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George W. Rutler

The Shores of Tripoli: The Libyan Outrage and Our Historically Challenged President

Shores of Tripoli

In a frequently misquoted line from the Life of Reason, George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Cultural amnesia, helpless or deliberate, does enable people to rewrite history without compunction, and it also makes it easy for others to believe the fiction as fact, or to suppose in a “nunc pro tunc” way that projects our assumptions onto the ways things were seen in the past. I should guess that most of our leaders in government today could not pass the qualifying examination in history as was required for a high school diploma in the State of New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. I cite the example of a speech of President Obama at the fourth annual “Iftar” dinner, a feast at the end of a day of Ramadan fasting, for assembled Muslims in the White House on August 10 in this year of 2012:

As I’ve noted before, Thomas Jefferson once held a sunset dinner here with an envoy from Tunisia—perhaps the first Iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago. And some of you, as you arrived tonight, may have seen our special display, courtesy of our friends at the Library of Congress—the Koran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson. And that’s a reminder, along with the generations of patriotic Muslims in America, that Islam—like so many faiths—is part of our national story.

The miscalculation about the role of Muslims in our nation’s history was mentioned previously in President Obama’s speech in Cairo on June 4, 2009 in which he said he was speaking “as a student of history.” As the “Arab Spring” looks increasingly like an autumn headed for winter, it may go in the annals of presidential speeches as the one most tightly packed with mistakes of historical fact: “Islam has always been a part of America’s story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, ‘The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.’ … And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers—Thomas Jefferson—kept in his personal library.”

If I felt confident that President Obama could name some of the Hasmonean kings, I could point out that while they were “a part of the story” of Christianity, they were not so in a positive light. This might put into a better perspective any notion that the Treaty of Tripoli was anything like a free trade agreement, or that the Tunisian envoy’s dinner with Jefferson was a pleasant interlude, or that Jefferson’s purchase of “Holy Koran” was part of his quest for oriental wisdom. For one thing, Jefferson’s copy was an English translation published in 1734 by George Sale. As it was not in Arabic, it was not any more authentic in the opinion of Muslims than is Farrakhan’s “Nation of Islam” which the first Muslim congressman to whom Obama alluded, Keith Ellison, assisted in some of its activities before he abjured it during his election campaign.

In the eighteenth century, Tripoli, along with the other Barbary Coast lands of Tunis and Algiers (being North African provinces of the Ottoman Empire) and Morocco, had been centers of piracy, preying with a special lust on the ships of the fledgling United States. In March of 1785, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams met in London with the representative of the Dey of Algiers to Britain, Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja. They posed the simple question: Why were the Muslims so hostile to a new country that had done them no injury? Adams joined Jefferson in reporting to Congress through a letter to John Jay who was then Secretary of Foreign Affairs, that “Islam was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to paradise.”

For Jefferson, Islam was a curiosity and beyond the pale of reason, but its anti-clericalism and disdain for Christianity had a wry appeal, as it also had to Voltaire, for its destructive influence on the old system of Western beliefs. Considering the vast fortunes being lost to the Barbary pirates, and the thousands of Europeans and Americans being captured for slavery, Congress favored appeasement, by bribing the pirates in the form of annual tribute. Jefferson objected: “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.” Adams approved the payoff money, saying “We ought not to fight them at all unless we determine to fight them forever.” Tripoli broke its truce and Jefferson launched the Tripolitan War as soon as he became president, though it was not officially declared by Congress. Probably the most significant event at the start of Jefferson’s administration was the dispatch of U.S. vessels, to the Barbary coast, and the march of Army and Marines across the desert from Egypt into Tripolitania, freeing Americans enslaved by the Muslims. There were degrees of enslavement, and not all were repugnant: rather like Joseph in Egypt, it was possible for some to attain rank, like John Leander Cathcart a United States citizen (having emigrated from Ireland) who worked his way up from keeper of the royal zoo to became a chief clerk to the Dey of Algiers

Jefferson did not arrange an Iftar dinner for what Obama in his 2010 Iftar address called “the first Muslim ambassador to the United States.” Sidi Soliman Mell-imelli was not an ambassador but a temporary envoy from the Bey of Tunis. Thus “ambassador” was qualified as “envoy” in Obama’s 2012 Iftar address, which also added “perhaps” to the claim that Jefferson’s dinner for the envoy was an Iftar. Mell-imelli spent six months in Washington, fascinating the locals with his charming ways and exotic dress of a scarlet robe, a turban of twenty yards of fabric, and yellow shoes. Indulging the occult, he wrapped Dolly Madison in his cloak, assuring her that it would guarantee the birth of a son. In this he failed. While not formally acceding to Mell-imelli’s request that concubines be supplied to his hotel, the State Department was able to find a Greek woman named Georgia to keep him company. Secretary of State Madison advised Jefferson that it would be wise to let “pass unnoticed the unique conduct” of this representative of the Barbary states. Mell-imelli may have dined at the Executive Mansion more than once, and customarily at the 3:30 PM dinner hour. In Ramadan, he asked to be excused, so Jefferson delayed the dinner for several hours, with no change in menu and without any notion of catering a ritual feast. Cathcart, who had been liberated and returned to the United States, was an escort for Mell-imelli and his retinue, because of his acquired Arabic. He noted that the envoy’s party did not follow the Islamic rules of temperance and was happy to be acquitted of his charge. Mell-imelli’s congeniality did not extend to a delegation of Cherokee Indians whom he called “vile heretics” for following neither Moses or Jesus. He told Jefferson that he doubted that these Cherokees had descended from Adam.

Not to be any more pedantic, Presdient Obama was not precise in saying that Morocco was the first nation to recognize the United States as a sovereign state. While the city-state of Dubrovnik (then the Republic of Ragusa) claims that honor, and France also has claim through its military agency in the revolutionary period, the Netherlands was actually the first, acting through the Dutch island of St. Eustatius. While visiting there in 1939, President Roosevelt unveiled a plaque that says: “Here the sovereignty of the_ United States of America was first formally acknowledged to a national vessel by a foreign official.”

While these matters may have been so submerged in arcane history that they fail to appear on Presidential teleprompters, it is fair to read John Adam’s sense of Islam in what John Quincy Adams distilled:

The precept of the Koran is, perpetual war against all who deny, that Mahomet is the prophet of God. The vanquished may purchase their lives, by the payment of tribute; the victorious may be appeased by a false and delusive promise of peace; and the faithful follower of the prophet, may submit to the imperious necessities of defeat: but the command to propagate the Moslem creed by the sword is always obligatory, when it can be made effective. The commands of the prophet may be performed alike, by fraud, or by force.

Adams was not only aware that Islam promoted history’s largest slave system, including over a million Europeans and tens of millions of Africans, but had even nibbled at New Englanders. In 1625, Governor William Bradford lamented that one of the Massachusetts Bays Colony’s ships, in the English Channel within view of Plymouth, had been boarded by Turks who took the captain and crew as slaves to Morocco. The sultan there Moulay Ismail, pride of the Alaoutie dynasty, kept 25,000 white slaves. He was known to test his latest axes and knives on slaves, but for that purpose he used Africans.

In his most recent Iftar speech, President Obama said “Indeed, you know that the Koran teaches, ‘Be it man or woman, each of you is equal to the other.’ Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children slaves in Sudan Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania do not know that. In the nineteenth century, Saint Josephine Bakhita was enslaved by Arab traders in Sudan and forced to convert to Islam. Her saga is a reminder that President Obama’s exegesis of the Koran is nuanced. That is especially unfortunate for women and should be a concern to those like Sandra Fluke who spoke at the recent Democrat convention of a Republican “war against women.” Sura 4 of the Koran tells Muslim men: “Forbidden to you also are married women, except those who are in your hands as slaves.” Unlike the Christian scriptures whose portents are interpreted by the same Church that canonized them, the Koran claims to be the very dictation of the Almighty, not one single letter of which can be changed. This then makes Sura 9 awkward for citation in an after-dinner speech: “Believers! Wage war against such of the infidels as are your neighbors, and let them find you rigorous; and know that God is with those who fear him.” Happily when Thomas Jefferson hosted his Non-Iftar dinner, he did not quote the 47th Sutra in his Non-Koran: “When you encounter the infidels, strike off their heads until you have made a great slaughter among them, and of the rest make fast the fetters.”

How former presidents should occupy their time in retirement is not indicated by the Constitution, and they are free agents in that regard. They could spend some of their days boning up on history, but it would be better if they had known some history before being elected to become part of it.

  • Renniemark

    More lslamophobic musings this time wrapped in pedantry and minutiae. Fr. Butler would have been better off following your cousin’s words than combing 18th Century historybooks for anti-Islam quotes or selecting isolated verses from the Koran for his villification of one of the world’s great faiths. (As a cleric he knows the same could be done with the Bible. As an historian he knows Muslims didn’t corner the global slave traffic.) Here’s what President George W, Bush had to say: “When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace. And that’s made brothers and sisters out of every race — out of every race. America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect. Women who cover their heads in this country must feel comfortable going outside their homes. Moms who wear cover must be not intimidated in America. That’s not the America I know. That’s not the America I value,” Or, celebrating the end of Ramadan at the White House (two months after 9/11) this: “The Islam that we know is a faith devoted to the worship of one God, as revealed through The Holy Qur’an. It teaches the value and the importance of charity, mercy, and peace.” We are better served understanding the Muslim world of the 21st Century by listening to Pres. Bush than to Gov. Bradford, Jefferson or Adams. Historical minutiae may bring chuckles at President Obama’s lack of command of historical details, but it certainly gets us nowhere in understanding how to coexist peacefully and prosperously with one quarter of the world’s population.

  • HenryEustaceMcCulloch

    Thank you, Mr. Pierce, for sharing this corrective exegesis by Fr. George Rutler (not Butler, Mr. Rennie…) of Barack Hussein Obama’s persistent and gratuitously pro-Islam distortions. It is good for Americans to know what their history really is, not what America’s most prominent multiculturalist propagandist wants them to believe it is.

    Pace Mr. Rennie again, we are far better off understanding the Moslem world of the 21st century by listening to what deeply educated and discerning men such as Jefferson and Adams knew about Islam; GW Bush, for all his virtues, was quite naive about Islam. Obama is not naive about Islam; he is a partisan of Islam in the West, although I do not think he himself is a believing Moslem, any more than listening to Jeremiah Wright’s racist rants for 20 years has made him a believing Christian. I would characterise Obama as an agent of influence (anyone familiar with Cold War tradecraft of the KGB and GRU will know what that means) of Islam. Mr. Obama said so himself, explicitly, in his fawning speech to the assembled imams of al-Azhar in June 2009: “I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.” After I heard that, I ransacked my dog-eared copy of the U.S. Constitution to find just where that novel presidential duty comes from. I couldn’t find anything. That is perhaps the most outlandish utterance ever by a U.S. president in an official capacity, and there’s plenty of competition.

    Actually, to understand Islam better still, go to the source. After having the dubious pleasure of experiencing the Arabs’ flying visit to New York 11 years ago from about 1,000 feet away, I wondered what could motivate those men to throw away their own lives in their attempt to kill as many perfect strangers (to them) as possible. The obvious answer was to read the Koran and find out what it demands of the faithful. And so I did, along with many of the Hadiths that are all the explication of the Koran that Islam allows. That reading corroborated John Quincy Adams’s observations about Islam, and utterly contradicted the “religion of peace” nonsense that appeasing Western politicians of all political persuasions so thoughtlessly indulge. It also made clear that with their jihad airstrikes against New York and Washington, the September 11th attackers were being true to Islam’s aggressive and expansionist mandates, not “hijacking a religion of peace.”

    Islam is alien to the West, and has been hostile to the West and Christianity from its very inception (to say nothing of its vicious hostility to the Jews, which begins right in the Koran – if not before). Islamic warriors’ pattern of conquest over 1,400 years – in Palestine and Syria, Egypt, Spain, Asia Minor, Persia, India, the Balkans… – has been to devastate the civilization of the lands overrun and then prey upon what social capital survives in the ruins they have created. There are more recent parallels. Alexandria and Beirut are shells of the cities they once were, and that is explicitly because they have largely been purged of non-Moslems. Here is how Theodore Roosevelt, another well-educated man, put it: “During the thousand years that included the careers of the Frankish soldier [Charles Martel] and the Polish king [John Sobieski], the Christians of Asia and Africa proved unable to wage successful war with the Moslem conquerors; and in consequence Christianity practically vanished from the two continents; and today nobody can find in them any “social values” whatever, in the sense in which we use the words, so far as the sphere of Mohammedan influence. There are such “social values” today in Europe, America, and Australia only because during those thousand years the Christians of Europe possessed the warlike power to do what the Christians of Asia and Africa had failed to do – that is, to beat back the Moslem invader.”

    The West’s best course vis-a-vis Islam is to separate from it as much as possible. Other than in pursuit of undeniable Western interests, meddle as little as possible in Moslem lands and – just as necessary – end large-scale Moslem immigration to the West and encourage as many of the socially hostile Moslems whom we have heedlessly allowed to settle in our midst to return to their homelands, where they won’t be constantly confronted by our infidel behaviours that inflame them so much. The greater our mutual separation, the more peaceful our interactions are likely to be. I’m not saying Westerners should not visit the Middle East; I know I hope to return to Egypt some day. Nor that Moslems should not visit the West for business or tourism. Only that Western societies should not submit to the religious and social demands of Islam – and those demands inevitably follow Moslem in-migration of any size.

    Probably the least pleasant of Islam’s several unpleasant features is its systematic subjugation of women into a social position little better than that of domestic animals (sadly, I suspect many Arab men have a higher regard for their horses than for their women). Western governments that ban the wearing of the hijab and niqab are right to do so. The social order those garments represent should be repellent to Western mores, and permitting them to be flaunted freely on Western streets is a cultural surrender to a hostile interloper – certainly Moslems see such concessions not as welcoming gestures but as signs of cultural submission to Moslem mores, and they are right.

    Last word goes to another seasoned and perceptive Western statesmen, one with considerable personal experience of Islam in arms, Winston Churchill: “How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen; all know how to die; but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.”

    Westerners, beware!

  • Renniemark

    I do apologize to Fr. Rutler for the typo you point out sir. As to the rest of your comment, I’m simply aghast. I have read the Koran and Bible through and through, several times for the Koran and more than I can count for the Bible. I am an Evangelical Christian, a Westerner of incalculable generations and had not until just now ever read such a mishmash of Islamophobic, xenophobic garbage. I find plenty of fault with the Obama Administration both with respect to domestic and foreign policy. I don’t need to resort to 1950s conspiracy thought models to prove my point ever either. I’ll stand with Pres. George W. Bush, a devout Chrsitian if there ever were one, any day on his observations of islam and Muslim life in America, and leave your hateful rantings to those moved by such empty generalizations, stereotypes and mimicry. I and one of my daughters have spent abundant time in Muslim countries, she living as a guest for monhs with a Muslim family in a Muslim nation. Your occidentalist prejudices are truly loathsome. Just in respect of gender discrimination alone, you overlook for example the fact that it has taken women 2000 years to gain equality in parts of Christianity and they’re still denied it in Roman Catholicism. As for bloodiness, read what the Israelites did to the Amorites or Canaanites if you like ancient stories of genocide. Or take the more recent example of our own “Christian” nation largely exterminating the indigenous population here. There’s barely a polite response to your ravings. Don’t flatter yourself that you have shared anything that in the least gives you the right to tell the rest of us “Beware.” Your sort of rabid bigotry and ignorant distrust of the larger Moslem world is part of why we are the targets we’ve become.

  • guest

    I would like to say that when a very intelligent and thoughtful man (Father Rutler) provides a reasoned opinion based upon history and facts, the reader should refrain from disrespecting the person or his work and instead respond to the substance of the argument. A man who has no use for history and what it teaches is a dangerous man. Ranting and raving does not make it true. But it does effectively divide us and create animosity.

  • Renniemark

    To the Anonymous Guest, I said nothing disrespectful about Fr. Rutler. I said merely that Pres. Bush’s comments are more insightful and sympathetic to the situation in which we find ourselves in the 21st Century. With respect to Mr. McCulloch’s “ranting and raving” (to use your choice words) I don’t see any great historical insights worthy of similar deference.

    • HenryEustaceMcCulloch

      Dear Mr. Rennie,

      Are you so sure the Anonymous Guest’s characterisation of “ranting and raving” is aimed at my response to Fr. Rutler’s essay and to your first comment? I rather think not. The target may lie elsewhere.

      At the risk of being overly repetitive, for scholars more erudite than I have been over this ground many times, there are essential distinctions to bear in mind between the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, and the Koran and Hadiths.

      You allude to violence on the part of (often nominal) Christians. That Christians have often been violent is undeniable. However, when Christians engage in violence other than in the conduct of a just war (and what other faith has taken the trouble to try to determine what might constitute a just war?) and the executions of legally condemned murderers, they act contrary to the tenets of their faith and not in obedience to any Christian scriptural command.

      The example most offered of irrational religion-fired Christian violence, the Crusades, does not hold up to scrutiny as an example of that. By 1096, when Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade, Moslem invaders had conquered all of the ancient Christian lands of Asia and Africa and had overrun almost all of Spain, along with Sicily and other Mediterranean islands. Under Moslem occupation, Christian populations endured a servile and capricious regime of dhimmitude, with no rights a Moslem need respect. Pilgrims to the Holy Land were under continuous threat of violence. The catalyst was the Eastern Emperor Alexius II Comnenus’s appeal to Pope Urban for relief after the Moslem Turks had defeated Byzantium’s armies at Manzikert and overrun Asia Minor – the heart of the Eastern Empire – to within a day’s raiding of Constantinople. The Crusades were a defensive action on the part of Christendom against an aggressively expanding enemy that threatened to expunge Christian civilisation altogether. That, of course, is even more true of the Reconquista of Spain and Portugal – as also of the long Russian struggle to throw off the Mongol yoke, for those invading raider-overlords were also Moslem.

      The Moslem threat to the West was not finally halted until 1683 — on September 11th, ever since a date of some significance to militant Moslems — and then only at the very gates of Vienna. Tragically and criminally, the multiculturalist fools who now run every Western nation are giving militant Islam a second chance against the West through what may best be described as demographic invasion, at a time when Christianity is at its weakest in Western society.

      You also mention the campaigns of Joshua in Canaan as examples of Hebrew blood-thirstiness. Those Bronze Age Hebrews may indeed have been blood-thirsty; theirs was an age with precious little accommodation for pacifists. The Book of Joshua and the other narratives of battles in the Old Testament are histories, records of past events.

      While the Koran contains some (very muddled) historical content, its injunctions and commands to the Islamic faithful are not restricted to the past. They are operative and binding today and every day, as any honest jihadist would be very pleased to tell you. It is significant that while active, violent jihadists are indeed a minority of the world’s Moslems, the world-wide Umma – both in the Dar al-Islam and the Dar al-Harb – generally does not condemn jihadists’ violence and indeed offers them cover and concealment within the Moslem ghettoes that now blight every major European city, and are rapidly growing in North America and Australia as well. It would thus appear that even Moslems who would not themselves engage in jihadist attacks acknowledge that they do not violate Islam’s tenets.

      As for the social position of women in Christendom compared with their place in Islam, you’re planting your standard in very soft ground there. And as for the subjugation of women in Roman Catholicism, I suspect that, to give only two examples, both Santa Teresa de Avila and Mother Teresa of Calcutta would strongly dispute that point with you. You will search in vain for their Moslem analogues.

      I know you will call this comment ranting and raving as well, but – as with my previous – it is historically accurate, even if uncomfortable for multiculturalists of an ecumenical bent to contemplate.

  • Opineneedles

    From a guest-

    Your publication isn’t Islamophobic, and neither are you. I’ve seen broad indictments made in The Academy when one goes against the grain: it can have, as you know, a chilling effect. The irony is that you’ve had extensive experience in the Middle East, and are on record as having spoken to Islamic contributions to world civilization in historiography and mathematics, among others, as I recall. In keeping with the Western Liberal tradition I know Opine Needles–that is to say, you– to be sufficiently open that you’d accept articles with great diversity of opinion and alternate routes to Middle Eastern policy and issues. You of course have all the makings of a good Whig–as if you need to be reminded.

    Mr. Rennie is of course entitled to his opinion, and it speaks volumes that you didn’t screen his responses but instead opted to have them published instantly. The Rev Rutler I know from a few of his articles, and have seen him on TV from time to time: there is no doubt as to his breadth of knowledge and his trenchant expression. What I’m reading in this debate is that people can agree to disagree, and have a forum in which to do so devoid of threats or fears. The “cartoon riots” in Denmark and elsewhere ring a bell here in stifling discourse about current issues. There is no excuse for an incendiary film trailer, but the reaction to it or other perceived slights won’t go away, although we can hope for the best and assiduously avoid broad indictment of an entire people, which is what I think Mr. Rennie is in part trying to say.

    On this matter though, “the truth is somewhere in the middle” doesn’t suffice. Reality is just that. We do not indict an entire people any more than we deny the reality of such events as the Danish “cartoon riots,” the second rate status of women in segments of Islam, and fundamentalist reactions, some violent, in other areas. In matters of causality the USA is not the prime cause of discontent in the Islamic world. We do not have statistical data for specific numbers of Islamist actions but understand that a new phenomenon is now present in world events. Whether or not Prof. Samuel Huntington is accurate on clash of civilizations is less an issue than the reality of the contemporary events.

    Mr. Rennie’s good will is not in doubt. Mr. Rennie cites Old Testament / Hebrew Scripture to make a point on which I’d extend. Biblical allusions to tragedies, human arrogance, and warfare (among many other more positive elements of existence, both human and Divine–as if that needs to be said) are but examples on which Calvin and Hobbes drew to perceive the reality of the human condition. Such reality doesn’t go away. I don’t doubt for a moment Mr. Rennie’s decent instincts and understand his personal involvement through his daughter’s stay in, and his visit to the Middle East. The publisher of Opine Needles doesn’t need a lecture about the benefits of international travel or knowledge of other languages, since he has done both on countless occasions. Members of my own family, involved in public service, have more than once lectured me about the breadth one obtains in working and living with people in the international arena. There is no need to argue on this one, or to fight the better instincts within us for stability in international relations and understanding. Your own uncle, President George H.W. Bush, is living testimony to an exemplary and astute understanding of incisive realpolitik tempered with restraint and knowledge in Middle Eastern policy.

    We can, of course, extend political and religious turmoil to the twenty-first century and go back in time to the beginning of human history. I too thought of the nineteen-thirties and the debate both in the USA and the UK between isolationists, non-interventionists, and interventionists. It’s a tender area since the contexts are different even though national interest and and international stability (such as it is) are constants. So yes: the raging debate continues and will not abate. There is such flux in history, rapidity of change in current world problems, instant responses via electronic media, and passionate attitudes tempting us to think we live in a new era–I am not quite convinced of that– that still needs to place self-protection as the main priority. The actors on the world stage have changed; the need for security, stability, and self-protection have not. It is a conceit to think that ours is the most desperate of times, though our own ear is not at all comfortable any more than we need to gloat with self aggrandizement about our day. There’s enough misery to go around in the world, but common sense dictates that there is nothing at all wrong with defense of Western institutions and values. Forgive my Hobbesian world view.

  • Renniemark

    My separate comments herein are being lumped together and judged incorrectly. I have not found fault with the site’s sponsor here although I do question the propriety of the back-toback reproduction “What’s Happening Here?”, a piece of deranged conspiracy meanderings if there ever were one. I commented there and maybe those comments are influencing reactions to mine here.) Nevertheless, in respect of Fr. Rutler’s initial piece, my observation was a simple one: we should be moved more by President Bush’s reflections on Islam and the West than those of Bradford, Jefferson or Adams. The sponsor provoked me by observing in his introductory remarks that he considered President’s Obama’s historical references disingenuous. Maybe Fr. Rutler thinks that as well. That opinion I do reject and also I reject the idea that there is some intentional favoritism toward the Muslim world, or animus toward the West, that animates Obama’s orientation on the subject. Be that as it may, in contrast to Fr. Rutler’s considered though pedantic essay, I did find Mr. McCulloch’s comments offensive. Perhaps that’s where my anonymous interlocutor(s) finds fault with me,however unashamed to sign my own words. Mr. McCulloch’s broad indictment of Muslims does reflect Islamophobia of the most insidious kind. It is not just a reverence for Western institutions (which I share) as the rehabilitating comment by Anonymous Guest suggests. It is pure distrust of Muslims right down to suspicions of tourists and wariness of immigrants. I find that distasteful and frankly ignorant in the extreme. Call me raving or ranting; no matter. I am intolerant of intolerance.

    • HenryEustaceMcCulloch

      Dear Mr. Rennie,

      If my comments have offended you, alas, I cannot apologize. I certainly don’t apologize for sketching a broad overview of Islam’s troubled relations with the West. While I might wish the story were otherwise, that history should not lead any rational Westerner to roll out the welcome mat for Islam.

      I do not fear Islam (which is what I think the neologism “Islamophobia,” insidious or otherwise, actually means), but I am wary of it. I question whether Islam, on any traditional understanding, is compatible with the reverence for Western institutions that we share. I’m afraid, again based on the historical record and what Moslem leaders actually say to their people in their own tongues, that Islam challenges those institutions and accords them no respect.

      I do harbor some suspicion of Moslem tourists in the West – evidently so does the U.S. government, or I wouldn’t have to strip to my socks every time I fly somewhere. Whatever the federal government may tell Americans, I suspect you know as well as I that travelers are not subjected to the TSA’s indignities out of fear of white supremacists and their ilk, but of the sort of men — and occasionally women — who are willing to kill themselves to take out as many infidels as possible. They profess Islam, and act in its name. Again, I might wish the situation were otherwise, but it is not.

      And I am indeed wary of Moslem immigrants to the West. Unlike most other types of migrant, too many Moslems come West with a very distinct social and religious agenda. That agenda is hostile to my faith and our civilization, and I feel no obligation to welcome or accommodate it. As I wrote in an earlier post, for the ongoing safety and ultimate survival of Western nations Moslem immigration to the West should effectively be halted and to the extent practical reversed. I stand by that. (And I’ll note in passing that while many liberals and neoconservatives seem to think that non-Westerners are endowed with a certain unalienable right to immigrate at will to Western countries, no-one is proposing any right on the part of Westerners to immigrate to Moslem countries; one can imagine the response should anyone propose such an equivalence.) My view is not based on hatred of Moslems, which I do not have, but on what I think are practical considerations in defending what’s left of the West.

      The flip-side of Western separation from Islam, as I also wrote, is that Western powers, pre-eminently the United States, should meddle a great deal less in the Middle East. I’m sure almost all Moslems would agree, as would the local Christians who have suffered so much harm as the collateral damage of our ill-considered interventions in Middle Eastern countries.

      As for Barack Hussein Obama’s orientation, in the aftermath of the murder of an American ambassador and his colleagues by what, it’s now clear, was a jihad-motivated Moslem mob, he gave us another pretty clear indication in his jejune oration before the UN. Mr. Obama, speaking in his official capacity just as he had in Cairo, said “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” As Christians, Jews and just about any non-Moslems do not acknowledge Mohammed as a prophet of any sort — an opinion that is ipso facto slanderous in Moslem terms — the President of the United States would appear to exclude a future for them. Again, a very odd position for an American president to take, especially in the wake of the murder of one of his ambassadors by Moslems. It is, however, of a piece with the unwarranted promise he made to the imams of al-Azhar three years ago. So I do perceive an orientation in favor of Islam in Mr. Obama’s orations and policy, and I cannot apologize for seeing it.

      • Renniemark

        There’s nothing I can add to our general discussion Mr. McCulloch other than I disagree with your characterization of Islam and your inappropriate conflation of extremist, violent ideology with the mainstream theology of that great religion and the life of its adherents. In respect of the President’s UN speech (which I found superb) you predictably sieze on one line in a 30 minute speech. First, and reagrdless of context, that line is perfectly reasonable; the future should not belong to slanderers of Mohammed anymore than it should slanderers of Moses, Jesus or Buddha. (A point that is essentially made if you had quote the relevant section of the speech in its entirety,) Second, the context here is important; paragraph after paragraph preceding the quoted line were devoted to denouncing extremist violence in the region, rejecting any notion that somehow a disgusting video was an acceptable justification, affirming US resolve to pursue those responsible, upholding the fundamental importance to America and Americans of free speech and making it clear that under no circumstances whatsoever would the US ban the exercise of free speech however offensive. (I’m summarizing here; as you know the speech developed each of those points more fulsomely.) Then, the President denounced specifically the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Only then did he speak the line you quoted and that was followed up immediately with this:”Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied.” To read Islamic orientation into his words is ludicrous. He’s right; the future shouldn’t belong to slanderers. How in the world can a sensible person find that objectionable particularly embedded as it was in a speech that honored Amb. Stevens and all he stood for right to its core?

        • HenryEustaceMcCulloch

          Dear Mr. Rennie,

          It is undeniable that in his UN speech, Barack Obama gave pride of place to his statement that “[t]he future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” and that he said so immediately after rampaging Moslems had murdered an American ambassador in a Moslem land. That statement smacks of grovelling, as did Mr. Obama’s al-Azhar speech, so I cannot share your admiration of it.

          But as you rightly note, that is not all Mr. Obama said in that paragraph. Nevertheless, I do find Obama’s giving first precedence to slights, real or imagined, of Mohammed noteworthy. As you have mentioned Obama’s full paragraph, with that obeisance to Islam as its lead-off sentence, let’s parse the rest of it a little.

          There are some perhaps revealing disparities in Obama’s phrasing. After Obama anathematises those who would slander the prophet of Islam, he goes on to say that “those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated”.

          Evidently, in the worldview of the man who currently lives in government housing on Pennsylvania Avenue, slandering the prophet of Islam is an ultimate no-no, while desecrating the image of Jesus is a rather secondary no-no. Obama has nothing to say about slandering or defaming the actual man whom Christians believe is the Son of God — indeed whom Christians believe is the Logos, God Incarnate as man. Perhaps that is because those who worship the Christian God generally don’t respond to insults to Him with riot and murder.

          I believe it is possible, and reasonable, to conclude that Obama’s no doubt carefully wrought phrasing reflects a double-standard at work, one that benefits the propagation of Islam, which can only come at the expense of other creeds and ways of life. The demonstrable consequences of Obama policy in the Middle East support an interpretation that Obama, or at least senior officials of his administration, welcome the establishment of more aggressively Islamic governments in the Middle East, again regimes that by their very nature arise to the detriment of those who hold to other creeds or ways of life of which Islam does not approve.

          I concede that such a preferential option for Islam would be an astonishing position for a President of the United States to hold, but it is beyond astonishing that Barack Obama, a man of whom we really know astonishingly little, is the President of the United States in the first place.

          Consider also that from the point of view of a faithful Moslem who understands the teachings of his own faith, the Christian belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that no-one born after His coming is a prophet is an ongoing slander of the man Moslems revere as their prophet, a perpetual source of offence. Looked at that way, while perhaps Obama did not quite intend it so (he does call himself Christian; while it’s not for me to judge another’s faith, I’m skeptical), Obama does appear to be saying that the future must not belong to Christians — nor to Jews, Buddhists, Hindus… — as any belief-system that fails to honor Mohammed as a prophet is in Moslem terms slanderous by definition.

          So where does Barack Hussein Obama’s heart lie? While one can never know for sure with this still-mysterious man, I’m going to stick by my previous comment that Obama is an agent of influence of Islam in the West. And that is something no American president – no Western leader – should be.

          Again, I cannot apologise if my thoughts about Islam and how the West should respond to Islam’s ongoing challenge offend Mr. Rennie, but I will say that I am enjoying our exchange (and hope we’re not boring other Opine Needles readers to death by continuing to engage in it.)

          • Opine Needles

            debate on fellows!

  • HenryEustaceMcCulloch

    Here is a remarkable departure in American mainstream media coverage of Islam, one which in its frankness I hope will catch on. It is also an interesting contemporary follow-on to Fr. Rutler’s analysis of the historical interactions of America with Islam. Paul Sperry of the Hoover Institution writes a column for Investors’ Business Daily taking an honest, instead of the typical sugar-coated, look at Islam and how Moslems all too often conduct themselves in America (and in all Western lands, of course). I’m just afraid writing this willl cost Sperry his IBD by-line and perhaps endanger his Hoover fellowship. Should that happen, we’ll know that we are effectively under the discretionary rule of Islam already. Should it not, we’ll know we still have the freedom to protest this unnecessary — and, by most Americans, unwanted — transformation via mass immigration of the American nation, including the growing introduction of sharia into American jurisprudence. Because there is no guarantee that IBD will leave Sperry’s column up on its website, I take the liberty of copying it here. Read this objectively, and ask yourself: Is Sperry wrong in what he says? And does he say what he does out of racism or hatred? I think the answer to both questions is no. HMcC

    Assuming The Best About Muslims
    Mon, Sep 24 2012

    Newsweek’s latest cover story, titled “Muslim Rage,” is meant to shock the average American—as if Muslim fury is a new phenomenon. “Muslim rage” is in fact a tedious redundancy. When are the followers of Islam not enraged?

    Still, the politically correct media elite appear at long last to be suffering tolerance fatigue. They’ve finally grown weary of pretending Muslims aren’t what they do.

    Some are even expressing disgust with the perpetually offended and violent Muslim community. If the gang rape of a “60 Minutes” correspondent in Tahrir Square wasn’t enough to turn their stomachs, the parading of an allegedly gay American ambassador’s naked corpse through the streets of Benghazi is.

    CNN host Wolf Blitzer, in a spasm of honest frustration, blurted out:

    “Why do these people hate America after all that the U.S. has done to liberate” them?

    Answer: religion. Not, as the New York Times whines, because of B-movies. Or drone strikes. Or waterboarding. Or Gitmo. Or Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or Hiroshima. Or the countless other excuses offered.

    They hate us because they are Muslim and we are not.

    But then, Blitzer knew this. He also reported that CNN correspondents outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo were expecting a surge in violence “after Friday prayers.” It’s a remarkable thing when religious adherents grow angrier after worship.

    Since 9/11, and in spite of 9/11, Americans have honorably assumed the best about Muslims. Our first assumption has been that the Muslim terrorists and even the extremists who support them are in the minority. And that the overwhelming lot of Muslims in this country and around the world are moderate and peace-loving, and share our basic values.

    We’ve applied this assumption to the war on terror. It’s embedded in our combat rules of engagement in Afghanistan; our counterterrorism training at home; our diplomatic outreach; and our interfaith activities.

    Yet our Judeo-Christian values aren’t winning over Muslims in the Middle East. It’s their totalitarian values that are influencing us. With the help of Muslim Brotherhood front groups in America, they’re imposing their blasphemy and other Shariah laws on us. We’re compromising our freedoms to accommodate them.

    It’s time to stop deluding ourselves into thinking they’ll change. Our differences, tragically, appear irreconcilable. Hatred from Muslim quarters has only grown bolder following the so-called Arab Spring, and it’s boiling over into Western space at an alarming rate.

    Hostility isn’t limited to our posts in the Middle East and bases in Afghanistan.

    In the past week, a federal judge sentenced a 29-year-old Virginia Muslim to 30 years in prison after he plotted to detonate a suicide bomb inside the U.S. Capitol; and federal agents arrested an 18-year-old in Chicago for trying to set off a car bomb outside a bar.

    U.S. citizen Adel Daoud, who claimed it was OK to kill any civilian supporting the war on terror, otherwise appeared a normal American teen.

    “He’s always been a very nice kid,” said his shocked neighbor, Dorothy Leverson.

    How many times have we heard this story? The Muslim next door was so “nice” and “moderate.”

    Until he wasn’t.

    Time after time, we’ve given our Muslim neighbors the benefit of the doubt. And time after time, we’ve been betrayed.

    Muslims aren’t just the main source of terror overseas, they’re the main source of it in our own backyard. Muslims represent just 1% of the U.S. population, yet account for 82% of all domestic terrorism convictions.

    If there is a religious debate within the Muslim community about Islam and violence, it’s the quietest in history. When it comes to speaking out against terrorism, there’s a conspiracy of eerie silence among the millions of Muslim-Americans.

    Even on the rare occasions Muslim leaders are compelled to make a public statement, they always qualify terrorism as “unwarranted violence” against “civilians” or “innocent people.” They never condemn jihad. Ever. That’s because they don’t think it’s terrorism, just as they don’t believe U.S. troops or Jews or Christians are necessarily “innocent.”

    Have you wondered why they’ve never condemned Osama bin Laden as an apostate? The al-Qaida kingpin is now dead and no longer a threat to any truly moderate Muslim. If he betrayed Islam, as some have said, why no posthumous fatwah or religious ruling declaring him an enemy of Islam?

    The answer is obvious: The mass murderer is revered even inside our Muslim community. In fact, FBI agents and detectives say personal computers featuring bin Laden screen savers and other memorabilia are not uncommon in Muslim homes—even in the nation’s capital.

    We are told our Muslims are patriotic. Except did you know that Muslim leaders in this country prohibit sending food and other aid to U.S. troops? The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America has ruled it a “sin.”

    Did you also know that:

    - According to the U.S. government, virtually every major Muslim organization in this country is controlled by Muslims who believe “jihad is our way and death for the glory of Allah is our greatest ambition”?

    - These “mainstream” Muslim groups were set up in America with millions of dollars in Saudi cash for the purpose of “destroying” America “from within”?

    - Our Muslim establishment has raised millions for al-Qaida and Hamas here inside America?

    - Roughly 80% of the more than 15,000 jihadist websites ID’d by the FBI operate off servers based inside the U.S.?

    - “Honor killings”—murders of Muslim girls by relatives who claim the victim brought shame to the family—are on the rise in America? Just kissing a boy can trigger a justifiable homicide in Islam.

    Enough with the pleasant platitudes about the “religion of peace.” Enough with the blind tolerance. It’s time to speak frankly about what we all see to be true but are afraid to say. It’s time to face up to the threat that won’t go away no matter how tightly we shut our eyes to it. And no matter how effusively we apologize to it or generously we accommodate it.

    Yes, there are moderate (more precisely, passive) Muslims. There’s just no such thing as moderate Islam.

    Sperry is a Hoover Institution media fellow and author of “Infiltration.”

    • Opine Needles

      very interesting article…I appreciate your efforts to make your point in a “high road” manner.