to understand the role of ideology is one of imagination as well as education. Very few of those who make government policy or write about home-grown terrorism seem able to escape the limitations of what used to be called “bourgeois” experience. They assume that anyone willing to become an Islamist terrorist must perforce be materially deprived, or traumatized by the experience of prejudice, or provoked to murderous fury by oppression abroad. They have no sense of the emotional and psychic benefits of joining a secret terror outfit: the excitement and glamor of becoming a kind of Islamic James Bond, bravely defying the forces of an entire modern state. They don’t get how satisfying or empowering the vengeful misogyny of ISIS-style fundamentalism might seem for geeky, frustrated young men. Nor can they appreciate the appeal to the adolescent mind of apocalyptic fantasies of power and sacrifice (mainstream British society does not have much room for warrior dreams, given that its tone is set by liberal pacifists). Finally, they have no sense of why the discipline and self-discipline of fundamentalist Islam might appeal so strongly to incarcerated lumpen youth who have never experienced boundaries or real belonging. Their understanding is an understanding only of themselves, not of the people who want to kill them.
Review of 'White Working Class' By Joan C. Williams
Williams is a prominent feminist legal scholar with degrees from Yale, MIT, and Harvard. Unbending Gender, her best-known book, is the sort of tract you’d expect to find at an intersectionality conference or a Portlandia bookstore. This is why her insightful, empathic book comes as such a surprise.
Books and essays on the topic have accumulated into a highly visible genre since Donald Trump came on the American political scene; J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy planted itself at the top of bestseller lists almost a year ago and still isn’t budging. As with Vance, Williams’s interest in the topic is personal. She fell “madly in love with” and eventually married a Harvard Law School graduate who had grown up in an Italian neighborhood in pre-gentrification Brook-lyn. Williams, on the other hand, is a “silver-spoon girl.” Her father’s family was moneyed, and her maternal grandfather was a prominent Reform rabbi.
The author’s affection for her “class-migrant” spouse and respect for his family’s hardships—“My father-in-law grew up on blood soup,” she announces in her opening sentence—adds considerable warmth to what is at bottom a political pamphlet. Williams believes that elite condescension and “cluelessness” played a big role in Trump’s unexpected and dreaded victory. Enlightening her fellow elites is essential to the task of returning Trump voters to the progressive fold where, she is sure, they rightfully belong.
Liberals were not always so dense about the working class, Williams observes. WPA murals and movies like On the Waterfront showed genuine fellow feeling for the proletariat. In the 1970s, however, the liberal mood changed. Educated boomers shifted their attention to “issues of peace, equal rights, and environmentalism.” Instead of feeling the pain of Arthur Miller and John Steinbeck characters, they began sneering at the less enlightened. These days, she notes, elite sympathies are limited to the poor, people of color (POC), and the LGBTQ population. Despite clear evidence of suffering—stagnant wages, disappearing manufacturing jobs, declining health and well-being—the working class gets only fly-over snobbery at best and, more often, outright loathing.
Williams divides her chapters into a series of explainers to questions she has heard from her clueless friends and colleagues: “Why Does the Working Class Resent the Poor?” “Why Does the Working Class Resent Professionals but Admire the Rich?” “Why Doesn’t the Working Class Just Move to Where the Jobs Are?” “Is the Working Class Just Racist?” She weaves her answers into a compelling picture of a way of life and worldview foreign to her targeted readers. Working-class Americans have had to struggle for whatever stability and comfort they have, she explains. Clocking in for midnight shifts year after year, enduring capricious bosses, plant closures, and layoffs, they’re reliant on tag-team parenting and stressed-out relatives for child care. The campus go-to word “privileged” seems exactly wrong.
Proud of their own self-sufficiency and success, however modest, they don’t begrudge the self-made rich. It’s snooty professionals and the dysfunctional poor who get their goat. From their vantage point, subsidizing the day care for a welfare mother when they themselves struggle to manage care on their own dime mocks both their hard work and their beliefs. And since, unlike most professors, they shop in the same stores as the dependent poor, they’ve seen that some of them game the system. Of course that stings.
White Working Class is especially good at evoking the alternate economic and mental universe experienced by Professional and Managerial Elites, or “PMEs.” PMEs see their non-judgment of the poor, especially those who are “POC,” as a mark of their mature understanding that we live in an unjust, racist system whose victims require compassion regardless of whether they have committed any crime. At any rate, their passions lie elsewhere. They define themselves through their jobs and professional achievements, hence their obsession with glass ceilings.
Williams tells the story of her husband’s faux pas at a high-school reunion. Forgetting his roots for a moment, the Ivy League–educated lawyer asked one of his Brooklyn classmates a question that is the go-to opener in elite social settings: “What do you do?” Angered by what must have seemed like deliberate humiliation by this prodigal son, the man hissed: “I sell toilets.”
Instead of stability and backyard barbecues with family and long-time neighbors and maybe the occasional Olive Garden celebration, PMEs are enamored of novelty: new foods, new restaurants, new friends, new experiences. The working class chooses to spend its leisure in comfortable familiarity; for the elite, social life is a lot like networking. Members of the professional class may view themselves as sophisticated or cosmopolitan, but, Williams shows, to the blue-collar worker their glad-handing is closer to phony social climbing and their abstract, knowledge-economy jobs more like self-important pencil-pushing.
White Working Class has a number of proposals for creating the progressive future Williams would like to see. She wants to get rid of college-for-all dogma and improve training for middle-skill jobs. She envisions a working-class coalition of all races and ethnicities bolstered by civics education with a “distinctly celebratory view of American institutions.” In a saner political environment, some of this would make sense; indeed, she echoes some of Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaign themes. It’s little wonder White Working Class has already gotten the stink eye from liberal reviewers for its purported sympathies for racists.
Alas, impressive as Williams’s insights are, they do not always allow her to transcend her own class loyalties. Unsurprisingly, her own PME biases mostly come to light in her chapters on race and gender. She reduces immigration concerns to “fear of brown people,” even as she notes elsewhere that a quarter of Latinos also favor a wall at the southern border. This contrasts startlingly with her succinct observation that “if you don’t want to drive working-class whites to be attracted to the likes of Limbaugh, stop insulting them.” In one particularly obtuse moment, she asserts: “Because I study social inequality, I know that even Malia and Sasha Obama will be disadvantaged by race, advantaged as they are by class.” She relies on dubious gender theories to explain why the majority of white women voted for Trump rather than for his unfairly maligned opponent. That Hillary Clinton epitomized every elite quality Williams has just spent more than a hundred pages explicating escapes her notice. Williams’s own reflexive retreat into identity politics is itself emblematic of our toxic divisions, but it does not invalidate the power of this astute book.
When music could not transcend evil
he story of European classical music under the Third Reich is one of the most squalid chapters in the annals of Western culture, a chronicle of collective complaisance that all but beggars belief. Without exception, all of the well-known musicians who left Germany and Austria in protest when Hitler came to power in 1933 were either Jewish or, like the violinist Adolf Busch, Rudolf Serkin’s father-in-law, had close family ties to Jews. Moreover, most of the small number of non-Jewish musicians who emigrated later on, such as Paul Hindemith and Lotte Lehmann, are now known to have done so not out of principle but because they were unable to make satisfactory accommodations with the Nazis. Everyone else—including Karl Böhm, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Walter Gieseking, Herbert von Karajan, and Richard Strauss—stayed behind and served the Reich.
The Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, then as now Europe’s two greatest orchestras, were just as willing to do business with Hitler and his henchmen, firing their Jewish members and ceasing to perform the music of Jewish composers. Even after the war, the Vienna Philharmonic was notorious for being the most anti-Semitic orchestra in Europe, and it was well known in the music business (though never publicly discussed) that Helmut Wobisch, the orchestra’s principal trumpeter and its executive director from 1953 to 1968, had been both a member of the SS and a Gestapo spy.
The management of the Berlin Philharmonic made no attempt to cover up the orchestra’s close relationship with the Third Reich, no doubt because the Nazi ties of Karajan, who was its music director from 1956 until shortly before his death in 1989, were a matter of public record. Yet it was not until 2007 that a full-length study of its wartime activities, Misha Aster’s The Reich’s Orchestra: The Berlin Philharmonic 1933–1945, was finally published. As for the Vienna Philharmonic, its managers long sought to quash all discussion of the orchestra’s Nazi past, steadfastly refusing to open its institutional archives to scholars until 2008, when Fritz Trümpi, an Austrian scholar, was given access to its records. Five years later, the Viennese, belatedly following the precedent of the Berlin Philharmonic, added a lengthy section to their website called “The Vienna Philharmonic Under National Socialism (1938–1945),” in which the damning findings of Trümpi and two other independent scholars were made available to the public.
Now Trümpi has published The Political Orchestra: The Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics During the Third Reich, in which he tells how they came to terms with Nazism, supplying pre- and postwar historical context for their transgressions.1 Written in a stiff mixture of academic jargon and translatorese, The Political Orchestra is ungratifying to read. Even so, the tale that it tells is both compelling and disturbing, especially to anyone who clings to the belief that high art is ennobling to the spirit.U
nlike the Vienna Philharmonic, which has always doubled as the pit orchestra for the Vienna State Opera, the Berlin Philharmonic started life in 1882 as a fully independent, self-governing entity. Initially unsubsidized by the state, it kept itself afloat by playing a grueling schedule of performances, including “popular” non-subscription concerts for which modest ticket prices were levied. In addition, the orchestra made records and toured internationally at a time when neither was common.
These activities made it possible for the Berlin Philharmonic to develop into an internationally renowned ensemble whose fabled collective virtuosity was widely seen as a symbol of German musical distinction. Furtwängler, the orchestra’s principal conductor, declared in 1932 that the German music in which it specialized was “one of the very few things that actually contribute to elevating [German] prestige.” Hence, he explained, the need for state subsidy, which he saw as “a matter of [national] prestige, that is, to some extent a requirement of national prudence.” By then, though, the orchestra was already heavily subsidized by the city of Berlin, thus paving the way for its takeover by the Nazis.
The Vienna Philharmonic, by contrast, had always been subsidized. Founded in 1842 when the orchestra of what was then the Vienna Court Opera decided to give symphonic concerts on its own, it performed the Austro-German classics for an elite cadre of longtime subscribers. By restricting membership to local players and their pupils, the orchestra cultivated what Furtwängler, who spent as much time conducting in Vienna as in Berlin, described as a “homogeneous and distinct tone quality.” At once dark and sweet, it was as instantly identifiable—and as characteristically Viennese—as the strong, spicy bouquet of a Gewürztraminer wine.
Unlike the Berlin Philharmonic, which played for whoever would pay the tab and programmed new music as a matter of policy, the Vienna Philharmonic chose not to diversify either its haute-bourgeois audience or its conservative repertoire. Instead, it played Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert (and, later, Bruckner and Richard Strauss) in Vienna for the Viennese. Starting in the ’20s, the orchestra’s recordings consolidated its reputation as one of the world’s foremost instrumental ensembles, but its internal culture remained proudly insular.
What the two orchestras had in common was a nationalistic ethos, a belief in the superiority of Austro-German musical culture that approached triumphalism. One of the darkest manifestations of this ethos was their shared reluctance to hire Jews. The Berlin Philharmonic employed only four Jewish players in 1933, while the Vienna Philharmonic contained only 11 Jews at the time of the Anschluss, none of whom was hired after 1920. To be sure, such popular Jewish conductors as Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter continued to work in Vienna for as long as they could. Two months before the Anschluss, Walter led and recorded a performance of the Ninth Symphony of Gustav Mahler, his musical mentor and fellow Jew, who from 1897 to 1907 had been the director of the Vienna Court Opera and one of the Philharmonic’s most admired conductors. But many members of both orchestras were open supporters of fascism, and not a few were anti-Semites who ardently backed Hitler. By 1942, 62 of the 123 active members of the Vienna Philharmonic were Nazi party members.
The admiration that Austro-German classical musicians had for Hitler is not entirely surprising since he was a well-informed music lover who declared in 1938 that “Germany has become the guardian of European culture and civilization.” He made the support of German art, music very much included, a key part of his political program. Accordingly, the Berlin Philharmonic was placed under the direct supervision of Joseph Goebbels, who ensured the cooperation of its members by repeatedly raising their salaries, exempting them from military service, and guaranteeing their old-age pensions. But there had never been any serious question of protest, any more than there would be among the members of the Vienna Philharmonic when the Nazis gobbled up Austria. Save for the Jews and one or two non-Jewish players who were fired for reasons of internal politics, the musicians went along unhesitatingly with Hitler’s desires.
With what did they go along? Above all, they agreed to the scrubbing of Jewish music from their programs and the dismissal of their Jewish colleagues. Some Jewish players managed to escape with their lives, but seven of the Vienna Philharmonic’s 11 Jews were either murdered by the Nazis or died as a direct result of official persecution. In addition, both orchestras performed regularly at official government functions and made tours and other public appearances for propaganda purposes, and both were treated as gems in the diadem of Nazi culture.
As for Furtwängler, the most prominent of the Austro-German orchestral conductors who served the Reich, his relationship to Nazism continues to be debated to this day. He had initially resisted the firing of the Berlin Philharmonic’s Jewish members and protected them for as long as he could. But he was also a committed (if woolly-minded) nationalist who believed that German music had “a different meaning for us Germans than for other nations” and notoriously declared in an open letter to Goebbels that “we all welcome with great joy and gratitude . . . the restoration of our national honor.” Thereafter he cooperated with the Nazis, by all accounts uncomfortably but—it must be said—willingly. A monster of egotism, he saw himself as the greatest living exponent of German music and believed it to be his duty to stay behind and serve a cause higher than what he took to be mere party politics. “Human beings are free wherever Wagner and Beethoven are played, and if they are not free at first, they are freed while listening to these works,” he naively assured a horrified Arturo Toscanini in 1937. “Music transports them to regions where the Gestapo can do them no harm.”O
nce the war was over, the U.S. occupation forces decided to enlist the Berlin Philharmonic in the service of a democratic, anti-Soviet Germany. Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan, who succeeded him as principal conductor, were officially “de-Nazified” and their orchestra allowed to function largely undisturbed, though six Nazi Party members were fired. The Vienna Philharmonic received similarly privileged treatment.
Needless to say, there was more to this decision than Cold War politics. No one questioned the unique artistic stature of either orchestra. Moreover, the Vienna Philharmonic, precisely because of its insularity, was now seen as a living museum piece, a priceless repository of 19th-century musical tradition. Still, many musicians and listeners, Jews above all, looked askance at both orchestras for years to come, believing them to be tainted by Nazism.
Indeed they were, so much so that they treated many of their surviving Jewish ex-members in a way that can only be described as vicious. In the most blatant individual case, the violinist Szymon Goldberg, who had served as the Berlin Philharmonic’s concertmaster under Furtwängler, was not allowed to reassume his post in 1945 and was subsequently denied a pension. As for the Vienna Philharmonic, the fact that it made Helmut Wobisch its executive director says everything about its deep-seated unwillingness to face up to its collective sins.
Be that as it may, scarcely any prominent musicians chose to boycott either orchestra. Leonard Bernstein went so far as to affect a flippant attitude toward the morally equivocal conduct of the Austro-German artists whom he encountered in Europe after the war. Upon meeting Herbert von Karajan in 1954, he actually told his wife Felicia that he had become “real good friends with von Karajan, whom you would (and will) adore. My first Nazi.”
At the same time, though, Bernstein understood what he was choosing to overlook. When he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic for the first time in 1966, he wrote to his parents:
I am enjoying Vienna enormously—as much as a Jew can. There are so many sad memories here; one deals with so many ex-Nazis (and maybe still Nazis); and you never know if the public that is screaming bravo for you might contain someone who 25 years ago might have shot me dead. But it’s better to forgive, and if possible, forget. The city is so beautiful, and so full of tradition. Everyone here lives for music, especially opera, and I seem to be the new hero.
Did Bernstein sell his soul for the opportunity to work with so justly renowned an orchestra—and did he get his price by insisting that its members perform the symphonies of Mahler, with which he was by then closely identified? It is a fair question, one that does not lend itself to easy answers.
Even more revealing is the case of Bruno Walter, who never forgave Furtwängler for staying behind in Germany, informing him in an angry letter that “your art was used as a conspicuously effective means of propaganda for the regime of the Devil.” Yet Walter’s righteous anger did not stop him from conducting in Vienna after the war. Born in Berlin, he had come to identify with the Philharmonic so closely that it was impossible for him to seriously consider quitting its podium permanently. “Spiritually, I was a Viennese,” he wrote in Theme and Variations, his 1946 autobiography. In 1952, he made a second recording with the Vienna Philharmonic of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, whose premiere he had conducted in 1911 and which he had recorded in Vienna 15 years earlier. One wonders what Walter, who had converted to Christianity but had been driven out of both his native lands for the crime of being Jewish, made of the text of the last movement: “My friend, / On this earth, fortune has not been kind to me! / Where do I go?”
As for the two great orchestras of the Third Reich, both have finally acknowledged their guilt and been forgiven, at least by those who know little of their past. It would occur to no one to decline on principle to perform with either group today. Such a gesture would surely be condemned as morally ostentatious, an exercise in what we now call virtue-signaling. Yet it is impossible to forget what Samuel Lipman wrote in 1993 in Commentary apropos the wartime conduct of Furtwängler: “The ultimate triumph of totalitarianism, I suppose it can be said, is that under its sway only a martyred death can be truly moral.” For the only martyrs of the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics were their Jews. The orchestras themselves live on, tainted and beloved.
He knows what to reveal and what to conceal, understands the importance of keeping the semblance of distance between oneself and the story of the day, and comprehends the ins and outs of anonymous sourcing. Within days of his being fired by President Trump on May 9, for example, little green men and women, known only as his “associates,” began appearing in the pages of the New York Times and Washington Post to dispute key points of the president’s account of his dismissal and to promote Comey’s theory of the case.
“In a Private Dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty,” the New York Times reported on May 11. “Comey Demurred.” The story was a straightforward narrative of events from Comey’s perspective, capped with an obligatory denial from the White House. The next day, the Washington Post reported, “Comey associates dispute Trump’s account of conversations.” The Post did not identify Comey’s associates, other than saying that they were “people who have worked with him.”
Maybe they were the same associates who had gabbed to the Times. Or maybe they were different ones. Who can tell? Regardless, the story these particular associates gave to the Post was readable and gripping. Comey, the Post reported, “was wary of private meetings and discussions with the president and did not offer the assurance, as Trump has claimed, that Trump was not under investigation as part of the probe into Russian interference in last year’s election.”
On May 16, Michael S. Schmidt of the Times published his scoop, “Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation.” Schmidt didn’t see the memo for himself. Parts of it were read to him by—you guessed it—“one of Mr. Comey’s associates.” The following day, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation. On May 18, the Times, citing “two people briefed” on a call between Comey and the president, reported, “Comey, Unsettled by Trump, Is Said to Have Wanted Him Kept at a Distance.” And by the end of that week, Comey had agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
As his testimony approached, Comey’s people became more aggressive in their criticisms of the president. “Trump Should Be Scared, Comey Friend Says,” read the headline of a CNN interview with Brookings Institution fellow Benjamin Wittes. This “Comey friend” said he was “very shocked” when he learned that President Trump had asked Comey for loyalty. “I have no doubt that he regarded the group of people around the president as dishonorable,” Wittes said.
Comey, Wittes added, was so uncomfortable at the White House reception in January honoring law enforcement—the one where Comey lumbered across the room and Trump whispered something in his ear—that, as CNN paraphrased it, he “stood in a position so that his blue blazer would blend in with the room’s blue drapes in an effort for Trump to not notice him.” The integrity, the courage—can you feel it?
On June 6, the day before Comey’s prepared testimony was released, more “associates” told ABC that the director would “not corroborate Trump’s claim that on three separate occasions Comey told the president he was not under investigation.” And a “source with knowledge of Comey’s testimony” told CNN the same thing. In addition, ABC reported that, according to “a source familiar with Comey’s thinking,” the former director would say that Trump’s actions stopped short of obstruction of justice.
Maybe those sources weren’t as “familiar with Comey’s thinking” as they thought or hoped? To maximize the press coverage he already dominated, Comey had authorized the Senate Intelligence Committee to release his testimony ahead of his personal interview. That testimony told a different story than what had been reported by CNN and ABC (and by the Post on May 12). Comey had in fact told Trump the president was not under investigation—on January 6, January 27, and March 30. Moreover, the word “obstruction” did not appear at all in his written text. The senators asked Comey if he felt Trump obstructed justice. He declined to answer either way.
My guess is that Comey’s associates lacked Comey’s scalpel-like, almost Jesuitical ability to make distinctions, and therefore misunderstood what he was telling them to say to the press. Because it’s obvious Comey was the one behind the stories of Trump’s dishonesty and bad behavior. He admitted as much in front of the cameras in a remarkable exchange with Senator Susan Collins of Maine.
Comey said that, after Trump tweeted on May 12 that he’d better hope there aren’t “tapes” of their conversations, “I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn’t do it myself, for a variety of reasons. But I asked him to, because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. And so I asked a close friend of mine to do it.”
Collins asked whether that friend had been Wittes, known to cable news junkies as Comey’s bestie. Comey said no. The source for the New York Times article was “a good friend of mine who’s a professor at Columbia Law School,” Daniel Richman.
Every time I watch or read that exchange, I am amazed. Here is the former director of the FBI just flat-out admitting that, for months, he wrote down every interaction he had with the president of the United States because he wanted a written record in case the president ever fired or lied about him. And when the president did fire and lie about him, that director set in motion a series of public disclosures with the intent of not only embarrassing the president, but also forcing the appointment of a special counsel who might end up investigating the president for who knows what. And none of this would have happened if the president had not fired Comey or tweeted about him. He told the Senate that if Trump hadn’t dismissed him, he most likely would still be on the job.
Rarely, in my view, are high officials so transparent in describing how Washington works. Comey revealed to the world that he was keeping a file on his boss, that he used go-betweens to get his story into the press, that “investigative journalism” is often just powerful people handing documents to reporters to further their careers or agendas or even to get revenge. And as long as you maintain some distance from the fallout, and stick to the absolute letter of the law, you will come out on top, so long as you have a small army of nightingales singing to reporters on your behalf.
“It’s the end of the Comey era,” A.B. Stoddard said on Special Report with Bret Baier the other day. On the contrary: I have a feeling that, as the Russia investigation proceeds, we will be hearing much more from Comey. And from his “associates.” And his “friends.” And persons “familiar with his thinking.”
In April, COMMENTARY asked a wide variety of writers,
thinkers, and broadcasters to respond to this question: Is free speech under threat in the United States? We received twenty-seven responses. We publish them here in alphabetical order.
Floyd AbramsFree expression threatened? By Donald Trump? I guess you could say so.
When a president engages in daily denigration of the press, when he characterizes it as the enemy of the people, when he repeatedly says that the libel laws should be “loosened” so he can personally commence more litigation, when he says that journalists shouldn’t be allowed to use confidential sources, it is difficult even to suggest that he has not threatened free speech. And when he says to the head of the FBI (as former FBI director James Comey has said that he did) that Comey should consider “putting reporters in jail for publishing classified information,” it is difficult not to take those threats seriously.
The harder question, though, is this: How real are the threats? Or, as Michael Gerson put it in the Washington Post: Will Trump “go beyond mere Twitter abuse and move against institutions that limit his power?” Some of the president’s threats against the institution of the press, wittingly or not, have been simply preposterous. Surely someone has told him by now that neither he nor Congress can “loosen” libel laws; while each state has its own libel law, there is no federal libel law and thus nothing for him to loosen. What he obviously takes issue with is the impact that the Supreme Court’s 1964 First Amendment opinion in New York Times v. Sullivan has had on state libel laws. The case determined that public officials who sue for libel may not prevail unless they demonstrate that the statements made about them were false and were made with actual knowledge or suspicion of that falsity. So his objection to the rules governing libel law is to nothing less than the application of the First Amendment itself.
In other areas, however, the Trump administration has far more power to imperil free speech. We live under an Espionage Act, adopted a century ago, which is both broad in its language and uncommonly vague in its meaning. As such, it remains a half-open door through which an administration that is hostile to free speech might walk. Such an administration could initiate criminal proceedings against journalists who write about defense- or intelligence-related topics on the basis that classified information was leaked to them by present or former government employees. No such action has ever been commenced against a journalist. Press lawyers and civil-liberties advocates have strong arguments that the law may not be read so broadly and still be consistent with the First Amendment. But the scope of the Espionage Act and the impact of the First Amendment upon its interpretation remain unknown.
A related area in which the attitude of an administration toward the press may affect the latter’s ability to function as a check on government relates to the ability of journalists to protect the identity of their confidential sources. The Obama administration prosecuted more Espionage Act cases against sources of information to journalists than all prior administrations combined. After a good deal of deserved press criticism, it agreed to expand the internal guidelines of the Department of Justice designed to limit the circumstances under which such source revelation is demanded. But the guidelines are none too protective and are, after all, simply guidelines. A new administration is free to change or limit them or, in fact, abandon them altogether. In this area, as in so many others, it is too early to judge the ultimate treatment of free expression by the Trump administration. But the threats are real, and there is good reason to be wary.
Floyd Abrams is the author of The Soul of the First Amendment (Yale University Press, 2017).
Ayaan Hirsi AliFreedom of speech is being threatened in the United States by a nascent culture of hostility to different points of view. As political divisions in America have deepened, a conformist mentality of “right thinking” has spread across the country. Increasingly, American universities, where no intellectual doctrine ought to escape critical scrutiny, are some of the most restrictive domains when it comes to asking open-ended questions on subjects such as Islam.
Legally, speech in the United States is protected to a degree unmatched in almost any industrialized country. The U.S. has avoided unpredictable Canadian-style restrictions on speech, for example. I remain optimistic that as long as we have the First Amendment in the U.S., any attempt at formal legal censorship will be vigorously challenged.
Culturally, however, matters are very different in America. The regressive left is the forerunner threatening free speech on any issue that is important to progressives. The current pressure coming from those who call themselves “social-justice warriors” is unlikely to lead to successful legislation to curb the First Amendment. Instead, censorship is spreading in the cultural realm, particularly at institutions of higher learning.
The way activists of the regressive left achieve silence or censorship is by creating a taboo, and one of the most pernicious taboos in operation today is the word “Islamophobia.” Islamists are similarly motivated to rule any critical scrutiny of Islamic doctrine out of order. There is now a university center (funded by Saudi money) in the U.S. dedicated to monitoring and denouncing incidences of “Islamophobia.”
The term “Islamophobia” is used against critics of political Islam, but also against progressive reformers within Islam. The term implies an irrational fear that is tainted by hatred, and it has had a chilling effect on free speech. In fact, “Islamophobia” is a poorly defined term. Islam is not a race, and it is very often perfectly rational to fear some expressions of Islam. No set of ideas should be beyond critical scrutiny.
To push back in this cultural realm—in our universities, in public discourse—those favoring free speech should focus more on the message of dawa, the set of ideas that the Islamists want to promote. If the aims of dawa are sufficiently exposed, ordinary Americans and Muslim Americans will reject it. The Islamist message is a message of divisiveness, misogyny, and hatred. It’s anachronistic and wants people to live by tribal norms dating from the seventh century. The best antidote to Islamic extremism is the revelation of what its primary objective is: a society governed by Sharia. This is the opposite of censorship: It is documenting reality. What is life like in Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Northern Nigerian States? What is the true nature of Sharia law?
Islamists want to hide the true meaning of Sharia, Jihad, and the implications for women, gays, religious minorities, and infidels under the veil of “Islamophobia.” Islamists use “Islamophobia” to obfuscate their vision and imply that any scrutiny of political Islam is hatred and bigotry. The antidote to this is more exposure and more speech.
As pressure on freedom of speech increases from the regressive left, we must reject the notions that only Muslims can speak about Islam, and that any critical examination of Islamic doctrines is inherently “racist.”
Instead of contorting Western intellectual traditions so as not to offend our Muslim fellow citizens, we need to defend the Muslim dissidents who are risking their lives to promote the human rights we take for granted: equality for women, tolerance of all religions and orientations, our hard-won freedoms of speech and thought.
It is by nurturing and protecting such speech that progressive reforms can emerge within Islam. By accepting the increasingly narrow confines of acceptable discourse on issues such as Islam, we do dissidents and progressive reformers within Islam a grave disservice. For truly progressive reforms within Islam to be possible, full freedom of speech will be required.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the founder of the AHA Foundation.
Lee C. BollingerI know it is too much to expect that political discourse mimic the measured, self-questioning, rational, footnoting standards of the academy, but there is a difference between robust political debate and political debate infected with fear or panic. The latter introduces a state of mind that is visceral and irrational. In the realm of fear, we move beyond the reach of reason and a sense of proportionality. When we fear, we lose the capacity to listen and can become insensitive and mean.
Our Constitution is well aware of this fact about the human mind and of its negative political consequences. In the First Amendment jurisprudence established over the past century, we find many expressions of the problematic state of mind that is produced by fear. Among the most famous and potent is that of Justice Brandeis in Whitney v. California in 1927, one of the many cases involving aggravated fears of subversive threats from abroad. “It is the function of (free) speech,” he said, “to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.” “Men feared witches,” Brandeis continued, “and burned women.”
Today, our “witches” are terrorists, and Brandeis’s metaphorical “women” include the refugees (mostly children) and displaced persons, immigrants, and foreigners whose lives have been thrown into suspension and doubt by policies of exclusion.
The same fears of the foreign that take hold of a population inevitably infect our internal interactions and institutions, yielding suppression of unpopular and dissenting voices, victimization of vulnerable groups, attacks on the media, and the rise of demagoguery, with its disdain for facts, reason, expertise, and tolerance.
All of this poses a very special obligation on those of us within universities. Not only must we make the case in every venue for the values that form the core of who we are and what we do, but we must also live up to our own principles of free inquiry and fearless engagement with all ideas. This is why recent incidents on a handful of college campuses disrupting and effectively censoring speakers is so alarming. Such acts not only betray a basic principle but also inflame a rising prejudice against the academic community, and they feed efforts to delegitimize our work, at the very moment when it’s most needed.
I do not for a second support the view that this generation has an unhealthy aversion to engaging differences of opinion. That is a modern trope of polarization, as is the portrayal of universities as hypocritical about academic freedom and political correctness. But now, in this environment especially, universities must be at the forefront of defending the rights of all students and faculty to listen to controversial voices, to engage disagreeable viewpoints, and to make every effort to demonstrate our commitment to the sort of fearless and spirited debate that we are simultaneously asking of the larger society. Anyone with a voice can shout over a speaker; but being able to listen to and then effectively rebut those with whom we disagree—particularly those who themselves peddle intolerance—is one of the greatest skills our education can bestow. And it is something our democracy desperately needs more of. That is why, I say to you now, if speakers who are being denied access to other campuses come here, I will personally volunteer to introduce them, and listen to them, however much I may disagree with them. But I will also never hesitate to make clear why I disagree with them.
Lee C. Bollinger is the 19th president of Columbia University and the author of Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century. This piece has been excerpted from President Bollinger’s May 17 commencement address.
Richard A. Epstein
Today, the greatest threat to the constitutional protection of freedom of speech comes from campus rabble-rousers who invoke this very protection. In their book, the speech of people like Charles Murray and Heather Mac Donald constitutes a form of violence, bordering on genocide, that receives no First Amendment protection. Enlightened protestors are both bound and entitled to shout them down, by force or other disruptive actions, if their universities are so foolish as to extend them an invitation to speak. Any indignant minority may take the law into its own hands to eradicate the intellectual cancer before it spreads on their own campus.
By such tortured logic, a new generation of vigilantes distorts the First Amendment doctrine: Speech becomes violence, and violence becomes heroic acts of self-defense. The standard First Amendment interpretation emphatically rejects that view. Of course, the First Amendment doesn’t let you say what you want when and wherever you want to. Your freedom of speech is subject to the same limitations as your freedom of action. So you have no constitutional license to assault other people, to lie to them, or to form cartels to bilk them in the marketplace. But folks such as Murray, Mac Donald, and even Yiannopoulos do not come close to crossing into that forbidden territory. They are not using, for example, “fighting words,” rightly limited to words or actions calculated to provoke immediate aggression against a known target. Fighting words are worlds apart from speech that provokes a negative reaction in those who find your speech offensive solely because of the content of its message.
This distinction is central to the First Amendment. Fighting words have to be blocked by well-tailored criminal and civil sanctions lest some people gain license to intimidate others from speaking or peaceably assembling. The remedy for mere offense is to speak one’s mind in response. But it never gives anyone the right to block the speech of others, lest everyone be able to unilaterally increase his sphere of action by getting really angry about the beliefs of others. No one has the right to silence others by working himself into a fit of rage.
Obviously, it is intolerable to let mutual animosity generate factional warfare, whereby everyone can use force to silence rivals. To avoid this war of all against all, each side claims that only its actions are privileged. These selective claims quickly degenerate into a form of viewpoint discrimination, which undermines one of the central protections that traditional First Amendment law erects: a wall against each and every group out to destroy the level playing field on which robust political debate rests. Every group should be at risk for having its message fall flat. The new campus radicals want to upend that understanding by shutting down their adversaries if their universities do not. Their aggression must be met, if necessary, by counterforce. Silence in the face of aggression is not an acceptable alternative.
Richard A. Epstein is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law.
David FrenchWe’re living in the midst of a troubling paradox. At the exact same time that First Amendment jurisprudence has arguably never been stronger and more protective of free expression, millions of Americans feel they simply can’t speak freely. Indeed, talk to Americans living and working in the deep-blue confines of the academy, Hollywood, and the tech sector, and you’ll get a sense of palpable fear. They’ll explain that they can’t say what they think and keep their jobs, their friends, and sometimes even their families.
The government isn’t cracking down or censoring; instead, Americans are using free speech to destroy free speech. For example, a social-media shaming campaign is an act of free speech. So is an economic boycott. So is turning one’s back on a public speaker. So is a private corporation firing a dissenting employee for purely political reasons. Each of these actions is largely protected from government interference, and each one represents an expression of the speaker’s ideas and values.
The problem, however, is obvious. The goal of each of these kinds of actions isn’t to persuade; it’s to intimidate. The goal isn’t to foster dialogue but to coerce conformity. The result is a marketplace of ideas that has been emptied of all but the approved ideological vendors—at least in those communities that are dominated by online thugs and corporate bullies. Indeed, this mindset has become so prevalent that in places such as Portland, Berkeley, Middlebury, and elsewhere, the bullies and thugs have crossed the line from protected—albeit abusive—speech into outright shout-downs and mob violence.
But there’s something else going on, something that’s insidious in its own way. While politically correct shaming still has great power in deep-blue America, its effect in the rest of the country is to trigger a furious backlash, one characterized less by a desire for dialogue and discourse than by its own rage and scorn. So we’re moving toward two Americas—one that ruthlessly (and occasionally illegally) suppresses dissenting speech and the other that is dangerously close to believing that the opposite of political correctness isn’t a fearless expression of truth but rather the fearless expression of ideas best calculated to enrage your opponents.
The result is a partisan feedback loop where right-wing rage spurs left-wing censorship, which spurs even more right-wing rage. For one side, a true free-speech culture is a threat to feelings, sensitivities, and social justice. The other side waves high the banner of “free speech” to sometimes elevate the worst voices to the highest platforms—not so much to protect the First Amendment as to infuriate the hated “snowflakes” and trigger the most hysterical overreactions.
The culturally sustainable argument for free speech is something else entirely. It reminds the cultural left of its own debt to free speech while reminding the political right that a movement allegedly centered around constitutional values can’t abandon the concept of ordered liberty. The culture of free speech thrives when all sides remember their moral responsibilities—to both protect the right of dissent and to engage in ideological combat with a measure of grace and humility.
David French is a senior writer at National Review.
Pamela GellerThe real question isn’t whether free speech is under threat in the United States, but rather, whether it’s irretrievably lost. Can we get it back? Not without war, I suspect, as is evidenced by the violence at colleges whenever there’s the shamefully rare event of a conservative speaker on campus.
Free speech is the soul of our nation and the foundation of all our other freedoms. If we can’t speak out against injustice and evil, those forces will prevail. Freedom of speech is the foundation of a free society. Without it, a tyrant can wreak havoc unopposed, while his opponents are silenced.
With that principle in mind, I organized a free-speech event in Garland, Texas. The world had recently been rocked by the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. My version of “Je Suis Charlie” was an event here in America to show that we can still speak freely and draw whatever we like in the Land of the Free. Yet even after jihadists attacked our event, I was blamed—by Donald Trump among others—for provoking Muslims. And if I tried to hold a similar event now, no arena in the country would allow me to do so—not just because of the security risk, but because of the moral cowardice of all intellectual appeasers.
Under what law is it wrong to depict Muhammad? Under Islamic law. But I am not a Muslim, I don’t live under Sharia. America isn’t under Islamic law, yet for standing for free speech, I’ve been:
- Prevented from running our advertisements in every major city in this country. We have won free-speech lawsuits all over the country, which officials circumvent by prohibiting all political ads (while making exceptions for ads from Muslim advocacy groups);
- Shunned by the right, shut out of the Conservative Political Action Conference;
- Shunned by Jewish groups at the behest of terror-linked groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations;
- Blacklisted from speaking at universities;
- Prevented from publishing books, for security reasons and because publishers fear shaming from the left;
- Banned from Britain.
A Seattle court accused me of trying to shut down free speech after we merely tried to run an FBI poster on global terrorism, because authorities had banned all political ads in other cities to avoid running ours. Seattle blamed us for that, which was like blaming a woman for being raped because she was wearing a short skirt.
This kind of vilification and shunning is key to the left’s plan to shut down all dissent from its agenda—they make legislation restricting speech unnecessary.
The same refusal to allow our point of view to be heard has manifested itself elsewhere. The foundation of my work is individual rights and equality for all before the law. These are the foundational principles of our constitutional republic. That is now considered controversial. Truth is the new hate speech. Truth is going to be criminalized.
The First Amendment doesn’t only protect ideas that are sanctioned by the cultural and political elites. If “hate speech” laws are enacted, who would decide what’s permissible and what’s forbidden? The government? The gunmen in Garland?
There has been an inversion of the founding premise of this nation. No longer is it the subordination of might to right, but right to might. History is repeatedly deformed with the bloody consequences of this transition.
Pamela Geller is the editor in chief of the Geller Report and president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative.
Jonah GoldbergOf course free speech is under threat in America. Frankly, it’s always under threat in America because it’s always under threat everywhere. Ronald Reagan was right when he said in 1961, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
This is more than political boilerplate. Reagan identified the source of the threat: human nature. God may have endowed us with a right to liberty, but he didn’t give us all a taste for it. As with most finer things, we must work to acquire a taste for it. That is what civilization—or at least our civilization—is supposed to do: cultivate attachments to certain ideals. “Cultivate” shares the same Latin root as “culture,” cultus, and properly understood they mean the same thing: to grow, nurture, and sustain through labor.
In the past, threats to free speech have taken many forms—nationalist passion, Comstockery (both good and bad), political suppression, etc.—but the threat to free speech today is different. It is less top-down and more bottom-up. We are cultivating a generation of young people to reject free speech as an important value.
One could mark the beginning of the self-esteem movement with Nathaniel Branden’s 1969 paper, “The Psychology of Self-Esteem,” which claimed that “feelings of self-esteem were the key to success in life.” This understandable idea ran amok in our schools and in our culture. When I was a kid, Saturday-morning cartoons were punctuated with public-service announcements telling kids: “The most important person in the whole wide world is you, and you hardly even know you!”
The self-esteem craze was just part of the cocktail of educational fads. Other ingredients included multiculturalism, the anti-bullying crusade, and, of course, that broad phenomenon known as “political correctness.” Combined, they’ve produced a generation that rejects the old adage “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me” in favor of the notion that “words hurt.” What we call political correctness has been on college campuses for decades. But it lacked a critical mass of young people who were sufficiently receptive to it to make it a fully successful ideology. The campus commissars welcomed the new “snowflakes” with open arms; truly, these are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
“Words hurt” is a fashionable concept in psychology today. (See Psychology Today: “Why Words Can Hurt at Least as Much as Sticks and Stones.”) But it’s actually a much older idea than the “sticks and stones” aphorism. For most of human history, it was a crime to say insulting or “injurious” things about aristocrats, rulers, the Church, etc. That tendency didn’t evaporate with the Divine Right of Kings. Jonathan Haidt has written at book length about our natural capacity to create zones of sanctity, immune from reason.
And that is the threat free speech faces today. Those who inveigh against “hate speech” are in reality fighting “heresy speech”—ideas that do “violence” to sacred notions of self-esteem, racial or gender equality, climate change, and so on. Put whatever label you want on it, contemporary “social justice” progressivism acts as a religion, and it has no patience for blasphemy.
When Napoleon’s forces converted churches into stables, the clergy did not object on the grounds that regulations regarding the proper care and feeding of animals had been violated. They complained of sacrilege and blasphemy. When Charles Murray or Christina Hoff Summers visits college campuses, the protestors are behaving like the zealous acolytes of St. Jerome. Appeals to the First Amendment have as much power over the “antifa” fanatics as appeals to Odin did to champions of the New Faith.
That is the real threat to free speech today.
Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor at National Review and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
KC JohnsonIn early May, the Washington Post urged universities to make clear that “racist signs, symbols, and speech are off-limits.” Given the extraordinarily broad definition of what constitutes “racist” speech at most institutions of higher education, this demand would single out most right-of-center (and, in some cases, even centrist and liberal) discourse on issues of race or ethnicity. The editorial provided the highest-profile example of how hostility to free speech, once confined to the ideological fringe on campus, has migrated to the liberal mainstream.
The last few years have seen periodic college protests—featuring claims that significant amounts of political speech constitute “violence,” thereby justifying censorship—followed by even more troubling attempts to appease the protesters. After the mob scene that greeted Charles Murray upon his visit to Middlebury College, for instance, the student government criticized any punishment for the protesters, and several student leaders wanted to require that future speakers conform to the college’s “community standard” on issues of race, gender, and ethnicity. In the last few months, similar attempts to stifle the free exchange of ideas in the name of promoting diversity occurred at Wesleyan, Claremont McKenna, and Duke. Offering an extreme interpretation of this point of view, one CUNY professor recently dismissed dialogue as “inherently conservative,” since it reinforced the “relations of power that presently exist.”
It’s easy, of course, to dismiss campus hostility to free speech as affecting only a small segment of American public life—albeit one that trains the next generation of judges, legislators, and voters. But, as Jonathan Chait observed in 2015, denying “the legitimacy of political pluralism on issues of race and gender” has broad appeal on the left. It is only most apparent on campus because “the academy is one of the few bastions of American life where the political left can muster the strength to impose its political hegemony upon others.” During his time in office, Barack Obama generally urged fellow liberals to support open intellectual debate. But the current campus environment previews the position of free speech in a post-Obama Democratic Party, increasingly oriented around identity politics.
Waning support on one end of the ideological spectrum for this bedrock American principle should provide a political opening for the other side. The Trump administration, however, seems poorly suited to make the case. Throughout his public career, Trump has rarely supported free speech, even in the abstract, and has periodically embraced legal changes to facilitate libel lawsuits. Moreover, the right-wing populism that motivates Trump’s base has a long tradition of ideological hostility to civil liberties of all types. Even in campus contexts, conservatives have defended free speech inconsistently, as seen in recent calls that CUNY disinvite anti-Zionist fanatic Linda Sarsour as a commencement speaker.
In a sharply polarized political environment, awash in dubiously-sourced information, free speech is all the more important. Yet this same environment has seen both sides, most blatantly elements of the left on campuses, demand restrictions on their ideological foes’ free speech in the name of promoting a greater good.
KC Johnson is a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
Laura KipnisI find myself with a strange-bedfellows problem lately. Here I am, a left-wing feminist professor invited onto the pages of Commentary—though I’d be thrilled if it were still 1959—while fielding speaking requests from right-wing think tanks and libertarians who oppose child-labor laws.
Somehow I’ve ended up in the middle of the free-speech-on-campus debate. My initial crime was publishing a somewhat contentious essay about campus sexual paranoia that put me on the receiving end of Title IX complaints. Apparently I’d created a “hostile environment” at my university. I was investigated (for 72 days). Then I wrote up what I’d learned about these campus inquisitions in a second essay. Then I wrote about it all some more, in a book exposing the kangaroo-court elements of the Title IX process—and the extra-legal gag orders imposed on everyone caught in its widening snare.
I can’t really comment on whether more charges have been filed against me over the book. I’ll just say that writing about being a Title IX respondent could easily become a life’s work. I learned, shortly after writing this piece, that I and my publisher were being sued for defamation, among other things.
Is free speech under threat on American campuses? Yes. We know all about student activists who wish to shut down talks by people with opposing views. I got smeared with a bit of that myself, after a speaking invitation at Wellesley—some students made a video protesting my visit before I arrived. The talk went fine, though a group of concerned faculty circulated an open letter afterward also protesting the invitation: My views on sexual politics were too heretical, and might have offended students.
I didn’t take any of this too seriously, even as right-wing pundits crowed, with Wellesley as their latest outrage bait. It was another opportunity to mock student activists, and the fact that I was myself a feminist rather than a Charles Murray or a Milo Yiannopoulos, made them positively gleeful.
I do find myself wondering where all my new free-speech pals were when another left-wing professor, Steven Salaita, was fired (or if you prefer euphemism, “his job offer was withdrawn”) from the University of Illinois after he tweeted criticism of Israel’s Gaza policy. Sure the tweets were hyperbolic, but hyperbole and strong opinions are protected speech, too.
I guess free speech is easy to celebrate until it actually challenges something. Funny, I haven’t seen Milo around lately—so beloved by my new friends when he was bashing minorities and transgender kids. Then he mistakenly said something authentic (who knew he was capable of it!), reminiscing about an experience a lot of gay men have shared: teenage sex with older men. He tried walking it back—no, no, he’d been a victim, not a participant—but his fan base was shrieking about pedophilia and fleeing in droves. Gee, they were all so against “political correctness” a few minutes before.
It’s easy to be a free-speech fan when your feathers aren’t being ruffled. No doubt what makes me palatable to the anti-PC crowd is having thus far failed to ruffle them enough. I’m just going to have to work harder.
Laura Kipnis’s latest book is Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus.
Eugene KontorovichThe free and open exchange of views—especially politically conservative or traditionally religious ones—is being challenged. This is taking place not just at college campuses but throughout our public spaces and cultural institutions. James Watson was fired from the lab he led since 1968 and could not speak at New York University because of petty, censorious students who would not know DNA from LSD. Our nation’s founders and heroes are being “disappeared” from public commemoration, like Trotsky from a photograph of Soviet rulers.
These attacks on “free speech” are not the result of government action. They are not what the First Amendment protects against. The current methods—professional and social shaming, exclusion, and employment termination—are more inchoate, and their effects are multiplied by self-censorship. A young conservative legal scholar might find himself thinking: “If the late Justice Antonin Scalia can posthumously be deemed a ‘bigot’ by many academics, what chance have I?”
Ironically, artists and intellectuals have long prided themselves on being the first defenders of free speech. Today, it is the institutions of both popular and high culture that are the censors. Is there one poet in the country who would speak out for Ann Coulter?
The inhibition of speech at universities is part of a broader social phenomenon of making longstanding, traditional views and practices sinful overnight. Conservatives have not put up much resistance to this. To paraphrase Martin Niemöller’s famous dictum: “First they came for Robert E. Lee, and I said nothing, because Robert E. Lee meant nothing to me.”
The situation with respect to Israel and expressions of support for it deserves separate discussion. Even as university administrators give political power to favored ideologies by letting them create “safe spaces” (safe from opposing views), Jews find themselves and their state at the receiving end of claims of apartheid—modern day blood libels. It is not surprising if Jewish students react by demanding that they get a safe space of their own. It is even less surprising if their parents, paying $65,000 a year, want their children to have a nicer time of it. One hears Jewish groups frequently express concern about Jewish students feeling increasingly isolated and uncomfortable on campus.
But demanding selective protection from the new ideological commissars is unlikely to bring the desired results. First, this new ideology, even if it can be harnessed momentarily to give respite to harassed Jews on campus, is ultimately illiberal and will be controlled by “progressive” forces. Second, it is not so terrible for Jews in the Diaspora to feel a bit uncomfortable. It has been the common condition of Jews throughout the millennia. The social awkwardness that Jews at liberal arts schools might feel in being associated with Israel is of course one of the primary justifications for the Jewish State. Facing the snowflakes incapable of hearing a dissonant view—but who nonetheless, in the grip of intersectional ecstasy, revile Jewish self-determination—Jewish students should toughen up.
Eugene Kontorovich teaches constitutional law at Northwestern University and heads the international law department of the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem.
Nicholas LemannThere’s an old Tom Wolfe essay in which he describes being on a panel discussion at Princeton in 1965 and provoking the other panelists by announcing that America, rather than being in crisis, is in the middle of a “happiness explosion.” He was arguing that the mass effects of 20 years of post–World War II prosperity made for a larger phenomenon than the Vietnam War, the racial crisis, and the other primary concerns of intellectuals at the time.
In the same spirit, I’d say that we are in the middle of a free-speech explosion, because of 20-plus years of the Internet and 10-plus years of social media. If one understands speech as disseminated individual opinion, then surely we live in the free-speech-est society in the history of the world. Anybody with access to the unimpeded World Wide Web can say anything to a global audience, and anybody can hear anything, too. All threats to free speech should be understood in the context of this overwhelmingly reality.
It is a comforting fantasy that a genuine free-speech regime will empower mainly “good,” but previously repressed, speech. Conversely, repressive regimes that are candid enough to explain their anti-free-speech policies usually say that they’re not against free speech, just “bad” speech. We have to accept that more free speech probably means, in the aggregate, more bad speech, and also a weakening of the power, authority, and economic support for information professionals such as journalists. Welcome to the United States in 2017.
I am lucky enough to live and work on the campus of a university, Columbia, that has been blessedly free of successful attempts to repress free speech. Just in the last few weeks, Charles Murray and Dinesh D’Souza have spoken here without incident. But, yes, the evidently growing popularity of the idea that “hate speech” shouldn’t be permitted on campuses is a problem, especially, it seems, at small private liberal-arts colleges. We should all do our part, and I do, by frequently and publicly endorsing free-speech principles. Opposing the BDS movement falls squarely into that category.
It’s not just on campuses that free-speech vigilance is needed, though. The number-one threat to free speech, to my mind, is that the wide-open Web has been replaced by privately owned platforms such as Facebook and Google as the way most people experience the public life of the Internet. These companies are committed to banning “hate speech,” and they are eager to operate freely in countries, like China, that don’t permit free political speech. That makes for a far more consequential constrained environment than any campus’s speech code.
Also, Donald Trump regularly engages in presidentially unprecedented rhetoric demonizing people who disagree with him. He seems to think this is all in good fun, but, as we have already seen at his rallies, not everybody hears it that way. The place where Trumpism will endanger free speech isn’t in the center—the White House press room—but at the periphery, for example in the way that local police handle bumptious protestors and the journalists covering them. This is already happening around the country. If Trump were as disciplined and knowledgeable as Vladimir Putin or Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which so far he seems not to be, then free speech could be in even more serious danger from government, which in most places is its usual main enemy.
Nicholas Lemann is a professor at Columbia Journalism School and a staff writer for the New Yorker.
Michael J. LewisFree speech is a right but it is also a habit, and where the habit shrivels so will the right. If free speech today is in headlong retreat—everywhere threatened by regulation, organized harassment, and even violence—it is in part because our political culture allowed the practice of persuasive oratory to atrophy. The process began in 1973, an unforeseen side effect of Roe v. Wade. Legislators were delighted to learn that by relegating this divisive matter of public policy to the Supreme Court and adopting a merely symbolic position, they could sit all the more safely in their safe seats.
Since then, one crucial question of public policy after another has been punted out of the realm of politics and into the judicial. Issues that might have been debated with all the rhetorical agility of a Lincoln and a Douglas, and then subjected to a process of negotiation, compromise, and voting, have instead been settled by decree: e.g., Chevron, Kelo, Obergefell. The consequences for speech have been pernicious. Since the time of Pericles, deliberative democracy has been predicated on the art of persuasion, which demands the forceful clarity of thought and expression without which no one has ever been persuaded. But a legislature that relegates its authority to judges and regulators will awaken to discover its oratorical culture has been stunted. When politicians, rather than seeking to convince and win over, prefer to project a studied and pleasant vagueness, debate withers into tedious defensive performance. It has been decades since any presidential debate has seen any sustained give and take over a matter of policy. If there is any suspense at all, it is only the possibility that a fatigued or peeved candidate might blurt out that tactless shard of truth known as a gaffe.
A generation accustomed to hearing platitudes smoothly dispensed from behind a teleprompter will find the speech of a fearless extemporaneous speaker to be startling, even disquieting; unfamiliar ideas always are. Unhappily, they have been taught to interpret that disquiet as an injury done to them, rather than as a premise offered to them to consider. All this would not have happened—certainly not to this extent—had not our deliberative democracy decided a generation ago that it preferred the security of incumbency to the risks of unshackled debate. The compulsory contraction of free speech on college campuses is but the logical extension of the voluntary contraction of free speech in our political culture.
Michael J. Lewis’s new book is City of Refuge: Separatists and Utopian Town Planning (Princeton University Press).
Heather Mac DonaldThe answer to the symposium question depends on how powerful the transmission belt is between academia and the rest of the country. On college campuses, violence and brute force are silencing speakers who challenge left-wing campus orthodoxies. These totalitarian outbreaks have been met with listless denunciations by college presidents, followed by . . . virtually nothing. As of mid-May, the only discipline imposed for 2017’s mass attacks on free speech at UC Berkeley, Middlebury, and Clare-mont McKenna College was a letter of reprimand inserted—sometimes only temporarily—into the files of several dozen Middlebury students, accompanied by a brief period of probation. Previous outbreaks of narcis-sistic incivility, such as the screaming-girl fit at Yale and the assaults on attendees of Yale’s Buckley program, were discreetly ignored by college administrators.
Meanwhile, the professoriate unapologetically defends censorship and violence. After the February 1 riot in Berkeley to prevent Milo Yiannapoulos from speaking, Déborah Blocker, associate professor of French at UC Berkeley, praised the rioters. They were “very well-organized and very efficient,” Blocker reported admiringly to her fellow professors. “They attacked property but they attacked it very sparingly, destroying just enough University property to obtain the cancellation order for the MY event and making sure no one in the crowd got hurt” (emphasis in original). (In fact, perceived Milo and Donald Trump supporters were sucker-punched and maced; businesses downtown were torched and vandalized.) New York University’s vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity, Ulrich Baer, displayed Orwellian logic by claiming in a New York Times op-ed that shutting down speech “should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people.”
Will non-academic institutions take up this zeal for outright censorship? Other ideological products of the left-wing academy have been fully absorbed and operationalized. Racial victimology, which drives much of the campus censorship, is now standard in government and business. Corporate diversity trainers counsel that bias is responsible for any lack of proportional racial representation in the corporate ranks. Racial disparities in school discipline and incarceration are universally attributed to racism rather than to behavior. Public figures have lost jobs for violating politically correct taboos.
Yet Americans possess an instinctive commitment to the First Amendment. Federal judges, hardly an extension of the Federalist Society, have overwhelmingly struck down campus speech codes. It is hard to imagine that they would be any more tolerant of the hate-speech legislation so prevalent in Europe. So the question becomes: At what point does the pressure to conform to the elite worldview curtail freedom of thought and expression, even without explicit bans on speech?
Social stigma against conservative viewpoints is not the same as actual censorship. But the line can blur. The Obama administration used regulatory power to impose a behavioral conformity on public and private entities. School administrators may have technically still possessed the right to dissent from novel theories of gender, but they had to behave as if they were fully on board with the transgender revolution when it came to allowing boys to use girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms.
Had Hillary Clinton had been elected president, the federal bureaucracy would have mimicked campus diversocrats with even greater zeal. That threat, at least, has been avoided. Heresies against left-wing dogma may still enter the public arena, if only by the back door. The mainstream media have lurched even further left in the Trump era, but the conservative media, however mocked and marginalized, are expanding (though Twitter and Facebook’s censorship of conservative speakers could be a harbinger of more official silencing).
Outside the academy, free speech is still legally protected, but its exercise requires ever greater determination.
Heather Mac Donald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of The War on Cops.
John McWhorterThere is a certain mendacity, as Brick put it in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, in our discussion of free speech on college campuses. Namely, none of us genuinely wish that absolutely all issues be aired in the name of education and open-mindedness. To insist so is to pretend that civilized humanity makes nothing we could call advancement in philosophical consensus.
I doubt we need “free speech” on issues such as whether slavery and genocide are okay, whether it has been a mistake to view women as men’s equals, or to banish as antique the idea that whites are a master race while other peoples represent a lower rung on the Darwinian scale. With all due reverence of John Stuart Mill’s advocacy for the regular airing of even noxious views in order to reinforce clarity on why they were rejected, we are also human beings with limited time. A commitment to the Enlightenment justifiably will decree that certain views are, indeed, no longer in need of discussion.
However, our modern social-justice warriors are claiming that this no-fly zone of discussion is vaster than any conception of logic or morality justifies. We are being told that questions regarding the modern proposals about cultural appropriation, about whether even passing infelicitous statements constitute racism in the way that formalized segregation and racist disparagement did, or about whether social disparities can be due to cultural legacies rather than structural impediments, are as indisputably egregious, backwards, and abusive as the benighted views of the increasingly distant past.
That is, the new idea is not only that discrimination and inequality still exist, but that to even question the left’s utopian expectation on such matters justifies the same furious, sloganistic and even physically violent resistance that was once levelled against those designated heretics by a Christian hegemony.
Of course the protesters in question do not recognize themselves in a portrait as opponents of something called heresy. They suppose that Galileo’s opponents were clearly wrong but that they, today, are actually correct in a way that no intellectual or moral argument could coherently deny.
As such, we have students allowed to decree college campuses as “racist” when they are the least racist spaces on the planet—because they are, predictably given the imperfection of humans, not perfectly free of passingly unsavory interactions. Thinkers invited to talk for a portion of an hour from the right rather than the left and then have dinner with a few people and fly home are treated as if they were reanimated Hitlers. The student of color who hears a few white students venturing polite questions about the leftist orthodoxy is supported in fashioning these questions as “racist” rhetoric.
The people on college campuses who openly and aggressively spout this new version of Christian (or even Islamist) crusading—ironically justifying it as a barricade against “fascist” muzzling of freedom when the term applies ominously well to the regime they are fostering—are a minority. However, the sawmill spinning blade of their rhetoric has succeeding in rendering opposition as risky as espousing pedophilia, such that only those natively open to violent criticism dare speak out. The latter group is small. The campus consensus thereby becomes, if only at moralistic gunpoint à la the ISIS victim video, a strangled hard-leftism.
Hence freedom of speech is indeed threatened on today’s college campuses. I have lost count of how many of my students, despite being liberal Democrats (many of whom sobbed at Hillary Clinton’s loss last November), have told me that they are afraid to express their opinions about issues that matter, despite the fact that their opinions are ones that any liberal or even leftist person circa 1960 would have considered perfectly acceptable.
Something has shifted of late, and not in a direction we can legitimately consider forwards.
John McWhorter teaches linguistics, philosophy, and music history at Columbia University and is the author of The Language Hoax, Words on the Move, and Talking Back, Talking Black.
Kate Bachelder OdellIt’s 2021, and Harvard Square has devolved into riots: Some 120 people are injured in protests, and the carnage includes fire-consumed cop cars and smashed-in windows. The police discharge canisters of tear gas, and, after apprehending dozens of protesters, enforce a 1:45 A.M. curfew. Anyone roaming the streets after hours is subject to arrest. About 2,000 National Guardsmen are prepared to intervene. Such violence and disorder is also roiling Berkeley and other elite and educated areas.
Oh, that’s 1970. The details are from the Harvard Crimson’s account of “anti-war” riots that spring. The episode is instructive in considering whether free speech is under threat in the United States. Almost daily, there’s a new YouTube installment of students melting down over viewpoints of speakers invited to one campus or another. Even amid speech threats from government—for example, the IRS’s targeting of political opponents—nothing has captured the public’s attention like the end of free expression at America’s institutions of higher learning.
Yet disruption, confusion, and even violence are not new campus phenomena. And it’s hard to imagine that young adults who deployed brute force in the 1960s and ’70s were deeply committed to the open and peaceful exchange of ideas.
There may also be reason for optimism. The rough and tumble on campus in the 1960s and ’70s produced a more even-tempered ’80s and ’90s, and colleges are probably heading for another course correction. In covering the ruckuses at Yale, Missouri, and elsewhere, I’ve talked to professors and students who are figuring out how to respond to the illiberalism, even if the reaction is delayed. The University of Chicago put out a set of free-speech principles last year, and others schools such as Princeton and Purdue have endorsed them.
The NARPs—Non-Athletic Regular People, as they are sometimes known on campus—still outnumber the social-justice warriors, who appear to be overplaying their hand. Case in point is the University of Missouri, which experienced a precipitous drop in enrollment after instructor Melissa Click and her ilk stoked racial tensions last spring. The college has closed dorms and trimmed budgets. Which brings us to another silver lining: The economic model of higher education (exorbitant tuition to pay ever more administrators) may blow up traditional college before the fascists can.
Note also that the anti-speech movement is run by rich kids. A Brookings Institution analysis from earlier this year discovered that “the average enrollee at a college where students have attempted to restrict free speech comes from a family with an annual income $32,000 higher than that of the average student in America.” Few rank higher in average income than those at Middlebury College, where students evicted scholar Charles Murray in a particularly ugly scene. (The report notes that Murray was received respectfully at Saint Louis University, “where the median income of students’ families is half Middlebury’s.”) The impulses of over-adulated 20-year-olds may soon be tempered by the tyranny of having to show up for work on a daily basis.
None of this is to suggest that free speech is enjoying some renaissance either on campus or in America. But perhaps as the late Wall Street Journal editorial-page editor Robert Bartley put it in his valedictory address: “Things could be worse. Indeed, they have been worse.”
Kate Bachelder Odell is an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal.
Jonathan RauchIs free speech under threat? The one-syllable answer is “yes.” The three-syllable answer is: “Yes, of course.” Free speech is always under threat, because it is not only the single most successful social idea in all of human history, it is also the single most counterintuitive. “You mean to say that speech that is offensive, untruthful, malicious, seditious, antisocial, blasphemous, heretical, misguided, or all of the above deserves government protection?” That seemingly bizarre proposition is defensible only on the grounds that the marketplace of ideas turns out to be the most powerful engine of knowledge, prosperity, liberty, social peace, and moral advancement that our species has had the good fortune to discover.
Every new generation of free-speech advocates will need to get up every morning and re-explain the case for free speech and open inquiry—today, tomorrow, and forever. That is our lot in life, and we just need to be cheerful about it. At discouraging moments, it is helpful to remember that the country has made great strides toward free speech since 1798, when the Adams administration arrested and jailed its political critics; and since the 1920s, when the U.S. government banned and burned James Joyce’s great novel Ulysses; and since 1954, when the government banned ONE, a pioneering gay journal. (The cover article was a critique of the government’s indecency censors, who censored it.) None of those things could happen today.
I suppose, then, the interesting question is: What kind of threat is free speech under today? In the present age, direct censorship by government bodies is rare. Instead, two more subtle challenges hold sway, especially, although not only, on college campuses. The first is a version of what I called, in my book Kindly Inquisitors, the humanitarian challenge: the idea that speech that is hateful or hurtful (in someone’s estimation) causes pain and thus violates others’ rights, much as physical violence does. The other is a version of what I called the egalitarian challenge: the idea that speech that denigrates minorities (again, in someone’s estimation) perpetuates social inequality and oppression and thus also is a rights violation. Both arguments call upon administrators and other bureaucrats to defend human rights by regulating speech rights.
Both doctrines are flawed to the core. Censorship harms minorities by enforcing conformity and entrenching majority power, and it no more ameliorates hatred and injustice than smashing thermometers ameliorates global warming. If unwelcome words are the equivalent of bludgeons or bullets, then the free exchange of criticism—science, in other words—is a crime. I could go on, but suffice it to say that the current challenges are new variations on ancient themes—and they will be followed, in decades and centuries to come, by many, many other variations. Memo to free-speech advocates: Our work is never done, but the really amazing thing, given the proposition we are tasked to defend, is how well we are doing.
Jonathan Rauch is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought.
Nicholas Quinn RosenkranzSpeech is under threat on American campuses as never before. Censorship in various forms is on the rise. And this year, the threat to free speech on campus took an even darker turn, toward actual violence. The prospect of Milo Yiannopoulos speaking at Berkeley provoked riots that caused more than $100,000 worth of property damage on the campus. The prospect of Charles Murray speaking at Middlebury led to a riot that put a liberal professor in the hospital with a concussion. Ann Coulter’s speech at Berkeley was cancelled after the university determined that none of the appropriate venues could be protected from “known security threats” on the date in question.
The free-speech crisis on campus is caused, at least in part, by a more insidious campus pathology: the almost complete lack of intellectual diversity on elite university faculties. At Yale, for example, the number of registered Republicans in the economics department is zero; in the psychology department, there is one. Overall, there are 4,410 faculty members at Yale, and the total number of those who donated to a Republican candidate during the 2016 primaries was three.
So when today’s students purport to feel “unsafe” at the mere prospect of a conservative speaker on campus, it may be easy to mock them as “delicate snowflakes,” but in one sense, their reaction is understandable: If students are shocked at the prospect of a Republican behind a university podium, perhaps it is because many of them have never before laid eyes on one.
To see the connection between free speech and intellectual diversity, consider the recent commencement speech of Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust:
Universities must be places open to the kind of debate that can change ideas….Silencing ideas or basking in intellectual orthodoxy independent of facts and evidence impedes our access to new and better ideas, and it inhibits a full and considered rejection of bad ones. . . . We must work to ensure that universities do not become bubbles isolated from the concerns and discourse of the society that surrounds them. Universities must model a commitment to the notion that truth cannot simply be claimed, but must be established—established through reasoned argument, assessment, and even sometimes uncomfortable challenges that provide the foundation for truth.
Faust is exactly right. But, alas, her commencement audience might be forgiven a certain skepticism. After all, the number of registered Republicans in several departments at Harvard—e.g., history and psychology—is exactly zero. In those departments, the professors themselves may be “basking in intellectual orthodoxy” without ever facing “uncomfortable challenges.” This may help explain why some students will do everything in their power to keep conservative speakers off campus: They notice that faculty hiring committees seem to do exactly the same thing.
In short, it is a promising sign that true liberal academics like Faust have started speaking eloquently about the crucial importance of civil, reasoned disagreement. But they will be more convincing on this point when they hire a few colleagues with whom they actually disagree.
Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz is a professor of law at Georgetown. He serves on the executive committee of Heterodox Academy, which he co-founded, on the board of directors of the Federalist Society, and on the board of directors of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
Ben ShapiroIn February, I spoke at California State University in Los Angeles. Before my arrival, professors informed students that a white supremacist would be descending on the school to preach hate; threats of violence soon prompted the administration to cancel the event. I vowed to show up anyway. One hour before the event, the administration backed down and promised to guarantee that the event could go forward, but police officers were told not to stop the 300 students, faculty, and outside protesters who blocked and assaulted those who attempted to attend the lecture. We ended up trapped in the auditorium, with the authorities telling students not to leave for fear of physical violence. I was rushed from campus under armed police guard.
Is free speech under assault?
Of course it is.
On campus, free speech is under assault thanks to a perverse ideology of intersectionality that claims victim identity is of primary value and that views are a merely secondary concern. As a corollary, if your views offend someone who outranks you on the intersectional hierarchy, your views are treated as violence—threats to identity itself. On campus, statements that offend an individual’s identity have been treated as “microaggressions”–actual aggressions against another, ostensibly worthy of violence. Words, students have been told, may not break bones, but they will prompt sticks and stones, and rightly so.
Thus, protesters around the country—leftists who see verbiage as violence—have, in turn, used violence in response to ideas they hate. Leftist local authorities then use the threat of violence as an excuse to ideologically discriminate against conservatives. This means public intellectuals like Charles Murray being run off of campus and his leftist professorial cohort viciously assaulted; it means Ann Coulter being targeted for violence at Berkeley; it means universities preemptively banning me and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Condoleezza Rice and even Jason Riley.
The campus attacks on free speech are merely the most extreme iteration of an ideology that spans from left to right: the notion that your right to free speech ends where my feelings begin. Even Democrats who say that Ann Coulter should be allowed to speak at Berkeley say that nobody should be allowed to contribute to a super PAC (unless you’re a union member, naturally).
Meanwhile, on the right, the president’s attacks on the press have convinced many Republicans that restrictions on the press wouldn’t be altogether bad. A Vanity Fair/60 Minutes poll in late April found that 36 percent of Americans thought freedom of the press “does more harm than good.” Undoubtedly, some of that is due to the media’s obvious bias. CNN’s Jeff Zucker has targeted the Trump administration for supposedly quashing journalism, but he was silent when the Obama administration’s Department of Justice cracked down on reporters from the Associated Press and Fox News, and when hacks like Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes openly sold lies regarding Iran. But for some on the right, the response to press falsities hasn’t been to call for truth, but to instead echo Trumpian falsehoods in the hopes of damaging the media. Free speech is only important when people seek the truth. Leftists traded truth for tribalism long ago; in response, many on the right seem willing to do the same. Until we return to a common standard under which facts matter, free speech will continue to rest on tenuous grounds.
Ben Shapiro is the editor in chief of The Daily Wire and the host of The Ben Shapiro Show.
Judith ShulevitzIt’s tempting to blame college and university administrators for the decline of free speech in America, and for years I did just that. If the guardians of higher education won’t inculcate the habits of mind required for serious thinking, I thought, who will? The unfettered but civil exchange of ideas is the basic operation of education, just as addition is the basic operation of arithmetic. And universities have to teach both the unfettered part and the civil part, because arguing in a respectful manner isn’t something anyone does instinctively.
So why change my mind now? Schools still cling to speech codes, and there still aren’t enough deans like the one at the University of Chicago who declared his school a safe-space-free zone. My alma mater just handed out prizes for “enhancing race and/or ethnic relations” to two students caught on video harassing the dean of their residential college, one screaming at him that he’d created “a space for violence to happen,” the other placing his face inches away from the dean’s and demanding, “Look at me.” All this because they deemed a thoughtful if ill-timed letter about Halloween costumes written by the dean’s wife to be an act of racist aggression. Yale should discipline students who behave like that, even if they’re right on the merits (I don’t think they were, but that’s not the point). They certainly don’t deserve awards. I can’t believe I had to write that sentence.
But in abdicating their responsibilites, the universities have enabled something even worse than an attack on free speech. They’ve unleashed an assault on themselves. There’s plenty of free speech around; we know that because so much bad speech—low-minded nonsense—tests our constitutional tolerance daily, and that’s holding up pretty well. (As Nicholas Lemann observes elsewhere in this symposium, Facebook and Google represent bigger threats to free speech than students and administrators.) What’s endangered is good speech.
Universities were setting themselves up to be used. Provocateurs exploit the atmosphere on campus to goad overwrought students, then gleefully trash the most important bastion of our crumbling civil society. Higher education and everything it stands for—logical argument, the scientific method, epistemological rigor—start to look illegitimate. Voters perceive tenure and research and higher education itself as hopelessly partisan and unworthy of taxpayers’ money.
The press is a secondary victim of this process of delegitimization. If serious inquiry can be waved off as ideology, then facts won’t be facts and reporting can’t be trusted. All journalism will be equal to all other journalism, and all journalists will be reduced to pests you can slam to the ground with near impunity. Politicians will be able to say anything and do just about anything and there will be no countervailing authority to challenge them. I’m pretty sure that that way lies Putinism and Erdoganism. And when we get to that point, I’m going to start worrying about free speech again.
Judith Shulevitz is a critic in New York.
Harvey SilverglateFree speech is, and has always been, threatened. The title of Nat Hentoff’s 1993 book Free Speech for Me – but Not for Thee is no less true today than at any time, even as the Supreme Court has accorded free speech a more absolute degree of protection than in any previous era.
Since the 1980s, the high court has decided most major free-speech cases in favor of speech, with most of the major decisions being unanimous or nearly so.
Women’s-rights advocates were turned back by the high court in 1986 when they sought to ban the sale of printed materials that, because deemed pornographic by some, were alleged to promote violence against women. Censorship in the name of gender–based protection thus failed to gain traction.
Despite the demands of civil-rights activists, the Supreme Court in 1992 declared cross-burning to be a protected form of expression in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, a decision later refined to strengthen a narrow exception for when cross-burning occurs primarily as a physical threat rather than merely an expression of hatred.
Other attempts at First Amendment circumvention have been met with equally decisive rebuff. When the Reverend Jerry Falwell sued Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt for defamation growing out of a parody depicting Falwell’s first sexual encounter as a drunken tryst with his mother in an outhouse, a unanimous Supreme Court lectured on the history of parody as a constitutionally protected, even if cruel, form of social and political criticism.
When the South Boston Allied War Veterans, sponsor of Boston’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade, sought to exclude a gay veterans’ group from marching under its own banner, the high court unanimously held that as a private entity, even though marching in public streets, the Veterans could exclude any group marching under a banner conflicting with the parade’s socially conservative message, notwithstanding public-accommodations laws. The gay group could have its own parade but could not rain on that of the conservatives.
Despite such legal clarity, today’s most potent attacks on speech are coming, ironically, from liberal-arts colleges. Ubiquitous “speech codes” limit speech that might insult, embarrass, or “harass,” in particular, members of “historically disadvantaged” groups. “Safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” protect purportedly vulnerable students from hearing words and ideas they might find upsetting. Student demonstrators and threats of violence have forced the cancellation of controversial speakers, left and right.
It remains unclear how much campus censorship results from politically correct faculty, control-obsessed student-life administrators, or students socialized and indoctrinated into intolerance. My experience suggests that the bureaucrats are primarily, although not entirely, to blame. When sued, colleges either lose or settle, pay a modest amount, and then return to their censorious ways.
This trend threatens the heart and soul of liberal education. Eventually it could infect the entire society as these students graduate and assume influential positions. Whether a resulting flood of censorship ultimately overcomes legal protections and weakens democracy remains to be seen.
Harvey Silverglate, a Boston-based lawyer and writer, is the co-author of The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses (Free Press, 1998). He co-founded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in 1999 and is on FIRE’s board of directors. He spent some three decades on the board of the ACLU of Massachusetts, two of those years as chairman. Silverglate taught at Harvard Law School for a semester during a sabbatical he took in the mid-1980s.
Christina Hoff SommersWhen Heather Mac Donald’s “blue lives matter” talk was shut down by a mob at Claremont McKenna College, the president of neighboring Pomona College sent out an email defending free speech. Twenty-five students shot back a response: “Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist . . . classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live.”
Some blame the new campus intolerance on hypersensitive, over-trophied millennials. But the students who signed that letter don’t appear to be fragile. Nor do those who recently shut down lectures at Berkeley, Middlebury, DePaul, and Cal State LA. What they are is impassioned. And their passion is driven by a theory known as intersectionality.
Intersectionality is the source of the new preoccupation with microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and privilege-checking. It’s the reason more than 200 colleges and universities have set up Bias Response Teams. Students who overhear potentially “otherizing” comments or jokes are encouraged to make anonymous reports to their campus BRTs. A growing number of professors and administrators have built their careers around intersectionality. What is it exactly?
Intersectionality is a neo-Marxist doctrine that views racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and all forms of “oppression” as interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Together these “isms” form a complex arrangement of advantages and burdens. A white woman is disadvantaged by her gender but advantaged by her race. A Latino is burdened by his ethnicity but privileged by his gender. According to intersectionality, American society is a “matrix of domination,” with affluent white males in control. Not only do they enjoy most of the advantages, they also determine what counts as “truth” and “knowledge.”
But marginalized identities are not without resources. According to one of intersectionality’s leading theorists, Patricia Collins (former president of the American Sociology Association), disadvantaged groups have access to deeper, more liberating truths. To find their voice, and to enlighten others to the true nature of reality, they require a safe space—free of microaggressive put-downs and imperious cultural appropriations. Here they may speak openly about their “lived experience.” Lived experience, according to intersectional theory, is a better guide to the truth than self-serving Western and masculine styles of thinking. So don’t try to refute intersectionality with logic or evidence: That only proves that you are part of the problem it seeks to overcome.
How could comfortably ensconced college students be open to a convoluted theory that describes their world as a matrix of misery? Don’t they flinch when they hear intersectional scholars like bell hooks refer to the U.S. as an “imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy”? Most take it in stride because such views are now commonplace in high-school history and social studies texts. And the idea that knowledge comes from lived experience rather than painstaking study and argument is catnip to many undergrads.
Silencing speech and forbidding debate is not an unfortunate by-product of intersectionality—it is a primary goal. How else do you dismantle a lethal system of oppression? As the protesting students at Claremont McKenna explained in their letter: “Free speech . . . has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.” To the student activists, thinkers like Heather MacDonald and Charles Murray are agents of the dominant narrative, and their speech is “a form of violence.”
It is hard to know how our institutions of higher learning will find their way back to academic freedom, open inquiry, and mutual understanding. But as long as intersectional theory goes unchallenged, campus fanaticism will intensify.
Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the author of several books, including Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys. She also hosts The Factual Feminist, a video blog. @Chsommers
John StosselYes, some college students do insane things. Some called police when they saw “Trump 2016” chalked on sidewalks. The vandals at Berkeley and the thugs who assaulted Charles Murray are disgusting. But they are a minority. And these days people fight back.
Someone usually videotapes the craziness. Yale’s “Halloween costume incident” drove away two sensible instructors, but videos mocking Yale’s snowflakes, like “Silence U,” make such abuse less likely. Groups like Young America’s Foundation (YAF) publicize censorship, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sues schools that restrict speech.
Consciousness has been raised. On campus, the worst is over. Free speech has always been fragile. I once took cameras to Seton Hall law school right after a professor gave a lecture on free speech. Students seemed to get the concept. Sean, now a lawyer, said, “Protect freedom for thought we hate; otherwise you never have a society where ideas clash, and we come up with the best idea.” So I asked, “Should there be any limits?” Students listed “fighting words,” “shouting fire in a theater,” malicious libel, etc.— reasonable court-approved exceptions. But then they went further. Several wanted bans on “hate” speech, “No value comes out of hate speech,” said Javier. “It inevitably leads to violence.”
No it doesn’t, I argued, “Also, doesn’t hate speech bring ideas into the open, so you can better argue about them, bringing you to the truth?”
“No,” replied Floyd, “With hate speech, more speech is just violence.”
So I pulled out a big copy of the First Amendment and wrote, “exception: hate speech.”
Two students wanted a ban on flag desecration “to respect those who died to protect it.”
One wanted bans on blasphemy:
“Look at the gravity of the harm versus the value in blasphemy—the harm outweighs the value.”
Several wanted a ban on political speech by corporations because of “the potential for large corporations to improperly influence politicians.”
Finally, Jillian, also now a lawyer, wanted hunting videos banned.
“It encourages harm down the road.”
I asked her, incredulously, “you’re comfortable locking up people who make a hunting film?”
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “It’s unnecessary cruelty to feeling and sentient beings.”
So, I picked up my copy of the Bill of Rights again. After “no law . . . abridging freedom of speech,” I added: “Except hate speech, flag burning, blasphemy, corporate political speech, depictions of hunting . . . ”
That embarrassed them. “We may have gone too far,” said Sean. Others agreed. One said, “Cross out the exceptions.” Free speech survived, but it was a close call. Respect for unpleasant speech will always be thin. Then-Senator Hillary Clinton wanted violent video games banned. John McCain and Russ Feingold tried to ban political speech. Donald Trump wants new libel laws, and if you burn a flag, he tweeted, consequences might be “loss of citizenship or a year in jail!” Courts or popular opinion killed those bad ideas.
Free speech will survive, assuming those of us who appreciate it use it to fight those who would smother it.
John Stossel is a FOX News/FOX Business Network Contributor.
Warren TreadgoldEven citizens of dictatorships are free to praise the regime and to talk about the weather. The only speech likely to be threatened anywhere is the sort that offends an important and intolerant group. What is new in America today is a leftist ideology that threatens speech precisely because it offends certain important and intolerant groups: feminists and supposedly oppressed minorities.
So far this new ideology is clearly dominant only in colleges and universities, where it has become so strong that most controversies concern outside speakers invited by students, not faculty speakers or speakers invited by administrators. Most academic administrators and professors are either leftists or have learned not to oppose leftism; otherwise they would probably never have been hired. Administrators treat even violent leftist protestors with respect and are ready to prevent conservative and moderate outsiders from speaking rather than provoke protests. Most professors who defend conservative or moderate speakers argue that the speakers’ views are indeed noxious but say that students should be exposed to them to learn how to refute them. This is very different from encouraging a free exchange of ideas.
Although the new ideology began on campuses in the ’60s, it gained authority outside them largely by means of several majority decisions of the Supreme Court, from Roe (1973) to Obergefell (2015). The Supreme Court decisions that endanger free speech are based on a presumed consensus of enlightened opinion that certain rights favored by activists have the same legitimacy as rights explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution—or even more legitimacy, because the rights favored by activists are assumed to be so fundamental that they need no grounding in specific constitutional language. The Court majorities found restricting abortion rights or homosexual marriage, as large numbers of Americans wish to do, to be constitutionally equivalent to restricting black voting rights or interracial marriage. Any denial of such equivalence therefore opposes fundamental constitutional rights and can be considered hate speech, advocating psychological and possibly physical harm to groups like women seeking abortions or homosexuals seeking approval. Such speech may still be constitutionally protected, but acting upon it is not.
This ideology of forbidding allegedly offensive speech has spread to most of the Democratic Party and the progressive movement. Rather than seeing themselves as taking one side in a free debate, progressives increasingly argue (for example) that opposing abortion is offensive to women and supporting the police is offensive to blacks. Some politicians object so strongly to such speech that despite their interest in winning votes, they attack voters who disagree with them as racists or sexists. Expressing views that allegedly discriminate against women, blacks, homosexuals, and various other minorities can now be grounds for a lawsuit.
Speech that supposedly offends women or minorities has already cost some people their careers, their businesses, and their opportunities to deliver or hear speeches. Such intimidation is the intended result of an ideology that threatens free speech.
Warren Treadgold is a professor of history at Saint Louis University.
Matt WelchLike a sullen zoo elephant rocking back and forth from leg to leg, there is an oversized paradox we’d prefer not to see standing smack in the sightlines of most our policy debates. Day by day, even minute by minute, America simultaneously gets less free in the laboratory, but more free in the field. Individuals are constantly expanding the limits and applications of their own autonomy, even as government transcends prior restraints on how far it can reach into our intimate business.
So it is that the Internal Revenue Service can charge foreign banks with collecting taxes on U.S. citizens (therefore causing global financial institutions to shun many of the estimated 6 million-plus Americans who live abroad), even while block-chain virtuosos make illegal transactions wholly undetectable to authorities. It has never been easier for Americans to travel abroad, and it’s never been harder to enter the U.S. without showing passports, fingerprints, retinal scans, and even social-media passwords.
What’s true for banking and tourism is doubly true for free speech. Social media has given everyone not just a platform but a megaphone (as unreadable as our Facebook timelines have all become since last November). At the same time, the federal government during this unhappy 21st century has continuously ratcheted up prosecutorial pressure against leakers, whistleblowers, investigative reporters, and technology companies.
A hopeful bulwark against government encroachment unique to the free-speech field is the Supreme Court’s very strong First Amendment jurisprudence in the past decade or two. Donald Trump, like Hillary Clinton before him, may prattle on about locking up flag-burners, but Antonin Scalia and the rest of SCOTUS protected such expression back in 1990. Barack Obama and John McCain (and Hillary Clinton—she’s as bad as any recent national politician on free speech) may lament the Citizens United decision, but it’s now firmly legal to broadcast unfriendly documentaries about politicians without fear of punishment, no matter the electoral calendar.
But in this very strength lies what might be the First Amendment’s most worrying vulnerability. Barry Friedman, in his 2009 book The Will of the People, made the persuasive argument that the Supreme Court typically ratifies, post facto, where public opinion has already shifted. Today’s culture of free speech could be tomorrow’s legal framework. If so, we’re in trouble.
For evidence of free-speech slippage, just read around you. When both major-party presidential nominees react to terrorist attacks by calling to shut down corners of the Internet, and when their respective supporters are actually debating the propriety of sucker punching protesters they disagree with, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that our increasingly shrill partisan sorting is turning the very foundation of post-1800 global prosperity into just another club to be swung in our national street fight.
In the eternal cat-and-mouse game between private initiative and government control, the former is always advantaged by the latter’s fundamental incompetence. But what if the public willingly hands government the power to muzzle? It may take a counter-cultural reformation to protect this most noble of American experiments.
Matt Welch is the editor at large of Reason.
Adam. J. WhiteFree speech is indeed under threat on our university campuses, but the threat did not begin there and it will not end there. Rather, the campus free-speech crisis is a particularly visible symptom of a much more fundamental crisis in American culture.
The problem is not that some students, teachers, and administrators reject traditional American values and institutions, or even that they are willing to menace or censor others who defend those values and institutions. Such critics have always existed, and they can be expected to use the tools and weapons at their disposal. The problem is that our country seems to produce too few students, teachers, and administrators who are willing or able to respond to them.
American families produce children who arrive on campus unprepared for, or uninterested in, defending our values and institutions. For our students who are focused primarily on their career prospects (if on anything at all), “[c]ollege is just one step on the continual stairway of advancement,” as David Brooks observed 16 years ago. “They’re not trying to buck the system; they’re trying to climb it, and they are streamlined for ascent. Hence they are not a disputatious group.”
Meanwhile, parents bear incomprehensible financial burdens to get their kids through college, without a clear sense of precisely what their kids will get out of these institutions in terms of character formation or civic virtue. With so much money at stake, few can afford for their kids to pursue more than career prospects.
Those problems are not created on campus, but they are exacerbated there, as too few college professors and administrators see their institutions as cultivators of American culture and republicanism. Confronted with activists’ rage, they offer no competing vision of higher education—let alone a compelling one.
Ironically, we might borrow a solution from the Left. Where progressives would leverage state power in service of their health-care agenda, we could do the same for education. State legislatures and governors, recognizing the present crisis, should begin to reform and renegotiate the fundamental nature of state universities. By making state universities more affordable, more productive, and more reflective of mainstream American values, they will attract students—and create incentives for competing private universities to follow suit.
Let’s hope they do it soon, for what’s at stake is much more than just free speech on campus, or even free speech writ large. In our time, as in Tocqueville’s, “the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of a democratic republic,” especially “where instruction which awakens the understanding is not separated from moral education which amends the heart.” We need our colleges to cultivate—not cut down—civic virtue and our capacity for self-government. “Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form,” Madison wrote in Federalist 55. If “there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government,” then “nothing less than the chains of despotism” can restrain us “from destroying and devouring one another.”
Adam J. White is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Cathy YoungA writer gets expelled from the World Science Fiction Convention for criticizing the sci-fi community’s preoccupation with racial and gender “inclusivity” while moderating a panel. An assault on free speech, or an exercise of free association? How about when students demand the disinvitation of a speaker—or disrupt the speech? When a critic of feminism gets banned from a social-media platform for unspecified “abuse”?
Such questions are at the heart of many recent free-speech controversies. There is no censorship by government; but how concerned should we be when private actors effectively suppress unpopular speech? Even in the freest society, some speech will—and should—be considered odious and banished to unsavory fringes. No one weeps for ostracized Holocaust deniers or pedophilia apologists.
But shunned speech needs to remain a narrow exception—or acceptable speech will inexorably shrink. As current Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai cautioned last year, First Amendment protections will be hollowed out unless undergirded by cultural values that support a free marketplace of ideas.
Sometimes, attacks on speech come from the right. In 2003, an Iraq War critic, reporter Chris Hedges, was silenced at Rockford College in Illinois by hecklers who unplugged the microphone and rushed the stage; some conservative pundits defended this as robust protest. Yet the current climate on the left—in universities, on social media, in “progressive” journalism, in intellectual circles—is particularly hostile to free expression. The identity-politics left, fixated on subtle oppressions embedded in everyday attitudes and language, sees speech-policing as the solution.
Is hostility to free-speech values on the rise? New York magazine columnist Jesse Singal argues that support for restrictions on public speech offensive to minorities has remained steady, and fairly high, since the 1970s. Perhaps. But the range of what qualifies as offensive—and which groups are to be shielded—has expanded dramatically. In our time, a leading liberal magazine, the New Republic, can defend calls to destroy a painting of lynching victim Emmett Till because the artist is white and guilty of “cultural appropriation,” and a feminist academic journal can be bullied into apologizing for an article on transgender issues that dares to mention “male genitalia.”
There is also a distinct trend of “bad” speech being squelched by coercion, not just disapproval. That includes the incidents at Middlebury College in Vermont and at Claremont McKenna in California, where mobs not only prevented conservative speakers—Charles Murray and Heather Mac Donald—from addressing audiences but physically threatened them as well. It also includes the use of civil-rights legislation to enforce goodthink in the workplace: Businesses may face stiff fines if they don’t force employees to call a “non-binary” co-worker by the singular “they,” even when talking among themselves.
These trends make a mockery of liberalism and enable the kind of backlash we have seen with Donald Trump’s election. But the backlash can bring its own brand of authoritarianism. It’s time to start rebuilding the culture of free speech across political divisions—a project that demands, above all, genuine openness and intellectual consistency. Otherwise it will remain, as the late, great Nat Hentoff put it, a call for “free speech for me, but not for thee.”
Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason.
Robert J. ZimmerFree speech is not a natural feature of human society. Many people are comfortable with free expression for views they agree with but would withhold this privilege for those they deem offensive. People justify such restrictions by various means: the appeal to moral certainty, political agendas, demand for change, opposing change, retaining power, resisting authority, or, more recently, not wanting to feel uncomfortable. Moral certainty about one’s views or a willingness to indulge one’s emotions makes it easy to assert that others are doing true damage or creating unacceptable offense simply by presenting a fundamentally different perspective.
The resulting challenges to free expression may come in the form of laws, threats, pressure (whether societal, group, or organizational), or self-censorship in the face of a prevailing consensus. Specific forms of challenge may be more or less pronounced as circumstances vary. But the widespread temptation to consider the silencing of “objectionable” viewpoints as acceptable implies that the challenge to free expression is always present.
The United States today is no exception. We benefit from the First Amendment, which asserts that the government shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. However, fostering a society supporting free expression involves matters far beyond the law. The ongoing and increasing demonization of one group by another creates a political and social environment conducive to suppressing speech. Even violent acts opposing speech can become acceptable or encouraged. Such behavior is evident at both political rallies and university events. Our greatest current threat to free expression is the emergence of a national culture that accepts the legitimacy of suppression of speech deemed objectionable by a segment of the population.
University and college campuses present a particularly vivid instance of this cultural shift. There have been many well-publicized episodes of speakers being disinvited or prevented from speaking because of their views. However, the problem is much deeper, as there is significant self-censorship on many campuses. Both faculty and students sometimes find themselves silenced by social and institutional pressures to conform to “acceptable” views. Ironically, the very mission of universities and colleges to provide a powerful and deeply enriching education for their students demands that they embrace and protect free expression and open discourse. Failing to do so significantly diminishes the quality of the education they provide.
My own institution, the University of Chicago, through the words and actions of its faculty and leaders since its founding, has asserted the importance of free expression and its essential role in embracing intellectual challenge. We continue to do so today as articulated by the Chicago Principles, which strongly affirm that “the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.” It is only in such an environment that universities can fulfill their own highest aspirations and provide leadership by demonstrating the value of free speech within society more broadly. A number of universities have joined us in reinforcing these values. But it remains to be seen whether the faculty and leaders of many institutions will truly stand up for these values, and in doing so provide a model for society as a whole.
Robert J. Zimmer is the president of the University of Chicago.