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Jewish World Review Feb. 13, 2003 / 11 Adar I, 5763

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Prudence, not Prejudice

Rhetoric about 'religion of peace' leads to tunnel vision about Islamist terror | This week, Americans were forced to wonder what an "orange alert" for possible terror attacks on American and specifically Jewish targets might mean to their lives.

But while this announcement, and the dangers it could represent, was given a full airing, others were worrying more about whether our not terribly impressive measures of self-defense on these shores might upset some people. In our country, you have a choice about what kind of fear to obsess about.

You can, if you like, take the warnings of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Attorney General John Ashcroft seriously.

If so, you can, like my wife and I, debate the merits of purchasing copious amounts of water to have on hand so we can have something to drink in case of nuclear or biological attacks. You could also discuss, as we did, whether or not it is silly to be worried about driving to New York this week to pick up my mother for a visit because the date coincides with a Muslim holiday we are told some might celebrate by trying to blow up or poison Americans.

But if that sort of paranoia/reasonable precaution (take your pick) doesn't appeal to you, you can go another route. You can imagine that the same government officials who are desperately trying to warn and reassure us at the same time are also a greater threat to our liberties than our nation's enemies. Unfortunately, this sort of intellectual craziness seems to be as common as the run on bottled water at the supermarket.


These fears notwithstanding, in the 17 months since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has bent over backwards to make sure that Arab-Americans and Muslims will not suffer a backlash comparable to that suffered by the Japanese-Americans during World War II.

While taking a resolute posture towards the terrorists, those aligned with them and those "allies" who seek to protect them, Bush seems to go positively weak at the knees at the very thought that America's war on terror is aimed at Islam or its adherents in general.

Of course, he's right about that. But the lengths to which the administration has gone to make this point have become almost comical. Indeed, Bush has recited the mantra, "Islam is a religion of peace," so often that the expression has become something of a standing joke on popular Web sites, such as the Wall Street Journal's "Best of the Web" on their site.

He isn't alone in this respect. In the general rush to educate Americans about our enemies in the war on terror without succumbing to stereotyping an entire faith, a new level of political correctness has been achieved.

Take, for instance, the handout titled "Q&A on Islam and Arab Americans" that was included in a recent edition of USA Today.

In it, we are informed that "jihad does not mean 'holy war.' " Unfortunately, that's the same line of baloney Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat uses when he is caught inciting terrorism.

We are also informed by USA Today that Islam tolerates the practice of other faiths, respects both Christianity and Judaism, and definitely opposes terrorism. The majority of Muslims in this country probably agree. But the problem lies not in what the USA Today primer on Islam and the White House say about Islam, but on what they don't mention.

They tend to omit the fact that the Muslim world is currently divided into two groups. One, called Islamists, supports terror and does not have warm, cuddly feelings about America, Jews and other faiths. The other group fits the USA Today/George W. Bush idea of Muslims.

The bad news is that far from being marginal, the Al Qaeda-supporting Islamists are on the rise around the world. And while most American Muslims appear to fall in the category of non-Islamists, their self-appointed spokesmen are clearly in the Islamist camp even if they make pro forma condemnations of Al Qaeda.

Scholars like the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum's Daniel Pipes have been telling us this for years. But just as no one in power listened much to men like Pipes before Sept. 11, few seem to understand this distinction either.

The latest and perhaps most appalling instance of this attitude is the dust-up currently playing itself out in Washington between two prominent conservatives over who should have access to the White House.

It seems that Grover Norquist, a man little-known around the country, but a key Washington insider within conservative circles, has been helping get representatives of two radical Muslim and Arab-American groups access to the White House and Congress.

Norquist, who is known as the guru of tax cuts, is, strangely enough, also closely allied with the pro-Hamas American Muslim Council (AMC), as well as the viciously anti-Israel and anti-war-on-Iraq Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Conservative think-tank wonk Frank J. Gaffney Jr., who served as Undersecretary of Defense in the Reagan administration, charged last week that Norquist is attempting to make these groups, that have rationalized terror and opposed every attempt by the Bush administration to fight it, appear kosher. While Bush, Ashcroft and Ridge were rallying us to persevere in the war on terror, Gaffney says Norquist's friends were able to walk into the White House via the front door.


For raising the issue, Gaffney has been labeled a "racist" and a "bigot." That's the same treatment afforded Swiss historian Bat Ye'or, whose books detail the long history of Islamic intolerance for Jews and Christians. Bat Ye'or's 2002 book "Islam and Dhimmitude" (paperback) followed up brilliantly on her previous histories, such as the classic The Dhimmi: Jews & Christians Under Islam, which detailed the story of what exactly the Islamic "toleration" for Jews and Christians actually meant.

Rather than being invited to the White House, Bat Ye'or was practically chased off the nearby campus of Georgetown University last year, where her truthful lecture on the history of Islamic intolerance was labeled "hate speech."

The irony is that groups like AMC and CAIR ought to be treated by freedom-loving Americans of every faith as anti-democratic pariahs. But instead, they have mounted a campaign to label men like Gaffney and Pipes as anti-Muslim rather than anti-terror.

The threat from the Islamists isn't paranoia. It is all too real. That's why the pablum some in the media and the White House hand us, downplaying the threat from much of the Islamic world, is so dangerous. Were it merely intended to ward off a backlash against American Muslims, it might be defensible. But no such backlash exists, nor is there any credible proof of one.

The bottom line is that the apologists for terror at AMC and CAIR should not be allowed to keep their White House seal of approval. Nor should their bile aimed at delegitimizing the truth-tellers be allowed to prevail. If it does, it will undermine both our liberties and the war on terror.

And that's something we should all be frightened about.

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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