Problem and Solution

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on January 12, 2015

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at WSJ written by the editor, James Taranto.

Problem and Solution

  • “As Children Age, Christmas Can Get Too Quiet”—headline, Joplin (Mo.) Globe, Dec. 23
  • “Bagpipe Playing Must Be Taught to More Children”—headline, Edinburgh (Scotland) Reporter, Dec. 29

Out on a Limb
“Paris Attack Shows the West Is Not Free From Terrorism”—headline, Boston Globe, Jan. 9

Fawlty Logic – Don’t mention Islam!
According to Vox’s Max Fisher, French celebrity intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy is a bigot who has an intellectual kinship with violent criminals. This columnist is not BHL’s most ardent admirer, but we’d nonetheless like to defend him against Fisher’s calumny.

Fisher doesn’t mention Levy by name, but his is a broad indictment that certainly includes the Frenchman in its sweep. Fisher’s headline: “Stop Asking Muslims to Condemn Terrorism. It’s Bigoted and Islamophobic.” In today’s Wall Street Journal, Levy does just that:

Those whose faith is Islam must proclaim very loudly, very often and in great numbers their rejection of this corrupt and abject form of theocratic passion. Too often have we heard that France’s Muslims should be summoned to explain themselves. They don’t need to explain themselves, but they should feel called to express their tangible brotherhood with their massacred fellow citizens. In so doing, they would put to rest once and for all the lie of a spiritual commonality between their faith as they know it and that of the murderers.

They have the responsibility – the opportunity – before history and their own conscience to echo the “Not in our name!” with which Britain’s Muslims dissociated themselves last year from the Islamic State killers of journalist James Foley. But they also have the even more urgent duty to define their identity as sons and daughters of an Islam of tolerance and peace.

Here is Fisher’s objection:

This expectation we place on Muslims, to be absolutely clear, is Islamophobic and bigoted. The denunciation is a form of apology: an apology for Islam and for Muslims. The implication is that every Muslim is under suspicion of being sympathetic to terrorism unless he or she explicitly says otherwise. The implication is also that any crime committed by a Muslim is the responsibility of all Muslims simply by virtue of their shared religion.

This sort of thinking – blaming an entire group for the actions of a few individuals, assuming the worst about a person just because of their [sic] identity – is the very definition of bigotry. It is also, by the way, the very same logic that leads French non-Muslims, outraged by the Charlie Hebdo murders, to attack French mosques in hateful and misguided retaliation.

We’d agree that attacks on mosques are hateful and misguided. Apart from that, every word of the quoted passage is wrong.

Let’s begin by noting a curious contrast between Fisher and his boss, Ezra Klein, who in a piece responding to the Paris massacre urged a know-nothing approach to the attackers’ ideological motivations. The murders, he wrote, “can only be explained by the madness of the perpetrators, who did something horrible and evil that almost no human beings anywhere ever do, and the condemnation doesn’t need to be any more complex than saying unprovoked mass slaughter is wrong.”

How can one square Klein’s claim that there is no explanation save “madness” for the murders in Paris with Fisher’s that attacks on mosques – which are also horrible and evil, if lesser in degree – are the product of an inexorable “logic”? Fairly easily: by noting that both claims serve the same underlying argument, namely a denial that Islam is in any way implicated in the atrocities Muslims commit in its name. It’s like John Cleese in “Fawlty Towers,” albeit without the wit and humor: “Don’t mention Islam!”

We’re fairly certain neither Fisher nor Klein is Muslim, so that one can’t put this down to defensiveness over their own religious identity. But we’d venture that there is some tribal signaling going on here. The Voxen are asserting their antipathy toward the class of Americans and other Westerners – be they Christian, Jewish or neither of the above – who do not share their politically correct worldview.

Their anxiousness to shut down debate by rejecting certain viewpoints a priori may also reflect a fear that there is some truth to those viewpoints. If so, it is they who are displaying symptoms of phobia. Note also that Fisher, in tarring all “Islamophobes” by association with a violent few, is committing exactly the sort of slander of which he accuses them.

In reality, the “logic” of attacking a mosque is quite different from – arguably the opposite of – the logic of asking Muslims to denounce terrorism. It seems fair to say that those who attack mosques are acting on the belief that Islam is wholly irreconcilable with Western civilization. Those who expect Muslims to denounce terrorism reject that view, or at least are open to the possibility that it is untrue.

Thus Peggy Noonan, also in the Journal:

Tracked down by a reporter for Deutsche Welle after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, [Danish cartoonist] Kurt Westergaard offered his wisdom. He said the murderers were “fanatics.” He told the media “not to be afraid” and not to “surrender” free speech. And he said he hoped for “a reaction from the moderate majority of Muslims against this attack.”

That majority actually exists, and should step forward.

Levy puts it this way: “In the dark times ahead, battles await: Islam against Islam, pluralistic civilization against the nihilists of jihad. But it is really one war, and we must wage it together, united.”

The majority of Muslims are peaceful and “moderate” and have a common interest with non-Muslims in combating “the nihilists of jihad.” Someone who burns a mosque manifestly rejects that view.

Perhaps those who profess it do so uncertainly, hoping rather than firmly believing it is true. If so, they call on Muslims to speak out against terror because they would like real-world confirmation. That is not bigotry but open-mindedness.

Or maybe they are sure of their belief in the moderate Muslim majority and want confirmation for the benefit of others who may, with every terrorist attack, become more inclined toward rejection. That’s not bigotry either but anxiety over the possibility that anti-Muslim bigotry will become more widespread.

The charge of “Islamophobia” is no more well-founded. For the sake of argument, let us assume the moderate-majority hypothesis is true. Let’s make it a very large supermajority – say 99% of Muslims have no truck whatever with the violent few.

The world-wide Muslim population is estimated at 1.6 billion. If 99% of them are peaceful and moderate, that leaves a cadre of 16 million potential terrorists and sympathizers. As we saw in Paris – and as we’ve seen again and again over the years, in New York, Jerusalem, Madrid, London, Bombay, Sydney and many majority-Muslim countries – even a handful of violent jihadists are capable of wreaking enormous carnage and disruption.

To view that with trepidation and dread is not in the least phobic. It is entirely rational.

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