Bottom Stories of the Day

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on February 18, 2015

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

Bottom Stories of the Day
“Iran’s Supreme Leader Pans ‘American Sniper’ ”—headline, Politico, Feb. 17

Harf Truths and Whole Lies

Poor Marie Harf. The State Department’s deputy spokesman is being mercilessly mocked for an interview she gave to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in which she said, of the conflict with the Islamic State: “we cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s a lack of opportunity for jobs, whether—”


Marie Harf, State Department deputy spokesperson

At which point, as the Washington Times notes, Matthews cut her off and challenged her—unsuccessfully. “Ms. Harf dug in and insisted improving the economic opportunities for the terrorist group is the key to turning back their terror.”

“Can’t win,” tweeted Rachel Palmer. “When they are employed its [sic] called work place violence.” The Washington Free Beacon’s Sonny Bunchimagines Harf’s advice to past military leaders from Themopylae to World War II. Here’s her advice to Patton: “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by curing poverty in the other poor dumb bastard’s country!”

As funny as it is, it also feels a bit unsporting to pick on Harf like this. After all, she’s just doing her job, which is to act as a mouthpiece for an administration whose guiding principle seems to be that political correctness—which is to say, a thoroughgoing dishonesty—is the best weapon for dealing with Islamic terrorism.

Sometimes they even admit it. “We all agree that the individuals who perpetuated . . . the terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere are calling themselves Muslims and their warped interpretation of Islam is what motivated them to commit these acts,” a “senior administration official” said in a White House conference call yesterday. “They’re not making any secret of that, and neither are we.”

The unnamed official’s next words: “But we are very, very clear that we do not believe that they are representing Islam. There is absolutely no justification for these attacks in any religion.”

We suppose he’s right that the administration isn’t “making any secret of that.” They’re aggressively denying it.

Last week we noted that in an interview with, President Obama himself had described last month’s massacre at a kosher supermarket in Paris as “random.” Vox’s Matthew Yglesias wrote a follow-up article lamenting that his own interview had made news. Obama’s “random” remark, Yglesias insisted, was just a random slip of the tongue.

Events since prove otherwise. On Saturday 22-year-old Omar Abdel Hamid el-Hussein opened fire in a Copenhagen cafe where a free-speech panel was under way; among the participants was a Swedish cartoonist who had been denounced by Muslims for depictions of Muhammad, the Islamic prophet. Hussein missed the cartoonist but killed the Danish film director. Later he opened fire again and killed a security guard at a synagogue—or, as the president might call it, a random sanctum.

Don’t laugh—the White House’s official response, from National Security Council spokesman Bernadette Meehan, didn’t get any more specific than “deplorable shooting.”

On Sunday the Islamic State released “video purporting to show the mass beheading of Coptic Christian hostages,” the Associated Press reports from Cairo:

The militants had been holding 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians hostage for weeks, all laborers rounded up from the city of Sirte [Libya] in December and January. . . .

The video, released Sunday night, depicts several men in orange jumpsuits being led along a beach, each accompanied by a masked militant. The men are made to kneel and one militant, dressed differently that the others, addresses the camera in North American-accented English.

“All crusaders: safety for you will be only wishes, especially if you are fighting us all together. Therefore we will fight you all together,” he said. “The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama Bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.”

Was that what Obama had in mind when he invoked the Crusades and lectured Christians to get off their “high horse”?

At any rate, the administration’s response, this time from the White House press secretary, made no mention of crusaders or even Christians. It begins: “The United States condemns the despicable and cowardly murder of twenty-one Egyptian citizens.” Are we supposed to believe the killers were angry about immigrants’ taking their jobs?

By contrast, last week when three Muslims were murdered in Chapel Hill, N.C., that merited a statement from the president himself. Although the investigation has not concluded (and the suspect appears to be a left-wing atheist), the president seemed sure this killing was anything but random: “No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship.”

All this is consistent with political correctness and its hierarchy of identity groups. Muslims are “oppressed,” meaning their status is higher, while Christians are “privileged,” meaning theirs is lower. (Vox .com last week supplied a helpful color-coded chart, in which Muslims are—we kid you not—beige.) Jews are somewhere in between, so that Christian anti-Semitism is oppression while Muslim anti-Semitism is “random” at worst.

That conference call we quoted above was a preview of the White House “summit on countering violent extremism.” One reporter asked if this was simply a euphemism for violent Islamic extremism: “Might some critics think that you’re avoiding the world ‘Muslim’ as though extremists in the Islamic communities are the focus—or are they not the focus?” A “senior administration official” (not the same one quoted above) answered:

I think obviously we want to be taking into account the current concerns that different countries are facing. But as I think will be clear from the variety of presentations and case studies that are mentioned—to include some of the media that we have organized to help catalyze the discussion that features some of the longer-running terrorist threats that people sometimes forget about in the current context, such as the FARC in Colombia, which is now in negotiations, but has been a designated terrorist organization for some time, responsible for countless acts of violence.

I think we will see through the complexity of the discussion that violent extremism is a broader trend, and that everyone will be approaching it through their own lens of their immediate concerns, but there are lessons to be learned across all forms of efforts to counter different types of violent extremism. And again, as was just mentioned, the interventions themselves must be specific and localized even if they happen to be falling under the same umbrella category. So I think we’ll see in the context of the meeting itself the diversity that reflects the reality of recent history.

The Atlantic’s David Frum argues that there’s a strategy behind all this evasion, one he gets at by way of a lengthy quote from Tom Wolfe’s “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers”:

The idea that the real leadership in the ghetto might be the gangs hung on with the poverty-youth-welfare establishment. It was considered a very sophisticated insight. The youth gangs weren’t petty criminals . . . there were “social bandits,” primitive revolutionaries . . . Of course, they were hidden from public view. That was why the true nature of ghetto leadership had eluded everyone for so long . . . So the poverty professionals were always on the lookout for the bad-acting dudes who were the “real leaders,” the “natural leaders,” the “charismatic figures” in the ghetto jungle. These were the kind of people the social-welfare professionals in the Kennedy Administration had in mind when they planned the poverty program in the first place. It was a truly adventurous and experimental approach they had. Instead of handing out alms, which never seemed to change anything, they would encourage the people in the ghettos to organize. They would help them become powerful enough to force the Establishment to give them what they needed.

Frum’s analogy:

As part of the partnership-building, the Obama administration has opened its doors to foreign and domestic individuals and groups who might have been unwelcome in the prior administration, including supporters of the overthrown Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. . . . What began as a farcical element of the antipoverty programs of the 1960s has ended in the tragedy of American national security policy in the 2010s.

In other words, the administration hopes to counter the worst elements in the Muslim world by courting and strengthening the next-to-worst elements. The War on Poverty itself produced no small element of tragedy, but this approach to international affairs could yield truly catastrophic results.

Also in the Atlantic, Graeme Wood has a lengthy and fascinating investigation into the Islamic State that provides the best rebuttal we’ve seem to what Wood calls the “well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature.” As he writes: “In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.”

Wood recounts this conversation with a London-based Islamic State sympathizer, Abdul Muhid:

He was dressed in mujahideen chic when I met him at a local restaurant: scruffy beard, Afghan cap, and a wallet outside of his clothes, attached with what looked like a shoulder holster. When we sat down, he was eager to discuss welfare. The Islamic State may have medieval-style punishments for moral crimes (lashes for boozing or fornication, stoning for adultery), but its social-welfare program is, at least in some aspects, progressive to a degree that would please an MSNBC pundit. Health care, he said, is free. (“Isn’t it free in Britain, too?,” I asked. “Not really,” he said. “Some procedures aren’t covered, such as vision.”) This provision of social welfare was not, he said, a policy choice of the Islamic State, but a policy obligation inherent in God’s law.

So as to keep his head, Wood doesn’t visit the caliphate itself to find out if the Islamic State welfare state is all it’s cracked up to be. Even if it isn’t, it seems unlikely an Obama administration jobs program would help much in vanquishing this enemy.

One point the administration keeps making in defense of its claim that the Islamic State isn’t islamic is that many of its victims are Muslim. But ISIS targets those victims because it sees them as not Muslim enough. “In Islam, the practice of takfir, or excommunication, is theologically perilous,” Wood notes:

“If a man says to his brother, ‘You are an infidel,’ ” the Prophet said, “then one of them is right.” If the accuser is wrong, he himself has committed apostasy by making a false accusation. The punishment for apostasy is death. . . .

Barack Obama himself drifted into takfiri waters when he claimed that the Islamic State was “not Islamic”—the irony being that he, as the non-Muslim son of a Muslim, may himself be classified as an apostate, and yet is now practicing takfir against Muslims. Non-Muslims’ practicing takfir elicits chuckles from jihadists (“Like a pig covered in feces giving hygiene advice to others,” one tweeted).

Wood’s advice: “Western officials would probably do best to refrain from weighing in on matters of Islamic theological debate altogether.” What can one say but inshallah.

For more “Best of the Web” click here and look for the “Best of the Web Today” link in the middle column below “Today’s Columnists.”