Anti-National-Debt Ad is Free Speech, Not “Evil”

The ad certainly provokes thought.  Well-scrubbed youngsters in a classroom place their hands on their hearts and start to recite the pledge — but it’s a different pledge from the one I learned in school:

I pledge allegiance to America’s debt…and to the Chinese government that lends us money… And to the interest… for which we pay… compoundable… with higher taxes and lower pay… until the day we die.

My first thought was to link this 30-second ad with the manufactured controversy over President Obama’s back-to-school message — using children to make a political point.  But the well-produced ad was released September 1, and clearly was created before Obama’s planned speech became a target.

I learned of the ad from Matt Miller’s latest podcast, which I listened to shortly after posting about Miller yesterday.  He approvingly called it a “fascinating fake ad” with a “chilling message from an advocacy group.”

The advocacy group turns out to be the Employment Policies Institute, which SourceWatch.org describes as “one of several front groups created by Berman & Co., a Washington, DC public affairs firm owned by Rick Berman, who lobbies for the restaurant, hotel, alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries.”

They make that sound like a bad thing.

Berman was profiled a couple of years ago on “60 Minutes,” which noted that he relishes the nickname opponents have pinned on him: “Dr. Evil.”   The Debt ad is a bit of a departure for EPI, whose primary mission seems to be arguing that increases in the minimum wage hurt poor people by stifling entry-level job creation. Other Berman-related ads compiled by “60 Minutes” focus on attacking unions and America’s “war on obesity.”

But as long as no laws are broken, lobbying is another form of free speech, and industries have every right to advocate for their own interests.  Berman’s messages should be evaluated on their merits — and in some cases, those merits are considerable.  I love the Pledge ad — our children really are going to be subjugated throughout their lives by the national debt we are recklessly accumulating, and the ad drives that message home in a memorable way.

My main quarrel with the Dr. Evil story is esoteric and parochial. The concept of evil inspired the name of this blog, and the word shouldn’t be trivialized.  People who fly airplanes into buildings are evil.  People who take sides on public policy issues are not.

Torture, Euthanasia, and Decision-Making Without A Bright Line

Khalid_Shaikh_MohammedLawyers often talk about “bright-line rules.”  Example:  If you are at least 21 years old, you can legally buy liquor in the U.S.  If you will turn 21 when the clock strikes midnight tonight, you cannot. Never mind that certain 20-year-olds would be able to drink more responsibly than certain older people — there’s a bright-line rule.

Bright-line rules provide the comfort of easy decision-making. But many times there is no bright line, leaving people of good will to agonize about the lesser evil, often under intense pressure.

  • When does a ticking-time-bomb interrogation cross the line from harsh to torturous?
  • When does giving morphine to a dying patient cross the line from providing comfort to homicide?

The first question, of course, has been hotly debated for the past few years, with new information emerging this week. The second is cast in stark relief by an extraordinary 13,000-word cover story in the New York Times Magazine, about allegations of euthanasia in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

First things first: On Saturday, the Washington Post published a front-page article describing how valuable intelligence was gathered from Khalid Sheik Mohammed:

These scenes provide previously unpublicized details about the transformation of the man known to U.S. officials as KSM from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its “preeminent source” on al-Qaeda. This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.

KSM, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete,” according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA’s then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department.

The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general’s report and other documents released this week indicate.

This was as close to a ticking-time-bomb scenario as you are likely to get in the real world:  The mastermind of 9/11 was replying “soon you will know” in response to questions about additional terror attacks.  It seems clear that specific terrorists were apprehended and actual American lives were saved based on the information KSM oh-so-reluctantly provided. The argument is over whether that justifies torturing him.

It’s hard to feel sympathy for KSM, but I’m troubled by the fact that techniques that arguably are torture seem to have been used on numerous prisoners.  However, at least in  the case of KSM, waterboarding was authorized and conducted in the belief, supported by legal counsel, that it fell short of torture.  We as a society seem to be deciding that waterboarding should not be permissible — but the desire by some on the Left to prosecute Bush Administration officials relies too much on the benefit of hindsight.

I’m struck by the parallels between this debate and the dying-patient issue, after reading Sheri Fink’s NYT Magazine cover story, the product of two and a half years of research.  After the Katrina floodwaters receded and 45 patients were found dead at Memorial Medical Center, an investigation was launched, focusing on patients who received morphine injections.

You really should read the whole thing, but because you probably won’t, here’s the key passage for this purpose:

Morphine, a powerful narcotic, is frequently used to control severe pain or discomfort. But the drug can also slow breathing, and suddenly introducing much higher doses can lead to death.

Doctors, nurses and clinical researchers who specialize in treating patients near the ends of their lives say that this “double effect” poses little danger when drugs are administered properly. [Dr. Ewing] Cook [of New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center] says it’s not so simple. “If you don’t think that by giving a person a lot of morphine you’re not prematurely sending them to their grave, then you’re a very naïve doctor,” Cook told me when we spoke for the first time, in December 2007. “We kill ’em.”

In fact, the distinction between murder and medical care often comes down to the intent of the person administering the drug. Cook walked this line often as a pulmonologist, he told me, and he prided himself as the go-to man for difficult end-of-life situations. When a very sick patient or the patient’s family made the decision to disconnect a ventilator, for example, Cook would prescribe morphine to make sure the patient wasn’t gasping for breath as the machine was withdrawn.

Often Cook found that achieving this level of comfort required enough morphine that the drug markedly suppressed the patient’s breathing. The intent was to provide comfort, but the result was to hasten death, and Cook knew it. To Cook, the difference between something ethical and something illegal “is so fine as to be imperceivable.

The article does a masterful job of taking the reader through the thought processes and decisions involved in triaging patients as the floodwaters rose, knowing some of them will die either because of the conditions or from the stress of evacuation.  Faced with an evacuation order and a shortage of helicopters, medical personnel had to decide whether to leave dying patients alive but unattended, or to hasten the inevitable with a large dose of morphine.

Although a grandstanding attorney general called some of the deaths “simple homicide” and staged SWAT-team arrests, a grand jury ultimately refused to issue any indictments against medical personnel at the hospital.

I think declining to indict was the right call in New Orleans — and I think it would be the right call regarding the Bush Administration’s use of harsh interrogation techniques, or torture if you prefer.  People in unique situations and under incredible life-and-death pressure have to have some latitude in choosing the lesser evil.

(I told the Web Goddess what I was writing about, and she said she thought the analogy between the two situations was “tortured.”  What do you think?)

These scenes provide previously unpublicized details about the transformation of the man known to U.S. officials as KSM from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its “preeminent source” on al-Qaeda.

This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.

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“KSM, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete,” according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA’s then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department.

The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general’s report and other documents released this week indicate.

Hitler Comparisons are Odious, Whether About Obama or Bush

bushitler2You may have seen and applauded the YouTube video of Barney Frank’s verbal smackdown of a twit who accused him at a town hall of backing Obama’s “Nazi” healthcare plan.  I agree that Frank’s righteous put-down was well-executed, but I have to protest the notion that anti-Obama rhetoric represents a recent coarsening of the public discourse.

Bush=Hitler comparisons were common throughout Bush’s tenure.  They got little exposure in the mainstream media — journalists recognized that the Bushitler loonies undermined more serious criticisms of Bush.  But Zombietime spent years collecting photos — the two here are chosen from hundreds on his site.

Interestingly, the young moron in Barney Frank’s audience turns out to be a member of the LaRouche cult.

bushitler4Lyndon LaRouche doesn’t operate on the same political spectrum as most Americans, but he is a seven-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, and LaRouchians say ObamaCare is a “Nazi” policy because it does not include complete socialization of healthcare through a single-payer structure.

In other words, the video shows Barney Frank taking fire from his left.

My point here is not to say “the Left brought this on themselves” with eight years of Bush Derangement Syndrome.  My point is that the flamethrowers on both sides of the aisle do a disservice to their own cause by distracting from more worthy arguments. Also: comparisons with Hitler should be reserved for people with eight-figure death tolls.

At least when the extremist is a protester, it’s relatively easy to shrug it off.  It’s a little bit harder when the inflamed rhetoric comes from the Senate Majority Leader.

Update: GayPatriotWest, who is not a Barney Frank fan, has some parallel thoughts.

Senator Reid’s Odd Notion of Evil

harry-reid“Evil” is a central concept for me.  I named my blog about the need to fight evil.  Two presidents in my lifetime have issued clarion calls about evil, and I think history may well ratify Bush’s usage as it already has ratified Reagan’s.

If “evil” is to mean anything, it must be reserved for the worst of the worst.  So let’s take an inventory of evil:

  • Stalin and his legacy? Check.
  • Saddam Hussein? Check.
  • Iran and North Korea, the other members of the Axis of Evil? Check, check.
  • People with opposing viewpoints on health care policy? Umm….

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, William McGurn reviews the grief that Reagan and Bush both caught for calling evil by its name, then writes:

With all this history, you would think Harry Reid (D., Nev.) had ample warning. Nevertheless, the Senate majority leader invoked the e-word himself last week at an energy conference in Las Vegas, where he accused those protesting President Barack Obama’s health-care proposals of being “evil mongers.” So proud was he of this contribution to the American political lexicon that he repeated it to a reporter the next day and noted the phrase was “an original.”

This is the same Senator Reid who openly rooted against his own country in 2007 by declaring that “this war is lost, and the surge is not accomplishing anything.”  People in high leadership positions should not indulge in partisan flame-throwing about critical issues.  Reid’s rhetoric is disgraceful.

God Knows: An IED in Iraq Shows Who, How, and Why We Fight

IED_detonator 400The Web Goddess, who truly is a Renaissance Woman, is fascinated by neurology. She hungrily devours any book or article for general audiences about how the brain and central nervous system work.

If you share that interest at all, I highly recommend the story she flagged for me this morning, which was in yesterday’s New York Times Science section.

I find the story gripping for an entirely different reason, about which more to come.

It turns out that when it comes to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), fancy American technology is great, but there’s no substitute for the instincts of (certain) American soldiers.

[H]igh-tech gear, while helping to reduce casualties, remains a mere supplement to the most sensitive detection system of all — the human brain. Troops on the ground, using only their senses and experience, are responsible for foiling many I.E.D. attacks, and, like Sergeant Tierney, they often cite a gut feeling or a hunch as their first clue.

Everyone has hunches — about friends’ motives, about the stock market, about when to fold a hand of poker and when to hold it. But United States troops are now at the center of a large effort to understand how it is that in a life-or-death situation, some people’s brains can sense danger and act on it well before others’ do.

“Sergeant Tierney” refers to a soldier who saved the life of a comrade one summer morning by sensing that something was wrong on a nearly deserted street in Mosul.  The article opens with a scene-setter about a soldier under Tierney’s command who sought permission to give some water to two Iraqi kids in a closed car on a 120-degree day.

The 2,100-word article makes you wait to the very end to learn what happened, but you can guess the outcome.  Sergeant Tierney denied permission for the humanitarian gesture — and when the soldier turned around to fall back, the car was exploded remotely.  The unidentified soldier suffered only minor injuries — but the two young Iraqi boys, of course, suffered the fate their elders intended.

Sort of puts waterboarding a known mass murderer into perspective, doesn’t it?

My point here (and I don’t necessarily speak for the Web Goddess) is not to advocate waterboarding, a practice I oppose.  To paraphrase a recent American president, my point is that good and evil both exist in the world — and the God of my understanding is not neutral between them.

That’s right: I believe God is on our side, in a war against an enemy that has perverted a major global religion.

America is not perfect.  Americans are not perfect.  But to quote an unsuccessful recent presidential candidate (who also opposes waterboarding), “America is the greatest force for good in the history of the world.”  I would tack on: “this side of the Almighty.”

Some will argue that a belief in God’s blessing is exactly the kind of self-justifying mindset that leads to excesses like waterboarding.  I think the opposite is true.

Our society has a passionate yearning for God’s approval (or for my secular friends, a yearning to be Good).  That yearning leads us to wrenching but necessary national debates about the precise point where interrogation goes too far — while our enemies deliberately murder two young co-religionists in an effort to take advantage of our humanitarian instinct.

Never forget.

(Public domain photo of IED detonator from Wikimedia Commons)

The Perilous Implications of Bush’s Third Term

Obama 6-23-09 news conf
While much of Barack Obama’s national security policy has, thankfully, looked like a continuation of the Bush administration, his rhetorical response to the crisis in Iran thus far contrasts sharply with what we would have expected from his predecessor.

Bush turned the heat up under Iran by naming the regime to his “Axis of Evil.”  Obama, who painted himself as the anti-Bush during the campaign by pledging to negotiate with Iran “without preconditions,” initially responded to globally televised evidence of the regime’s  evil by voicing “deep concern” while maintaining neutrality between the regime and the demonstrators.

It took several days for him to express support for the demonstrators, and only yesterday did he forthrightly denounce the regime’s crackdown, using the words “appalled,” “outraged,” “condemn” and “deplore.”  Well put.  (I was rooting for “evil,” the word behind this blog’s name, but I guess that’s too much to expect.)

But even yesterday, the Washington Post reports,

the president and his aides made it clear that the extraordinary events in Iran have not caused the administration to rethink its desire to engage with the Iranian government in order to achieve a deal that would resolve international concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Which leads us to a troubling similarity between Bush and Obama — an apparent penchant for clinging to a policy long after overwhelming evidence shows the folly of that policy.

In Bush’s case, the folly I’m talking about is not the decision to overthrow Saddam Husein.  Like roughly a third of all Americans, I continue to believe Bush was right to go to war in Iraq.  Rather, I’m talking about Bush’s stubbornly prolonged support for Donald Rumsfeld’s “light footprint” approach, in which we sent enough troops to depose Saddam but not enough to pacify the country.  The uncontrolled looting in the spring of 2003 made the shortfall clear, but it took until the 2006 election for Bush to replace Rumsfeld, and months more to launch the “surge” that now seems to have been decisive.

I just hope it doesn’t take Obama three years to understand the perils of engagement with the Iranian regime.

(Photo: New York Times)

Bush, Reagan, Moral Clarity, and the Politics of Evil

President Bush has outpaced former President Reagan when it comes to calling evil by its name. What remains to be seen is whether history will vindicate Bush as it has Reagan.

From President Bush’s farewell address to the nation last night (hat tip: K-Lo):

As we address these challenges — and others we cannot foresee tonight — America must maintain our moral clarity. I’ve often spoken to you about good and evil, and this has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two of them there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense — and to advance the cause of peace.

I’m all in favor of tolerance, open-mindedness and humility. I try to remain alert to the possibility that other cultures, belief systems and ideologies may have something to teach me. But at some point, open-mindedness must give way to moral clarity.

I’ve not always thought this way. In 1983 I was one of the many liberals who sneered when President Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.” So simplistic, I thought, and dangerous. I loved America and certainly preferred it to the Soviet Union, but the Soviets were an important force in the world, and I thought it was naive and arrogant to speak out so strongly against them.

I didn’t learn about it until years later, but I would have been even more scornful if I knew about the philosophy of the Cold War that Reagan had voiced several years before he became president, in a conversation with his future National Security Advisor, Richard Allen:

“So,” he said, “about the Cold War: My view is that we win and they lose. What do you think of that?”

What a simpleton, I would have thought. But by the time I first heard of the conversation, America had won the Cold War — and Reagan, more than any other individual person, made it happen. He created the conditions for victory by bankrupting the Soviet Union with an escalation of the arms race — which I also derided at the time. While I joined others in rolling my eyes, he startled his staff and captured the world’s imagination with his clarion call: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” And then, when he sensed the time was right and that Gorbachev was a different kind of Soviet, Reagan pushed past harsh criticism from his right and engineered a landmark nuclear arms treaty, signed at the White House in 1987, as shown in the photo above.

Two years later, the Berlin Wall fell, and two years after that, the Soviet Union fell.

In context, Reagan’s evil empire passage squarely attacks the sense of moral relativism that still guides so much criticism of the United States, both domestically and abroad:

I urge you to beware the temptation of pride – the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.

The Soviet Union was, in fact, an evil empire, but I and many others chose instead to focus on America’s shortcomings. The starkness of the contrast between the two great powers became clear to me only in retrospect, but Reagan saw it from the start, and never wavered in his opposition to evil.

Which brings us back to President Bush.

In his January 2002 State of the Union address, Bush famously declared that Iraq, Iran and North Korea constituted an “axis of evil.” Just over four months earlier, I and millions of others had watched evil unfold on live television, as the second plane plowed into the South Tower and the second fireball announced that this was no mere accident. So in the State of the Union address, my main quarrel with Bush’s formulation was not “evil,” but “axis,” evoking as it did the formal World War II partnership of Germany, Japan and Italy.

When a North Korean ship smuggling Scud missiles was intercepted in the Middle East later that year, I warmed somewhat to the term “axis,” but I still think it was problematic. More broadly, however, I’m a fan of Bush’s references to evil and evil-doers — so much so that I named the blog after someone else’s famous quote about evil.

Bush started talking about evil in the days after 9/11 and continued during the run-up to the Iraq War and beyond. He is faulted for insisting before the war that Saddam had — or more accurately, still had — stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Even though Bill Clinton was convinced, both as President in 1998 and through Bush’s overthrow of Saddam in 2003, that Saddam had WMD, Bush was labeled a “liar” when no such stockpiles were found. I suppose a case can be made that Bush was guilty of believing what he wanted to believe about WMD, but the idea that he lied about it has always been silly — why lie about a momentous matter when you know the lie must be discovered?

WMD or no, Bush’s liberation of Iraq rid the world of a truly evil regime. I still believe it was the right thing to do, and I’m not alone — support for the war has never dipped below a third of all Americans, although until recently you wouldn’t guess that from the tenor of media coverage. Iraq War supporters are a minority, but we are not a fringe group.

For better or worse, Bush’s legacy will always be inextricably tied to the war in Iraq. This means, as I’ve written before, there is a chance Bush will be remembered years from now as the man who planted the first stable democracy in the heart of the Arab Middle East. If some day Islamic fascism joins Soviet communism in the category of defeated ideologies, a President’s clarity about the United States as a bulwark against evil may again be a large part of the reason.

(Photo of Reagan and Gorbachev from the Reagan Library. Berlin Wall photo from Agence France-Presse. Graph from Pew Research.)

Revisiting “What’s the Matter With Islam?”

Commenter McDaddyo caught me in a bit of bloggish sloppiness in my recent post titled “What’s the Matter With Islam?” In that post I quoted Phyllis Chesler:

Have the Princes of Saudi Arabia, the mullahs of Iran, the imams of Cairo, Baghdad, and London, the various Palestinian factions condemned the carnage? Did I miss it?

I missed it too.

Turns out I missed it because I didn’t look for it — I accepted without challenge a widespread meme. As McDaddyo noted in the comments:

You openly confess that you are not aware of Muslims condemning the violence by radicals. Yet such condemnations are easily found in three minutes via Google.

Oops. Multiple examples available. There’s even a useful compendium of Muslim condemnations of terrorism since the 9/11 attacks, although it’s not up to date. So I’ll eat some humble pie and apologize to the brave Muslims who have spoken out against terrorism.

I have to say, however, that I stand behind the rest of the post. In particular:

I want to make very clear what I am not saying here. I am not saying Muslims are inherently evil. I am not saying there are no good Muslims, or that Islam has nothing positive to offer humanity. I most certainly am not condoning random violence or discrimination against Muslims. Every individual Muslim on the planet is a child of God and a sinner, traits they share with me. I am eager to treat them as brothers and sisters if they will do the same.

What I am saying, and the reason I express these sentiments with some passion, is that it is dangerous to ignore the elephant in the room. We must stop hiding behind euphemisms like the “war on terror.” “Terror” is not the enemy, any more than V-1 bombs were the enemy in World War II. Terror is a weapon, and it’s being wielded against America and against civilization by theocrats and fascists who fly the flag of Islam.

Islam may not be the enemy, but the enemy is Islamic. It is not atheists or Buddhists or Quakers or Catholics or fundamentalist Christians who have committed virtually every major act of terrorism (except Oklahoma City) in the past three decades. From an earlier post:

Militant Islamists declared war on America in November 1979 by taking hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. This was followed by 1983 attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut; the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie in 1988; the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993; the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996; the simultaneous 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania; and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000; along with smaller atrocities too numerous to list.

And all of that is before 9/11. Since then there have been major attacks by Islamic terrorists in London, Madrid, Bali, Mumbai, the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as smaller attacks throughout the world.

You can find an extensive yet incomplete list of such attacks at TheReligionofPeace.com. I hesitated before linking to them, because they employ a gleefully mocking tone that I find distasteful. But they perform essential work by compiling and listing attacks large and small by Islamic terrorists — at this writing, more than 12,000 such attacks since 9/11. They are careful to distinguish between Islam and individual Muslims: “Don’t judge the Muslims that you know by Islam and don’t judge Islam by the Muslims that you know. ” But they make it clear, starting with the name of their site, that they consider Islam itself to be the root of the problem, and they document the dozens of verses of the Qur’an that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers.

I’ll close this by quoting a heroic Muslim, the author of Infidel, one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Ayaan Hirsi Ali escaped from a traditional Muslim childhood in Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Kenya to become a member of the Dutch Parliament. Her searing indictments of Islam and Islamic culture led to the 2004 murder of her filmmaker colleague Theo van Gogh, and she lives under armed guard.

She declares (p. 282) that Islam needs to undergo an Enlightenment similar to the process that purged Christian culture in Europe of the worst of its dogmatic excesses. Although she now rejects the faith of her childhood, she saves her harshest criticism for the culture into which it was born (p. 347-348, emphasis added):

I first encountered the full strength of Islam as a young child in Saudi Arabia… Saudi Arabia is the source of Islam and its quintessence. It is the place where the Muslim religion is practiced in its purest form, and it is the origin of much of the fundamentalist vision that has, in my lifetime, spread far beyond its borders. In Saudi Arabia, every breath, every step we took, was infused with concepts of purity or sinning, and with fear. Wishful thinking about the peaceful tolerance of Islam cannot interpret away this reality: hands are still cut off, women still stoned and enslaved, just as the Prophet Muhammad decided centuries ago.

The kind of thinking I saw in Saudi Arabia, and among the Muslim Brotherhood in Kenya and Somalia, is incompatible with human rights and liberal values. It preserves a feudal mind-set based on tribal concepts of honor and shame. It rests on self-deception, hypocrisy, and double standards. It relies on the technological advances of the West while pretending to ignore their origin in Western thinking. This mind-set makes the transition to modernity very painful for all who practice Islam.

It is always difficult to make the transition to a modern world. … Having made that journey, I know that one of those worlds is simply better than the other. Not because of its flashy gadgets, but fundamentally, because of its values. The message of this book, if it must have a message, is that we in the West would be wrong to prolong the pain of that transition unnecessarily, by elevating cultures full of bigotry and hatred toward women to the stature of respectable alternative ways of life.

America and the West face an implacable global enemy — an enemy motivated by a perverse ideology that inspires them to commit evil in the name of Allah and Muhammad. Any individual Muslim who observes Islam in a peaceful manner is entitled to respect. But we disregard the driving force behind the enemy at our peril.

To McDaddyo and others, if you feel I still overstate my case, I welcome your feedback in the comments.

What’s the Matter With Islam?

Six days after the 9/11 attacks, the President of the United States went to the Islamic Center in Washington, removed his shoes in accordance with tradition, and urged Americans to treat Muslims with respect. “Islam is peace,” George W. Bush said. “These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.” On numerous other occasions, he has said that America’s enemy is not Islam, but rather a minority of Muslims who have tried to “hijack a great religion.”

I really, really want to believe that. I’m predisposed to respect and think the best of others. I want to believe that we are all fellow seekers, and that Islam itself is not to blame for the atrocities perpetrated in its name.

It would help if I could hear a chorus of prominent Muslims consistently condemning the acts of terrorism committed by their coreligionists.*

These thoughts of course are brought on by the latest atrocity, in India. As Phyllis Chesler wrote in Pajamas Media,

Have the Princes of Saudi Arabia, the mullahs of Iran, the imams of Cairo, Baghdad, and London, the various Palestinian factions condemned the carnage? Did I miss it?

I missed it too.

My headline is a takeoff on Thomas Frank’s book What’s the Matter with Kansas? The book title is at least a little bit tongue in cheek — Mr. Frank professes to be puzzled as to how any working-class person could ever possibly be a Republican, but I doubt he actually thinks it’s the fault of Kansas any more than, say, Oklahoma.

But I really want to know: What’s the matter with Islam?

It’s not yet clear which group is behind the disciplined, well-coordinated attacks in Mumbai, but as Neo-neocon said, “it seems to involve Islamic terrorists. That’s always a good bet, of course.” Exactly right: not a certainty, but a good bet. The obvious counter-example is Oklahoma City, but whatever demons tormented Timothy McVeigh, those same demons do not seem to afflict a vast swath of humanity.

There are more than a billion Muslims in the world, and the overwhelming majority are not terrorists. But now the law of large numbers rears its ugly head. If the potential “hijackers of a great religion” constitute only one-hundredth of one percent of all Muslims — 0.01% — that indicates more than 100,000 potential Islamic terrorists around the world. And given the widespread availability of (pro-) Osama bin Ladin T-shirts, the famous footage of Palestinians dancing in the streets after the Twin Towers fell, the riots around the world sparked by a few cartoons (like the one above) in a Danish newspaper, the Pakistani madrassas churning out new generations of jihadis, and the periodic recurrence of gleeful chants of “Death to America” by huge mobs of people in Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Gaza and elsewhere… given all that, how confident do you feel that 0.01% is too high an estimate of the problem?

Trouble has been brewing for many years. In an earlier post I recounted the quarter century of unpunished Islamofascist atrocities that set the stage for 9/11. At NRO, Mark Steyn describes the highly distributed nature of the threat:

It’s missing the point to get into debates about whether this is the “Deccan Mujahideen” or the ISI or al-Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Taiba. That’s a reductive argument. It could be all or none of them. The ideology has been so successfully seeded around the world that nobody needs a memo from corporate HQ to act: There are so many of these subgroups and individuals that they intersect across the planet in a million different ways. … Islamic imperialists want an Islamic society, not just in Palestine and Kashmir but in the Netherlands and Britain, too. Their chances of getting it will be determined by the ideology’s advance among the general Muslim population, and the general Muslim population’s demographic advance among everybody else.

Obviously many evil acts have been committed over the years by people who called themselves Christians. But in recent centuries there has been no organized mass movement to commit violent mayhem in the name of Christ — and any such movement would be denounced by responsible Christians everywhere. If the 19 men who hijacked those jets on that sunny Tuesday morning had been Episcopalians, Christian leaders from the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury to the local parish priest would have strongly condemned the act.

Does the problem with Islam lie in the religion or in the culture? Do the various pathologies found in large parts of the Islamic world — from terrorism and murder of innocents to female “circumcision” and the oppression of women — have a basis in the Qu’ran, or do they come from the Arab culture into which Islam was born?

The distinction between religion and culture is valid, but only to a point. There is a huge overlap between the two — and the culture bears responsibility for the current practice of the religion.

There are some reprehensible passages in the Bible, but over the centuries most Christians have come to reject them. Christians stopped sanctioning the killing of non-believers because Christianity as a culture came to know that it was wrong, despite whatever Biblical support might be found. Christians in America cited Biblical support for slavery, and other Christians led the way in renouncing it, first through the abolition movement and later through the civil rights movement.

In the same way, Muslims bear the primary responsibility (not “blame”) for purging Islam of the evil done in its name. Perhaps Islam has been hijacked, as President Bush would have it. But if there is any broad-based, organized effort by moderate Muslims to overpower the “hijackers,” it has escaped my notice.

I want to make very clear what I am not saying here. I am not saying Muslims are inherently evil. I am not saying there are no good Muslims, or that Islam has nothing positive to offer humanity. I most certainly am not condoning random violence or discrimination against Muslims. Every individual Muslim on the planet is a child of God and a sinner, traits they share with me. I am eager to treat them as brothers and sisters if they will do the same.

What I am saying, and the reason I express these sentiments with some passion, is that it is dangerous to ignore the elephant in the room. We must stop hiding behind euphemisms like the “war on terror.” “Terror” is not the enemy, any more than V-1 bombs were the enemy in World War II. Terror is a weapon, and it’s being wielded against America and against civilization by theocrats and fascists who fly the flag of Islam.

Terrorism expert Steven Emerson:

If we refuse to use the term Islamic terrorist, we conveniently take away any onus of responsibility for Islamic groups to halt the murderous ideology they propagate. In fact, in nearly EVERY claim of responsibility, which I studied, for hundreds of violent Islamic attacks which took place since 9/11, the common justification by the Muslim terrorist perpetrator was that there was a “war against Muslims” by the West and the Jews that had to be avenged. The real truth is that there is war against the West and the Jews by Islamic jihadists. And no amount of territorial withdrawal or peace negotiations will assuage them.

Islam as a religion may not be the root cause of the problem. But Islam as a culture has a lot to answer for, and more of those billion Muslims need to step up. The Muslims advocating peaceful coexistence need to be seen as outnumbering the rioters and chanters in the streets. Only Muslims can make that happen. Now would be a good time to start.

* Note: in a subsequent post, in response to a commenter on this post, I acknowledge that condemnation by Muslims of terrorism is somewhat more common than I give credit for above.

Never Forget

Some day soon I need to write more extensively about the name of this blog. It comes from something that English statesman Edmund Burke apparently did not actually say, so I’ve felt free to modernize the language:

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

Regardless of who said it first, that sentence is the purest possible distillation of my worldview, and today is a powerful annual reminder of why I regard it as an enduring truth.

The events of 9/11 were the legacy of more than two decades of doing nothing, or next to nothing, in response to attacks from fascists in Islamic guise.

Militant Islamists declared war on America in November 1979 by taking hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. This was followed by 1983 attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut; the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie in 1988; the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993; the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996; the simultaneous 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania; and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000; along with smaller atrocities too numerous to list.

Only after 9/11 did America, led by a President who despite his substantial flaws was resolute enough to call evil by its name, finally mount a sustained response and take the battle to the enemy. And no, Saddam was not behind the 9/11 attacks — but liberating Iraq and planting a (still-fragile) democracy in the heart of the Islamic Middle East is an essential part of the broader war.

All of this is why, despite profound disagreements with the Republican Party on social issues, despite voting for Bill Clinton three times (including 2000), I can no longer vote for Democrats for President. Not until the party has a standard-bearer who understands the cost of meekness in the face of fascism, and who is prepared to stay on the offensive against people for whom “death to America” is not a metaphor.