A Message to Conservatives: Is Islam Really our Enemy?

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.