Thursday, April 19, 2012

Film to Depict Lewis-Tolkien Friendship

'The Lion Awakes,' due in 2013, will tell how the latter led the former to Christianity

by Kenneth R. Morefield
April 10, 2012

“Christian without being preachy,” is how Louis Markos describes his desire for The Lion Awakes, an upcoming film based on the screenplay he co-wrote about the friendship between C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien and Lewis’s conversion to Christianity.

Markos told Christianity Today that his hopes to help create a “Christian crossover” film motivated him and his partners to form their own production company, Three Agree Films, in order to maintain as much control over the making of the film, while also working with investors to raise the funds needed for a commercially viable movie. Citing the recent success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Walden Media’s Narnia films, and The King’s Speech (The Lion Awakes depicts Lewis’s wartime radio broadcasts that formed the foundation for Mere Christianity), Markos is confident that interest in Lewis and Tolkien is sufficient to draw both Christian and non-Christian audiences to the film.

The academic turned screenwriter borrowed a phrase from Lewis when he said he hoped the film would be faithful to the faith of its subject while stripping the “Christian” genre label of some of its “stained glass and Sunday school associations.” Markos said it was important to him to depict Lewis’s actual conversion experience, noting that previous works such as Shadowlands have tended to focus on the end of Lewis's life. He also said the film deals with Lewis’s interactions with famous atheist Bertrand Russell in order to emphasize Lewis’s work in apologetics and the effect of that work on the church.

Markos said that the most difficult change for him to make in the screenplay was cutting the character of Owen Barfield, who was influential in Lewis’s shift from atheism to theism. In later versions of the script, Tolkien’s character subsumes Barfield’s. In spite of such changes, Markos remains confident that Lewis scholars will recognize the core truth of the narrative and enjoy several “inside” references. Since much of the film takes place after Tolkien's The Hobbit has been published, lines of dialogue that prefigure what the audience knows is to come should be a source of delight for many familiar with Lewis's story.

Markos said he wants his project to remain true to Lewis’s and Tolkien’s friendship, as contemporary films that depict male friendship are increasingly rare.

Three Agree films is hoping for a 2013 release of The Lion Awakes to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of C. S. Lewis’s death.

Teaser: "The Lion Awakes"

Levon Helm and the Great River of American Music

By Mark Salter
April 19, 2012

The whole congregation was standing

On the banks of the river

We are gathered here

To give a little thanks thanks

-- “The River Hymn” by The Band

The town where I grew up, on a bend in the Mississippi River, has a long, rich musical history. Early in the last century, riverboats brought jazz and blues upriver from New Orleans, the Delta, Memphis, St. Louis, stopped in the Quad Cities, where I’m from, and livened up the local musical scene. It’s stayed lively ever since.

Bix Beiderbecke, a high school friend of my grandfather’s, heard Louis Armstrong blow his horn on a riverboat, picked up a cornet of his own and learned to play. Davenport, on the west bank of the river, was the most staid of the four cities, so the best musicians gravitated to the east bank, to Rock Island, with its more colorful reputation. Every summer, Davenport hosts a popular Dixieland jazz festival named for Bix in a downtown park with an old-fashioned band shell that’s been there as long as I can remember. After the festival wraps up each night, musicians still head over to the saloons of Rock Island to sit in with the locals.

I spent a lot of Sundays in that park. The local music scene was the habitat of my youth. My friends were all musicians or devoted enthusiasts of Chicago blues and rockabilly and that British blues hybrid (three chords, long solos, and a cloud of smoke) imported, run through a stack of Marshall amps, and exported back to America by its avid disciples in England. We were obsessed with music. It’s all we cared about. It’s all we did. I don’t play any instrument, but to this day I can tell the difference between the sounds of a Fender Telecaster and a Fender Stratocaster.

I had friends in a lot of bands, and in one band in particular. My friend, Pat, who started and led the group, had the keys to the band shell. And in warm months we’d all head to the park on Sunday afternoons, and listen to the boys play for free on the bank of that wide, brown river that runs too fast to swim across on its snaky way to the sea.

That was decades ago. We’ve all gone our separate ways. We’ve picked up new interests, moved to other towns, started families. Some of us are dead. I haven’t seen most of them for years, but we keep in touch a little through the convening power of social media. We have different religions, different politics, different enthusiasms. We’re old. But we still have the music in common.

I suppose every American has a happy mental image that comes to mind when the name of our country is invoked with pride. Some probably look like those warm, soft-focus images in political campaign commercials: flags hanging from front porches on the Fourth of July, a fireman returning a kitten to a child, tall ships parading past the Statue of Liberty. Mine is that band shell in the park by the river, where the music played.

That came into my mind the moment I heard the sad news that Levon Helm, drummer, singer and guiding spirit of The Band, was dying. He was a river of American popular music. Whatever you call it, roots music, Americana, R&B, rockabilly, gospel, country soul, he kept its rhythm and sang it as well as any American musician ever has. We heard all of it in that soulful howl of his lamenting the missing Ophelia and the soul-crushed Confederate soldier, and the temptations and ravages of the road.

The boy from Turkey Scratch, Ark., son of cotton farmers on the Delta plain, about 20 miles west of the Mississippi and radio station KFFA (home of “King Biscuit Time”). He sang us the river. That Scots-Irish, African, French, Mexican, Caribbean, Canadian and God-knows-what-else stew of a river that runs from the hills of North Carolina to Austin; from Nashville to Motown; from New York to L.A.; from Kansas City to Seattle; from Memphis to Chicago and St. Louis and Minneapolis and every town and crossroads on the way.

We’re a hell of a musical country. We’re a people with a soundtrack. The wind whistling through the pines and jackhammers tearing up concrete, guitars and fiddles in the subway, hip-hop on the corner, blues down the alley, “a saxophone in some far off place,” a flute in the desert.

Whatever levees we build between us, by color, class, creed or politics, the river overflows them. In the city, out in the country, on the plains or in the projects, we pine and dream and cry and love to some strain of American music that is connected to every other strain of American music. Levon showed us that, and made us want to sing along with him on his ramble.

All voices fall still, and now his has. We’re going to miss it. But the music is everywhere. And the river keeps the rhythm. Usually in 4/4 time, but whatever beat you like, you can have it.

Another death is bringing me back home this weekend. While I’m there, I’ll go down to the river for Levon, just to say thanks, man, thanks.

Mark Salter is the former chief of staff to Senator John McCain and was a senior adviser to the McCain for President campaign.

Today's Tune: Ryan Adams - Let it Ride (Live)

The Andy Griffith Show: Barney Interrogates Otis Campbell

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - Janey, Don't You Lose Heart (Live 2012)

Polygamy, Too

From the April 16, 2012, issue of National Review

By David J. Rusin
April 19, 2012

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum got jeered for comparing the legalization of same-sex marriage to that of polygamy, but, whether or not the comparison is rationally sound, thoughts of the former’s facilitating the latter bring a smile to many Islamists. If the definition of marriage can evolve in terms of gender, some Muslims ask, why not in terms of number?

Islam sanctions polygamy — more specifically, polygyny — allowing Muslim men to keep up to four wives at once. Though marrying a second woman while remaining married to the first is prohibited across the Western world, including all 50 U.S. states, a Muslim can circumvent the law by wedding one woman in a government-recognized marriage and joining with others in unlicensed religious unions devoid of legal standing.

As Muslims have grown more numerous in the West, so too have Muslim polygamists. France, home to the largest Islamic population in Western Europe, was estimated in 2006 to host 16,000 to 20,000 polygamous families — almost all Muslim — containing 180,000 total people, including children. In the United States, such Muslims may have already reached numerical parity with their fundamentalist-Mormon counterparts; as many as 100,000 Muslims reside in multi-wife families, and the phenomenon has gained particular traction among black Muslims.

The increasingly prominent profile of Islamic polygamy in the West has inspired a range of accommodations. Several governments now recognize plural marriages contracted lawfully in immigrants’ countries of origin. In the United Kingdom, these polygamous men are eligible to receive extra welfare benefits — an arrangement that some government ministers hope to kill — and a Scottish court once permitted a Muslim who had been cited for speeding to retain his driver’s license because he had to commute between his wives.

The ultimate accommodation would involve placing polygamous and monogamous marriages on the same legal footing, but Islamists have been relatively quiet on this front, a silence that some attribute to satisfaction with the status quo or a desire to avoid drawing negative publicity. There have, of course, been exceptions. The Muslim Parliament of Great Britain made waves in 2000 about challenging the U.K.’s ban on polygamy, but little came of it. In addition, two of Australia’s most influential Islamic figures called for recognition of polygamous unions several years ago.

With the legal definition of marriage expanding in various U.S. states, as it has in other nations, should we anticipate rising demands that we recognize polygamous marriages? Debra Majeed, an academic apologist for Islamic polygamy, has tried to downplay such concerns, claiming that “opponents of same-sex unions, rather than proponents of polygyny as practiced by Muslims, are the usual sources of arguments that a door open to one would encourage a more visible practice of the other.” Yet some American Muslims apparently did not get the memo.

Because off-the-cuff remarks can be the most revealing, consider a tweet by Moein Khawaja, executive director of the Philadelphia branch of the radical Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). After New York legalized same-sex marriage last June, Khawaja expressed what many Islamists must have been thinking: “Easy to support gay marriage today bc it’s mainstream. Lets see same people go to bat for polygamy, its the same argument. *crickets*”

The “same argument” theme is fleshed out in an October 2011 piece titled “Polygamy: Tis the Season?” in the Muslim Link, a newspaper serving the Washington and Baltimore areas. “There are murmurs among the polygamist community as the country moves toward the legalization of gay marriage,” it explains. “As citizens of the United States, they argue, they should have the right to legally marry whoever they please, or however many they please.” The story quotes several Muslim advocates of polygamy. “As far as legalization, I think they should,” says Hassan Amin, a Baltimore imam who performs polygamous religious unions. “We should strive to have it legalized because Allah has already legalized it.”

Again and again the article connects the normalization of same-sex marriage and Islamic polygamy. “As states move toward legalizing gay marriage, the criminalization of polygamy is a seemingly striking inconsistency in constitutional law,” it asserts. “Be it gay marriage or polygamous marriage, the rights of the people should not be based on their popularity but rather on the constitutional laws that are meant to protect them.”

According to a survey carried out by the Link, polygamy suffers from no lack of popularity among American Muslims. Thirty-nine percent reported their intention to enter polygamous marriages if it becomes legal to do so, and “nearly 70 percent said they believe that the U.S. should legalize polygamy now that it is beginning to legalize gay marriage.” Unfortunately, no details about the methodology or sample size are provided, and in general quality data on Western Muslims’ views of polygamy are scarce and often contradictory. Results from a recent poll of users, many of whom live in the West, show significant support for the religious institution of polygamy, while findings from a more professional-looking survey of French Muslims indicate little desire for legalization.

Nevertheless, the number of polygamous Muslims and the opportunity presented by the redefining of marriage make it very likely that direct appeals for official recognition will ramp up over the next decade, as more Muslims join vocal non-Muslims already laying out the case that polygamists deserve no fewer rights than gays. In the meantime, watch for Islamists and their allies to prepare for ideological battle.

For starters, one hears a lot about the alleged social necessity of recognizing Islamic polygamy. The hardships encountered by second, third, and fourth wives who lack legal protections are regularly highlighted, while polygamy is promoted as a solution to the loss of marriageable black men in America to drugs, violence, and prison. Because polygamists who are not legally married are known to abuse welfare systems — for instance, Muslim women in polygamous marriages often claim benefits as single mothers — it would not be shocking to see legalization pushed even as a means of curbing fraud.

These practical arguments are supplemented with heavy-handed attempts to extol the supposed virtues of Islamic polygamy, as in a Georgia middle-school assignment featuring a sharia-lauding Muslim who tells students that “if our marriage has problems, my husband can take another wife rather than divorce me, and I would still be cared for.” Leftist academics such as Miriam Cooke, who has peddled the fiction that polygamy frees married Muslim women to pursue lovers, will have a role to play as well.

The good news for opponents of polygamy is that eventual legalization remains far from certain in the U.S. or elsewhere. State representatives will not be rushing to introduce pro-polygamy bills when, according to a Gallup survey from last year, almost nine in ten Americans still see the practice as morally wrong. Opinions can change, of course, as they have regarding same-sex marriage. Unfortunately for polygamy’s backers, however, the equality arguments employed to great effect by gay-marriage advocates may ring hollow, in that recognizing polygamy — which almost always takes the form of polygyny — would essentially endorse inequality between the genders.

Convincing American judges to overturn restrictions will be an uphill battle as well — and not just because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1879 rejection of the “religious duty” defense of marrying multiple partners in Reynolds v. United States. More recently, state supreme courts have explicitly held the line against polygamy in their rulings to extend marriage rights to same-sex pairs. See Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (Massachusetts, 2003) and In re Marriage Cases (California, 2008); the latter decision describes both polygamous and incestuous unions as “inimical to the mutually supportive and healthy family relationships promoted by the constitutional right to marry.”

Judicial criticism of polygamy is not unique to the U.S. In a case concerning self-proclaimed Mormon fundamentalists, the supreme court of British Columbia upheld Canada’s ban on plural marriage last November after the chief justice, in the words of the New York Times, “found that women in polygamous relationships faced higher rates of domestic, physical and sexual abuse, died younger and were more prone to mental illnesses. Children from those marriages, he said, were more likely to be abused and neglected, less likely to perform well at school and often suffered from emotional and behavioral problems.”

Focusing on polygamy in the Islamic world does not yield a happier image. Based on her experiences in Afghanistan, feminist university professor Phyllis Chesler has called the practice “humiliating, cruel, [and] unfair to the wives,” and noted that it “sets up fearful rivalries among the half-brothers of different mothers who have lifelong quarrels over their inheritances.” Likewise, Egyptian-born human-rights activist Nonie Darwish has elucidated polygamy’s “devastating impact on the healthy function and the structure of loyalties” within Muslim families.

Recent studies have bolstered these accounts. According to new research, Israeli Arab women in polygamous marriages are worse off than those in monogamous ones. A separate investigation uncovered similar negative effects on Malaysian Muslims. In addition, an academic paper released this year concludes that polygamous societies in general lag behind their monogamous counterparts and explores the reasons for this, including the increased tension and criminal activity that result from creating a surplus of single, low-status men.

There are many other arguments against polygamy that supporters of legalization will have to defeat, such as that expanding marriage to three or more people would require massive alterations of Western family law. However, neither bureaucratic obstacles nor public exposure of the social ills accompanying polygamy will deter polygamous Muslims from seeking what they desire.

Recognition of polygamous marriages would be a major win for stealth jihadists — and the time is nearly optimal for them to make their move. How ironic that laws benefiting gay couples may aid Islamists — followers of an ideology that despises homosexuals — in their campaign to establish sharia in the Western world.

— David J. Rusin is a research fellow at Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. This article initially appeared in the April 16, 2012, issue of National Review.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fantasies of Social Darwinism

Three generations of this imbecilic progressive talking point are enough.

By Jonah Goldberg
The Weekly Standard
April 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 30

"Social Darwinism, a popular topic in the 19th and early 20th centuries,” reported the Associated Press on April 5, “is making its way into modern American politics.” The news peg for the story was President Obama’s claim that the House Republican budget is nothing but “thinly veiled Social Darwinism.” It is, he added, a “Trojan Horse,” hiding within in it “a radical vision” that is “antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity.”

To the surprise of no one, the New York Times hailed the “thunderclap of a speech” in an editorial titled “Calling Radicalism by Its Name.” But Social Darwinism has been thick in the air of late (according to Lexis-Nexis, over 100 articles used the term in the 90 days prior to Obama’s speech). Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich had days before already denounced the GOP budget as not merely Social Darwinism but “radical Social Darwinism.”

This raises the real problem with the AP’s analysis. It has the history exactly backwards. The topic was not popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but it is now. And it’s not suddenly “making its way” into modern politics. Liberals have been irresponsibly flinging the term Social Darwinism rightward for decades. Mario Cuomo, in his famous 1984 Democratic Convention keynote speech—which “electrified,” “galvanized,” and “inspired” Democrats, who went on to lose 49 states in the general election—declared that “President Reagan told us from the very beginning that he believed in a kind of Social Darwinism.” Walter Mondale, the Democratic nominee that year, insisted that Reagan preferred “Social Darwinism” over “social decency.” Even Barack Obama’s April 3 speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors was so much recycling. In 2005, then-senator Obama denounced the conservative idea of an “ownership society,” charging that “in our past there has been another term for it—Social Darwinism—every man or woman for him or herself.”

Meanwhile, the myth that Social Darwinism was a popular term in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was largely created by the liberal historian Richard Hofstadter, whose 1944 book Social Darwinism in American Thought didn’t merely transform our understanding of the Gilded Age, it largely fabricated an alternative history of it.

But let us start with Herbert Spencer (pictured at right), the man who is always cast as the villain of the tale and the “founder” of the Social Darwinist “movement.” A writer for one British paper insists Spencer was “a downright evil man .  .  . whose passion for eugenics and elimination made him the daydreamer of things to come.” Edwin Black, in his history of eugenics, War Against the Weak, writes that Spencer “completely denounced charity and instead extolled the purifying elimination of the ‘unfit.’ The unfit, he argued, were predestined by their nature to an existence of downwardly spiraling degradation.” Hofstadter himself wrote that the (almost wholly progressive) eugenics movement in America “has proved to be the most enduring aspect” of Spencer’s “tooth-and-claw version of natural selection.”

The most creative assault on Spencer must be Richard L. Schoenwald’s psychological autopsy in the 1968 summer issue of the esteemed journal Victorian Studies, in which the historian reveals that Spencer’s twisted and deformed worldview stemmed from his fascination with feces.

Starting with Spencer’s childhood in the 1820s, Schoenwald concluded that “Spencer’s self-esteem had been undermined hopelessly in the oral and anal stages of his development; he could commit himself only to paper, not to a woman.” As a baby, Spencer rejoiced in his ability to “create excrement.” He never forgave his parents’ efforts at toilet training, which revoked the “freedom in which he had gloried.” This “fearful attack from behind” left permanent scars, which is why, for example, Spencer would one day oppose public sanitation regulation, because he “saw in sanitary reform an attack on his magical anal producing powers.”

We’ll just let that speak for itself.

The truth of the matter, as aggrieved libertarians have been saying for years, is that Spencer was a thoroughly benign classical liberal. Yes, he coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” (a term Darwin embraced), but contrary to generations of propaganda, he did not oppose charity (he celebrated it at great length), did not advocate the mastery of superior races over allegedly inferior ones, did not believe corporations should ride roughshod over the poor (he supported labor unions), and was in fact a great foe of imperialism and a champion of women’s suffrage.

Oh, and he never called himself a Social Darwinist. He didn’t call himself a Darwinist at all (he had a different theory of evolution).

But here’s the interesting part: Almost no one else called himself a Social Darwinist either (including Spencer’s alleged co-conspirator William Graham Sumner). Simply put, there was no remotely serious intellectual movement—at least not in America or Britain—called Social Darwinism, and the evil views attributed to so-called Social Darwinists were not held by its alleged founders. Geoffrey Hodgson conducted a survey of all of the leading English-language academic journals from the mid-1800s until 1937 and couldn’t find any evidence that Spencer and Sumner were part of, never mind leaders of, an intellectual movement called “Social Darwinism.” Even more amazing: In the entire body of Anglo-American scholarly publications spanning more than a century, there is only one article that actually advocates—rather than criticizes—something called “Social Darwinism.” And it not only wasn’t written by Spencer, it doesn’t mention him either.

In fairness, Hofstadter didn’t just focus on the intellectuals, he cited the views and actions of the so-called Robber Barons as proof that the conservative mind had adopted Darwinism on a massive scale. He writes:

With its rapid expansion, its exploitative methods, its desperate competition, and its peremptory rejection of failure, post-bellum America was like a vast human caricature of the Darwinian struggle for existence and survival of the fittest. Successful business entrepreneurs apparently have accepted almost by instinct the Darwinian terminology which seemed to portray the conditions of their existence.

Others followed Hofstadter’s lead. Merle Curti in The Growth of American Thought argued that Social Darwinism “admirably suited the needs of the great captains of industry, who were crushing the little fellows when these vainly tried to compete with them.” Henry Steel Commager wrote in The American Mind that “Darwin and Spencer exercised such sovereignty over America as George III had never enjoyed.” And of course Robert Reich has said that Social Darwinism “offered a perfect moral justification for America’s Gilded Age, when robber barons controlled much of American industry, the gap between the rich and poor turned into a chasm, urban slums festered, and politicians were bought off by the wealthy. .  .  . The modern Conservative Movement has embraced Social Darwinism with no less fervor than it has condemned Darwinism.”

The only problem: None of this is true either. Yes, Andrew Carnegie was a follower of Herbert Spencer and lots of people referenced “natural law” (though rarely as a reference to Darwinian evolution). But for the most part the captains of industry couldn’t care less about this stuff. As Robert Bannister and Irwin Wylie (and more recently Princeton intellectual historian Thomas Leonard) have painstakingly documented, the captains of industry in the 19th century were not particularly influenced by, or even aware of, Darwin and Spencer. This shouldn’t surprise anybody. “Gilded Age businessmen were not sufficiently bookish, or sufficiently well educated, to keep up with the changing world of ideas,” writes Wylie. “As late as 1900, 84 percent of the businessmen listed in Who’s Who in America had not been educated beyond high school.”

Overwhelmingly, businessmen of the period were influenced by Christianity first, classical economics second, self-help inspirational nostrums a distant third, and egghead notions about biology almost not at all. Cornelius Vanderbilt read one book in his entire life. It was Pilgrim’s Progress. And he didn’t get to it until he was past the age of 70. “If I had learned education,” Vanderbilt famously quipped, “I would not have had time to learn anything else.”

Also, it’s worth noting that the so-called red-in-tooth-and-claw Gilded Age was a time of massive, historic economic growth. It was when America overtook Britain as the economic powerhouse of the globe. That’s one reason the left has always hated it. When Europe was boldly embracing socialism, America was proving that capitalism was better at generating wealth and lifting people out of poverty. Moreover, as anybody who’s been in a library, hospital, university, or concert hall bearing the name of Carnegie, Mellon, Rockefeller, et al, can attest, the “Robber Barons” didn’t remotely believe in letting the little guy fend for himself or that wealth was a reflection of either moral superiority or evolutionary “fitness.” Even the one real Spencerist in the bunch, Andrew Carnegie, believed that “the amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry—no idol more debasing than the worship of money.” He believed that the man who “dies rich dies disgraced” and himself died one of the most famously generous philanthropists in the world.

One reason the term “Social Darwinism” caught on with progressives was that it served to divert attention from the sins of “reform Darwinism”—i.e., the progressive passion for eugenics. The progressives advocated aggressive statist intervention to improve the genetic stock of the country, while the alleged Social Darwinists championed laissez-faire and private charity and—gasp—reproductive freedom. Moreover, the term Social Darwinism, which in Europe was used to justify nationalist and racist theories of the Hitlerian variety, was the perfect label for playing guilt-by-association in America. Ever since Hofstadter’s book, liberals have used the term to accuse conservatives of desperately wanting to return to a past that never was.

On April 4, Mitt Romney had his turn in front of the newspapermen. “The president came here yesterday and railed against arguments no one is making—and criticized policies no one is proposing. It’s one of his favorite strategies—setting up straw men to distract from his record.”

One suspects that even Romney had no idea how right he was.

- Jonah Goldberg’s latest book, The Tyranny of Clich├ęs: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, goes on sale May 1.

America’s Quiet Muslims

Muslims who value American liberty must oppose an insidious new campaign.

By Karen Lugo
April 17, 2012
Zulfiqar Ali Shah
If America is going to fare better than Europe in halting the development of a de facto sharia society, the unabashed efforts of Muslims who understand the unique value of America’s legacy of liberty will be crucial. Estimates indicate that more than half of American Muslims are quietly appreciative of constitutionally guaranteed individual rights. The challenge lies in persuading them to take a public stand.
The stage is now set for all freedom-supporting Muslims to step up and counter the Islamic Circle of North America as it rolls out its $3 million campaign to convince Americans that the goals of sharia law and the objectives of the United States Constitution are one and the same. As enunciated in a fatwa by the Islamic Fiqh Council of North America, which interprets Islamic law for this continent, Muslim authorities claim there is “no inherent conflict between the normative values of Islam and the US Constitution and Bill of Rights” (emphasis added). The proclamation also asserts that “secular legal systems in Western democracies generally share the same supreme objectives, and are generally compatible with Islamic Shari’ah” (emphasis added).

The ICNA campaign to soften sharia for American consumption is based on dizzying historical spin, as demonstrated by Zulfiqar Ali Shah (also known as Al Fokkar Ali Shah and Tho Al Fokkar Ali Shah), the former president of ICNA and current executive director of the Fiqh Council of North America. His showcase essay, “Founding Father’s [sic] of America’s Indebtedness to Islamic Thought,” makes the specious argument that John Locke, the authority behind much of the Founding philosophy, had a “political outlook [that] closely resembled the Islamic teachings.”

For evidence, Shah sprinkles into his fable some odd incidentals, like the assertion that the inquisitive Locke owned a copy of the Koran and had friends who were Muslims or Muslim sympathizers — as if these happenstances could prove that Locke was “greatly influenced by Muslim philosophers.”

Shah fabricates whole cloth out of scraps of conjecture extracted from John Locke: Resistance, Religion, and Responsibility, by Professor John Marshall, an outlier in the Lockean-scholarship camp. Shah tries to use Marshall’s material to support his claim that Locke rejected the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. According to Shah’s tortured construction, rejection of belief in the tripartite God implies sympathy with broader Islamic teaching. Yet Marshall noted that there was “no sign that Locke ever felt able to assert that there could not be three infinite persons of the Godhead in only one infinite space,” and he remarked that Locke’s observations were not “invested with Socinian purpose.”

Still, from the report of Locke’s investigation of Socinianism, an anti-trinitarian doctrine, Shah bootstraps the notion that Locke was “an outright Socinian” and “denounced fundamental Christian dogmas such as Trinity, Jesus’ divinity, Original Sin, Ecclesiastical authority, biblical inerrancy and salvation through the redemptive death and crucifixion of Christ.”

Tellingly, Shah steers clear of the salient themes of Locke’s essays on government, natural law, and liberty. For where Locke directly contradicts sharia tenets is in his very principled defense of ordered liberty, popular sovereignty, rights of conscience, and a civil government whose purpose is the protection of individual life, liberty, and property. These foundational components of the Declaration of Independence are all on a collision course with arbitrary clerical judgments, theocratic statism, discrimination against women, and disregard for basic civil and religious rights.

In the light of these truths, Shah’s most dishonest avowal comes at the conclusion of his essay on the purported debt that the Founders owe to Islam, where he declares that “the American dream [of] ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’ is a summarized version of the five objectives of Islamic Shari’ah . . . incorporated by John Lock [sic] in his Treatises.”

Shah (under the variant “Zululfokka Shah”) is also listed as a scholar associated with the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America. This committee of Islamic sharia experts, “established in response to the growing need of an Islamic jurisprudence specific to Muslims in the West,” has issued a 47-page manifesto (analysis and translated excepts here; also, an efficient overview by scholar Andrew Bostom here). Presented at a conference in Houston in 2008, the document teaches highest allegiance to Islamic law and reveals fundamental disregard for the American Constitution as Muslims are instructed on the fine points of living and governing under infidel systems, applying man-made law, and working as judges or lawyers.
To the Muslim who must act as a judge applying law other than sharia, the document encourages defiant judicial activism, directing him to “rule by [sharia] in every case brought before him, or at least as close as he’s able.” Muslim judges ruling under infidel law are admonished “to increase the good and decrease the bad as much as possible.” If a Muslim judge follows the AMJA document’s injunction to “in his heart hate the man-made law,” it is certain that his judgments will reflect sharia standards, not the will of the American people expressed as law made by their elected representatives.

The ICNA campaign to whitewash this activist and anti-constitutional Islamist agenda must be challenged by thoughtful Americans as the town halls that will be part of the campaign are convened. Even more important, previously reticent Muslims should recognize the urgency of confronting hard-line Islamist leadership.

America’s Muslims have the most to lose and so command the highest credibility in this cultural debate. They must stand now to defend America’s guarantees of individual liberty and equal rights. Western Europe offers ample evidence of what life is like as pockets of sharia societies spread.

Zuhdi Jasser, Irshad Manji, and other courageous Muslims have assumed national leadership roles in the defense of American freedoms. For all Muslims who have been inspired by their example, now is the time to confront the totalitarian goals of those who work to impose sharia by subterfuge.

Karen Lugo is co-director of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence and founder of the Libertas-West Project.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Q & A: Ross Douthat on Rooting Out Bad Religion

Why the New York Times columnist wants to see America return to its confessional roots.

Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics
by Ross Douthat
Free Press, April 2012
352 pp., $26.00

The biggest threat facing America is not a faltering economy or a spate of books by famed atheists. Rather, the country meets new challenges due to the decline of traditional Christianity, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat suggests in Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (Free Press). Douthat has taken his own personal tour of American Christianity: he was baptized Episcopalian, attended evangelical and Pentecostal churches as a child, and converted to Catholicism at age 17. He argues that prosperity preachers, self-esteem gurus, and politics operating as religion contribute to the contemporary decline of America. CT spoke with Douthat about America's decline from a vigorous faith, modern heretics, and why we need a revival of traditional Christianity.
What do you mean when you say we're facing the threat of heresy?
I try to use an ecumenical definition, starting with what I see as the theological common ground shared by my own Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations. Then I look at forms of American religion that are influenced by Christianity, but depart in some significant way from this consensus. It's a C. S. Lewisian, Mere Christianity definition of orthodoxy or heresy. I'm trying to look at the ways the American religion today departs from theological and moral premises that traditional Protestants and Catholics have in common.
How did America become a nation of heretics?
We've always been a nation of heretics. Heresy used to be constrained and balanced by institutional Christianity to a far greater extent than it is today. What's unique about our religious moment is not the movements and currents such as the "lost gospel" industry, the world of prosperity preaching, the kind of therapeutic religion that you get from someone like Oprah Winfrey, or various highly politicized forms of faith. What's new is the weakness of the orthodox Christian response. There were prosperity preachers and therapeutic religion in the 1940s and '50s—think of bestsellers like Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking—but there was also a much more robust Christian center.
The Protestant and Catholic churches that made a real effort to root their doctrine and practice in historic Christianity were vastly stronger than they are today. Even someone who was dabbling in what I call heresy was also more likely to have something in his religious life—some institutional or confessional pressure—tugging him back toward a more traditional faith. The influence of heretics has been magnified by the decline of orthodox Christianity.
Have evangelicals created a fertile ground for heresy?
People have asked, "Don't all the trends that you describe go back to the Protestant Reformation?" Since I am a Roman Catholic, I do have sympathy for that argument [laughs]. But it's important not to leap to a historical determinism about theological and cultural trends. Some of the trends might represent the working out of ideas inherent in Protestantism or grow out of religious individualism that is more Protestant than Catholic. But I don't think it was necessarily inevitable that we reached this point. It's a long way from Martin Luther's On the Freedom of a Christian to Eat, Pray, Love, and a vigorous Protestantism should be able to prevent the former from degenerating into the latter.
You suggest that Christian leaders from earlier decades contributed to the decline of traditional Christianity by trying to accommodate cultural norms. Would you consider Oprah, Glenn Beck, and others to be today's accommodationists?
We're in a slightly different era today. There were tremendous cultural challenges to Christianity in the 1960s and '70s that both liberals and conservatives struggled to respond to, starting with the sexual revolution. "Accommodationists"—what we think of as liberal Christians, Protestant and Catholic—weren't out to destroy Christianity. They saw their mission as a noble one, preserving institutional Christianity in a new era. Their choices ultimately emptied Christianity theologically, but they intended to save the faith, or at the very least their own denomination.
The heretics I write about aren't detached completely from Christianity. Some of them identify as Christians and like the idea of identifying with Jesus. But they aren't interested in sustaining any historic Christian tradition or church apart from their own ministry.
Instead of trying to reform and strengthen institutional Christianity, they're picking through the Christian past, looking for things they like and can use, and discarding the rest.
Why do you claim that one of evangelicalism's contemporary struggles is an alignment with former President George W. Bush?
The Bush administration represented both the best and worst of a broader evangelical reengagement in politics and culture. It was the fulfillment of this post-1970s era when evangelicals reengaged with the broader culture, returned to the halls of power, and left the fundamentalist past behind. That you had an evangelical President and his speechwriter drawing on Catholic social teaching to shape domestic policy was a remarkable achievement, a sign of what you might call "the opening of the evangelical mind." And some of the Bush administration's initiatives, such as its aids in Africa efforts, made a real attempt to achieve a more holistic Christian engagement in politics.
But the administration exposed the limits of using politics to effect broader cultural change. The Bush era was the moment when religious conservatives finally had one of their own in the White House, but it wasn't a great era for evangelicalism or for institutional Christianity. But it's pretty clear that institutional religion in the United States has lost more ground than it's gained in the past 10 to 15 years. While evangelicalism is obviously quite robust, evangelical churches aren't growing as fast as they were during the 1970s and '80s. Instead of being a period of revival and renewal for evangelical Christianity, the Bush era looks like a period when evangelical Christianity hit a ceiling.
After 9/11, evangelicals were also particularly tempted toward what I call the heresy of nationalism: that promoting democracy overseas by force of arms would be God's will, which is at best a theologically perilous idea, and at worst, explicitly heretical.
How has Christianity historically tempered nationalism?
The idea that America has some distinctive role to play in the unfolding of God's plan is compatible with orthodox Christianity. But it should be tempered by recognizing that America is not the church. It's fine to see ourselves as an "almost-chosen people," as Abraham Lincoln put it, but if we decide we're literally chosen, then we've taken a detour away from a healthy patriotism towards an unhealthy nationalism.
Lincoln was not an orthodox Christian, but we can look at his second inaugural address as a model for how Christians should think about these issues. He was open to the idea that history unfolds in a providential way, that the American Civil War could have theological as well as political significance.
But he tempered that by emphasizing that providence and God's purposes are mysterious. He emphasized that God simultaneously passed judgment on North and South alike, that the war is a chastisement rather than a pure apotheosis of the American idea. If you're too confident in assuming that America's and God's purposes are one, you tiptoe toward idolatry.
Why do you say that Mormons and evangelicals can bridge their divides through their love for the Constitution?
Mormons and evangelicals share the temptations that come with an admirable patriotism. There's a tendency for them to take patriotism one step too far and say not only that the Constitution is a wonderful document, but that it is divinely inspired. There's a reason so much of Mitt Romney's campaign rhetoric has focused on "believe in America," singing "America the Beautiful," and so on. These kinds of gestures and emphases offer a way to ease evangelical doubts about his theology. In effect, he is saying, "Whatever our different beliefs about the nature of the Trinity, we agree that America is uniquely favored by God."
Are there parallels between the desire to build an "evangelical empire" and the desire to build up America as a Christian nation?
You could connect the prosperity gospel—especially its idea that good Christians need never be poor—with Glenn Beck's view, that if America had stayed true to its founding, then God would not have given us the Great Recession
But the nature of heresy is not that it takes a Christian teaching and gets it completely wrong. Instead, it takes a Christian teaching and emphasizes it to the exclusion of anything that might counterbalance it. It isn't wrong to suggest that there are biblical passages that state that God blesses his servants in this life as well as the next. There are biblical passages that suggest a link between a nation's morality, a nation's religious beliefs, and its historical fate.
But Christian orthodoxy always counterbalances those emphases with other truths. Sometimes God uses a pagan nation to bring forth his justice. So you might succeed and prosper not because you are particularly virtuous, but because you're that pagan nation, Babylon or Assyria, not King David's Israel. You have to be aware of these possibilities. The same is true for wealthy people, and obviously all blessings come from God. But sometimes what you think of as "blessings" may be ill-gotten gains. Or the guy who is suffering financially isn't suffering because he didn't pray hard enough; he's Lazarus on your doorstep and you're the rich man who's ignoring him.
Why do you think evangelicals have been reticent to look to the government while maintaining a robust political impulse?
Evangelicals are less likely to look to a government program for help, but they are more likely to see the election of particular individuals as the key to fulfilling Christian purposes. Evangelicals have a healthy skepticism of the efficacy of government, but they are tempted by the delusion that if you just elect the right godly leader, deeper cultural trends will change overnight. Or they see adverse trends as a result of individual bad actors. Evangelicals were galvanized into politics in part by a series of Supreme Court decisions, which were the work of five or six people who you could point to and say, "He's the guy who took away prayer in schools." This has given rise to the popular idea that cultural changes stem from all these liberal, secular elites imposing themselves on a conservative Christian population. But I don't think this view considers the role that broader cultural and economic shifts have played in trends that conservative Christians don't like.
How can we begin to address a nation of heretics?
There has been much healthy Catholic and Protestant dialogue and cooperation during the past 30 years. But ultimately the success of U.S. Christianity depends on individual churches and confessions, not on ecumenism for ecumenism's sake. Protestants and Catholics need to recognize everything we have in common and then say we're also going to focus on building separate effective churches.
Christianity's failure in the United States is an institutional failure, and the answer to institutional failure is stronger institutions. America has more to gain from a more potent Protestantism and Catholicism than it does from even the most fruitful Protestant-Catholic dialogue.
For evangelicals, it means thinking more seriously about ecclesiology and what it will take to sustain Christianity across generations. Promise Keepers, Campus Crusade for Christ, and other parachurch groups have been important to evangelicalism. But "parachurch" makes sense over the long term in the context of a church. The danger for evangelicalism is becoming too parachurch without enough church. Some megachurches seem to function like parachurches rather than churches, as though everything else that's going on is more important than the central life of the community of worship. It might be important for evangelicals to think of themselves as Presbyterians, Baptists, and so on, and recover the virtues of confessionalism, because it's confessions, not just superstar pastors, that sustain Christianity over the long haul.
How did you arrive at your final point: that Christians can work to become more political without being partisan, ecumenical while being confessional, moralistic while being holistic, and oriented toward beauty?
I tried to think about the attractive aspects of post-war American Christianity that we have lost. Being political without being partisan was crucial to the successes of the civil rights movement. Figures like Billy Graham and Fulton Sheen were ecumenical but remained confessional. And it was easier to be moralistic, but also holistic, in that context because the country was not polarized on what we now think of as a culture war.
There are reasons why Christianity has lost some influence in creative culture. You want to live in a world where the opening of a new cathedral in a major American city is not only a religious event but also a major architectural event. You want to live in a world where Christian artists aren't going to be merely interesting eccentrics. People write about Marilynne Robinson as a great novelist, but they also say, "And she's a Calvinist." You want to live in a world where that feels natural.
How do you adapt to cultural forces while maintaining tradition?
You have to address the issues and places where orthodoxy has lost people over the past few decades without just saying, "We're losing people here, so we just need to change this teaching or jettison this," which was the accommodationist answer. There's evidence to suggest that churches that self-consciously surrender big chunks of Christian teaching don't seem to thrive in the long run. Also, it has to be possible to be Christian on contentious cultural issues without making it seem like Christianity is just an appendage of the Republican Party.
Finally, it's very important for contemporary Christians to be ecumenical and to see the best in one another's congregations, but not at the expense of having a robust, resilient internal culture within their own churches. Lewis compares his "Mere Christianity" to a hallway with doors opening into various rooms, which are the actual Christian churches. You can't spend all your time in the hallway. You can go out into the hallway to talk, but you have to go back in the rooms to worship.

Related Elsewhere:
Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics is available from and other retailers.
Christianity Today previously interviewed Ross Douthat prior to the 2008 election about evangelicals' place in the Republican Party.
Previous CT articles about politics include:
Mass Appeal: Evangelicals Copy More of Catholic Playbook to Oppose Contraception Ruling | Mandate has evangelicals and Catholics finding common ground on ethics—and strategy. (April 1, 2012)
Timeline: Obama Administration Actions Affecting U.S. Religious Freedom | How we got to the current religious liberty debates over contraception and other issues. (March 23, 2012)
The Cure for Election Madness | How to be political without losing your soul. (January 6, 2012)
Other recent CT interviews include:
Jesus Through Jewish Eyes | Why Jewish New Testament professor Amy-Jill Levine thinks Jews should know more about Jesus, and Christians more about first-century Judaism. (April 1, 2012)
Sailing into the Storm: Philip Ryken and D. Michael Lindsay on the Challenges in Christian Higher Education | College presidents discuss the relevance of Christian higher education, the theological issues facing Christian universities, and more. (March 7, 2012)
Commander and Chaplain: The Faith of Presidents | Gary Scott Smith explores how faith has influenced presidential policies. (January 4, 2012)

Ross Douthat: Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics from Augustine Institute on Vimeo.

Monday, April 16, 2012

British Peer Lord Ahmed suspended after 'offering £10m bounty on Barack Obama and George Bush'

A controversial British peer has been suspended from the Labour Party amid reports that he offered a £10 million bounty for the capture of President Barack Obama and his predecessor President George W Bush.

By Nick Allen and Tim Ross
The Telegraph
16 April 2012

Lord Ahmed, 53, who in 1998 became the first Muslim life peer, was reported to have made the comments at a conference in Haripur in Pakistan.

A Labour Party spokesman said: "We have suspended Lord Ahmed (pictured above) pending investigation. If these comments are accurate we utterly condemn these remarks which are totally unacceptable."

According to Pakistan's Express Tribune newspaper Lord Ahmed offered the bounty in response to a US action a week ago.

The US issued a $10 million reward for the capture of Pakistani militant leader Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba group, who it suspects of orchestrating the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people died as terrorists stormed hotels and a train station.

The British peer reportedly said: "'If the US can announce a reward of $10 million for the (capture) of Hafiz Saeed, I can announce a bounty of £10 million (for the capture of) President Obama and his predecessor, George Bush."

Lord Ahmed reportedly said he would arrange the bounty at any cost, even if he had to sell his own personal assets including his house.

He was said to have made the comments at a reception arranged in his honour by the business community of Haripur on Friday.

A former Pakistani foreign minister and a provincial education minister were said to have been present at the reception.

Lord Ahmed, who was born in Pakistan, became Baron Ahmed of Rotherham at the age of 40. In 2007 he was highly critical of the awarding of a knighthood to Salman Rushdie, claiming the author had "blood on his hands."

In 2009 he was jailed for dangerous driving after sending and receiving text messages minutes before being involved in a fatal motorway crash. The Court of Appeal later suspended his 12-week jail sentence.

A week ago the US offered the bounty on Saeed in response to what it called his increasingly "brazen" conduct in Pakistan where he moves freely and appears on television.

Documents found by US special forces at Osama bin Laden's final hideaway in Abbottabad, 22 miles north of Haripur, last year apparently linked Saeed with the al-Qaeda leader. The evidence was said to have shown that bin Laden played a key role in planning the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

In its statement suspending Lord Ahmed the Labour Party said: "The international community is rightly doing all in its power to seek justice for the victims of the Mumbai bombings and halt terrorism."

Lord Ahmed firmly denied offering a bounty, but said he had told the meeting that Mr Bush and former-Labour prime minister Tony Blair should be prosecuted for war crimes.

Speaking from Pakistan to the Press Association he challenged the Labour Party to provide evidence for the suspension.

He said: "They have suspended me? That's a surprise to me. I did not know.

"I never said those words. I did not offer a bounty. I said that there have been war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan and those people who have got strong allegations against them - George W Bush and Tony Blair - have been involved in illegal wars and should be brought to justice.

"I do not think there's anything wrong with that. If the Labour Party want to suspend me I will deal with the Labour Party. They will have to give me some evidence."

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Today's Tune: The Vespers - Will You Love Me

Holder Meets Sharpton

The attorney general heaps praise on an infamous huckster.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
April 14, 2012

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, left, and the Rev. Al Sharpton confer before Holder’s address to the 13th annual National Action Network conference, in New York Wednesday, April 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Eric Holder rode in on the stench of Marc Rich and will ride out on the stench of Al Sharpton. He’s spent the three-plus years in between branding Americans as “cowards” on race matters; investigating the CIA; coddling CAIR and the New Black Panthers; green-lighting voter fraud; swaddling Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the Bill of Rights; and converting the Justice Department into a full-employment program for the Lawyer Left and its Gitmo boutique. But now he’s hit the big time.

This week, our esteemed attorney general canoodled with Reverend Al at the annual convention of the “National Action Network,” home base for the infamous huckster (that would be Sharpton, not Holder — sorry for any confusion). It is difficult to imagine another attorney general in American history sucking up to such a race-mongering charlatan. The Sharpton record was succinctly catalogued on the Corner by Victor Davis Hanson: inciting murderous riots; slandering Jews, Mormons, and homosexuals; libeling a state prosecutor in the course of championing Tawana Brawley’s fabrication of a racial “hate crime.” Yet there was Holder, ladling cringe-making praise on Sharpton for “your partnership, your friendship, and your tireless efforts to speak out for the voiceless, to stand up for the powerless, and to shine a light on the problems we must solve and the promises we must fulfill.”

Holder is currently in “partnership” with his fast friend on the highly charged Trayvon Martin case. In the days before the nation’s chief federal law-enforcement official lionized the CEO of the nation’s racial-grievance industry, Sharpton had been in Florida, threatening that his “action network” — as in “direct action,” the community-organizer’s stock-in-trade — would “move to the next level” if authorities in Sanford, Fla., failed to arrest George Zimmerman, the man (or, if you prefer the New York Times Agitator’s Glossary, the “white Hispanic”) who shot Mr. Martin, a black 17-year-old.

With such notches on his belt as Crown Heights and Freddie’s Fashion Mart, there’s not a lot of mystery involved when the Reverend Al starts conjuring “the next level” of “action.” Still, never what you’d call a master of subtlety, Sharpton — between inciting mobs with demands to “arrest Zimmerman now!” — expressly threatened to “occupy” the city of Sanford.

The nation’s chief federal law enforcer reacted to these threats of lawlessness with paeans to Sharpton’s besotted history. Beyond that, Holder has been doing plenty of agitating on his own. He bragged to Sharpton’s crowd that he’d ordered his Justice Department to open an investigation into the Martin shooting three weeks ago. He stood ready, he vowed, to file “civil rights” charges if warranted by “the facts and the law.”

Just one problem: Nothing about the known facts comes close to triggering federal jurisdiction. Holder’s “civil rights” hooey is based on fiction: a tale manufactured by NBC News, the flimflam artists who doctored the audiotape of Zimmerman’s call to the police, stoking public outrage with a report that Zimmerman had racially profiled Martin.

The case at hand involves the excruciating loss of a 17-year-old’s life. We do not know exactly what happened. We do know, however, that there is virtually no chance Martin’s race was the cause of his killing. Quite apart from Zimmerman’s lineage — which the Times would be reporting as “Hispanic,” not the newfangled “white Hispanic,” if he had been on the receiving end of fired shots — Zimmerman is of a mixed-race family. Not only does he have black relatives, he has reportedly donated his time to tutor black children. He seems to have used tragically poor judgment in the chain of events that led to Martin’s death, but there is no indication that he is a racist or that his overeager actions were motivated by racial bias. In the context of the case, Martin’s race is sheer happenstance. Its principal relevance is the divisive opening it presents for opportunistic racialists such as Sharpton and Holder.

Race is a dubious constitutional basis for federal intrusion into state law enforcement. The framers saw policing as a state matter– that’s why there was no U.S. Justice Department for the first 83 years of constitutional governance. One needn’t be blind to slavery and structural racism to understand that 21st-century Florida has moved beyond these blights on the nation’s history. There is zero reason to believe that, without Eric Holder hovering, Florida’s police, prosecutors, and citizens could not be trusted to do justice.

There is, moreover, grave reason to believe Holder’s looming involvement will taint the case. In fact, it is already tainting the case.

Put aside the absence of a race angle in this particular case. We know that the Obama-Holder Justice Department practices racial discrimination in enforcing Congress’s race-neutral civil-rights statutes. That is clear from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission’s investigation of the New Black Panthers voter-intimidation case– brought by the Bush DOJ but dismissed by Holder’s minions, in consultation with far-left activists, even though the government had already prevailed. Anything Holder’s department does under the rubric of civil-rights enforcement exacerbates this profound offense against our constitutional commitment to equal protection under the law for all citizens, regardless of race.

Furthermore, controversial cases that stir passions and bring out the rabble-rousers demand that high law-enforcement officials provide adult supervision. Not every wrong is a criminal wrong. Responsible prosecutors respect this premise as the Constitution’s safe harbor for the innocent; it is not a mere inconvenience to be maneuvered around. Doing justice means justice for everyone, including the suspect. While it may be news to Mr. Holder, that proposition holds even if the suspect’s name is not Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. If negligence, even lethal negligence, has occurred, its victims are not without a remedy — they can sue civilly. The criminal law, however, is not the solution to every legal problem, and its invocation where it has no place is monstrous.

The Justice Department’s conduct in the Martin case has been emblematic of Holder’s tenure: an exercise in hardball politics, not faithful law enforcement. In this case, a responsible attorney general would stay his hand. There appears to be no possibility of a federal crime. If such a possibility arises, the generous statute of limitations on civil-rights violations means there is no rush, and the “dual sovereignty” doctrine assures that there will be no double-jeopardy bar against a federal prosecution once the state’s work is done. The feds should just butt out for now: Let Florida’s system work.

And keep quiet in the meantime. We expect grand juries and petit juries to deliberate over cases in secret. The law requires that, because juries are supposed to decide without fear or favor, based on unvarnished evidence not outside agitators. In stark contrast, Holder has thrown the enormous weight of the Justice Department behind the mob. He is not seeking justice; he is pressing his thumb on the scale.

And it’s working. When Trayvon Martin was first shot to death nearly two months ago, state authorities sensibly opted not to charge George Zimmerman with murder. It wasn’t that they were looking to excuse wrongdoing. It was that the evidence was insufficient to prove murder beyond a reasonable doubt.

Plainly, there was a lack of criminal intent: There was obviously no premeditation; and, alternatively, the facts do not remotely suggest that Zimmerman acted with a “depraved mind regardless of human life”(e.g., the savage indifference of a man who fires into a crowd, heedless of the consequences). To the contrary, the known facts indicate (a) Zimmerman’s concern that Martin was acting suspiciously (the depraved do not call the police, as Zimmerman did, before shooting), and (b) a struggle in which Zimmerman may well have been severely beaten and, in any event, would have a strong basis to persuade a jury that he shot in self-defense.

In advancing that argument, Zimmerman would be aided by Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which gives the law-abiding latitude to use guns for protection. The wisdom vel non of “Stand Your Ground” is beside the point. I happen to agree with National Review’s editors that the anti-gun lobby’s attack on Florida’s statute is unpersuasive. But regardless of who is right, ex post facto principles dictate that criminal cases be resolved based on the law in existence at the time of the conduct at issue. A criminal case may be the reason for subsequently changing laws like “Stand Your Ground,” but the Constitution does not permit a criminal case to be shored up by a midstream change in the law.

A prosecutor cannot prove murder without being able to prove mens rea (the state-of-mind element of the offense). To file a murder charge without first establishing mens rea would be unethical and violate due process. So, initially, the Florida authorities did not. But there followed over six weeks of race-baiters fanning the flames of rage. If a U.S. attorney general has any role in such circumstances, it is to call for calm, assure people that the professionals are doing their duty diligently, and urge that the process be allowed to play out. Holder, instead, decided to go Sharpton — except he’s a Sharpton with subpoena power, as well as the raw power to threaten Florida with a civil-rights investigation that would portray its police and prosecutors as racially insensitive obstacles to social justice.

Florida got the message. After the original prosecutor and police chief stepped aside under blistering political heat for declining to indict Zimmerman, the governor appointed Angela Corey, an elected state attorney of apparent ambition, as a special prosecutor. She decided not to continue with the grand jury — which would have required submitting the weak case to members of the community. She has now unilaterally filed a second-degree-murder charge against Zimmerman, based on an affidavit that is so laughably devoid of probable cause that commentators across the ideological divide — from former Reagan Justice Department official Mark Levin to Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz– have panned it as incredibly weak and grossly irresponsible. It is agitprop, not law — it makes murky mention of a “struggle” but meticulously avoids mention of the injuries sustained by Zimmerman; and it invokes the ambiguous but explosive word “profiled” while failing to explain what it means, or to clarify that, absent any racial component (and none is alleged), profiling is perfectly legitimate. Police do it all the time to avoid harassing innocent people.

You can thank Eric Holder. He has a gun to Florida’s head, and he is standing his ground.

It is quite amazing that Holder is in a position to do so. His prior tenure as Clinton deputy attorney general — a record of corrupting the pardon process, politicizing the Justice Department (even to the point of arranging commutations for convicted FALN terrorists), and misleading Congress — made it embarrassingly obvious that he was not fit to be attorney general. Yet, Senate Republicans ignored warnings to this effect and marched in merry lockstep with Democrats to confirm him overwhelmingly.

Now, so predictably, Al Sharpton is smiling. We have no justice and no peace.

Andrew C. McCarthy is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.