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Why Robert George Is the Chris Christie of Conservative Intellectuals

Princeton Professor Robert P. George is a leading American conservative thinker, with some undeniably outstanding accomplishments. The New York Times has hailed him as “this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.” But as is the case with many mainstream conservatives, George has a peculiar blind spot regarding the Islamic jihad threat and the oppressive character of Sharia, Islamic law.

George’s blind spot is peculiar in light of the fact that he has been criticized for his membership on the board of directors of The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which has provided funding for foes of jihad terror including David Horowitz, Frank Gaffney and Daniel Pipes. And he sees some aspects of the jihad threat with supreme clarity: last August, he warned that the Islamic State would carry out “mass slaughter in the United States” unless it were quickly “destroyed as a fighting force.” He explained that Islamic State jihadis “have every intention” of getting into the United States,

and these are people who achieve what they set out to achieve. Unless somebody stops them, they make good on their threats. They have threatened to carry out activity in the United States — killing people, mass slaughter in the United States.

Yet George’s awareness of the dangers of the Islamic State have not dimmed his open admiration for some aspects of the Islamic law that the Islamic State is dedicated to implementing. In February 2014, George published a piece in the Catholic journal First Things titled “Muslims, Our Natural Allies.” He included in his article a video in which an organizer of an event titled World Hijab Day defended her right to cover her hair; George proclaimed:

I am a Catholic. My Church teaches me to esteem our Muslim friends and to work with them in the cause of promoting justice and moral values. I am happy to stand with them in defense of what is right and good. And so I stand with the young woman in the above video in defense of modesty, chastity, and piety, just as I stand with Muslims like my dear friends Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Dr. Suzy Ismail against the killing of unborn children and the evil of pornography, and with my equally dear friend Asma Uddin of the Becket Fund in defense of religious freedom.

George dismisses the grim reality of Muslim women being brutalized or even killed for not wearing a hijab with a defensive note:

I have no doubt that in certain cultures, including some Muslim cultures, the covering of women is taken to an extreme and reflects a very real subjugation, just as in sectors of western culture, the objectification of women (including the sexualization of children at younger and younger ages) by cultural pressures to pornify reflects a very real (though less direct and obvious) subjugation. But, of course, we are in the happy position of not having to choose between the ideology of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and that of Hugh Hefner.

Yet if George’s concern is really for “moral values,” it is odd that he has never written about the fact that many Muslim women don the hijab not out of modesty, but out of fear. It is, in fact, far more likely that women will be victimized for not wearing it than for wearing it. In recent years, a Canadian Muslim girl, Aqsa Parvez, was choked to death with her hijab by her father after she refused to wear it. Amina Muse Ali, a Christian woman in Somalia, was murdered because she wasn’t wearing a hijab. Forty women were murdered in Iraq in 2007 for not wearing the hijab.

There are many other such cases. As George stands with Muslims “in defense of what is right and good,” are these women not entitled to defense? George grounds his naïve and uncritical stance in the teachings of the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council, which states that Muslims “worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to men,” and “highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.”

It is unlikely, however, that the fathers of the Second Vatican Council meant by these words to exempt Islam and Muslims from justifiable criticism for human rights abuses sanctioned by Islamic law, to say nothing of the increasing violent persecution of Christians in Egypt, Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere – about which George has likewise been silent.

George likewise quotes the Second Vatican Council as saying:

Over the centuries, many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between Christians and Muslims. The sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.

Yet “mutual” understanding is precisely what has been lacking. In January 2011, Pope Benedict XVI condemned the bombing of the Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Alexandria, Egypt, by Islamic jihadists — whereupon al-Azhar broke off its dialogue with the Vatican and said it would not be restored until the pope affirmed that Islam was a religion of peace for which he had respect. Pope Benedict did not do this. Pope Francis has. In September 2013, he wrote to Ahmed Al Tayyeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar, affirming his respect for Islam; the grand imam replied that “casting Islam in a negative light is ‘a red line’ that must not be crossed.” George has followed this line, repeatedly speaking positively about Islam while ignoring the persecution of Christians as well as Sharia oppression.

George writes: “Let those of us who are Christians reject the untrue and unjust identification of all Muslims with those evildoers who commit acts of terror and murder in the name of Islam.” Very well. But George has shown himself to be rather uncritical in his choice of “dear friends” among Muslims. He has praised his friend and collaborator Hamza Yusuf as someone he hoped would “have an even greater influence, not just in the Islamic community but in America.” Yet Yusuf is himself no stranger to “untrue and unjust” identifications, as he has described Judaism as “a most racist religion” and the United States as,

a country that has little to be proud of in its past and less to be proud of in the present….I became Muslim in part because I did not believe in the false gods of this society whether we call them Jesus or democracy or the Bill of Rights.

On September 9, 2001, Yusuf warned that,

this country is facing a very terrible fate. The reason for that is that this country stands condemned. It stands condemned like Europe stood condemned for what it did…. This country [America] unfortunately has a great, a great tribulation coming to it. And much of it is already here, yet people are too to illiterate to read the writing on the wall.

Yusuf has likewise claimed that the blind sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman, who masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was “unjustly tried” and “condemned against any standards of justice in any legal system.”

In September 2004, Yusuf proudly declared at a convention of the Hamas-linked Islamic Society of North America that he had taken Daniel Pipes’ test for Islamic moderation: “I took that test and I failed. And I want to say to all of you, I hope you fail that test too.”

Among Pipes’ questions:

  • Do you condone or condemn the Palestinians, Chechens, and Kashmiris who give up their lives to kill enemy civilians? Will you condemn by name as terrorist groups such organizations as Abu Sayyaf, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Groupe Islamique Armée, Hamas, Harakat ul-Mujahidin, Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, and al-Qaida?
  • Modernity: Should Muslim women have equal rights with men (for example, in inheritance shares or court testimony)? Is jihad, meaning a form of warfare, acceptable in today’s world? Do you accept the validity of other religions? Do Muslims have anything to learn from the West?
  • Secularism: Should non-Muslims enjoy completely equal civil rights with Muslims? May Muslims convert to other religions? May Muslim women marry non-Muslim men? Do you accept the laws of a majority non-Muslim government and unreservedly pledge allegiance to that government? Should the state impose religious observance, such as banning food service during Ramadan? When Islamic customs conflict with secular laws (e.g., covering the face for drivers’ license pictures), which should give way?…

Is an inability to answer many of these questions in a way that rejects jihad terror and Sharia oppression consistent with George’s stated intention of promoting “justice and moral values”?

George showed a similar naiveté in December 2011, when he wrote an open letter to a conservative group, the Florida Family Association, asking that it end its efforts to get advertisers to drop their support for the Learning Channel’s reality TV show All-American Muslim. George and Jennifer S. Bryson wrote:

All American Muslim is a reality television show featuring five families; it does not purport to be a documentary about the whole of Islam. The important point we wish to make, however, is that the vast majority of our Muslim fellow citizens are indeed ordinary folks. They are good people and good Americans. They share our fundamental moral values and our commitments to democratic institutions and civil and religious liberty. They do not promote hatred of Christians and Jews and have no desire to establish an Islamic theocracy. They are as appalled as we are at the rhetoric and conduct of those of their religion who do promote hatred and who seek to undermine democratic freedoms….It is not our purpose to condemn you or your organization. We do, however, believe that you are making a mistake–a correctable one–in opposing All American Muslim.

Indeed, the Muslims depicted in All-American Muslim were for the most part undoubtedly harmless, completely uninterested in jihad and Islamic supremacism (although there was a notable undertone of something quite different here and there, such as when the career woman’s “friend and business partner Mahmoud” tells her, his voice full of quiet menace, that a Muslim woman is really better off tending to her family than opening a club).

All-American Muslim also featured Sheikh Husham al-Husainy of the Karbalaa Islamic Education Center in Dearborn, Michigan. In 2012 he declared: “They should put a law not to insult a spiritual leader.” In June 2014, after burned Qur’ans were found at his mosque, he met with attorneys whom he reportedly said “helped with legal advice in his plan for a new law making it illegal to burn or desecrate holy books.” (It was later discovered that a Muslim had burned the Qur’ans.) Al-Husainy is also a virulently antisemitic supporter of Hizballah.

It is likely that George knows none of this about his dear friend Hamza Yusuf or All-American Muslim’s al-Husainy. But when he acts as such a public advocate for engagement with Muslims who “thank God for the freedom they enjoy in the United States,” it is bitterly ironic for him to oppose criticism of a TV show featuring a public, unashamed foe of the freedom of speech. When he says that pious Muslims, “like faithful Christians and Jews…seek to honor God and do His will,” it is nothing less than shameful that he stands with an antisemite like Hamza Yusuf who refuses to condemn jihad groups that attack civilians or to affirm that women should have equal rights with men.

Robert George is the Chris Christie of conservative intellectuals. His naively positive attitude toward Islam and Muslims has led him to stand with individuals and causes that someone genuinely committed to justice and moral values would have avoided. In doing so, he passes on his blind spot to others as well, and effectively forfeits any chance to be a genuine voice for justice. Had he affirmed the dignity of Muslims as human beings and then called upon his “dear friends” to stand for the freedom of Muslim women not to wear hijab if they chose not to, and called upon them to affirm the freedom of speech and the equality of rights of women, he might have done some actual good. It is an opportunity wasted.