David Petraeus, the former director of the CIA and former commander of CENTCOM, published a piece in the Washington Post last Friday entitled “Anti-Muslim Bigotry Aids Islamist Terrorists.”
[I am] increasingly concerned about inflammatory political discourse that has become far too common both at home and abroad against Muslims and Islam, including proposals from various quarters for blanket discrimination against people on the basis of their religion.
Petraeus’s target isn’t just Donald Trump’s proposed temporary moratorium on Muslim immigration. He is referring to all speech that some Muslims might find offensive, and this has sweeping and ominous implications.
Petraeus doesn’t just oppose what Trump now characterizes as “just a suggestion“ solely as a policy measure. Petraeus is saying that such proposals shouldn’t even be made; that just to speak them is damaging:
[T]he ramifications of such rhetoric could be very harmful — and lasting.
He feels simply speaking such thoughts may:
… compound the already grave terrorist danger to our citizens.
How will these words do that? Well, you see:
[T]hose who flirt with hate speech against Muslims should realize they are playing directly into the hands of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The terrorists’ explicit hope has been to try to provoke a clash of civilizations — telling Muslims that the United States is at war with them and their religion. When Western politicians propose blanket discrimination against Islam, they bolster the terrorists’ propaganda.
Petraeus doesn’t offer any alternative suggestion as to how jihad terrorists can be prevented from entering the United States. He just doesn’t like Trump’s former proposal, and what he terms “hate speech against Muslims” in general, because he says it will enrage Muslims and make more of them join the jihad against America. So the upshot of Petraeus’ argument is that we must not say things to which Muslims might object, because this will just make more of them become jihadis.
His prescription for minimizing the jihad against the West is for the West to practice self-censorship in order to avoid offending Muslims.
Petraeus has done this before. When he headed up the international coalition in Afghanistan, he said this of Florida pastor Terry Jones’ plan to burn the Qur’an:
[It] was hateful, it was intolerant and it was extremely disrespectful and again, we condemn it in the strongest manner possible.
… the Afghan people understand that the actions of a small number of individuals, who have been extremely disrespectful to the holy Quran, are not representative of any of the countries of the international community who are in Afghanistan to help the Afghan people.
I opposed the Qur’an-burning, but not for the reasons Petraeus did.
I don’t like the burning of books. And I’d rather that the contents of the Qur’an, and the ways that jihadists use those contents to justify violence, be known.
However, Jones was free to do what he wanted to do. Petraeus would have done better to have told the Afghans that in America we have freedom of speech and expression, and that we put up with speech and expression that we dislike without trying to kill the speaker.
He would have done better to tell them that their murderous rage over any burning of the Qur’an was an outrageous overreaction, and that bloodshed over such burnings was a heinous crime, far dwarfing any crime they thought Jones was committing.
The idea that in wartime one should be careful not to do anything that the enemy is likely to respond to with irrational and even murderous anger may seem tactically wise at first glance, but ultimately it is a recipe for surrender. One is already accepting the enemy’s worldview and perspective and working to accommodate it, instead of working on various fronts — not just the military one — to show why it is wrong and should be opposed.
Of course, to that Petraeus and his ilk would likely respond: “Well, we are not at war with Islam or the Qur’an, and so to burn the book is a needless provocation.”
This ignores, however, the war that the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and other Muslim groups are waging today against the freedom of expression. This also ignores the ways in which Islamic jihadists use the Qur’an to justify violence and win recruits.
Without approving of the burning, Petraeus should have defended Jones’ freedom of expression, and used the burning as a teaching moment in Afghanistan. Petraeus should have said:
We are going to defend our vision of society no matter what you bring against us. The U.S. will always defend American citizens who are exercising their Constitutional freedoms.
The OIC’s effort to compel the West into censoring itself regarding criticism of Islam is going very well.
In the wake of the jihad attack on our free speech event in Garland, Texas, last year, there were widespread condemnations of our event for daring to “provoke” Muslims. After the Danish Muhammad cartoon riots and the massacre of the Charlie Hebdo Muhammad cartoonists, mainstream media outlets all over the West refused to publish the cartoons in solidarity with the victims and in defense of the freedom of speech. Instead, they opted to publish transparently hypocritical explanations of how they were declining to publish the cartoons out of “respect” for Muslims and Islam.
The lesson of all this is one that no less a figure than General Petraeus has imbibed and is now propagating himself: Muslims don’t like when we say we should stop Muslim immigration for awhile, and they join the jihad. So we must stop saying it so that they won’t join the jihad.
In reality, this argument will only encourage them to tell us they’re joining the jihad because of other things we do, because they now have proof this tactic works. They are in fact already doing this. In the wake of violent intimidation by Muslims, Petraeus is saying that the West’s proper response is to give those violent Muslims what they want. Conform our speech to suit them.
If we take Petraeus’ advice, it will not result in less jihad, as he claims, but more. More aggressive Muslim demands on the U.S., more rage, and more “revenge.” Petraeus is giving the West a recipe for setting the world on fire even more than it is now.