Paris and 'What Can Be Done?'
High time for speaking the truth and Muslim accountability.
In the wake of the terror attack in Paris on Friday, November 13, 2015, one can hear the distinctive, papery rasp of hand-wringing. “What can be done? What can be done?” suddenly inflamed citizens chant.
A lot can be done; counter-jihadis have been recommending various measures for decades. Today long-time counter-jihadis know the bitterness of the mythological Cassandra. The Greek god Apollo attempted to seduce Cassandra; she rejected him. He spitefully spat into her mouth, giving her the gift of accurate prophecies that no one would ever believe.
News sources report that ISIS takes in three million dollars a day in oil revenue. Saudi Arabia, which, as has often been pointed out, differs from ISIS in matters of degree, not kind, brings in perhaps a billion dollars a day in oil revenues. We’ve known quite clearly since the 1973 oil embargo that Middle Eastern oil producing nations have us by the short hairs. In our attempts to address Islamic terror, first and foremost, we must achieve energy independence, in the short term by any means necessary, and in the long term by developing alternate sources of fuel.
We must also speak. Many of my Facebook friends boast, today, proudly, of stockpiled ordnance. “When the moment comes, I’m ready.”
I remind them: the moment has come. What are you doing now? I ask. Are you deploying your words? Are you writing letters to elected officials and newspaper editors and working political campaigns? Are you knocking on doors? Are you addressing curricula from kindergarten through college? Do you know who and what your tax dollars and foundation grants are supporting? Are you reading books that prepare you for this necessary speech? Are your donation checks underwriting authors in the frontlines? Are you organizing with others to amplify your impact? If we don’t employ words before we employ bullets, our bullets’ accomplishments may be negligible.
I despair when I encounter hate speech against Muslims. Neologisms like “Mudslime” and “Pisslam” are pathological. Such words lose arguments before they begin. Effective, not to say moral, counter-jihadis reject hatred of Muslims and hate speech against them. If nothing else, opponents of jihad must recognize that hate speech always looks flailing, impotent, and childish.
We need rational speech grounded in facts. We have two models from the twentieth century.
Frank Capra is best known for his 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life. He should also be known for his prescient contribution to America’s military defense and our defeat of fascists. Years before World War Two began, Capra saw the 1935 Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will. Capra immediately realized that young American men would soon be drafted and sent to fight the ranks of young Nazis depicted in that film. Capra realized, further, that words and images would play an essential role in the American war effort. Someone needed to explain to American youth why they were being asked to risk death on foreign shores. Capra created a film series utterly unambiguously titled Why We Fight.
I cannot imagine an American director today watching an ISIS propaganda film, as Capra watched Triumph of the Will, recognizing it as a prelude to war, and creating a retort that clearly lays out the threat that jihad poses. I can’t imagine a current American director creating a film that champions the cherished values that jihad threatens – the very values that young Americans will be asked to lay their lives on the line to defend. ISIS recruits through grisly excursions into spectacular cinematic propaganda; which American film director could create a film that would change a potential ISIS recruit’s mind? Woody Allen? Martin Scorcese? Quentin Tarantino? Steven Spielberg? Wes Anderson? Spike Lee? Not a chance. The only current American director one can imagine coming close to having the kind of epiphany Capra had and making a film offering a counter argument to ISIS is Clint Eastwood.
During the Cold War, Western capitalists and small D democrats were unashamed, unambiguous, and unapologetic in their proclamation and elucidation of Western values. When Soviets shot East Berliners attempting to escape to West Berlin, when Jaruzelski clamped down martial law, when Czech student Jan Palach burned himself alive in Wenceslas Square to protest Russian tanks’ crushing the Prague Spring, American presidents, journalists, and scholars did not turn into mush-mouthed collaborators with and apologists for their enemy’s atrocities. They didn’t obfuscate, tiptoe, and knit together mazes of cowardly, twisted rhetoric. They didn’t say, “The Soviets have a different culture than we. We must respect their different culture. We in the West are such inveterate racists and bigots. We must not sit in judgment on the quaint customs of the commissars. And the Russians have suffered so horribly. And we haven’t always been so very nice to the Russians. Sure, it’s shocking to us to witness a soldier shooting an escapee in the back, but this is their tradition and we cannot judge!”
Some played that game, from New York Times Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter Walter Duranty to Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to KGB journalist Vladimir Posner, who appeared frequently on the Phil Donahue daytime TV talk show.
But other leaders in the West were unashamed in their explication of why the West was better than the Communist Bloc. There was the Kitchen Debate and The Gulag Archipelago and Milton Friedman. The New York Times covered Solidarity and martial law in exhaustive and sympathetic accounts. Lech Walesa named the Western press as instrumental in Communism’s fall. Leaders got it that words and stances, not guns, are inevitably the first weapons in conflict, and their use helps to determine whether or not physical conflict can be avoided and, ultimately, who wins that conflict.
Few of us are destined to be presidents, film directors or prize-winning journalists but we can contribute to victory by rejecting the sidestepping, the over-the-shoulder glancing to make sure the boss or the liberal brother-in-law is not listening in, the pseudonymous internet posts, the carefully jiggered audience settings on Facebook to make sure that no one who might disagree witnesses what we really think, the self-flagellating 1984 doublespeak. We can and must say that the mutilation of little girls’ genitals is evil, that the terrorist murder of innocent and unsuspecting civilians is destructive and cowardly, and that no cherished, selective, or outright fabricated victimization narrative justifies murder – no matter how brazenly it is touted. We can and must say that the West is a miracle, that it is rooted in Ancient Greece and the Judeo-Christian tradition, and that in spite of all of the West’s failings, its active defense is the best chance humanity has for protecting the rights of the individual, women’s rights, and the advance of knowledge, and that its defeat risks consigning all those to the dustbin of history.
And maybe we should also start thinking about lawsuits.
I am Catholic. Money from my own pocket compensated victims of church sex abuse. I never molested a child; I knew no priests who molested children. I had no knowledge of any sex abuse in the church until the scandal broke publicly over ten years ago. Some priests did molest children and the victims were compensated. The money came from all Catholics. We all paid for the errors of a few because we are all part of the Church.
Anti-Semitic acts have been committed by my fellow Catholics, and anti-Semitic words have been spoken. I am responsible for that, too, though I myself am not an anti-Semite, and I have never committed an anti-Semitic act. I feel obligated to take public stands against anti-Semitism.
Popes have apologized and published public and powerful rejections of anti-Semitism. The sixteenth-century Council of Trent eloquently rejected deicide, the charge that Jews killed Jesus. Popes repeatedly denounced blood libel. Christians have publicly wrestled with problematic verses in our scripture, like Matthew 27:24-25. Nostra aetate said specifically of this verse, “What happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.” Christians take moral responsibility for the burden of anti-Semitism. We address it, and we reject it.
Muslims uphold the Koran and the hadith as sacred books. The Koran and hadith contain numerous incitements to violence. Are not, then, Muslims liable for acts committed in response to the incitement in the Koran and hadith?
Of course we all know that most Muslims are nice people, good neighbors, and valuable citizens. We know that most Muslims are not terrorists, and we know that terrorists have murdered many Muslims. In just one recent atrocity, in June, 2014, at Camp Speicher, ISIS members handcuffed 1,500 Shi’ites, threw them face down into shallow trenches, and shot them in the back with automatic weapons. Many more such atrocities could be mentioned, including the December, 2014 Peshawar school massacre. Members of the Taliban massacred 132 Pakistani school children.
Yes, most Muslims are good people. Yes, many Muslims have been victims of terrorism. But all Muslims contribute to an institution that promulgates the following lines as coming directly from God.
- “I have been ordered by Allah to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle, and offer the prayers perfectly and give the obligatory charity, so if they perform that, then they save their lives and property from me.”
- “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement”
- “I have been given superiority over the other prophets in six respects: I have been given words which are concise but comprehensive in meaning; I have been helped by terror; spoils have been made lawful to me; the earth has been made for me clean and a place of worship; I have been sent to all mankind and the line of prophets is closed with me.”
- “A stone will say, ‘O Muslim! There is a Jew behind me; kill him!’”
Many similar lines could be cited, including verses justifying torture, the promise of heaven to killers, and the rape of captive women and girls.
In the same way that I, as a Catholic, am financially responsible for crimes committed by sexually predatory priests, and morally responsible for Matthew 27:24-25, are Muslims not both financially and morally responsible for crimes committed by jihadi terrorists?
I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer. I do think, though, that the case needs to debate, vigorously, and in public.
Please note that at no point in this offering of my thoughts after the November 13 terror attacks in Paris do I recommend war. As a Christian, I can’t support a war unless all the criteria established by Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas for just war are met. I am dubious about the benefit of war given the hydra-headed nature of our enemy and our failure to address the problem of energy dependence. Too, I see no circumstances any time soon under which we would conduct the kind of war that we conducted against Nazi Germany. After World War Two, anti-Nazification efforts were so thorough that the Brothers Grimm collection of folktales was banned from schools and libraries in Germany. As long as we decline to address the use of Koranic verses to incite violence, we are just spinning our wheels.