My friend Jeff Rubin, editor-in-chief of the Conservative Book Club, recently posted this piece, “I got myself into a whale of an argument recently….,” about a discussion he and I got into about Islam and terrorism. Jeff’s characterization of my replies as “polite” is, unfortunately, a bit over-generous, but in any case the reason why I am posting this has nothing to do with this particular argument at all.
It has to do with a peculiar phenomenon that I witness again and again: the unwillingness of people to consider evidence establishing that Islamic terror arises from elements within Islamic theology and tradition, and a knee-jerk assumption that any presentation of such evidence amounts to bigotry. On Tuesday night I spoke to a Catholic group in Lincoln, Nebraska. After the talk I was given an opportunity to examine response cards that the organization asked attendees to fill out; everyone who did so rated the speaker (me) “Very Good” or “Excellent” except for one who rated me “Poor.” This one was signed by a Catholic priest who during the evening had asked a number of confrontational questions — which I don’t mind at all, of course — designed to advance what he appeared to consider was a refutation of what I was saying. This same priest had greeted me quite warmly before the talk; he was no doubt expecting the usual address on how we can all get along — no one seems to notice that such addresses in this present conflict come only from one side.
Among his points were that the Vatican had made common cause with Muslim states, at a UN conference in Beijing a few years ago, to defend the pro-life agenda on several fronts; didn’t this indicate that Christians and Muslims could work together on points of congruence? At another point he detailed a delightful trip he had had to a Christian school in Bethlehem that had enrolled many Muslim students, and Christians and Muslims, by all accounts, lived in perfect harmony.
To the first I answered that while such common cause was possible to an extent, it had to be approached with a realistic understanding of the fact that traditional Islamic theology is supremacist and regards Christians as renegades. The Qur’an (5:51) even warns against making common cause with them; unless and until large numbers of Muslims renounce such principles, such alliances would always be tenuous and would not necessarily be evidence that Muslims regarded Christians as equals and were ready to deal with them as equals in every way, and grant equality of rights to Christians in Muslim lands. As for the second, I had to remind him at one point that during my talk I had explicitly stated — more than once — that for a complex of reasons not all Muslims subscribed to or were working to advance the jihad ideology today. That not only was I not stating that all Muslims were terrorists, but that I specifically addressed the problems that sincere Muslim reformers faced. In short, on both points, I stressed a realistic appraisal of all the available evidence. (I perhaps unwisely did not mention in connection with the second point that Middle Eastern Christians, in order to survive, often say something quite different in public from what they will say in private. A Coptic priest from Egypt recently detailed to me how all Christian prelates in the Muslim world learn to tell any and all visitors how wonderfully they get along with Muslims, because if they don’t, they will find Islamic tolerance running rather thin.)
There is a very great tendency for those who are not well-versed in Islamic theology, history, and law to take these fear-induced avowals by Christians and the great personal charm of individual Muslims as evidence that whatever that theology and law say, the reality is different. Unfortunately, every day’s headlines brings more evidence that all too many Muslims around the world take that theology and law very seriously when it comes to violent jihad. The inability or unwillingness of this priest to consider the fact that I was not constructing the evidence myself, but merely reporting on what jihad terrorists say and how they use the Qur’an and Sunnah to recruit new terrorists, stemmed from a larger handicap that this priest shares with many others: the inability or unwillingness to consider the possibility that the problem we have today might have religious roots, and that there might be real problems within Islam that must be addressed by non-Muslims and Muslims before today’s global crisis can end.
But despite the fact that Muslims daily invoke the Qur’an and Sunnah to justify violence, for me to point out that they do so constitutes, for all too many, “Islamophobia.” Jeff Rubin details his encounter with that mentality below. And the same assumption, of course, explains why my book, despite five weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, has gotten no attention from the mainstream media, and why even some of the most prominent stalwarts of “political incorrectness” have preferred to ignore its existence.
The reality of this situation is so ugly, and there is so much deception out there about it, that many people assume that those who report accurately about it must be fabricating or exaggerating the ugliness, and cling desperately to any indication, real or imagined (and usually imagined) that things aren’t really as they are.
But the success of the book indicates that many Americans are tired of the half-truths and obfuscation they’ve been getting about Islam. If we are to prevail against the global jihad, the knee-jerk wishful thinking of the priest in Lincoln and Jeff’s friends must be set aside once and for all. That will be a long, hard effort, but I will be here at it for as long as I am able.
Anyway, here’s Jeff:
I got myself into a whale of an argument recently. In an email discussion with a dozen or so like-minded (on most things) friends and acquaintances, I found myself being denounced by two of them as “ignorant,” “vulgar,” a “bigot,” and a purveyor of hate-filled propaganda “worthy of Julius Streicher” (who was the editor of the anti-Semitic Nazi newspaper, Der Sturmer).
What exactly did I do to deserve such encomia? Having observed a rather soft-on-Islam tenor to some remarks about the situation in the Middle East, I interjected a brief negative comment about that “Religion of Peace,” recommending that everyone read Robert Spencer’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).
Before long, the two were lobbing insults at me, and I — well, I’m quite sure I didn’t stoop to their level, but I did get in a few snide remarks of my own. Mainly, I was just trying to defend my view of Islam. When I made one too many references to Mr. Spencer’s book, they laid into him as well, calling him a “hatemonger” who writes “Islamophobic trash.” And, though neither of them had read any of his books, one bravely boasted he could refute “most or all” of Mr. Spencer’s contentions about Islam.
Okay, I said, go ahead – and gave him Mr. Spencer’s email. (Robert is a good friend, and a longtime Club book reviewer to boot.) Meanwhile, I had forwarded some of their emails to Robert, asking for his advice in debating them. Perhaps incited by the insulting remarks about him the emails contained, Robert decided to join the fray himself. And it was then that I enjoyed a moment similar to the one in Annie Hall, when, as some of you older movie buffs will recall, Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) is standing in a movie line, listening to a pretentious dolt discourse ignorantly on the works of Marshall McLuhan. When Alvy has had more than he can stand, he somehow produces McLuhan himself to tell the man he understands nothing at all about his (McLuhan’s) work. That was, of course, movie fantasy. In my real-life version, Robert’s polite but devastating polemics brought a gracious public apology from one of his detractors, and reduced the other one to sullen silence.
What concerns me in all this, however, is not the petty personal aspect, but the fact that otherwise sensible people — Christians all, by the way, to the best of my knowledge, and on most issues very conservative — would find the plain (in the sense of “very unattractive”) truth about Islam so difficult to accept. And I think I know why, because I’ve seen it over and over in similar contexts. To certain conservatives — Pat Buchanan represents this view best — America’s foreign policy has taken a dangerously Wilsonian turn, provoking terrorism rather than preventing it. I think there’s some truth in that, and I tend to agree, on those grounds as well as others, that the invasion of Iraq was mistaken at best. Where I disagree is that Islamic terrorism is exclusively or even largely “reactive,” rather than an authentic expression of Mohammed’s violently expansionist creed. We could withdraw from Iraq tomorrow, and leave Israel entirely to its own defenses, and it would not be the end of Muslim terrorism. I fear it would be just the beginning.
My point is not to endorse this or that foreign policy, or to put the entire onus for the world’s problems on Islam, but to suggest that we try to see things whole. Our main selection this month, Tony Blankley’s The West’s Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations? is a step toward doing that. Blankley’s policy prescriptions may not be yours — or mine — but he understands, as my email critics I think did not, that our present woes, and the dangers we face, are partly self-inflicted, partly not. The solutions will require inner regeneration — cultural, moral and spiritual — as well as courage and prudence in the face of external threats. Failing any of these, our civilization may well succumb to what Alexis de Tocqueville a “deadly” religion that “is a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself”: Islam. (You’ll find that in the P.I.G. to Islam. Thanks again, Robert!)