Obama's "sweetly scented cashmere afghan"
The phrase is Martin Peretz's, and it's just right for the president's scandalously inadequate response to what he called "the Christmas-day incident," i.e., the near incineration of 289 people by an al-Qaeda-trained Nigerian Muslim who stuffed explosives into his underwear before boarding an airplane bound for Detroit. He failed to keep his early appoint with Allah, though, partly because of his own mechanical incompetence, partly because he was pounced upon by a few private citizens whose instinct of self-preservation had not been completely impaired. Had the would-be bomber been just a tad brighter, had his fellow passengers been a tad more sheeplike, then Northwest Flight 253 would have exploded in flames as it came in for a landing over Motor City.
Will we always be so lucky? Take your time . . . (Arresting detail: Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe bomber" had about 50 grams of the explosive Pentaerythritol tetranitrate; our fellow had about 80 grams of the stuff.)
That failed detonation led to a successful one in the wordy purlieus of the blogosphere, into which I dipped an occasional toe over the mostly blog-free Christmas holidays. There were a lot of good lines. I especially liked the blogger -- now, alas, forgotten -- who spoke of the round-the-clock "security theater" we would all henceforth be subjected to.
"Security theater"? It was new to me. But I instantly grasped what he meant. Wikipedia was on the case before the unnamed genius pressed "Post": "Security Theater": "security countermeasures intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to actually improve security." (Wikipedia credits Bruce Schneier, but that's not where I read it.)
I'll come back to "security theater" in a moment. For the moment, let me stay with Mr. Peretz, who was on a roll in this column. He was right that "the skivvies terrorist" (good, what?) laid bare not only the colossal intelligence failure that allowed that pathetic terrorist wannabe onto the plane in the first place (even the chap's father, for Allah's sake, had warned the CIA in November that his son had drunk the Muslim kool-aid and was dangerous). Equally alarming, Mr. Peretz pointed out, the episode laid bare President Obama's total failure to grasp the reality of the evil that threatens the country he is supposed to be leading. He just doesn't get it.
Predictably, Obama went through the three stages of accommodation. First, he told us he was "monitoring" the situation from his vacation on Hawaii. (His "Homeland Security" Director, Janet Napolitano, was similarly reassuring: there was "no indication," she said, that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, he of the explosive stuffed undies, was part of a terrorist network.
Janet, Janet: what Hawaii of the mind do you inhabit? Umar Mubo Jumbo was on zillions of watch lists. What do you do all day as "director of homeland security"? ("Oh, but she eventually admitted there was a terrorist connection." You don't say?)
Where was I? Oh yes: eventually the leader of the formerly free world issued the bulletin that the attempted bombing was the action of "an isolated extremist" -- a notion Claudia Rosett, with her usual percipience, instantly put paid to. "Extremist," yes; "isolated"? If only.
Finally, on January 2, the President discovered what everybody not actually being paid to protect us had known all along: that the skivvies bomber was an al-Qaeda operative.
Mr. Peretz takes a moment to burnish his left-wing -- or at least his non-right-wing -- credentials. Those on the right, he laments, "are milking [the episode] for what it's worth." But he goes on to observe -- are you listening, Mr. Reid, Ms. Pelosi? -- that "the Democrats and the vast liberal opinion industry are simply ignoring what is, frankly, an historically naive and dangerous bewitchment. They do this at their peril."
More to the point, they do so at our peril. Hence the afghan: What the President has done, Mr. Peretz concludes, "is to wrap the Islamic orbit in a sweetly scented cashmere afghan . . . that disguises the reality of the real Islam of this world."
"The real Islam of this world."
Now we're getting somewhere, Watson. What do you suppose "the real Islam of this world" looks like?
Back in November -- gosh, only a month and a bit ago! -- back then, when Army Major Nidal Hasan went Muslim, screamed "Allahu Akbar," and murdered 13 people and injured another 30 at Ft. Hood in Texas, President Obama (when he finally got around to addressing the nation he supposedly leads) said that Hasan's murderous rampage was an "incomprehensible" act that "no faith justifies."
Au contraire, Barack! As I and many others pointed out at the time, Major Hasan's decision to gun down those 40 innocent people was perfectly comprehensible. It was explicitly justified, indeed, actively encouraged by the faith to which Major Hasan subscribes, i.e., Islam.
A few days ago in his weekly address, the president, after expending a few words about "the Christmas-day incident," assured the American people that his administration had been making "unmistakable" progress in the battle against al-Qaeda. They had, he said, saved "countless lives" by disrupting terrorist networks in Yemen ("a country," he reminded us with splendid irrelevance, that is "grappling with crushing poverty"), Pakistan, and -- well, just about anywhere but Iraq: Obama ended the war there (did he?), he "refocussed the fight," because Iraq had "nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks." Oh.
Well, I certainly feel safer now. How about you?
Let's come back to the "security theater" we all have season tickets to. There have been a lot of closing-the-barn-doors-after-the-horses-escape analogies, and no wonder. They try to incinerate an airliner on Christmas Day; we have to get up close and personal with various TSA agents and surrender our tubes of toothpaste, nail files, and anything else a capricious bureaucracy dreams up to inconvenience travelers.
First anecdote: A few years ago, I was stuck in one of those interminable security lines in the St. Louis airport with my son, then 7-years-old. We finally made it through and, though we had only minutes to spare, I stopped after we had proceeded out of earshot of the security personnel. I turned him around, pointed to the long line of people, and explained that there were such lines at airports all over the world. "Do you know why?" I asked. "Because of the Arabs," I said. A handsome, NPR-New York Times-type women was passing by and, horrified by what she had just heard, exclaimed "Don't tell him that! Don't tell him that!"
Of course, she was right. Iranians, for example, are not Arabs. No, the problem is not Arabs per se, though as Orwell said of saints, prudence directs that we consider them guilty until proven innocent. The real problem is Muslims. I should have corrected myself, though I somehow doubt I would have mollified my interlocutor.
Second anecdote, also about airport security lines: A year or so after 9/11 I was at a conference at Boston University. It was a moment when President Bush seemed to have made great inroads against the terrorists. I said as much to a fellow conferee, who disagreed. "We'll know we have won," he said, "when we can dispense with this elaborate security charade at airports."
That was 5 or 6 years ago. How are we doing?
Shortly after 9/11, Mark Steyn pointed out that one simple way to increase the security of air travel would be to allow passengers to bring guns on board. Indeed, he pointed out before 9/11 that an armed citizenry is in general safer than an unarmed one.
Safer, because the the crime rate is likely to be much lower: "I live in . . . the most heavily-armed congressional district in the US," Steyn wrote back in 1999. "And yet we have less crime than almost anywhere on earth: our murder rate is much lower than Britain's and our property crime is virtually insignificant. Anyone want to make a connection?"
But safety isn't the only benefit of exercising one's Second Amendment rights. There's also self-reliance. All of us sheep wending our way slowly through those security lines, removing our shoes, undoing our belts for a quick pat-down, displaying the transparent zip-lock bags with the regulation 2 or 3 ounces of liquid for the nice security guard . . . Why do we put up with it?
The president ended his January 2 address by invoking "the timeless American spirit of resolve," etc. (He also pleaded that we not descend into "partisanship," but that was in the comedy part of the proceedings.) I am all for the "timeless American spirit of resolve." What could be more timely? Question: How does subjecting a docile public to expensive, time-wasting, dignity-trampling pseudo-security procedures help nurture the "resolve" Obama says he wants but whose policies systematically undermine? It doesn't.
So what's the answer? John Derbyshire, in a melancholy column last week, posed that question and contemplated several possible answers.
Perhaps, he suggested, we should stop issuing visas to citizens of Muslim countries? Problem is, more and more countries are "Muslim countries." One upcoming batch, he pointed out, is British born.
Well, maybe we should stop issuing visa to Muslims. OK, but how do you tell who is who? A terrible process of metastasis has begun. And then there is the curious temporary alliance of the anti-Western Left and Islam, which isn't Left but certainly is anti-Western. Consider, Derb suggests, chaps like David Headley, the 49-year-old Chicago fellow who was arrested last month "for his role in planning terrorist attacks against the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten and two individuals associated with the notorious Muhammad cartoons incident."
Of course, we could "trust the feddle gubmint to maintain efficient databases on terror suspects? Ha ha ha ha ha!"
Ditto the Janet's Department of Home Economics, er, Homeland Security: couldn't we trust that august institution to "keep one step ahead of jihadi ingenuity? Woo-hoo hoo hoo!"
What makes John's column so melancholy is that he doesn't have an answer to the question, "What's the Answer?" He does, however, end with a couple of home truths, truths that everyone knows are true but is nonetheless reluctant to admit, at least publicly: 1) Mass immigration from non-Western countries to the West is usually a bad idea; 2) "The mass immigration of Muslims, in particular, seem like a really bad idea."
So what should we do? The first thing is to come to terms with what Marty Peretz called the "reality of the real Islam of this world." President Obama went to Cairo, got out his cashmere afghan, and told the world that the West shares with Islam "common principles -- principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings." Tolerance, that is, for Muslims, but not infidels. Dignity, you understand, for Muslims (at least, male Muslims) but not infidels.
No, "the real Islam of this world" is not about "justice" in any sense we would recognize -- e.g., the ideal of laws that are impartial, that do not favor one group because of its religion. Islam is not about "progress" in any sense that we understand, either. It is, as Andy McCarthy put it with his customary pithiness, about implementing "sharia, the Muslim legal code." That is the goal. The means is jihad -- a word that has been more or less banned from official diplomatic discussion but that is essential to understanding the expansionist, intolerant, bloody-minded core of this species of freedom-hating ideology.
Last fall, I went to a small lunch in New York for Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist whose caricature of a 7th-century religious fanatic catapulted him to notoriety a few years ago. Mr. Westergaard, a wry, quiet, avuncular fellow in his mid-70s is a gentle soul. But he has had to live under police protection since drawing a picture of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. A good thing, too, because a couple of days ago an "axe-wielding Somali extremist" broke into his house and tried to kill him. Mr. Westergaard managed to lock himself into a specially fortified "panic room" until the police arrived to cart away the assailant. ("I'll be back," he said, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and who's to say he won't?)
I like Kurt Westergaard. I do not like the fact that he has to live with round the clock police protection and a "panic room" in his house. Of course, we have hundreds or thousands of panic rooms in this country: many are in the nation's airports. They come not with reinforced doors but full-body scanners, squads of government lackeys palpating elderly women and directing us to open our sponge bags and doff our shoes.
"The real Islam of this world." We know what it is. What are we going to do about it? Granted the difficulties John Derbyshire outlines, is our only option panic rooms of various sorts? In November, after Major Hasan's murderous rampage in the name of Allah, I noted that we would not be able to defend ourselves effectively until we faced up to the fact that Major Hasan acted not in contravention of Islamic teaching but in fulfillment of it. "The real Islam of this world." Coming to terms with that is a prerequisite to defending ourselves. It is also a prerequisite, I noted, to defending "the rights of those pacific people who call themselves Muslims but have abandoned the toxic heart of Islam."
The crossroads we face demands something else, too. It demands that we abjure panic rooms, real and metaphorical, and begin again to muster that "timeless American spirit of resolve" the president invoked. That means standing up for our vision of the world. We do not require leaders who traipse around the world apologizing for America's supposed sins. We need people who can articulate the values that made America a beacon of freedom and a bastion of prosperity. We need people who recognize and are willing to criticize ideologies whose success would destroy those freedoms and that prosperity. The bottom line, I said in my reflections about Major Hasan, is that
Islam confronts the liberal democracies of the West with a critical existential test. Islam is Janus-faced. It presents itself as a religion, but one with explicit and uncompromising political ambitions. It faces not only the hereafter, but also the here-and-now. The West can strive to make a place for Islam's inward aspirations. The West, if freedom is to survive and prosper, must also strenuously deny Islams political claims.
Islam presents the West with a boundary case, testing the limits of religious freedom. Unlike Muslims, we believe people should be allowed to worship unmolested as they see fit. But in order to protect that commodiousness, the West must be intolerant of doctrines, like Islam, that preach intolerance.
Doctrines that have a religious dimension must not be allowed to draw on the prestige, the privileges, the immunities we accord to religion when they do so in order to deny those privileges and immunities to others. Such movements Islam is one should be regarded as what they are: activist political organizations whose aims are destructive of our institutions.
Back when he was capitulating to the dwarfish tyrant that rules North Korea, President Obama said "Words must mean something." He was right about that. Its a pity that, here as elsewhere, his actions do not live up to his words.