The #3 top story of the year is the improbably named "cartoon jihad," which made clear to the West the nature of our enemy's goal in the War on Terrorism: not any specific demand or goal, but an all-encompassing Western submission to Muslim rule. This is covered in the first three news links below, and in the first feature article (a longer version of which appeared in our print magazine).
But while the "cartoon jihad" demonstrates the Muslim world's threat to the West, we also pose a cultural threat to fanatical Islam. The single most under-appreciated story of this year is the steady drumbeat of opposition to Islam coming from Muslims living in the West, and from liberal Muslims within the Middle East. TIA has covered this story in detail, but when I started to compile the top stories of the year, even I was surprised by the number and frequency of these reports (up to as recently as a few weeks ago), a sampling of which is provided in links #3 through #9 below, and in the second feature article.
The abstraction that integrates both stories—the Cartoon Jihad and the Muslim Civil War—is provided in link #4: this is a "global civil war." Islam and the West are not simply fighting each other; each side is fighting an internal battle of ideas.
Top Stories of the Year
Are There Two Sides to the Clash of Civilizations?
Cartoon Jihad and World War
"The Critical Spirit"
The Global Civil War
The Next Iranian Revolution
Islam "Within the Limits of Reason"
Aayan Hirsi Ali Escapes the "Mental Cage of Submission"
Freedom Fighters Against the Iranian Regime
The Muslim Civil War: Afghanistan vs. Pakistan
Publish or Perish, by Robert Tracinski
The Lessons of the "Cartoon Jihad"
"The Escaped Prisoner", by Robert Tracinski Wafa Sultan's Forward Strategy of Intellectual Freedom
Top Stories of the Year Commentary by Robert Tracinski
1. Are There Two Sides to the Clash of Civilizations?
February 7, 2006
In today'sNew York Post, Fred Siegel calls this a "time of testing" for Europe, and comes to a pessimistic conclusion: "It has long seemed almost inevitable that either Islam would be Europeanized or Europe would be Islamized. The European reaction to date suggests that the latter seems more likely." That is echoed by Lee Harris in National Review Online, who doubts whether the "clash of civilizations" between Europe and Islam actually has two contestants: "In order for there to be a clash of civilizations, it is necessary for there to be two civilizations, both of which are prepared to defend their deepest cultural values."
Meanwhile, back at the New York Post, Ralph Peters shows why US conservatives, who have generally sounded the alarm against Islam in this case, are still not quite up to the job. In his column today, his religious-right premises override his pro-American sense of life, as he condemns the Mohammed cartoons as "irresponsible" for showing "intolerance of faith." Peters does get one thing right: this is Europe's comeuppance for spending the past few decades disengaged, taking the Muslims' side in the deadly conflicts in the Middle East while imagining that Muslim violence is only aimed at Israel or at American "imperialism"—and not at our civilization. For my main link on this topic, however, I haven't chosen any of these items. Rather than choosing Europe's critics—even when they have a point—I want to end by giving the floor to those who are actually involved in the fight. Here, a European newspaperman defends his paper's decision to reprint the cartoons and says of the Muslims: "they are asking not for respect but for submission." This is the essential issue.
"Tolerance toward Intolerance," Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, Washington Post, February 7
Now they are asking not for respect but for submission. They want non-Muslims in Europe to live by Muslim rules. Does Bill Clinton want to counsel tolerance toward intolerance?
2. Cartoon Jihad and World War, February 7
It is interesting that there is one country in the Middle East that has actually defended Europe in what commentators are now calling the "cartoon jihad": Lebanon, where a liberal, Westernized majority is still struggling to break free from the fascist-turned-Islamist dictatorship of Syria. The article below also indicates a wider pattern: the "cartoon jihad" is part of the wider world war between Islam and the West. Note the pattern of connections: Syria is using the cartoon jihad to stir up factional violence in Lebanon, in order to maintain its control there—while the Syrian dictator meets with Muqtada al-Sadr, who is using the cartoons to incite violence against Danish coalition soldiers in Iraq.
"Syria Seen as Instigator," Washington Times , February 7
In Beirut, the anti-Syrian coalition that dominates the Lebanese government apologized to Denmark for the burning of its consulate on Sunday, while charging that Syrian intelligence agents had sparked the trouble to destabilize their country. "The acts of sabotage that happened in [Sunday's] protest are the start of a coup d'etat by the Syrian regime that aims to transform Lebanon into another Iraq," said the coalition.…
Protesters demanded that Danish troops be removed from Iraq when more than 4,000 people rallied yesterday in the southern [Iraqi] city of Kut. Such demonstrations have largely been organized by Sheik al-Sadr, whose Shiite religious party won 30 seats in December parliamentary elections. Sheik al-Sadr held talks yesterday in the Syrian capital, where he expressed solidarity with the government and said "our common enemies—Israel, the United States, and Britain—are trying to spread strife among us. The people will not fall for this."
Combine this with Wafa Sultan's impassioned defense of the Enlightenment, and a new MEMRI transcript of a Syrian poet declaring (courtesy of MEMRI) that the Arabs are culturally "extinct", and you have the early beginnings of a broader intellectual reformation of the Muslim world.
"Together Facing the New Totalitarianism," Salman Rushdie, et al., Jyllands-Posten, February 28
After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat: Islamism.
We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.
The recent events, which occurred after the publication of drawings of Muhammed in European newspapers, have revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values. This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field….
We reject "cultural relativism," which consists in accepting that men and women of Muslim culture should be deprived of the right to equality, freedom, and secular values in the name of respect for cultures and traditions. We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of "Islamophobia," an unfortunate concept which confuses criticism of Islam as a religion with stigmatisation of its believers.
We plead for the universality of freedom of expression, so that a critical spirit may be exercised on all continents, against all abuses and all dogmas. We appeal to democrats and free spirits of all countries that our century should be one of Enlightenment, not of obscurantism. back to top
Today's Washington Times column by Suzanne Fields is a bit rambling (like most of her columns), but it offers one big idea that is very clarifying: her description of the War on Terrorism as a global civil war, inspired by Tony Blair's recent comment that this is not a clash of civilizations, but "a clash about civilization"—which I suspect was inspired, in turn, by Wafa Sultan's similar comments.
This captures the most striking fact about this war: only half of the conflict is being fought overseas—and the other half is an internal cultural and ideological struggle against anti-American, anti-Western intellectuals on the home front.
"The World at Civil War," Suzanne Fields, Washington Times, March 23
The contentious and ever more partisan argument over whether Iraq is finally convulsed in a civil war misses the point, it seems to me. Maybe it's the entire world that is finally convulsed in a civil war.
Tony Blair, who is even more embattled at home than George W. Bush is here, put that proposition in play this week, though not exactly in those terms. "This is not a clash between civilizations," the British prime minister told a press luncheon in London. "It is a clash about civilization."…
"The only way to win is to recognize that this phenomenon is a global ideology," Mr. Blair said, "to see all areas in which it operates as linked, and to defeat it by values and ideas set in opposition to those of the terrorists." Just so. But the weakness of the West is that a lot of us want to believe that we can wish the clash of, or about, civilization(s) away if we just wish hard enough.
5. The Next Iranian Revolution, May 5
One of the most important facts to realize about Iran is that it has a tradition of secular thought, a tradition that was submerged by Khomeini's Islamic revolution but never eradicated. That's why there is a rich vein of dissent within Iran. Below, I link to two stories on this issue.
The second of these stories is an interview with an Iranian living outside of Iran, who is trying to organize a non-violent uprising against the regime and wants America's support. He opposes military action, but it is interesting that he thinks cutting off Iran's oil—something TIA Daily has been advocating—would cause the regime's collapse.
The first link below is to a story about the arrest of a liberal Iranian philosopher. Pat Mullins sent me this link with the following comment: "The Iranian philosopher and intellectual historian, Ramin Jahanbegloo, has been imprisoned by the ayatollahs. Why? As one spokesman for the Iranian regime said, 'Nobody is being detained in Iran because of expression of ideas.'
"Educated at the Sorbonne, he has taught at Harvard, published dozens of books and articles on figures like Machiavelli and Von Clauswitz, and interviewed such Western intellectuals as Isaiah Berlin. Happily, he is not Iran's answer to Edward Said, another regurgitation of the West's queasy academic stomach. "In a September 2000 article—introduced with a quotation from dissident-turned-president Vaclav Havel—Jahanbegloo called on Iranian intellectuals to challenge the authority of the theocratic mullahs.
"More important, if you can get through the academic jargon, he also urges them to reject Marxism and postmodernism in the name of 'humanism,' 'liberalism,' 'critical rationality,' and 'individualist and democratic ideals,' including 'negative liberty'—Isaiah Berlin's concept of the individual's freedom from the state.
"How many intellectuals in the West would condemn Marxism, Postmodernism, and Islamism as all variations on the theme of 'anti-humanism'? Jahangeloo isn't a great philosopher by any means, but he is a thinker of intellectual independence and moral courage. Perhaps he'd make a good candidate as first president of the Secular Republic of Iran."
Jahanbegloo was scheduled to participate in a round-table of philosophers in Hungary….
At first, the people of Iran supported the revolution because they were afraid of modernity; it created an identity crisis. Five minutes after the regime was in power, they realized their mistake, realized that religion is not an answer for politics. The people are now, for the most part, completely opposed to the regime. And the regime needs crisis after crisis—whether it is taking American diplomats hostage, war with Saddam, Salman Rushdie—to distract attention from its inability to deliver. Everybody who knows the regime knows that it is impossible for it to reform from within….
But the opposition leaders haven't really stepped up to the plate. Those who truly don't like this regime and really want the regime to go, they don't have a political message beyond that. Hating the regime is not sufficient. You need to have a plan for what happens next. They lack that. And they are so disunited….
The message from those outside, particularly America, has to be that they will be with the Iranian people to the end…. People in Iran need to feel in their bones that America is with them and behind them…. If the right message is sent, if there is some organization outside, they will regroup…. It starts with small groups of students gathering at different strategic locations at the university and all starting to sing the national anthem at the same time. Other students join them. Some guards come and beat them, there's a small fight, and then other students come. If the number rises above 10,000 and the protest lasts more than four hours, then the regime cannot sustain itself. As few as that? Yes, because people would quickly join en masse. Everyone is waiting to join something….
How worried should the West be by the nuclear drive and horrible rhetoric? Extremely worried. They should not be sleeping at night. If they are sleeping at night they are fools….
This is a war between two opposing ideologies that only one can survive. There can be no coexistence. Therefore the West needs to defeat this ideology completely, and it should do this by supporting the people of Iran to overthrow the Islamic regime, create a democratic definition of Islam, institutionalize that, and then spread it through the other Islamic countries. Otherwise Western civilization is in grave danger.
We should take this regime seriously and try to end it as quickly as possible. We should not only focus on the nuclear program. What about biological weapons, a single bottle poured into a lake? It's a mindset. There are so many ways that they can harm the West….
Stop the flow of oil into Iran. Iran is a net importer of refined oil products. The transportation system will collapse within a few months and the regime with it.
6. Islam "Within the Limits of Reason," May 5
It is not just Iran where Islamic theocracy is in trouble. For a thousand years, Islam has needed its Thomas Aquinas—the philosopher who elevated philosophy from being "the handmaiden of theology" and established the idea that reason sets the limits for religion. Now some intellectuals in the Muslim world are starting to argue for the same idea.
Below are profiles of two such intellectuals, courtesy of the Middle East Media Research Institute. One of them offers, not 95 theses, but 27 propositions in favor of a secularized interpretation of Islam. The other proposes "religion within the limits of reason." Both are philosophical mixtures—but reason and secularism seem to be the dominant elements of the mixture.
"Algerian Reformist Malek Chebel: 27 Propositions for Reforming Islam," Nathalie Szerman,
Malek Chebel, a renowned anthropologist focusing on the Arab world, is one of today's prominent French-speaking North African intellectuals. In 2004, he established, in France, the Foundation for an Enlightened Islam…. In his Manifesto for an Enlightened Islam (Manifeste pour un islam des lumières), Chebel puts forth 27 proposals for extensively reforming Islam. He turns to the values of the 18th-century European Enlightenment for guidance, when rationalism and secularism guided the drive towards cultural, social, and political progress.
Chebel suggests a number of basic comprehensive reforms to enable profound change in the Arab world. He combines reform in religion, politics, the judiciary, education, women's rights, etc….
The Preeminence of Reason over All Other Forms of Thought and Beliefs: There is a general phenomenon of denial of science and progress in the Islamic world. In order to reform Islam, Islamic countries must review their religious education and adapt the Koran to the realities of the modern world. In so doing, they should get in touch with the lost, enlightened, Islamic civilization.
Society to Be Managed by Politics, Not Religion: This proposition refers to secularization (Ilmaniyya). Politics should be separated from religion and enjoy supremacy over religion. Chebel clarifies that the West was capable of such huge progress only because it escaped the hold of the Church….
The Preeminence of the Individual over the Community: The fact that the community prevails over the individuals in Islam has delayed—and sometimes prevented—the emergence of a private sector encouraging self-expression. However, by claiming and repeating that Muslims are responsible for their actions and must bear their consequences, we begin to establish a distinction between the collective level and the individual level. According to Chebel, free choice allows for individual responsibility, which in turns allows for progress. "Religion Within the
"Culture should be free, and every artist and every researcher should be free to write about all religions without any restriction."
Q: "Does that include the Danish cartoonist?"
"Yes. It includes humor and satire…. That is a secular principle: separation between religion and politics, and between religion and artistic and literary creation, and between religion and scientific research. This is the greatest achievement of modernity. The clerics must not be allowed to intervene in these matters."
7. Aayan Hirsi Ali Escapes the "Mental Cage of Submission," May 18
Why is it that women are emerging as the strongest, most principled, most courageous critics of Islam? I know that women have the most reason to fight Islam, since they are its most oppressed victims. But I find it interesting—and somewhat sad—that I cannot think of a single Arab or Muslim man who has spoken out as boldly as Wafa Sultan or Aayan Hirsi Ali (or, among Europeans, with the passion of Oriana Fallaci).
Hirsi Ali has written a book titled The Caged Virgin (which I will review soon), denouncing Islam's criminal mistreatment of women. But her decision to leave Holland and come to America—the true homeland of anyone who has broken free from what Hirsi Ali calls "the mental cage of submission"—reminds me of the title Wafa Sultan has given to the book she is writing to denounce Islam: The Escaped Prisoner.
FrontPage Magazine deserves a mention for its article describing Hirsi Ali as "Holland's Cassandra." In another excellent article, Christopher Hitchens recalls an event at which he met Hirsi Ali and muses: "I never know whether or not it's right to mention, with female public figures, the fact of arresting and hypnotizing beauty." But the fact that Hirsi Ali is a beautiful woman is crucially important, because it makes her that much more powerful a symbol of Islam's sexual oppression of women—and, more broadly, of the life-hating evil of Islamic fundamentalism.
But I will give the last word on Hirsi Ali's move to America to Hirsi Ali herself, in the resignation letter she sent to the Dutch parliament. (This link was brought to my attention by Harald Waage via HBL.)
"Tweede-Kamerfractie/Persverklaring Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Engels)," Aayan Hirsi Ali, Verdieping Trouw (Netherlands), May 16
I came to Holland in the summer of 1992 because I wanted to be able to determine my own future. I didn’t want to be forced into a destiny that other people had chosen for me, so I opted for the protection of the rule of law. Here in Holland, I found freedom and opportunities, and I took those opportunities to speak out against religious terror….
Issues related to Islam—such as impediments to free speech; refusal of the separation of Church and State; widespread domestic violence; honor killings…—these subjects can no longer be swept under the carpet in our country’s capital. Some of the measures that this government has begun taking give me satisfaction. Many illusions of how easy it will be to establish a multicultural society have disappeared forever. We are now more realistic and more open in this debate, and I am proud to have contributed to that process….
In the fall of 2005 I told Gerrit Zalm and Jozias van Aartsen, the leaders of the VVD, that I would not be a candidate for the parliamentary elections in 2007. I had decided to opt for a more international platform, because I wanted to contribute to the international debate on the emancipation of Muslim women and the complex relationship between Islam and the West…. [I]t is difficult to live with so many threats on your life and such a level of police protection. It is difficult to work as a parliamentarian if you have nowhere to live. All that is difficult, but not impossible. It has become impossible since last night, when Minister Verdonk informed me that she would strip me of my Dutch citizenship.
I am therefore preparing to leave Holland. But the questions for our society remain. The future of Islam in our country; the subjugation of women in Islamic culture; the integration of the many Muslims in the West: it is self-deceit to imagine that these issues will disappear.
I will continue to ask uncomfortable questions, despite the obvious resistance that they elicit. I feel that I should help other people to live in freedom, as many people have helped me….
That transition from becoming a member of a clan to becoming a citizen in an open society is what public service has come to mean for me. Only clear thinking and strong action can lead to real change, and free many people within our society from the mental cage of submission. The idea that I can contribute to their freedom, whether in the Netherlands or in another country, gives me deep satisfaction.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as of today, I resign from Parliament. I regret that I will be leaving the Netherlands, the country which has given me so many opportunities and enriched my life, but I am glad that I will be able to continue my work. I will go on.
8. Freedom Fighters Against the Iranian Regime, May 25
As [Michael] Ledeen points out, the real news from Iran is a new wave of protests by secular dissidents against the theocratic dictatorship. Regime Change Iran has posted photos of student protesters holding signs that read, among other things, "This is not a seminary, it is a university."
MEMRI is also reporting on the protests, including declarations by the students that "We Don't Want Nuclear Energy"—a clear contradiction of the oft-repeated claim that Iranians are so "nationalistic" that even dissidents will back the regime in a standoff over Iran's nuclear program. Finally, the New York Sun, the only newspaper that, despite its small size and meager resources, has repeatedly devoted coverage to Iranian dissidents, has a good round-up covering the whole range of anti-regime protests, which I link to below.
" Determined Foes Mount Challenge to Iran's Mullahs," Eli Lake, New York Sun, May 25
In Tehran, university students staged a second day of strikes over the firing of eight professors and the new policies enacted by Tehran University's president.
In Tabriz, the regime tried to quell riots earlier this week over a cartoon depicting members of the Azeri minority as cockroaches. In Qom, the theocracy was absorbing the aftershocks of a candid interview from Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, who told an Iraqi news agency that the current Islamic Republic has failed to deliver the democracy it promised in the 1979 revolution. The stirrings inside Iran are the most serious challenge to befall the mullahs since the protests that accompanied the 2003 commemorations of the July 9, 1999, Tehran University student rebellions. They also suggest the regime that America and Europe are now hoping to cajole into suspending its nuclear program may be more fragile than intelligence agencies recognize. One of the steering committee members of Iran's largest student organization chapter at Tehran Polytechnic University, Abbas Hakim Zadeh said in an interview from Tehran Tuesday that his organization was now 90% in favor of rejecting slow reform in favor of nonviolent resistance…. Yesterday, Mr. Zadeh said the country's largest student organization, Takhim Vahdat, rejected any direct talks between America and Iran if the negotiations centered around security guarantees in exchange for promises on nuclear enrichment. "If there is any dialogue and conversations or negotiations between the Islamic Republic and the international community, whether the United States or other countries individually or collectively, if it is around the nucleus of human rights, democracy and the openness in Iran, it is something worthwhile to consider," he said…. A colleague of Mr. Zadeh at Tehran Polytechnic University, Bijan Pouryousefi, said yesterday that Iran's student movement was reaching out to form a more unified front with labor unions and women's groups.
While President Bush has so far offered no clear response to Pakistan's surrender, there is one man in Washington who is raising a spirited protest: Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, whose nation is in danger of once again becoming the victim of Pakistan's treachery. Musharraf is also in the US, and the two men have engaged in a war of words over the past few days, recounted in the two stories below.
Karzai's performance on this issue is heroic and extraordinary. Note here that he pretty clearly accuses Pakistan of becoming a state sponsor of terrorism, while he advocates shutting down the Pakistani madrassahs—fanatical religious schools that are used to indoctrinate terrorists—and imprisoning the fanatics who run them.
"Afghan Leader Slams Musharraf's Policies," Sharon Behn, Washington Times, September 26
The political divide between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf became increasingly acerbic yesterday, with the Afghan leader accusing his counterpart of pursuing policies that foster terrorism.
The outburst came on the eve of a critical meeting in which the two men will join President Bush in the Oval Office to discuss ways to improve their cooperation in fighting a revitalized Taliban insurgency. In a reference to Pakistan, Mr. Karzai said in an address at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars yesterday that there will be no peace in the region until nations stopped using religious extremism as a means of promoting policy.
"For all of us in the world to be safer, we must remove the need for groups, organizations or state entities—and here I am beginning to be very careful in my remarks—of reliance on religious radicalism as instruments of policy," he said. "The increased attacks on Afghanistan and the cross-border activities; the loss of US, Canadian soldiers; the burning of mosques and attacks on children...is the continuing of reliance on radicalism as an instrument of policy," Mr. Karzai said….
In his Washington address yesterday, Mr. Karzai said many of the terrorists afflicting his country get their start in religious schools, or madrassas, in Pakistan…. Mr. Karzai…urged Gen. Musharraf to shut down the madrassas and imprison those who teach there.
"Military action in Afghanistan alone is not going to free us of terrorism. Going to the source of terrorism—where they get trained, motivated, financed and deployed—is necessary now," he said.
"Musharraf Lashes Out on US 'Book Tour'," Daily Telegraph, September 26
General Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, has attacked his Afghan counterpart on his controversial tour of America. Gen Musharraf, who is visiting the US with the twin aims of promoting his memoirs and representing his country, told Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, that he should stop blaming Pakistan for his own country's instability.
Responding to Mr Karzai's claims that Pakistani religious schools are fanning terrorism across the border, he said: "The sooner that President Karzai understands his own country, the better."
He added that Mr Karzai - who is also in the US—was partially to blame for disenfranchising the majority Pashtun ethnic group in Afghanistan, and warned that the Taliban cannot be defeated by military might alone. back to top
by Robert Tracinski The central issue of the "cartoon jihad"—the Muslim riots and death threats against a Danish newspaper that printed 12 cartoons depicting Mohammed—is obvious. The issue is freedom of speech: whether our freedom to think, write, and draw is to be subjugated to the "religious sensitivities" of anyone who threatens us with force. That is why it is necessary for every newspaper and magazine to re-publish those cartoons, as I will do in the next print issue of The Intellectual Activist. Click here.
This is not merely a symbolic expression of support; it is a practical countermeasure against censorship. Censorship—especially the violent, anarchic type threatened by Muslim fanatics—is effective only when it can isolate a specific victim, making him feel as if he alone bears the brunt of the danger. What intimidates an artist or writer is not simply some Arab fanatic in the street carrying a placard that reads "Behead those who insult Islam." What intimidates him is the feeling that, when the beheaders come after him, he will be on his own, with no allies or defenders—that everyone else will be too cowardly to stick their necks out.
The answer, for publishers, is to tell the Muslim fanatics that they can't single out any one author, or artist, or publication. The answer is to show that we're all united in defying the fanatics. That's what it means to show "solidarity" by re-publishing the cartoons. The message we need to send is: if you want to kill anyone who publishes those cartoons, or anyone who makes cartoons of Mohammed, then you're going to have to kill us all. If you make war on one independent mind, you're making war on all of us. And we'll fight back.
But the issue of freedom of speech is too clear, and too well settled, in the West, to be worth spending much time debating it. What is far more interesting is the fact that such a debate is occurring, nonetheless. This is a fact from which the Western world can draw some crucially important conclusions.
The West has long been aware that, while we hold freedom of speech as a centerpiece of our liberty, the Muslim world does not recognize this freedom. Before now, however, our worlds have rarely collided. The Muslims have not usually dared to extend their dictatorial systems to control our own behavior within our own cities. The Salman Rushdie affair—the Ayatollah Khomeini's 1989 death edict against the "blasphemous" novelist—was an ominous warning, but Americans did not take it seriously.
Now, seventeen years later, the Muslim fanatics are making it clear: you don't have to come to our country, you don't have to be a Muslim. Even in your own countries and under your own laws, you will not be safe from our intimidation.
For the whole Western world, this is an opportunity to learn an important truth about the goal of the Islamists. Their goal is not to achieve any specific political demand or settlement. Their goal is submission: our submission to their will, to their laws, to their dictatorship—our submission, not just to one demand, but to any demand the Muslim mobs care to make. Europe particularly needs to learn this lesson. The Europeans have deluded themselves into thinking that this is our fight. If only Israel weren't so intransigent, if only the US weren't so belligerent, they told themselves—if only those cowboys didn't insist on stirring up trouble, we could all live in peace with the Muslims. And they have deluded themselves into thinking that they can seek a separate peace, that having the Danish flag on your backpack—as one bewildered young Dane described it—would guarantee that you could go anywhere in the world and be regarded as safe, as innocuous. Now the Europeans know better. With cries of "Death to Israel" and "Death to American" now being joined by cries of "Death to Denmark", every honest European can now see that they are in this fight, too—and they are closer to the front lines than we are. Threats against American cartoonists, when anyone bothers to make them, are toothless; there is no mob of violent young Muslims in the United States to carry them out. European writers and filmmakers, by contrast, are already being murdered in the streets. The first people to find themselves living under the sword of a would-be Muslim caliphate are Europeans, not Americans.
The lesson here is not just that the Islamist ideology of dictatorship is a threat to Europe. It is also that the dictatorships themselves are a threat. The advocates of cynical European "realpolitik" deluded themselves into thinking that, if they just made the right kind of deals with Saddam Hussein, or with the Iranian regime, or with the Syrian regime, then the dictatorships over there would have no impact on us over here. But we can now see that the anti-Danish riots did not explode spontaneously: they were instigated by the dictators, by the regimes in Iran and Syria. To their credit, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and now US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have been pointing out this connection. The lesson for Europe: if you accommodate and appease the dictators, they won't leave you alone. Having gotten some of what they want, they will come after you and take the rest. Europe ought to have learned that lesson, at terrible cost, in 1939; this ought to refresh their memory.
If we want to know why these lessons have not been learned before now, the cartoon jihad also gives us clues to the answer. Note that those who are supposed to help us learn those lessons—the left-leaning intellectuals and newspaper editors, the people who have traditionally posed as the brave defenders of free speech—have been the first to collapse in abject submission to Muslim sensibilities. The New York Times, for example, dismissed the cartoons as "juvenile" and explained that refusing to publish even a single image of the cartoons "seems a reasonable choice for news organizations that usually refrain from gratuitous assaults on religious symbols."
Note how the New York Times—like many other left-leaning newspapers—hides behind the evasion that the Danish cartoons are "silly" or "juvenile." On the contrary: the best of the Danish cartoons provided a far more serious, hard-hitting, thought-provoking commentary than has been provided in the pages of these same newspapers. While the mainstream media has drooled that Islam is "a religion of peace"—in the midst of yet another Muslim war—it was left to a Danish cartoonists to suggest that Mohammed himself, and the religion he represents, might be the bomb that has set off all of this violence. (To see these cartoons, go to the simply named website muhammadcartoons.com.
But the prize for most abject surrender to Muslim dictatorship has to go to the leftist academics. The first to decry the Bush administration as a creeping "fascist" dictatorship, they are, perversely, the first to fawn in admiration before the world's actual fascists. If you think that's an exaggeration, read an op-ed in Sunday's New York Times by Stanley Fish, a famous "Postmodernist" university professor and defender of "political correctness." Fish writes:
"Strongly held faiths are exhibits in liberalism's museum; we appreciate them, and we congratulate ourselves for affording them a space, but should one of them ask of us more than we are prepared to give—ask for deference rather than mere respect—it will be met with the barrage of platitudinous arguments that for the last week have filled the pages of every newspaper in the country….
"[T]he editors who have run the cartoons do not believe that Muslims are evil infidels who must either be converted or vanquished. They do not publish the offending cartoons in an effort to further some religious or political vision; they do it gratuitously, almost accidentally. Concerned only to stand up for an abstract principle—free speech—they seize on whatever content happens to come their way and use it as an example of what the principle should be protecting. The fact that for others the content may be life itself is beside their point.
"This is itself a morality—the morality of a withdrawal from morality in any strong, insistent form. It is certainly different from the morality of those for whom the Danish cartoons are blasphemy and monstrously evil. And the difference, I think, is to the credit of the Muslim protesters and to the discredit of the liberal editors."
For years, the left has told us that the foundation of freedom is subjectivism; if you are never certain that you are right, you will never be certain enough to "impose" your views on others. But will you be certain enough to defend your mind against those who want to impose their beliefs on you? If Fish is any indication, the answer is "no." Note how he bows with almost superstitious awe before the fanaticism of the Muslim mobs, while describing the old-fashioned liberals' defense of free speech as hypocritical, superficial, "condescending."
And now the "hate crimes" laws pioneered by the left in the name of political correctness, are being invoked by Muslims to suppress publication of the Mohammed cartoons by a Canadian newspaper. The intellectuals of the left, having built a reputation as defenders of free speech by striking a pose of defiance against innocuous threats at home, have now become the leading advocates for self-imposed submission to the Muslim hordes abroad. Interestingly, intellectuals on the right have now become the loudest, most strident voices in defense of free speech, for which they deserve our admiration. Blogger Michelle Malkin has waged a particularly effective crusade on this issue. And she is not the only one; I linked to many good articles on the topic in last week's editions of TIA Daily.
But the right has its own contradictions, it own source of sympathy with the enemy. For years, conservative intellectuals have been demanding greater "sensitivity" to "religious sensibilities"—at least, to the religious sensibilities of Christians—and calling for a great role for religion in the "public square." The have waged a long crusade to allow religion to serve as the basis for laws against abortion and homosexuality, and for the subordination of science to religion, demanding that this be a "nation under God" rather than a "nation under Darwin."
And so we have seen a few prominent conservatives falter badly in the cartoon jihad. Prominent neoconservative scion John Podhoretz wrote a column in last Friday's New York Post that sounds an awful lot like Stanley Fish's column quoted above:
"For many people, the way to grant Muslims the recognition they crave is to patronize them—to give them nice little nods and winks and talk about what a nice religion they have. That kind of recognition is unsatisfying and condescending. The impulse behind the original publication of the cartoons in Denmark last September was to cut through the condescension. They were literally provocative—designed to provoke discussion about how to deal with the phenomenon that Carsten Juste, the editor of the newspaper that published them, called the 'self-censorship which rules large parts of the Western world.'
"Well, as Juste and his staff have learned to their sorrow, while some of that self-censorship may be the result of cowardly political correctness, some of it is clearly due to simple prudence. Juste and his underlings have been in grave physical danger for months, ever since the cartoons were published. And it would not be too much to say that they and the world would have been better off if they had exercised a little more self-protective caution in the first place."
Meanwhile, Hugh Hewitt—a much more dedicated religious conservative—practically squirms with discomfort at the idea of someone criticizing religion. He echoes the idea that the Danish editors were "irresponsible" for printing the cartoons because they could have predicted that it would "provoke" a violent reaction—but he adds a more pro-American gloss to it. He says that the cartoons were irresponsible because the enemy will use them as propaganda to incite riots and try to gain support among Muslims.
"In a wired world, there aren't any inconsequential actions, and everything is grist for the propagandists among the jihadists. That doesn't mean censorship, or even self-censorship. Only a bit of reflection before rushing off to start new battles which divert attention from those already underway. There is a chasm of difference between serious commentary on the Islamic challenge facing Europe and the West…and crude, sweeping anti-Muslim propaganda. It isn't necessary to defend the latter in order to uphold and praise the former."
(See more more of Hewitt's commentary on this issue.)
The weakness of the conservatives is that they think the essence of the West is our religion, our "Judeo-Christian tradition"—rather than our Enlightenment legacy of individual rights and unfettered reason. Conservatives try to evade the clash between religious authority and freedom of thought by claiming that religion provides the moral basis for liberty. But the clash cannot be avoided, and conservatives are forced to choose where they will draw the line: where respect for religious prohibitions, in their view, takes precedence over respect for the individual mind. On this issue—involving a religion alien to American traditions—most conservatives have had no problem drawing the line in favor of freedom. But will they draw a different line when their own religious dogmas are challenged? This is the final lesson of the cartoon jihad. The real issue at stake is not just censorship versus freedom, but something much deeper: the need to recognize the real essence of the West. The distinctive power and vibrancy of our culture, the source of our liberty, our happiness, and our unprecedented prosperity, is our Enlightenment tradition of regard for the unfettered reasoning mind, left free to follow the evidence wherever it leads. And this controversy has given our minds plenty of evidence to follow, and plenty of fearless conclusions to draw.
11. "The Escaped Prisoner"
Wafa Sultan's Forward Strategy of Intellectual Freedom
The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality.
This was, I thought at the time, a statement that ought to set off a revolution. And that is precisely what it is doing. Dr. Sultan's remarks set off a wave of reaction in the Muslim world, and thanks to the efforts of MEMRI, she has been profiled by several major newspapers over the weekend. What Wafa Sultan has to say is crucially important. How she says it is inspiring.
Here is a longer excerpt from the MEMRI transcript of her appearance on al-Jazeera. Bear in mind as you read this that she was speaking in Arabic to an Arab audience.
(To appreciate even better Dr. Sultan's fiery, uncompromising manner, see the MEMRI TV video, available at http://www.memritv.org/ or alongside the New York Times article linked to below. One TIA Daily reader who recommended that link to me compared Dr. Sultan's performance, quite accurately, to the kind of intensity of conviction one sees in old interviews with Ayn Rand.) Wafa Sultan: The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violation of these rights, on other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat them like human beings. What we see today is not a clash of civilizations. Civilizations do not clash, but compete….
Host: I understand from your words that what is happening today is a clash between the culture of the West, and the backwardness and ignorance of the Muslims?
Wafa Sultan: The Muslims are the ones who began using this expression. The Muslims are the ones who began the clash of civilizations. The Prophet of Islam said: "I was ordered to fight the people until they believe in Allah and His Messenger." When the Muslims divided the people into Muslims and non-Muslims, and called to fight the others until they believe in what they themselves believe, they started this clash, and began this war. In order to start this war, they must reexamine their Islamic books and curricula, which are full of calls for takfir and fighting the infidels. My colleague has said that he never offends other people's beliefs…. Who told you that they are "People of the Book"? They are not the People of the Book, they are people of many books. All the useful scientific books that you have today are theirs, the fruit of their free and creative thinking. What gives you the right to call them "those who incur Allah's wrath," or "those who have gone astray," and then come here and say that your religion commands you to refrain from offending the beliefs of others?
I am not a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew. I am a secular human being. I do not believe in the supernatural, but I respect others' right to believe in it. Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli: Are you a heretic?
Wafa Sultan: You can say whatever you like. I am a secular human being who does not believe in the supernatural...
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli: If you are a heretic, there is no point in rebuking you, since you have blasphemed against Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran....
Wafa Sultan: The Jews have come from the tragedy (of the Holocaust), and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror, with their work, not their crying and yelling. Humanity owes most of the discoveries and science of the 19th and 20th centuries to Jewish scientists. Fifteen million people, scattered throughout the world, united and won their rights through work and knowledge. We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people. The Muslims have turned three Buddha statues into rubble. We have not seen a single Buddhist burn down a Mosque, kill a Muslim, or burn down an embassy. Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people, and destroying embassies. This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them.
This was Wafa Sultan's declaration of intellectual independence from Islam. It was a declaration, by an Arab speaking in Arabic to an Arab audience, that Islam is a backward, violent religion, and that a secular, free society—a culture of science, independent creative thought, and political freedom—is superior to the Islamic culture of faith. I have been in favor the Forward Strategy of Freedom as a military and diplomatic policy, a policy of knocking down Muslim tyrannies in the Middle East and replacing them, as far as is possible, with the institutions of a free society. But we can't expect the generals and politicians to win this kind of broad cultural battle all on their own, with only the tools available to soldiers and diplomats. Western intellectuals have to get into this fight, too. What we need even more than the Forward Strategy of Freedom is a Forward Strategy of Intellectual Freedom—an attempt to spread the values of reason, secularism, and independent thought to the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Mainstream Western intellectuals are not interested in this task. Their allegiance is not to reason, but to subjectivism, which has led them full circle to an admiration for dogmatism—so long as it is the dogmatism of others, which we are not to judge. Thus, the intellectuals are too busy appeasing Islam, like the administrators at Yale, who eagerly recruited a former Taliban spokesman as a "special student" to be considered for a subsidized enrollment at an Ivy League college, despite the fact that he has only fourth-grade education. (See the latest on this.)
Who is Wafa Sultan? A profile in Sunday's New York Times tells her remarkable story. It begins with a remarkable act of intellectual independence: the decision, not just to question one particular interpretation of Islam, but to question all of the religion, down to the root. Dr. Sultan grew up in a large traditional Muslim family in Banias, Syria, a small city on the Mediterranean about a two-hour drive north of Beirut. Her father was a grain trader and a devout Muslim, and she followed the faith's strictures into adulthood. But, she said, her life changed in 1979 when she was a medical student at the University of Aleppo, in northern Syria. At that time, the radical Muslim Brotherhood was using terrorism to try to undermine the government of President Hafez al-Assad. Gunmen of the Muslim Brotherhood burst into a classroom at the university and killed her professor as she watched, she said. "They shot hundreds of bullets into him, shouting, 'God is great!' " she said. "At that point, I lost my trust in their god and began to question all our teachings. It was the turning point of my life, and it has led me to this present point. I had to leave. I had to look for another god." She and her husband, who now goes by the Americanized name of David, laid plans to leave for the United States. Their visas finally came in 1989, and the Sultans and their two children (they have since had a third) settled in with friends in Cerritos, Calif., a prosperous bedroom community on the edge of Los Angeles County…. All are now American citizens. But even as she settled into a comfortable middle-class American life, Dr. Sultan's anger burned within. She took to writing, first for herself, then for an Islamic reform Web site called Annaqed (The Critic), run by a Syrian expatriate in Phoenix.
Her writings brought her to the attention of al-Jazeera which—though it may now regret the decision—started having her as a guest on its talk shows in July of last year.
The New York Times profile describes the effect Dr. Sultan has had on others. It is a tribute to the liberating effect that the example of one courageous individual can have on others.
Three weeks ago, Dr. Wafa Sultan was a largely unknown Syrian-American psychiatrist living outside Los Angeles, nursing a deep anger and despair about her fellow Muslims. Today, thanks to an unusually blunt and provocative interview on Al Jazeera television on Feb. 21, she is an international sensation, hailed as a fresh voice of reason by some, and by others as a heretic and infidel who deserves to die…. In response, clerics throughout the Muslim world have condemned her, and her telephone answering machine has filled with dark threats. But Islamic reformers have praised her for saying out loud, in Arabic and on the most widely seen television network in the Arab world, what few Muslims dare to say even in private…. Her eyes and hair are jet black and her modest manner belies her intense words: "Knowledge has released me from this backward thinking. Somebody has to help free the Muslim people from these wrong beliefs." And I am happy to report that Dr. Sultan is just getting started. According to the New York Times report:
Dr. Sultan is "working on a book that—if it is published—it's going to turn the Islamic world upside down." "I have reached the point that doesn't allow any U-turn. I have no choice. I am questioning every single teaching of our holy book." The working title is, "The Escaped Prisoner: When God Is a Monster." "The Escaped Prisoner" is precisely what Wafa Sultan represents: an intellectual escape from the mental prison of Islamic dogmatism. The New York Times profile quoted above shows a clear admiration for Dr. Sultan. But not every Western media source approves. They don't approve because Dr. Sultan is not a "moderate Muslim." The media doesn't mind profiling Arab critics of Islamic fanaticism, so long as they don't challenge the politically correct, Multiculturalist idea that there is nothing wrong with Islam itself, that Islam has been "distorted" through wrong "interpretations," so that it's teachings merely need to be "moderated."
This explains why a profile on Wafa Sultan in today's Los Angeles Times takes such a negative, snide, dismissive tone. It practically presents Dr. Sultan as an agent of the vast Zionist conspiracy imagined by the Muslims. But the flurry of interest among non-Muslims contrasts oddly with the near silence among Muslims themselves, many of whom say she is a largely unknown figure not causing any particular stir. "I haven't come across any indication that people are discussing her," said Abdulaziz Sachedina, a University of Virginia Islamic studies professor who was blacklisted eight years ago by Iraqi Ayatollah Ali Sistani for his reformist ideas that women were equal to men and all Abrahamic faiths were equally respectable…. Sachedina said he agreed with some of her remarks, including her criticism that too many Muslim rulers fail to protect human rights. But he objected to what he called her "vilification" of the entire tradition.
Other Muslims questioned why groups outside the faith were so avidly promoting a non-Muslim to criticize Islam, a practice that has occurred before and is a sore spot in the Islamic community, particularly since many respected Muslims also advocate change. "Reform is alive and well within Islam, but it will only happen by those from within Islam and not those who hate Islam," said Hussam Ayloush, who heads the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
But the fact that Wafa Sultan is not a "moderate Muslim" is precisely what makes her so important. What the Arab world needs—and what we need to deploy as our primary intellectual offensive against Islamic fanaticism, is not such a watered-down version of the same violent Islamic dogmas. As I remarked when I originally covered this story on March 1, the reason I admire Wafa Sultan is that "She's no 'moderate Muslim'—she's an uncompromising firebrand in the defense of reason and freedom."
Let us hope that this firebrand can set off a conflagration of independent thought. And let's do whatever we can to add fuel to those flames and spread them across as much of the globe as possible.