Our Muslim Friends

Kish and I have friends and acquaintances who happen to be Muslims. We’ve shared meals with them and celebrated special events with them.  They live in our town, have worked with us, and are related to our friends.  They are people we know and like and trust.  We don’t fear them because Islam is their religion.

IRAQI-AMERICAN MUSLIMS CELEBRATE IN DEARBORN OUSTER OF HUSSEINI’m quite sure that we’re not unusual in knowing and working with Muslims.  America still remains a melting pot where people of different nationalities, colors, and faiths can come and pursue their dreams, without being shackled by caste systems or tribal ancestry or corrupt political systems.  In America, a person’s religious faith is just one aspect of their persona.  It doesn’t immutably define them, and it certainly shouldn’t cause them to be targeted.

That’s why comments like the one Ted Cruz made yesterday are so . . . appalling.  In the wake of the latest ISIS-supported bombings, in Brussels, Cruz said that “we need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized,” and that America cannot be confined by “political correctness.”   But America isn’t like Europe, where in many cities Muslim immigrants live in separate neighborhoods, never learn the language, and never become integrated.  What would define a “Muslim neighborhood” in America?  Would Hamtramck, Michigan, be one?  That’s America’s first majority Muslim city — and it also happens to be where our son Russell lives and works.  How would police patrols “secure” such “Muslim neighborhoods” and prevent them from becoming “radicalized”?  Does anyone really think that police car drive-bys or foot patrols are going to keep receptive young men and women from falling prey to the terrorist teachings of ISIS?  And while I think there are times when political correctness can run amok, it isn’t “political correctness” that prevents targeting people because of their religion — it’s basic American principles that flow from the First Amendment.

I’m as interested as anyone in defeating ISIS, but we have to focus on the terrorists, not their religion.  People are more likely to become radicalized when they are disaffected, and dividing people and targeting “Muslim neighborhoods” with a heavily armed police presence sure seems like a good recipe for creating disaffected people.  The better course, I think, is to do what America always does — accept people, welcome them, and let them pursue their dreams in a country that is free and full of opportunity for all — and then make sure that we find and crush the terrorists who are slaughtering innocents because of some sick and twisted ideology.

An Encouraging Development In The Fight Against ISIS

Here’s some good news to start the new year:  some Muslims are publicly and pointedly making fun of ISIS, the murderous, beheading terrorist organization that wants to establish a caliphate in the Middle East.

footage-al-baghdadis-friday-speech-which-he-appears-be-wearing-rolex-twitterThe fun began when the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — who curiously sported a Rolex in one of his prior public appearances — issued a recorded statement about the state of ISIS on the day after Christmas that said, among other things, “We urgently call upon every Muslim to join the fight.”  His statement was translated and released on social media — and then Muslims began making hilarious responses to his call:

“Sorry, bro.  Mom made pizza rolls”

“I wanna wait until April and find out what happened to Jon Snow”

“sorry but this Big Mac isn’t eating itself”

“You should have told me before. I just renewed my pornhub subscription.”

“Sorry, I’m busy being a real Muslim, giving to charity etc. Also, your dental plan sucks.”

You can read the translated statements and the reactions here

Why is this encouraging and significant?  Because while military action is obviously needed to defeat the ISIS forces on the ground, the only sure way to really defeat radical Islamic terrorism long-term is to cut it off at its roots, by having Muslims everywhere reject the evil ISIS represents and thereby deprive the group of new recruits.  And when ISIS is trying to present itself as a formidable and intimidating force that represents the true Islamic faith, public mockery is a pretty effective weapon.

When an act of radical Islamic terrorism occurs, people often wonder why moderate Muslim religious leaders don’t publicly condemn the actions and the killing of innocents.  I’m not sure why the religious leaders aren’t more vocal, but it’s good to see that, in the world of social media, Muslims are speaking out and puncturing the titanic ISIS pretensions with humor.

Freedom Of Speech Under Attack

The brutal slayings in Paris of the contributors to the publication Charlie Hebdo, as well as several others, should resonate with all of us.

If we believe in free speech — and I fervently, passionately do — we should all speak out against any assault on free speech, much less an actual armed attack that leaves many people dead simply because they have expressed views that are inconsistent with one conception of Islam.

A quote typically attributed to Voltaire — whether he said it, or someone else did, is the subject of some debate — is:  “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  I agree with that sentiment.

Those of us who are advocates of free speech cannot stand idly by while cartoonists and editors who have the temerity to voice their views are gunned down by religious fanatics.  It is essential that we all stand up and make that point clear or else, inevitably, our own rights to free speech end up being eroded, either by law or by interest in self-preservation.

Stand up, people!  Don’t be cowed!  Now is the time.

Iraq Goes To Hell

The news from the Middle East is pretty much all bad these days.  The latest troubling developments have happened in Iraq, where an Islamic militant group has made enormous gains in recent days and the Iraqi government seems to be teetering on the brink.

The militant group of extremist followers of the Sunni branch of the Islamic faith is called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS for short, because the Levant is another name for Syria).  They seek a fundamentalist Islamic state that spans parts of Iraq and Syria.  In Syria, they are fighting to topple the Assad government; in Iraq, they’ve captured the second-largest city, Mosul, another key city, Tikrit, and are threatening to move on Baghdad.  Accounts indicate that the Iraqi Army performed poorly in the fighting.

The Obama Administration seems to have been caught off guard by the rapid deterioration of the security situation in Iraq.  President Obama said yesterday that the United States would help the Iraqi government and had “not ruled anything out,” but also said that the situation should serve as a wake-up call for the current Iraqi government, which is accused of excluding Sunnis in favor of Shiites.  The White House later clarified that the President was speaking of air support for the Iraqi government and that the United States was not considering sending ground troops in to shore up Iraqi forces.

There’s going to be a lot of second-guessing about how the United States has dealt with Iraq in recent years.  Some Republicans have already resurrected criticism of how the Obama Administration handled negotiations for a status of forces agreement several years ago and did not keep any American troops in Iraq. It is hard not to be sick at the thought that the hard-won gains and relative peace achieved through the deaths of thousands of American soldiers who fought to topple the Sadaam Hussein government and then beat back the insurgency might be lost.  No one wants American deaths to be in vain.  Even worse, there are reports that the head of ISIS was in American custody in Iraq for a number of years but was released in 2009, even though he was believed to have been involved in torture and executions.

At this point, however, the issue is how to deal with the situation that currently exists.  President Obama has touted Iraq as a foreign policy success precisely because it has been a secular democracy.  If ISIS is successful in establishing a radical Sunni state that controls some of the most oil-rich territory in the world, and then engages in clashes with Shiite majority governments in the region, it could destabilize the entire Middle East and establish another haven for terrorists.  That prospect is alarming, and we need to figure out a way to prevent it from happening.

Protecting Girls

In Nigeria, an Islamic terrorist group called Boko Haram has engaged in mass abduction of hundreds of school girls.  The Nigerian government has said that it is searching diligently for the missing girls, and has accepted an offer from the U.S. government for military help in the search process.

Boko Haram, which translates into “Western education is a sin,” seeks to impose strict Sharia law in Nigeria.  The group has attacked and bombed churches and schools and opposes the education of girls, saying they should “get married” instead.  The head of the group says it will sell the abducted girls.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country.  It is the latest battleground in the war on girls, and education of girls, by some radical Islamic groups.  Boko Haram’s abduction of the Nigerian girls is no different in kind from the Taliban’s attacks on Malala Yousafzai, the courageous young Pakistani who insisted on receiving an education and advocating for education of girls despite edicts to the contrary.  Clearly, there is a strain of radical Islam that insists on subjugating women, leaving them ignorant and uneducated, and relegating them to submissive roles.  We all need to stoutly resist the Boko Harams of the world and their repressive ideologies, and leadership on the issue should come from within the Islamic community itself.

Nigeria is far away, and the abductions have occurred in remote areas — but that doesn’t make what Boko Haram is doing any less meaningful for the rest of the world.  If humanity is to progress, it can only be by ensuring that freedom and liberty is available for everyone.  If Nigerian girls lose their right to an education due to Boko Haram’s terrorism, that result can only embolden other radical Islamic sects to seek the same retreat from modernity in their countries — and ultimately we may find ourselves facing a repressive world that seeks to sharply limit the freedoms of us all.  We need to draw a line, take a stand, and help the Nigerian government find the missing girls and defeat Boko Haram.

 

How To Respond To Muslim Lectures, Edicts, and Bounties

The Muslim world has been giving the United States a lot of advice and information lately.  No doubt we’ll hear more thoughtful recommendations and guidance in the next few days, as Muslim leaders come to New York for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.  America needs to decide how to respond.

In Egypt — where only days ago raging mobs stormed the U.S. embassy and ripped down our flag — the new President, Mohamed Morsi, says in an interview with the New York Times that the United States needs to fundamentally change its approach to the Muslim world and show greater respect for Muslim values.  In the meantime, the head of the largest fundamentalist Islamic party in Egypt, which supported Morsi, is calling for U.N. to act to “criminalize contempt of Islam as a religion and its Prophet.”  And in Pakistan — a supposed ally — the government Railways Minister has offered a $100,000 payment to whomever kills the makers of the YouTube video The Innocence of Muslims and called upon al Qaeda and the Taliban to help in murdering the videomakers.  (Fortunately, the Pakistani government says it “absolutely disassociates” itself with the comments of its Railway Minister.  Thank goodness!)  And we haven’t even heard yet from the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who will be speaking to the U.N. General Assembly, too.

It’s heartening to hear from the enlightened leaders of a region that is widely recognized for reasoned discourse and thoughtful consideration of opposing viewpoints.  But I’d like to see whoever speaks for America at the U.N. General Assembly share some of our views with the assembled Islamic leaders — and do so in pointed terms.  We should say that we relish our First Amendment, and we’re not going to change it no matter how often Muslims go on murderous rampages at some perceived slight.  We should say that will fight any effort to criminalize speech and will veto any ill-advised U.N. resolution that attempts to do so.  We should emphasize that we think that the world needs more freedom, not less, and that we stand with the forces of liberty.  We should tell the Muslim leaders that their real problems are not with freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but with tribal-based, anti-female societies that crush individual initiative, medieval economies that leave huge swathes of the population unemployed and ready to riot at any moment, and corrupt leaders who are more interested in amassing their own fortunes than helping their people realize a better way of life.  Oh, and we should make clear that we won’t do business with government where ministers are offering bounties on the heads of filmmakers.

I’m tired of our simpering, whimpering approach to defending our fundamental freedoms.  It’s high time that we stood up for what we believe in and told the Islamic world that they can riot all they want:  we aren’t going to back away from our liberties.

There’s A Big, Unfriendly World Out There

During this presidential campaign, Americans have focused on our troubled economy and other domestic problems.  Yesterday, we were rudely reminded, yet again, that there is a big, unfriendly world outside our borders.

On the anniversary of 9/11 — of all days! — an Egyptian mob stormed the walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, tore down the American flag, and raised instead a black flag like that used by al Qaida that read: “There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger.”  Hours later, in Benghazi, Libya, militiamen attacked a U.S. consulate, firing shots, throwing homemade bombs, and killing a U.S. State Department official and wounding another American.  In both cases the attacks were said to be provoked by a low-budget film about Mohammad produced by an American that Muslims consider offensive to Islam.

On the day of the Cairo attack, the U.S. Embassy there issued a curious statement that said: “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.  Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”  The statement was condemned by many as a mealy-mouthed apology to Muslims, and the Obama Administration later indicated that the statement was not cleared and does not reflect the Administration’s views.

The United States has poured billions of dollars into the Middle East — Egypt has for years been one of the largest recipients of American aid — and supported the “Arab Spring” uprising in Libya with military assistance.  All of that is forgotten, of course, when some unknown movie supposedly bruises the tender religious sensibilities of fringe elements of the Islamic faith, and their grossly disproportionate response is to physically attack official American installations and kill an innocent diplomat who had nothing to do with the offensive film.

And, amidst it all, our embassy personnel think it appropriate to “condemn[] the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims” and to invoke 9/11 in doing so?  What “continuing efforts” are they talking about, by the way?  Doesn’t that statement send an appalling message of weakness to the radicals who mean to do us harm?

Edited to Add:  The assault on the American consulate in Benghazi was even worse than first reported.  Four Americans were killed, including the American Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and two Marines who tried to defend the consulate against the attack.