Jan 10 2015

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Paris Terror Raises Questions

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Stand Against Evil...

Stand Against Evil…

France was under siege this week as French-grown terror came home to roost.

The plot is depressingly familiar. Radical Muslims meting out vengeance for perceived slights against the Prophet, targeting people guilty of nothing more than exercising free expression rights, rights that are foundational to Western civilization.

Our collective response is equally familiar.

Unity in the face of attack. A re-commitment to our basic rights. A promise to remain vigilant, though without any  targeted vigilance.  That diversity and tolerance are mutually reinforcing,  and in the end, a source of superior power over those who would impose their radical ideas upon us. That we will never be cowed or defeated.

The reply certainly hits all the right notes, like the perfect press release, but upon deeper reflection, is any of it actually true?

What We are Defending: the Western reaction in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Charlie Hebdo – a provocative, satirical magazine which had made seditious fun at Islam’s expense – was one of shock and contempt.  “How dare they….”. Killing people for speaking freely? How utterly confounding. That terrorist sensibilities could be more important and consequential than our foundational rights? Who could justify such a travesty?

But we do it every day.

Speech codes on American college campuses become longer and more detailed in an ever-increasing effort to ensure that no one is ever offended by anyone at any time for any reason. As we jump to a full-throated defense of our own 1st Amendment, name me a university that would have re-published the Danish cartoon at issue with the Charlie Hebdo attack?

Indeed, the foundational zeal of higher education officials to control and suppress what they consider to be secular blasphemy is no less dedicated than those miscreants in Paris; it is only the means that they employ that constitutes the difference.

And it’s not just campuses.

We deal with the subtle limitations of speech every day regarding our most sensitive public issues. On culture, race and religion we hear the constant refrain for more dialogue – but in reality that only includes certain kinds of dialogue. Move outside of the lines and you are banished as a pariah, branded with incendiary labels.

Imagine for a moment what this must look like to the indoctrinated overseas. Yes, yes, they hate our freedoms and excesses and blasphemies.  But we in the West are also hypocrites; pledging our unwavering support for ideals, but quietly and passively limiting that right in practice. For an outsider, its only the content of what is suppressed that is in question.

What We Are Defending Against: after the Charlie Hebdo attack, the now standard narrative followed, best captured by former Vermont governor and progressive, Howard Dean.

Appearing on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, Dean took issue with Joe Scarborough’s characterization of the attackers as “Muslim terrorists.” “They are about as Muslim as I am,” said Dean – who, for the purposes of clarity here, is not Muslim.

It is vital to state here first, and partially to Dean’s point, that the actions of the terrorists in Paris do not speak to the intentions of all Muslims around the globe.

But it is equally important to note that the terrorists in Paris weren’t followers of David Koresh or Charles Manson or another, one-off, murderous cult. The attackers cried out “Allahu Akbar,” not “Praise Jesus” (though MSNBC’s predictable double-standard reaction to the later would have made for good TV) . The stated intent of the Paris  attack was vengeance for slights against Islam.

And it wasn’t done in isolation.

In a television interview before he was killed by police, Cherif Kouachi, one of the three Paris terrorists, said he had carried out the attack on orders from Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). His accomplice, Amedy Coulibaly, stated before his death that he was working on behalf ISIS. Both groups adhere to radically strict interpretation of the Koran. Indeed, they try to outdo one another in their fidelity, which has driven a rivalry.

Both Al Qaeda and ISIS have been financed by the rich Islamic Gulf oil states for political or sectarian reasons. Orthodox Wahhabi madrassas (religious schools), financed by the Saudis in the greater Middle East, were the educational foundation of top Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives. Iran’s Shia theocracy finances the terror organizations of Hezbollah, which claims a holy war against Israel.

While it is an absolute certainty that all Muslims are not terrorists, it is equally true that radical terrorists who have been attacking the West for well over a decade did not spontaneously appear out of Kansas with the goal of framing Islam. The seeds of the current schism lie at the very heart of religion, politics and government in Islamic states, and are very clear.

To pretend otherwise is foolhardy and dangerous.

The plain truth is that Islam has a very deep and consequential crisis on its hands. While the West can indeed must do all it can to protect itself, only the voices within Islam can combat the radicalization that is occurring within its ranks. It is not enough for Western leaders and the UN to denounce the terror committed in the name of the Prophet. Muslim leaders and clerics must speak out as well, early and often. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s recent speech calling for a “revolution”  to reform interpretations of the faith entrenched for hundreds of years, which he said have made the Muslim world a source of “destruction” and pitted it against the rest of the world,  is the most dramatic call to action so far. It is within Islam that the issue will be decided – the schools and mosques and the public squares.

Dean and his fellow travelers, who see the radicalization as co-option of Islam instead of a metastasis within it, fundamentally misunderstand what the West is confronting, to our collective detriment.

Rights and Responsibilities in Society: in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, the French intelligence services have come under criticism for failing to keep track of the attackers, who appear to have had clear ties to terrorist organizations. Those critiques are reminiscent of similar reviews of US intelligence gathering after the Boston bombing. In the case of Boston, even the Russians – the Russians –  were alerting the US to the problem of the Tsarnaev brothers, but no one acted.

We have spent tens of billions of dollars building the most sophisticated surveillance system in recorded history – a system capable of personal intrusion (and potential, unheard of abuse) on the unsuspecting at a level unimaginable only a decade ago – but we tolerate the system and the secrecy that surrounds its operations in the belief that it will ensure our security.

No system can be 100 percent correct 100 percent of the time. But both the Boston and now Paris attacks should incentivize citizens to revisit the unholy bargain we have made with Big Brother to ensure that our basic rights – that rights, ironically, that these monitoring systems are ostensibly created to protect, do not get trampled and lost.

And the West, writ large, should re-examine its immigration policies.

Even stating that mild and sober proposition invites outrage and contempt and charges of xenophobia or nativism.  Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the Paris attack, there was a concerted political effort to prevent the terror episode from turning public support to anti-immigration parties that are growing in Europe.

So it needs to be stated for the record that immigration, as an idea, is good. What matters, and where opinions diverge, is in how immigration is managed as a function of national sovereignty. Immigration that is legal, measured, prioritized and focused on assimilation, not only benefits the immigrant but enhances the country.

America’s story, indeed America’s success, cannot be told without reference to the great waves of immigration that fueled and built the American Dream.

But as we look at the transformation of the terror threat from foreign organizations to home-grown applicants, you cannot help but look at failed immigration policies. The Tsarnaevs weren’t born and raised in Indiana. They were ethnic Chechens, who moved to the US and utterly failed to assimilate into American culture. In Paris, the Kouachi brothers were ethnic Algerians, similarly lost.

Diversity and tolerance are society-worthy objectives, but they cannot be the unconditional premise of immigration policy where the actual immigrants value neither diversity nor tolerance. To immigrate successfully is to assimilate. For two centuries, that has been the American story. But if accommodation, not assimilation, has become the objective – driven by a perversion of diversity and tolerance – then festering and lethal cultural schisms will only continue and grow.

That does not mean ending immigration or building walls. It simply recognizes that as custodians of our national sovereignty, there is no inherent requirement or right that any person who wishes to immigrate must be granted permission to do so.  As citizens we choose who joins us.

We ignore this lesson at our own peril as well.

Conclusion: civilizations are not permanent. History is replete with great civilizations – those in China, in Iran, in Egypt and Rome, throughout Latin America – which are only memories today. The vitality of a civilization is key to its endurance as a culture. When you start mailing it in, decline is inevitable. Thus, in the longer view of history, how the West manages the challenge of radical Islam is a test.

So, how do you think we are doing?

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