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"Islam will have to be the solution"

Jonah Goldberg wrestles, and wrestles with the question "Is Islam the Problem?" - and ends up pinning himself to the ground.

Some of my favorite conservative writers, including some of my past & present colleagues, absolutely cannot stand Jonah Goldberg. Lawrence Auster calls him the "animal house conservative." Amongst the good folks at Taki's Magazine, he may very well be the only being in the known universe who might conceivably lose a popularity contest with David Frum. And I've sometimes had the impression that Daniel Larison would issue a thousand-word rebuttal if Goldberg suggested that the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West.

I've never felt that way, myself. I find his stuff consistently (even compulsively) readable and sometimes quite insightful.

So it's with some regret that I must admit that I find his reflections on the Nidal Hasan case about as clear as mud.

Or should that be: as weak as water?

I can't quite decide which cliché to go with, here.

On the one hand, he admits that "there is a powerful case to be made that Islamic extremism is not some fringe phenomenon but part of the mainstream of Islamic life around the world." On the other hand, he worries that "if we act as if 'Islam is the problem,' as some say, we will guarantee that Islam will become the problem..."

But, look, Jonah: if that "powerful case" is right, then it simply isn't up to us to decide, or even influence, whether or not Islam is the problem. All that's up to us is whether or not to recognize the reality that is staring us in the face.

And (here's the real crux) what would it mean to "act as if 'Islam is the problem,' anyway?" Or, as Goldberg asks, "what are the policy implications of this view? That we should take a posture of enmity with over a billion Muslims, including millions of law abiding US citizens?"

Well, in the immortal words of Margaret Thatcher: "No! No! No!"

The policy implications of this view, which have been pointed out a thousand times in certain quarters of the paleo-con sector of the blogosphere, entail precisely the opposite of yet more "enmity with over a billion Muslims."

To wit (for the thousand and first time):

(1) No more wars to make Afghanistan, or Iraq, or anywhere else in the Islamic world, safe for democracy and diversity and feminism and gay rights and so on and so forth.

(2) No more involvement in Israel's struggle to survive in a hostile environment. Sympathy? Sure. But official, taxpayer funded, support? No.

(3) At the very least, a "when in doubt, don't" approach to immigration from the Islamic world.

(4) Treating believing Muslims in our armed forces with at least the same degree of caution as "white nationalists."

Are there arguments to be made against each of these four "policy implications?" Of course there are. But it's simply absurd to suggest that they involve more, rather than less, of "a posture of enmity with over a billion Muslims" than what we're already stuck with.

Comments (26)

Paul - that was a terrific post, which I somehow missed at the time.

The cnn video is coming up "not available." But I'd guess that the still picture tells much of the story.

Steve -- the accompanying article captures it well enough.


Although I am a neo-con Jonah Goldberg fan, I like your domestic policy recommendations (3 & 4) a lot more than your foreign policy recommendations. I don't think #1 is realistic for a variety of reasons, beginning with the fact that I think you stack the deck by describing our recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and wars to make the Islamic world "safe for democracy and diversity and feminism and gay rights and so on and so forth." I will remind you and all W4 readers sympathetic to recommendation #1 that it was precisely our willingness over the course of many years to support authoritarian governments (e.g. in Egypt or Saudi Arabia) and/or use those governments to contain other risks (i.e. Saddam) that lead at least partially to 9/11. Of course, our support for Israel didn't help, but as others smarter than I have pointed out, one could make the argument that our support for Israel also pays dividends as well as entails costs:


Here is another main point, which I think is implicit in Jonah's analysis -- the Muslim world is a lot more than the Middle-East -- in fact most Muslims live in India, Indonesia and Malaysia. So while I don't want to go to war to make Indonesia safe for democracy and diversity, I also think that by supporting the transition from a dictator to a (more or less) democracy, we have helped that country move into the pro-Western camp and strengthened our relationship with a Muslim ally. So yes, there is a lot we can do short of war to help our friends around the world, including our Muslim friends, but I don't think it is "realistic" to retreat to fortress America given our global interests (for natural resources, for trade, for security help, etc.)

Without weighing in on the merits of your other proposals, there is one that is indispensible:

5. Reduce our dependence on Saudi oil. The aggressive form of Islam funded by Saudi oil largesse is at the root of all of the conflicts with Islamic nations not called "Iran."

There are a number of other proposals I would add that are much in the spirit of #3 and #4. To wit:

--Make it clear in our laws that advocacy of jihad is not mere "religious" speech but in fact is a seditious advocacy of attacks on America and her form of government. In other words, Paul's jihad sedition law recommendation.

--Establish a principle that non-citizen Muslims presently in the United States can and likely will be deported for advocating jihad, attempting to establish sharia, or for committing or threatening violent crimes. (Frankly, _anyone_ should be able to be deported for the latter, after serving his sentence, but apparently this needs to be stressed especially regarding Muslims, especially now that our idiot government is actually suggesting releasing former Gitmo detainees into our populace.)

--Pro-actively investigate mosques for violations of the two above principles, and act upon information received from such investigations.

--Reduce or eliminate Muslim chaplaincy in prisons because of its use to recruit future jihadists.

--At state, local, and federal levels, resist absolutely every attempt to require special accommodation of reasonable laws and structures to Islam. For example, rip out the prayer washing basins in public restrooms at the University of Michigan. Refuse to permit testimony without showing the face in courtrooms. (Requiring face showing for witnesses is an important principle of Anglo-American law.) Refuse to bend security requirements on public transportation systems banning face-covering. Regular police must monitor the Arab Festival in Dearborn, and freedom of speech and movement for Christians walking the public streets at the festival must be protected energetically by regular police, not by festival "security." Etc. Federal civil rights offices should be instructed that such refusals are not "religious discrimination" and that no federal suits should be brought against them as religious discrimination.

--At every level of law enforcement, family law, and child protection services where it is relevant, take very seriously claims of threat on the basis of apostasy or "honor," and take the Muslim context of such claims and threats explicitly and unabashedly into account as evidence supporting the truth of such claims. (E.g. Rifqa Bary case)

--Eliminate student and other special visa programs that tend to expedite and specially encourage immigration from Muslim countries, thereby risking short-circuiting investigation of would-be immigrants. (I believe that the Bush administration set up some special student programs with Saudi Arabia that would be relevant here.)


I think Lydia's proposals are excellent. I wouldn't change a thing.

As for Dale's proposal, the problem is that there is a world market for oil. So while I agree we should aggressive develop more domestic sources, there will be plenty of willing buyers out there for Saudi oil -- all we can do is perhaps help increase world supply thereby helping to decrease the world price. I do think we should go after Saudi financing aggressively and move to freeze assets if we find some prince supporting a jihadi group somewhere in the world and we have access to that prince's bank account.

Jeff Singer says:

I think you stack the deck by describing our recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and wars to make the Islamic world "safe for democracy and diversity and feminism and gay rights and so on and so forth."

The slogan "Democracy! Whisky! Sexy!" was adopted by whom in 2003? Maybe you still have your DWS T-shirt? Hey, remember when Glenn Reynolds asked the immortal question "How do you say 'Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy!' in Farsi?". Faster please!

Paul Cella,
Missing your super post was the price I had to pay for only sporadically visiting 4xW in 2007. I need to warn others lest that happens to them too.

I read Liberal Fascism, which was an okay book. Goldberg is a "classical liberal" non-believer who is greatly influenced by his neoconservative pals and their faith in freedumb and democracy, especially in their naivete concerning foreign cultures. As such, he is ideologically unable to deal with Islam because I don't think he's quite figured out that it is impossible for peoples to (co)exist without sharing, at least to a degree, an object of worship and shared loves, that is, for a culture to not have a cult.

Albert, I agree. I think Goldberg's analysis fails because the entire tenor of the analysis ASSUMES, without ever raising the issue directly, that Islam is one of the great world religions and (like all the great religions) represents important kernels of truth about humanity and God, that there is an eternal place for Islam in the world because to do without it would be to lose forever those important kernels of truth. And therefore, it must be possible for there to be good Muslims, if only they can winnow through the parts of Islam that are "unnecessarily" bent on evil, and retain what is good and upright about it.

The problem with the assumption is that it is just not true. It is not true that Islam contains essential truths and without Islam we will always be the poorer. It may or may not be true that it is possible to be a completely good Muslim and retain only those parts that are peaceful and consistent with human freedom, but the evidence is not encouraging. While it may be perfectly appropriate to try to live in peace with over 1 billion Muslims, it is not necessarily the case that attempting to do so while leaving their commitment to Islam intact could EVER truly succeed.

Steve, while I am willing to debate the pros and cons of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I don't think that we should fall into the error of believing that Islamic jihadists hate America because we got involved in those wars. Or because we got involved with Israel. They would hate America with or without those particular features of foreign policy. They hated the things we stand for, and they hated Christianity, long before there was an America, and before the Christians waged Crusade. (They also hate some of the things that we hate in modern America, but this is definitely not a case of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'.)

In the long run (I mean really long run, speaking practically) the best way to deal with Islam is to convert all the Muslims. But until that happens, we have to learn to live in a world with Islam. But to do that, we have to LIVE. And that means being willing to face the real threat that more than a few Muslims constitute to civilized society in pursuit of their Islamic ideals, to face down that threat with appropriate countermeasures.

Lydia's proposals are a great start, but I fear that perhaps they only deal with the symptoms of the problem. As long as the dominant philosophical culture of America's schools, universities, and media is a nihilistic "neutrality" toward religion, there will always be people who can't sort out good from evil even when it slaps them in the face. Some of these people will turn all the more strongly against all religion; some of them will foolishly defend the evil in all sorts of stupid ways, and some of them will be taken in by the "courage" Islamicists show in forthright adherence to a faith even when it harsh/difficult/counter-cultural/demanding (pick one).

As long as the dominant philosophical culture of America's schools, universities, and media is a nihilistic "neutrality" toward religion,...

True, Tony. And as long as that's the case, my proposals themselves won't even be considered. Not seriously considered for a moment. But I figured while we were listing practical proposals, I might as well list them anyway.

What did you think of #2, Lydia?

I think I've been carefully avoiding talking about it. But whatever else may be the case, I don't think (and here I agree with Tony) it would even begin to make us safer from Islam. What Obama has been doing in vigorously twisting Israeli arms is _far_ more useful to the Ummah than some sort of total non-involvement of the isolationist-libertarian sort (which, to be even-handed, would also have to involve withdrawing all our foreign aid from Muslim countries as well, starting with Egypt, which I gather receives a chunk o' change). We would be of very little use to the Muslims *one way or another* once the threat of refusing to sell arms to Israel, make loans to Israel, etc., was carried out and we weren't trying to make them do anything. As the saying goes, the threat is stronger than the execution. If the Muslims don't love us--or even not hate us--now, with our CIC roaming about the world (literally) bowing to them and interfering massively in Israel's affairs on the Arab/Muslim side, they will never do so. And they don't now. Therefore, and aside from all considerations of treaties, allies, the value of having some friendships abroad and of sticking to our friends abroad, and the general virtues of isolationism, #2 is strategically unhelpful to the cause of making us safer from Islam.


I'll just add to what Lydia said by noting again, that it was partially our aid to the rulers of Muslim countries that the radicals deem un-Islamic (i.e. Mubarak and the Saudi royal family) that also gets them riled up when they think of America (at least that was one of bin Laden's 9/11 complaints). But more broadly, I think both Tony and Lydia are on to a bigger truth, which is where should we draw the line? Assume for the sake of argument that Yale University press didn't give in to 'Muslim sensibilities' and published the book with the Mohammhed cartoons? And this made lots of radical Muslims really mad and they started attacking and bombing Americans abroad? Should we once again give in to their demands? Should we have abandoned our friends in Denmark for publishing the cartoons when the Muslim world wanted to boycott the Danes? Etc., etc. I think what a lot of neo-cons and/or "muscular Christians", to use Steve's phrase, is for the U.S. (and the West) to stand up for our "way of life" and Christian values and fight for them when appropriate.

It is not true that Islam contains essential truths and without Islam we will always be the poorer.

Well, it does contain some essential truths, but those were cribbed from Christianity anyway, so we would not lose them without Islam.

c matt, that's exactly what I had in mind. Thanks for the clarification.

Please keep in mind that the four policy implications pointed out in the original post were intended more as a characterization of what I think follows from a belief that "Islam is the problem" than as an expression of my own views. I'm a lot wishy-washier than, say, Lawrence Auster on whether I'd flat-out agree that "Islam is the problem," without a lot of hem-ming and haw-ing.

That said, I do think that there's a lot to be said for (1) & (2) above.

(1): If "Islam is the problem," in the sense that it's simply & hopelessly incompatible with democratic capitalism, than what on earth is the point of our ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq? We are simply beating our heads against a wall.

I was perfectly happy to see the Taliban driven from power, in retaliation for their role in harboring Osama bin Laden. And the same goes for Saddam Hussein, for his serial aggression & general nastiness. But I think it's become increasingly clear, as the years go by, that our attempts to build democratic nations in such places are doomed to failure. Best case scenario, we end up with a Hosni Mubarak or a King Abdullah. Is that worth the loss of thousands of American lives? I don't think so.

(2): I've read up a fair amount on the early history of Israel in recent years, and generally come away sympathetic to the Zionists. They paid their way, bought their land from the legitimate owners - and were met, almost from day 1, by hatred and violence. In that context, I find it very difficult to shed any tears for the Palestinians who got displaced in 1948.

But Israel is, by any standard, a wealthy country, and by far the most militarily powerful state in the Middle East. The idea that they *need* to be subsidized by the American taxpayer just strikes me as silly. And, besides, I don't see why our foreign policy and foreign aid should be based on anything other than our *own* national interest.

Great, Steve. Then let's please make it an A#1 priority to de-subsidize the murderous "Palestinians," to whom we give (I almost feel sick to say this) training and, my understanding is, "humanitarian" aid. Oh, and let's please get out of the U.N. and not pay them another penny of dues, especially given that the U.N. is permanently funding the Palestinian infrastructure and keeping all descendants of people who lived on Israeli land in 1948 in permanent "refugee" grievance status forever, not to mention providing lots and lots of enablement to terrorism in the Middle East. I'd love to see how far the U.N. would get without our _taxpayer dollars_, and lots of 'em.

Look, the libertarian argument, "Such-and-such is a wealthy country and doesn't deserve American dollars" or whatever is all fine and dandy, and we can talk about what our favorite and first places would be for starting to cut U.S. foreign aid just on _general principles_ sometime. Let's also bear in mind that making loans and selling arms are not the same thing as shelling out sheer subsidies and are much more complicated matters.

But the argument, "Such-and-such is a wealthy country and doesn't need U.S. subsidies" is really pretty much as unrelated to the proposition "Islam is the problem" as is the price of tea in China. If Islam is the problem, and if we're talking about foreign aid subsidies, we should _start_ by talking about not subsidizing Muslim terrorists, directly or indirectly, rather than _starting_ by talking about cutting foreign aid to some putatively wealthy country or other which just _happens_ to be under _attack_ by Muslim terrorists.

Oh, man, oh, man, this is just too good of a quotation to miss.

Auster, today:

If a group called Muslim Jihad Warriors to Destroy the West set off a nuclear bomb and destroyed a city, Bob Schieffer would interview Lindsey Graham and Graham would say in his stupid sentimental voice, "Muslims have served in our armed forces, and some have died. These are good people," and Schieffer would add that of course Christians have done all kinds of terrible things, and they would both agree that it's crazy to blame Muslims for this, that such thoughts have no place in America.


"I find it very difficult to shed any tears for the Palestinians who got displaced in 1948."

Remember though that there are not a few Christians among the current Palestinians, indigenous Catholics and Orthodox who are caught in the middle and who suffer at the hands of both Muslims and Israelis. I find it disturbing that many Zionist American Christians A) don't know this, and B) even if they do still seem to care more about Israel than they do about those Christians.

Then again, this may be because to a certain fundamentalist mind, they're not really Christians.

Lydia - it goes without saying that I'd "de-subsidize" the "murderous 'Palestinians'" - not to mention the utterly corrupt Egyptians, and the quite possibly even more corrupt U.N. - in the proverbial heartbeat, given the chance.

Also agreed that "making loans and selling arms are not the same thing as shelling out sheer subsidies."

I note that you don't contradict anything I said in defense of point 1), above.

As for #1, I tend to think that "you broke it, you bought it" is a bad idea and has caused us a lot of problems, Steve. So I think we're probably in agreement on that one. I'm a hawk, but I tend to be a "break it and leave it" kind of hawk. I actually think the position I suspect you and I share would make some doves--both on the right and left--uncomfortable. On the one hand, they are always yelling about "getting us out of" this place or that. On the other hand, they might find it a little too brutal to say, "Okay, we'll go in and wallop the bad guys and then _get out of_ the place and leave the rubble behind." Sort of a dilemma for them: Do they now want to start saying we have to leave our troops overseas long-term once we've started a war? Or do they want to agree that even if we go in and blow a place up, it's okay not to stay around and try futilely to fix it up pretty again afterwards, with democracy and stuff?

Steve and Lydia,

Excellent follow-up comments concerning propositions #1 and #2. I will only add that with respect to #1, there is one additional wrinkle that I wish we'd consider, which I'd call the Mencius Moldbug solutuion. Namely, go ahead and really act like an imperial power and do what is necessary to pacify Afghanistan and Iraq (then perhaps we can leave after everyone understands we mean business). Mencius is quite good in this thread (and this is a recurring theme for him) describing how power can be viciously used in certain situations to make everyone's life better off in the long run:



I also thought you'd find this letter to Jonah interesting (Jonah published it himself in "The Corner"):

Dear Jonah

I am 34 years old, born in the U.S., raised as a (nominal) Muslim in Iran, and returned back to the U.S. in 1990 (thank Goodness). I converted to Catholicism in 2002, and became a reservist in the Navy (through the Direct Commission Officer program) in 2004. Growing up in Iran, religious instructions in schools started in 1st grade. Sixth grade is when our religious instructions began in earnest by the Basij goons (the true believers) and their fellow-travelers. My family and I left Iran after I finished 9th grade, but by that time I had had a steady ideological diet on Supremacy of Islam, the place for dhimmis, the primacy of Jihad and martyrdom for years. With this background, may I offer a few observations:

1) Islam is indeed the problem. Although I can, I will spare you recitation of chapter and verse in the Qur'an were Muslims are called to Jihad and establishing the global caliphate.

2) I agree with you that we should not "out loud" call Islam the problem. There are many muslims which are peaceful, because they actually are NOT either very devout or do not pay particularly close attention to pertinent violent passages. To the extent practical, we should refrain from poking them in the eye over the barbarity of the true form of their religion.

3) Having displayed my "sensitivity and inclusivity" bona fides in point #2, I don't think we should shrink from calling attention to the fact that our enemy is Violent Islam. This is for our own population's benefit. People in the West (and Americans particularly) in large majorities have fully internalize the fact that Violent Islam poses an existential threat to the long term survivability of Western Civilization, and therefore the future of their progeny. It is entirely irrelevant if Violent Islam is the true Islam, a fake one, or a fringe element. What is important is that it's followers be killed or disabled, one way or the other. There is no converting these people, trust me.

4) The long term solution to Violent Islam, I sincerely believe, is some form of mellow nationalism. In Iran, the teachings of the Basij people had relatively little impact on any of us. One of the chief reasons is because Iranians have a very strong sense of nationhood. They consider themselves Iranian first, Muslim second. Doctrine of Jihad has relatively shallow influence on someone with mooring in something other than Islam. Notice that you see very few Iranian suicide bombers. You don't see many Turks pulling the chord on their suicide belts either. The Iranian regime financing and support of terrorism is another matter entirely.

5) Having said that, inculcating and nurturing a sense of nationhood in Arab lands, Pakistan and Afghanistan is an exceedingly difficult task. There is a very nebulous sense of nationhood in these places as I am sure you know. What binds people is tribalism and Islam, which is as noxious of a combination as you can get. Whatever the mechanism, the West has to encourage the formation of as secular a notion of nationalism as it possibly can in these places. I instinctively cringe at the concept of secular nationalism (which is poisonous to the West), because you often end up with effete bunch of pantywaists like the French, or brutal aggressors like the Germans or Russians. But if somehow we could inculcate the French-pantywaistism in Muslim lands, maybe they would be too busy complaining about the cloudiness of the wine or runiness of the hummus to consider murderous Jihad. I am of course being flippant, but honestly, short of turning the whole place into glowing radioactive glass, I don't see any other cure which preserve the life of our own citizenry in the short- to medium-term.

While I have to declare that I do rely overly on actual historical facts and an openhearted and earnest interest in truly understanding why people feel and act the way they do (insert label here), I am having a hard time understanding how such harsh and non-reflective points of view of the Muslim and Arab parts of the world can grow to such common place. Ask yourself, Do I hate Arabs or Muslims? Are they really motivated by evil or am I setting them up that way because they are not on my team? Is there really such a thing as Western and Eastern Ideals or is it really about competing interests and our drive to compete and win? I recommend for one evening visiting some blog sites that predominantly carry points that are not even close to your own. Read what people are saying and realize that no matter what their points of view they are actually good people. That is what I am doing tonight. It is very difficult. God bless.

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