It is a sign of the hypersensitive times that to raise such questions is to open oneself up to charges of intolerance and — horrors! — “Islamophobia.” Alert to the fact — Spencer has been on the receiving end of more execration than most writing today — he duly notes that “there are innumerable Muslims in this country today who are happy to live in a pluralistic society.” At the same time, he makes a convincing case that the groups quickest to level the Islamophobia charge — self-styled Muslim civil liberties groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) — are best regarded with suspicion. Spencer’s longtime readers will probably know that in 2007 CAIR was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Justice Department’s case against the Holy Land Foundation, a Hamas-linked Islamic charity. Such evidence is nevertheless worth restating, if only to encourage proper revulsion the next time a CAIR spokesman is paraded on a cable news show to represent the “moderate” Muslim perspective.
CAIR is by no means the lone beneficiary of misplaced goodwill. Spencer usefully demolishes the nascent conceit, popular with State Department diplomats, among others, that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has decisively broken with its history as a terrorist organization to become a force for democracy and pluralism in the Islamic world and beyond. As Spencer points out, this is the same Brotherhood whose delegates in the Egyptian parliament openly call for the reestablishment of a global Muslim caliphate and whose official website announced as recently as November 2007 that it aspires to “the establishment of a world Islamic state.” Along the same lines, Spencer rightly scorns the New York Times for its gullible portrayal of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, a fount of Sunni fundamentalism, as a beacon of religious tolerance. For the record, this is the same Al-Azhar that has endorsed the killing of apostates from Islam. Some news, apparently, is unfit to print.
Spencer ably deconstructs such wishful thinking. But on occasion he overstates the scale of American self-delusion. For instance, he makes much of a January 2008 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo that urged government officials to avoid using terms like “jihadist,” “Islamic terrorist,” “Islamist,” and “holy warrior.” There was much wrong with that justly maligned memo, but Spencer exaggerates the case when he submits it as evidence that “the U.S. government refuses to address the connection between jihadist terrorism and the theological tenets of Islam.” In an interview earlier this year, for instance, Dan Sutherland, the head of the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at DHS and an advisor to Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, rejected the idea that the memo represents the view of the U.S. government. “We would definitely not agree with parts of it,” Sutherland told this reviewer, adding that he would not oppose describing terrorists as “Islamic.” Sutherland also noted that his boss, Secretary Chertoff, regularly refers to “violent Islamic extremists.” It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that none other than President Bush has identified radical Islam as the enemy in the War on Terror. The Bush administration has had its share of intelligence failures, but in this instance it has seen the threat clearly.
The point is worth stressing because Spencer seems to underestimate the capacity of the United States to resist the more aggressive demands for accommodation from Islamic extremists. Hence his call, toward the end of the book, for an end on all Muslim immigration into the U.S. But this solution, and the cultural pessimism from which it flows, may be excessive. It is not insignificant that the most dramatic victories for stealth jihad — such as a British cemetery’s decision in 2006 to face all graves, for Muslims and non-Muslims, toward Mecca — have taken place in Europe rather than in the U.S. Meanwhile, the most serious assaults on free speech have occurred at the misnamed U.N. Human Rights Council, which this July declared Islam and Sharia off-limits to criticism. By contrast, at around the same time that the Organization of the Islamic Conference was celebrating its triumph at the UN, New York’s Democratic governor David Patterson was signing into law the Libel Terrorism Protection Act, which shields American writers from legal harassment from aggrieved Islamists. This hardly warrants complacency; Spencer presents too many examples of creeping Islamisation in the U.S. for that. But neither is it cause for despair.
Spencer’s intermittent lapses into Spengler notwithstanding, his thesis deserves a serious hearing. Emboldened by successes abroad and multicultural diffidence at home, Islamists may soon make more radical demands on American society. “This debate is going to have to take place sooner or later,” Spencer notes. In his enjoyably provocative way, he has gotten it started.