--Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
These words, spoken to an assembly of Muslim clerics in Egypt by the leader of the world’s largest Arab nation, gets to the heart of the Islamic question. Today’s world is torn by Islamic extremism, and the non-Muslim world wonders, “where are the Islamic voices denouncing 'conversion or death'”?
University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds, who quoted al-Sisi’s bold words, reminds us that
from Pakistan to Iraq to Nigeria. . . there is Muslim support for the angry and violent approach. It will be interesting to see whether there is similar support for President al-Sisi's more civilized take. The future of the Islamic world, and of the world as a whole, will depend on which approach wins out.The New York Times’ Tom Friedman, whose column unaccountably fails to mention al-Sisi or his speech, is at least another voice proclaiming Islam needs to tackle its “extremist” problem:
We fool ourselves when we tell Muslims what “real Islam” is. Because Islam has no Vatican, no single source of religious authority, there are many Islams today. The puritanical Wahhabi/Salafi/jihadist strain is one of them, and its support is not insignificant.Friedman is lightly touching on another facet of Islamic extremism--the liberal West’s pronounced unwillingness speak badly of Islam in any of its forms. Liberals’ usual response to terrorism is not to worry about another Islamist extremist attack--something that might generate a military, Iraq-like counter-reaction that ends up killing innocent bystanders--but to worry instead about a “know nothing” reaction from bigoted, anti-“rag head” right-wingers, the presumed domestic force behind anti-Islam solutions.
Brendan O’Neill, editor of the London-based online magazine “Spiked,” is one British observer who has questioned supposed liberal angst about right-wing attacks:
the idea that there is a climate of Islamophobia, a culture of hot-headed, violent-minded hatred for Muslims that could be awoken and unleashed by the next terror attack, is an invention. Islamophobia is a code word for mainstream European elites’ fear of their own populations, of their native hordes, whom they imagine to be unenlightened, prejudiced, easily led by the tabloid media, and given to outbursts of spite and violence. The thing that keeps the Islamophobia panic alive is not actual violence against Muslims but the right-on politicos’ ill-founded yet deeply held view of ordinary Europeans, especially those of a working-class variety, as racist and stupid.Yes, there is a European right-wing reaction to Islamic extremism, but peaceful demonstrations and election ballots are not, in any form, comparable to actual murder and assassination.
In the U.S., much is focused on the president’s refusal to have anything to do with last Sunday’s 1.3 million-strong Paris rally, the largest in French history, with more than 40 world leaders marching arm-in-arm against the Islamic extremists’ killings of 17 Charlie Hebdo staff, French police, and Jews.
Barack Obama was defined by his early opposition to the Iraq War. As with many liberals, he believes George W. Bush broadened America's response to 9-11 into a war against (militant) Islam itself, to Bush's own political benefit but to the great detriment of our country. That’s why Byron York, writing in the conservative Washington Examiner, says Obama’s strong opposition to any “war on terror” that would shift national attention away from domestic programs meant Obama never wanted U.S. representation at some anti-terror rally:
The uproar over whether President Obama or another top administration official should have attended the massive unity rally in Paris has obscured an important point about the White House's reaction to the latest terror attacks in Europe. The administration no-shows were not a failure of optics, or a diplomatic misstep, but were instead the logical result of the president's years-long effort to downgrade the threat of terrorism and move on to other things.But York misses a deeper, more profoundly liberal reason Obama didn’t like the rally. Muslims are a Third World force, and Obama sees himself as leader of the (third) world--part African, part white, with an Islamic heritage. He came to create a post-colonial world oneness where all races, religions, and cultures would share wealth and power. He is against throw-backs to an old, Euro-centered world order, and wants to keep all lines open to the Muslim umma.
To understand where Obama is coming from, think how he likely identifies with Muslims, not Europeans, in the following report from the Washington Post’s Anthony Faiola:
Within France’s Muslim community of some 5 million — the largest in Europe — many are viewing the tragedy in starkly different terms from their non-Muslim compatriots. They feel deeply torn by the now-viral slogan “I am Charlie,” arguing that no, they are not Charlie at all.
Many . . . abhor the violence that struck the country last week. But they are also revolted by the notion that they should defend the paper. By putting the publication on a pedestal, they insist, the French are once again sidelining the Muslim community, feeding into a general sense of discrimination that, they argue, helped create the conditions for radicalization in the first place.Obama is with the French Muslims, not “I am Charlie” Europeans. Remember, as conservative Matthew Continetti in the Washington Free Beacon reminds us:
In 2012, in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack, the Obama administration famously went out of its way to place the blame for the killing of four Americans on an “anti-Islamic” video that it vociferously condemned. Pulled from YouTube, the video was said to have invited riots by Islamic mobs, to have somehow exceeded the freedoms liberals now champion.
“I know it’s hard for some people to understand why the United States cannot or does not just prevent these kinds of reprehensible videos from ever seeing the light of day,” said Hillary Clinton. The man who made the video was [then] sentenced to jail on a parole violation.
Around that time, Jay Carney questioned “the judgment behind the decision” of Charlie Hebdo to publish cartoons satirizing Islam. The Obama administration supported, in 2011, a U.N. resolution “condemning the stereotyping, negative profiling, and stigmatization of people based on their religion.”Continetti added his own opinion:
Stereotypes, negativity, criticism, profiling, stigmas, meanness in general—if expressed in print or by voice, these subjective statements are parts of speech. They may be imprudent. They may be wrong. But they must be free.Shortly after Benghazi in 2012, Obama made perhaps his most important defense of righteous Muslim anger in a speech to the UN General Assembly:
The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied.Jeffrey Goldberg, who quoted these words for the liberal, slick magazine Atlantic, wishes “President Obama had not said [the above] for a number of reasons:”
the Holocaust is an historical fact, and church desecrations are physical crimes against property; neither vandalism nor the denial of historical reality compare to the mocking of unprovable religious beliefs. [Even more], Obama’s statement is troubling because it should be the role of the president of the United States, who swears an oath to defend the Constitution, to explain to the world the principle that free speech is sacred—painful, sometimes, but sacred.From a liberal Democratic point of view, however, the overriding objective is holding together a winning coalition of aggrieved minorities looking to government for help--racial and cultural minorities, unmarried women, youth facing unemployment--victims, people like Muslims.
The enemies--white (even sometimes Jewish) males of privilege--have too often attempted to rally the nation against some non-European threat from abroad as a way to retain power and suppress reform at home. Muslims are yet another minority victim of “hate speech,” and liberals have little choice but to rally to their side, even at the expense of offending “free speech extremists” among media friends.