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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: August 2010

I have a spot in my heart for Brooklyn College, which for many years was the gem of the City University of New York college system. I taught summer sessions there for one or two years. The chairman of the History Department at that time was the great hero of the 1956 Hungarian revolt, the late Bela Kiraly. Only in New York City could one find an institution that gave a home to the rebellious general of Hungary’s Red Army, who fresh out of prison as a political dissident led the Hungarian people in an attempt to fight off the Soviet invasion. He was professional, warm, and supportive — even though he knew from my conversations at the time that I was a man of the Left.

That was back in its halcyon days. Then, a decade ago, a controversy arose when the college tried to fire one of its best historians, KC Johnson. I entered into KC’s defense with a series of articles in the great short-lasting paper published by Seth Lipsky, The New York Sun. The protests were so fierce that over the objections of his own left-wing department, the chancellor of CUNY was forced to override their attempt to dismiss him, and appointed him with tenure.

Now, Brooklyn College is showing its worst face once again. As The New York Jewish Week reports, incoming transfer students have been assigned a book to read that is meant to give them a common framework for discussion. As the newspaper informed its readers, “‘How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America,by Moustafa Bayoumi , has been assigned to about 1500 incoming transfer students ‘in an effort to provide a common experience for this population of students,’  according to a letter from the school administration to Brooklyn College faculty members.”

The book was described by the trade publication Publisher’s Weekly as a “quintessentially American picture of 21st century citizens ‘absorbing and refracting all the ethnicities and histories surrounding [them].’ However, the testimonies from these young adults — summary seizures from their homes, harassment from strangers, being fired for having an Arab or Muslim name—have a weight and a sorrow that is ‘often invisible to the general public.”

It is clear that the book  is a highly exaggerated view of how American citizens treat Muslims and Arabs. (The book carries a blurb by none other than Rashid Khalidi.)  It is not being paired with any readings that challenge its biased thesis.  But what is also upsetting many of Brooklyn’s residents, as well as CUNY faculty and students, is that its author, who is also an associate professor at the college, recently edited another book titled Midnight on the Mavi Marmara: the Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and How it Changed the Course of the Israeli-Palestine Conflict.

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Now that the Glenn Beck old time Christian revival meeting at the Lincoln Memorial is over- and yes, with a minimum of 350,000 attending- one moment of unintentional humor has all but been passed over and gone unnoticed.

When the rally began, and right before Beck was to speak, the audience heard a substantial excerpt of music, that continued to play as he came on stage.  And it continued to be played at various times throughout the event.

That music was none other than Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, written by him during the period of the Communist Popular Front of the 30’s and 40’s, when Copland was not only a man of the political Left, but an actual- although secret- Communist Party member.

The main point about the composition is made by historian Sean Wilentz, in his new book, Bob Dylan in America, to be published soon by Doubleday. Wilentz writes:

The title contains an obvious paradox. Fanfares, rooted in the music of the court, are supposed to herald the arrival of a great man, a noble. Copland’s Fanfare, however, heralded the noble groundlings, grunts, and ordinary men- not just their service and sacrifice in the war, but their very existence and their arrival in history. The title had more specific political connotations as well- for Copland borrowed it, as he later informed [Eugene] Goossens, from a widely publicized speech, ‘The Century of the Common Man,’ delivered  earlier in 1942 by the New Dealer most closely identified with pro-Soviet and Popular Front politics, Vice President Henry Wallace.

The composition, Wilentz continues to point out, was “a subtly esoteric piece of music written for the democratic masses as well as to honor them.”  The composer Virgil Thomson, a contemporary critic of Copland, commented that the work was evocative of “the speeches of Henry Wallace, striking in phraseology but all too reminiscent of Moscow.”  Thomson’s comments were in line with the repudiation of pro-Communist Popular Front culture that came from the anti-Stalinist Left around Partisan Review, The New Leader, and other sophisticated cultural figures who were espousing modernism and more than dismissive of CP culture. As Wilentz concludes, Fanfare “fit in perfectly with what [Clement] Greenberg had been denouncing since 1939 as ‘kitsch’ and what Dwight Macdonald eventually defined as ‘mid-cult;-a style…that ‘pretends to respect the standards of High Culture while in fact it waters them down and vulgarizes them.’”

These critics were opposing what they saw as the subordination of art to politics—and to left-wing pro-Communist politics.  And for Copland, as Wilentz writes, the new simplicity he espoused was “inevitably bound up with his Popular Front political loyalties of the 1930s and 1940s.”

Now there is certainly nothing wrong with using Copland’s wonderful music to frame an event. But this is the same Glenn Beck who last year, as Steven Heller who teaches at the School for Visual Arts wrote, “As one of the many justifications for why the Obama administration is leading us headlong into Socialism and Fascism, Glenn Beck has turned to the history of propaganda art. In a recent broadcast,…[he] takes Rockefeller Center’s vintage public art and architecture to task for promoting Communism and Fascism through murals, friezes, and engravings bearing symbols that subliminally project vile values.”  Beck, he continues,  “deconstructs works that include workers and farmers, hammers and sickles, iron-fisted leaders, and swords beaten into plowshares, equating the ‘progressive’ mass art of the 1930s with the so-called subversive art of Obama.”

And art critic Richard Lacayo, points to Beck’s dismay at same carved bas-relief figures you can see at Rockefeller Center. Called Industry and Agriculture, they flank the entrance to Rockefeller Plaza at its south end. What is the problem with them, Lacayo asks? His comment: “One of the figures, Agriculture, holds a sickle. Meanwhile Industry leans on a hammer. Hammer. Sickle. Hammer and sickle! They’re not actually touching, much less crossing, but never mind — they’re secretly suggesting the communist symbol.” He adds this comment:

Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that sickles and hammers were symbols of agriculture and labor long before the communists hit upon the idea of combining them as their symbol. And that workers and farmers were a standard theme in Art Deco. I had actually always thought that the “hammer” Industry leans on was a shovel, buried partly in soil represented by the dark grey stone base of the building. That’s why the figure always looked less to me like a symbol of militant labor than a WPA road worker on a break. (At the feet of Agriculture grass grows from the same grey “soil”.) The Rockefeller Center website also describes the thing as a shovel. But images can be ambiguous and you can read it either way.

 I happened to be watching Beck’s show and saw his actual presentation, and you can watch it here.  Lacayo and Heller’s summary of Beck’s case against the art is accurate, as you can see for yourself. As I recall, Beck was stunned as he recounted how on walking with one of his staff past the building, he commented how amazing it was that we take such propaganda for granted, and don’t realize what is being put over on an unsuspecting public.

Beck also noted on that same program that a glass wall sculpture by an artist named Attilio Piccirilli, that is found at the entrance to one of the Rockefeller Center buildings, is a “a fascist tableaux of youth leading humanity towards a bright future and ends up identifying the charioteer as Mussolini.” As Lacayo accurately writes- and I hope you read his account- the story is much more complicated. The bottom line is the following:

The fact is, the most important single figure behind the decorative program of Rockefeller Center wasn’t Joe Stalin or Benito Mussolini, neither of whom were consulted. It was John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the millionaire oilman who built the place, and for one reason — he hated modern art. (The famous irony, of course, is that his wife Abby loved it, and was a founder of the Museum of Modern Art.)

Because Rockefeller didn’t want anything too modern at his big project, the sculpture and carvings all around the Center are almost entirely representational, and mostly in the muscular neoclassical style that had been adopted by aesthetically conservative artists all over the world in the 1930s, including the Soviet Union, Fascist Italy and the good old U.S.A.

Beck, to make it clear, saw in these works of art the secret code of communist and socialist propaganda foisted on the tourists and citizens of New York who never knew what was being imposed on their unsuspecting eyes. “Gee,” he commented, “who’s having indoctrination next week?” He then stated: “This is propaganda, hidden in plain sight. In plain sight!”  It was hidden, he told his audience, but you can see it “if you look.”

Well, I ask the following? If Beck was right about the hidden message of this communist and fascist propaganda propagated by the Rockefellers—-what subliminal hidden message came through the cascade of Copland’s Popular Front symphonic compositions put upon the unsuspecting ears of the few hundred thousand present at his rally, and the scores of others watching it on C-Span?

Could it be that Glenn Beck’s razor eye for propaganda is slipping, and that someone on his staff played a trick on him— picking Popular Front culture as the front piece of his long planned rally? Could the Communists of the past have managed to hoodwink even Glenn Beck? We’re waiting for an answer.

 

Fareed Zakaria spoke last Sunday on CNN — on his weekly program Fareed Zakaria GPS — with his usual haughty display of what he considers to be the great wisdom he regularly presents to his audience. The would-be secretary of State told his viewers this:

And now for the “Last Look.” With all the talk about places of worship and where they do and don’t belong, I wanted you to see this. This is the Magen Abraham synagogue. It’s not in Miami. It’s not in Tel Aviv. It’s in Beirut. That’s right, Beirut, Lebanon.

The synagogue is just now emerging from a painstaking restoration project. When the repairs began over a year ago, the temple was literally a shell of its former self. So why did this nation, often teetering on the brink of religious hostilities and hostilities with Israel, restore a Jewish house of worship? To show that Lebanon is an open and tolerant country.

And indeed, the project is said to have found support in many parts of the community, not just from the few remaining Jews there, but also Christians and Muslims and Hezbollah. Yes, Hezbollah — the one that the United States has designated a foreign terrorist organization.

Hezbollah’s view on the renovation goes like this. “We respect divine religions, including the Jewish religion. The problem is with Israel’s occupation of Arab lands … not with the Jews.” Food for thought. Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week. Stay tuned for “Reliable Sources.”

If you insist on seeing his delivery, you can watch it here.

This reminds me of nothing less than the famous phony documentary the Nazis made about Theresienstadt as they were creating this showplace concentration camp to try to fool the world, to show everyone how good they were to those Jews they were actually sending to the death camps.

As the Jewish site linked above explains:

Hitler, the world was to be told, had built a city for the Jews, to protect them from the vagaries and stresses of the war. A film was made to show this mythic, idyllic city to which his henchmen were taking the Jews from the Czech Lands and eight other countries. Notable musicians, writers, artists, and leaders were sent there for “safer” keeping than was to be afforded elsewhere in Hitler’s quest to stave off any uprisings or objections around the so-called civilized world. This ruse worked for a very long time, to the great detriment of the nearly two hundred thousand men, women and children who passed through its gates as a way station to the east and probable death.

Now, in our own time — as the organization CAMERA accurately reveals — Zakaria’s claim that “Hezbollah respects the Jews and is merely opposed to Israel’s occupation of Arab lands” dramatically misinformed viewers about the radical and anti-Semitic nature of the Lebanese terror group.

Hezbollah has repeatedly made clear not only its opposition to Israel’s very existence, but also its contempt for Jews.

As Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s chief, said on Al Quds International Day last year:

[Al Quds Day] is the day of all Palestine from sea to river. It is the day of the Palestinian and Arab detainees remaining in the occupation prisons. It is the day of the Palestinian refugees displaced whether inside Palestine or abroad. Al Quds day is the day of patient, resistance, besieged Gaza. Al Quds day is the day of Palestinian resistance of all factions and movements. It is the day of the Lebanese, Arab and Islamic resistance. It is the day of every resistant, withstander, survivor, and fighter in the face of the Zionist scheme in our region. Al Quds day is the day of the Ummah, a reminder to the Ummah of its historical and religious responsibilities in parallel.

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On his Pajamas Express blog today, my PJM colleague and friend Michael Ledeen dug up an old article from Imam Rauf, revealing that he not only endorsed the 1979 Iranian revolution creating an Islamic theocratic state, but then turned around and advised President Obama to respect the Iranian regime’s guiding principles.

Writing in Slate, Christopher Hitchens made precisely the same point. “The more one reads through his statements,” Hitchens writes, “the more alarming it gets.” Like Ledeen, he quotes  the same passage written by Rauf in the Huffington Post back in June 2009. Explaining the so called “rule of law” espoused by Rauf, Vilayet-i-faquih, Hitchens writes:

Vilayet-i-faquih is the special term promulgated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to describe the idea that all of Iranian society is under the permanent stewardship (sometimes rendered as guardianship) of the mullahs. Under this dispensation, “the will of the people” is a meaningless expression, because “the people” are the wards and children of the clergy. It is the justification for a clerical supreme leader, whose rule is impervious to elections and who can pick and choose the candidates and, if it comes to that, the results. It is extremely controversial within Shiite Islam. (Grand Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq, for example, does not endorse it.) As for those numerous Iranians who are not Shiites, it reminds them yet again that they are not considered to be real citizens of the Islamic Republic.

Rauf’s “rule of law,”  Hitchens points out,  is “the most extreme and repressive version of Muslim theocracy.” Ledeen and Hitchens are absolutely correct. So the question must be asked: what is the Department of State doing sending this radical Muslim theocrat — who falsely poses as a moderate — on a tour of the Middle East purportedly to explain the principles of American democracy abroad and win new friends for the United States?

Of course, as Hitchens also notes, anyone who points out the truth is now accused of “Islamophobia.” That term is the equivalent of yelling Red-baiting at those who told the truth about Communism in the ’50s. Just look at this week’s issue of Time, with its cover asking whether Americans are Islamophobic, and the cover story essentially answering that in the positive.

And today, Pamela Geller — whose website I find full of some preposterous conspiracy theories that can too easily be used to discredit her –  proves that on occasion she can be right too.  (Take notice, Frank Rich, who in Sunday’s New York Times writes that the attacks on the proposed Ground Zero mosque on Fox News and in the New York Post were all inspired by Geller, whom he calls a “rabidly anti-Islam blogger best known for claiming that Obama was Malcolm X’s illegitimate son.”) Will Rich now cite the real evidence that Geller has uncovered, including the official text and recording of a speech presented by Imam Rauf in Australia in 2005?

Given at The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, Rauf showed himself to be the anti-American that he is and revealed his basic support of radical Islam.  The imam was introduced as a man who “preaches a message of peace and understanding between peoples” from his current mosque which is twelve blocks from Ground Zero.  But when he steps up to speak, the message he delivers is something quite different.

We tend to forget, in the West,” Rauf says, “that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaida has on its hands of innocent non Muslims. You may remember that the US-led sanctions against Iraq led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children. This has been documented by the United Nations. And when Madeleine Albright, who has become a friend of mine over the last couple of years, when she was Secretary of State and was asked whether this was worth it, said it was worth it.”

Islam, the imam claims, “does not need a Reformation.” Speaking only a few days after the Islamist bombings in London in 2005, he obfuscated, casting  doubt on who was responsible, while it was well known by then that radical Islamists living in London had been responsible. He does the same dance in regard to the Madrid bombings.

He is less sanguine when answering who was responsible for terrorism in Iraq. You guessed the answer: the United States. First, Imam Rauf asks his audience how many of them had seen Michael Moore’s “documentary” Fahrenheit 911. Watching an Iraqi woman screaming after finding that her house was bombed, the imam tells the audience that “I found myself weeping.” He then comments:

How do you tell people whose homes have been destroyed, whose lives have been destroyed, that this does not justify your actions of terrorism. It’s hard. Yes, it is true that it does not justify the acts of bombing innocent civilians, that does not solve the problem, but after 50 years of, in many cases, oppression, of US support of authoritarian regimes that have violated human rights in the most heinous of ways, how else do people get attention?

Imam Rauf has a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem.  It is not the two-state solution supported by the United States, Israel, and the Quartet.  No, he believes that the “one-state solution is a more coherent one than a two-state solution.” In other words, a unitary Arab state in all of the old Palestine Mandate, the end of Israel as a Jewish state, with a Jewish minority living under the control of radical Islamists who will treat them as dhimmi.

So why, one must ask, is the State Department sending this radical cleric to represent the United States, and why is the mainstream media continually reassuring us that he is a reasonable patriotic American and a good representative of moderate Islam? The answer may be partially found in the interview conducted this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program. Joe Scarborough and guests asked questions of Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley. You can see his interview here.

When asked whether or not the United States was in favor of “regime change” in Iran, Crowley first answered: “That’s a matter for the Iranian people.” While he acknowledged there were some “questioning circumstances” in the recent election that returned Ahmadinejad to power, Crowley indicated no support for Iranian opponents who were being arrested or killed, and expressed no  dissatisfaction with the actions of the current government. Instead, he emphasized that “we are prepared to engage” with Iran and to “have conversations” with its representatives. U.S. policy, he asserted, was to try “to forestall” an arms race in the region. He said nothing about sanctions or even a military option kept in reserve should the regime move closer to achieving the bomb. He ended by saying that of course, the Israeli-Arab conflict had to be ended and that would encourage Iran to take the right steps.

When the questions then turned to Imam Rauf, Crowley responded that this was his fourth trip for the State Department, the second this year which added to the two that took place in 2007. The State Department’s work with Rauf, he noted, preceded the mosque controversy. Rauf toured in a program that also included Catholic priests, Jewish rabbis and Protestant ministers who helped foreign audiences “understand religion in our society.” Then he offered this clincher:

“Rauf is a moderate Muslim figure here in the United States” who preaches “religious tolerance throughout the world.” Crowley went on, when asked whether or not Americans should trust Imam Rauf, that “we send 1200 people” on these tours, and “50 of them are clerics.” We don’t expect they will agree with U.S. policy.” But they are all people with “broad experience” and thus help foreign audiences “understand the United States.”

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Introduction and Note to Readers:

 Warning: This blog is very lengthy, and has taken me a few days to write and to compile the material discussed herein. You may want to print it. I originally planned to run the different parts on consecutive days. But much of the material is time-bound and events may occur in these coming days that answer some of the tentative questions I raise.

My intention is to set off an honest and real debate about the issues I raise. I am frankly distressed about the growing volatile and rancorous choruses on the Right that seem to insist that there is only one position to take on the nature of Islam. By giving full links to the various sides, you can read through all of them and reach your own conclusions.

But the subject is too serious to act on partial and misleading information, or on the blogs coming particularly from one strident side. So please- read and think!

 Part I: Who is Our Enemy? 

An important issue is now emerging in the conservative constituency. It boils down to the following: Is Islam itself our enemy, and should Americans work to oppose Islam throughout the world; or, is it only radical Islam, what Christopher Hitchens calls Islamofascism and others call Islamism, the enemy we must oppose?

The issue has been raised as well by Peter Beinart in his column I commented on the other day, and by columnist Maureen Dowd in the New York Times. Like Beinart, Dowd also pretended to miss the approach taken by George W. Bush, whom she says understood that “the war against terrorists is not a war against Islam.”  Dowd writes: “George W. Bush understood this. And it is odd to see Barack Obama less clear about this matter than his predecessor. It’s time for W. to weigh in.”

Actually, W’s big mistake was to not go onto to say that we were not simply fighting a war against terror, but a war against radical Islam. Instead, he seemed to suggest by omitting ever mentioning the ideology of our enemy that there was no such thing as Islamofascism, (although he once used the term and then later abandoned it)  thereby making it appear that those who named the enemy were opposing Islam itself as a religion that many in the world believe in.

Dowd was more than furious at Newt Gingrich, who speaking on Fox News, said “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.”  Dowd commented: “There is no more demagogic analogy than that.”  Others have noted that legally, since the U.S. Government owns the Holocaust Museum, it has the legal right to refuse such a sign were one to seek to put one up. Writing at Slate.com, Briam Palmer says that in general, “putting up a sign should be value-neutral.”  But as to a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum, Palmer writes:

While the law can’t discriminate against private speakers based on their views, the government has its own free speech rights. Uncle Sam can say almost anything he wants on public property and may adopt the views of some people and reject those of others. So, on a very technical level, Gingrich is right that we’ll never see a permanent Nazi sign erected next to the Holocaust museum, since the government would be unlikely to allow it. (None of this applies to the proposed mosque in New York, which is to be built on private land.) 

But, he notes correctly, in Chicago in 1978, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals declared that Nazis had a right to march in Skokie, Illinois, despite how deeply offensive it would be to the largely Jewish population who then inhabited  that city. This became, he says, “a landmark free speech decision.”

But what about Gingrich’sargument, which has been to equate Nazism and its racialist ideology with Islam? And here is where it gets sticky. Writing at Contentions, Peter Wehner, a former Bush speechwriter, argued  that Gingrich and others should be “careful about the rhetoric they employ,” he first argued that critics should not invoke the Saudis and their rules about other religions as a standard for comparison. Moreover, he adds that “Nazism was intrinsically malevolent, whereas mosques are not.”

But his main point is the following:

 At the same time, we have to be very careful not to conflate American Muslims with al-Qaeda and Wahhabism or argue, explicitly or implicitly, that mosques qua mosques are comparable to Nazism. Some mosques do fan the flames of hatred and violence; but of course many more do not.

Wehner argues, as I did also, that the decision to build this particular mosque next to Ground Zero “is terribly imprudent” and was certain to create a “divisive and dangerous debate,” and that for good reason, most Americans want that mosque built elsewhere. But, he says, “To characterize that opposition as bigoted, malicious and un-American has evoked a perfectly predictable counterreaction.” He ends by citing historian William Lee Miller, who writing about Abraham Lincoln at the time of the Civil War, notes that Lincoln had said that all those who fought, including the Confederate Army, “were all part of a universal community of human reason,” and Miller wrote, “He did not demean or demonize the enemy.”

On this point, and on the general issue of whether Islam itself is our enemy, I received the following e-mail from conservative writer and activist David Horowitz, who has generously allowed me to use it. Horowitz writes:

 Wehner misses the entire point of Gingrich’s remarks. The mosque builders are the bigoted, racist, misogynist, anti-American, anti-religious, devious, lying, Jew-hating murderous and repulsive wing of Islam. If the Mosque sponsors want to promote interfaith tolerance they can start with their own backyard. The Saudis — who ban all other religions from their turf — are the funders of 80% of the mosques in America. The other force behind this Islamist project is the Muslim Brotherhood and its baby Hamas. Gingrich should be applauded for stepping out from the crowd of credulous appeasers and deniers not only in the Democratic Party but evidently among Republicans as well.

And writing at PJM, my blogging colleague Roger Kimball, a brilliant and insightful writer, makes his own strong case that Islam- not just so-called radical Islam- is the real enemy. He writes: “My own view, which I’ve stated in this space before, is that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with “foundational Western values like free speech, the separation of church and state, and equality under the law. Such things are not simply missing from Islam: they are positively repudiated by Islam.” While Roger says that Muslims have a right to build a mosque anywhere else in America, he does think- it’s the bottom line- that “Islam is a proselytizing, intolerant religion.  Its aim is to institute Sharia as the ‘sole reference point for . . . ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community . . . and state.’ That is the end. The means are multifarious. Steering commercial aircraft into American skyscrapers is only one tactic.  Using and abusing liberal democratic freedoms in order to promulgate an ideology that is neither liberal nor democratic is less ostentatious but may in the end be more effective precisely because it is less dramatic. This is the lasting significance of the case of the Ground Zero mosque. It represents another step on the march to Islamize the West.”

David Horowitz, Andrew McCarthy and Roger Kimball are all smart, shrewd and articulate observers of our culture and our world. But are they correct when they shift the argument from opposing those who seek a radical Islamist agenda- imposition of Sharia law in the West- from most American Muslims who practice their faith and belief and consider themselves law-abiding patriotic Americans, and who have a strong commitment to this country?

If they are, I fear it means supporting an unwinnable proposition, that in effect, says that the interpretation of the Quran by Bin Laden and others is correct- that they truly represent the only real Islam, and those claiming to be moderates are heretics who also must be destroyed. It means writing off potential allies in the Muslim community who could become the spearhead of an Islamist reformation to the ranks of the Islamist radicals. It would give them no choice but then to support radical Islamists since our leaders have already condemned them as believing in a faith that is incompatible with the rules of American citizenship.

I wish to point out two recent articles in Tablet Magazine that further address this question. The first is by Lee Smith, who writing  recently, offers a lengthy and important discussion of the nuances of Sharia law. He argues that “The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people. Even though Islam is very simple in its basics, including conversion—you are a Muslim if you testify there is no God but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God—the faith comes with a fabulously esoteric scholarly tradition.”  I urge you to download and read his entire article.

The second article appeared a few days ago and is by Daniel Luban. He provocatively calls anti-Islamist phobia “the new anti-Semitism.” His key paragraph follows: 

 Many of the tropes of classic anti-Semitism have been revived and given new force on the American right. Once again jingoistic politicians and commentators posit a religious conspiracy breeding within Western society, pledging allegiance to an alien power, conspiring with allies at the highest levels of government to overturn the existing order. Because the propagators of these conspiracy theories are not anti-Semitic but militantly pro-Israel, and because their targets are not Jews but Muslims, the ADL and other Jewish groups have had little to say about them. But since the election of President Barack Obama, this Islamophobic discourse has rapidly intensified.

He then adds the following:

 Most of the tropes of the American “anti-jihadists,” as they call themselves, are taken from European models: a “creeping” imposition of sharia, Muslim allegiance to the ummah rather than to the nation-state, the coming demographic crisis as Muslims outbreed their Judeo-Christian counterparts. In recent years the call-to-arms about the impending Islamicization of Europe has become a well-worn genre, ranging from more sophisticated treatments like Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe to cruder polemics like Mark Steyn’s America Alone and Bat Ye’or’s Eurabia.

I take exception particularly to Luban’s characterization of Mark Styen’s book as a crude polemic. I have not read Bat Ye’or’s book, but I suspect many will rightfully take exception to that characterization as well. And it is telling that he does not mention Bruce Bawer’s books, clearly because he is a gay conservative who makes a strong case about the dangers posed by Islamists in Europe. But I agree with him that the view that America is in danger facing the same impact large Muslim communities are having in smaller European states like Denmark, France or Britain are unlikely to be recapitulated here. Many of our Muslim immigrants have taken roots here, and have become middle class and assimilated.

There is no equivalent demographic threat to the United States as that posed by Muslims in Western Europe. It is also true, of course,  that a real danger exists that has to be addressed. Many of the Saudi financed Wahhabi mosques, as Stephen Schwartz and others have endlessly pointed out, preach radical Islam and have in fact led some of its members to adopt their dangerous interpretation of Islam, and some of them, as we well know, have become terrorists. This point has been made effectively by Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal. He writes that our pundits have a long history of claiming that many Imams were true moderates, when within a short time after they were heralded as such, they turned out to be the worst of Islamist extremists and supporters of terrorists. Stephens says there is but one ground on which to judge:

Which brings me to the fundamental problem with too many self-described moderate Muslims. A few years ago, my friend Irshad Manji made the point to me that “moderate Muslims denounce terror that’s committed in the name of Islam but they deny that religion has anything to do with it.” By contrast, she noted, “reform-minded Muslims denounce terror that’s committed in the name of Islam and acknowledge that our religion is used to inspire it.”

Luban goes on to attack many of the figures on the Right whom he condemns as proponents of Islamophobia, including Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Paul Sperry and P. David Gaubatz, all of whom have written books and articles propagating their position.  He then writes:

Radical Muslims who engage in violence are only the tip of the iceberg, goes the argument; the more insidious threat comes from the far larger group of religious Muslims (most, perhaps all) who aim to subjugate the United States under sharia law through ostensibly peaceful and legal means. In this they are aided and abetted by the leftist elites controlling the government, media, and academy—above all, the ambiguously Muslim Obama himself—and a cast of villains that includes some mix of the Muslim Brotherhood, Jeremiah Wright, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Obama adviser Dalia Mogahed, ACORN, and George Soros. Some of the authors of these works have ties to the European far right themselves; Geller and Spencer, for instance, have alienated former political allies by championing Geert Wilders and the Vlaams Belang. 

Here, he is clearly over the top and descending into foolish ridicule.  Only a few fringe commentators have accused George Soros and  ACORN, for example, as being part of the Islamic threat in America. And some of those he names, are in fact advocates of or apologists for radical Islam, such as CAIR. Luban shows his own bias of left-liberalism by going on a foolish comparison of opposition to radical Islam with 19th Century anti-Semitism and the Red Scare or McCarthyism of the 1950’s. (He warns that we now possibly face “a new McCarthyism.”) But the anti-Semitism of our past was indeed paranoia, while in the 1950’s, there were real Communists- and many of them were recruited for espionage right out of the ranks of their movement. Today, there are real Islamofascists, and Luban clearly minimizes their danger. And like some of the old Communists who became KGB agents and spies, many American Muslims are recruited in Wahhabi mosques to become part of terrorist cells.

Most of his critique is directed at the former Justice Department prosecutor of Islamic terrorists, National Review contributor Andrew McCarthy, author of the book  The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.  In the past, McCarthy has written potent on target criticism about how the real threat of Islamism has been long ignored and downplayed in our society. I have read with profit much of what he has written. And the country owes him a debt of gratitude for his role in bringing terrorists to justice. As Luban acknowledges, “he came to prominence by winning convictions against Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman and others linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.”

But sadly, Luban I think correctly criticizes McCarthy’s most recent arguments when he writes that “his book helps illustrate both the potency of the Muslim-conspiracy myth and the extent to which it has taken hold of mainstream right-wing discourse.” He sums up McCarthy’s position in these words: 

The bulk of the Muslim population, then, aims to impose sharia over every aspect of American life. How will they do this? Through violence, if need be—but McCarthy is keen to note that Islamists are above all master dissimulators who will seek to impose sharia through legal means if they can (“grand-jihad-by-sabotage,” he calls it). This means that even peaceful attempts to follow Islam through strictly private means (for instance, through sharia-compliant finance) are simply precursors to a takeover of the overall system. Muslims who live within religious or ethnic enclaves are not merely trying to remain within a familiar community or preserve shared values; rather, they are presented as deviously following the “voluntary apartheid” strategy of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood—the group whose “global tentacles” extend into nearly every Muslim-American civil society organization.

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The Hubris of Peter Beinart

August 17th, 2010 - 9:10 am

When Peter Beinart published his now notorious New York Review of Books article in June, I knew that a big book contract would be in the offing, making him into next year’s version of Walt and Mearsheimer. There is nothing the official liberal establishment likes better than an American Jew who, speaking in the name of all good American Jews, blasts the current Israeli government, its defenders in the United States, and anyone who does not agree with him. I wrote about his article in this blog, and provided links to articles critical of Beinart by Noah Pollak and Jamie Kirchick.

Since his article and the publication of his book The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, Beinart has revealed his own hubris in column after column written for The Daily Beast. But today he outdid himself, weighing in on the Ground Zero mosque controversy. And as anyone familiar with Beinart would know, he would support the building of the mosque and condemn anyone opposed to building it close to the site of the destroyed World Trade Center.

Pretending that he misses W., a man for whom he had nothing but disdain when he was president, Beinart now argues that at least Bush and the Republicans used to argue that most Muslims were “decent folks who wanted nothing more than to live free like you and me.” Bush administration spokesmen told the world that in America, Muslims were free to practice their religion. So Beinart declares, “I pine for George W. Bush,” a man who “respected religion, all religion.”

Beinart’s implication is that if one opposes the mosque being built on the proposed site near the World Trade Center, they are opposed to freedom of religion. He ignores the obvious point that Democrats like Sen. Harry Reid and other politicians of both parties are making. While freedom of religion is a right enjoyed by all Americans, that right does not mean that it must be exercised at all times and in all circumstances.  If the goal of the mosque is to bring people together, which its Imam says it is, then they have certainly failed.  But Beinart claims those opposed are all declaring “war on Islam.”

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Go Johnny Go!

August 15th, 2010 - 11:29 am

The good word from Johnny Rotten, once of the Sex Pistols, and now touring in Britain with Public Image, Ltd.  Rotten is being interviewed by a reporter for The Independent, a London newspaper. He quotes Rotten directly in the second paragraph :

“What I do know, having hung out with him for an afternoon, is that he’s still always spoiling for a fight. As we’re about to say our goodbyes, he pulls a sheaf of faxes out of his pocket. They are’complaints, e-mailed to his manager, John ‘Rambo’ Stevens, who lives in Arkansas, complaining that PiL will shortly be performing in Israel. One, from a fan called Lawrence Casin, declares: ‘I will destroy all my albums and paraphernalia that I have collected over the years if you bastards play that hell hole.’”

“Most musicians, particularly those who have been around for 30 years, wouldn’t let hate mail upset them. They probably wouldn’t even read it. But John’s anger is genuine. He wants me to record it, for posterity. ‘I really resent the presumption that I’m going there to play to right-wing Nazi Jews,’ he tells me. ‘If Elvis-fucking-Costello wants to pull out of a gig in Israel because he’s suddenly got this compassion for Palestinians, then good on him. But I have absolutely one rule, right? Until I see an Arab country, a Muslim country, with a democracy, I won’t understand how anyone can have a problem with how they’re treated.’”

Obama’s Indecision and the Iranian Bomb

August 14th, 2010 - 4:49 pm

Does President Obama even know what he wants? Having what appeared to be an endorsement of the Cordoba Project mosque being built on Ground Zero, the New York Times ran the headline: “Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site.” Suddenly late Saturday, the president ran for cover and told both Politico and the New York Times that he wasn’t endorsing the specific project but making a general plea for religious tolerance toward all.” As the once paper of record reported on Saturday, “ he was ‘not commenting on the wisdom’ of that project, but rather trying to uphold the broader principle that government should treat ‘everyone equal, regardless’ of religion.”

The White House press office quickly explained, “Just to be clear, the president is not backing off in any way from the comments he made last night” — except, just to be clear, he is backing off from them. Can we be any more confused? In seeking his outreach to the Muslim world, the president now seems to be emulating the Arab leaders whose respect he courts — the same leaders who regularly say one thing to their own constituency and something else when talking to the West. But in this case, the president was addressing Americans on both nights — and hence made obviously contradictory statements, only one of which can be true.

Is it then any wonder that when it comes to what the Israelis think of Obama, they are totally confused and perplexed when they try to figure out what he really thinks of their nation and of America’s “special relationship” with it? In this regard, one must turn to the very important and penetrating lead article in the latest issue of The Atlantic by their star reporter on the Middle East, Jeffrey Goldberg.

I cannot think of a more essential article than the one Goldberg has just published. He has talked and spoken to every important player on both sides of the world, including a one-on-one with Benjamin Netanyahu a short time before he was sworn in as prime minister. Goldberg leaves Israel with the thought that if sanctions against Iran do not work by next spring — and few believe that they will — then Israel will have no option left but to bomb Iran. Of course, it would be better if the United States, and not Israel, did the job. But would Obama do it if all signs point to its necessity? The key paragraph in Goldberg’s article comes at the beginning of his long essay:

“But none of these things—least of all the notion that Barack Obama, for whom initiating new wars in the Middle East is not a foreign-policy goal, will soon order the American military into action against Iran—seems, at this moment, terribly likely. What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran—possibly by crossing Saudi Arabia, possibly by threading the border between Syria and Turkey, and possibly by traveling directly through Iraq’s airspace, though it is crowded with American aircraft. (It’s so crowded, in fact, that the United States Central Command, whose area of responsibility is the greater Middle East, has already asked the Pentagon what to do should Israeli aircraft invade its airspace. According to multiple sources, the answer came back: do not shoot them down.)”

So we evidently will not stop Israeli aircraft from doing the job, but we will leave it to them. The reason they will do so, Goldberg writes, is rather simple: “[T]he Israelis will tell their American counterparts that they are taking this drastic step because a nuclear Iran poses the gravest threat since Hitler to the physical survival of the Jewish people. The Israelis will also state that they believe they have a reasonable chance of delaying the Iranian nuclear program for at least three to five years. They will tell their American colleagues that Israel was left with no choice. They will not be asking for permission, because it will be too late to ask for permission.”

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Tony Judt 1948-2010: R.I.P.

August 11th, 2010 - 2:32 pm

The great historian of 20th Century European History, Tony Judt, passed away on Aug.6th, after a long and noble effort to keep working until close to the end of his life, despite the infirmity and pain he suffered on a regular basis from ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. For the past few months, Judt regularly wrote eloquent and moving memoirs of his life growing up in England and elsewhere.  Those of you who are familiar with Judt will wonder how I can refer to him as a great  historian, since most people primarily know him as one of the great bashers of Israel, a scholar most known for arguing in 2003 that Israel should cease to exist, and be replaced by a bi-national state of Arabs and Jews.

The truth is that before that article, Tony Judt was the most acclaimed historian to chronicle the history of Europe in the 20th Century, as well as to elaborate on the illusions in particular of the French intellectuals, many of whom believed in Stalin and the Soviet Union as the future of mankind. I first became acquainted with Judt’s work in 1992, when his book, Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956, was published.  His greatest accomplishment is viewed by most readers and critics as a masterpiece. The book in question is Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, which was published in 2005, and in readable and brilliant prose takes the readers through the major events of the past century, and provides analysis combined with an overview. Few could write that kind of book and succeed.

For those wishing to get a good acquaintance with Judt’s lengthy essays and articles on various issues, events and people, one can turn to his collection, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, which will give you a first rate acquaintance with how a great mind works. I must acknowledge that one of the books I wrote with my co-author Mary Habeck, Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War, received an insightful and provocative discussion by Judt which appeared in The New Republic.  Judt closed the review (which is unfortunately not available on line) by writing that years ago those who apologized for the Soviet Union were called “useful idiots.” In the present time, Judt wrote, they had no excuses available for their position. Now, he wrote, “they are just idiots.”

His understanding of the horrors of communism and the continuing apologias on its behalf by Western intellectuals makes his later devotion to the chorus of anti-Israel arguments by the intellectuals of his own day even more inexplicable.  His new position led to TNR dropping Judt from their editorial board, and to a take-down of Judt by its literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, that was completely devastating.  Wieseltier made the following point about Judt’s essay:

Judt calls his article “Israel: The Alternative.” But let us read strenuously. A bi-national state is not the alternative for Israel. It is the alternative to Israel. Judt and his editors have crossed the line from the criticism of Israel’s policy to the criticism of Israel’s existence. The right in Israel and America are therefore greatly in their debt: They have given credence to the suspicion that the criticism of Israel’s policy is always nothing other than the criticism of Israel’s existence. They have taken the heroic step of calling for the dissolution of the Jewish state.

Judt would go on to write other arguments against Israel, but at no time did he pause to answer any of Wieseltier’s arguments. And so, after Judt’s passing, most of the reviewers spent a great deal of time on Judt’s view of Israel, rather than concentrating mainly on his contributions to European history.

Most of the reviewers in Britain, perhaps expectedly, not only singled his anti-Israel views for discussion, but made clear in their obituaries that they thought Judt was both right and courageous. Take Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s review as an example. He writes that Judt “was contemptuous of the way a powerful lobby had manipulated Jewish American opinion,” as if American Jews are incapable of thinking for themselves, and reaching opinions other than those favored by Judt. According to Wheatcroft, Judt’s Israel essay “set off a storm of abuse: lectures by Judt were cancelled under pressure and he was dropped by magazines he had written for.” He makes it sound as if Judt was an American dissident, denied a place in which to express his views and an institution to work from. But in reality, Judt was highly celebrated, traveled the world, and his essays on Israel were published in Britain and Europe. Moreover, he was heralded, like Walt and Mearsheimer, for taking on the would-be powerful Jewish lobby. And as head of the Remarque Center at New York University, he had a most distinguished perch from which to hold court.  Saying that he was suppressed and censored is wide of the mark.

Wheatcroft continued to write that “the essay [on Israel] now seems prophetic as well as brave, as did another he wrote in 2006. ‘The Country That Wouldn’t Grow Up’ dealt in passing with the accusation that criticism of Israel was antisemitic, and warned that ‘genuine antisemitism may also in time cease to be taken seriously, thanks to the Israel lobby’s abuse of the term’. And with what already looks like acute prescience, Judt said that the calamitous war in Iraq ‘will in retrospect be seen, I believe, to have precipitated the onset of America’s alienation from its Israeli ally’”.

If anything, Judt was the opposite of prophetic, and he was hardly brave.  In fact, most Israelis opposed the war in Iraq and favored action to curb Iran, arguing that the United States was going after the wrong enemy. Why fighting Saddam Hussein would precipitate a break with Israel makes no sense, unless one believes that the U.S. went into the war at Israel’s behest, which of course, was the argument of Pat Buchanan and others who blamed the “neo-cons” for forcing the Bush administration to act. As the folks at Britain’s “Just Journalism” website concluded, Wheatcroft “offers no evidence for why this might be so, much less for the ‘alienation’ he takes as a foregone conclusion.”

The tragedy was that rather than continue to write about Europe in the past and its position in the present, which Judt more than any other historian had the right to do, he followed his political passions and became known for that which made him a celebrity in Britain in particular, a country in which hostility to Israel and anti-Semitism flourishes.  That his departure from scholarship and his commitment to writing against Israel became his seeming main occupation in his last years, and won him plaudits, says a great deal about our contemporary culture. Judt’s sad path should not, however, detract from honoring him for his superb contribution to our understanding of Europe’s past.

Howard Zinn’s FBI Files: What It Reveals

August 5th, 2010 - 10:17 am

The announcement last week by the FBI that it was releasing the FBI files of the late radical historian, Howard Zinn, was not met with universal acclaim.  In fact, many leftists were enraged.  Typical was the reaction of Noam Chomsky, who was quoted by writer Clark Merrefield. Zinn’s  files, Chomsky said, were “mostly a mixture of things that they’ve picked up here and there which is mostly false, things they’ve gotten from informants that are mostly false. We took for granted that obviously we were being monitored by the FBI.” For Chomsky, anything coming from the FBI obviously has to, by definition, be lies.

The most recent comment from the ranks of the Left is by frequent Nation writer Chris Hedges, whose column in Bob Scheer’s inappropriately named Truthdig reflects the most common take on Zinn’s work by liberal/left intellectuals. Hedges writes how he used Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as a text for the American history class he was giving to prison inmates. “We’ve been lied to,” students would comment at the end of class. He assigned Zinn’s work because he says it opened the “eyes of young, mostly African-Americans to their own history and the structures that perpetuate misery for the poor and gluttony and privilege for the elite.” (Wonder no more about why so much of the American underclass get a bad education.)

So what is in these files? First, the FBI had evidence that Zinn was a member of the Communist Party of the United States, and lied about his membership when being interviewed by FBI agents. The first file on the subject appeared in March of 1949, when an informant noted “that he (ZINN) is a Communist Party member and attends meetings five days a week.” Zinn was then employed by the American Labor Party, which itself gives credence to the informant’s report. By that date, the ALP — created in the early forties to give NYC labor a left-wing ballot on which to vote for FDR — had been taken over lock, stock and barrel by the CP. It never would have hired non-Party members as full-time employees.

Another informant described Zinn as a “person with some authority” in the CP group to which they belonged. Zinn, he said, taught a course for his comrades on “basic Marxism.” On June 12, 1957, another informant told the Bureau that when he was transferred to the Williamsburgh branch of the Party in 1949, “HOWARD ZINN was already a member of that section.” It was his impression that  “ZINN was not a new member, but had been in the CP for some time.”

Zinn, however, denied he was a Communist when questioned by the FBI in 1953. It is important to note here that unlike those who testified before Congressional investigating committees, Zinn was not under oath. The reason Zinn denied his membership was the same as that for other  Communists. The Party instructed them not to, even when asked to testify before committees like HUAC. As some of the Hollywood Ten members revealed years after their own investigations, if they said they were Reds, that would only prove that the Red-baiters were right when they called them Communists! It would undermine their pose as good liberals, who were only taking pro-Soviet positions because they genuinely believed in them, not because it was the Party line.

And this is precisely the pose Zinn took to the agents who questioned him in 1953. Zinn “acknowledged that perhaps his activities in the past had opened him to charges that he was associated with the CP as a member; however,” he told the FBI, “he was not. … He stated that he was a liberal and perhaps some people would consider him to be a ‘leftist.’” He admitted that he participated in the work of groups that had been considered CP fronts — in fact, he belonged to and worked in scores of them, not just one or two; “but his participation was motivated by his belief that in this country people had the right to believe, think and act according to their own ideals.” He went on to note that if he had knowledge of anyone who sought to overthrow the U.S. government by force or violence,  he would advise the Bureau.  Zinn added that “he would advise the FBI if he observed persons committing acts of sabotage or espionage against the Government.” He also declared that he “would defend this country in the event of war against any enemy including the Soviet Union.”

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