Category Archives: Religion

Both Sides Now

The Palestinian national movement denies Israel’s legitimacy, and Israel in turn denies the Palestinians’ national sovereignty. A new book insists on accommodating both.

Last year during a long excursion in Israel and the Palestinian territories, this innocent abroad paid a visit to a new hotel in Bethlehem that boasts “the worst view in the world.” Continue reading

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The Worlds of Islam

Not so long ago, the great debate in geopolitical circles was whether the West was locked in a lethal and lengthy clash with “Islamic civilization.” The American political scientist Samuel Huntington endured widespread scorn for making this case in his landmark 1993 essay “The Clash of Civilizations.” Among the torrent of condemnation, few of his critics bothered to point out that the greater clash was to be found within Islamic civilization.

A variant of this omission is making the rounds today. Continue reading

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Prepare for a long war against ISIS

Many argue that ISIS is close to death. But whatever happens in Raqqa, ISIS’s cause will live on

Three years after it emerged, the Islamic State is said to be on the road to defeat. In recent months, ISIS has suffered stinging reverses. Last week, with its grip over Mosul being pried loose by the Iraqi army, ISIS destroyed the al-Nuri mosque where Omar al-Baghdadi declared the caliphate in June 2014. Across the border, its capital is under siege by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) assisted by U.S. airpower. This progress in the war against ISIS should be a cause for celebration, but a modicum of caution is in order. For whatever the near-term outcome of the military campaign against ISIS, its cause will only be impaired, not extinguished, by defeat on the battlefield. Continue reading

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A War in Fact Only

By the beginning of 2017, the Islamic State was in full retreat across Iraq and Syria. In the waning days of the Obama administration, the military campaign against ISIS had turned white hot. With coalition forces striking ISIS command-and-control from the air, Iraqi ground forces simultaneously squeezed militants out of numerous Syrian and Iraqi strongholds. If current trends continue and the caliphate collapses, it will serve a lethal blow to the longstanding jihadist claim – and prominent recruitment tool – to be the strong horse.

And yet, a decade and a half after September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has consistently failed to reckon with the theological and ideological roots of militant Islam. This is troubling because those roots, if not severed, will remain potent even after the black flags of the caliphate are furled. Continue reading

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A Fighting Faith: Islam more than liberalism

Review of Islam and the Future of Tolerance by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz

When future generations look back at our time, they will marvel at how the most reactionary and clerical forces on the world stage so often found allies among self-styled “progressives.” Continue reading

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Heretic, East and West

Review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Heretic

One day while perusing the New Testament, Thomas Jefferson decided to take a razor to its pages and strip away the “artificial vestments” that promoted wickedness, bigotry or superstition. This effort to cull the distilled essence of “the life and morals of Jesus of Nazareth” left the Good Book considerably diminished in length but immeasurably enhanced in quality. Ever since, it has been known as the Jefferson Bible.

A few brave souls have suggested that the Quran might profit from similar treatment.  Continue reading

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Burning Faith

“It is putting a very high price on one’s conjectures,” as Montaigne said, “to have a man roasted alive because of them.” After burning to death a Jordanian pilot in a steel cage, it’s safe to assume that the Islamic State puts a high premium on its “conjectures.” Continue reading

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The Challenge of Islam

The pattern is well established: Muslim extremists launch a heinous attack on civil society somewhere in the world and the response from the leaders of such societies is to explain – indeed, to insist – that the atrocity had nothing whatever to do with Islam. In his address last September unveiling military strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), President Obama went out of his way to remind listeners of this point. The American campaign was not to be mistaken for a war against Islam, he declared, and the enemy was not to be confused with the faith in whose name it was instituting a caliphate. Obama was explicit: ISIS is “not Islamic.” The president’s habit of denying the plain facts on this subject is a marvel to behold. Continue reading

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Of Pens and Swords

There was something amiss about the march in Paris after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. I refer not to the pageant of hypocrisy when various heads of state rushed from their illiberal kingdoms to link arms in defense of free expression, unpleasant as that spectacle was. Nor do I refer, just now, to the incomprehensible absence of official American representation in Paris on the heels of an extraordinary attack on our oldest ally. Continue reading

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Liberty must be vindicated

The day before yesterday when news came from Paris of heavily armed brigands “avenging the Prophet” by storming the offices of a satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and murdering a dozen of its employees, nobody remotely informed about the crisis of Islam was very surprised. jesuisThe satirists, after all, were heirs to the classic French tradition of radical anticlericalism, and Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, was by no means exempt from their caustic ridicule. It was only a matter of time before the lurking violence of that astonishingly insecure faith-based ideology caught up to them.

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Nicholas Kristof: False Liberal

A great deal of friction has recently been involved in determining whether Islam has something to do with the spectacular violence emanating from the Islamic world. If last week’s row on Bill Maher’s “Real Time” – between the host and neuroscientist Sam Harris, on one side of this debate, and Ben Affleck and Nicholas Kristof, on the other – is any indication, it is a question that shows no signs of being resolved. Continue reading

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The War on Women

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is by now well accustomed to self-proclaimed liberals cutting their coats to suit their cloth. After escaping Islamism in her native Somalia (just in time to be spared forced marriage but much too late to be spared genital mutilation), Hirsi Ali made her way to Holland where she adopted Dutch citizenship and was elected to parliament as a member of the Liberal Party. This progressive sanctuary proved a bad bet when an Islamist fanatic murdered and mutilated Theo van Gogh in broad daylight on a busy Amsterdam thoroughfare. His crime? Collaborating with Hirsi Ali on Submission, a documentary about the ferocious patriarchy in Islam. (It advanced the argument that the oppression of women prevalent in many Muslim societies was inextricably linked to the Islamic faith, and to lend force to the point she and van Gogh depicted veiled women with misogynistic passages from the Quran emblazoned on their near naked bodies.) Pinned in the victim’s chest was a letter threatening her with the same fate. Under such credible threat of death, her host country lost its nerve and withdrew its protection, forcing Hirsi Ali to flee the loathsome ideology of Islamism once more, this time to America.

Hirsi Ali has emerged from these travails a stalwart defender of women’s rights and foe of Islam’s totalist creed. Islam means “submission” for good reason. Its innumerable injunctions in the most intimate of life’s spheres require a total surrender of the individual to Allah’s will. This principle – combined with the fact that the Quran, as “revealed” to Muhammad, is considered infallible – cannot help but stifle intellectual inquiry and subjugate women. How else can one “interpret” the Quranic admonition that “men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other”? Toward the end of Infidel, Hirsi Ali writes of her turn from a pious Muslim youth (who condemned Salman Rushdie for his blasphemy) to an ardent apostate: “I moved from the world of faith to the world of reason – from the world of excision and forced marriage to the world of sexual emancipation. Having made that journey, I know that one of those worlds is simply better than the other. Not because of its flashy gadgetry, but fundamentally, for its values.”

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Beinart’s Bunk

Strange currents have billowed Peter Beinart’s sails of late. He has fallen into the sloppy habit of lambasting conservatives for their “anti-Muslim bigotry.” First it was the “Ground Zero mosque” (which Beinart supports); now it is the inquiry into domestic Islamic terrorism led by Congressman King (which Beinart opposes).

According to Beinart, Republican bigwigs have shown themselves to be “seething with hatred towards vulnerable religious and ethnic groups.” How does this hatred manifest itself? In support for the profiling of Muslims at airports, and the hero-worship of former Muslims like Nonie Darwish and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. “That’s one way to escape the new Republican bigotry,” Beinart advised these ostensibly persecuted minorities. “Maybe the folks the GOP wants to harass in Arizona should try becoming former Hispanics.”  Continue reading

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The Obscene Mosque

The proposal to erect a memorial mosque and Islamic cultural center in the vicinity of the “Ground Zero” of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on Lower Manhattan has initiated an argument that cannot seem to rise above the ignoble pit that stores the remains of the World Trade Center.

Secular liberals have tended to pour scorn upon religious conservatives for paying insufficient homage to the transcendent value of religious freedom. Meanwhile, religious conservatives have generally warned secular liberals that to cede any ground whatever to Islam is ipso facto a dangerous capitulation. Thus has the defining struggle of our time been swamped by dogmatic and xenophobic forces on one side and a blend of moral relativists and spineless multiculturalists on the other. In short, the left doesn’t know what to defend against, while the right has lost grip on what is to be defended. Continue reading

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