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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Law and Liberty’s podcast with Danish journalist Flemming Rose, publisher of the 2005 Muhammed cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, took place in November. The occasion of our interview was the publication by the Cato Institute of Rose’s book The Tyranny of Silence, about the consequences he experienced after the cartoons were released. Rose’s voice is obviously powerful given what he endured, but he is also incredibly thoughtful on Europe’s post-liberal order. Europe, he says, now struggles to understand what it is about save for its thin belief in transnational EU governance and a nearly blinding commitment to egalitarianism, itself a contributing factor to the rise of…
Political correctness is an informal system of partial censorship but it is not nearly as recent as we are inclined to imagine. It has always existed. If birds of a feather flock together, so do intellectuals of like opinion; and while intellectuals think of themselves as fearless seekers after truth, in practice they are often more afraid of giving offence to their circle of ideological friends and associates than interested in the harsh realities of the world outside their magic circle.
This next podcast is with the Danish journalist Flemming Rose, foreign news editor at Jyllands-Posten, on the controversy he ignited in 2005 when he published cartoons satirizing the prophet Mohammed. His new book, The Tyranny of Silence, offers his reflections on the conflagration that ensued, including a jihadist’s attempt to murder one of the cartoonists with an axe. Rose received the protection of Danish security services after threats were made on his life. Not bowing to intimidation, Rose has spent the last decade highlighting the dangers of foregoing a commitment to freedom of speech. Our interview delves into these experiences…
Nothing could be more curious to Muslims than Western non-Muslims telling them what their religion is about. Would not Christians find it odd to hear from Muslims what the true meaning of their religion is? Nevertheless, after almost every terrorist act against a Westerner, particularly the more gruesome ones like beheadings, Western heads of state reflexively react with protestations that such acts are absolutely un-Islamic, despite the explicit claims of their perpetrators that they are done precisely as religious acts, as they exultantly declare, “Allahu Akbar.”
The U.S. government, along with mainstream commentators Left and Right, debate how to meet what they deem to be the growing threat to America posed by the Sunni fighters who last month declared themselves to be “the Islamic State” and their leader, one Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, as the caliph—secular and religious leader—of all Muslims. This reaction mirrors the group’s ignorant evaluation of its own importance. In fact, jumping the gun on the caliphate is likely to diminish its standing within the Muslim world, never mind vis a vis the West.