France Must Practice a Politics of the Possible

Chimera of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris.

At the beginning of his career, Pierre Manent spoke of political philosophy’s “healing light.” Likewise, he pointed to Cicero as a classical model of a philosophically informed citizen who could speak to princes and peoples alike about matters of public concern. His modern-day model was his teacher, Raymond Aron. After a period of apprenticeship, then a steady stream of works of political philosophy, Manent himself entered the civic conversation. Beyond Radical Secularism is his most recent contribution, appearing in French as Situation de France in 2015. 

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Freedom, Unfreedom, and the Burkini

Illustration (vector) of islamic swimsuit on white background

You don’t choose your family, goes the old saying, but you do choose your friends. The same goes for quarrels: you choose when and where to have them, and what to have them about. Needless to say, friends and quarrels should be chosen with some care.

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Paradise Lost?

Medieval Muslims in al-Andalus playing chess. From the Book of Games by King Alfonso X.

In 711 A.D., a Muslim raiding party, made up mostly of recently conquered and converted Berbers, crossed to Spain from Africa and unexpectedly defeated Roderic, the king of the Visigoths. This represented the farthest western expansion of the Ummayad Empire, which had come to power in 656 in the first Islamic Civil War, and whose seat was in Greek-speaking Damascus.

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Obama’s Less Orwellian Terrorism Speech

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On the day before the Pearl Harbor anniversary (which he did not reference), President Obama admitted that “Our nation has been at war with terrorists since Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11,” including horrors that his Administration previously dismissed as workplace violence. While much of what he said seemed to deny the reality of war, the last fourth of the speech raises the key question of what Muslims owe the rest of the world in this time of war.

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The Paris Massacre and the European Future: A Conversation with Mark Helprin

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 16:  A general view of the tributes outside the Le Carillon restaurant, one of the scenes of last friday's terror attacks, on November 16, 2015 (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)Award-winning novelist Mark Helprin is also one of the most significant voices writing on American foreign policy. Liberty Law Talk interviews Mr. Helprin about the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and what they mean for France, the European Union, and the United States.

A Bien Pensant Pope

Pope Francis waves from the Speakers Balcony at the U.S. Capitol building following his speech to a joint meeting of Congress (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call).

The Pope’s recent address to a joint session of Congress was greeted ecstatically, though (or perhaps because) it was notable mainly for its secular rather than for its religious pieties. It was the speech of a politician seeking re-election rather than that of the spiritual leader of a considerable part of mankind; as such, it seemed like the work not of a man intent upon telling the truth, however painful or unpopular, but that of a committee of speech-writers who sifted every word for its likely effect upon a constituency or audience, appealing to some without being too alienating of others.

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When Thomas Jefferson Read the Qur’an

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Denise A. Spellberg, Associate Professor of history and Middle eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, is the author of the highly regarded work, Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of ‘A’isha Bint Abi Bakr.  She was involved in controversy in 2008, when she reviewed the galleys of a novel, The Jewel of Medina, for Random House, and criticized the work on many grounds including warning a number of times that the book might instigate violence among some Muslims, specifically against Random House and its employees.  Random House then withdrew publication of the book, but the novel was subsequently published in a number of countries, including the United States.

In this work with the eye-startling title, Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders, Spellberg investigates all manner of references among the founding generation to Islam in order to assert two themes 1) that the founders’ references to “imaginary Muslims” led them to include other minorities, such as Jews, Catholic Christians, and Deists, as full citizens, and 2) that America is now in the grip of “Islamophobia,” and many Americans are attempting to “disenfranchise” Muslims from their rights as full citizens. 

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Christian Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Modern State

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Over 10 million Google results confirm “Christian Anti-Semitism” as a widespread concern, a historical and continuing moral flaw embedded in Western civilization. The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal recently led their weekend book sections with reviews on the Holocaust and lingering Jewish stereotyping today.

It takes one cool academic to sort through the morass of relationships between Christians and Jews over time. Sara Lipton, historian at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, might just be up to the job. Her book Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography looks at all surviving pictorial representations of Jews across European history to evaluate at least elite views of this relationship.

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More on Extremist and Moderate Muslims

The comments on my prior post on extremist and moderate Muslims led me to believe that more could usefully be said about the subject.  One significant question is whether moderate Muslims have an obligation to condemn extremist Muslims.

Clearly, it would be useful to the cause if moderate Muslims were to condemn their extremist brethren.  But do they have an obligation to do so?  I can imagine arguments on both sides.

But that is not my main concern.  It is instead whether the defenders of freedom should be insisting that moderate Muslims condemn extremist Muslims, whether or not such moderates have an obligation to do so?  And my point is that such insistence is not strategically advisable. 

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Islamic Moderates and Extremists

Eugene Volokh has an important post on Islamic extremists and moderates. One of his basic points is that there are many millions of Islamic extremists in the world today—people who believe in the death penalty for apostasy and for people who leave the Muslim religion. Such people, whom he numbers in the tens or perhaps hundreds of millions, are “a deadly enemy to Western democracies and to our most fundamental values.”

At the same time, Eugene also notes that there are Islamic moderates, who presumably are a large group as well. These moderates are the allies of the West, both because they provide intelligence and other support to the West in its fight against the extremists and because moderate Muslims are the primary competitors with Islamic extremists for adherents.

These facts, which seem obvious once one states them, have two important implications. First, it is both false and unwise for the West to make negative statements about Islam generally, such as Islam is a religion of war and violence. This is not true of large portions of Islam and it will only weaken and alienate the Islamic moderates who are our allies.

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