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August 16, 2006

Speaking Truth To Glower

Irshad Manji doesn't pull her punches:

LAST week, the luminaries of the British Muslim mainstream — lobbyists, lords and members of Parliament — published an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair, telling him that the “debacle” of both Iraq and Lebanon provides “ammunition to extremists who threaten us all.” In increasingly antiwar America, a similar argument is gaining traction: The United States brutalizes Muslims, which in turn foments Islamist terror.

But violent jihadists have rarely needed foreign policy grievances to justify their hot heads. There was no equivalent to the Iraq debacle in 1993, when Islamists first tried to blow up the World Trade Center, or in 2000, when they attacked the American destroyer Cole. Indeed, that assault took place after United States-led military intervention saved thousands of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo.

If Islamists cared about changing Iraq policy, they would not have bothered to abduct two journalists from France — probably the most antiwar, anti-Bush nation in the West. Even overt solidarity with Iraqi suffering did not prevent Margaret Hassan, who ran a world-renowned relief agency in Baghdad, from being executed by insurgents.

Meanwhile, at least as many Muslims are dying at the hands of other Muslims as under the boots of any foreign imperial power. In Sudan, black Muslims are starved, raped, enslaved and slaughtered by Arab militias, with the consent of an Islamic government. Where is the “official” Muslim fury against that genocide? Do Muslim lives count only when snuffed out by non-Muslims? If not, then here is an idea for Muslim representatives in the West: Go ahead and lecture the politicians that their foreign policies give succor to radicals. At the same time, however, challenge the educated and angry young Muslims to hold their own accountable, too.

This means reminding them that in Pakistan, Sunnis hunt down Shiites every day; that in northern Israel, Katuysha rockets launched by Hezbollah have ripped through the homes of Arab Muslims as well as Jews; that in Egypt, the riot police of President Hosni Mubarak routinely club, rape, torture and murder Muslim activists promoting democracy; and, above all, that civil wars have become hallmarks of the Islamic world.

Muslim figureheads will not dare be so honest. They would sooner replicate the very sins for which they castigate the Bush and Blair governments — namely, switching rationales and pretending integrity.

In the wake of the London bombings on July 7, 2005, Iqbal Sacranie, then the head of the influential Muslim Council of Britain, insisted that economic discrimination lay at the root of Islamist radicalism in his country. When it came to light that some of the suspects enjoyed middle-class upbringings, university educations, jobs and cars, Mr. Sacranie found a new culprit: foreign policy. In so doing, he boarded the groupthink express steered by Muslim elites.

If there is any doubt of the double standard employed by radical Islamist governments, look no farther than the government of Iran, which has responded to what it termed the unacceptable and disrespectful depictions of Mohammed last year with a challenge to the West:

An international contest of cartoons on the Holocaust has opened in Tehran in response to the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper last September.

The exhibition, launched on Monday, shows 204 entries from Iran and abroad.

Masoud Shojai, head of the country's "Iran Cartoon" association and the fair organiser, said that "we staged this fair to explore the limits of freedom Westerners believe in".

He said: "They can freely write anything they like about our prophet, but if one raises doubts about the Holocaust he is either fined or sent to prison."

Shojai refers to Holocaust denial laws in eleven European nations: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, and Switzerland. It is also a crime to deny the Holocaust in Israel.

It should be noted the vast majority of western papers chose not to publish the Mohammed cartoons. But to a fanatical mind even a single dissenter provides a convenient excuse to do what, if the publication of such cartoons is judged morally offensive, is clearly wrong. In what twisted moral universe does committing a second offense wash the offender's hands free of blame?

Which is it? Was it wrong of Jyllands-Postens to publish the Danish cartoons in the first place? So wrong that Muslims worldwide were justified in rioting and lodging death threats against civil authorities and media figures alike? If this is true, Iran lost the moral high ground by repeating the unforgivable and the West now possesses the right to lay a fatwa all westerners and demand they wage religious holy war on Iran.

By the reasoning of Islamic fundamentalists, at least, this follows logically. They seem determined to provide the provocation that, by their own reasoning gives us the right to, as the saying goes, "go totally medieval" on them. But we will not do that, and they well know it. For we are no longer a medieval society.

What radical Islamists rely on is our fundamental restraint: the sensibilities of civilized humanity, to hold back the response such actions would elicit from them were our positions reversed.

No, we are not the true targets of the Holocaust cartoons. Nor is the timing, I suspect, casual. Iran threatened to do this back in February. Now there is a fragile cease-fire pending in which Hezbollah holds all the cards and Israel has much to lose:

What Siniora crafted was a very Lebanese deal -- full of the ambiguities necessary to get all the players on board. He blocked U.S. and French efforts to put the expanded UNIFIL force under the United Nations' Chapter 7 military authorization because of Hezbollah's fears that it would create an Iraq-like occupation force in southern Lebanon. He persuaded the United States, over strong Israeli objections, to have the United Nations study the dispute about Shebaa Farms, an Israeli-occupied area near the Golan Heights that has been one of Hezbollah's excuses for continuing its armed resistance against Israel.

The wild card in the deal is Hezbollah. As the war dragged on, most pundits judged the group's leader, Hasan Nasrallah, the big winner. But that will be true, paradoxically, only if he abides by the deal Siniora made and withdraws his armed fighters from southern Lebanon. If he tries to resume the war or continues to operate as Iran's proxy, he will lose his new halo. U.S. officials believe that Nasrallah may have resisted Iranian pressure to continue the fight when he agreed to Siniora's package. Meanwhile, the Syrians, Nasrallah's other patron, played no role at all in the diplomatic outcome, deepening their isolation.

This morning we see Hezbollah already straining at the leash. Or more accurately, Nasrallah tires of pretending to work through the puppet government of Lebanon:

Hezbollah refused to disarm and withdraw its fighters from the battle-scarred hills along the border with Israel on Tuesday, threatening to delay deployment of the Lebanese army and endangering a fragile cease-fire.

The makings of a compromise emerged from all-day meetings in Beirut, according to senior officials involved in the negotiations, and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora scheduled a cabinet session Wednesday for what he hoped would be formal approval of the deal. Hezbollah indicated it would be willing to pull back its fighters and weapons in exchange for a promise from the army not to probe too carefully for underground bunkers and weapons caches, the officials said.

In other words, "Do not, Prime Minister, presume to tell me who is really in charge in Lebanon." Yesterday, Richard Cohen said something which, surprisingly, made deadly sense:

Democracies are in a fix. If your enemy will gladly die for his cause while you wouldn't think of dying for yours (not that you even know what it is: freedom? liberty?) then clearly the fight is not to the swift but to the suicidal.

That Cohen can see the problem this clearly, yet still turn away from the answer, underscores the fundamental problem facing the West: moral squeamishness. I noted yesterday that he seems to believe we should only fight back if our enemies aren't really serious about killing us.

There's one slight problem with this tactic: it leads to extermination. Because if your enemy is serious about wiping you off the face of the map and you refuse to fight, your only hope is that someone bigger and stronger will, at the last minute, come to your defense. And to paraphrase an old movie, "Who you gonna call"? The U.N.?

Right. Next option?

Make no mistake. The West has been called out, coldly and deliberately. We have been named cowards, confronted with the ugly fact that we lack the courage to drag Iran's homicidal intentions out into the light of day. The real objective of the Holocaust contest is not to "test the limits of Western tolerance" but to provoke the Jews into some rash act that will violate the cease-fire or give Iran the pretext for an act of incredible horror.

And in the timeless tradition of U.N. fecklessness that is all it will take to paralyze them into inaction; the merest whisper of "justification" is all that will be required for them to refuse to come to Israel's aid.

Which, as always, leaves the United States. That reckless, unilateralist city on the hill.

I just hope calmer heads prevail. And I trust that they will. That has always been the difference between us and them. But to look into the malicious mind of a madman is to get a glimpse into the yawning mouth of Hell.

Posted by Cassandra at August 16, 2006 08:04 AM


Cassandra, you have just articulated something I was thinking about but couldn't quite nail down;
the moral relativity with which we approach our enemies.

I am past calling them polite euphemistic names.
I am not hopeless, but this is not a Steven Covey solution. There will and has to be only one winner.

Obviously they can deny the Holocaust all they want within their borders. And not because there are no laws against it as much as it is because they hate Israel and Judaism. If there was a law against it that was punishable by some nasty penalty, you can bet it would be enforced.

What I find intriguing about this (leaving the finer points of your excellent essay for a bit) is the offense taken by the Muslim community to the point of denying that Mohammed was the original terrorist.

Posted by: Cricket at August 16, 2006 12:14 PM

Great column, it's funny how I hear those same arguments again and again (American foreign policy encourages the terrorism, poverty is encouraging terrorism etc0 ... no matter how many times they are debunked, those theories keep spring up ... sort of like the crab grass in my lawn ($#%^@ Crab Grass).

I would also recommend Michelle Malkin's latest if you haven't read it ... covers the inventing of news photos in Lebanon.


Posted by: Frodo at August 16, 2006 01:17 PM

You know, it could be a galactic case of p*nis envy. The Jooooooooos had a Holocaust and now
the rest of the world is against them.
We can't profile for fear of some backlash.
Yeah like that would happen in the USA.

Posted by: Cricket at August 16, 2006 02:06 PM

It interests me how we are always compared (unfavorably, I might add) in terms of "freedom" with the so-called enlightened nations of Europe, and yet their speech rights are significantly fewer than ours here in the USA. And in Europe there is no rigorous separation of church and state.

Interessant, n'est pas? All the apocalyptic and dire states of affairs the ACLU claims will come to pass if certain things are allowed to happen are the current state of affairs in the EU, and yet we are told we are a provincial backwater compared to them, and supposedly we live in a police state. I was in Paris a few years ago and you can be rounded up by the police there with very little recourse. They do not mess around.

We were literally attacked while in a cab and did not want to call the police (and it was obvious that neither did the cab driver). In the US a cabbie would not have hesitated to call for help if physically assaulted, but this man did not trust the city police force. Kind of funny :)

Posted by: Cassandra at August 17, 2006 09:28 AM

To begin, I would like to recommend an article entitled "An anthropology of Islamist terror" by Anna Simons in The American Interest of Summer 2006. A fresh, insightful and detailed analysis of factors/variables that contribute to building "terrorists."

I must admit that I am sick of the superficial analyses that inundates TV screens, newspapers and of course blogs these days. The rhetoric of the left, the venom of the right, are repeatedly picked up, chewed on, and regurgitated by folks like Manji, wrapped in a bow to give their shoddy analysis the scent of something new. If your target audience is the working class person with little or no time to learn the nuances of economics, foreign policy, history, anthropology, culture and religion, then great, you've both done your job further polarizing the world. However, if by any chance you are making intellectual arguments to somewhat learned observers of the world, please stop. You guys are neither intellectuals nor moving writers. Manji in particular has been riding an opportunistic wave that could actually last a very long time if this "clash of civilizations" continues to widen, actually not a bad strategy, perhaps I am just envious! Fair enough, ride the wave Manji, but please do spend some time catching up on your history, politics, religion, economics ... just re-enroll into an undergrad program somewhere and gather some depth. And learn how to make logical, sound and grounded arguments. Ever heard of the hypothesis-driven approach?

That said, if I disregard the means Manji uses to illustrate her point, I do agree with her central thesis in her latest NY Times Op-Ed i.e. it is time for the Muslims to do some major introspection and self-critique, it was time a long time ago. It is incumbent upon Muslims, to find their soul and voice its kinder and gentler opinion, it is time to speak out, nay scream out that any extreme ideology, any fringe movement that suggests violence is utterly against the religion of Islam. It is time for the "silent majority" of peaceful, moderate Muslims, to end their silence. Islam is fundamentally a religion of peace, a religion that has taught me moderation and balance all my life. A religion that has equipped me to always use the forces of rationality and justice to assess and re-assess ideas, and to challenge anything thought or act that is fundamentally against the grain of humanity, against the grain of life ...

But while I urge Muslims around the world to challenge the radical views that are emerging from within, I also challenge humans of the world to ask the right questions, to try and understand why the 21st century has become a century of terror, why the last few decades of the 20th century increasingly inspired the ideology of terror, and why there were hardly any traces of such fanaticism [in Islam] a hundred years back? What are the underlying drivers, the root-causes, the social, economic, and political realities that have given rise and refuge to such a system? And what are the variables that we need to learn and manipulate in order to find the new world order? Perhaps the “terrorists” of the past – Christians, Jews, Hindus, Native Americans … Fascists and Communists – can also help us understand the variables that really matter, help us break the boring, stalemate rhetoric of today and force us to ask more pointed and bolder questions to gain a fresh, pragmatic and hopeful new perspective.

Posted by: Yoshitoshi at August 17, 2006 12:53 PM

It is time for the "silent majority" of peaceful, moderate Muslims, to end their silence.

Yoshitoshi, I could not agree more, and I have gone out of my way to cover it when moderate Muslims have spoken out. In fact, a while back I harshly criticized the MSM for NOT covering it when the North American council of Muslims did exactly that: finally took a stance against terrorists. They are - quite literally in some instances - taking their lives in their hands, something I don't think their critics always understand. And they deserve our thanks and praise when they DO speak out.

Both the right and the left have some soul searching to do on this issue. The right can be, I think, a bit harsh and tends to lump all of Islam into one basket. I don't agree. If you are willing to condemn terrorists and live by Western laws when you live in a western country, peaceably and amicably, then you are my friend. I have no quarrel with you.

If, on the other hand, someone seeks to undermine the pillars of my society then I will not tolerate their presence because the West's idea of "tolerance" does not and should not include tolerating those who want to kill those who are different from them. I have heard reasonable Muslim voices and unless they do something to convince me they are dishonest, I give them the same benefit of the doubt I would extend to any American.

9/11 did not change that, and I say that as someone whose husband was inside the Pentagon when that plane hit. But if we let that make us start to hate people based on silliness like race or ethnicity or religion alone, we depart from everything we believe in as Americans, and then as far as I am concerned we have lost something more precious than life itself: our honor.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 17, 2006 01:13 PM

And I do have to say that historically, there has been fanaticism in literally every culture. I think it's a bit disingenous to say there was none in Islam, but neither would I claim there was never any fanaticism in Christianity. We have all seen our periods of excess, because all movements, all religions are essentially human endeavors.

Saladin was renowned for his chivalry, but there are some pretty barbaric stories from the Crusades, on both sides :) And when you look at India, the fighting between the Hindus and Muslims there was incredibly savage with barbaric acts committed on both sides in the name of religion.

But it is not religion, really, which causes these things. It is human frailty. Look at Communism - that is a godless creed yet millions were murdered in its name. The truth is that people do awful things.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 17, 2006 01:18 PM

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