The NY times soft-pedals Islam

Today’s New York Times is unusual in having five of its six op-ed pieces (including the two main editorials) about the missteps of Donald Trump.  Besides a good piece on “The cost of Mr. Trump’s wall” (probably $20 billion and $500 million per year upkeep; a real loser in terms of cost-benefit analysis–and good luck in getting Mexico to pay for it), it also has a long piece on Trump’s new immigration policies, “I think Islam hates us.

As I said recently, Trump’s proposed crackdown on immigration is hamhanded, and unlikely to improve the U.S., though arguably we should look at least a bit closer at visas issued to people from the Middle East. The “Islam” editorial is basically okay, but I wanted to point out three statements about that instantiate the liberal Left’s soft-pedaling of Islamic terrorism.  Here’s one (my emphases in all excerpts):

. . . While Mr. Obama made significant progress in degrading this threat — the Islamic State has lost considerable territory in both Iraq and Syria — he did not put an end to violent extremism. Mr. Trump is now pledging to do more and better.

The problem is that his approach, as we know it, is more likely to further inflame anti-American sentiment around the world than to make the United States safer. Mr. Trump has not explained how he would destroy the terrorist danger. But his use of slogans like “radical Islam,” which echo the views of his closest advisers, implies a naïve reading of the threat from about 40,000 extremists, while demonizing and alienating many of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

Naïve reading? What, exactly, is okay with “violent extremism” and not okay about “radical Islam”? Do the 40,000 “extremists” happen to share a certain religion?

It is in fact radical Islam that is behind most of the terrorist acts in question (or does the NY Times think that religion isn’t involved?), and why would peaceful, nonviolent Muslims be demonized and alienated by referring to terrorism coming from “radical Islam”? Should peaceful Christians be demonized and alienated if “radical Christians” kill abortion doctors, which sometimes happens. What about “radical Baptists” picketing the funerals of soldiers? Does that demonize all Baptists? Or “ultra-Orthodox Jews” biting off the foreskins of children, giving them herpes? Does that demonize all Jews? No, it’s only the world’s Muslims we must fear alienating, for they have learned to play the offense card well, and are prone to retribution. It is that religion alone we mustn’t alienate, and that itself tells you something about how it’s insulated itself from criticism. And, in the end “radical Islam” simply means “extremist Islam.”

In fact, later on in the piece, the Times tells us how to defeat the Terrorism Driven by The Religion Whose Name We Cannot Speak:

The United States undoubtedly must find more effective ways to defeat terrorists, including by undermining their message. If Mr. Trump can do that, it will be to his credit. But to a great extent success will depend on long-term cooperation from Muslim leaders and allies.

But what has been the message of these terrorists? It’s an Islam-based criticism in the West. Did the Times read the article in ISIS’s magazine Dabiq, ““Why we hate you & Why we fight you”? (Article here, my post on it here.) They might start by reading that, and then see how to undermine their message without mentioning Islam—even in the mealymouthed trope that ISIS doesn’t represent “true Islam.” There’s simply no way to undermine a terrorist message by completely ignoring the religion behind it, or emphasizing that there can be a less violent version of that religion. (The latter is, of course, the message of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz.)

Finally, Trump wants to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. That is at least arguable given that it’s been designated as such by some Middle Eastern countries and that Hamas, which is a genuine terrorist organization, is simply the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. (On the other hand, the Brotherhood explicitly renounces the use of violence–though it seems to spawn it.) But the reason that the NYT gives for not going the Trump route is weird:

Some experts see the move as a chance for the Trump administration to limit Muslim political activity in the United States. But since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a NATO ally, sympathizes with the Muslim Brotherhood, such a step would further complicate that fraught alliance.

I’m sorry, but what we need to be doing now is criticizing the hell out of the Erdogan government, which is itself repressive, anti-free-speech, and poised to foist an onerous theocracy on Turkey. If you’re thinking of labeling the Muslim Brotherhood one way or the other, look at the facts, but don’t be conditioned by trying to osculate the rump of a government that itself is dismantling what democratic institutions it had in the name of Islamist autocracy.


  1. Posted January 26, 2017 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    There’s a bit of a fine line to be navigated here. Which, of course, means that Der Drumpfenfurher’s tiny hands are way too ham-fisted for the job…but that’s a rant for another day.

    It is undeniably true that, overwhelmingly, the actively violent agents wreaking havoc in the Old World today have an unshakable belief that Allah personally authored the Q’ran and that the violent passages therein are therefore to be taken both literally and seriously.

    Many will immediately get caught in the weeds debating the rationality or validity or applicability or whatever of that belief. Many of those are sincere and good-hearted in doing so. But they all miss the point: this is the belief, right or worng, that underlies and motivates the terrorists’s commitment to commit terrorism.

    And they miss a further, more fundamental point. Those passages really are in the Q’ran and they really are as nasty as the terrorists’s actions demonstrate. And, if you take seriously both the proposition that Allah is the almighty Ground of Being and the proposition that he was instrumental in the authoring of the Q’ran, the conclusion that the Q’ran must be taken equally seriously is inescapable.

    Or, in other words: the Q’ran and the belief in its divine origins — and, therefore, Islam — really does lie at the heart of the problem. Even if millions are happy to reinterpret the text from a post-religious Enlightenment perspective. You won’t find anything in the Q’ran itself that dictates how to reinterpret it; how could you? It would have gone with the reinterpretation from the beginning. Which means anything other than straight-up literalism is using some extra-Q’ranic — and, therefore, somehow superior to the Word of Allah — source of inspiration.

    HOWEVER, whilst it is essential to understand the nature of the crisis in these terms, and it is equally essential for we the people to express it clearly and unapologetically as such…

    …that discussion is expressly forbidden, for superlative reason, to the United States Government and its official agents. Congress, after all, may make no law abridging the free exercise of religion; any President who engaged in this sort of theological analysis would be acting outside the bounds of Constitutional law.

    If we had a sane President who was committed to the Enlightenment ideals embodied in our Constitution, she or he would carefully avoid all substantive mention of religious motivation by our enemies while seeking to curtail their violent actions against us. But that would also prevent the President from engaging in the same sort of non-violent theological reinterpretation the Times engaged in. As far as public policy is concerned, the religion of the attackers is entirely irrelevant — even if it is a vital consideration in tactical analysis, such as predicting future enemy action.

    Which, again, leaves it up to the rest of us to speak to the religious idiocy of DAESH and the Saudis and their brethren…even if it also hurts the feelings of our friends.

    Of course, in reality, we have nothing to fear on such fronts. If our friends are true, like Maajid Nawaz, they’ll accept our criticisms in the honest spirits in which they’re offered and not take undue offense. And if they take offense, they’re not our friends in the first place and would find objection in anything we might choose to say.



    • Kevin
      Posted January 26, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      Wouldn’t it be nice if ‘hurt feelings’ were inadmissible as valid arguments for one’s position.

  2. Posted January 26, 2017 at 11:25 am | Permalink


  3. sensorrhea
    Posted January 26, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    While vivid, I think your description of Ultra Orthodox circumcision is not accurate. I believe the skin is removed with an implement and the mouth is, almost as horrifyingly, used to clear blood. I can’t believe this goes on in 2017.

    • BJ
      Posted January 26, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, they use a special kind of knife for circumcision. They certainly do not “bite off” the foreskins.” That’s a pretty ugly myth, but I know Jerry will correct it once he reads these comments.

    • somer
      Posted January 27, 2017 at 5:13 am | Permalink

      The Ultras are a problem within Judaism, if a small minority overall. Any ultra exclusive and non adaptive religious cult is a big problem.

  4. Posted January 26, 2017 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Jerry I followed your argument most of the way, but two things I got stuck on. One is that most people have a weird view that it is only Islam that can be a violent religion. The truth is almost any dominant or state sponsored religion can become oppressive and violent. I was saddened to hear even Buddhist in Burma and Sri Lanka have become violent as I always thought them such a peaceful religion. The second thing I was hit by is when you wrote “.. emphasizing that there can be a less violent version of that religion.” Do you not agree we should acknowledge that not all of the religion is involved in terrorism? Yes it is important that the moderate wing of Islam confront the radical part of the faith, but they can only do that in safe countries like ours. I think we are ignoring a very useful and helpful resource that the moderate muslims can give. Using your own examples of the radical elements in christianity we shouldn’t claim there are no moderate christians. While I don’t think naming an issue will solve it, I do agree with accurate naming. I see no problem with calling those who do these violent actions as radical Islam as that is what they are. I think the moderate followers of Islam would agree, as they are not the same. Be well. Hugs

    • chris moffatt
      Posted January 26, 2017 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

      Ah Scottie: no true buddhist would practice violence.

      OTOH where buddhism has become nothing more that a ritualised set of practices and beliefs, mingled with earlier shamanistic and other primitive beliefs, it is no different from any other institutionalized religion which seeks control of its adherents by a priesthood. Read up on the history of buddhism, the lama class and role of the non-lama peasants in Tibet for centuries before China invaded.

      • Posted January 26, 2017 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

        I have always been impressed by the philosophy of Buddhism. That is why reading of the violent attacks on non-buddhists in those places, including school children, upset me so. However again it shows how a subset of any religion can pervert the meaning other peaceful worshipers have. That is why I can’t blame all Muslims for the actions of the radical extremist ones. I can’t use a broad brush to blame all Muslims just as I don’t blame all Christians for those preaching death to or assulting LGBTQ people. Hugs

        • Tim M
          Posted January 31, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

          Another critical point to make is that no reading of Buddhist core doctrine encourages or leads to violence. No violent Buddhist is quoting scripture or justifying their violence in *the name of* Buddhism simply because it isn’t possible. The example you cite is really just tribalist, nationalist political actors who happen to be Buddhist. Islam, on the other hand, has specific instructions regarding war, was started by an active warlord, and is generally more OK with violence than most other religions. A comparison of Christ vs Mohammed, for instance, gives a striking difference is conflict resolution strategies.

          So, sure, you’re right that most anyone can get talked into behaving badly, but I’d argue it’s not all an equal playing field between belief systems. Some are just plain more bellicose and violent than others.

  5. Kevin
    Posted January 26, 2017 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    I think I recall in the Rubin Report a few days ago that Prof. CC(E) was pessimist about internal reform within Islam as managing a solution for its justification for inequality and violence.

    Reform is definitely not efficient or sufficient, but it is unfortunately necessary. It’s also a natural step towards secularism as shown, historically, by the development, inclusivity, and skepticism of protestant faiths of Christianity.

    Incidentally everyone should look at those videos they are very well done.

    • somer
      Posted January 27, 2017 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      Islamic societies have a history of rigid adherence to anti humanist beliefs and practises explicitly informed by religion over time and marked by an intense extended kin organisation in society. However in the modern globalised and scientific era its become all too apparent that the cost of this for Islamic societies is great poverty and internecine warfare with no realistic prospect at all of a return to their era of successful empire and prosperity. In other words its patently in their interest to radically reform the religion and they need to be encouraged to see this, not be soothed by “progressive” westerners blaming everything wrong with the world on western culture (which like all cultures has flaws).

      The Muslim Brotherhood are an extremist, utterly illiberal group but they do not normally plot or directly advocate violence – certainly not in the West. Im inclined to Maajid Nawaz position that banning such groups is likely radicalise more ordinary orthodox Muslims, but what is necessary is to vigorously expose and criticise their beliefs, not stroke them with “progressive” interpretations of what they are actually about. Western Governments should also be severely critical of the organisation and its attempts to infiltrate western societies (which is real), whilst noting it does not actively practise terrorism except in sub branches like Hamas.

      Also the regression of Turkey needs to be severely criticised, though again at the level of national foreign policy makers/diplomats it may be difficult to be too public about this because of its position right next to Europe, its ability to destabilise Europe and its role vis a vis Russia.

  6. BJ
    Posted January 26, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    And, of course, none of this even touches on the fact that an enormous number of Muslims believe in the complete suppression of women, their ability to engage in everyday activities, and on and on. While the majority of Muslims might not be terrorists, they’re certainly authoritarian and wish to impose their religious law upon the world. In poll after poll, we find huge support among even Western Muslims for things like sharia; oppression of women, gays, and apostates; and even terrorist acts (support, but not willingness to carry them out).

    As with your post yesterday regarding regressives calling hijabs and niqabs as “feminist statements” or “symbols of religious freedom/a beautiful culture,” the radical left is willing to completely ignore or even find ways to exalt Islam for its abuses of almost every group, all while complaining about things like $0.40 sales taxes on tampons in the West.

    • BJ
      Posted January 26, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Clarification: I meant the NYT excerpts don’t touch on such things. I know you do, PCC(E).

    • somer
      Posted January 28, 2017 at 5:56 am | Permalink

      NYT is good on most things but the nature of Islam s not one of them. There have been some candid NYT articles re the nature of Islam but most are not. One example: “Women’s march on Washington opens contentious dialogues about Race”
      it equates Islam with Race, women’s issues as divisible into ethnic and race issues and praises Linda Sarsour, who often presents herself as a social justice “progressive” feminist but is actually a flat out Hamas supporting, Saudi excusing, Sharia advocating Islamist. The most concise summary – featuring inserts of tweets by Sarsour – that show up this Islamism is at the Rambling Infidel: Beware of Linda Sarsour

  7. J.Baldwin
    Posted January 26, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    The NYTs misleads when it suggests that there are 40,000 radicals and 1.6B moderates. The fact of the matter is that many moderates, while unwilling to engage in jihad, support many of the goals (Sharia) pursued by jihadis. There is an undeniable level of tacit support for theocracy within the broader Muslim world.

    • BJ
      Posted January 26, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. A recent poll in the UK showed the same thing many other polls have showed regarding Muslims who live in western nations: in the UK, 40% of them support terrorist acts in the name of Islam, about the same believe sharia should be the law of the land, etc. etc. And Jerry has posted many other polls from Muslim countries around the world showing just how violent their sentiments are toward anyone they deem to be apostates or even “improper” Muslims.

      How can Islam ever get the reformation it so desperately needs if the most influential journalists and groups won’t even acknowledge its problems? And not only do they not acknowledge the problems, but they consistently denigrate and denounce liberal Muslims like Maajid Nawaz. It’s disgusting. We have Muslims who actually fit the description the organizations like NYT wish most Muslims fit, and yet he is constantly denounced as an Islamophobe any time he points out a problem with current Islamic practices.

    • Posted January 26, 2017 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      + 1

  8. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 26, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    If you do an online search for the sources of terrorist attacks, pretty quickly you will see sites explaining that in the U.S. Islamic extremists carry out far fewer terrorist attacks than do other groups. I suspect that this is the basis for claims that these groups are a relatively minor threat.
    However, one can also find plenty of sites that detail worldwide sources of inspiration for terrorism, and that certainly is mostly from Islamic extremists, especially when one counts attacks done in predominantly Islamic countries.

    • Michiel
      Posted January 27, 2017 at 5:53 am | Permalink

      Yes, and of course it’s true that even across the globe, Islamic terror attacks claim only a handful of lives compared to various other (sometimes preventable) causes. If we were only interested in saving as many lives as possible, then investing in things like healthcare and traffic safety would reap much greater results for the same money than trying to prevent terror plots. But of course there is another dimension to terrorism, and that is the destabilising influence they can have on societies. Just look at Turkey.

      Personally my worry is not so much with the attacks themselve (though of course abhorrent), but with the socio-political influence of islam, which obviously brings mostly backwardsness and misery to every place where it gains political and social power.

      • somer
        Posted January 27, 2017 at 6:34 am | Permalink

        Not to mention the very strong religious (sunni-shia) element of the wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and before that the Iraq-Iran war.

  9. Posted January 26, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    This, from Jo-Eystein Lindberg, ‘Running on Faith?
    A Quantitative Analysis of the Effect of Religious Cleavages on the
    Intensity and Duration of Internal Conflicts’, University of Oslo, Master’s Thesis, 2008.


    Although the relationship between religion and violent internal conflict
    is increasingly studied in the civil war literature, previous studies
    largely focus on factors influencing the onset of armed conflict. This
    thesis examines the less analyzed aspects of conflict intensity and
    duration. More specifically, it examines how these aspects are
    influenced by the presence of identity-based religious cleavages. By
    applying a theoretical perspective novel to the religion-conflict nexus,
    the thesis seeks to provide theoretical knowledge on how faith affects
    conflict dynamics. Concerning intensity, it is argued that religion, as a
    basis for identity and organized around a common belief-system and
    common doctrine, relaxes intragroup problems and makes it easier for
    belligerents to mobilize. Regarding duration, it is proposed that
    religious cleavages make it harder for the parties to establish the
    intergroup trust needed to reach stable peace agreements. Through
    extensive data collection a new indicator is introduced, measuring the
    presence of identity-based religious cleavages in 241 intrastate conflicts
    in the period 1946-2004. Results show that religious conflicts, as
    defined, are significantly more intense than non-religious ones.
    Furthermore, the analysis reveals an ambiguous impact on duration. In
    early stages religious conflicts are more likely than others to be
    terminated, whereas conflicts that have lasted at least two and half
    years are less likely to be terminated if they involve a religious

  10. Heather Hastie
    Posted January 26, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    One of the things that frustrates me most about the approach by both Trump and the GOP is that they govern by anecdotes and not data. The constant conflation of the refugee situation in Germany with refugees going to the US is an example where they go on about the need for extreme vetting in order to avoid the European experience.

    It’s fear-mongering. The refugees the US accepts are ALREADY vetted in the extreme. They, like us in NZ, are protected by an ocean. The refugees both of us receive come via the UNHCR programme. It takes 18 months to two years in a refugee camp, and multiple interviews including by several US intelligence agencies. Only a fraction of those who apply get through the process.

    I think the number the US accepted via the programme was c. 116,000 last year. There have been no terrorist threats from these people. They are the safest of all entrants to the country.

    Trump’s ridiculous action in stopping refugees from Syria is window-dressing and an abandonment of US responsibilities as good international citizens. The country also needs young immigrants to make up for the low birth rate and not enough people being born to support retiring baby boomers.

    All his rhetoric does is create resentment among people he should be building bridges with. He needs to be friends with governments in order to solve problems. The rest of the world is not impressed by his bluster. Despite what he thinks, most leaders respected Obama.

  11. Posted January 26, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    He may think it is helping to keep the country white, which seems to be a goal of some of his supporters. Also it would be hard for us to ask other countries to take in refugees when we won’t do it. I am glad you mentioned that no terrorist actions have yet come from these groups of refugees. Most people don’t understand that. Hugs

    • Posted January 26, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      To me, it would be bizarre to watch the leader of the free world accepting refugees from a local conflict, and asking others to do the same, while Assad, Russia, Turkey, Iran and one or two more rogue partners gather to decide what to do about the conflict.

      • Posted January 26, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        Well that was what was happening up until tRump became Pres. I think those in power then thought they somehow would have more say in the conflict and its resolution. Hugs

  12. Posted January 26, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Turkey is probably the most liberal and ‘modernized’ secular (lately not sure about it) Muslim country. Lately there’s been a lot of problems leading it to more theocracy. And I think US and some other European countries should harshly criticize and/ or put some sanctions or ‘ultimatums’ when it’s not too late. Because I don’t want to see really big and pretty secular country going back to isolation and theocracy like North Korea or Iran.

  13. phoffman56
    Posted January 26, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    NYT: “..the threat from about 40,000 extremists..”

    And if Pew surveys are to be believed, then for each one of those 40,000, there is another 12,000 or more who believe that the the moral thing to do is to murder all apostates, or at least to encourage those murders, i.e. at least 500 million who do hold that (rather violent, to say the least) view.

    • BJ
      Posted January 26, 2017 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. Survey after survey shows this, even among followers of Islam living in Western nations.

      Islam is a problem not just for the West, but the citizens in its theocracies as well. It is a religion in desperate need of a reformation. Liberal media outlets/journalists and the regressive position of the left need to stop propping up radical Islamists while denouncing liberal Muslims as having “internalized Islamophobia, and instead start speaking up for liberal Muslims so more of them feel like they have the support they need to speak out themselves.

  14. Posted January 26, 2017 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    At least, Germans will soon be allowed to badmouth Erdogan with impunity.

    “Less than one week after U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Germany announced it will do away with the portion of its criminal code that makes it illegal to insult a foreign leader by Jan. 1, 2018.

    The regulation, described by Justice Minister Heiko Maas as “obsolete and unnecessary,” is infrequently used, though it was invoked last year after comedian Jan Boehmermann read an “obscene poem” about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on television. The case was dropped due to “lack of evidence,” although Erdogan still has a civil suit against the comedian, which will be decided in Hamburg on Feb. 10.”

    • BJ
      Posted January 26, 2017 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      Considering Germany’s recent record on free speech, I imagine this never would have happened if Trump hadn’t been elected.

      • chris moffatt
        Posted January 26, 2017 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

        Well it’s only foreign leaders. Doesn’t apply to Angela Merkel and Co. I’m sure her just announced Ministry of Truth will take care of any internal dissents. Remember Sister Angela is watching you.

      • Michiel
        Posted January 27, 2017 at 6:13 am | Permalink

        Well I think it was basically a direct response to Erdogans attempted prosecution of Boehmermann (and generally strained relation with Germany and Europe) and had nothing to do with Trumps election.

  15. chris moffatt
    Posted January 26, 2017 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    The muslim brotherhood eschewing violence is a bit like Hitler saying he had no more territorial ambitions. Believe it at your peril.

    The problem with muslim immigration, as the swedes, norwegians and germans have found, is that there is an innate cultural clash which is sometimes difficult to overcome on both sides. It’s not stupid, or bigoted to want to avoid that. The immigration of actual jihadis, while certainly possible, isn’t the main issue. OTOH the idea that there are only 40,000 islamic extremeists is so naive as to be laughable.

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