Former seminary president turned Democratic Party activist Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite takes to the pages of the Washington Post to present as tendentious and ludicrous a thesis as has ever found its way into that august journal. It is captured by the title: “Is fear of Islam the new McCarthyism?” She writes:
Religious freedom and the right of free expression are the strongest source of power Americans have for combating radicals who use Islam as the excuse for their violent extremism.
You can see where this is going from the first sentence. She doesn’t hesitate to say in another column that evangelical Christianity leads to wife beating, but she refuses to acknowledge that fundamentalist Islam might have anything to do with “radicals” who, by some freak of nature or monumental coincidence, just happen to be Muslims.
Instead, however, conservatives such as Newt Gingrich want us to reject not only violent extremists, but also Islamic ideas, especially ideas on religious law, that is, Sharia law.
And your complaint with that is…what, exactly? Later in the piece she specifically says that sharia shouldn’t be adopted in democracies, so what’s her problem with Gingrich? He doesn’t say Islam should be banned in the U.S., or that Muslims shouldn’t be free to live as they choose. His problem is with a specific ideology that he calls “Islamism” that seeks to turn the U.S. (and every other nation) into an Islamic republic based on sharia. Again, what’s her problem?
Gingrich believes that Americans are “at risk” as a nation, not only from the violence of a “militant Islam,” but also from the cultural integration of Muslims in the West. The latter he calls “stealth jihadists.”
This is Thistlethwaite’s spin, and it doesn’t come close to being even an honest interpretation of Gingrich’s message. His objection is not to Muslims who genuinely assimilate into Western democracies, which is to say those who accept the norms of a free society such as freedom of religion, speech, and assembly. He is referring to those who sometimes try to sound like they support those principles, but who in fact use them to carry out an agenda aimed at destroying them and imposing sharia. On an international level, think of the members of the UN Human Rights Council who, in the name of “freedom of religion,” seek to truncate freedom of speech to prevent all criticism of Islam. At home, think of organizations such as the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR), which uses freedom of speech to denounce any criticism of Islam or Muslims as a violation of human rights. CAIR, it might be remembered, was an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case that unveiled a host of financial links between certain American Muslims and Middle East terrorist outfits like Hamas. Those are the people whom Gingrich refers to as “stealth jihadists,” not the ordinary Muslims in hundreds of communities across America who are doing a splendid job of fitting in with their neighbors. This is how the AEI summarized Gingrich’s address:
Almost nine years after the 9/11 attacks, the United States has yet to confront the threat posed by the extremist and irreconcilable wing of Islam. Former Speaker of the House and AEI senior fellow Newt Gingrich will warn that now is the time to awaken from self-deception about the nature of our enemies and rebuild a bipartisan commitment, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, to defend America. Drawing on the lessons of Camus and Orwell, Gingrich will describe the dangers of a wartime government that uses language and misleading labels to obscure reality. He will explain why we need a debate about this larger war against the irreconcilable wing of Islam—which mortally threatens America’s way of life, freedom, and rule of law—and how it relates to the nuclear threat from Iran and the various other risks posed to America’s very existence. Most importantly, Gingrich will argue that America will remain at risk until it confronts this willful blindness about the nature of its enemies and the nature of the war in which it is engaged.
Andrew McCarthy adds this by way of explaining the term “stealth jihadists”:
The single purpose of this jihad is the imposition of sharia. On that score, Gingrich made two points of surpassing importance. First, some Islamists employ mass-murder attacks while others prefer a gradual march through our institutions — our legal, political, academic, and financial systems, as well as our broader culture; the goal of both, though, is the same. The stealth Islamists occasionally feign outrage at the terrorists, but their quarrel is over methodology and pace. Both camps covet the same outcome.
Think Sami Al-Arian. Think Muslim Student Association. Think Mahdi Bray. Think Muslim American Society. These are people who Thistlethwaite apparently wants to turn a blind eye to, even while she levels ridiculous accusations at those who seek to point out the danger that Islamism presents.
A close historical parallel, Gingrich argued in a lengthy address to the American Enterprise Institute entitled America at Risk: Camus, National Security and Afghanistan, where he is now a senior fellow, is the struggle with aommunism [sic].
Almost, but not quite. The total approach Gingrich is proposing has a better historical parallel in McCarthyism. McCarthyism has come to mean making charges of disloyalty or even subversion without regard for adequate evidence. [Emphasis added.]
Right. There is no evidence that radical Islamists are seeking to attack the United States, engage in terrorist activities, or bring countries under the sway of sharia law. The first attack on the World Trade Center, and the trial that exposed the bombers links to Middle East Islamists, never happened. September 11 was a figment of our imaginations. Bali, London, Madrid, innumerable attacks across the Middle East–just common criminals at work. The Holy Land Foundation trial, which demonstrated the ties between Islamist terrorists, political organizations, and their American supporters–nothing to see here, just move along.
Here’s the length to which Thistlethwaite would deny what is right in front of her face:
But to make what is a debate over ideas into a dangerous threat posed by Islam to the West, instead of focusing on violent extremism, is to make Islam itself a vague and yet all-pervasive threat in very much the same way that McCarthy made even general leftist ideas into a threat to national security.
Leave aside the fact that Gingrich doesn’t do that. Ask yourself this: what exactly is “violent extremism”? By acting as though radical Islamic ideas and goals aren’t involved, pretty much anyone–lone nuts who kill abortion doctors, Israeli settlers, Basque separatists, the Tamil Tigers, Nepalese Maoists, the Shining Path, the Earth Liberation Front, maybe even Mexican and Columbian drug gangs–can be lumped under the heading. At that point the conflict with radical and unashamedly violent Shia and Wahhabi Muslims–global in reach, imperialist in ambition, funded by Iranian and Saudi oil money, and with sympathizers throughout the West–can be dismissed as just one problem among many. After all, it’s just as important to prevent the next Tiller as to prevent the next 9/11.
The truth is that Thistlethwaite needs to look in the mirror. The only instance of McCarthyism going on here is the bogus, evidence-free, debate-stopping, pseudo-psychotherapeutic charge of “Islamophobia” that people like her trot out any time anyone suggests that there is any conceivable link between radical Islam and those who attack America and Americans.