Saturday, November 05, 2011

A Terrorist Released

The Obama administration let Binyam Mohamed go.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
November 5, 2011

Binyam Mohamed spreaking out after his release. David Cameron ordered the inquiry after damning court judgments detailing MI5's knowledge of his torture (Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

Binyam Mohamed is back in the news. You may remember him as the al-Qaeda operative who was slated to help would-be “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla conduct a second wave of post-9/11 attacks, targeting American cities. You also may not remember him. After all, the Obama administration quietly released him without charges.

Well, there’s a new chapter in this sordid tale. Mohamed is living large — taxpayer-funded large — in Great Britain. For that, we can thank the Lawyer Left’s stubborn insistence that enemy war criminals are really run-of-the-mill defendants. Actually, make that run-of-the-mill plaintiffs.

Unlike Padilla, who actually got into the United States, only to be apprehended in Chicago, Mohamed was captured in Karachi and turned over to the CIA. (Marc Thiessen provides more details about the case here.) Mohamed was interrogated by American and British intelligence.

The U.S. Defense Department wanted to try Mohamed by military commission. Alas, Britain’s Labour government was deathly afraid of the potential for a trial to expose its complicity in “enhanced interrogation” tactics, which an international propaganda campaign had equated with “torture” — and how about a round of applause for Sen. John McCain and Attorney General Eric Holder for sharpening that arrow in every defense lawyer’s quiver? Like virtually all captured terrorists now do, Mohamed claimed to have been tortured with Saddam-style cruelty. And as is virtually always the case, to call the allegation overblown is not to do it justice. Based on disclosures in various court cases, it is now clear that Mohamed was subjected to stress — essentially, sleep deprivation. Compared to actual torture, that is trivial.

Yet, goaded by its base (the leftist and pro-Islamist contingents that now make up the Occupy London crowd), the Blair-Brown government pleaded with the Obama administration to transfer Mohamed from Gitmo to England. The fact that Mohamed, when he was captured in the midst of plotting to kill thousands of people, had been trying to board a flight to London with a fake British passport was apparently of no import. That he is an Ethiopian national who had no legal right to be repatriated to England did not matter. The same British government that slammed the door on Geert Wilders, an anti-Islamist Dutch parliamentarian, rolled out the welcome mat for the jihadist. President Obama acquiesced, and Mohamed was released — free and clear.

Yes, free and clear. The Obama administration said barely a word about Mohamed’s transfer. Odd, since this was early 2009, right when the administration was gearing up its campaign to give enemy combatants civilian trials, and Mr. Holder was here, there, and everywhere, assuring every ear that there was no terrorism case the justice system could not handle. In fact, the officials involved in the decision to release Mohamed understood full well that he would be neither detained nor prosecuted by British authorities. He was to be freed.

To grasp just how outrageous that is, a comparison is in order. After being held for years as an enemy combatant, Mohamed’s accomplice, Jose Padilla, was finally convicted in civilian court. The charges involved terrorism, but not the “9/11 second wave” plot that had led to his capture (about a month after Mohamed’s). This was not because the second-wave conspiracy was fiction. It was because the plot could not be prosecuted under civilian due-process standards. To prove it, prosecutors would undoubtedly have had to cut deals with witnesses who knew its details — al-Qaeda bigwigs such as Khalid Sheikh Mohamed. As if that prospect were not unacceptable enough, such deals require the government to disclose the intelligence debriefings of these witnesses — something that is intolerable in wartime.

That is one of the principal reasons the Bush administration adopted, and Congress later endorsed, a military-justice system for detaining and prosecuting enemy war criminals. The military system makes possible prosecutions that would be impractical under civilian rules: It provides additional protections against unnecessary disclosure of intelligence, and it eases evidentiary standards so that information from witnesses can often be presented by hearsay, rather than by calling the witnesses themselves.

Regrettably, the Bush administration flinched from a Supreme Court challenge to its treatment of Padilla as a military detainee — even though the Fourth Circuit had upheld Padilla’s detention in 2005 (no thanks to an amicus brief filed on Padilla’s behalf by some lawyer named Eric Holder). As it happens, Padilla had been an ambitious enough terrorist that his hands were in multiple schemes, including one in Florida to recruit jihadists to commit mayhem overseas. Had that not been the case, the decision to treat Padilla as a mere criminal defendant would have resulted in his outright release. And because, unlike Mohamed, Padilla is an American citizen, we would have had no recourse against his living in our midst.

Echoing Mohamed, Padilla claimed to have been tortured. But the courts ruled that this was irrelevant: Even if his allegations were true, the abuse was a matter separate from the question of whether he had committed terrorism crimes — at least as long as the government did not attempt to use evidence derived from the alleged abuse to prove his guilt. A federal court in New York City drew the same conclusion in a prosecution against one of the 1998 embassy bombers, who also claimed he had been tortured. Padilla’s indictment thus stood. In fact, the most notable aspect of his case is that a federal appeals court found the 17-year sentence imposed by the trial judge to be woefully inadequate. The jail term has been remanded to the lower court for re-sentencing.

Now, let’s contrast this with the treatment of Binyam Mohamed. Because he is not an American citizen, there would have been no tenable legal objection to trying him for war crimes by military commission. (The Military Commissions Act directs that only alien enemy combatants may be subjected to such military tribunals.) And even if, in slavish deference to its political base’s aversion to commissions, the Obama administration remained hell-bent on resisting a military war-crimes trial, Mohamed could still have been detained indefinitely. Indeed, our military is still holding at Gitmo scores of enemy combatants who are less serious offenders than Mohamed — in the sense that, however threatening they may be, they did not plan to carry out mass-murder plots on American soil. In sum, the Obama administration could have declined to transfer Mohamed — certainly in the absence of a commitment that the Brits were willing and able to keep him under lock and key. If the president had done that, Mohamed would still be detained at Gitmo today.

But instead, Mohamed has hit the jihad jackpot in Albion — or is it al-Bion? I’ve previously noted that British authorities not only released him but also sustained him on public welfare. Now, we learn, that’s not the half of it.

The British government has actually given this al-Qaeda celebrity a cool £1 million payment. Mohamed, you’ll be shocked, shocked to learn, showed his gratitude for being extracted from Gitmo through the intercession of Her Majesty’s government by . . . suing the Brits for being complicit in his “torture.” The £1 million payment is the settlement the government decided it was best to have British taxpayers fork over. Thus, the Daily Mail reports, Mohamed was recently able to plunk down £250,000 for a lovely three-bedroom, two-bathroom terrace house in Norbury, South London — conveniently located near the Croydon Mosque and Islamic Centre.

That makes him one of 16 terror suspects who have scored huge financial payouts by simply claiming to have been mistreated by security and intelligence officials. Why does the British government settle rather than fight these claims by jihadists whose goal is to destroy the very system on which they are feasting? Because the Lawyer Left that makes up the transnational progressive vanguard insisted that enemy-combatant terrorists should be seen as civil litigants, and the Brits went along.

Under prevailing justice-system rules, the jihadist gets to sue and, if the British government tries to contest the case, the jihadist is entitled to discovery of all the intelligence about him in British government files. With this lawfare gun at its head, the government’s choice is to tell al-Qaeda what the West knows (and how we know it) or pay pricey settlements. Justice Secretary Ken Clarke explained that Mohamed got £1 million because, if the government hadn’t settled, the case might have cost British taxpayers £50 million.

One unnamed British government official told the Daily Mail, “The danger is that we have become a cashpoint for terrorists.” Gee, you think?

Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Occupiers part of grand alliance against the productive

At heart, Oakland's occupiers and worthless political class want to live as beneficiaries of a prosperous Western society without making any contribution to the productivity necessary to sustain it.

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
November 4, 2011

Way back in 1968, after the riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Mayor Daley declared that his forces were there to "preserve disorder." I believe that was one of Hizzoner's famous malapropisms. Forty-three years later, Jean Quan, mayor of Oakland, and the Oakland City Council have made "preserving disorder" the official municipal policy. On Wednesday, the "Occupy Oakland" occupiers rampaged through the city, shutting down the nation's fifth-busiest port, forcing stores to close, terrorizing those residents foolish enough to commit the reactionary crime of "shopping," destroying ATMs, spraying the Christ the Light Cathedral with the insightful observation "F**k", etc. And how did the Oakland City Council react? The following day they considered a resolution to express their support for "Occupy Oakland" and to call on the city administration to "collaborate with protesters."

That's "collaborate" in the Nazi-occupied France sense: the city's feckless political class are collaborating with anarchists against the taxpayers who maintain them in their sinecures. They're not the only ones. When the rumor spread that the Whole Foods store, of all unlikely corporate villains, had threatened to fire employees who participated in the protest, the Regional President David Lannon took to Facebook: "We totally support our Team Members participating in the General Strike today – rumors are false!" But, despite his "total support", they trashed his store anyway, breaking windows and spray-painting walls. As The Oakland Tribune reported:

"A man who witnessed the Whole Foods attack, but asked not to be identified, said he was in the store buying an organic orange when the crowd arrived."

There's an epitaph for the republic if ever I heard one.

"The experience was surreal, the man said. 'They were wearing masks. There was this whole mess of people, and no police here. That was weird.'"

No, it wasn't. It was municipal policy. In fairness to the miserable David Lannon, Whole Foods was in damage-control mode. Men's Wearhouse in Oakland had no such excuse. In solidarity with the masses, they printed up a huge poster declaring "We Stand With The 99%" and announcing they'd be closed that day. In return, they got their windows smashed.

I'm a proud member of the 1 percent, and I'd have been tempted to smash 'em myself. A few weeks back, finding myself suddenly without luggage, I shopped at a Men's Wearhouse, faute de mieux, in Burlington, Vermont. Never again. I'm not interested in patronizing craven corporations so decadent and self-indulgent that as a matter of corporate policy they support the destruction of civilized society. Did George Zimmer, founder of Men's Wearhouse and backer of Howard Dean, marijuana decriminalization and many other fashionable causes, ever glance at the photos of the OWS occupiers and ponder how many of "the 99%" were ever likely to be in need of his two-for-one deal on suits and neckties? And did he think even these dummies were dumb enough to fall for such a feebly corporatist attempt at appeasing the mob?

I don't "stand with the 99%," and certainly not downwind of them. But I'm all for their "occupation" continuing on its merry way. It usefully clarifies the stakes. At first glance, an alliance of anarchists and government might appear to be somewhat paradoxical. But the formal convergence in Oakland makes explicit the movement's aims: They're anarchists for statism, wild free-spirited youth demanding more and more total government control of every aspect of life – just so long as it respects the fundamental human right to sloth. What's happening in Oakland is a logical exercise in class solidarity: the government class enthusiastically backing the breakdown of civil order is making common cause with the leisured varsity class, the thuggish union class and the criminal class in order to stick it to what's left of the beleaguered productive class. It's a grand alliance of all those societal interests that wish to enjoy in perpetuity a lifestyle they are not willing to earn. Only the criminal class is reasonably upfront about this. The rest – the lifetime legislators, the unions defending lavish and unsustainable benefits, the "scholars" whiling away a somnolent half-decade at Complacency U – are obliged to dress it up a little with some hooey about "social justice" and whatnot.

But that's all it takes to get the media and modish if insecure corporate entities to string along. Whole Foods can probably pull it off. So can Ben & Jerry's, the wholly owned subsidiary of the Anglo-Dutch corporation UniLever that nevertheless successfully passes itself off as some sort of tie-dyed Vermont hippie commune. But a chain of stores that sells shirts, ties, the garb of the corporate lackey, has a tougher sell. The class that gets up in the morning, pulls on its lousy Men's Wearhouse get-up and trudges off to work has to pay for all the other classes, and the strain is beginning to tell.

Let it be said that the "occupiers" are right on the banks: They shouldn't have been bailed out. America has one of the most dysfunctional banking systems in the civilized world, and most of its allegedly indispensable institutions should have been allowed to fail. But the Occupy Oakland types have no serious response, other than the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by government-funded inertia.

America is seizing up before our eyes: The decrepit airports, the underwater property market, the education racket, the hyper-regulated business environment. Yet, curiously, the best example of this sclerosis is the alleged "revolutionary" movement itself. It's the voice of youth, yet everything about it is cobwebbed. It's more like an open-mike karaoke night of a revolution than the real thing. I don't mean just the placards with the same old portable quotes by Lenin et al, but also, say, the photograph in Forbes of Rachel, a 20-year-old "unemployed cosmetologist" with remarkably uncosmetological complexion, dressed in pink hair and nose ring as if it's London, 1977, and she's killing time at Camden Lock before the Pistols gig. Except that that's three-and-a-half decades ago, so it would be like the Sex Pistols dressing like the Andrews Sisters. Are America's revolting youth so totally pathetically moribund they can't even invent their own hideous fashion statements? Last weekend, the nonagenarian Commie Pete Seeger was wheeled out at Zuccotti Park to serenade the oppressed masses with "If I Had A Hammer." As it happens, I do have a hammer. Pace Mr. Seeger, they're not that difficult to acquire, even in a recession. But, if I took it to Zuccotti Park, I doubt very much anyone would know how to use it, or be able to muster the energy to do so.

At heart, Oakland's occupiers and worthless political class want more of the same fix that has made America the Brokest Nation in History: They expect to live as beneficiaries of a prosperous Western society without making any contribution to the productivity necessary to sustain it. This is the "idealism" that the media are happy to sentimentalize, and that enough poseurs among the corporate executives are happy to indulge – at least until the window smashing starts. To "occupy" Oakland or anywhere else, you have to have something to put in there. Yet the most striking feature of OWS is its hollowness. And in a strange way the emptiness of its threats may be a more telling indictment of a fin de civilization West than a more coherent protest movement could ever have mounted.


The Lawless Heart of OWS

It’s already ugly and will probably get more so.

By Rich Lowry
November 4, 2011

Occupy Oakland protesters pass a burning garbage heap during a confrontation with police on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011, in Oakland, Calif.

Even before some of them girded themselves for combat with police, donning masks and wielding black shields emblazoned with skeletons, the “Occupy” protesters in Oakland, Calif., engaged in a willfully destructive act.

They shut down the fifth-busiest container port in America. Why would anyone acting in the name of people harmed by the Great Recession interrupt the flow of commerce, especially at a hub employing dockworkers and truckers? It was a symbolic blow against our economic system as such, and by definition a radical act.

It’s become clear during the past few weeks that there is a lawlessness at the heart of Occupy Wall Street. It has created little ungoverned spaces in cities around the country, into which homeless people, addicts, and criminals have flowed. It believes that the rules of a fundamentally corrupt system shouldn’t apply to it, and its self-image depends on conflict with the agents of that system, the police.

When asked to do something by an officer of the law, the instinct of most people is to comply, especially if they are violating a rule. The instinct of many of the Occupy protesters is to resist, then inflate their arrests or clashes with the police into a monumental struggle with the forces of oppression. “The whole world is watching.”

There is an honorable tradition of civil disobedience in America. If an injustice is so grave and the system is so rigged that it can’t be changed through normal democratic means, as in the Jim Crow South, breaking the law may be a recourse. The civil-rights protesters did it peacefully and with dignity. The difference between them and the Occupy protesters challenging the cops is the difference between self-sacrificial heroes and ideologically drunk punks and whiners.

In Oakland about a week ago, when police cleared out an encampment near City Hall, protesters fought back, and roughly 100 of them were arrested and one gravely wounded. It was all avoidable if they had peaceably complied with an order to vacate their illegal makeshift campsite. In retaliation, the protesters called for a “general strike,” a phrase redolent of revolutionary action.

The strike wasn’t anywhere close to general, since most people with jobs don’t have time for idle political indulgences. But the protesters turned out a few thousand. Even before it truly got out of control at night, protesters were smashing windows and spraying graffiti on walls. After shutting down the port, a black-clad contingent headed downtown, where they set fires and threw firecrackers, rocks, and bottles at the police. In a perfect expression of wanton destructiveness, they attacked road signs.

Other Oakland protesters tried to restrain the violence, without much luck. Such is the dynamic of mobs. With no specific agenda and no standards for disentangling legitimate demands from lunacy, the Occupy movement is prone to get more extreme rather than less. A free-floating radicalism is written into its DNA.

The catchy, initial promotional poster for Occupy Wall Street designed by the left-wing magazine Adbusters depicted a ballerina standing on the iconic Wall Street bull surrounded by riot police. In its absurdist aesthetic and forecast of conflict with the authorities, the poster presciently represented the future of the Occupy movement.

Everyone acknowledges the right of the Occupiers to protest and to live however they please. They can request permits to march every day, and try to levitate the Federal Reserve building if they want. They can, in a fine American tradition, go off and create freakish communes where they hold goods in common and live in splendid squalor. But they shouldn’t be allowed to break the rules while building fetid encampments on property not their own, and their contempt for the police should be tolerated by no one.

Mere protests probably won’t satisfy the movement, though. It is a self-styled “occupation,” which inherently involves taking what is not yours. It’s already ugly and will probably get more so.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: © 2011 King Features Syndicate

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Conformity for diversity’s sake

By George F. Will
The Washington Post
November 3, 2011

Illustrating an intellectual confusion common on campuses, Vanderbilt University says: To ensure “diversity of thought and opinion” we require certain student groups, including five religious ones, to conform to the university’s policy that forbids the groups from protecting their characteristics that contribute to diversity.

Last year, after a Christian fraternity allegedly expelled a gay undergraduate because of his sexual practices, Vanderbilt redoubled its efforts to make the more than 300 student organizations comply with its “long-standing nondiscrimination policy.” That policy, says a university official, does not allow the Christian Legal Society “to preclude someone from a leadership position based on religious belief.” So an organization formed to express religious beliefs, including the belief that homosexual activity is biblically forbidden, is itself effectively forbidden. There is much pertinent history.

In 1995, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the private group that organized Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade to bar participation by a group of Irish American gays, lesbians and bisexuals eager to express pride in their sexual orientations. The court said the parade was an expressive event, so the First Amendment protected it from being compelled by state anti-discrimination law to transmit an ideological message its organizers did not wish to express.

In 2000, the court overturned the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling that the state law forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation required the Boy Scouts to accept a gay scoutmaster. The Scouts’ First Amendment right of “expressive association” trumped New Jersey’s law.

Unfortunately, in 2010 the court held, 5 to 4, that a public law school in California did not abridge First Amendment rights when it denied the privileges associated with official recognition to just one student group — the Christian Legal Society chapter, because it limited voting membership and leadership positions to Christians who disavow “sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman.” Dissenting, Justice Samuel Alito said the court was embracing the principle that the right of expressive association is unprotected if the association departs from officially sanctioned orthodoxy.

In wiser moments, the court has held that “this freedom to gather in association . . . necessarily presupposes the freedom to identify the people who constitute the association and to limit the association to those people only.” In 1984, William Brennan, the court’s leading liberal of the last half-century, said:

“There can be no clearer example of an intrusion into the internal structure or affairs of an association than a regulation that forces the group to accept members it does not desire. Such a regulation may impair the ability of the original members to express only those views that brought them together. Freedom of association therefore plainly presupposes a freedom not to associate.”

As professor Michael McConnell of Stanford Law School says, “Not everything the government chooses to call discrimination is invidious; some of it is constitutionally protected First Amendment activity.” Whereas it is wrong for government to prefer one religion over another, when private persons and religious groups do so, this is the constitutionally protected free exercise of religion. So, McConnell says, “Preventing private groups from discriminating on the basis of shared beliefs is not only not a compelling governmental interest; it is not even a legitimate governmental interest.”

Here, however, is how progressivism limits freedom by abolishing the public-private distinction: First, a human right — to, say, engage in homosexual practices — is deemed so personal that government should have no jurisdiction over it. Next, this right breeds another right, to the support or approval of others. Finally, those who disapprove of it must be coerced.

Sound familiar? It should. First, abortion should be an individual’s choice. Then, abortion should be subsidized by government. Next, pro-life pharmacists who object to prescribing abortifacients should lose their licenses. Thus do rights shrink to privileges reserved for those with government-approved opinions.

The question, at Vanderbilt and elsewhere, should not be whether a particular viewpoint is right but whether an expressive association has a right to espouse it. Unfortunately, in the name of tolerance, what is tolerable is being defined ever more narrowly.

Although Vanderbilt is a private institution, its policy is congruent with “progressive” public policy, under which society shall be made to progress up from a multiplicity of viewpoints to a government-supervised harmony. Vanderbilt’s policy, formulated in the name of enlarging rights, is another skirmish in the progressives’ struggle to deny more and more social entities the right to deviate from government-promoted homogeneity of belief. Such compulsory conformity is, of course, enforced in the name of diversity.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Today's Tune: Scott Kempner - Hot Rod Angel

Another no-go area in Londonistan

By Melanie Phillips
31 October 2011

Earlier this year in the east London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and Newham, posters suddenly sprouted in the streets declaring: ‘You are entering a Sharia controlled zone. Islamic rules enforced.’ Underneath were images indicating that smoking, alcohol and music were banned. Also this year posters declaring Tower Hamlets a ‘gay-free zone’ were put up across the borough. Police and local councillors declared that they would take all such posters down.

Now, however, it seems that the threatening implications of self-declared ‘Muslim areas’ are spreading into the heart of our democracy.

Last Friday Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green, was forced to abandon his constituency surgery at the North Finchley mosque and hide in a locked part of the building when a group of activists from the ‘Muslims against Crusades’ group forced their way in. The Daily Mail reported that Mr Freer, a gay man and a member of Conservative Friends of Israel, said he was called a ‘Jewish homosexual pig’.

In fact, Mr Freer said he only realised that the danger he was in possibly went beyond such abuse when was he made aware that ahead of this incident the group had posted up a reference to the attack last year on East Ham MP StephenTimms, who was stabbed by a Muslim woman while he too was holding a constituency surgery. This message warned

‘the attack on Mr Timms should serve as a “piercing reminder” to politicians that “their presence is no longer welcome in any Muslim area”’.

The message also stated that

'"as a member of the Conservative Party", Mr Freer "has the blood of thousands of Muslims on his hands".'

Mr Freer, who also happens to be a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia (the ironies attending politically-correct ideology are rich indeed) was apparently targeted because he had demanded that Palestinian extremist Sheikh Raed Salah be banned from Britain earlier this year.

Understandably, Mr Freer now wants the Home Office to investigate ‘Muslims against Crusades’. But rather more pertinently, shouldn’t some arrests have been made? For by any standards this was threatening behaviour which intimidated an MP into being unable to carry out his constituency duties.
Effectively, therefore, the North Finchley mosque became a no-go area for this MP. This surely represented not only a threat to Mr Freer as an individual but to parliamentary democracy itself. More chilling still, it would seem that for ‘Muslims Against Crusades’Finchley is now to be regarded as a Muslim area – presumably on the grounds that any area with a sizeable Muslim population is to be thus regarded -- and its inhabitants subjected as a result to Islamist intimidation.

Finchley happens to be home to a significant Jewish community which will now feel particularly vulnerable. But in fact everyone now comes under potential threat – including Muslims themselves -- as can be seen from what has taken place in east London. For the posters there did not represent empty threats. The process of Islamisation through intimidation is well under way.

Earlier this year, four Tower Hamlets Muslims were jailed for at least 19 years for attacking a local white teacher who gave religious studies lessons to Muslim girls. An Asian woman –not a practising Muslim -- who worked in a pharmacy was threatened with her life unless she wore a headscarf or veil. And as Andrew Gilligan has reported,many more such Islamist attacks are taking place – which he claims the police are downplaying for fear of being accused of racism:

‘The Sunday Telegraph has uncovered more than a dozen other cases in Tower Hamlets where both Muslims and non-Muslims have been threatened or beaten for behaviour deemed to breach fundamentalist “Islamic norms.”

‘One victim, Mohammed Monzur Rahman, said he was left partially blind and with a dislocated shoulder after being attacked by a mob in Cannon Street Road, Shadwell, for smoking during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last year.

‘... Teachers in several local schools have told The Sunday Telegraph that they feel “under pressure”from local Muslim extremists, who have mounted campaigns through both parents and pupils – and, in one case, through another teacher - to enforce the compulsory wearing of the veil for Muslim girls.

‘... Tower Hamlets’ gay community has become a particular target of extremists. Homophobic crimes in the borough have risen by 80 per cent since 2007/8, and by 21 per cent over the last year, a period when there was a slight drop in London as a whole.’

Such reports are – to put it mildly -- deeply disturbing. Yet from the ‘progressive’ chattering class and the politicians (embattled Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick being a notable exception with his stark warning that Islamists wanting to create an “Islamic social and political order” in Britain have infiltrated the Labour party), the response has been...silence.

Thus -- unless the UK ruling class gets its act together pretty damn quick -- the Islamists will win.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Truth about Islam

Taking on Andy McCarthy’s column “Islam or Islamist?”

By Robert Spencer
November 1, 2011

Last Friday, a Bosnian Muslim named Mevlid Jasarevic walked up to the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo with a rifle and opened fire, terrorizing the city center until he was wounded by a police sharpshooter. Media reports identified him as a “radical Islamist.” What made him an “Islamist”? The fact that he shot up the embassy. On Thursday, Mevlid Jasarevic was simply a Muslim. He became an Islamist with the first shot from his Kalashnikov.

To be sure, the media have also identified Jasarevic as a Wahhabi — but that signifier likewise offered no clue before Friday as to what he was going to do on that day. After all, Wahhabi Islam is the official religion of Saudi Arabia, and no one thinks that every last Saudi citizen is likely one day to start firing at infidel embassies.

My point is that while my friend Andy McCarthy is quite right that there are some Muslims who are interested in implementing Islam’s supremacist political program and some who are not, the “Islam/Islamism” distinction is worthless to distinguish one group from the other. This is precisely because, as Andy quotes me as saying before, the distinction is artificial and imposed from without. There are not, in other words, Islamist mosques and non-Islamist mosques, distinguishable from one another by the sign outside each, like Baptist and Methodist churches. On the contrary, “Islamists” move among non-political, non-supremacist Muslims with no difficulty; no Islamic authorities are putting them out of mosques, or setting up separate institutions to distinguish themselves from the “Islamists.” Mevlid Jasarevic could and did visit mosques in Austria, Serbia, and Bosnia without impediment before he started shooting on Friday; no one stopped him from entering because he was an “Islamist.”

So if Muslims do not generally make this distinction among themselves, should non-Muslim analysts make it? The problem I see with doing so is that for all too many it is a way of implying that Islam itself has no political or supremacist elements, and that those Muslims who do hold political and supremacist aspirations constitute a tiny minority of extremists who have twisted and hijacked the religion. This is not only false, but misleading; it can and does make for wrongheaded and foolish policies that have wasted American lives, money, and matériel, and led us into numerous alliances and agreements with entities we would have been wiser about, had our analysis of Islam been more realistic and accurate.

All too often, American analysts have assumed that Muslim individuals and groups who have no open involvement with terrorism fully accept pluralism, constitutional values, and Western notions of human rights, including the freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and equality of rights for women. And all too often, they have been wrong in that assessment, often disastrously so. The billions that the U.S. has given to a duplicitous Pakistani government is a large-scale example; the tour of security procedures at O’Hare Airport given a few years ago to the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is a smaller one. In these and many other cases, however, the foolishness of the authorities in question stemmed from their assumption that the people they were dealing with were not “Islamists,” and hence were natural allies.

We have been fooled by too many because of our haste to make this distinction where it cannot be legitimately made. We assume that Muslims who aren’t in al-Qaeda reject the al-Qaeda program, and certainly many do. But for some, the rejection is of al-Qaeda’s tactics, not of its goal.

Contrary to Andy’s characterization of my views, I am not saying that no distinctions can or should be made among Muslims. I am observing that Muslims themselves don’t make this one, and that no good comes from non-Muslims’ making it. It is important, as Andy puts it, to denominate “supremacist Muslims striving to impose on societies a classical, rigid construction of Islamic law, distinguishing them from authentic Muslim moderates who elevate reason, embrace pluralism, and take sharia as spiritual guidance rather than the mandatory law for civil society,” just as it was important to distinguish the 1,347 delegates who voted for Richard Nixon from the one who voted for Pete McCloskey at the Republican National Convention in 1972 (and the proportions are similar). But in doing so, we should be careful not to deceive ourselves about the foundations that the latter group has in Islamic texts and theology, or about its relative strength and influence within the Islamic world. Using the term “Islamist” for the dominant, mainstream, and traditional understanding of Islam, as if it were the non-traditional minority offshoot, deceives in precisely that way.

Andy says: “I think we have to separate Islamists from Islam.” Certainly we have to separate Islamists (i.e., proponents of political Islam, even if spread by peaceful means) from our allies. We have to separate them from societal influence. But it is not up to us to separate them from Islam. That is up to the Muslim moderates upon whom Andy places so much hope, but whose power, influence, and numbers are actually so sparsely in evidence.

Meanwhile, some of Andy’s critique is simply out of focus. He asserts that I say that “there is and can be but a single authentic form of Islam.” In reality, I have never claimed such a thing. I don’t think there can be a single authentic form of Islam. The false assumption Andy makes here is that if one rejects the Islam/Islamism distinction, one therefore believes there is only one authentic form of Islam. Actually there are many authentic forms of Islam, but one of the things they all agree on is that Islamic law should rightly be the law of society and that Islam should have a political manifestation. Sunnis, Shi’ites, and even Sufis (who were for a considerable period the leaders of the jihad in Chechnya against the Russians) hold to this idea.

Likewise out of focus is Andy’s denial that the “imposition of sharia” is an “inseparable part” of Islam. And why does he say that it isn’t? Because “there are too many non-supremacist Muslims to write off Islam.” However, the nature of Islam is found in the recognized authorities that define Islam, not in the dispositions of its various adherents. In other words, to find out what is or is not an “inseparable part” of Islam, one must consult the Qur’an and Sunnah as they have always been interpreted by Islamic authorities — and even Andy admits that when one does that, one sees that a political, supremacist aspect is deeply embedded in the thing itself. The mandate to impose sharia has always been understood by mainstream Islamic authorities as being intrinsic to Islam. That doesn’t mean every Muslim is out to implement that program, any more than every Christian is busy loving his enemies and turning the other cheek.

When he comes to naming Muslim reformers, Andy comes up with three: Zuhdi Jasser, Abdullah Saeed, and Abdurrahman Wahid. This in itself demonstrates the scope of the problem we face. Saeed offers an exegesis of the Qur’an that challenges the traditional Muslim interpretation without ever explaining why his is a minority, non-traditional understanding of the text. And I’d like to see Andy or anyone else produce a list of ten genuine Muslim reformers without including Jasser or Wahid — not to deny them their due, but just to see if it could be done. Jasser, meanwhile, leads a tiny group with no more than a few hundred Muslim members, despite getting massive and regular media exposure from conservatives like Andy who are avid to find moderate Muslims at all costs, as if our fight to defend human rights against Islamic supremacism and jihad is somehow less legitimate without Muslim spokesmen. As for Wahid, in his native Indonesia today his vision of Islam is in retreat before an aggressive and violent form of political and supremacist Islam that challenges Wahid’s views precisely on Islamic grounds.

Andy says of the Muslims who “sincerely believe Islam does not require a political dimension” that “I don’t believe it is our place to tell them they are wrong.” Indeed not. But it is also not our place to tell them they are right, or to misrepresent or magnify their place in Islamic tradition, theology, and present-day reality. Such groups are everywhere in retreat before supremacists who portray themselves as the exponents of authentic Islam. Those supremacists have not been effectively challenged within the Islamic world.

Andy asks: “Can it really be that Islam is the only doctrine in the history of the world that is immune from even the possibility of alteration and evolution?” But that is not at issue here. I never said that Islam couldn’t be altered or evolve. I am just trying not to pretend that it is other than what it is now, or other than what it always has been. Andy sees hopeful signs in Afghanistan’s dropping apostasy prosecutions after international pressure, Iran’s delaying stoning an adulteress, and the Saudis’ outlawing slavery. He sees the latter as evidence that “sharia can be changed.” But in reality, that ban doesn’t change sharia. It changes Saudi adherence to it. Sharia is still the same; there is still no madhhab (school of Islamic jurisprudence) that teaches that in the Islamic state slavery may not legitimately be practiced. Nor does Afghanistan’s reversal change Islamic apostasy law. It just shows that the Afghans are susceptible to world opinion. While that is welcome news, it is not Islamic reform, and does not offer a different version of Islam.

Andy is wrong in his claim that I have ever said that any form of Islam is “the only Islam,” but the fact is that throughout its history, and in all its theological, legal, and sectarian manifestations, Islam has always been supremacist and political. Acknowledging that is simply acknowledging reality. Pro-Western Muslim reformers have to start there. In Christian history, the Protestant reformers did not pretend that Church doctrine was other than what it was. They confronted and refuted portions of that doctrine. But Andy seems to expect contemporary Islamic reformers to succeed by pretending that Islam is not what its authoritative texts teach and what it always has been historically. He says that he does not see “what purpose is served” by telling Islamic reformers that “Islam is incorrigibly supremacist and political.” But if it is supremacist and political, whether “incorrigibly” or not, then sincere reformers have to start there in order to fix it. Wishful thinking and self-deception are not reform. Ultimately those doctrines can be combatted only by actually combatting them.

We do indeed, as Andy says, want Muslims as our allies, provided they sincerely reject Islam’s political and supremacist aspects. But it does them no service, and non-Muslims no service, to purvey comforting fictions about Islamic doctrine.

— Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth about Muhammad.


By Mark Steyn

Happy Warrior
From the November 1, 2011 issue of National Review

You won't be surprised to hear that Ben & Jerry's, the hippie-dippy Vermont ice-cream makers, have come out in favor of "Occupy Wall Street." Or as their press release puts it:

We, the Ben & Jerry's Board of Directors, compelled by our personal convictions and our Company's mission and values, wish to express our deepest admiration to all of you who have initiated the non-violent Occupy Wall Street Movement and to those around the country who have joined in solidarity.

Ben & Jerry's is a wholly owned subsidiary of Unilever. What's that? It's an Anglo-Dutch multinational (stand well back) corporation. They produce a big chunk of everything in your kitchen and bathroom. Twelve of their brands have annual sales of over a billion euros per product, and, as I'm sure I don't need to point out, a euro is well north of a buck these days. Unilever's various billion-euro brands include Hellmann's mayonnaise, Sunsilk shampoo, and Flora margarine. They're the the biggest ice-cream manufacturer not just in Vermont but on the planet: They have a zillion factories churning out Popsicle and Breyers and brands you've never heard of but which are the biggest-selling cones and sundaes in Singapore, Pakistan, Belgium, and Lithuania. Unilever is about as corporately corporate as you can get.

They brought in a Unilever guy from Norway to be Ben & Jerry's CEO, and neither Ben nor Jerry holds an executive position with the company, any more than Uncle Ben (no relation) and Aunt Jemima do with their respective corporate masters. I suppose they could have renamed the operating unit UniBen or JerryLever, but instead they decided to keep the whole tie-dye peace-pop cherry-Garcia vibe going. One might think this inherently preposterous, in the same way that one would assume even gullible music fans would guffaw at a label called "Maverick Records" that is, in fact, a subsidiary of Warner Music Group. Warner Music Group was, at the time of Maverick's launch, itself a subsidiary of Time Warner, but today it's cast off both Henry Luce and the brothers Warner and is instead a subsidiary of Access Industries. What's that? It's an industrial group that specializes in the exploitation of natural resources and chemicals. "We'll never sell ourselves," promised the band Story of the Year on their Maverick single "We Don't Care Anymore." And if you can't promise not to sell yourselves when you've signed to a subsidiary of a subsidiary of a company that sells more polypropylene, polyethylene, and other polyolefin products for use in consumer packaging than anybody else on the planet, when can you?

Long before Ben & Jerry's, the record companies established the general esthetic. The music business have been humbugs since 1955, when Bill Haley and Elvis Presley put them in the permanent-revolution business: As the Beatles sang, "You say you want a revolution?" Sure. Agitating for permanent revolution proved the best way to ensure corporate continuity: That's why Bob Dylan's on Kate Smith's old label. "The Times They Are A-Changin'," even if the record companies aren't. And, if you can make it work in the rock biz, why not in ice cream? Indeed, the default political position of your average CEO — "socially liberal, fiscally conservative" — was pioneered by a generation of Brit rockers raising awareness for fashionable causes while sheltering their royalties beyond the reach of Her Majesty's Treasury.

So today we have maverick corporations expressing solidarity with the oppressed . . . well, I was going to say "workers" but that doesn't seem quite the word for "Occupy Wall Street," does it? Non-workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your six-figure college debt! I was on the air in Boston with Michael Graham discussing the general groove of America's lethargic inactivists when he revealed that a friend's son had recently graduated with a degree in "hip-hop music management." The last time I followed "hip-hop music management" was back during the East–West rap wars when "music management" involved ensuring your vocal artiste had enough security to avoid being fatally shot by one of his fellow Grammy nominees. After all the pseudo-revolutionary posturing of rock 'n' roll, there was something quaintly appealing about the rap crowd: As my old Daily Telegraph colleague Tony Parsons once observed, when Elvis sang, "If you're looking for trouble, look right in my face," you couldn't help noticing he was wearing a bit too much mascara. But the rappers meant it. Rare the hip-hopper who lived to celebrate 50 years in showbusiness. As hip-hop aficionado John Kerry sagely observed, it was authentic, it was about "anger" and a "reflection of the street."

But now, if you want to make a career in authentic street anger, you can go to middle-class college for half a decade and pay a quarter-million bucks — just as with everything else in our over-credentialized society. Slap up my bitch, shoot that cop, go into debt for my muthaf***in' bachelor's: It's the American way. It would be heartening to think that a few years hence unemployed hip-hop "managers," lavishly credentialed but profoundly embittered, will be flooding the Top 40 with rap ditties threatening to whip the p***y a*s of the dean of admissions who suckered them in to Shakedown U.

Yet it seems more likely that the frisson of ersatz radicalism will continue to work its magic. Rockers pretend to be revolutionaries, then tenured professors do, and then CEOs of multinational subsidiaries for whom solidarity with deadbeats they'd never dream of hiring offers an electric tingle that the Rotary Club lunch can't match. Let's hope the polypropylene market is lucrative enough to support it all.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Desperate Churchmice

No, the pope is not supporting Occupy Wall Street.

By George Weigel
October 31, 2011

ASSISI, ITALY - OCTOBER 27: Pope Benedict XVI prays in front of the cript of Saint Francis at the end of the meeting 'Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace ' a day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world at the Saint Francis Basilica on October 27, 2011 in Assisi, Italy. The Pope met with approximately 300 religious leaders to mark the 25th anniversary of the Assisi interfaith gathering.(Getty Images)

It’s been a bad three and a half decades for self-styled “progressive” Catholics.

First, there was John Paul II, whom many in that camp habitually labeled a charismatic reactionary. Yet the Polish pope was a hero all over the world during an epic pontificate that bent history’s arc in a more humane direction, and did so without the aid of liberation theology. John Paul’s funeral Mass on April 8, 2005, became, in the apt phrase of NBC anchor Brian Williams, “the human event of a generation,” a moniker unlikely to be attached to the obsequies of, say, Hans Küng, John Paul’s most embittered progressive critic.

Then came the election of the progressives’ bête noire, Joseph Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict XVI: a horror that a prominent progressive, Notre Dame’s Fr. Richard McBrien, declared electorally impossible a mere 24 hours before it happened. Catholic progressives hunkered down for what they hoped would be a brief Ratzingerian interregnum. But Benedict XVI has proven an energetic pope whose pontificate has been in dynamic continuity with that of his predecessor, an astute analyst of the cultural crisis of the West, and a man determined to strengthen Catholic identity as the sine qua non of Catholic reform.

Thus the Wojtyla-Ratzinger years have put paid to the notion, beloved of Catholic progressives, that Catholicism began anew — ex nihilo, as it were — at the Second Vatican Council. Committed to the hoary “liberal/conservative” hermeneutic of the Council’s history, Catholic progressives hold that Vatican II represented a dramatic rupture with the past. The great teaching pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, however, have proposed a far more plausible interpretation of the Council as one in dynamic continuity with the great tradition of Christian orthodoxy. That interpretation, in turn, is shaping an entire new generation of Catholic intellectuals who are far more interested in exploring the complex riches of that tradition than in deconstructing it. Unlike the aging progressives, who have shown themselves rather infertile intellectually and who survive in large part because of that most conservative of institutions, the tenure system, many younger Catholic scholars are fully committed to putting theology at the service of the “New Evangelization” for which John Paul II and Benedict XVI have insistently called.

In the United States, the progressives have also been steadily losing their grip at the national, diocesan, and local-parish levels. Various lay-renewal movements have become vital and self-consciously orthodox factors in Catholic life, and a new generation of priests and bishops, many of whom look explicitly to John Paul II as their model of ecclesiastical leadership, have come to the fore. For the past half-decade or more, the Catholic bishops of the United States, following the pope’s lead, have increasingly stressed the importance of Catholic identity, by which they understand fidelity to Catholic teaching, in confronting an increasingly hostile cultural and legal/political environment. That problem has been considerably exacerbated by the Obama administration, which many Catholic progressives welcomed with loud hosannas, and for whose regulatory assault on Catholic health-care and social-service agencies progressives have provided cover, often by implausible appeals to Catholic social doctrine.

Throughout this fairly rapid decline, progressive Catholicism’s distinctive cultural marker has been its skepticism about the teaching authority of the Church: whether that teaching authority was formally and authoritatively addressing the ethics of human love, the suitability of women for Holy Orders, the uniqueness of Christ as universal savior, or the intrinsic evils of abortion and euthanasia. Thus it was another sign of the increasing incoherence of progressive Catholicism when several of its American paladins mounted a raucous defense of a “Note” — a kind of Vatican white paper — on international financial reform issued by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (PCJP) on October 24. It was an extraordinary exercise: The progressives depicted Benedict XVI as a senior chaplain to Occupy Wall Street, described the Note in such overwrought terms that the gullible might have thought this white paper shared in the charism of papal infallibility, and darkly suggested that those who disagreed with the Note’s prescriptions were cafeteria Catholics, picking and choosing their doctrines to fit preexisting political tastes.

The irony of men such as the former editor of America, Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr., and National Catholic Reporter blogger Michael Sean Winters promoting a notion of papal teaching authority more expansive than any imagined by the most wild-eyed traditionalist will not be lost on cognoscenti of ecclesiastical intrigue. This new notion of PCJP infallibility does, however, raise interesting questions — about the nature and modalities of Catholic teaching authority, about the organization of the Holy See, and about the state of Catholic progressivism in America.

Given the continuing confusion caused by Father Reese’s assertion that the Note positioned Benedict XVI “to the left of Nancy Pelosi” (which reverberated throughout the media echo chamber), it’s important to pin down just what the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace is, and what authority its statements bear.

The Pontifical Council (with whose president, Cardinal Peter Turkson, I had an entirely cordial 90-minute conversation last year) was established after Vatican II as part of the “New Curia,” a set of agencies intended to give organizational expression to some of Vatican II’s pastoral concerns: the promotion of social doctrine, the family, the lay mission in the world, and so forth. Unlike the older Congregations of the Roman Curia, which exercise an authority of jurisdiction (over bishops, clergy, religious life, Catholic worship, etc.), and unlike the Tribunals of the Curia, which make binding legal decisions, the “Pontifical Councils” of the New Curia were intended to be in-house think-tanks. Bureaucracy being what it is, however, they quickly morphed into something else: paper factories issuing all sorts of statements on all sorts of issues. As I wrote in God’s Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, there was concern during the 2005 conclave over the large amount of paper being generated by the New Curia: paper that was inevitably, if inaccurately, interpreted publicly as being the settled understanding of the Catholic Church and its highest teaching authority on X, Y, and Z.

Official Church documents make clear that this is not the case. The Pontifical Councils of the New Curia are intended to support the mission of the pope as universal pastor of the Church; but they do not share in his teaching authority. The Church’s principal doctrinal agency, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the 1990 instruction Donum Veritatis (The Gift of Truth), put the matter quite clearly: “The Roman Pontiff fulfills his universal mission with the help of the various bodies of the Roman Curia and in particular with that of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in matters of doctrine and morals. Consequently, the documents issued by this Congregation expressly approved by the Pope participate in the ordinary magisterium of the successor of Peter.” That statement, which is made of no other entity in the Roman Curia, is then substantiated by reference to the Code of Canon Law and the Apostolic Constitutions of Paul VI and John Paul II on the structure of the Roman Curia.

It is simply wrong, then, to say that a Note like that from the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace is somehow a matter of “the pope says” or “the Vatican says” or “the Catholic Church teaches.” It is inconceivable that Father Reese does not know this, and it is very unlikely that Mr. Winters does not know this. Since Donum Veritatis and the Code of Canon Law cannot be blamed on the George W. Bush administration, it’s unclear whether Dr. Dionne knows this. In any event, the suggestion from progressive Catholic circles that the PCJP Note on international finance was an expression of the teaching authority of the Church can be dismissed as ill-informed, disingenuous, deeply confused — or all of the above.

It is also, true, however, that the current managerial dysfunction in the Vatican contributes to this mischief making. The world assumes that a statement released by a Vatican agency at a press conference in the Vatican must have been thoroughly vetted throughout the various layers of the Curia. But that in fact cannot be assumed, and in the case of the Justice and Peace Note it should not be assumed. The empirical analysis in the Note stands or falls on its own merits. The Note’s prescriptions should be judged both on their prudential merit (can and should these things be done?) and on their coherence with the core principles of Catholic social doctrine (do these prescriptions make Catholic sense?). Those whose answers tend toward the negative ought not be caricatured as market idolaters or cafeteria Catholics.

As for the future, while a conclave cannot bind the pope it elects to any particular action, it seems likely that the kind of confusion that ensued after the PCJP Note will lead to a future conclave suggesting that the man it elects take a hard look at the New Curia, with an eye to reconstructing offices such as the PCJP as the in-house think-tanks for the pope and the senior Curia that they were originally intended to be.

After the last papal election, one wit, referring to gape-mouthed progressives who had convinced themselves that This Just Couldn’t Happen, observed that the senior cardinal deacon, announcing the election to Rome and the world, should have said that the new pope was Joseph Ratzinger, “qui sibi nomen imposuit [who has taken the name] Your Worst Nightmare.” That those who thought the worst had come (some of whom had spent the weeks between John Paul’s death and Benedict’s election doing everything possible to prevent a Ratzinger victory) should now position themselves as the defenders of Benedict’s teaching authority strains irony into the gravest implausibility. That these same defenders, presenting themselves as close students of Catholic social doctrine, should propose something as ridiculous as the notion that this deeply learned pope (who in his address to public life has consistently proposed the urgency of linking civil law to the moral law that we can know by reason) is sympathetic to the madcap anarchists of Occupy Wall Street tells us something about the desperation in progressive Catholic circles these days.

Why the desperation? The progressives are losing; they know it, at some level; and because the idea of losing is inconceivable to those who have long imagined themselves on the right side of both political and ecclesiastical history, they tell themselves, and the rest of us, increasingly bizarre tales, like Lewis Carroll’s White Queen teaching herself impossible things before breakfast. Ratzinger-as-Chaplain-to-OWS is thus a kind of desperate grasping for relevance at a moment of increasing progressivist irrelevance. They have lost inside the Church: The men and women in the growing religious orders, the men in the growing seminaries, the active younger laity, all look on progressive Catholicism as a kind of weird phenomenon of their parents’ generation. And now they are losing publicly. Progressive Catholicism in America bet the farm on Barack Obama, and, as progressive Catholics begin to sense with horror that the administration is a train wreck about to happen, we may yet see even stranger tales told than that of Benedict the Left-Wing Activist.

Thomas Merton sensed the inherent implausibility of progressive Catholicism in the mid-1960s — despite his support of the civil-rights, anti-nuclear, and anti-Vietnam movements. In his student days at Columbia, Merton had known real Communists, and he wasn’t much impressed with the juvenile leftism that swamped the Church in the wake of Vatican II. Merton put the complaint about progressive Catholicism and its furies about as well as it can be put in one of the “nonsense letters” he wrote to his old friend, the poet Robert Lax: “I am truly spry and full of fun, but am pursued by the vilifications of progressed Catholics. Mark my word man there is no uglier species on the face of the earth than progressed Catholics, mean, frivol, ungainly, inarticulate, venomous, and bursting at the seams with progress into the secular cities and Teilhardian subways. The Ottavianis was bad but these are infinitely worse. You wait and see.”

The Church and the world have waited for almost a half-century. Now those with eyes to see have seen. But as weird as Pope Benedict the Wall Street Occupier may seem, stranger things could yet come, as the incoherences multiply and the vitriol follows suit.

— George Weigel is distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Islam or Islamist?

Is our trouble with a religion or an ideology?

By Andrew C. McCarthy
October 29, 2011

Islam or Islamist? That is the question. Is the term “Islamist” a politically incorrect fabrication to dodge the inconvenient truth that Islam itself is inherently and inevitably chauvinistic and totalitarian? Or is it a necessary distinction to draw: denominating supremacist Muslims striving to impose on societies a classical, rigid construction of Islamic law, distinguishing them from authentic Muslim moderates who elevate reason, embrace pluralism, and take sharia as spiritual guidance rather than the mandatory law for civil society?

I think we have to separate Islamists from Islam. My friend Robert Spencer disagrees. As NRO readers may know from my reviews of some of Robert’s books and my frequent references to his invaluable work at Jihad Watch, I hold him in high esteem. On this question, however, he is mistaken. And because how we answer the “Islam or Islamist?” question critically affects how we respond to the profound threat posed by supremacist Muslims, we must answer it correctly.

A little background is in order. My column last weekend was a defense of Robert, and of David Horowitz, against the “Islamophobia” charges recently leveled at them by the Center for American Progress. There, I pointed out that “I regularly use the term ‘Islamist’ rather than ‘Islam’ to draw a distinction between the ideology of the enemy and Islam as it is practiced by most American Muslims, and by millions of Muslims throughout the world.” I added that Messrs. Spencer and Horowitz do likewise — an assertion I made because, among other reasons, I was sure I’d seen the term “Islamist” or “Islamism” in the September 30 essay they jointly published here on NRO. In fact, it is in the title of that essay, “Rational Fear of Islamism” — but titles are often the work of editors, not authors.

As recounted in the Corner earlier this week, Robert e-mailed me after the column appeared to offer this correction: He does not use the term “Islamist.” In his view, the “Islam/Islamism distinction is an artificial one imposed by the West, with no grounding in Islamic history, theology, or law.” Coincidentally, it turned out that while I was busy writing my column for that weekend, Robert was penning “Islam and Islamists.” In it, he expanded on this very argument. To use the term “Islamist,” he asserts, is to incorrectly imply “that Islam itself, in its authentic form, has no requisite political aspect, and no incompatibility with Western values or democratic government.”

My seminal disagreement is with Robert’s premise that there is and can be but a single authentic form of Islam. As readers of The Grand Jihad know, I struggled mightily with the “Islam or Islamist” question. It is the subject of my book’s second chapter, which asks whether our challenge is appropriately labeled “Islamism” or whether that label is a cop out, side-stepping the grim reality that Islam itself is and will always be the West’s problem.

Obviously, the West will never arrive at a successful defensive strategy unless we correctly identify the threat. So, should we focus our attention on those Muslims for whom imposition of sharia — Islam’s supremacist politico-legal system — is an inseparable part of their ideology? Or, in the alternative, should we come to the reluctant conclusion that this mandate to impose classical sharia, with its laws governing all aspects of life, simply is Islam? As I concluded in the book, there are too many non-supremacist Muslims to write off Islam; our target must be the supremacists. “Islamist” is a label suitable to the essential task of distinguishing our Muslim enemies from our Muslim allies — declared and potential.

Lest you think I’ve secretly hit the Saudi-funding jackpot, there is no lushly endowed sinecure at Georgetown or Harvard in my future. My conclusion that our focus has to be Islamism, rather than Islam, is fraught with skepticism. Yes, there are hundreds of millions of moderate Muslim people; but have they really come up with a coherent Islamic ideology that separates mosque and state? Not a foot-stomping claim that Islam must yield to modern sensibilities, but an argument based in Islamic doctrine itself? And even if they have developed such a theory, or at least could conceivably do so in the future, will it be compelling enough to compete with, nullify, and marginalize supremacist, political Islam — which, however much this dismays us, has the advantage of reliance on clear scriptural commands?

Without question, Robert is correct that the political and supremacist aspects of Islamic doctrine, which flesh out the ideology many of us call “Islamist,” trace their origins to Mohammed. As he further observes, they are taught by the classic schools of Islamic jurisprudence, which undoubtedly explains their power and endurance for over a millennium.

Nevertheless, while many millions of Muslims adhere to these doctrinal components, it is also true that many millions of Muslims do not. Most of the latter simply ignore them, but others labor to develop theories aimed at countering and discrediting political, supremacist Islam. This is seen in the United States, for example, in the work of Zuhdi Jasser and the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. At Princeton University’s James Madison Program, Australian academic Abdullah Saeed recently delivered a lecture arguing that resort to the Koran and episodes in the life of Mohammed can eventually undermine the classical rendering of sharia. (The lecture has been published in First Things, under the title, “The Islamic Case for Religious Liberty.”) On the international stage, the LibForAll Foundation has just released an English translation of The Illusion of the Islamic State, a compendium edited by the late Islamic scholar Abdurrahman Wahid. Once the president of democratic Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country by population, the influential Wahid also led Nadlahtul Ulama (NU), the world’s largest Muslim organization, with over 40 million members. NU and other Indonesian moderates are clashing directly with the Muslim Brotherhood, arguing that Islamic scripture does not require the establishment of a caliphate or the imposition of sharia jurisprudence (i.e., fiqh) as governing law. Sharia, they contend, is a matter of private conscience.

I am very confident that Robert is correct about classical Islam. I’ll go further: When I read these competing works, I come away less than convinced. Sometimes it feels like I’m back at the Blind Sheikh trial, looking in vain for the scholar who proves that the emir of jihad has it all wrong: Authoritative Islamic scripture and recognized canons of fiqh do not really endorse the terrorizing of unbelievers, subjugation of women, and killing of apostates and homosexuals, and that all those well-meaning people who say the Blind Sheikh is lying about Islam — perverting it, hijacking it — have been right all along. Alas, you never find that scholar. Parsed closely, the negative critiques against Islamists accuse them of being “too literal,” of lacking nuance, or not appreciating that the horrific provisions of scripture need to be “contextualized” — understood as applicable to their time and place, of little or no relevance in today’s very different world. Such critiques cede a lot of ground — too much for my comfort level. I want to believe these arguments will be enough someday to refute the supremacist, political Islam that has been endorsed for centuries by renowned Islamic scholars — the Islam that has been shrewdly developed as a practical political program for decades by the Muslim Brotherhood. But I am doubtful.

Still, it is presumptuous to imply that Muslims who don’t adhere to classical Islam are not really following Islam. In the aforementioned “Islam and Islamists,” Robert insists that Islam is inherently and necessarily political, and that its political program has always been the “union of religion and the state.” The denial that this is and must be so, he contends, is “the wishful thinking of Western analysts who do not wish to face the implications of the fact that these ideas represent mainstream Islamic thinking.” I think that is wrong, and I say this as someone who has been about as adamant as one can be that we must face the implications of the fact that Islamism is a mainstream interpretation of Islam — in many places, the mainstream interpretation.

To be sure, there is a good deal of wishful thinking going on. As Robert says, too many Western analysts turn a blind eye to the palpable nexus between Islamic doctrine and supremacist, political Islam. But to say a set of ideas represents “mainstream” thinking is not the same as saying it is the only conceivable way of understanding a doctrine.

To take a fairly obvious example, the U.S. Constitution is a social compact in a single document — its four corners making it infinitely more easily knowable than Islamic doctrine, which comes to us from a variety of different sources (the Koran, hadiths, biographies of Mohammed, etc.). Yet, there are several different schools of constitutional interpretation, and a few of them (e.g., originalism and the “organic Constitution”) have enough of a following to be called “mainstream” even though they are quite different from — you might even say diametrically opposed to — one another.

While Robert is correct to point out that the classic schools of Sunni and Shiite jurisprudence promote supremacist, political Islam, that does not mean other understandings do not exist and cannot be developed. As noted above, Nadlahtul Ulama has tens of millions of members and pointedly rejects supremacist, political Islam. Whether one finds NU’s theology persuasive is beside the point. These people are Muslims, and they sincerely believe Islam does not require a political dimension — indeed, they say politics disserves the spirituality they see as Islam’s core. I don’t believe it is our place to tell them they are wrong.

This is steeply uphill. The classical schools are the most influential, and their authoritarian sharia has a built-in fortification: It holds both that departures from consensus constitute apostasy and that apostasy is a capital offense — with the death penalty having been meted out enough times, with enough Islamic approbation, to put reformers and their followers on notice that their work is very risky indeed. Still, modification happens, and has happened, all the time with all manner of doctrines. Can it really be that Islam is the only doctrine in the history of the world that is immune from even the possibility of alteration and evolution? There is nothing I am more skeptical of than that proposition.

Robert coined the marvelous phrase “stealth jihad.” Well, the reason the Muslim Brotherhood must be stealthy in conducting its sharia campaign in the West is its awareness that there would be widespread rejection, including by Muslims, if it were completely open about its supremacist designs. Even in Islamic countries, sharia regimes often back down when Islamic law’s most noxious features surface. Afghanistan quietly reversed course when the West expressed outrage over its efforts to put two apostates to death. The Iranians are still threatening to stone a woman for alleged fornication, but they haven’t done it yet — public opinion has brushed them back. When King Abdullah was embarrassed several weeks ago by the revelation that a woman had been sentenced to scourging for driving a car, the sentenced was quietly vacated. The Saudis, it is worth noting, outlawed slavery in 1962 even though (as Robert observes) the practice is explicitly approved in the Koran. Yes, slavery is still quietly practiced, but the formal ban in a country where sharia is the law of the land demonstrates that sharia can be changed, just as it can be (and has historically been) mitigated or suppressed by factors like culture and law.

We do not have to be delirious optimists to grasp these things. After all, change is not a one-way street — it can be regressive, too. As I argued in The Grand Jihad, President Wahid grossly underrated the numbers and influence of Muslims who subscribe to supremacist, political Islam. He also ceded significant ground in arguing that the “virulent” ideology of the Wahhabists and Salafists is “literal” and “simplistic.” It is hard to discredit something as a perversion of Islam when you are conceding its basis in written scripture, even if you add, as Wahid did, the caveat that its rendering of scripture is “selective.”

That virulent Islam is ascendant in the world today. Despite the good work of Nadlahtul Ulama, it is gaining strength in parts of Indonesia. It is rolling over Europe and making inroads here in America. It is a profound threat. To assert that there can be other interpretations of Islam — constructions that adapt to Western norms — is not to claim that such constructions will inevitably succeed or that Islamism’s sharia agenda will cease to be a profound threat. It is not to give Islam a pass: Even if Islam is capable of benign interpretations, it quite naturally spawns supremacist interpretations — interpretations whose influential adherents, such as Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, echo Robert’s conclusion that their Islam is the only Islam. To draw the Islam/Islamist distinction is not to claim that everything is coming up roses or that this story must eventually have a happy ending.

Nevertheless, the question raised by Robert’s unyielding position is whether there are, and can be, other viable interpretations of Islam. The answer is yes. They are not as cogent as we’d like them to be, and they do not compete with classical Islam as effectively as we wish. Most of the time, they are less a refutation of classical Islam than a choice — conscious or unconscious — to ignore its supremacist, political elements. But even a passive choice can change a doctrine or a social system, and can do so even if the ignored elements remain on the books.

We see that with our own law: political decisions about which statutes get enforced and which do not can effectively nullify the latter over time. Repeal is more often achieved by inaction than by a formal process — inaction does not require an airtight theory why some law or standard is no longer honored; all you need is inertia. Once the political will to enforce a standard has evaporated, most any post facto rationalization will justify it — even one that barely passes the laugh test. If Muslims came to a consensus position that mosque and state would henceforth be separated, or that aggressive jihad was no longer an acceptable way to impose sharia, it would be immaterial that these positions represented a less than compelling exegesis of their scripture.

My argument with Islam’s Western apologists is not that this kind of evolution is out of the realm of possibility. It is with their absurd insistence that it has already happened. Not just that it could conceivably happen — about which there are lots of reasons for pessimism — but that it has already happened. This is not only self-evidently untrue; it may be fatally counterproductive. By failing to shine the light of inquiry on supremacist, political Islam — by failing to force Islamists into the position of publicly acknowledging and defending their noxious beliefs — we deprive pro-Western Muslims of the platform they need to promote reform and marginalize the supremacists. This only empowers faux moderates like the Muslim Brotherhood, enabling them to push sharia as if it were unthreatening and promote Hamas as if it were an ordinary political party.

That, however, is a different problem from the one Robert’s position poses. He is essentially saying that if it is not supremacist and political, then it is not Islam. That not only closes the door on any potential reform, it risks antagonizing pro-Western Muslims. There are many of them and they have no desire to impose sharia on civil society — even if they are less vocal about that than we’d like. Given that they nevertheless see themselves as faithful Muslims, I do not see what purpose is served by telling them that Islam is incorrigibly supremacist and political.

From a tactical standpoint, we want such Muslims as our allies, and we certainly want to see them make inroads against the Islamic supremacists. That makes the Islam/Islamist distinction a worthy accommodation. It does not deny that classical Islam is the source of Islamism. But it does two important things. First, it identifies as “Islamist” those Muslims who hold to the supremacist and political aspects of Islam — and it is very useful for us to see those people for what they are. Second, it acknowledges interpretations of Islam that reject these political and supremacist elements: They are plausible, they are legitimately called “Islam,” and we want them to thrive. That is not a prediction of success, but it is a significant show of support.

Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.

Shredding Kathleen Sebelius

For the past four years, I’ve spotlighted the fight to bring Planned Parenthood’s predators to justice in Kansas. In October 2007, then-AG Phill Kline filed a 107-count criminal complaint against the PP racket, with counts ranging from falsifying documents to performing illegal late-term abortions. In February of this year, I noted the prolonged witch hunt against Kline — which blew up in the radical abortion lobby’s face. Today’s syndicated column scrutinizes the overseer role Obama HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has played throughout the PP/Kansas health bureaucracy’s stonewalling of the truth. See Life News and Planned Parenthood Corruption for background and documents.


Shredding Kathleen Sebelius

by Michelle Malkin
Creators Syndicate
Copyright 2011

If a private health insurer had engaged in the kind of criminal obstruction that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has been tied to in her home state of Kansas, it would be a federal case. Instead, it’s a non-story in the Washington press. Nothing to see here. Move along.

On Monday, a district judge in the Sunflower State suspended court proceedings in a high-profile criminal case against the abortion racketeers of Planned Parenthood. World Magazine, a Christian news publication, reported on new bombshell court filings showing that Kansas health officials “shredded documents related to felony charges the abortion giant faces.” World Magazine reported: “The health department failed to disclose that fact for six years, until it was forced to do so in the current felony case over whether it manufactured client records.”

The records are at the heart of the fraud case against Planned Parenthood. Kansas health bureaucrats now shrug that the destruction of these key documents — which they sheepishly admitted had “certain idiosyncrasies” — was “routine.” Who oversaw the agency accused of destroying the evidence six years ago? Sebelius.

As governor of Kansas, Sebelius fought transparency motions in the proceedings tooth and nail for years. Prosecutors allege a long-running heinous cover-up to manufacture false records of patients who had late-term abortions — and to whitewash Planned Parenthood’s systemic failures to report child rape.

Former GOP state Attorney General Phill Kline’s investigation turned up massive discrepancies in reported child rape statistics compared to Planned Parenthood and the late late-term abortionist George Tiller’s bogus claims. Planned Parenthood of Overland Park and Tiller together performed abortions on 166 girls aged 14 and under and only reported one each to authorities. So, 164 cases of underage rape or statutory rape went unreported and were not investigated by authorities.

Where are Joe Biden to decry actual rape atrocities and Nancy Pelosi to decry dire hazards to women’s health when we need them?

A Kansas district judge found probable cause of criminality in the abortion providers’ records; another district judge found probable cause to believe Planned Parenthood committed 107 criminal acts. Sebelius’ response? A bloody ideological soul mate of Tiller’s, she launched a vengeful witch-hunt against Kline. The state ethics board accused him of lying. The left-wing state Supreme Court Sebelius appointed stymied Kline’s subpoenas and appeals.

Kline was cleared of all ethics violations. In fact, for 20 full months, the state’s disciplinary board for lawyers suppressed an internal investigative report concluding there was zero probable cause to justify the ethics complaints.

Where there’s obstructionist smoke, there’s corruption fire. Under Sebelius’ watch as governor, an inspector general also reported that her appointed health policy board had “applied pressure to alter an audit report, restricted access to legal advice and threatened to fire her for meeting independently with legislators,” according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Entirely fitting, of course. The war on whistleblowers and inspectors general has been a hallmark of the current White House. And the radically pro-abortion rights Sebelius has ruled ruthlessly from her Beltway perch: policing citizen critics of Obamacare through a taxpayer-funded Internet snitch brigade; threatening private companies and insurers who have increased rates to cope with Obamacare coverage mandates; lashing out at newspapers who dare report on the costly consequences of the federal law.

As she bullies private companies to meet discriminatory and arbitrary disclosure demands, Sebelius has yet to be held accountable for overseeing state government agencies that conspired to hide the deadly truth about the Big Government/Big Abortion alliance from taxpayers.

Like her boss in Washington, Sebelius’ political playbook has a single page: Destroy the messenger.