DON'T MENTION THE JIHAD
Ten Years Ago
A decade ago, the contours of the post-9/11 world were beginning to emerge. This column appeared in The Spectator on December 1st 2001, and is anthologized in my book The Face Of The Tiger:
Are you a western leader of the Judaeo-Christian or Agnostic-Atheist persuasion? Want to issue a public statement on how much you respect and value Islam as a peaceful religion of moderation and tolerance? Take a number, pal. The line's longer than the waiting list at a Birmingham hospital. The Queen's spoken of her respect for "the Islamic community", so's the Pope, and Tony Blair. President Bush does it at least a couple of times a day. A week ago, he hosted the White House's first ever Ramadan dinner â€“ not a banquet, that would have been insensitive, and the whole point of the Administration's "Ramadan public relations offensive" is, according to The Washington Post, to "highlight its sensitivity to Islamic tradition". At this difficult time, politicians are sensitive about being thought insensitive, so there's not point being too sensitive about how you advertise your sensitivity. In Canada, it can't be said that the Prime Minister, Jean ChrÃ©tien, has made anything in the way of a coherent statement on the subject, but he has visited a mosque, as he never ceases to remind folks. Ask him about border security or troop deployments or post-9/11 economic issues and he says, "I was proud to visit da mosques because dat to me is da Canadian value."
This is the most sensitive war in history. The President has urged Americans to be especially solicitous and protective of what he calls "women of cover". He has recommended that each American schoolchild get a Middle Eastern pen pal, though, with the current anthrax scare, I don't suppose the US Postal Service is especially eager for a lot of envelopes with childlike handwriting from Mullah al-Mahrah's Fourth Grade in Jeddah.
Should the US Government be in the business of Ramadan PR? The Republic is founded on the principle of separation of church and state, but, judging by the unnerving silence from the usually litigious American Civil Liberties Union, the separation of mosque and state is quite another matter. Last time round, FDR interned Japanese-Americans. Not only has Bush no plans to intern Muslim Americans, it wouldn't surprise me if he interned himself, just to "send the right message".
Do you find our language too insensitive? Fine. Let's make "Koran" "Quran", or better yet, "Qu'ran", or, if you prefer, "Qu'~*ran", whatever you want, the more the merrier, toss a couple of wingdings in there. In the Thirties, when Churchill was attacking the Munich Agreement, the sensitivity-check didn't automatically amend it to "MÃ¼nchen". But the other day, in the 24 hours between appearing in Britain's Daily Telegraph and Canada's National Post, Janet Daley's column had every single "Afghan" surgically removed somewhere over the Atlantic and replaced with "Afghani", including the pull-out quote. Janet is a ferocious American of robust views and anyone less likely to say "Afghani" is hard to imagine. Hitherto, Anglicisation of foreign place names has been an accepted custom, just as we accept that in Iraq America is spelt G-R-E-A-T-S-A-T-A-N. But, if appellatory sensitivity requires us to use the foreign version, let's do it right and rename Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry the Infidel Dog's Lackeys of Zionism.
Our enemy, of course, has no name, or at least, as with Harry Potter's arch-enemy Voldemort, no name one can safely mention. Bush gets much mocked by progressive opinion for persistently referring to our opponents as "the evildoers", but if he used anything more precise they'd be the first to complain. We're at war with â€¦Afghanistan? Heaven forfend! Militant Islam? Whoa, there's that word again. The Taleban? Well, hold on, Colin Powell wants "moderate Taleban elements" to be part of a "broad-based government". If Powell calls on "moderate evildoers" to be included in any new government, Bush's Enemy Nomenclature Team will really have its work cut out.
Meanwhile, our airports have been told to look out for â€¦evildoers. How will we know who they are? When they do something evil, like running up an escalator to retrieve a forgotten Palm, as one poor boob did in Atlanta last week, causing a four-hour evacuation of the airport and the grounding of half the planes on the continent. The guy didn't fit the profile of the suicide bombers, but neither does your 88-year old granny and that's why we're emptying out her underwear on the conveyor belt. Under our new high-alert procedures, security personnel demonstrate their sensitivity by looking for people who don't look anything like the people they're looking for. Never in the field of human conflict have so many been so inconvenienced to avoid offending so few.
And, as always, the Tolerance Police are very intolerant of insufficient tolerance. As The Toronto Star's wearily damning headline put it, "Harris Finally Listens To Muslims". Mr Harris is the Premier of Ontario, but unfortunately for him a Conservative one. "Forty-three days after the events of Sept. 11," began Ian Urquhart, "Premier Mike Harris finally sat down last week with leaders of the Muslim community to provide them with reassurance that the provincial government does not see them as the enemy." Ah, that's lovely, and such a useful formulation: "President Bush finally sat down with leaders of the feminist movement to provide them with reassurance that the Federal Government has no plans to rape and torture them."
Did some errant provincial government clerk at Queen's Park accidentally issue a declaration of war on Muslims? Apparently not. But the 20 community leaders present were concerned that the Premier had yet to visit a mosque to "show solidarity", as Bush, Blair, the Prince of Wales and a gazillion others have done. Ontario's Citizenship Minister, Cam Jackson, had gone to one, but this was felt to be a bit of an insult, like the Queen sending Princess Michael to open the Commonwealth Games. Maybe Harris didn't go because he didn't want to be sitting on the Queen Elizabeth Way backed up in mosque photo-op drivetime. Or maybe he was just busy with other stuff â€“ meeting with Governor Pataki in New York, dealing with trade and security issues, governing, etc. Either way, the Muslim spokespersons didn't care for it. Concerned about public ignorance of Islam, they called for a world religions course to be made part of the core curriculum in Ontario schools. That's not a bad idea. An even better idea would be a world religions course in Saudi schools. I'll pay the airfare of any Ontario Muslim leader who manages to get an appointment with whichever layabout prince heads up the Saudi education department.
For its part, the American Muslim Council, which has yet to find time to condemn al-Qa'eda, has launched an attack on the insensitive US Postal Service. On September 1st, the Post Office released its "Eid stamp", commemorating the Islamic festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Sadly, after September 11th, it seems that an exotic blue stamp covered in gold Arabic calligraphy wasn't what most postal customers were looking for. Sales were unimpressive, at least in comparison to stamps of Old Glory, the American eagle, etc. But the AMC claims the Postal Service has been deliberately failing to promote the stamp, an accusation that prompted the Postmaster General to recall 75,000 advertising posters and replace them with ones displaying the Eid commemorative. The Post Office is "proud to feature the Eid stamp," he said, "in recognition of the many outstanding contributions of the Muslim community here in the United States and throughout the world." But Aly Abuzaakouk, director of the AMC, remains pessimistic. September 11th, he told The Kansas City Star, "has become a catastrophe for the stamps, too."
British Muslim bigwigs went the North Americans one better, and came up with an ingenious wheeze. The Islamic Society of Britain drafted a "Pledge To British Muslims" and then demanded that prominent political, religious and media figures sign it. Tony Blair did, thereby giving everyone else the choice between opting for an easy life and signing, or refusing and getting pilloried as a racist. After all, it's only a pledge to be "tolerant", and what could be more unobjectionable than that? One simple signature and all the accusations of insensitivity and racism will go away. The impeccably tolerant Islamic Society of Britain, just for the record, has denounced the Israeli Government as "inhuman savages and murderers".
But a "Pledge Of Tolerance" would sound pretty lame to the President, who seems to have signed his own personal "Pledge Of Tolerance Of Intolerance". No matter how wacky a Muslim "community leader" is, he'll be entitled to a meet-and-greet with Dubya.
"Islam is peace," declared Mr Bush at the Islamic Center of Washington, surrounded by representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the American Muslim Alliance. CAIR has objected, on the grounds of "ethnic and religious stereotyping", to the prosecution of two men in Chicago for the "honour killing" of their female cousin, and sponsored a rally in Brooklyn at which an Egyptian cleric led the crowd in a rousing singalong of a number whose chorus goes, "No to the Jews, descendants of the apes." The AMA, on the other hand, distributes Holocaust-denying literature. When this was brought to the attention of White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, he said, "You should never assume that when the President meets with a group for important reasons of meeting with a group that he would ever agree with anything anybody in that group has said." And he has a point, sort of: Mr Bush meets with these groups for important reasons of meeting with groups.
True to the Bush spirit, London's Sunday Times managed to come up with an even better headline than The Toronto Star's: "Muslims In Britain Come Under Attack". If you read on, you discovered that oddly enough the only verifiable attacks mentioned were the attempted burning of an Anglican church by a masked Muslim gang in Bradford and a rampage through Leeds by Muslim youths. At the former, though the discreet reporters forbore to mention it, the Reverend Tony Tooby was pelted with stones by men who shouted, "Get the white bastard!"; a Brownie troop of small girls was threatened; and its leader, Lucy-Jane Marshall, was stoned and jeered at as a "Christian bitch". At the latter incident, a mob vandalised cars, yelling "Get out of Afghanistan!" and forcing drivers to repeat, "Osama bin Laden rules!"
Nonetheless, we sensitive media types understand that the main significance of these events is that they could provoke a "backlash", no matter how theoretical. Hence, "Muslims In Britain Come Under Attack". To be fair, although no Muslims have been physically attacked as the Christian bitches and white bastards were, there was one reference right at the end of the Sunday Times piece to ten pigs' heads being left in the car park of an Islamic centre.
Not all battle conditions are as favourable as Brownie night in an English churchyard. After September 11th, several British Muslims decided to sign up, with the Taleban. Some, alas, happened to be standing under the B52 at the wrong time and will not be returning. But those who've survived and escaped the especial wrath the liberated Afghans reserve for foreign Taleban have announced that they're coming back and don't want any "hassle" from the authorities. By "hassle", they mean prosecutions for terrorism, treason and so forth. London's Mayor Ken Livingstone agrees. "These people went off because of a deep sense of injustice," he says. So we should understand their need to join a foreign army and wage war against their own (nominal) compatriots.
We madmen on the right dislike this identity-politics business. So I accept there are all kinds of Muslims. In Luton, whence came many of the Taleban's British volunteers, the mainstream moderate Muslims, angry that a few extremists were getting the community as a whole a bum rap, beat up the principal local jihad-inciter. As The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto commented, "Extremism in the pursuit of moderation is no vice." Doubtless the same differences of opinion exist among Muslims in Chicago, Boston and Saskatoon.
But the fact â€“ the fact â€“ is that, since September 11th, the remarks by the Queen, the Pope, the President and almost every other pasty face have earned no similarly warm, unqualified response from Muslim "community leaders". In The Ottawa Citizen's coast-to-coast survey of imams, all but two refused to accept that Osama bin Laden was responsible for September 11th, even though he himself has said he did it. Imam Yahia Fadlalla of the Hamilton mosque is convinced neither bin Laden nor any other Muslims were involved. Every single imam was opposed to the US bombing campaign against the Taleban. (In that, they differ sharply from their happily liberated coreligionists in Afghanistan.) In Washington, the best the Administration could turn up for the multi-faith service at the National Cathedral was Dr Muzammil Siddiqi, of the Islamic Society of North America, who told the President and the nation that "those that lay the plots of evil, for them is a terrible penalty". Does that mean Osama's gonna get it? Or that the Yanks were asking for it? Hey, let's not get hung up on specifics. In Bush's Islamic home guard, it's strictly don't ask, don't tell.
In his splendid address to the United Nations, Bush told the world that expressions of sympathy weren't enough; it was time for other countries to get on side. Yet, back home, he's happy to hold photo-ops with fellow Americans you can't squeeze anything but the vaguest expression of sympathy out of. He schedules visits with groups that are either covertly hostile, deeply ambivalent, or deafeningly silent. This unreciprocated abasement is unworthy, and merely a fluffier variant of the west's cult of self-denigration that reached its peak in Durban a week before September 11th. Islam wouldn't be the fastest-growing religion in the US, Britain, France and Canada if Muslims were thought to be "the enemy". Conversely, Christianity is the fastest-shrinking religion in the Sudan, where they really are thought to be the enemy. In Pakistan the other week, six children and nine adults were gunned down as they worshipped in a Christian church.
Had some "Christian fundamentalists" slaughtered thousands of civilians in the name of their faith, I doubt whether Bush and Blair would be worrying whether they'd swung by enough Methodist chapels and Baptist vestries. And the airwaves would be clogged with Cardinals and Archbishops denouncing the perpetrators by name and deed. If the west's Muslim "community leaders", for whatever reason, are reluctant to speak truth to evil, that is a matter between them and God. Their opposition to the war is their right as free citizens. So is their belief that the Holocaust never happened and that honour killings are a valuable cultural tradition. I don't even care particularly about prosecuting the Taleban's Anglo-American volunteers: to hell with them. All I ask is an end to the deeply unedifying spectacle of western politicians jumping through increasingly obnoxious tolerance hoops. Bush, after all, doesn't waste time fawning on any other anti-war constituency. What was remarkable after September 11th was that 99.99% of the American population displayed no animus whatsoever toward Muslims. What's even more remarkable is that they've put up with weeks of being lectured not to surrender to their natural racist urge to pogroms, and two months of preposterous fetishisation of a sub-group of American citizens that's chosen for the most part to sit this war out. One-sided outreach is demeaning. It suggests we have something to feel guilty about. We don't.
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