Fear and Loathing of Reality at 'The Nation'

The Left's flagship publication continues its legacy of defending totalitarian movements.

Editor's note: Don't miss David Horowitz's and Robert Spencer's pamphlet, Islamophobia: Thoughtcrime of the Totalitarian Future, which documents how the very term “Islamophobia” is an invention of the Muslim Brotherhood designed to intimidate and discredit its critics.

The Nation has long been the flagship of the American left.  This, despite its small circulation and, even more to the point, despite its long and disgraceful record of supporting, apologizing for, and whitewashing totalitarian ideology on the apparent premise that even the most murderous tyranny is preferable to democratic capitalism.  As David Horowitz put it quite succinctly in 2006, we are speaking here of a “propaganda mill,” pure and simple, whose editors, it is no exaggeration to say, “cheered [Stalin's victims] to their graves during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s.”

Horowitz explained how The Nation addressed those purges: “In a 1946 article...Walter Duranty explained to The Nation’s progressive readers that 'purge' meant 'to cleanse' in Russian, and that a house cleaning was all Stalin intended. In Duranty’s memorable words, Stalin had launched 'a general cleaning out of the cobwebs and mess which accumulate in any house when its occupants are so deeply preoccupied with something else that they have no time to keep it in order.'”  As Horowitz reminds us, “At the height of this house cleaning, Stalin was killing 20,000 Russian citizens a month. But according to The Nation (in 1946 as today) the main danger facing humanity was the incipient fascism of the West.”

All of which is highly useful by way of background when reading “Fear and  Loathing of Islam,” an article by one Moustafa Bayoumi which appears in The Nation's July 2-9 issue.  It has often been noted that the hard left, denied its beacon of progressive hope by the fall of Soviet Communism, has since found, in Islam, an admirable ally in the struggle against the West.  This is certainly the case with The Nation.  It did not dare celebrate 9/11, but it was very much at the forefront of the we-had-it-coming crowd; some readers may recall a notorious piece by Nation columnist Katha Pollitt, published in the September 20, 2011, issue, in which she explained why, after the terrorist attacks, she refused to allow her daughter, who at the time was a high-school student, to fly the American flag outside the window of their New York apartment, not far from the scene of the Twin Towers' incineration.  For Old Glory, as Pollitt explained patiently to both her kid and her readers, “stands for jingoism and vengeance and war.”

Now, as I say, along comes this Bayoumi article, which presents itself as something of a major statement, not just by Bayoumi but presumably by The Nation itself, about attitudes toward Islam in the United States.  The premise is straightforward: American Muslims, with exceedingly few exceptions, are ordinary people who want to live ordinary lives – and who are being punished and demonized for it.  Ordinary is, indeed, the mot du jour here.  Bayoumi slams a New York Police Department report which notes that, in addition to mosques, young Muslim men in the U.S. are radicalized in “cafes, cab driver hangouts, flophouses, prisons, student associations, non-governmental organizations, hookah (water pipe) bars, butcher shops and book stores” – “in other words,” writes Bayoumi, “precisely the places where ordinary life happens.”  Asks Bayoumi: “What happens when ordinary life becomes grounds for suspicion without a hint of wrongdoing...?”  Using the TLC series All-American Muslim as his prime example, he complains that “When media portrayals of everyday American Muslim life are produced, the very ordinariness is attacked as a lie.....The only thing accepted as 'normal' for a Muslim is to act like an extremist.  Ordinary Muslim folk appearing to live ordinary Muslim lives?  That's plain suspicious.”  Toward the end of his piece, Bayoumi states: “An ordinary life is more meaningful than it sounds.  It signifies being able to live your life as you define yourself, not as others define you, and being able to assume a life free of unwarranted government prying.  In fact, ordinariness is the foundation of an open society, because it endows citizens with a private life and demands that the government operate openly – not the other way around, which is how closed societies operate.”

The flaw in this argument, of course, is that Islam is not about leading a “private life.”  As has frequently been observed in the years since 9/11, the Koran does not instruct believers to render under Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's.  No, under Islam, what's Caesar's is God's too, and you'd better render it pronto, or else.  Islam, in other words, is not simply a religion of private devotion; it is a comprehensive system that dictates every detail of the social order.  For Muslims living in secular democratic societies, consequently, the religion of their fathers is a stunted thing, constrained by the very liberties that the rest of us look upon as providing freedom from constraint.  Islam has a name for such societies: they are the “House of War,” because it is incumbent upon true believers to struggle against their non-Islamic polities; not until these societies are brought under Islamic control – brought, that is, into the House of Islam – can there be true peace.  Bayoumi speaks about “closed societies,” but it hardly needs pointing out that the great majority of the “closed societies” of our time are Islamic.

For me, the key sentence in Bayoumi's piece is this one: “Every group has its loonies.”  That sentence is more than just a ridiculous joke; it's an affront to the intelligence of everyone who damn well knows the difference between Islam and other “groups,” religious or otherwise, and an insult to the memory of everyone who has ever lost his or her life in a jihadist attack.  Yes, every group has its loonies.  But only Islam has the doctrine of jihad.  Virtually every religion has its points of tension with the idea of individual liberty, and there are, admittedly, other faiths besides Islam that have a ways to go before they manage to coexist perfectly with modernity.  But few of us are lying awake at night worrying about Hinduism or Shinto or Buddhism – let alone Unitarians or Quakers.  The difference, in a word, is jihad – an inextricable element of the Islamic faith.  The absurdity of Bayoumi's mantra about “ordinariness” is that in Islam there is nothing more ordinary – nothing more normative, more fundamental, more essential a part of the religion than the concept of jihad.

Yet to read Bayoumi's piece, you would think that concerns about Islam in America are utterly unfounded: he kvetches about the persistence of “the idea that American Muslim communities are foul nests of hatred, where dark-skinned men plot Arabic violence while combing one another's beards” (thus neatly slipping in the obligatory implication that it's all really just a matter of racism).  No, not every Muslim, American or otherwise, is a potential suicide bomber.  But that's not the point.  Bayoumi quotes both the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security and the Rand Corporation as saying that the number of American Muslims involved in domestic terrorism has been “tiny.”  The Rand reference is apparently to this article, which states that fewer than a hundred American Muslims had “joined jihad.”  But to speak of “joining jihad” is to distort the very idea of jihad.  Jihad is a doctrine of cultural triumphalism of which overt terrorism is only the most conspicuous – and, frankly, the least worrisome – manifestation.  The countless Muslims throughout the West who jumped for joy on 9/11 are jihadists, too.  The members of Muslim student groups who show up at lectures en masse to shout down speakers about Islam are also engaging in jihad.   And men who write articles in which they systematically dismiss the very real threat that Islam poses to Western values are also engaged in jihad.  It is amusing, in a perverse way, that even as he is engaging in this kind of stealth jihad, Bayoumi mocks the term.

It is, indeed, cultural jihad, and not terrorism, that is by far the more significant problem before us.  Yet Bayoumi is at pains to remove the very idea of stealth jihad from the realm of serious discourse.  Anger over the Ground Zero mosque?  Sheer paranoia.  He is not about to address the notion that that building's construction was, at best, an incredibly insensitive response to a massive act of violence in the name of the Islamic faith, and hence a sign of an alarming lack of shame, humility, and respect – and, at worst, an outrageous act of jihadist triumphalism.  He professes to find it “bizarre” that some Americans are unsettled by “Muslims filing for divorce” – entirely obscuring the fact that the source of concern, in these cases, is the well-nigh cartoonish scale of the inequality of men and women under sharia law.

Indeed, he entirely ignores Islam's treatment of women.  And gays.  And Jews.  And its punishment for apostasy.  And so on.  He invites us to sympathize with the president of a college Islamic Society who “feels his rights to practice his religion and express his ideas has been compromised” by the NYPD's surveillance of New York-area Muslim communities – no mention, naturally, of the unsavory background and connections of these campus hotbeds of radicalism.  Bayoumi has nothing to say about CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, which continues to be treated as a legitimate Muslim rights organization – a defender of “ordinary” Muslims – despite massive evidence to the contrary.  Nor does he mention the innumerable “ordinary” imams who have been paraded before us in the media since 9/11 as model moderates and staunch American patriots only to have been unmasked, one after another, as anything but.

On September 11, 2001, men who were acting in the name of Islam, and who were not misguided at all about the contents of their holy books, murdered thousands of people in New York City.  The NYPD, from what I gather, is acting responsibly to prevent other members of the Islamic faith from acting upon the same commandments and bringing about yet another horrific nightmare.  Muslims who want to demonstrate that they are indeed “ordinary” Americans who cherish American freedom and security should be applauding this effort and doing everything they can to support it.  As for The Nation– well, The Nation is The Nation.  What can you do?  It will, perhaps, be with us always, like rats in the New York subways.  The turning point in Christopher Hitchens's career came, you may recall, when he finally realized that it was morally incumbent upon him to sever his longstanding ties with The Nation in order to retain his self-respect in the wake of 9/11.  If The Nation serves any purpose, perhaps it is to remind us just how twisted the left's loyalties can be – and to impress upon us the colossal scale of the lies they are capable of perpetrating in the name of their repellent beliefs, and those of their ideological allies.

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