Saturday, December 19, 2015

Book Review: 'Stealing America: What My Experience with Criminal Gangs Taught Me About Obama, Hillary and the Democratic Party' by Dinesh D'Souza

How Dinesh D’Souza Became a Victim of Obama’s Lawless Administration

By Andrew C. McCarthy — December 19, 2015

Precious were the recriminations after the first Democratic presidential debate. Putative nominee Hillary Clinton, amid what is more a coronation than a contest, had proudly boasted of making the Republicans her “enemy.”

“How despicable,” GOP graybeards gasped. After all, this is just politics, not war. At the end of the day, we’re all fellow patriots, all in this together: not “red states and blue states,” as that notorious bipartisan, Barack Obama, framed it in the 2004 convention speech that put him on the map, but “one people . . . all of us defending the United States of America.”

Dinesh D’Souza begs to differ. He would tell you that Hillary hit the nail on the head, and that we’d better get a grip on that or we will lose the country that we love.

D’Souza has come about this realization the hard way, as he explains in his remarkable new book, Stealing America: What My Experience with Criminal Gangs Taught Me about Obama, Hillary, and the Democratic Party. For his “experience with criminal gangs,” to which he alludes in the book’s subtitle, the prolific conservative author and filmmaker has the president to thank. 
The book, part memoir, part polemic, part prescription, and part Kafka, opens with an account — frightening because it is so verifiably true — of one of the grossest abuses of power by this lawless administration: the prosecution of D’Souza for a campaign-finance offense.

The case was not trumped up. D’Souza forthrightly concedes that he violated the law. Wendy Long, his good friend and Dartmouth classmate, was waging a futile campaign against incumbent U.S. senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.). With the press of business leaving him unable to be more of a campaign presence, D’Souza decided to provide financial support. He had, however, already donated the personal maximum of $10,000. So he convinced two friends to be nominal contributors, with D’Souza reimbursing them the combined $20,000.

The offense was foolish. There are simple devices, such as giving to political-action committees, to circumvent the personal-contribution limit. D’Souza’s ignorance of the byzantine campaign laws led him to do illegally what he could easily have done legally. The statute is clear, though: Exceeding the personal limit is a felony carrying a potential of two years’ imprisonment and a hefty fine.

Yet there were patent mitigating circumstances, starting with the fact that few people actually get prosecuted at all for this offense. Even in the case of gargantuan violations, such as the Obama 2008 campaign’s own millions of dollars in illicit contributions, the Justice Department allows cases to be settled with an administrative fine. Furthermore, in the few cases that are pursued criminally, there is unvaryingly a corruption angle — the donor is dodging the limits in the expectation of a quid pro quo.

In D’Souza’s case, there was nothing of the kind: He was trying to be supportive of a friend who had no chance to win (and, in fact, was trounced by 44 percentage points). Add to that the trifling amount involved and the fact that D’Souza had no criminal record (but a record of charitable good works), and it became obvious that this was no federal criminal case.

D’Souza had nevertheless, as Mrs. Clinton might say, made himself an enemy of Obama, a man as vengeful as he is powerful. In the stretch run of the president’s 2012 reelection bid, D’Souza released his documentary film 2016: Obama’s America, which drew heavily on his bestselling 2010 book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, a chronicle of Obama’s upbringing in the radical Left. The film was extraordinarily successful and drew sharp rebukes from the White House and Obama allies.

It is no coincidence, D’Souza convincingly argues, that the Obama Justice Department scorched the earth to convict and attempt to imprison him. The brazenness of its aggression took the breath away from such hardened criminal-defense attorneys as Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz, an Obama supporter who found the vindictiveness of D’Souza’s prosecution shameful, and Benjamin Brafman, the legendary New York City defense lawyer who represented D’Souza.

Among the highlights of the book is the transformation of Brafman, another political progressive, who started out believing that D’Souza was paranoid to think that the president of the United States even cared about his case, much less had it in for him, but ended up convinced that D’Souza had been railroaded. The conclusion is inescapable: His client was indicted in a matter routinely disposed of with a fine; to get bail, D’Souza had to post a bond of $500,000 (i.e., $125,000 more than the mere fine the Justice Department allowed the Obama 2008 campaign to pay in settlement of violations geometrically larger than D’Souza’s); to pressure D’Souza to plead guilty, prosecutors gratuitously charged a second felony count — a “false statements” offense that should not have been added since a campaign-finance violation necessarily involves a false statement; after D’Souza did plead guilty — rather than risk seven years’ imprisonment — Justice pressed the court to impose a 16-month jail sentence despite the de minimis nature of the crime; and, in so pressing, prosecutors blatantly misrepresented the applicable sentencing law.

The last straw for Brafman was the start of the sentencing hearing, when Judge Richard Berman subjected D’Souza to a bizarre tongue-lashing. Clearly, the jurist appointed by President Bill Clinton was poised to accede to prosecutors’ demand for a prison term. The outraged lawyer responded with a tour de force, placing the case and D’Souza’s basic decency in context. It worked: Berman was dissuaded from imposing a prison term.

But what he did to appease Justice’s baying for blood was arguably worse. Berman sentenced D’Souza to eight months of halfway-house confinement, a form of detention that requires the defendant to spend the nighttime hours in a spartan, dormitory-type facility but to work in the local community during the day.

In D’Souza’s circumstances, the sentence was irrational except as a form of abuse. A halfway house is designed to be transitional confinement: a way for a convict who has usually served years in prison to spend the last few months of his sentence gradually reentering the community while otherwise continuing to be monitored. No such transition is called for when, as in D’Souza’s case, the defendant was never incarcerated in the first place.

Moreover, had D’Souza been given the 10-to-16-month sentence prosecutors urged, he’d have been sent to a minimum-security prison camp with other low-level offenders. A halfway house, by contrast, is a way station for serious criminals: murderers, rapists, gang-bangers, big-time drug traffickers, and the like.

These would be D’Souza’s housemates and confidants for the eight months prior to his release last May. To be sure, it is not the same as encountering such hardened criminals in prison. In a halfway house, the imminence of release and the possibility of being sent back to prison for misconduct are a powerful incentive to good behavior. Still, for a man as foreign to this element as D’Souza was, the prospects were cause for great anxiety — which was not relieved when, upon arriving at the facility in a rundown part of San Diego, he found that the first order of business was a mandatory class on how to avoid being sexually assaulted. In a flash of bureaucratic idiocy, a leitmotif of the book, D’Souza was informed that, if he were to be raped, he would be entitled to a free pregnancy test.

D’Souza, it turns out, was relieved to find that his companions comported themselves with civility. Characteristically, he used the trying experience as an opportunity to learn and grow.

The principal evolution in the author’s thinking involves seeing his political adversaries as, yes, enemies. And as criminals. As a conservative intellectual, D’Souza had assessed progressives as true believers in an utterly flawed ideology. He was a forceful advocate of the conservative counter-case: liberty, limited government, human fallibility, the wisdom undergirding our traditions. Yet implicit in his arguments was the sense of engagement in a real battle of ideas against a bona fide political opponent.

After his harrowing adventure — first, in the crosshairs of a corrupt executive branch that knows that the administration of governmental processes can ruin even the most innocent of men, never mind one who has actually committed an infraction; then, in the company of lifetime criminals whose lives are mainly about taking what is not rightfully theirs — D’Souza has changed. 
Progressives, he now perceives, are engaged in a massive scheme to “steal America,” meaning all of its wealth and traditions. Their ideas and the foibles of their interest-group politics are often incoherent because they are not actually meant to cohere. They are, instead, a Machiavellian ploy, a pretense to morality (because the public expects it) that camouflages the remorseless acquisition of power needed to rob the public blind.

The author’s new insight has a significant corollary. D’Souza, like most conservatives, used to be dismissive of progressive narratives about social justice that portray common folk as victims of American history’s “oppressive legacy,” preyed upon by capitalist titans and administrators of the criminal-justice system. Now, he has become convinced that the system is, in fact, unfair — not for the reasons cited by progressives but precisely because of progressive influence on the system
Their grip on power — crony capitalism, discretion over prosecutorial decisions, the promotion of favored factions — robs Americans of economic opportunity and subjects them to abuses of governmental process.

D’Souza’s time spent with criminals has revealed for him a symmetry between the operations of gangs and those of progressives, particularly in proceeding through the stages of theft from plan, through recruitment and rationalization, and finally on to cover-up. The means by which gang-bangers and social-justice crusaders extort and justify their ill-gotten gains are, of course, different, but D’Souza sees no appreciable difference in their basic schemes.

At times, this analogy is overstated and Stealing America’s effort at thematic connection between criminal heists and political corruption can seem strained. D’Souza’s nightmare has persuaded him that the sociopaths with whom he interacted compare favorably with corrupt government officials when it comes to owning up to their flawed character and fraudulent practices. But while rogue politicians and “activists” deserve no defense, I would simply observe — having spent almost 20 years as a prosecutor — that criminals are frequently more introspective and forthright when they are in captivity. It has more to do with their circumstances than with any wisdom they have acquired.

Still, this does not detract from D’Souza’s overarching thesis. America flourished because it was an anti-theft society: freedom inextricably linked to the protection of private property, unleashing creativity, entrepreneurship, and unprecedented prosperity. The progressive critique of that society is not advanced in good faith; it is, as D’Souza portrays it, a “con.” Its purpose — not its unintended consequence but its aim — is to seize the wealth and power of achievers. The con is systematized by the Democratic party now under Obama’s leadership, with Hillary waiting in the wings.

Dinesh D’Souza implores us to recognize the con for what it is, and work, as he works, to expose it, rather than dignify it as an alternative political philosophy. America, he contends, is well on the way to being stolen. We will lose our country if we fail to reaffirm our anti-theft roots.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment. This article originally appeared in the December 21, 2015, issue of National Review.

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'A Child was Born': G.K. Chesterton on the Mystery of the Nativity

By Ralph C. Wood
December 17, 2015

Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence - Caravaggio
G.K. Chesterton's abiding devotion to the Holy Virgin was not prompted by pious longing for motherly comfort - the usual canard about "sentimental Marianism." It sprang, instead, from his estimate of her as the Theotokos, the God-bearing mother of Jesus who is also mother of his Body called the Church.
Mary is both the prime exemplar of Christ and thus also the Mother of the Church. She is, as Brian Daley puts it, "a unique representative of the human participation in God's life that we call grace or divinization."
The word "divinization" is derived from the Greek theosis. For the Eastern Church, as increasingly also for Western Christianity, it is the key term for authentic Christian existence. We are meant so fully to participate in God's own triune life, through the sacraments and practices of the Church, as gradually to be made divine.
So declared the author of the second letter of St. Peter: If we are to receive God's blessings in His Son, he asserted, we must become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4, 10-11). St. Athanasius of Alexandria gave theosis its most celebrated formulation in the fourth century: "God became man so that man might become god."
This renewed emphasis on theosis helps to resist a one-sided emphasis on forensic salvation -the notion, namely, that we are simply declared righteous in and through the merits of Christ's atoning death, even though we remain sunk in sin, untransformed by grace.
Perhaps it is also time for evangelicals to recognize that a similar understanding of theosis underwrites the Marian doctrines of both Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Thus should we too exalt the Blessed Virgin as the first person to realize full divinization. As the Second Vatican Council declared, she is the one who:
"in this singular way ... cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Saviour in giving back supernatural life to souls. Wherefore she is our mother in the order of grace."
Two drastic conclusions follow: we cannot speak of Christ without speaking of his Mother; nor can we speak of Christ's Church without honouring Mary's mothering of it as well. In his various obiter dicta concerning Our Lady, Chesterton confirms these two central claims.
In The Everlasting Man, for example, Chesterton recounts a bizarre occurrence in his childhood Church of England parish, where a statue alleged to give undue regard for the Blessed Virgin was drastically modified. These latter-day iconoclasts quite barbarously removed the Christ Child from the arms of the Holy Mother. This struck Chesterton as passing strange:
"One would think that this [act] was even more corrupted with Mariolatry, unless the mother was counted less dangerous when deprived of a sort of weapon. But the practical difficulty is also a parable. You cannot chip away the statue of a mother from all round that of a newborn child. You cannot suspend the new-born child in mid-air; indeed you cannot really have a statue of a newborn child at all. Similarly, you cannot suspend the idea of a newborn child in the void or think of him without thinking of his mother. You cannot visit the child without visiting the mother, you cannot in common human life approach the child except through the mother. If we are to think of Christ in this aspect at all ... we must admit, if only as we admit it in an old picture, that those holy heads are too near together for the haloes not to mingle and cross."
These aureoles "mingle and cross" in Chesterton's finest Marian poem:

The Nativity

The thatch on the roof was as golden,
Though dusty the straw was and old,
The wind had a peal as of trumpets,
Though blowing and barren and cold,
The mother's hair was a glory
Though loosened and torn,
For under the eaves in the gloaming
A child was born.
Have a myriad children been quickened,
Have a myriad children grown old,
Grown gross and unloved and embittered,
Grown cunning and savage and cold?
God abides in a terrible patience,
Unangered, unworn,
And again for the child that was squandered
A child is born.
What know we of aeons behind us,
Dim dynasties lost long ago,
Huge empires, like dreams unremembered,
Huge cities for ages laid low?
This at least - that with blight and with blessing,
With flower and with thorn,
Love was there, and his cry was among them,
"A child is born."
Though the darkness be noisy with systems,
Dark fancies that fret and disprove,
Still the plumes stir around us, above us
The wings of the shadow of love:
Oh! Princes and priests, have ye seen it
Grow pale through your scorn;
Huge dawns sleep before us, deep changes,
A child is born.
And the rafters of toil still are gilded
With the dawn of the stars of the heart,
And the wise men draw near in the twilight,
Who are weary of learning and art,
And the face of the tyrant is darkened,
His spirit is torn,
For a new king is enthroned; yea, the sternest,
A child is born.
And the mother still joys for the whispered
First stir of unspeakable things,
Still feels that high moment unfurling
Red glory of Gabriel's wings.
Still the babe of an hour is a master
Whom angels adorn,
Emmanuel, prophet, anointed,
A child is born.
And thou, that art still in thy cradle,
The sun being crown for thy brow,
Make answer, our flesh, make an answer,
Say, whence art thou come - who art thou?
Art thou come back on earth for our teaching
To train or to warn - ?
Hush - how may we know? - knowing only
A child is born.
Chesterton the poet is at his best in his Christmas verse. He rightly credits Charles Dickens as almost single-handedly recovering this holy feast for the Anglophone world, after the Puritans had almost succeeded in suppressing Christmas as the ultimate display of papist paganism. In fact, their celebration of Thanksgiving was an attempt to displace Christmas as a holy day. Chesterton wittily suggested that the English might want to devise their own counter-Thanksgiving, praising God that the Puritans had departed!
Chesterton exalted Christmas because he regarded it not as the Feast of the Incarnation, but of the Nativity. In fact, until recent times the term Incarnation named the entire event of Christ's conception, birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension - not just his entrance into the world. Nor does the Nativity centre upon Jesus alone, but on his Holy Mother as well. Thus does Chesterton begin and end his poem "The Nativity" with splendid Marian moments, though the last one often goes undetected.
Chesterton does not idealize the Bethlehem scene. By means of alternating trochees and iambs, we are shown a stable made externally golden by the setting sun. Within, it is draughty and chill and lifeless.
In accord with the ancient tradition that regards a woman's tresses as her most feminine feature, the sinless Virgin's hair is wondrously modest but also noticeably dishevelled. Here is a woman in the pangs of childbirth. In full consent to the divine will, she consents for her hair to be torn, as she thrashes in agony. Perhaps her flesh is also ripped as the infant is brought forth from her womb.
Here, and for once only, Chesterton resorts to the past tense in describing the birth of Jesus. Because this child is born to this woman in this way, every child's birth now acquires new significance. The human race no longer repeats itself in endless and weary iteration, as the engine of animal reproduction runs on. Because this one divine Child subsumes the whole of humanity in his Nativity, every newborn is meant to be reborn. Hence Chesterton's crucial replacement of the definite article that we expect ("the child") with the indefinite article that startles and surprises ("a child").
Though published in 1897, when Chesterton had only recently begun identifying himself a Christian, and a quarter century before he was received into the Church of Rome, this poem is filled with remarkable theological discernment. In the claim that Christ assumes the whole of humanity within himself, Chesterton is echoing the teaching of the ancient church as well as anticipating the work of le nouvelle theologie. Its most characteristic exponent, Henri de Lubac, also insists that human nature is not one thing here and another thing elsewhere. However twisted and tarnished, every person bears the imprint of God as the result of both their creation and their redemption in Christ. Humanity constitutes, in fact, a bodily no less than a spiritual whole.
To desecrate even a single person, therefore, is to desecrate all others. "The divine image," de Lubac declares, "does not differ from one individual to another: in all it is the same image." Our embodied souls/ensouled bodies display our shared human dependence, our singleness as a race, our commonality that makes us "so entirely one that we ought not speak of man in the plural any more than we speak of three Gods." Hence the teaching of St. Augustine that we are "one spiritual family intended to form the one city of God." The effect of the Incarnation, it follows, is all-encompassing:
"Christ from the very first moment of his existence virtually bears all men within himself ... For the Word did not merely take a human body; his Incarnation was not a simple corporatio, but as St. Hilary says, a concorporatio. He incorporated himself in our humanity, and incorporated [our humanity] in his humanity."
Chesterton makes a radical theological claim in shifting from the past tense to the present in all of the succeeding stanzas. For in this one birth, we can now take the measure of all other births, whether for good or ill.
In the second stanza, for instance, we are shown the awful waste and loss entailed in most human lives. The promise heralded by the infant's first motion within its mother's womb (its "quickening") is fulfilled not in a long and happy life, but in a long and living death. The child becomes the father of the man, alas, in a terrible and anti-Wordsworthian way. Instead of reaching healthy maturity, he becomes passively withdrawn, alienated, void of all sensibility; or else he becomes aggressively crass and clever and heartless - all for want of the Love that both conceived and birthed this all-defining Child of Bethlehem.
Yet not one of Chesterton's stanzas ends in dejection, as the final lines always return to the hope now resident in the birth of every child. God waits with a frightening forbearance. Chesterton's reversed trochaic and spondaic rhythm echoes God's own reversal - namely, his refusal to grow weary and angry with human sinning. Not a single castaway child is now or ever has been excluded from the compass of divine mercy. Whether in time irrecoverably past or in time all too pressingly present, every child is reclaimed with this Child's birth.
The measure of the Nativity is historical no less than personal. The long unfurling course of human history is too lengthy to be recalled in its terrible successiveness. Mighty civilizations have risen and collapsed beyond all recovering, indeed beyond all remembering. Yet of one thing we can still be assured, amid the endless cycles of time wherein - to use Milton's metaphor of the wind-flattened flower - many children are "no sooner blown than blasted." Christ's birth stretches backwards no less than forward to lay claim on every child born to woman. Even when those nameless and numberless children were most horribly conceived in the loveless and violent act of rape - even there the Good News of this gentle Love-Child and his Mother was also proclaimed in the infant's wail.
Chesterton's tropes shift from the personal and the historical to the luminous and the tenebrous in the fourth and fifth stanzas, as the gloaming passes into nightfall. Despite the loud clamour made by logical thinkers and political actors, despite the worried fantasies of those who can only negate, despite the withering contempt shown by high officials of state and church alike, the quiet motion of angel feathers first heard by Mary can be felt again, hovering over the rude stable. The sun rising afresh over the Bethlehem stall is the dawn that will soon break upon the entire world, awakening men from their terrible slumbers. This Day Spring from on high now illumines all who dwell in darkness. The rural shepherds who keep watch over the world's sheep, perhaps representing all who guard the well-being of others, will now be warmed by the Sun of true pastoral care. The urbane wise men, with their minds dimmed by their sin-limited art and thought, personify all the thinkers and artists who shall now receive true enlightenment.
Most especially will these piercing rays strike the tyrant whose visage is now as livid as his soul is shadowed. Whereas Mary's hair was torn by her gracious consent, Herod's countenance is involuntarily ripped, as if to anticipate the veil that will be torn in the Temple on Good Friday. Like the Christ-child in Chesterton's parish church, chipped away by philistines who feared the Virgin holding him, so will this helpless infant-king become God's curious weapon against all despots of both body and soul. This defenceless infant ruling the universe from a bed of straw will pierce the world's will-to-power with the terrible lance of love.
Hence the poem's rightful return, in the final two stanzas, to the Marian moment in the Nativity. Though still weary with the pangs of parturition, her delight remains so strong that Chesterton must convert a noun into a verb. Nothing less than the Marian act of "joying" can describe the Annunciation that came to her in a voice that, though proffering the seemingly impossible, was even less coercive than the lightest brush of angelic wings. What cannot possibly happen has indeed happened: the infant whose umbilical is still drying must already be accorded the munus triplex first formulated by Eusebius, the trifold office of Christ's ministry: the Priest who sacramentally makes God with us in the flesh, the Prophet who pronounces God's judgment in mercy, and the King whose sovereignty breaks down the gates of hell and sets its subjects free - all because "a child is born."
Then comes the extraordinary surprise of the final stanza, where the poetic speaker anonymously addresses the Infant himself. The babe is no longer "mewling and puking" (to use candid Shakespearean language) but sleeping, whether in his wicker basket or else in his mother's arms, having only a sunray for his diadem. "You who are human like us," the questioner twice interrogates the divine Babe, "What is your origin and aim? Are you perhaps John the Baptizer risen from the dead to serve as the new rabbi of wise example, or the new prophet announcing the wrath to come?"
Such supposals constitute a serious misprision of the Christ-child's mission. Gabriel did not announce that Our Lady would bear another rabbi, not even once so great as Gamaliel. Thus do we hear a second voice making a sudden and perhaps impatient interruption.
It is the Holy Mother, I believe, who halts these clamorous queries, lest the sleeping babe be rudely roused, and lest we too miss the staggering Mystery of eternity shut within the span of a man's hand. Surely it is time not to question but to be questioned; indeed, to bow in silence, for "a child is born."
During the final years of his life, when Chesterton began to have long thoughts about everlasting things, he returned again to the Blessed Virgin. In one of his last and best books, The Well and the Shallows, Chesterton made what I regard as his deepest Marian confession:
"Now I can scarcely remember a time when the image of Our Lady did not stand up in my mind quite definitely, at the mention of the thought of all these things ... But whether the figure was distant, or was dark and mysterious, or was a scandal to my contemporaries, or was a challenge to myself - I never doubted that this figure was the figure of the Faith. The instant I remembered the Catholic Church, I remembered her. When I tried to forget about the Catholic Church I had to forget her! When I finally saw what was nobler than my fate, the freest and the hardest of all my acts of freedom, it was in front of a gilded and very gaudy little image of her in the port of Brindisi that I promised the thing that I would do, if I returned to my own land."
Chesterton refers to a tour of Italy that he and his wife Frances had taken in 1920. He had been made a confessing rather than a nominal Christian by the witness of this devoutly Anglican woman. Yet he was reluctant to become a Catholic without her joining him. Not until 1922, at age 48, would he be received into the Roman Catholic Church. In 1926 she would follow him.
Almost everyone knows that G.K. Chesterton was the most celebrated convert of his time. Few know, however, that he was also a Marian poet who challenges Christians of all sorts to restore the Blessed Lady to her rightful place in Christian belief and devotion.
Ralph C. Wood is University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University. He is the author of several books, including Chesterton: The Nightmare Goodness of God and Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fighting for Victory against Islamism

A blueprint for how the West can counter Islamist tyranny.

By M. Zuhdi Jasser — December 16, 2015

How much more slaughter of innocents in the name of Islam do we need to endure before the free nations of the world wake up and admit that we are at war with the ideology of Islamism? We are in a global struggle of a magnitude we have not seen since the end of the Cold War — and this time we are fighting an enemy whose natural constituency includes almost one-fourth of the world’s population.

The steady drumbeat of Islamist violence around the world has now reached a climax with the horrific atrocities in Paris and San Bernardino. No longer can pseudo-experts, apologists, and the media hide behind excuses, platitudes, and clich├ęs. Enough is enough.

America’s military, intelligence, and security agencies will continue to operate a sophisticated and expensive whack-a-mole program as long as they look only at the final stages of radicalization. Before an individual takes a turn toward violence and dons the military vest and weaponry of an Islamist soldier, he spends years wearing the jersey of the Islamist team. As long as we focus only on the weaponized Islamist, and not all Islamists, we are in a state of unmitigated surrender. Our current approach surrenders the Western values of liberty embodied in our constitutional republic to the strangulation of political Islam and the massive Islamist movements across the planet.

Imagine if the Cold War had been fought by monitoring and countering only acts of Soviet-inspired violence rather than their enormous ideological domestic and global precursors? The West would have lost the war.

The same is true in the struggle against Islamism, also known as theocratic or political Islam. The West desperately needs a broad-based anti-Islamist strategy to combat the global reach of this deadly ideology that threatens freedom and liberty everywhere. The “Evil Empire” of today is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), comprising 56 Muslim-majority nations that are the cauldrons of political Islam.

Taking the side of reform-minded Muslims who champion liberty and eschew Islamism must be the centerpiece of the strategy. American Muslims, living in this unparalleled laboratory of freedom, have a unique moral obligation to lead the way. For too long we have allowed the grievance narratives of Islamist groups to dominate, deflect responsibility, and radicalize. As American Muslims, we need to own the problem and address the root causes of Islamist radicalization.
To that end, freedom-loving Muslims need their own declaration of principles. Such a Muslim declaration can not only chart a course for reform but also become the centerpiece of thinking on almost every other policy question on which Muslim leaders, mosques, and organizations are working for the protection of universal human rights, versus those antagonists or apologists who are working against us.

Earlier this month our American Islamic Forum for Democracy held a foundational Summit of Western Muslim Reformists against the Islamic State and Islamism, held on December 2–4. This summit was a decade in the making, as our diverse anti-Islamist Muslim coalition from the U.S., Canada, and Europe slowly came together. But fate would have it that our planned summit convened only weeks after the second horrific ISIS-inspired attacks in Paris and the same day as the San Bernardino attack.

We concluded the summit proclaiming the co-founding of the Muslim Reform Movement and presenting to the world our Declaration, in which for the first time we put the Islamist movement and its insurgent ideas on the defensive. Our declaration lays down an ideological firewall inside the House of Islam between our Movement and the Islamists. Watch the press conference and get to know these courageous leaders, whom I’m proud to call friends and colleagues: Tahir GoraTawfik HamidUsama HasanArif HumayunFarahnaz IspahaniNaser KhaderHasan MahmudCourtney LonerganAsra NomaniRaheel RazaSohail Raza, and Salma Siddiqui. Other Muslims will choose sides, and we pray that thought leaders and policy-makers choose the side of religious liberty in a war of ideas known all too well by our Founding Fathers.

The Muslim Reform Movement is united in our common opposition to theocracy and tyranny. Many more Muslims who dissent from Islamism have already come forward to join us in just the past week, gathering strength from our resolve and from the clarity of the platform we are creating.

We are harboring no illusions. But before the hard work of theological reform even begins to come together, we needed to first chart a destination and set our moral compass. We cannot roll up our sleeves until we know who our allies really are. We claim no ownership of the mantle of reform, but we reject Islamists who falsely label their work within the Islamist movement as “reform.” The old pseudo-reformers who simply repackage Islamism — like Tariq Ramadan and Yusuf Qaradawi — cannot breach our firewall. The Islamist clerics and leaders in the West have already done us a service by revealing themselves in their Letter to Baghdadi. Their bombastic defense of violent jihadism, caliphism, and Islamism stands in stark contrast to our simple declaration.
We have firmly made the distinction between false reformers who simply modernize the face of Islamism and anti-Islamists who want to bring the House of Islam into compatibility with universal human rights.

The nine precepts of the declaration of our Muslim Reform Movement fall into three categories: “Peace: National Security and Counterterrorism Policy,” “Human Rights,” and “Secular Governance.” We believe that Muslims who can embrace these precepts and Americans who can embrace those Muslims will be on the right side of history as we lead the global war against Islamist movements.

The full two-page declaration can be signed online by fellow Muslims and our supporting neighbors at Help us grow at FacebookThe declaration is a full-throated defense of freedom, free speech, critical thinking, gender equality, minority rights, secular governance, democracy, and the separation of mosque and state. We also declare an unequivocal condemnation of all Islamic states, caliphism, violent jihad, institutionalized sharia, blasphemy laws, and apostasy laws. Three defining principles are worth noting here:

“We believe ideas do not have rights. Human beings do.”

“Our ummah — our community — is not just Muslims, but all humanity.”

“Muslims don’t have an exclusive right to heaven.”

In the spirit of iconic reformers, we marched after our December 4 press conference and posted our declaration on the doors of the mosque that is part of the Saudi-government-affiliated Islamic Center of Washington on Massachusetts Avenue in D.C. Officials of the Center ripped it down, and we dialogued with them. We await their formal response.

We will go on and ask our communities to present these foundational, inviolable precepts of reform to every Muslim leader, organization, and mosque that we can in our respective nations. Any who sign on will be with us in reform and counter-radicalization. Any who do not are part of the radicalization problem and obstacles to reform.

We do not seek to criminalize nonviolent Islamism, but instead to shine a bright light upon their archaic, corrupt ideology. We will compile a database of the responses to our declaration, and hope it will become a centerpiece of conversation and policy-making in the West. No longer will we need guesswork and innuendo to determine if a particular Muslim is part of the global Islamist platform and programming.

There are many antecedents for our declaration, starting with Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and going on to the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Sharon Statement, drafted by M. Stanton Evans under the aegis of William F. Buckley Jr. in 1960. Each defined a movement. The Sharon Statement, reflecting the ideological struggle of the time, said that “Communism must be defeated, not merely contained.”

American Muslim leaders must state clearly that the Islamist ideology needs to be defeated, not merely contained. For Buckley and his colleagues, the enemy was the tyranny of Soviet Communism. Today, the enemy is the global threat of Islamism.

As a Midwestern-born American Muslim, the child of Syrian political refugees fleeing the tyranny of Ba’athism, I proudly donned the uniform of the U.S. Navy for eleven years. I joined the Navy to be a part of the military forces of the nation that gave my family freedom and represented the most moral force for good under God on the planet.

Militant Islamists are bred, contrarily, in a theo-political culture where their soul, identity, and self worth are inexorably wedded to Islamo-patriotism — the assertion of the supremacy of the Islamic state. They act for the tribe, and reject even the implication that individual rights “under God” might be possible for all through a secular government. Understanding this consciousness is crucial. Freedom-loving Muslims must fight for an Islam that rejects the Islamists as the real blasphemers and enemy of mankind.

The Declaration of the Muslim Reform Movement puts the Islamists on the defensive and gives birth to a counter-Islamist offensive based in the ideas of religious liberty and universal human rights. We are ready ideological warriors for the nation. The security of the United States, Israel, and the West hangs in the balance.

— M. Zuhdi Jasser is president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and author of A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faith. He is a co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement and a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. He is a physician in private practice in Phoenix, Ariz. Twitter: @DrZuhdiJasser

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ gets the nostalgia-novelty mix just right

December 16, 2015
That giant wheezing sound you hear is a collective sigh of relief, heaved by now-legion generations of “Star Wars” fans, from toddlers to their grandparents, who can rest assured that the Force is still with the franchise they grew up on or grew old with.
After George Lucas’s original trilogy of the 1970s and 1980s, followed by a mid-career slump of prequels during which he threatened to squander the beloved universe he had created (we’re looking at you, Jar Jar Binks), the stakes are unusually high for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Lucas’s characters and inventions are now the property of Disney, which in its wisdom has enlisted J.J. Abrams to reboot the series, with the aim of preserving its core values but infusing it with enough novelty to create yet another cohort of die-hard fans.
It’s the kind of high-stakes quest worthy of Luke Skywalker himself, and — as he did with the 2009 reboot of “Star Trek” — Abrams has proved himself worthy of the charge. “The Force Awakens” strikes all the right chords, emotional and narrative, to feel both familiar and exhilaratingly new. Filled with incident, movement and speed, dusted with light layers of tarnished “used future” grime, it captures the kinetic energy that made the first film, from 1977, such a revelation to filmgoers who marveled at Lucas’s mashup of B movies, Saturday-morning serials, Japanese historical epics and mythic heft.
What’s more, Abrams has united the original cast with a group of newcomers who mesh seamlessly with their elders, in an ensemble effort that brims with the chops and brio of a great jam session. He’s gotten the band back together in a perfectly balanced performance of oldies and new riffs, respecting all that’s come before but never getting mired in minutiae or fatuous nostalgia.
Abrams isn’t coy or gratuitously manipulative when it comes to pleasing his audience. The minute the lights go down, John Williams’s brassy anthem starts up and the opening crawl begins, explaining that Skywalker has been missing for the past 30 years, during which time an evil empire known as the First Order has taken power. A resistance movement is fighting back, led by General Leia Organa, who as the film opens has enlisted her finest fighter pilot to find Luke and enlist his Jedi powers on behalf of the rebel forces.
That’s enough synopsis for “The Force Awakens,” which deserves to be enjoyed with as clean a slate as possible, plot-wise. It even seems churlish to go into too much detail about specific characters and their roles in this world of futuristic fascism and ragtag chivalry.
Suffice it to say that Abrams has done stellar work by casting actors who will be unknown to most filmgoers but who shoulder their responsibilities with skill and confidence. Daisy Ridley resembles the plucky younger sister of Emma Watson and Keira Knightley as Rey, a scrappy, steampunk-ish scavenger who befriends a wandering soldier named Finn (John Boyega). Oscar Isaac brings just the right amount of cocksure street smarts to his role as Poe Dameron, and Adam Driver is similarly right-on as a shadowy, somewhat simian figure named Kylo Ren.
It’s telling, and surpassingly cool, that the last time Isaac and Driver worked together was on a Coen brothers film, the New York folk-scene drama “Inside Llewyn Davis.” That says a lot about the taste of Abrams, who has a wonderful eye for faces and for evoking the worlds of bygone “Star Wars” films while introducing new ones. Hopping from one planet to another — one a desert, one a verdant forest, one filled with snow-capped mountains, all populated by tribal settlements that show colorful layers of wear and tear — his protagonists engage in the firefights, chases, explosions, showdowns and startling Oedipal conflicts that viewers have come to associate with Lucas’s ur-narrative. (There’s even a visit to a cantina crowded with motley extraterrestrials, an establishment owned by Maz Kanata, played by an unrecognizable Lupita Nyong’o.) Most crucially, the director and his co-writers, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, leaven what could be a fatally self-serious homage with teasing, thoroughly delightful flights of humor.
As often as not, the funniest lines belong to Boyega, who at times resembles Kevin Hart in his slightly manic version of a reluctant warrior. Of course, the granddaddy of the form is Han Solo himself, played by Harrison Ford in an amusingly deadpan performance composed of gruff one-liners and one or two genuinely tender, even heartbreaking encounters with figures from his past. One of the most gratifying things about “The Force Awakens” is the fact that Ford and Carrie Fisher, as Leia, play much larger roles in the story than mere perfunctory cameos.
As for Ford and Fisher’s robotic co-stars, the bad news is that they have some competition as far as adorable droids are concerned: BB-8, a roly-poly little Wall-E of a creature, rolls, beeps and blinks with such puppy-ish charisma that R2-D2 and C-3PO might want to call their agents to make sure they’re in the next installment. That’s coming in two years, which, considering the film’s somber, quietly electrifying final scene, now seems as far away as the Galactic Empire.
“The Force Awakens” has succeeded where it counts most, in creating a cast of characters that viewers can spend the next several years rooting for, especially the spirited, resourceful heroine at its center. Put another way — and hallelujah for it — there’s not a Binks in the bunch.
PG-13. Opens at area theaters on Friday. Contains sci-fi action violence. 135 minutes.