Commentary Magazine


Topic: Islam

What’s Fueling Europe’s Migrant Crisis?

There have been an increasing number of distressing stories about migrants drowning in the Mediterranean while attempting to reach the coastline of southern Europe. Liberal critics have pounced on these headlines and insisted that the tragedy is being caused by European countries pursuing an intentional policy of scaling back their search-and-rescue operations. But the real reason more people are drowning is that more people are attempting to make the hazardous journey and European countries are taking no real measures to deter them from doing so.

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There have been an increasing number of distressing stories about migrants drowning in the Mediterranean while attempting to reach the coastline of southern Europe. Liberal critics have pounced on these headlines and insisted that the tragedy is being caused by European countries pursuing an intentional policy of scaling back their search-and-rescue operations. But the real reason more people are drowning is that more people are attempting to make the hazardous journey and European countries are taking no real measures to deter them from doing so.

Most of those attempting to enter Europe illegally are coming from across Africa, others from the Middle East. Setting sail from lawless Libya they are attempting to reach mainland Europe where they rightly anticipate that they will be able to take advantage of the European Union’s internal open-border arrangements to travel freely across the continent. Once in Europe they can seek out a country that has a liberal enough asylum and immigration policy to house them and provide them with welfare assistance until they can find work. Sweden and Germany are two particularly popular destinations in this regard.

With economic prospects in much of Europe still forlorn, and given the social tensions that failed policies of multiculturalism have inflicted on many of Europe’s cities, there is already considerable opposition to further immigration. Naturally, the left has scolded the public for this allegedly uncharitable attitude, while presenting everyone attempting to enter Europe illegally as victims and legitimate refugees. Indeed, there is a refusal on the part of rights groups to recognize that very many of these people are simply motivated by a perfectly understandable sense of economic self-interest. In which case there is no real reason why those currently breaking the law and forcing their way through have any more right to come to Europe than anyone else in the world who might be attracted to that prospect.

The people of Europe are, however, entitled to ask some basic questions about who exactly it is that is coming. Out of the many horrific stories of people drowning in their efforts to cross the Mediterranean, one stood out as particularly appalling, and far more alarming than the others. Last week twelve Christian migrants were drowned—not when their boat sank, but rather when their Muslim fellow passengers threw them overboard for not praying to Allah.

This story is important, not simply because of how it challenges the way in which Europe’s liberals want the migrants to be viewed, but also because of the serious questions that it raises about the kind of people these are. After all, if this is what the Muslims on board that boat were prepared to do to their fellow Christian migrants, then what are we to assume these people’s attitude toward the nominally Christian societies they are coming to will be?

Europe already has a serious problem with those sections of the Muslim immigrant community that have failed to integrate. Are Europeans really expected to welcome in yet more people with an intolerant hostility for the host culture? Yes, some of these people do come from very troubled and volatile parts of the world, but it helps no one if they simply bring their conflict with them. Those lobbying on behalf of the migrants seem to expect European citizens to embrace a suicidal compassion and ask no questions about the ramifications this mass migration might have for their own communities.

Inevitably, anyone who expresses a sense of disquiet about the growing wave of illegal migration is framed by the left as being in favor of leaving the migrants to drown. But whether the rights groups accept it or not, European governments had their reasons for reconsidering the way in which search-and-rescue operations were being conducted. For one thing, the traffickers had realized that they could simply abandon people just off shore and the Italian coastguards would come and collect them. In some instances traffickers were even sending off boats with fuel tanks half empty, only to then radio the coastguards to come to the rescue. Gradually European authorities were being drawn into doing half the trafficking for them. And all the while the incentive to risk everything and to try and reach Europe was being increased.

Since abandoning the migrants to their fate is not acceptable to anyone, the only other option is for European governments to actually deport those who break the law in attempting to reach Europe illegally. This will actually save lives because right now people are willing to risk the treacherous waters for the chance of a new life in Europe. Far fewer would undertake the journey if they knew that all that awaited them was a few weeks in a detention center and a prompt return to the shores from which they came. But failing that, Europe may as well abandon all pretense of immigration limits and border controls, for it will in effect have adopted open borders. But then perhaps that is what the liberal rights groups really want.

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Dress Codes and the Naked Public Square

In some ways, the left’s overt hostility to religious liberty, as evidenced by the mob-shaming of defenders of basic and once-bipartisan religious freedom protections, is less dangerous than the erosions of liberty that fly under the radar. These usually take the form of advocating for freedom, though it’s an Orwellian game all the more disconcerting for its effectiveness, as evidenced by two recent stories–one on dress codes and the other on the unseen battles of the gay marriage debate.

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In some ways, the left’s overt hostility to religious liberty, as evidenced by the mob-shaming of defenders of basic and once-bipartisan religious freedom protections, is less dangerous than the erosions of liberty that fly under the radar. These usually take the form of advocating for freedom, though it’s an Orwellian game all the more disconcerting for its effectiveness, as evidenced by two recent stories–one on dress codes and the other on the unseen battles of the gay marriage debate.

Over at National Review, Katherine Timpf notes the latest in an ongoing story: the attempt to label school dress codes as part of “rape culture.” This particular incident has to do with a female student at Orangefield County High School in California who was sent home for wearing a shirt over knee-length leggings. But the issue isn’t new, and the branding of dress codes as “rape culture,” as strange as it may sound, is fairly mainstream in American liberalism today.

The idea is that it’s wrong to tell girls to dress in ways that would be less distracting to boys because teenage boys should just keep their eyes on the blackboard. (Teenage boys being famous for their studious self-control in the name of overthrowing an oppressive patriarchal order.) But of course, as Timpf writes, it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition: you can tell girls to dress appropriately while also telling boys to be respectful. (And, by the way, you should tell boys to be respectful.) Additionally, condemning dress codes as stigmatizing is one thing; blaming them for sexual violence is quite another.

And yet the left has made this leap. In 2013, a blog at the Center for American Progress’s ThinkProgress included the following paragraph:

When most Americans think about “rape culture,” they may think about the Steubenville boys’ defense arguing that an unconscious girl consented to her sexual assault because she “didn’t say no,” the school administrators who choose to protect their star athletes over those boys’ rape victims, or the bullying that led multiple victims of sexual assault to take their own lives. While those incidences of victim-blaming are certainly symptoms of a deeply-rooted rape culture in this country, they’re not the only examples of this dynamic at play. Rape culture is also evident in the attitudes that lead school administrators to treat young girls’ bodies as inherently “distracting” to the boys who simply can’t control themselves. That approach to gender roles simply encourages our youth to assume that sexual crimes must have something to do with women’s “suggestive” clothes or behavior, rather than teaching them that every individual is responsible for respecting others’ bodily autonomy.

Notice how the authors have to guide you gently away from reality. When you think of rape, the authors allow, you probably tend to think of rape. But have you considered thinking of things that are not rape, instead?

The more disquieting part of all this is this sentence: “Rape culture is also evident in the attitudes that lead school administrators to treat young girls’ bodies as inherently ‘distracting’ to the boys who simply can’t control themselves.”

And what attitudes recognize–sorry, just assume–that boys can be distracted by girls? Well, for one, religious belief. I attended Jewish schools that not only enforced dress codes but also educated boys and girls in separate classrooms. This is in part because, apparently unlike the Center for American Progress, my school administrators had met teenage boys. But it’s also because modesty in dress is part and parcel of a respectful religious atmosphere that recognizes and channels human nature instead of ignoring it.

But the truth is it doesn’t really matter as long as educational institutions can just go their own way. What the left is trying to do with the “rape culture” allegation is to drive those on the wrong end of the false accusation from polite society. Practicing observant Judaism is, according to the left, perpetuating “rape culture.”

The other troubling story is yesterday’s New York Times article on the fear that now governs the public actions of those opposed to same-sex marriage legalization. The left has come a long way from (correctly) pointing out that terrorism-related detainees at Gitmo deserve legal representation just like any other defendant:

Leading law firms are willing to represent tobacco companies accused of lying about their deadly products, factories that spew pollution, and corporations said to be complicit in torture and murder abroad. But standing up for traditional marriage has turned out to be too much for the elite bar. The arguments have been left to members of lower-profile firms.

In dozens of interviews, lawyers and law professors said the imbalance in legal firepower in the same-sex marriage cases resulted from a conviction among many lawyers that opposition to such unions is bigotry akin to racism. But there were economic calculations, too. Law firms that defend traditional marriage may lose clients and find themselves at a disadvantage in hiring new lawyers.

John Adams defended the British soldiers accused of massacring colonists. But now defending the position held by, among others, Barack Obama just a few years ago is untenable for a major law firm. Again, we’re not even talking necessarily about actually opposing gay marriage in principle. We’re talking about providing legal representation to those who hold that view.

There will be lawsuits stemming from the legalization of gay marriage because religious institutions will want to at least go on practicing their religion in private. But there’s no such thing, anymore. A church or a synagogue or a mosque will be ostracized just as will their legal representation. And traditional religions will be equated with the promotion or enabling of rape.

The future of the public square is bleak.

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Obama’s Multipronged Assault on Truth and Reality

President Obama is fond of invoking the term “narrative,” so it’s worth considering several instances in which he invokes exactly the wrong narrative–the wrong frame–around events.

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President Obama is fond of invoking the term “narrative,” so it’s worth considering several instances in which he invokes exactly the wrong narrative–the wrong frame–around events.

The most obvious is the president’s repeated insistence that militant Islam is utterly disconnected from the Islamic faith. As this much-discussed essay in the Atlantic points out:

Many mainstream Muslim organizations have gone so far as to say the Islamic State is, in fact, un-Islamic. It is, of course, reassuring to know that the vast majority of Muslims have zero interest in replacing Hollywood movies with public executions as evening entertainment. But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”

The author, Graeme Wood, adds this:

According to Haykel, the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Haykel said. “They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.” He regards the claim that the Islamic State has distorted the texts of Islam as preposterous, sustainable only through willful ignorance. “People want to absolve Islam,” he said. “It’s this ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra. As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” Those texts are shared by all Sunni Muslims, not just the Islamic State. “And these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”

President Obama continues to insist the opposite, pretending that what is true is false, and even suggesting those who are speaking the truth are actually endangering the lives of innocent people. This makes Mr. Obama’s comments offensive as well as ignorant.

But that hardly exhausts the examples of false narratives employed by the president. As this exchange between Fox’s Ed Henry and White House press secretary Josh Earnest demonstrates, in its statement the White House avoided saying that the 21 Egyptian Christians who were beheaded by members of ISIS were Christian, even though that was the reason they were beheaded. At the same time the president suggested that the murder of three Muslim students at the University of North Carolina was because they were Muslim, when in fact that wasn’t by any means clear when the White House issued its statement. (The shooting appears to have involved a long-standing dispute over parking.) So when Christian faith is a factor in a massacre, it’s denied, and when there’s no evidence that the Islamic faith was a factor in a killing, it’s nevertheless asserted.

And then there was the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, in which the president and his attorney general constantly spoke about the shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson as if race was a factor in the shooting. That assertion is fiction. It was an invention, just as it was an invention to suggest, as the president did back in 2009, that the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley was racially motivated.

Here, then, are three separate examples of the president imposing a false narrative on events. (I could cite many others.) Which makes Mr. Obama a truly post-modern president, in which there is no objective truth but simply narrative. Mr. Obama doesn’t just distort the facts; he inverts them. He makes things up as he goes along. This kind of thing isn’t unusual to find in the academy. But to see a president and his aides so thoroughly deconstruct truth is quite rare, and evidence of a stunningly rigid and dogmatic mind.

The sheer audacity of Mr. Obama’s multipronged assault on truth is one of the more troubling aspects of his deeply troubling presidency.

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Islamism and Obama’s Dangerous Flight from Reality

This past week has been dominated by comments by the president in which he continues to insist that the brutal acts of violence by the Islamic State (ISIS) and other Islamic terrorist groups are completely unrelated to Islam, to the point that he and his administration look absurd in their efforts to avoid using words like “radical Islam” or variations of it.

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This past week has been dominated by comments by the president in which he continues to insist that the brutal acts of violence by the Islamic State (ISIS) and other Islamic terrorist groups are completely unrelated to Islam, to the point that he and his administration look absurd in their efforts to avoid using words like “radical Islam” or variations of it.

Let me explain why there’s more to all this than simply semantics, starting with this proposition: Engaging in acts of deception and self-deception is unwise. Yet that is precisely what Mr. Obama is doing. He persists in putting forth a false narrative that he insists is a true one. And then there is the supreme arrogance of the president, assuming that his pronouncements about Islam will be received by the Muslim world like pronouncements of the Pope will be received by the Catholic world. Of course, this is a man who declared that if elected president he would stop the rise of the oceans and heal the planet, so it shouldn’t shock us that he believes his shallow and incomplete theological interpretations of Islam will carry weight across the Islamic world.

Memo to Mr. Obama: They won’t. Having you lecture the Islamic world about the true nature of Islam actually strengthens the jihadists, who will be thrilled to get in a theological debate in which the Christian president of the United States offers one view and Islamic jihadists and imams offer another.

You might also think an American president would understand that in order to defeat an enemy you need to understand the nature of the enemy you face; that in order to win a war, you need to understand the nature of the war you are in. But you would be wrong. Mr. Obama understands neither, which explains why he’s so inept at prosecuting this war and why the Islamic State is extending its reach beyond Syria and Iraq into nations like Algeria, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya.

The president, then, is utterly clueless and misdiagnosing the problem. Think if you had a pain in your chest and assumed it was heart burn when it was a heart attack. That would be a problem, since to address the threat you have to diagnosis it correctly. When it comes to Islamism, Mr. Obama is badly misdiagnosing the threat we face.

If it were merely a matter of semantics, it would concern me less. If he were waging this war successfully, with intelligence, purpose, and focus, and an unbreakable will to win, he could refer to ISIS as the Islamic version of the Quakers–even, as absurd as it sounds, as a “jayvee team”–and most of us might be willing to overlook it. But in this case, the president’s flawed semantics are a manifestation of a badly confused mind and a fundamentally flawed worldview. And this, in turn, is causing him to downplay the threat we face.

As a result of this, Mr. Obama is waging this war (his attorney general insists we’re not at war) in a half-hearted, going-through-the-motions fashion, constantly putting constraints on what he’s willing to do to confront ISIS specifically and militant Islam more broadly. For example, the president, in sending Congress a use-of-force resolution against ISIS, wants to put into statutory language that Congress “does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.” He announced the surge of forces in Afghanistan–and declared in the very same speech a withdrawal date. By bungling the Status of Forces Agreement, we ended up withdrawing American combat troops from Iraq, which has led to a descent into chaos and violence. The president was told by many members of his national-security team to support the moderate opposition in Syria, yet he refused until it was too late. He declared the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi to be a great success, only to ignore Libya, which is now a failed state and a haven for jihadists. In interviews, Mr. Obama continually underplays the threat we face. And minutes after speaking about the beheading of an American by ISIS, the president, in a staggeringly inappropriate display, hit the links for a round of golf. In all these actions and more, he is advertising his unseriousness and weakness to our enemies and our allies, many of whom no longer trust us.

To be sure, militant Islam is not a dominant current of thought within Islam. But it is a current of thought that exists and is particularly malevolent and virulent. If Mr. Obama understood this, he might be more prepared to combat it and defeat it. And defeating it on the battlefield is, at the end of the day, the best and really the only way to delegitimize it in the Muslim world. To show them and the world, including the Islamic world, that we are the “strong horse” and they are the “weak horse.”

The president should get on with this task. But we’ve all seen enough to know he won’t. As a result, much death and great horror will continue to spread throughout the world, and eventually, I fear, to America itself.

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Countering Violent Extremism the Right Way

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the offices of French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent attack by Islamist extremists on a kosher market, President Barack Obama invited political and religious leaders to a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. The whole summit is a bit amorphous and unfortunately seems to be the latest example of foreign policy by photo-op rather than substance.

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In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the offices of French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent attack by Islamist extremists on a kosher market, President Barack Obama invited political and religious leaders to a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. The whole summit is a bit amorphous and unfortunately seems to be the latest example of foreign policy by photo-op rather than substance.

Crippling the U.S. effort is an unwillingness to address the theological component: violent interpretations of Islam. I have spent the last several days in Morocco, witness to the academic and diplomatic effort to counter extremism which was a major subject of discussion at the Marrakech Security Forum, and then in Rabat, where I was able to sit in on workshops in which Moroccan graduates of religious studies programs and peer leaders addressed strategies to identify and counter radicalism among their peers.

I have previously addressed some aspects of Morocco’s strategy to promote religious moderation, here. Morocco has pioneered the Mourchidat program, in which both men and women together study the same religious curriculum, but combine it with instruction in psychology, sociology, and history so that they can discuss and explain religion to ordinary people so that extremists do not have a blank slate upon which they can declare their interpretation of Islam to be the correct one.

In addition, the Moroccans have set up networks to reach across society in order to nip radicalization in the bud, and provide alternatives. Think a religious equivalent of Boys and Girls Clubs, one in which young people undertake activities that provide alternatives to the Islamist vision. Other groups reach out via children’s books, cartoons, and interactive websites, some for children, and others for serious discussion and debate about religion and radicalism. See, for example, www.chababe.ma, whose offices I visited today.

Many Western diplomats and experts understand that change will have to come from within. Moroccan religious leaders recognize there is no single summit or call for international attention which can moderate growing extremism within Islam. Rather, it is a decades-long struggle that requires building a group of religious scholars that have credibility to push back upon those Saudi- and Qatar-funded and Muslim Brotherhood-oriented scholars inclined either to politicize Islam or to push more intolerant lines.

It also means not dismissing moderation in places such as Morocco as simply peripheral to the world of Islam. Today, the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina lay in Saudi Arabia, but that is only because Ibn Saud in 1925 conquered the previous Kingdom of Hejaz. The reality is that Nejd, from where the Saudis came, was long obscure and marginal to Islamic history, and that Saudi Arabia itself and the brand of Islam which it (and Qatar) promotes was not relevant until they used oil wealth to promote it. Morocco and Moroccan religious scholars have traditionally been far more influential throughout Africa and during both the Umayyad and Fatimid eras, as well as under the Almoravids. In many ways, the Islam practiced in and increasingly promoted by Morocco is far more authentic than the Wahhabism espoused by Saudi Arabia.

Nor should Western officials dismiss voices of moderation simply because calls for moderation against extremism occur alongside political agendas. Here, the case of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is instructive. In late December, Sisi made an extraordinary speech at Al-Azhar University calling upon theologians to revolutionize and modernize religion. His speech was largely ignored in the United States and the West, but it reverberated across the Maghreb and the Middle East. American diplomats seem more intent on antagonizing and isolating Sisi or dismissing his call to revolutionize Islam as a political ploy to further undercut the Muslim Brotherhood. Even if that were the case, however, what’s wrong with that? Radical Islamism and the theology preached by the Muslim Brotherhood are inherently political. The only difference between Sisi and the Muslim Brotherhood is that Sisi seeks to promote a vision of religion which embraces tolerance and enables greater individual liberty, while the Brotherhood seeks to constrain interpretations and de-legitimize those who seek interpretations of Islam which conform with individual liberty and broader religious tolerance.

In sum, there’s no shortage in the Middle East of efforts to counter violent extremism. Those in the region who seek to counter violent extremism don’t tie their hands with political correctness: They recognize that the problem lies within interpretations of Islam, and simply seek to counter those interpretations with better ones. Denying the legitimacy of the religious basis for extremism, however, is counterproductive. It is also arrogant, as the people who least have credibility to define what Islam is or is not are those like President Obama whose legitimacy is entirely political and not based in theology.

So what should the West do? We must embrace those like the Moroccan and Egyptian governments which actively seek to promote moderation. Moroccan King Mohammed VI and Sisi—and the religious scholars who work alongside them—have much greater standing to lead the drive than a White House intent on a photo-op or an easy answer. We must not stand in the way of those voices who acknowledge the need for contemporary interpretations that focus on the present and future rather than the past.

And we must not fall into the trap of assuming compromise means finding the lowest common denominator. Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) might be the loudest in the United States because their financiers provide the resources to enable them to be, but that does not mean anyone should treat them as sincere in the effort to counter radicalization; rather, we should recognize that their main goal is to obfuscate the theological roots of radicalism and undercut the sincere efforts of moderates across the Middle East and elsewhere to promote moderation, modernity, and tolerance within Islam.

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The Crusades Weren’t the Grievance Pundits Believe

By injecting moral equivalency into the National Prayer Breakfast by comparing the violence of the Crusades with that of the Islamic State (ISIS), President Obama sparked a storm of controversy. Obama is hardly the first president to step into the mine field of the Crusades, however. President George W. Bush sparked both outrage and considerable self-flagellating in the West when he spoke of a “crusade” against terror.

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By injecting moral equivalency into the National Prayer Breakfast by comparing the violence of the Crusades with that of the Islamic State (ISIS), President Obama sparked a storm of controversy. Obama is hardly the first president to step into the mine field of the Crusades, however. President George W. Bush sparked both outrage and considerable self-flagellating in the West when he spoke of a “crusade” against terror.

The irony of the obsession with either apologizing for or avoiding mention of the Crusades is as important as they were to Christians at the time and perhaps even to broader European history, contemporary Muslims considered them little more than minor irritation.

For the Crusaders, the goal was Jerusalem. But for contemporary Muslims, while Jerusalem might have had some religious significance, Palestine—and, indeed, the entire Arab world—was a backwater. Less than three decades after the Prophet Muhammad’s death, the Umayyad dynasty shifted the seat of the Islamic empire to Damascus, and then less than nine decades later, the center of gravity for the Islamic world shifted further east to Baghdad with the establishment of the Abbasid dynasty. The great empires of the Islamic world, however, were non-Arab: The Safavids in Iran, the Ottomans in Anatolia, and the Mughals in India. It may be on the older side, but J.J. Saunders’ History of Medieval Islam is still probably the best-written, detailed, and accessible sketch of the earlier history of the Islamic world out there.

Pope Urban II proclaimed the First Crusade in 1095, and the Crusaders managed to conquer Jerusalem four years later. The Second Crusade a few decades later failed to win Damascus. In 1187, Salahuddin—an ethnic Kurd, not an Arab—regained Jerusalem, leading European Christians to launch the Third Crusade with the aim of winning back the Holy City.

Contemporary Islamic historians, however, largely ignored this Christian campaign for a very simple reason: looming on the horizon was a far greater threat. A young Mongol tribesman—Temüjin—had already begun uniting Mongol tribes and would soon take the name Genghis Khan. As word spread of the Mongol hordes, tens of thousands of refugees fleeing ahead of his horsemen started migrating westward, slowly encroaching on the various Islamic entities that had risen up as the Abbasid dynasty. And the Muslims at the time were to be concerned, given how the Mongolian hordes swept through and conquered Baghdad just a few decades later, shortly after the Seventh Crusade.

Now, perception today is more important than reality. The more the West self-flagellates with regard to the Crusades, the more Islamists feign grievance and claim victimization. The historical truth, however, is different. If any group of people should walk on egg shells, they live in Ulan Bator, not Washington, Paris, London, or Berlin. And even those people–as well as their victims–are so many centuries removed that either outrage or guilt would be nonsense.

Context matters in other ways as well. Even if the Crusades have assumed heightened importance in the Islamist narrative only in recent decades, Many histories of the Islamic world begin in the sixth century when Muhammad was born, or the seventh century when Muhammad began receiving revelations. Arbitrarily starting a narrative with the rise of Islam, however, limits context. This is why Bernard Lewis, the greatest living historian of the Middle East, wrote The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years. He consciously wanted to provide rather than ignore Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian context to the region. Islam did not arise upon a blank slate. To begin the narrative of grievance with the First Crusade—and depicting that episode as an unprovoked Christian attack on Islam which started tit-for-tat violence which continues to the present—is artificial and arbitrary. The initial Islamic invasions of Egypt and North Africa were an attack on the Byzantine Empire and other Christian communities. In the centuries before the Crusades, there was constant raiding from Islamic communities into Europe and vice versa. Muslim armies invaded Spain, briefly took Sicily, and tried to take Malta.

So Obama might wring his hands at the violence of the Crusades and might draw comparisons to downplay the malign exegesis which enables the Islamic State to enslave and rape Yezidi girls, burn churches, or burn alive captives. But when it comes to grievances over the Crusades, he and others should remember: Offense over the Crusades is more a modern phenomenon than based in the reality of Islamic history.

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What Obama Should Have Said at the Prayer Breakfast

At first, I was prepared to defend President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast from conservatives who excoriated him for comparing (as the New York Times account put it) “the atrocities of the Islamic State to the bloodshed committed in the name of Christianity in centuries past.”

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At first, I was prepared to defend President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast from conservatives who excoriated him for comparing (as the New York Times account put it) “the atrocities of the Islamic State to the bloodshed committed in the name of Christianity in centuries past.”

There are legitimate comparisons to be made. Indeed, just as Southern slaveowners once cited the Bible to defend slavery, so now ISIS cites Islamic law to defend its own form of slavery. Just as the Spanish Inquisition once burned heretics at the stake, so now ISIS burns alive a Jordanian pilot. More broadly the religious zealotry, bloodthirstiness, and intolerance of ISIS is indeed reminiscent in many ways, as Obama noted, of the Crusades.

But then I read the actual text of his speech and saw that his message wasn’t: Christianity was once intolerant but it has now reformed itself and Islam should do likewise. That’s an important message similar to the one that Egypt’s President Sisi recently delivered when he called for a “religious revolution” within Islam.

Alas, that’s not what President Obama said. What he actually said was: “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

He also said: “From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it.”

Neither statement is true or helpful.

When we see ISIS beheading and burning hostages, and “selling, crucifying, burying children alive,” I’d say we have every right to get on our “high horse” about that–even if Christians in centuries past committed their share of atrocities. In fact we have an obligation to get on our “high horse”–to make clear that ISIS’s conduct violates every norm of civilized behavior and will not be tolerated. To shrug our shoulders and say “everybody does it” is untrue and immoral.

And it is no more likely to succeed as a rhetorical gambit than Obama’s previous forays into moral relativism, such as his 2009 Cairo speech (which I defended at the time), in which he equated Iranian “hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians” with the role the U.S. played in 1953 “in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.” Such comparisons do not win the U.S. any friends–they don’t make the Iranian mullahs (or even the Iranian people) think what a great guy Obama is for disowning the conduct of the Eisenhower administration, just as ISIS (or even the ordinary people of Syria and Iraq) won’t think he is a great guy for disowning the conduct of the Crusaders. They just think he’s weak, that he’s unwilling to stand up and defend the United States, that he can be taken advantage of.

As for Obama’s claim that ISIS’s actions “are betraying” Islam–a claim he has made in the past–that too is a dubious statement and a presumptuous one for a non-Muslim to make. More accurate would be to say that ISIS’s actions are a betrayal of what we want Islam to be–but just as Christianity could be interpreted in centuries past to justify slavery and burning at the stake, so too Islam can be interpreted today to justify beheading of hostages and the enslaving of children. It does no good to deny the fact–indeed it is hard to imagine us fighting and defeating these Islamist extremists if we don’t recognize that their conduct has some grounding in Muslim tradition and has some support in the Muslim world.

No, that doesn’t mean that most Muslims are jihadists; the vast majority are not. But we need to be honest enough to recognize that ISIS’s actions, however reprehensible, have some real appeal to a minority of the Muslim world (see, for example, this article about Tunisia, which is one of the most moderate and stable corners of the Middle East), and we won’t change that fact by denying it away.

Obama’s speech reveals the fuzzy thinking behind his strategy in what used to be called “the war on terror.” Little wonder that across the greater Middle East–in countries such as Nigeria, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen–we are losing the struggle. If the president can’t even think clearly on these major issues, he certainly can’t act effectively.

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UKIP’s Selective Democracy and the Jews

A major reason for the skepticism regarding the future of European Jewry is that there appears no political solution on the horizon to the worsening climate of anti-Semitism. The belief among many is that while it’s beyond dispute that the European left has failed the Jews, the European far right would fail them too if given the chance. And now UKIP, Britain’s ascendant right-wing populists, are proving the point.

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A major reason for the skepticism regarding the future of European Jewry is that there appears no political solution on the horizon to the worsening climate of anti-Semitism. The belief among many is that while it’s beyond dispute that the European left has failed the Jews, the European far right would fail them too if given the chance. And now UKIP, Britain’s ascendant right-wing populists, are proving the point.

UKIP (the UK Independence Party) is actually far more moderate than its reputation would suggest. And unlike in France, it’s conceivable that an anti-EU party in Britain could pull the UK away from the union. That’s because Britain isn’t in the union with both feet. And it’s also because mainstream parties like the Conservatives have a strong and eloquent faction of Euroskeptics among them.

UKIP, in other words, gets a bad rap. Unfortunately, they’re starting to live up to it.

What’s concerning about the rise of the French far right is that a militant anti-Muslim posture, aside from being animated by discriminatory ideas, will do no good for non-Muslims either. You can’t have religious freedom for only some of your citizens and still be free.

UKIP is demonstrating this with its new anti-halal campaign.

The latest controversy started with the revelations that hidden cameras in a halal slaughterhouse had captured “horrifying” abuse of the animals before and during the slaughter. Muslims have been fighting against the government’s preference that animals be stunned before being slaughtered, and this appears to have turned public opinion back against them.

UKIP responded by calling for a ban on any slaughter in which the animal isn’t stunned first, in essence simply removing the religious exemption. As other similar bans have shown, this would outlaw the kosher shechita process as well. UKIP’s attempt at reassurance to Britain’s Jewish Chronicle sounded as though a Tory plant had dressed as a UKIP minister and set about sabotaging the group’s standing:

A senior Ukip member has claimed that the party’s ban on non-stun slaughter, announced today, was against his wishes.

MEP Stuart Agnew, the party’s agricultural spokesman, said: “We are a democratic party and I couldn’t get enough support. They didn’t like my tolerance of non-stunning.

“They have decided to override me on this occasion. I’m not going to say they were wrong.”

But Mr Agnew said the policy was not meant to target shechita.

“This isn’t aimed at you – it’s aimed elsewhere – it’s aimed at others.

“You’ve been caught in the crossfire; collateral damage. You know what I mean.”

Yes, we know what you mean. And that statement is a bumbling masterpiece.

First, the UKIP spokesman said that he was forced to go along with the outlawing of basic tenets of Judaism and Islam because they “are a democratic party.” I don’t know if he appreciated the irony of defending the proposal that the government stomp on individual rights in the name of democracy, but it’s not comforting.

His second part of the “defense” of the UKIP vote was more honest. The Jews are simply “collateral damage.” It’s possible he meant this in a positive way too, something like: You folks are usually the target of populist authoritarianism, so in a way you’ve graduated.

He might be comparing Britain to France here. Maybe UKIP thinks that because they’re not threatening violence, outlawing Jewish practice in this way is not the really bad kind of authoritarian nationalism. But in fact it’s not really fully accurate to say they’re not threatening violence, is it? After all, such laws are backed up by the force of the state, so we’re not talking about simply peer pressure here.

We’ve seen similar efforts in the U.S. get struck down by the courts, if they even get that far. For a while “anti-Sharia” laws were all the rage, but they often amounted to unconscionable infringements on religious liberty. (In one case an anti-Sharia law raised fears it would, as written, outlaw Jewish divorce.)

In Britain’s case, UKIP’s selective democracy works against the Jews twice over. Not only must Jews’ religious liberty be eroded because UKIP votes on its asinine schemes, but Jews are also not present in high enough numbers to make UKIP pay at the ballot box–or, at least, not in high enough numbers to stop a ritual slaughter ban from being a net-gain for UKIP:

Mr Agnew said he believed that the policy was put forward to win votes ahead of the general election.

He said: “There are more votes to be gained, and I expect that’s what they were looking for.

“We’ll have lost the Jewish vote for sure, they won’t support us now for sure – we won’t get any now.

“But we might gain votes elsewhere – and that’s what they’re after, general election votes.”

This is a perfect example of what a glorious document our Constitution, with its attendant amendments, is. Britain has a tradition of freedom and republicanism from which we get our own. But that tradition here was, wisely, codified and made explicit. UKIP’s members like to think of themselves as a party geared toward liberty. But it’s clear they don’t know the meaning of the word.

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Conservatives and the War on Modesty

By now, you’re probably aware that first lady Michelle Obama did not wear a headscarf when she and President Obama met with new Saudi king Salman on Tuesday. You may have heard that this was a scandal; or you may have heard that it was not. You may have heard that this was practically revolutionary; or you may have heard that it was simply protocol. But whatever you’ve heard, there’s one question to which I’ve been searching, in vain, for a good answer: Why are we hearing anything about it at all?

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By now, you’re probably aware that first lady Michelle Obama did not wear a headscarf when she and President Obama met with new Saudi king Salman on Tuesday. You may have heard that this was a scandal; or you may have heard that it was not. You may have heard that this was practically revolutionary; or you may have heard that it was simply protocol. But whatever you’ve heard, there’s one question to which I’ve been searching, in vain, for a good answer: Why are we hearing anything about it at all?

The fact of the matter is that Michelle Obama’s decision to forgo a headscarf was nothing new. Laura Bush did the same, as did Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, etc. So why is it a big deal for Obama to follow in their footsteps? Here’s the Washington Post’s case:

But Obama is much more associated with clothes and fashion; she sets trends and boosts brands. And in the age of social media, she has an unparalleled global audience. …

Keep in mind that Michelle Obama does not make fashion choices lightly, particularly on the world stage. Her fashion choice comes as the late Saudi king Abdullah’s legacy on women is considered in light of the ascension of Crown Prince Salman to the throne.

Nonsense. I don’t have any desire to play armchair psychologist and go into the Obamas-Kennedys-Camelot fixation. But it is true that Obama received plaudits from both sides of the aisle for exposing her hair to the Saudis. Some women with roots in the Muslim world cheered her for what was treated as a silent protest on their behalf. On the right, politicians like Ted Cruz expressed their admiration. At Hot Air, Allahpundit supported the move but asked a more interesting question as to whether the significance was not in Obama breaking from the past but that she might be the last not to.

And this gets at the problem with celebrating this decision one way or the other: it’s just a different kind of conformity.

To be clear: I don’t think Michelle Obama should be forced to wear a headscarf in Saudi Arabia. But I also don’t think she should be pressured not to wear one. I simply don’t see what’s wrong with the choice–emphasis on choice–to cover one’s hair in a voluntary show of respect.

I get the opposition to bowing; it suggests subservience. But I don’t think the headscarf does, at all. I understand that many women in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are forced to cover up, and that this is a form of subservience. But so is, by this logic, being precluded by law from wearing one, as was once the case in Turkey and which has been discussed in Western Europe, though in the latter case only a ban on covering the face tends to be politically viable. Covering the face is obviously different than covering the hair, and this difference is recognized throughout the world.

Covering the head, in fact, is something that religious cultures often require of the men as well as the women, and so a headscarf does not strike me as a violation of feminist principles, such as they are. (I’m an Orthodox Jew, and cover my head–though not my hair, and yes I acknowledge the difference there. And plenty of Orthodox men wear hats, covering their whole head anyway.)

Is it offensive when Barack Obama wears a yarmulke at the Western Wall? If not (and it isn’t), then it shouldn’t be offensive if Michelle Obama chooses to wear a headscarf in Saudi Arabia (though she didn’t). One mistake too many conservatives make is to conflate any outward expression of Islamic adherence with oppression. This strikes me as flatly wrong, and irrationally so: donning a headscarf voluntarily is not the same thing as being prohibited by law from driving, to take just one example.

Additionally, conservatives should stand athwart Western culture’s assault on modesty whenever they can. And they should also understand that such modesty, and religious adherence in general, can be as freeing as it appears constricting. It might not be that way for everyone, but eliminating certain superficialities from everyday interactions can be its own form of liberation. Linda Sarsour tried to make a similar point on MSNBC yesterday:

As you can see, I wear hijab. It is a choice for me to wear and cover my hair for religious observation; and I consider myself to be a feminist and someone who supports the upholding of all rights, specifically of women. So this conversation we’re having needs to be more about not obsessing over Michelle Obama wearing a headscarf or not wearing a headscarf — which she is not mandated to do or required in a place like Saudi Arabia, specifically in Jeddah. Also, she is wearing modest clothing, but she was not at a mosque, so she wasn’t required to wear it. But this conversation about, oh, she was standing up for women for not wearing hijab, what about women who do wear hijab, and who choose to wear hijab? I’m very proud of my religion, and my faith, and I’m very proud of the hijab that I wear.

Ostracizing modest dress and voluntary respectful gestures strikes me as a bizarre cause for conservatives (or anybody, really) to take up. And I would hate to see women who cover their hair depicted as anti-freedom by a Western society that claims religious liberty as a paramount value.

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Why Integration Won’t Stop Radicalization

Earlier this week at a joint press conference, President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron were asked about domestic radicalization in the U.S. and Europe. Obama said that “Our biggest advantage … is that our Muslim populations, they feel themselves to be Americans. And there is this incredible process of immigration and assimilation that is part of our tradition that is probably our greatest strength.” The president was right. But it raised an important question: How much of Europe’s radicalized Muslim population can be deterred by better integration into society?

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Earlier this week at a joint press conference, President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron were asked about domestic radicalization in the U.S. and Europe. Obama said that “Our biggest advantage … is that our Muslim populations, they feel themselves to be Americans. And there is this incredible process of immigration and assimilation that is part of our tradition that is probably our greatest strength.” The president was right. But it raised an important question: How much of Europe’s radicalized Muslim population can be deterred by better integration into society?

The Obama administration seems to think the answer is: a lot. Yesterday Secretary of State Kerry met with his EU counterpart Federica Mogherini, and the two took questions from the press. Kerry followed up on Obama’s comments and went a step further, as the Weekly Standard reports:

I entered college in 1962. And in 1963, ’4, ’5, we were deeply embroiled in this country, and we – college students in the Civil Rights Movement. And we were deeply impacted by that and have always been, I think, as a generation, much more sensitive to this question of minority and rights and integration and so forth. We’ve made unbelievable progress in our nation, unbelievable progress in the years since then. But it would be completely disingenuous not to say to you that we still have some distance to travel. …

And Federica is absolutely correct; this particular incident of violence wasn’t a specific targeting that grew out of that, but we all can do work in many parts of the world that I have seen where one minority or another or another is not able to share fully in the full integration in whatever country they happen to be living.

Seeing the Muslim integration problem through the prism of Jim Crow is deeply misguided. (This is a bipartisan temptation; Condoleezza Rice once explained that she understood the Palestinian grievance against checkpoints because of her childhood in the segregated South.) Not only are the two situations dissimilar, but Kerry is offering Europe’s Muslim communities a broad claim of injustice and victimhood while laying much of it at the individual governments’ feet.

Kerry did say that the recent Paris terror attack was not the result of a lack of integration. But if he were to examine why that is, he would learn much about the limits of his argument.

In the past, one of the popular beliefs about terrorism was that it stemmed from poverty. The search for “root causes” usually meant the search for conditions that would rob terrorists of their agency. It wouldn’t excuse the violence, but it would tiptoe far too close to doing so.

And–here’s the key–it was wrong. The idea that poverty is a root cause of terrorism has long been debunked. It crops up again from time to time, a zombie theory with its stubborn adherents. But paternalistic Westerners have always liked this explanation because it suggests an easy response–give them money–while laying their endemic societal problems at the feet of Western imperialism.

The “integration” issue is certainly a legitimate concern for Europe these days. And there’s even a certain amount of logic to the belief that it must play a role in the radicalization of Europe’s Muslim minority. But in an intriguing and thorough article today, terrorism analyst Lorenzo Vidino reveals that the “integration” theory is limited, to say the least:

Several studies seem to disprove the connection. A recent and extensive study conducted at Queen Mary University on a relatively large sample of young British Muslims, for example, showed that those most at risk of radicalization were 18- to 20-year-olds involved in advanced education from wealthy families who spoke English at home. …

Dounia Bouzar, director of the Centre for Prevention Against Islamic Sectarianism, recently published the results of her study of 160 French families that had contacted her center seeking help with their children’s radicalization. She found that two thirds of the families were middle class. Moreover, according to another study, 23% of French jihadists in Syria are converts. Discrimination against Muslim immigrants could hardly be seen as the factor triggering the radicalization of this sizeable cross section of French jihadists. If we add to that that many French converts hail from affluent families (see for example this interesting New York Times article on radicalization in the town of Lunel, in which one of the individuals profiled is the son of a Jewish engineer who grew up in a comfortable home with a swimming pool recently died in Syria), we see that in many cases socio-economic issues are equally irrelevant to explain radicalization processes.

I recommend reading the whole thing. In retrospect, the falsity of the “integration” argument should probably seem as obvious as its initial rationality sounded. After all, if poverty doesn’t cause terrorism, then the least-integrated immigrants probably aren’t the most easily radicalized. If terrorists come from the educated and the middle class, they are probably well integrated.

That does not mean that Europe has no integration challenge. It does. And integration is still important for education, economic mobility, and social cohesion. But it does mean that once again, there is no easy answer. There is no wad of cash or welfare-state program that can serve as a magic bullet here. And there is no simple way to blame the West for the violence employed against it. The hard work of diligent counterterrorism has no substitute.

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Terror Motivated by “Foreign Occupation”? The Data Says Otherwise.

I was shocked and disturbed by one of the passages Seth Mandel quoted Wednesday from a book by a well-regarded scholar of comparative religion. According to Karen Armstrong, ascribing Islamist terror mainly to religious motivations is wrong; “Terrorism experts agree that the denial of a people’s right to national self-determination and the occupation of its homeland by foreign forces has historically been the most powerful recruiting agent of terrorist organizations.” As Seth correctly noted, that claim ignores some pretty glaring historical evidence. But it also ignores the latest hard data, published just this month by the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

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I was shocked and disturbed by one of the passages Seth Mandel quoted Wednesday from a book by a well-regarded scholar of comparative religion. According to Karen Armstrong, ascribing Islamist terror mainly to religious motivations is wrong; “Terrorism experts agree that the denial of a people’s right to national self-determination and the occupation of its homeland by foreign forces has historically been the most powerful recruiting agent of terrorist organizations.” As Seth correctly noted, that claim ignores some pretty glaring historical evidence. But it also ignores the latest hard data, published just this month by the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

According to INSS, only 3 percent of all suicide bombings in 2014 were carried out against foreign armies. The vast majority targeted home-grown governments, militaries, and security services or rival ethnic and religious groups. And needless to say, almost all were carried out by Muslim extremists.

Nor can Armstrong and her unnamed experts be excused on the grounds that the world has changed since her book was published. A decade ago, before the explosive rise of Sunni-versus-Shi’ite violence in places like Iraq and Syria, the collapse of several Arab states and resulting internecine violence in places like Syria, Libya, and Yemen, and the upsurge of violence by groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria or the Pakistani Taliban in Pakistan, perhaps their thesis might have been more tenable. But Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence was published in 2014–the same year in which “foreign occupation” accounted for a mere 3 percent of all suicide bombings.

One can understand why experts might prefer to view Islamist terror as a response to “foreign occupation,” because if that were true, the whole problem would be within the West’s power to solve: Withdraw all Western forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, and other countries; force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, India from Kashmir, China from Xinjiang, and so forth; and presto, no more Islamist terror.

Nevertheless, this view has two big problems even aside from the fact that it belies the data. First, it denies Muslim extremists any agency, refusing to acknowledge that they could possibly have dreams and aspirations of their own. All the goals the extremists claim to desire–restoring the caliphate, imposing Sharia law, defeating the West, eradicating Israel, reconquering Andalusia–are dismissed as mere window-dressing.

Indeed, this view reduces Muslims to mere human versions of Pavlov’s dog, responding automatically to the stimulus of “foreign occupation” with no possibility of doing otherwise. And it ought to go without saying that any theory that reduces some human beings to puppets dancing on a string pulled by others–i.e., that ascribes agency to Westerners alone while denying it to Muslims–is liable to be a poor explanation of reality.

Second, because it is a poor explanation of reality, this theory not only precludes any possibility of dealing with the real problem posed by Islamic extremism, but is liable to lead to counterproductive solutions. For instance, if “foreign occupation” were really the problem, then withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan might be productive. But if the problem is that Muslim extremists want to restore the global caliphate, Western withdrawals are actually counterproductive. Withdrawing leaves behind weak governments that the extremists can easily topple, giving them control of more territory and resources; it also makes the extremists look like they’re winning, which attracts more supporters to their banner.

The best way to defeat an extremist ideology is to show its potential adherents that it’s a dead end incapable of producing any real-world gains. But to do that, the West must first recognize that the problem is the ideology, not the straw man of “foreign occupation.”

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When Islamic Terror Confounds a Narrative

The Obama administration is once again hearing the criticism that President Obama and his advisors and spokesmen, in an attempt to avoid offending Islamists, are self-censoring their use of the term “Islamic” to the point of absurdity. And the criticism is correct.

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The Obama administration is once again hearing the criticism that President Obama and his advisors and spokesmen, in an attempt to avoid offending Islamists, are self-censoring their use of the term “Islamic” to the point of absurdity. And the criticism is correct.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Obama administration has decided that self-censorship is a more comfortable fit for this president than intellectual honesty or defending the West. Obama would make a great editor of the New York Times, but at this moment the free world could really use a leader. Unfortunately, his reaction has been twofold: to pretend he knows anything about Islam and declare many Muslims to be fake Muslims, and to stop using the term “Islamic” when describing things involving Islam.

It has made for some awkward moments. Although the president is the one who sets the tone, it’s the spokesmen who have to go out everyday and express these amateurish notions on camera. On Monday, it was State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf’s turn. The administration will be holding a summit on the generic threat of violent extremism instead of the obvious and immediate and ongoing threat of Islamic terrorism, and Fox’s Martha MacCallum asked her a pretty fair question:

MACCALLUM: Tell me, what other forms of extremism are particularly troubling and compelling to you right now?

HARF: Well, look, there are people out there who want to kill other people in the name of a variety of causes. Of course, Martha, we are most focused on people doing this in the name of Islam. And we’ve talked about with ISIL, part of our strategy to counter this extremism is to have other moderate Muslim voices stand up and say they don’t represent our religion. They speak for their religion more than we do certainly and we need those voices to stand up. In addition to all the other efforts we’re undertaking.

Harf was asked to name another kind of extremism vexing the administration. She wouldn’t. Only Islam. So, the administration can then at least address the fact that radical Islam poses a threat, right? Wrong. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, as the Washington Times reported (via Hot Air), explained why administration officials will not be using “Islam” when Islam is involved unless the actions meet the administration’s guidelines for Koranic faithfulness:

“I certainly wouldn’t want to be in a position where I’m repeating the justification they have cited that I think is illegitimate. They had invoked Islam to justify their attacks,” he told reporters. “I think what I’m trying to do is to describe to you what happened and what they did. These individuals are terrorists. … We have chosen not to use that label [of radical Islam] because it doesn’t seem to accurately describe what happened.”

From the administration’s perspective, then, here is what happened in Paris: angry, boom, yelling, bang, very bad. Is that a sufficiently clear description? Do the administration’s genius advisors think scribbling pictures on the wall of a cave would be safer? Is there a single adult anywhere in the White House?

On a more serious note, this is a problem not just for clearly incompetent officials in Washington but also for scholars. The most maddening element of Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence is that it combines fluid writing and broad scholarship with glaring errors whenever history doesn’t conform to Armstrong’s thesis. And as is so often the case, that tends to happen when modern-day Islamic terror confounds the narrative.

Armstrong sets out to make an important, if anodyne and pedestrian, point: you cannot judge the prospective violence of a government or a people by whether they are “religious” or “secular.” Both can be, and have been, peaceful; both can be, and have been, violent. Much of the book is a fascinating exploration of just how intertwined religion and politics have always been, even when the politics appear, or try to appear, secular. Modern society, she writes, “has made a scapegoat of faith.”

But when we get to the latter half of the 20th century, Armstrong tries to show that Islam isn’t the cause of violence it’s being made out to be. And so we get this remarkable passage about Hezbollah:

By 1986, however, the resistance leaders had decided that Hizbollah must change direction, since its operations were too often irresponsible and counterproductive; it was suffering heavy casualties and dividing the Shii community. There was tension between Hizbollah and AMAL, and the villages resisted Hizbollah’s attempts to impose Islamic rules. By this time Fadl Allah had concluded that violence, after all, did not bring results: What had the PLO achieved with the terrorism that had shocked the world? Lebanese Shii must take a new path, he argued, working “from within the objective and actual circumstances” in which they found themselves. …

Hizbollah, therefore, renounced terrorism and became a political party answerable to the electorate, focusing on social activism and a grassroots transformation.

Holy moly. Does it even need to be pointed out that Hezbollah engages in global terrorism outside of Lebanon and rules in southern Lebanon by force? If you have to argue that Hezbollah is basically a group of community organizers-turned-legislators, you should probably rethink the point you’re trying to make.

Elsewhere, we get this: “Terrorism experts agree that the denial of a people’s right to national self-determination and the occupation of its homeland by foreign forces has historically been the most powerful recruiting agent of terrorist organizations, whether their ideology is religious (the Lebanese Shii) or secular (the PLO).”

Even on its most secular days (which are far, far behind us), the PLO’s terrorism was still directed at the Jews in the hope of extinguishing the Jewish state. It is quite a stretch to describe any such terror as secular.

It is comforting to believe that the world is not a complicated place–that it’s divided between extremists and non-extremists, and that religion or other ideologies we either respect or adhere to are wholly on the right side of that dividing line. But the truth, as always, is more complex. And we do ourselves no favors by pretending otherwise.

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On Muhammad Cartoons, History Already Repeating Itself

Over the weekend, while much of the world was busy being “Charlie,” something terrible happened at one of the very few publications that actually followed Charlie Hebdo’s lead and published the Muhammad cartoons. It drew little comment, as the international media was mostly preoccupied with feel-good reporting from the Paris unity march, but in the early hours of Sunday morning the offices of the Hamburger Morgenpost were firebombed in an apparent reprisal for the paper having dared to republish some of the cartoons. Back in 2011 the offices of Charlie Hebdo were similarly firebombed for having published Muhammad cartoons, and there was little outcry then too. For all the talk of “Je suis Charlie” one fears little has been learned.

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Over the weekend, while much of the world was busy being “Charlie,” something terrible happened at one of the very few publications that actually followed Charlie Hebdo’s lead and published the Muhammad cartoons. It drew little comment, as the international media was mostly preoccupied with feel-good reporting from the Paris unity march, but in the early hours of Sunday morning the offices of the Hamburger Morgenpost were firebombed in an apparent reprisal for the paper having dared to republish some of the cartoons. Back in 2011 the offices of Charlie Hebdo were similarly firebombed for having published Muhammad cartoons, and there was little outcry then too. For all the talk of “Je suis Charlie” one fears little has been learned.

Following the Paris attacks and the murder by Islamists of journalists who had dared to satirize Islam—among other faiths—huge numbers took to declaring themselves “Charlie” and held up the pen in a sign of solidarity and defiance. Many publications echoed these sentiments on their front covers the morning after the attack. Yet, very few were actually willing to reprint the offending cartoons, either in defiance or in simple illustration of the news story, and for good reason. Among those who did were the Danish newspaper Berlingske, a few of the Montreal based French language magazines, and several German publications, including Berliner Zeitung, the Berliner Kurier, and the Hamburger Morgenpost. Now the latter of those has been attacked already, and to remarkably little condemnation.

Of course, the best way to overcome the terror threat to freedom of the press would be, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali has suggested, to spread the risk around. This would require all the media outlets who wished to resist the imposition of Islamic blasphemy laws to simultaneously publish the drawings. Otherwise it is left to just one or two lonely publications to hold the line for the entire free world. That of course was what happened to Charlie Hebdo.

Back in 2005 when the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten first published some images of Muhammad, all hell broke loose. Danish embassies were attacked and it has been estimated that as many as 200 people were killed in the riots that ensued globally. While the Danish government came under diplomatic pressure to apologize, Charlie Hebdo was one of the few publications to support the Danish newspaper and in 2006 the French magazine republished the Muhammad cartoons. Along with death threats and legal action, in 2011 the office of Charlie Hebdo was firebombed. Not only did the world pay little attention but many commentators condemned the magazine for having been irresponsibly provocative. It seems that not until the staff of Charlie Hebdo lost their lives were people prepared to give this subject serious attention.

So now that the Hamburger Morgenpost is where Charlie Hebdo was in 2011–firebombed after having taken a stand of solidarity with a fellow publication–wouldn’t it be the time to take note and act before the staff of the German publication find themselves in the same situation the French journalists encountered in 2015?

If people living in modern-day Europe, and liberal democracies the world over, decide they do not wish to live under Islamic blasphemy laws as imposed by a fanatical minority, then they must understand that hashtag trends and unity rallies will not be enough. Clearly, free and democratic societies are not the natural way of things and basic rights such as free speech do not happen automatically. They require work from a committed citizenry and civil society that is ready to guard its freedoms jealously. The Hamburger Morgenpost has come under attack for doing nothing more than exercising its freedom of expression. Instead of looking the other way, now is the time for other publications and public figures to rally to their defense, lest their staff go the same way as that of Charlie Hebdo’s.

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Terror, Israel, and France’s False Unity

The narrative of “unity” in Paris yesterday was quickly punctured by reports that French President Francois Hollande tried to prevent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s participation in the rally against terror. According to Haaretz, Hollande’s national security advisor relayed the message to his Israeli counterpart. There are, clearly, several things wrong with this picture, foremost among them the gratuitous insult to a Jewish community in mourning that the head of the Jewish state is not welcome in Paris. But if the report is correct, the reasons given for the attempted exclusion compound the offense.

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The narrative of “unity” in Paris yesterday was quickly punctured by reports that French President Francois Hollande tried to prevent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s participation in the rally against terror. According to Haaretz, Hollande’s national security advisor relayed the message to his Israeli counterpart. There are, clearly, several things wrong with this picture, foremost among them the gratuitous insult to a Jewish community in mourning that the head of the Jewish state is not welcome in Paris. But if the report is correct, the reasons given for the attempted exclusion compound the offense.

First, there is the following explanation, relayed by Haaretz, for why Hollande didn’t want Netanyahu there:

Audibert explained that Hollande wanted the event to focus on demonstrating solidarity with France, and to avoid anything liable to divert attention to other controversial issues, like Jewish-Muslim relations or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Audibert said that Hollande hoped that Netanyahu would understand the difficulties his arrival might pose and would announce that he would not be attending.

Anyone who hoped the French might get serious about the terrorism and anti-Semitism plaguing their country will have their hopes dashed by that paragraph. A refresher: the march for unity was held after a two-pronged terror attack, the latter half of which centered on Islamic extremists specifically targeting Jews. In the wake of that attack, Jews were warned to hide any outward appearance of their Judaism and the famed Jewish quarter of the Marais became a ghetto regulated by fear.

To this, the French president says that he doesn’t want the response to include “other controversial issues, like Jewish-Muslim relations.” In fact, “Jewish-Muslim relations”–a mild way of describing French Islamists’ murderous anti-Semitism and pogromist instincts–is currently tearing Paris apart. What Hollande doesn’t want to talk about is what’s actually happening to his country. If the Jewish presence atop the Islamists’ target list can’t be acknowledged even in the wake of terror, then Hollande is really making no room for it at all. Hollande’s head is still in the sand.

Netanyahu was at first open to Hollande’s unreasonable request. But then he changed his mind, and informed Hollande he would attend. Here is the apparent response from the French government:

According to the source, when Cohen informed Audibert that Netanyahu would be attending the event after all, Audibert angrily told Cohen that the prime minister’s conduct would have an adverse effect on ties between the two countries as long as Hollande was president of France and Netanyahu was prime minister of Israel.

But the foot stomping wasn’t over. Hollande had to publicly convey his opposition to Israel’s head of government participating in a “unity” event. Both attended an event at the Grand Synagogue: “Hollande sat through most of the ceremony, but when Netanyahu’s turn at the podium arrived, the French president got up from his seat and made an early exit.”

There is another explanation, however, for Hollande’s decision to disrespect the Jews in the Grand Synagogue. In an unsigned piece at Tablet, a video is provided of the arrival first of Hollande and then of Netanyahu at the Grand Synagogue. Netanyahu receives a hero’s welcome.

This is not all that surprising. I recommend watching the video of Netanyahu’s entrance into the synagogue; it is more compelling than it might appear. The simple fact is that Netanyahu’s presence is a reminder to the Jews of Paris and the Jews of the world that when their home countries repay their love and loyalty with hatred and abuse, the existence of Israel provides an inspirational counterpoint–even for Jews with no intention of making aliyah. Tablet notes:

One of the great lessons of the Holocaust for the Jewish people and for all other peoples who have since been threatened with genocide by fanatics—Cambodians under Pol Pot, Bosnian Muslims, and the Tutsi of Rwanda—is that the world will always talk a good game but will do precious little to save you. If you don’t stick together, you will die alone. The fact that the State of Israel exists means that the Jewish people will never be radically alone. That’s why the people in the Grand Synagogue of Paris are cheering.

And thus it is also something of a reproof to the host country. The presence of an Israeli prime minister in a Western capital that has proved incapable of protecting its Jews provides a contrast that does not benefit Hollande. In that sense, though Hollande’s behavior is not defensible, neither is it incomprehensible.

But the attempt to prevent Netanyahu from attending the march is also delegitimizing to the Jewish state. Jews were killed because they were Jews, and with the partial pretext of the Jewish state’s self-defense. Excluding the Israeli leader is a divisive act–literally, as it divides the Jewish people–and also treats Israel, which is a Western country on the front lines of fighting such terror, as an outsider looking in on the free world. Netanyahu was right to attend, and by the looks of it, the besieged Jews of Paris agreed.

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No “Clash of Civilizations”

The terrorists who carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris–Saïd and Chérif Kouachi–were of course Muslims, born in Paris to parents of Algerian origin. So too Amedy Coulibaly, who shot hostages in a kosher supermarket before being killed by police, was a Muslim, in his case of African origin. Their acts were applauded by various jihadists and fellow travelers around the world who praised them for “avenging the prophet.”

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The terrorists who carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris–Saïd and Chérif Kouachi–were of course Muslims, born in Paris to parents of Algerian origin. So too Amedy Coulibaly, who shot hostages in a kosher supermarket before being killed by police, was a Muslim, in his case of African origin. Their acts were applauded by various jihadists and fellow travelers around the world who praised them for “avenging the prophet.”

It would be easy, therefore, to conclude that this terrorist atrocity, the latest of many, is symptomatic of a general Muslim assault on the West–that the world is dividing, as Samuel Huntington famously predicted, into a battle of civilizations and that “our” civilization is destined to be at war with “theirs.” But that easy us-vs.-them narrative is complicated by a few facts.

Such as the fact that Ahmed Merabet, a police officer gunned down during the Charlie Hebdo attack, was himself a Muslim of Algerian origin. His brother said: “My brother was Muslim and he was killed by two terrorists, by two false Muslims. Islam is a religion of peace and love. As far as my brother’s death is concerned it was a waste. He was very proud of the name Ahmed Merabet, proud to represent the police and of defending the values of the Republic – liberty, equality, fraternity.”

So too Lassana Bathily of Mali, the employee who hid 15 people at the kosher supermarket from Coulibaly, was a Muslim. As was Mohamed Douhane, one of the senior police commanders directing the response to the attacks. He even visited Israel in 2008 along with a delegation of other French Muslim leaders.

What to make of these contrasting facts? Is Islam a religion of peace, as many claim, or is it a religion dedicated to making war on unbelievers and infidels, as others assert? Are the terrorists the true Muslims–or are the law-abiding French Muslims truer to their faith?

The answer is “yes.” Both are true at once. Islam, like every other broad-based religion, is subject to numerous conflicting interpretations. Some use it to justify hateful violence; others use it to justify a path of nonviolence. It is impossible to say which is the true version because Islam is a decentralized faith that, unlike Catholicism, has no pope to rule on matters of theology.

Surveys indicate that the broad majority of Muslims around the world are not in the violent, jihadist camp. A Pew poll in 2013, for example, found that across 11 Muslim countries, 67 percent of those surveyed said they are somewhat or very concerned about Islamic extremism and 57 percent said they had an unfavorable view of al-Qaeda while 51 percent had an unfavorable view of the Taliban. Moreover, “about three-quarters or more in Pakistan (89%), Indonesia (81%), Nigeria (78%) and Tunisia (77%), say suicide bombings or other acts of violence that target civilians are never justified.” Indeed the only place where a majority of Muslims justified suicide bombings was in the Palestinian territories.

It seems safe, then, to say that most Muslims around the world are moderate. But there is a substantial minority of extremists which, in absolute numbers, pose a serious threat, given the fact that there are an estimated 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. While those extremists pose a substantial threat to the West, they present an even bigger threat to fellow Muslims. The vast majority of victims of Islamist terrorist organization such as the Taliban, ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah have been fellow Muslims. Such organizations, after all, are principally bent on dominating their own societies, thus by definition oppressing and killing fellow Muslims; they generally attack the West only as an auxiliary line of operations. One of the truly disturbing aspects of modern-day Islamist movements is the ease with which they declare their Muslim enemies to be “takfir” (i.e. apostates) and therefore liable to be killed.

What is going on, then, is not a war between civilizations but a war within Islamic civilization pitting an armed, militant minority against a peaceful but easily cowed majority. Any talk of waging “war on Islam” is thus deeply misguided and harmful. What we in the West need to do is to help moderate Muslims wage war on the radicals. Sound impossible? Far from it. Just look at how successfully (if brutally) Muslim states such as Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria have fought to repress Islamist movements–or how courageously so many Iraqi and Afghan security officers have fought against Islamist extremists. (They would fight even more effectively if their own organizations were less corrupt and more effective.)

The “us-vs.-them” narrative only distracts from what needs to be done while playing into the terrorists’ hands–that is after all, precisely the narrative they seek to promulgate to rally Muslims to their side.

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A Big Day for Craven Self-Censorship

One of the strangest reactions to today’s horrific terror attack in Paris has been the Western media’s collective freakout resulting in news organizations making a point of censoring their own work. I don’t mean having a policy of not showing certain images, although that’s part of the dispiriting response. But some news organizations seemed to have gone out of their way in order to demonstrate self-censorship. The result is major English-language media–organizations that are about as visible as it gets–trying to delete their own digital footprint.

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One of the strangest reactions to today’s horrific terror attack in Paris has been the Western media’s collective freakout resulting in news organizations making a point of censoring their own work. I don’t mean having a policy of not showing certain images, although that’s part of the dispiriting response. But some news organizations seemed to have gone out of their way in order to demonstrate self-censorship. The result is major English-language media–organizations that are about as visible as it gets–trying to delete their own digital footprint.

Now, I don’t subscribe to the notion that all visual media must show the offending Charlie Hebdo cartoons that were at the center of Islamist terror today. I don’t really think freedom of the press means we should bully newspapers and magazines into publishing something. They should be permitted, of course, to offend: that’s press freedom. But they don’t have a responsibility to offend just because we want them to. That said, there was a bizarre trend today in which media organs seemed to go out of their way to show the world that they were censoring the very images that were rallying the West to France’s side, even (or especially) when no one would have noticed if they hadn’t.

The best examples of this are what the New York Daily News did, which mirrored what the UK Telegraph did. After twelve people were killed in the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices, with the murderers reportedly yelling that Muhammad had been “avenged” by the attack, the Telegraph posted a photo in which a copy of the paper appeared but blurred the “offensive” part of the cover. Why post the photo at all other than as some kind of preemptive and desperate capitulation?

The Daily News did the same, in an especially undignified manner. The paper ran a picture (still up as I write this, at this link) of Charlie Hebdo editor Stéphane Charbonnier (known as Charb), who was killed in the attack. The photo shows Charb outside the wreckage of Charlie Hebdo’s offices after they were firebombed in 2011. Charb is holding up a copy of the paper, which the Daily News blurred. The symbolism of that particular picture, with the blurred cover, is perfectly on the nose.

Other preemptive self-censorship followed, usually after the discovery of just regular old self-censorship. In a roundup of censorship, Rosie Gray revealed that the Associated Press was removing photos from its library showing Charlie Hebdo covers that satirized Muhammad. The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney posted that despite this censorship, the AP was still selling its photo of “Piss Christ.” Soon after that, the AP took that photo down as well.

That latter move is actually somewhat insulting to Christians, though they don’t need me to register outrage on their behalf or presume to know how they should react. But it strikes me as creating the impression of a false equivalence: they don’t have to censor images like that because Christians won’t take up violence against them. Their censorship of images critical of Islam is to prevent the very real threat of Muslim violence in response to speech.

So taking down “Piss Christ” suggests one of two narratives, both false. One, that there is a threat of violence from Christians in some way equal to the threat of violence from Muslims. Two, that Christians desire censorship of images they find offensive. The former is less damaging because it’s patently ridiculous: there is no threat of Christian violence for blasphemy in the media. The latter is more damaging, potentially: it reverses what Christian objectors actually wanted today, which was, by and large, less censorship of all things instead of equal censorship across the board.

Christians are not campaigning for the end of free speech in the West, and yet the AP acts as though they are. That’s deeply dishonest, and completely misses the point when Christians complain of the double standard. That’s why I used the word “freakout” earlier to describe the media’s behavior. The Associated Press appears to have lost its collective mind.

One bright spot in all this darkness is the behavior of the French public. They are pouring into the street to proclaim they are “not afraid” and the pictures are compelling. At one rally, they projected the cover of Charlie Hebdo onto a monument in the center of the gathering. The media should look carefully at it: they might notice it’s not been blurred, and neither has the message they’re sending.

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Europe Needs to Reaffirm Its Identity

The horrific shooting at the office of Charlie Hebdo today—and reports that the terrorists spoke perfect French—will once again raise questions about radicalism among Europe’s growing Muslim community and identity. In 2005, I and some colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute visited the Netherlands for a conference examining Islam and democracy in Europe. At a meeting with some members of the Rotterdam city council, we asked about what it was to be Dutch. Surprisingly, the question seemed to stump the politicians. To require Dutch competency would be racist, it was explained, as would forcing Dutch liberalism upon illiberal communities which might restrict the freedom of their wives or daughters. Moral and cultural equivalency had won the day. Then again, this Europe largely acknowledged its anchorless identity when many of its countries began using euro bank notes and coins in 2002. In order to avoid favoring any one country or making anyone feel deprived, the currency featured fictional designs of buildings and monuments rather than actual ones.

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The horrific shooting at the office of Charlie Hebdo today—and reports that the terrorists spoke perfect French—will once again raise questions about radicalism among Europe’s growing Muslim community and identity. In 2005, I and some colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute visited the Netherlands for a conference examining Islam and democracy in Europe. At a meeting with some members of the Rotterdam city council, we asked about what it was to be Dutch. Surprisingly, the question seemed to stump the politicians. To require Dutch competency would be racist, it was explained, as would forcing Dutch liberalism upon illiberal communities which might restrict the freedom of their wives or daughters. Moral and cultural equivalency had won the day. Then again, this Europe largely acknowledged its anchorless identity when many of its countries began using euro bank notes and coins in 2002. In order to avoid favoring any one country or making anyone feel deprived, the currency featured fictional designs of buildings and monuments rather than actual ones.

History shapes identity, and there’s nothing illiberal about standing up for certain values, nor should it be racist to understand citizenship as a compact, one in which the benefits of citizenship are bestowed only upon those who accept the supremacy of the values around which that nation is organized. The same holds true for the United States. American citizenship should be no entitlement (hence the problem of jus soli citizenship which prioritizes accidents of geography above values). For all the talk of amnesty in the United States today, no one—Jewish, Christian, or Muslim—should win citizenship or even residency if they do not uphold the supremacy of the constitution above all else in daily, communal life. Spiritualism, morals, and values can be an individual choice, but not something that should be imposed on others. Free speech should be paramount, whether Islamists like it or not. Most Americans—religious or otherwise—understand that, but European society as a whole has been rudderless and, as Tom Wilson notes, “is losing its soul.”

The contributions of European civilization to society have been rich, indeed, disproportionately so. There is much for which Europeans should be proud. Let us hope that the European response to the Charlie Hebdo shooting will be retrenchment on the importance of free expression rather than self-censorship. Europeans should recognize that the dark clouds of fascism or totalitarianism accompany censorship. Perhaps it might be time for every newspaper and every website in Europe to replicate the cartoons and essays in the latest Charlie Hebdo edition in order to declare forthright that Islamists and terrorists cannot silence Europe.

Likewise, it is long past time for Europeans to declare for what they stand. Enough with fictional designs on Euro notes. Let each note be a monument to real cathedrals, castles, and monuments. If a conservative and intolerant Muslim (these are not synonymous) in Europe wants to buy bread, let him or her hand over a five or ten euro note sporting an image of Notre Dame or an image of the Battle of Tours.

Europe should be diverse, tolerant, and multi-confessional. If migrants want to live in Europe—and if European society wishes to have them—then they should come for Europe’s freedom, and not simply for its welfare. If they will not accept European freedoms and liberalism, then they should seek to make their lives in societies which mirror their own value systems. If Europe does not understand that there can be no compromise on basic values, then today’s attack is a harbinger of more tragedy to come.

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We Must Stand with the Satirists

One thing that unites totalitarians, and would-be totalitarians, it seems, is a lack of a sense of humor. Hitler hated The Great Dictator. Kim Jong-un hates The Interview. And Islamist fanatics hate Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newspaper known for making light of ISIS and others of their ilk. By contrast great democratic leaders such as Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan have been renowned for their humor.

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One thing that unites totalitarians, and would-be totalitarians, it seems, is a lack of a sense of humor. Hitler hated The Great Dictator. Kim Jong-un hates The Interview. And Islamist fanatics hate Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newspaper known for making light of ISIS and others of their ilk. By contrast great democratic leaders such as Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan have been renowned for their humor.

As Reuters notes, “From publishing the Danish cartoons of Mohammad that sparked Middle East riots in 2005 to renaming an edition ‘Sharia Hebdo’ and listing Islam’s prophet as its supposed editor-in-chief, the weekly has repeatedly caricatured Muslims and their beliefs.”

Granted, many of Charlie Hebdo’s offerings were in poor taste–and not only it mockery at the expense of Islam. It has also been scathing in its denunciations of the Catholic Church. Likewise The Interview was in many ways a risible flick that intersperses stupid penis and buttocks jokes amid its mockery of North Korea.

But it is vitally important to resist the impulse–so common among “responsible” institutions, whether foreign ministries or large newspapers–at a time like this to somehow imply that the victims brought their fate upon themselves and that the best line of defense against such attacks is to practice greater self-restraint in the future. The Financial Times, for example, is a great newspaper but it is inappropriate, on today of all days, for it to be calling Charlie Hebdo “stupid” for offending (some) Muslims. That is giving the terrorists precisely what they want, indeed the very reason they carry out such attacks is to deter others from similar mockery in the future.

The right to offend is the very essence of free speech–and as long as a publication doesn’t incite violence (which neither Charlie Hebdo nor The Interview did) its right to say whatever it likes must be defended to the last inch. That is, after all, the very bedrock of freedom upon which Western democracies rest–and the very opposite of the kind of totalitarian state that Islamists have created in Iran and a large chunk of Syria/Iraq.

At a time like this there is not much more to say than “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie)–the lone message carried today on Charlie Hebdo‘s website. We must all stand with the satirists, however tasteless, lest we find “serious” political commentary becomes the next target of the haters and killers.

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A French Intifada?

The footage that is emerging from today’s terror attack in Paris—some of the most graphic now being circulated over social media—shows a gun battle on a Parisian street that conjures the impression of a warzone. We see masked men, dressed entirely in black, carrying assault rifles and then executing a police officer as he lies injured on the ground. In all twelve have been killed, two police and ten journalists of the small satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo which some years ago published a cartoon of Muhammad. Naturally, then, there are those who are already approaching this event as a question about freedom of the press. Back in 2011 when the offices of Charlie Hebdo were firebombed, it was primarily an issue of free speech. But now, given the nature of this attack, and the fact that it comes alongside a spate of other Islamist attacks in France, if matters go much further then these risk being the early rumblings of a French intifada.

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The footage that is emerging from today’s terror attack in Paris—some of the most graphic now being circulated over social media—shows a gun battle on a Parisian street that conjures the impression of a warzone. We see masked men, dressed entirely in black, carrying assault rifles and then executing a police officer as he lies injured on the ground. In all twelve have been killed, two police and ten journalists of the small satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo which some years ago published a cartoon of Muhammad. Naturally, then, there are those who are already approaching this event as a question about freedom of the press. Back in 2011 when the offices of Charlie Hebdo were firebombed, it was primarily an issue of free speech. But now, given the nature of this attack, and the fact that it comes alongside a spate of other Islamist attacks in France, if matters go much further then these risk being the early rumblings of a French intifada.

Some have speculated that those who carried out today’s attack were in some way affiliated with (or inspired by) ISIS. The last piece tweeted out by the magazine was a cartoon of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. An eyewitness, however, has reported that the men claimed to be from al-Qaeda. Either way, this attack has now put much of Paris on lockdown and France has gone into its highest state of alert while those who carried out the attack remain at large. The fear is that they will be seeking to go down in a gunfight with the police, or worse still in some kind of explosion as jihadists have been known to do in other attacks.

Even before today’s incident France was already on edge given a series of attacks in the run-up to Christmas. In both Dijon and Nantes Islamic radicals had driven vehicles into shoppers at Christmas markets, while in Tours police were attacked by a man brandishing a knife. Similarly, Islamic radicals and others from France’s large Muslim population have also targeted the Jewish community as anti-Semitism in France has skyrocketed. Synagogues and Jewish businesses have been attacked in recent months, with riots in Paris this summer seeing Jews being forced to barricade themselves into a synagogue. And in addition to the 2012 shooting at the Jewish school in Toulouse, it was a French jihadist who carried out the attack on the Brussels Jewish museum last May.

This move from attacks on the Jews to attacks on others, not least those representing liberal Western values such as Charlie Hebdo, is hardly surprising. But France has for some time now been grappling with the problem of Islamic radicalism and the unassimilated and disaffected parts of its Muslim population. In the fall of 2005 Parisian housing projects and other French cities were subjected to several days and nights of intense rioting by immigrants, something that began to be referred to as “the French Intifada.”

However, Europeans also have to be wary about the backlash against Islamic radicalism that is mounting from the far-right. In France the only somewhat moderated National Front is making significant gains at the ballot box. Meanwhile, in Germany a new anti-Islamist mass movement is emerging, with 18,000 marching in Dresden earlier this week. Yet there are serious concerns about the extent to which this movement may already be associated with violent fascistic and neo-Nazi tendencies. An open confrontation between such groups and Islamists could lead to an intifada scenario on the streets of Europe.

After today’s attack in Paris we are once again left wondering what kind of strategy Western leaders really have for confronting any of this. In the past the debate about mass immigration and about how to assimilate immigrants was all but shut down among shrieks about racism. Similarly, more recent discussions about how to deal with Islamic extremism have quickly descended into such accusations. Indeed, for so many Western leaders, the main takeaway from such attacks seems to be to keep emphasizing that Islam is a religion of peace, while the left-wing media scolds the public for supposedly causing Islamic extremism through its latent Islamophobia.

In August a poll suggested that 16 percent of French citizens have sympathies for ISIS and it is thought that well over 800 French nationals are currently overseas fighting for that group. But France also has to worry about the extremists who stay at home. For as today’s attack has shown, heightened security can only do so much, and for now it appears there are no serious proposals for what is to be done about those French Muslims who seem increasingly hostile to the surrounding society.

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A Consequential Terror Attack in Paris

The U.S. has 9/11. Spain has 11-M (the March 11, 2004, bombings of the Madrid commuter trains which killed 191). Britain has 7/7 (a reference to the July 7, 2005 bombings which killed 52 people taking public transportation in London). And now, on a slightly smaller but still horrific scale, France has 1/7: the assault by three masked gunmen on the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, which left 12 people dead.

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The U.S. has 9/11. Spain has 11-M (the March 11, 2004, bombings of the Madrid commuter trains which killed 191). Britain has 7/7 (a reference to the July 7, 2005 bombings which killed 52 people taking public transportation in London). And now, on a slightly smaller but still horrific scale, France has 1/7: the assault by three masked gunmen on the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, which left 12 people dead.

What all of these events have in common is, of course, the Islamist ideology which animated the killers–a ruthless willingness to kill the innocent in pursuit of far-fetched religious and political objectives. In all three cases jihadist fanatics saw Western nations, whether the U.S., Britain, or France, as obstacles to their designs–and understandably so, because all three back moderate regimes in the Middle East and have intervened with their own armed forces to fight the forces of terrorism, whether in Mali, Iraq, or Afghanistan.

Of these attacks, only one–9/11–so far has been proven to have been directed by a terrorist organization based abroad: al-Qaeda, which at the time enjoyed sanctuary in Afghanistan. There were rumored links between the 7/7 bombers–mostly children of Pakistani immigrants–and the al-Qaeda organization, by then based in Pakistan, but nothing was ever proven. Likewise rumors of links between the Spanish bombers and al-Qaeda or its North African affiliates were not proven. We will have to wait to find out if the 1/7 attackers had direct links to a terrorist organization such as al-Qaeda or ISIS (there are unverified reports that they were connected to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) or whether they were a self-radicalized cell acting on their own initiative.

Whether the 7/7 attackers were in touch with terrorist organizations abroad or not, their actions did not need much planning or coordination, unlike the intricately choreographed attack in 2001 on American passenger aircraft. Indeed it is a wonder that we have not seen more such assaults, especially in the U.S., given the prevalence of massacres by deranged gunmen from Aurora, Colorado, to Newtown, Connecticut. France, for its part, has seen a spate of low-level “lone wolf” attacks in recent weeks, with attackers driving their cars into crowds or attacking police officers with a knife.

Part of the explanation may lie in the greater success that the U.S. has had in assimilating immigrants–there is not a large underclass of resentful Muslim immigrants in this country as there is in Britain, France, and other European countries. But it doesn’t take many fanatics to carry out a terrorist attack and our air of complacency might well have been punctured if the 2010 car bombing of Times Square by a Pakistani immigrant had gone off as planned.

Beyond the need to assimilate immigrants such attacks point to the need to monitor extremist organizations. There has been much controversy in both the U.S. and Europe about the actions of the NSA, but its eavesdropping is the first line of defense–indeed in many ways the best line of defense–against such attacks. The same goes for the much-maligned New York Police Department whose now-disbanded Demographics Unit infiltrated the Muslim community with undercover officers to be alert to extremist activity.

Such intelligence-gathering, especially in the domestic sphere, raises civil-liberties hackles and there is no question that such activities can lead to abuses, as occurred decades ago with the FBI’s Cointelpro intelligence gathering against antiwar activists and civil-rights activists. But, if carefully regulated (as is the case with the NSA and NYPD, from all accounts) such programs are necessary not only to ward off the murder of innocents but the far greater violations of civil liberties that are likely to come after a successful major terrorist attack.

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