Roger’s Rules

The Ostrich Effect, or Whose Side is the State Department On?

If you do not know about Steve Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism, you should. It is a cornucopia of illuminating, if mostly depressing, information about the war on terror. It is, as its website puts it, “the world’s most comprehensive data center on radical Islamic terrorist groups.”

One of the things that makes the IPT so valuable is that it provides a salutary counterweight to some other institutions that should be there in the trenches helping to keep America safe from radical Islam but have in fact contracted a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome, or maybe it is only the diplomat’s déformation professionelle: the inbred tendency to regard every enemy as a treaty or agreement just waiting to happen. Unfortunately, some enemies do not want accord: they want to compass our destruction. And to achieve that, they are perfectly happy to use whatever means are available, including the naïveté of the eager diplomat who believes that when he has struck a deal he has assured compliance.

One of the most dispiriting examples of this head-in-the-sand species of diplomatic delusion is the State Department’s and the Department of Homeland Security’s increasing reluctance to face up to reality and call things by their correct names. Remember Newspeak? That was the term George Orwell coined in 1984 for a mode of speech that would enforce a politically correct thinking by promulgating a vocabulary that gave “exact . . . expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings. . . . This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained or unorthodox meanings.”

As an example, Orwell explains that while the word “free” still existed in Newspeak, it could only be used is such statements as “This dog is free from lice.” “It could not,” he continues,

be used in its old sense of “politically free” or “intellectually free,” since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore necessarily nameless. . . . Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.

Of course 1984 is a dystopian fantasy. But those agencies of our government charged with combating Islamic radicalism seem to have taken a few hints from its pages. Reports issued by the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department are urging its employees to refrain from using such terms as “jihad,” “mujahedeen,” or even “Islam” or “Muslims,” especially in conjunction with al Qaeda. Thus we have a document dated January 2008 from the Department of Homeland Security called “Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims” and this from the State Department. While you are wondering why the Department of Homeland Security is gathering recommendations about how to combat radical Islam from American Muslims, let me mention a few more things these documents recommend.

It is certainly true that not every Muslim is a terrorist, but the sad fact is that the greatest terrorist threat in the world today is Islamic terrorism. Nevertheless, because we are supposed to be “communicating with, not confronting, our audiences,” we are advised not to “insult or confuse them with pejorative terms such as ‘Islamo-fascism.’ which are considered offensive by many Muslims.” The word “progress” is OK, but–George Orwell, where are you?–“the experts consulted” (what experts?) rejected the word “liberty” “because because many around the world would discount the tern as a buzzword for American hegemony.”

Breathtaking isn’t it? What it really means is that “many around the world understand that ‘liberty’ is a buzzword for American leadership,” but that of course sounds far too positive, so we have to say “hegemony.” It’s a discreditable, and dangerous, business. Those leading the fight against terrorism assure us that “The fact is that Islam and secular democracy are fully compatible–in fact, they can make each other stronger.” But where is the evidence of that? In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, President Bush went to a mosque and assured his audience that “Islam” meant “peace.” Perhaps that was an emollient thing to do. Unfortunately, it is not true. Islam means “total submission to the will of Allah.” As the IPT tartly noted in commenting on the recommendations made by the State Department and the DHS,

America, after serving for more than two centuries the sanctuary for huddled masses yearning to breathe free, is being asked to minimize liberty against fanatics bent on a global religious state. The memo doesn’t offer examples to show where Islam and secular democracy have reinforced each other, or explain how Shariah law, the imposition of religion into state affairs, is “fully compatible” with secular democracy.

That gets to the nub of the issue. While emissaries from the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security are making Herculean efforts not to do or say anything of “offend Muslims,” radical Muslims are busy extending the list of things they are offended by while also seeking new ways to insinuate elements of Sharia law into the West–a mode of theocratic imposition that, far from being “fully compatible” with secular democracy, is something closer to its antithesis.

A friend who emailed me about this latest chapter in the long running saga of bureaucratic capitulation invoked the famous admonitory words of Justice Robert Jackson in Terminiello v. Chicago (1949) “There is danger that, if the Court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.” Worth bearing in mind, isn’t it?