Islam and the West

To the Editor:

There were three remarkable articles about the Islamic world in the December issue of Commentary. Although I agree with most of their content, I should like to add a bit of refinement to each one.

In “The Islamization of Europe?,” David Pryce-Jones outlines a deepening problem: the lack of Muslim integration into European society. But some of the measures taken by European governments and supported by Mr. Pryce-Jones might be exacerbating the problem. One notable case is the ban on the wearing of the hijab by girls in public schools in France. Whether the hijab is really a Qur’anic requirement is debatable, but those who believe it is should be free to adhere to the practice. By disallowing that freedom, France is employing forced assimilation, not integration. History shows that this is often counter-productive.

On the other hand, some other policies that Mr. Pryce-Jones denounces as examples of “Islamophile correctness” may not be so bad. One example is the planned removal of a statue of St. James Matamoros (“the Moor slayer”) at the cathedral of Santiago, Spain “lest it give offense to Muslims.” Mr. Pryce-Jones may need to be reminded that the enemy of the West is not Muslims but militant Islamists. Respect for Muslim faith and culture would go a long way toward winning the hearts and minds of the former and marginalizing the latter. And statues can indeed have a painful effect on the emotions; would not an effigy of Torquemada be offensive to Jews?

In “Islam and Freedom,” James Q. Wilson discusses Turkey’s process of westernization, marking its genesis in the positivist vision of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. I must disagree. Westernization actually commenced under the Ottoman empire in the early 19th century, and it had remarkable achievements to its credit, including a proto-democracy. The first Ottoman parliament assembled a half-century before the reign of Ataturk, and Ottoman public life was much more diverse than in the succeeding era of monolithic “Kemalism.” There were many Jewish, Armenian, and Greek members in the Ottoman parliament—something that ceased to be the case under the homogenizing nationalism of the Republic.

Ataturk is, of course, a founding father worthy of much respect, but many Turks today feel the need to move beyond some of the excesses of Kemalism. This desire for change is hardly identical with counterrevolutionary Islamism, as some hard-core Kemalists claim. Rather, it is a sign of progress.

Times have changed a great deal since Ataturk: science, for example, is no longer a force that promises to send “all religions [to] the bottom of the sea,” as Mr. Wilson quotes Kemal. To the contrary, it is sometimes a force that converts atheists to theism; such was the case with the recent declaration of faith by the British philosopher and arch-atheist Anthony Flew.

The larger point is that religion is not about to wither away in the modern world. Concerning Islam in particular, the great question is whether we Muslims will be able to express our passion for the divine in the context of a civil and democratic order. If we can deconstruct the awkward alliance between “The Left and the Islamists,” to cite the title of the essay by Joshua Kurlantzick, and channel “Islamic muscle” into a conservative force that aims not to destroy the West but to stand for faith and morality within it, then there is hope. As a Muslim, I believe this is possible and will strive to make it real.

Mustafa Akyol

Istanbul, Turkey

Islam and Freedom

To the Editor:

James Q. Wilson summarizes very well the case for hoping that we might create a liberal regime in Iraq [“Islam and Freedom,” December 2004]. But in that country, as in all the Muslim countries Mr. Wilson deals with, there is a cultural problem too little discussed in the West.

For economic and other reasons, we take it for granted that government is most desirable when it permits a species of liberalism—or “freedom”—in which the space and will of the individual are highly valued. But in countries with a long history of despotism, this is not the case. In many Muslim societies, and especially among Arabs, populations are comfortable with despotism in a way utterly foreign to most Westerners (though Europe has had its own exceptions to this rule in the 1930’s and after World War II).

In such a system, the dissent that is normal in a democracy is felt not only by rulers but even by many subjects as a threat to social and political stability. Despotism can thus command the loyalty of subjects who hope to survive in relative security and comfort by keeping their noses clean. Although this trade-off is one that we in the West, with our traditional suspicion of unlimited power, are unwilling to accept, we make a grave mistake if we underestimate the willingness of others—especially in Muslim societies—to accept it.

Herb Greer

Salisbury, England


To the Editor:

James Q. Wilson’s well-thought-out and informative article is marred by a throwaway comparison of modern Islamic states with the 16th-century Roman Catholic Church. I take specific exception to Mr. Wilson’s statement that the “Protestant Reformation helped set the stage for religious and even political freedom in the West.” A more correct formulation would give credit to the Catholic Counter-Reformation as well.

Even better would be to acknowledge that the Church itself, as an institution, set the stage for religious and political freedom. The Church was the greatest benefactor of Renaissance art and science, and the preserver of Greek and Roman philosophy and science through its universities (which were hardly like madrassas), libraries, monasteries, and theologians. Then as now, the Church’s doctrine was one of “free will”—a doctrine necessary for freedom and democracy.

Stephen Kelly

Saint Paul, Minnesota


James Q. Wilson writes:

Herb Greer suggests that Muslims are more “comfortable with despotism” than are Westerners. How does he know that? I am deeply suspicious of the unsupported view that people are “comfortable” with authoritarian rule. The same could be said of the West from the time of imperial Rome to the 17th century; but freedom, once offered, proved an irresistible lure to people. I do not know why anyone should think Muslims will be different.

Stephen Kelly does not want me to explain Western freedom by reference to the Reformation. He is quite correct; if I had more space, I could have written at length about the tensions that the Reformation created, or discussed the fact that neither Martin Luther nor John Calvin supported personal freedom. But the religious split they helped create did give birth to many Protestant sects, which in time secular authorities had to accommodate by a policy of toleration. (I develop this point in an earlier article, “The Reform Islam Needs,” in the Autumn 2002 City Journal.) I am skeptical of Mr. Kelly’s claim that the Counter-Reformation and the Church’s support of art and literature encouraged freedom. It was the papacy that, after the Counter-Reformation, expanded the Inquisition and put Galileo on trial.

Mustafa Akyol rightly reminds us of the changes in Turkey under the Ottoman Empire. In the 19th century, the Tanzimat, or high council of reform, did leave an important legacy, one that permitted the emergence of the Young Turks and after them the dissident officers among whom Mustafa Kemal was a leading figure. But it was Kemal who took the ideas of the Tanzimat and converted piecemeal change into the beginnings of modern Turkey.


Islam and Europe

To the Editor:

David Pryce-Jones’s article is excellent, and I wish it had been written 30 years ago [“The Islamization of Europe?,” December 2004]. From the mid-1970’s through the mid-1980’s, I used to ask my colleagues in the political-science and history departments of universities at which I taught, or at national and international scientific meetings, whether Western Christianity had the wherewithal to withstand a Muslim onslaught. They had no clue what I was referring to. They could not conceive of an Islam on the march in the modern world as, centuries earlier, it had been on the march across the entire Mediterranean region and parts of Asia. Unfortunately, many of these same individuals and their contemporary counterparts persist today in the same misunderstanding.

In my view, however, the article is also incomplete. Mr. Pryce-Jones either does not mention or insufficiently emphasizes three interrelated developments that have aided Islam’s spread throughout Europe, the United States, Africa, and elsewhere. These are the world-wide resurgence of religiosity, with its accompanying spirit of anti-intellectualism to which the young (including the educated young) are especially vulnerable; the increasing dependence of the West on oil and the resultant enrichment of the (mostly Saudi) families that control it, whose wealth has helped fund the massive immigration of Arab Muslims into Western societies as well as religious and educational institutions that have been used to preach and teach hatred of Jews, Christians, and Western life; and the revival of anti-Semitism throughout Christian Europe, especially among its elites.

Sheldon F. Gottlieb

Boynton Beach, Florida


To the Editor:

An Israeli friend who lost family in the Holocaust remarked to me recently that Europe used to have a minority that was well-educated, hard-working, productive, and integrated; now, she added, Europe has the minority it deserves.

A fine, cynical remark—but Europe must win the demographic and cultural war that its Islamists are waging against it. Unfortunately, as David Pryce-Jones points out, many Europeans are blind even to the existence of this war. One hopes they prove right to put their trust in the long-term durability of their liberal democracies, but wishes are not horses, and neither are hopes.

Kevin Jon Williams

Wynnewood, Pennsylvania


To the Editor:

When the Soviets imposed a blockade on Berlin in June 1948 and told the West to get out, the British and French were all packed and ready to leave. It was the United States that informed both the Soviets and our allies that we were in Berlin to stay. Whereupon, as if on cue, the Western intelligentsia predicted that Communization of the West was the wave of the future and that the best we could hope for was some sort of accommodation with the Soviets.

Now, as David Pryce-Jones documents, we are being similarly told that it is our duty and obligation to accommodate ourselves to Islam and, indeed, as the London Guardian has argued, to embrace it. Our encounter with Soviet Communism ended well. How will this one end?

Leslie Dale

San Leandro, California


To the Editor:

David Pryce-Jones’s penetrating article exposes a development more dangerous by far than earlier Islamic invasions that were accomplished by force of arms. Whether Europeans can summon the clarity and strength necessary to defend against today’s politically correct infiltration remains to be seen. But the European predicament also proves the wisdom of President Bush’s strategy, which is to fight the global war against radical Islam by going on the offensive and by seeking to transform the political culture of the Middle East.

The idea that Afghani-stan and Iraq might join Turkey in choosing liberalism and democracy over theocratic and autocratic rule, and thereby provide a compelling model for the suppressed majority in Iran, is the American coalition’s bold counter to what radical Islam is looking to achieve in Europe and beyond. It is ironic that, in the millennial struggle many Europeans have not yet recognized we are all in, their own best hope for strategic deliverance may well lie in the “wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time” they have so vehemently disparaged.

Michael Balch

Iowa City, Iowa


To the Editor:

If David Pryce-Jones’s pessimism becomes a reality, as the facts thus far seem to portend, then the question mark in his article’s title can be erased. Recently, the Muslim community in Bradford, England was able to have the town council install a publicly funded, modified madrassa for Muslim children, and it has been working toward instituting a local system of shari’a law.

Why has the liberal West sat still while such things go on in its midst? There is an idea abroad among us that good and evil are retrograde, simplistic concepts; that other cultures would be more in tune with us were it not for our own airs of superiority; and that any adverse outcomes creeping our way are our own fault.

Western Europe, having been jolted by incidents like the murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, may be beginning to think more realistically about the problems it faces, and we can only hope that it is not too late. But we in the United States are faced with similar (though lagging) realities. Several years ago, in American Jihad, Steven Emerson reported that sermons denouncing Americans and Jews were being delivered in mosques throughout the country. Some mosques have been under investigation for raising funds for terrorist groups like Hamas.

Authorities here and in Europe know about Islamist incitement. But because restrictions on speech, assembly, and movement are anathema in our societies, reports like Emerson’s about realities on the ground tend to be denied or dismissed. We need to remember that in times of war, icons like Abraham Lincoln and FDR permitted far more profound restrictions on civil liberties than does today’s Patriot Act.

Frederic Wile

New York City


To the Editor:

I enjoyed David Pryce-Jones’s article very much, but I fear he misquoted Hilaire Belloc. Belloc did not “boast” that “We have got the Gatling gun, and they have not.” The lines Mr. Pryce-Jones alludes to are from Belloc’s poem “The Modern Traveler,” which was published in 1899 when the Gatling gun was already an antiquated weapon. The correct quotation is: “Whatever happens, we have got,/The Maxim gun, and they have not.” The lines are spoken by an unpleasant character named Blood; Belloc, who opposed imperialism, was not himself boasting of “Western cultural and military superiority.”

William Kupersmith

Iowa City, Iowa


To the Editor:

David Pryce-Jones writes that Muslims in Western countries face a choice between defining themselves as law-abiding citizens who seek to live by “common values” or as Muslims exempt from having to make any concessions to the faith of others. But if all citizens have the right to self-expression, should not Muslims feel entitled to live on their own terms—so long as they are not violent—and should not society respect their choice?

Benjamin Schenkier

Chicago, Illinois


David Pryce-Jones writes:

Sheldon F. Gottlieb regrets that “The Islamization of Europe?” was not written 30 years ago. At that time, Arab and other nationalists had succeeded in pushing the colonial European powers out of the Middle East and everywhere else. It was not yet evident that Arab nationalism would produce societies from which so many desperate people would long to escape, nor that men like Sayyid Qutb and Ayatollah Khomeini would offer the alternative of political Islamism.

Settling in their millions in the various countries of Europe, Muslim immigrants have an identity crisis: whether to accept or reject assimilation. Fired by Islamism, plenty of voices among them are calling for outright colonialism in reverse. Sheikh Omar Bakr Muhammad, for instance, recently told Muslims in Britain that they must now consider themselves at war. An Islamic state, he said, had to be established in Britain. Six hundred delegates at one of his conferences were shown images of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center; in the words of a press report, “the rapt watchers thrust their fists in the air and chanted ‘Allahu Akhbar!’ (God is great!)” They then all cheered the name of bin Laden.

Europeans have a corresponding identity crisis, as they decide what to make of this large and growing minority in their midst, particularly the Islamists who aspire to colonize them. Kevin Jon Williams, Leslie Dale, Michael Balch, and Frederic Wile express doubt that European civilization now has the necessary resilience to continue in its sweet old ways: either Europe will succumb, they suggest, or there will be a backlash of the kind experienced in Holland as a result of the murder of the film-maker Theo van Gogh by a local Islamist. Down either of these roads lies every prospect of social disintegration and violence, as I indicated in citing Hilaire Belloc’s famous lines. When those lines are quoted, the Gatling habitually replaces the Maxim gun, but I should have done as William Kupersmith did, and checked the source.

Benjamin Schenkier suggests that Muslims should feel entitled to live in non-Muslim countries “on their own terms,” so long as they are not violent. More than a plea for tolerance, this is in effect a commendation of reverse colonialism, of the kind that the likes of those 600 bin Laden supporters seize on eagerly and skillfully.

Mustafa Akyol also pleads for reverse colonialism, albeit in a soft form. The wearing of the hijab may indeed be more symbolic than anything else, but the French have decided that the symbol challenges social and ethical values that they struggled for at great cost to themselves, and that cannot now be compromised. The statue of St. James Matamoros, likewise, is part of Spanish history. The Moors were once in Andalusia as conquerors and colonialists, and they gave as good as they got. Are Spaniards really to repudiate the personalities—and the centuries—that went into the making of their nation and their identity? And if they were to do so, why and how would that “show respect for Muslim faith and culture” rather than the surrender of respect for their own faith and culture? Finally, there are effigies and portraits of Torquemada, and Jews do not ask for their removal.



Islamists and the Left

To the Editor:

Joshua Kurlantzick cites an allegedly criminal incident involving the activist attorney Lynne Stewart and her client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, as an example of a dangerous partnership between the Left and radical Islamists [“The Left and the Islamists,” December 2004].

But Stewart is not a very important figure on the Left, locally, nationally, or internationally. She is a skillful, “grandmotherly” (in Mr. Kurlantzick’s word) figure, armed with a law degree. If found guilty in her criminal trial, she will serve time and be expelled from the bar. But is she a threat to our democratic way of life, or just a nasty irritant? And how many figures like her exist on the left side of the political landscape in the U.S.?

Mr. Kurlantzick writes that “[t]he partnership between Islamists and the international Left poses its most immediate threat to Jews.” But the perpetrators of the bombing of a Spanish commuter train in March 2004 were surely not looking for Jews to exterminate. As for the French Trotskyists, SDS types, Weatherpeople, and British radicals discussed by Mr. Kurlantzick, they are indeed a motley collection of totalitarian misfits, but have these tiny groups successfully penetrated the large Islamic workforce in Europe so as to create a bona-fide threat to Europe’s one million Jews?

I do not doubt that the hard Left remains convinced that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and that this may account for the sympathy some feel toward Islamists. But clear-minded observers should accurately measure the political weight of this phenomenon.

Lawrence Gulotta

Brooklyn, New York


To the Editor:

In “The Left and the Islamists,” Joshua Kurlantzick uses the clichéd language of “Left” and “Right” to draw strikingly one-sided conclusions about the recent history of U.S. encounters with religious fundamentalists and terrorists.

Just as remarkable as the “shifting allegiances” of the radical Left with regard to Islamic groups has been the shifting position of U.S. officialdom toward those same groups. Viewed from a global perspective, the latter phenomenon has been far more important in determining the current state of world affairs. Mr. Kurlantzick fails to consider the possibility that the views of the Left might themselves have been influenced by these shifts in U.S. policy, rather than the other way around.

The U.S., like the world as a whole, needs to find realistic strategies to confront the threat of terrorist organizations. Knocking over a few straw men in order to score points against your political opponents might be a pleasant diversion, but in the end gets us nowhere.

Rajan Venkataraman

Monash, Australia


Joshua Kurlantzick writes:

Lawrence Gulotta suggests that my choice of Lynne Stewart, not “a very important figure on the Left,” undermines my thesis. Nor does he think that links among the far Left and Islamists rise to the level of truly grave threats.

I used Stewart merely as an illustration, as representing a generation; my case hardly rested on her alone, but on a plethora of Islamist links with the hard Left that I described in some detail. And even the Stewart case goes beyond her to involve other, more prominent figures on the political far Left. The blind sheik was represented not only by Stewart but also by former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, one of the intellectual leaders of the American Left and a founder of International ANSWER. (Clark has not been charged with any crimes.) And Stewart has been supported in her fight by some of the most prominent attorneys in America.

Stewart’s case has also been covered prominently by Democracy Now, the flagship program of many radio stations in the Pacifica group, the most organized medium on the far Left. Stewart herself has appeared several times on Democracy Now, where she has received a highly respectful hearing and has been able to count on her host’s skimming over Sheik Omar’s alleged crimes as well as his noxious views on a range of social issues.

As for whether the Green-Red alliance is the gravest or most immediate threat to the world, or even to the Jews, I did not say and do not believe that. I did and do insist that it is a threat, and to Jews most immediately.

Rajan Venkataraman, for his part, is convinced that the views of the far Left are themselves greatly influenced by how the U.S. government acts toward Islamists and the Islamic world in general. I do not doubt that if George W. Bush were suddenly to retire and hand the Oval Office directly to Jimmy Carter, the far Left would have to recalibrate some of its thinking. But in many respects the actions of the far Left are immune to particular government policies or administrations. This was so during the cold war, as David Horowitz shows, when the strategies pursued by the far Left changed little even as the official American posture underwent a number of shifts and even as the Soviets’ horrific crimes were revealed to the world.

The same is true today, when, for example, both the actions and the rhetoric of anti-globalization groups on the far Left have remained essentially constant even as the White House has gone from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush and as global trade institutions have begun to take leftist criticisms into account. But this is another way in which the far Left shares something with hard-core Islamists. After all, Islamist opposition to the U.S. and to liberal values has hardly been affected by who happens to be President or what policies he pursues; famously, the plans for 9/11 were laid even as the Israel-Palestinian peace process was at its most optimistic.

The threat, moreover, is not necessarily one of direct violence—though Hizballah, among others, certainly has no aversion to violence. The threat is that this strange alliance will bleed into mainstream politics, as it already has done in Europe through the medium of the Islamic workforce, and will start to poison the political discourse of the mainstream Left, of which I consider myself a member. The solution, as Mustafa Akyol suggests, is for the Muslim world, and the Western Left, to turn away from unholy partners and to channel their energies into the context of civil, liberal, and democratic order.


To the Editor: I have read Roger Sandall’s “Can Sudan Be Saved?” [December 2004] with delight; the article neatly summarizes the literature on that country’s tragic past and present.

Sudan is indeed on the verge of total disintegration, due to the failures of its own government. The most important challenges to its continued existence as a unitary nation-state include the rise of militant Islam and the insistence on establishing a theocratic state based on Islamic law (shari’a); the ruthless pursuit by the ruling elite of a policy whereby the Arabic language and the Arabized racial groups will dominate; efforts by these same elites to muzzle the voices of the supposedly marginalized areas through repression and torture, and to pit the marginalized groups against each other in escalating ethnic wars. While a peaceful settlement of the conflict between north and south is imminent, possibly leading to southern secession after a transitional period of six years, other regions of the country—Darfur, the east, and the far north—have begun to assert their own grievances against Khartoum, including by means of armed struggle. At the moment, these groups are not fighting to break away, but if the conflicts drag on for as long as the southern wars, and if the government keeps focusing on a military solution, more and more frustrated groups are likely to opt out of the union. If Sudan is to be saved as a state, the task can only be accomplished by the Sudanese themselves.

Mr. Sandall also questions the ability of Western humanitarians to rescue the Sudanese from poverty, man-made destruction, and death; he is right to do so. Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) is the largest, most expensive, and longest-running humanitarian project in history. Now into its 15th year, it has accumulated a price tag of $3 billion and has nothing to show for it in terms of basic services like health clinics, schools, or roads. It has not even saved that many lives. Half of the estimated 2 million deaths from the civil war have occurred during the years of OLS’s operation. Mr. Sandall is to be commended for highlighting the sacrifices made by individual aid workers. But, as he suggests, the larger failure of the humanitarian effort is the result of government intransigence together with the particular philosophy of emergency aid that informs Western welfare programs. Precisely because of their emergency nature, such aid operations focus on the “most vulnerable,” a loose concept that is culturally out of place in Sudan; they have not invested in programs (like educational ones) with the potential to reduce violence.

Jok Madut Jok Loyola Marymount University Los Angeles, California To the Editor: Roger Sandall’s article paints a disturbing portrait of the 21st century’s first case of genocide and ethnic cleansing. I am probably not the only person to have noticed that Western leftists, quick to protest any violation—real or imagined—of human rights in Israel or the United States, have been virtually silent about what is happening in Sudan. In the racial hierarchy of “human rights” concerns, blacks being massacred by Arabs have, it seems, little value. I partially disagree with Mr. Sandall’s conclusion that the West should not intervene at all. On television, the History Channel has documented several successful mercenary operations in African countries that have prevented the slaughter of innocent civilians. Western governments might not want to use their own resources to finance such efforts directly, but they could look the other way if wealthy private individuals did so.

The beginning of the Arab onslaught in Sudan last spring coincided with the 60th anniversary of the deportation and eventual slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews. In 1944, the Western press reported on the death trains that were moving toward Auschwitz. While the Allies were powerless to prevent most of the Holocaust, by the summer of 1944, when they had control of the air, they could arguably have bombed Auschwitz or the railroad tracks leading to it. But nothing was done. Sixty years later, we are faced with the same paralysis of will; what will the generation of 2064 be told about Darfur? John C. Zimmerman University of Nevada Las Vegas, Nevada Roger Sandall writes: The January 2005 peace agreement between the southern rebels and the government of Sudan is encouraging. Some autonomy has now been granted, shari’a law will not be mandatory, English will be the official administrative language, and a referendum on the possible secession of the south will take place in six years’ time. As I suspect Jok Maduk Jok would be the first to agree, however, it remains to be seen how far the regime will allow any of this to be implemented. Regarding John C. Zimmerman’s call for intervention, it seems to me there are important differences between the situation in Germany in 1944 and that of Sudan in 2005. Most of Hitler’s victims were brought together in fixed locations for their destruction. By contrast, the victims in the vast expanses of Sudan are dispersed in thousands of rural villages and towns where the slaughter is unpredictable, where something resembling civil war exists among mobile guerrilla forces, and where territorial boundaries are not always clear. I fear that in Sudan, a country as large as Western Europe, foreign soldiers ignorant of both the land and the people would mainly become victims themselves. No one who understands the sufferings of non-Arab Sudanese can be indifferent to Mr. Zimmerman’s argument. But I strongly believe that while all necessary humanitarian aid must be rendered from the outside, the political solution should be a regional responsibility. As Mr. Jok says, the task of saving Sudan as an independent state “can only be accomplished by the Sudanese themselves.” However fragile it may prove, and however uncertain the outcome, the peace agreement recently signed in Nairobi indicates the appropriate way forward.



To the Editor:

Having enjoyed Joseph Epstein’s writing so much in the past, I am pained to find myself at odds with his estimate of A. J. Liebling’s current value [“Around the Block with A.J. Liebling,” December 2004]. The sheer pleasure I get from reading Liebling’s books (I own them all) has not diminished over time, and I get many thanks from younger friends for introducing them to the joys of Back Where I Came From and especially The Earl of Louisiana.

Liebling’s enduring value can also be gauged in passages like the chapter in The Road Back to Paris that recounts the experience of the Algerian Jewish community during World War II. After bravely assisting the Allied invasion of Oran, Algerian Jews were later badly mistreated by the Vichy administration that was kept in place by the Allies’ occupation authorities. Liebling’s chilling account of this betrayal foreshadows many of the troubles besetting the Jews of France and elsewhere today.

Perhaps Mr. Epstein, like other Chicagoans I used to meet, resents Liebling’s great little book, The Second City. Whether they were Irish from the Southside or Jews from Rogers Park, they all acted as though he had taken pictures of them in flagrante delicto and was showing them to the world.

Morton Weintraub

Larchmont, New York


Joseph Epstein writes:

I do not for a moment wish to rob Morton Weintraub, or any other reader, of the pleasure he derives from reading A.J. Liebling. I would, though, like to assure him that resentment about Liebling’s book on Chicago was not lurking behind my criticism. That book contains some funny bits, but its attack on the foibles of the second city is, for my shekels, nowhere near thorough enough. If he were to reread it today, I think Mr. Weintraub would find the book deader than John Dillinger and quite as deservedly.



To the Editor:

Anyone buying into Gabriel Schoenfeld’s overreaching analogy between the state of American armed forces at the end of World War II and the woeful condition in which we now find ourselves in Iraq is going to be badly misled [“Iraq: Prophets of Defeat,” December 2004]. Mr. Schoenfeld argues that the military failures of Iraq—too few troops, too little good intelligence, Tolstoyish generals—duplicate those of the Allies in the European theater toward the end of World War II. Therefore, he concludes, we should not be so hard on the current establishment for failing to make good on the twin goals of victory and democracy.

But by the fall of 1944 the U.S. was fully engaged on two major fronts, the Pacific and post-liberation France. Some 12,000,000 people (including myself) were under American arms. This was a massive citizen army, which had largely been drafted.

In Iraq today, by contrast, we have an all-volunteer army, and Republicans have made it clear that there will be no draft while we try to win on the cheap.

Harold Ticktin

Shaker Heights, Ohio


To the Editor:

I admire how honestly and precisely Gabriel Schoenfeld portrays the argument of the critics of our Iraq policy. But his counterargument seems based on an inadequate analogy. In 1944 in Europe we may have made terrible mistakes of judgment and there may have been a loss of morale, but we were not fighting the French whose land we were occupying/liberating. We faced an army, not a people. In Iraq we face attacks by the people we are trying to help. And not one group but many. I feel much less hopeful than Gabriel Schoenfeld of creating a “postwar” Iraq like the postwar Europe of the late 1940’s.

John J. Clayton

Amherst, Massachusetts


Gabriel Schoenfeld writes:

It is easier than shooting fish in a barrel to point out the many differences between the U.S. role in conquering Nazi Germany and the U.S. role in pacifying post-Saddam Iraq. Although my two interlocutors seem to have skipped over this, I did some fish-in-the-barrel shooting myself when I noted in my article that “juxtaposing the two conflicts might appear to be a stretch” and pointed to some of the more obvious difficulties with the historical parallel: “[I]n Iraq we are now engaged in a clean-up operation against terrorists and insurgents, not attempting to subdue a major power like Nazi Germany.”

But I also suggested that, for this very reason, the parallel should “not be lightly dismissed.” In the last stages of World War II, “the U.S. was in its military prime, battle-hardened, united at home as never before, and fighting a war that might justly be called a supreme national emergency. And if things nevertheless went badly awry in the endgame of the ‘good war’ fought by the ‘greatest generation,’ might that not suggest the folly of entering summary judgments concerning the more ambiguous conflict in which we are now engaged?”

Harold Ticktin believes that, in contrast to World War II, we are fighting this war “on the cheap.” In relative terms, he is of course right, but he is wrong to blame this on the evil “Republicans.” For better or worse, “on the cheap” is typically how democracies prefer to fight wars, unless they are forced by events into total mobilization.

For his part, John J. Clayton writes that in Germany, “[w]e faced an army, not a people. In Iraq we face attacks by the people we are trying to help.” But this assertion rests on a serious misreading of both wars. There were plenty of German civilians who in Hitler’s name fought alongside the Wehrmacht to the bitter end. In Iraq, on the other hand, it is misleading and morally tenuous to say that we “face attacks by the people we are trying to help.” We face attacks by a relatively small segment of the population that has been hell-bent on stopping Iraq from establishing democratic rule. The deeds of those included in this segment—suicide bombings and hostage-taking and brutal murders—speak for themselves. So do their leaflets. One recent one, distributed on the eve of Iraq’s election, read as follows: “To those of you who think you can vote and then run away, we will shadow you and catch you, and we will cut off your heads and the heads of your children.”

It is those Iraqis who, in the face of such threats, summoned the courage to vote in Iraq’s historic democratic election that America is trying to help. Or at least some Americans are trying to help them. As Mr. Clayton surely knows, many others would have preferred the easier course of leaving the Iraqis to their fate.




To the Editor:

Terry Teachout’s article on Luciano Pavarotti confirms my own disdain for a singer whose career has played a key role in the decline of musical expression [“After Pavarotti,” December 2004]. I have done my best to shut out Pavarotti from my listening, and Mr. Teachout’s description of his “pointed” (read “pointy”) tone and “uncomplicated” (read “uncultivated”) musicality reminds me why.

In performances by Pavarotti or the “Three Tenors,” virtuosity replaced the soul of music; subtlety was confused with adjusting dials in recording labs to produce louder and softer sounds; and microphones were placed so close to the mouths of singers that the effort of making the sound could be heard clearly. Thanks to the likes of Pavarotti and his handlers, genuine intimacy in music was confused with a kind of aural pornography. True, they also caused more classical music to be heard by the public, but with little expression beneath the surface.

Today we enjoy a proliferation of great historical performances available on recording, but there is a lack of great contemporary performances—and with that a loss of faith in music’s powers of expression. I am glad these recordings exist to carry forward the possibility of musical revitalization in a post-Pavarotti age.

Larry W. Josefovitz

Beachwood, Ohio


Down at Duke

To the Editor:

Eric Adler and Jack Langer’s “The Intifada Comes to Duke” [January] is replete with misrepresentations and errors of omission. They present a distorted picture of Duke University’s decision to allow its students to host the annual conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM) this past fall, as other leading universities—the University of California, the University of Michigan, and Ohio State University—have done in previous years. The authors consistently misrepresent the positions of Richard Brodhead, the president of Duke, as well as the conference proceedings. They virtually ignore the numerous pro-Israel programs that have occurred here and repeatedly attribute statements and positions to people who neither attended the student conference nor have anything to do with Duke.

The authors’ description of events is so narrow and misleading as to alter fundamentally the truth of what occurred at Duke, where a venue was provided for both Israelis and Palestinians to make their case about their longstanding conflict.

The article begins by citing previous views attributed by the authors to five extremist supporters of the Palestinian cause, four of whom did not attend the Duke student conference. The authors express befuddlement about why one of these extremists, Charles Carlson, did not speak at the gathering. The answer is simple. The student sponsors told me his views were so extreme and opposed to their own that they chose not to provide him with a forum. One of the other extremists cited has no relationship to Duke and is in prison, as the authors surely know.

Messrs. Adler and Langer postulate that the International Solidarity Movement (ISM)—a group with acknowledged ties to some extremist Palestinian groups—and the Palestine Solidarity Movement are one and the same. Duke was explicitly told by federal law-enforcement officials that this is not the case, and that the Palestine Solidarity Movement is a loose confederation of student groups at campuses across the country with no ties to known terrorists.

Messrs. Adler and Langer state that President Brodhead endorsed the conference. That is not true. He and other university officials repeatedly said that the university’s decision to support its students in holding a conference was based on the principle of free speech, and was not an endorsement of the views of its sponsors. President Brodhead also said repeatedly that free speech and expression are important values to support since it is through dialogue and the free exchange of ideas, rather than suppression of speech, that the campus community can be educated on controversial issues. He publicly stated that while it is a foundational principle of American life that all ideas should have an equal opportunity to be expressed, he did not see all ideas as equal, and the university is not obligated to be a venue for all expression. Each situation needs to be evaluated, as this one was.

Readers of Commentary deserve a more complete view of the events of last October and the degree to which the university, and particularly Duke students, turned what could have been merely a controversial event into an opportunity for genuine education, consistent with President Brodhead’s urging. In fact, far from the one-sided picture presented in Commentary, our students had an opportunity to hear a rich array of perspectives on the Middle East conflict. A few days before the conference, a bus exploded by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem last January, killing 11 innocent civilians, was displayed by supporters of Israel on our main quad in front of Duke Chapel. It provided a powerful reminder of the horrors of terrorism and the intifada. On the following evening, Daniel Pipes, an aggressive advocate for Israel who is familiar to readers of Commentary, spoke under the sponsorship of the Freeman Center for Jewish Life and the Duke Conservative Union. That night, in a program broadcast over the Internet across the globe, some 30 Duke student groups sponsored a rally and concert against terrorism in which President Brodhead, our local congressman, and the mayor of Durham condemned terrorism and the killing of innocent civilians.

During the weekend of the PSM conference, Duke’s Jewish students and the Freeman Center sponsored an address by Avraham Burg, the former speaker of Israel’s parliament, as well as a panel discussion reflecting a diverse range of views by representatives, including rabbis, of different Jewish traditions. Burg emphasized in his remarks that the worst thing that could happen to Israel would be to have American Jewry hold a single view of issues affecting Palestinians and Israelis. The discussions at our campus clearly reflected that diversity of opinion.

Despite some of the claims made about prior conferences at other campuses, the PSM conference at Duke was peaceful and was not characterized by hate speech, nor was an endorsement of a one-state solution required as a condition of attendance. The only condition imposed by Duke students was a code of civility and mutual respect. All conference events were open to the first 500 registrants, including many supporters of Israel and large numbers of individuals who identified themselves as Jewish. Indeed, Eric Adler was among the first names on the list, and he and others had unfettered access to the proceedings. The vast majority of these were open to the media—including the session he and Mr. Langer inaccurately report was snuck onto the agenda at the last minute. As President Brodhead has publicly stated, the PSM has appropriately been criticized for advocating nonviolence while also saying it should not tell Palestinians what tactics to use, including violence.

Messrs. Adler and Langer refer to two of the 33 workshops/symposia where more radical views were expressed. They neglect to mention another symposium, led by an officer of Amnesty International who castigated the PSM for refusing to denounce violence against civilians as a violation of international law. Duke students led the effort to get the PSM conferees to support this position, which failed by only a few votes.

Similarly, Messrs. Adler and Langer assert that an opinion article written by a Duke student for the campus student newspaper after the conference led to an “intense anti-Semitic outpouring” on the paper’s on-line discussion boards. They give excerpts from four disgusting messages there as representative samples; none of them was written by anyone at Duke. If one actually reads the discussion boards, one finds a discussion overwhelmingly critical of the student article, which President Brodhead denounced as displaying “a form of stereotypic thinking deplorable under any circumstances, and completely inappropriate to this community”—a statement Messrs. Adler and Langer conveniently managed to overlook.

The assertions by Messrs. Adler and Langer notwithstanding, President Brodhead has repeatedly condemned terrorism and violence as the antithesis of reason. He has declared his abhorrence of prejudice and the disindividuating, dehumanizing logic by which it works. He has emphasized that anti-Semitism has no place at Duke and will not be tolerated, and that the university’s allowing a group of its students to sponsor an event does not imply institutional endorsement of their views. President Brodhead has also rejected unequivocally any calls for Duke to divest itself of investment holdings in Israel.

Messrs. Adler and Langer attack President Brodhead for what they allege is a shift in the basis of his support of the students in holding the conference (from the principle of free speech to education through dialogue); this is simply not the case. As he said in his recent welcoming address to freshmen:


We have to hope that the world of equal rights and mutual respect will not be a world of self-neutralized convictions and watered-down consensus. Imperfect though it may still be, the new world the civil-rights movement created would not have come into existence without hot convictions and sharp elbows. But it requires work to get this balance right. Something I would love to see Duke pioneer—and for this to happen it will have to be our common creation—is a culture of positive intellectual difference or what the poet Blake called mental strife. American universities have taken far more trouble to host athletic contests than most sorts of intellectual contention. But since powerful differences shape the force-field of our lives, the sides had better learn something about each other and, dare one hope it, learn something from each other.

That is what free speech and dialogue and education are about, and that is what happened at Duke.

John F. Burness


Senior Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations

Duke University

Durham, North Carolina


To the Editor:

Though pretending to be a report on the conference held at Duke this past October (at which I was a speaker), Eric Adler and Jack Langer’s article is an opinion essay containing the maximum amount of false rhetoric that can be compressed into 2,000 words. I will address only some of its distortions.

Messrs. Adler and Langer dismiss the notion that Israel is a human-rights abuser. But every human-rights organization that has looked into the actions of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the Palestinian territories has concluded that it targets civilians. Even the Israeli group B’Tselem stated that


since the beginning of the intifada, IDF soldiers have killed at least 1,656 Palestinians who took no part in the fighting. Of those, 529 were children. Many of these deaths result from changes in the rules of engagement, which now allow soldiers to open fire on Palestinians in a variety of non-combat situations, even when the soldiers are not in danger.

Messrs. Adler and Langer also dismiss the comparison between Israel and South Africa under apartheid, but Israel’s laws—it has no constitution or bill of rights—show the similarity. All Jews are considered nationals of Israel and can automatically become citizens and get government support, including housing on land confiscated from Palestinians. By contrast, native Palestinian Christians and Muslims, simply because they are not Jewish, may not return to their homes in Israel. A recently enacted law denies residency rights to Palestinians who marry Israelis. Three-hundred-thousand of the 1.2 million Palestinians with nominal Israeli citizenship are considered by law as “present-absentees,” and their land has been taken. Over 530 Palestinian villages and towns have thus been ethnically cleansed and wiped off the face of the earth. Nearly 100 villages are “unrecognized” and are slated for removal.


Amnesty International and other human-rights groups regularly issue statements about the racism inherent in Israel’s laws. All of this, as I said in my talk at the Duke conference, reflects a “diseased” ideology of ethnocentric nationalism and racism that we are familiar with from South African apartheid and European fascism.

Most egregious is Messrs. Adler and Langer’s defamation of an American hero in writing that “activist Rachel Corrie . . . was accidentally killed in 2003 while attempting to block Israeli bulldozers from uncovering terrorist smuggling tunnels in Gaza.” But eyewitnesses reported that the driver of the armored bulldozer intentionally ran over Corrie, who was wearing an orange vest and gesturing visibly. The house she was trying to defend by such nonviolent means belonged to a pharmacist who, to this day, has not been accused of anything. His house, under which there are no tunnels, is still standing.

Using blatant lies to blame the victim is a common tactic of those who oppress and destroy. Shame. Since the U.S. government gives billions of our tax dollars to fund this charade, the least we can do is urge divestment from Israel and boycotts.

Mazin Qumsiyeh

Yale University

New Haven, Connecticut


To the Editor:

Eric Adler and Jack Langer are troubled that a recent conference of the Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM) was held at Duke. But the reason the PSM holds conferences on college campuses is plain: the Palestinian people are victims of a historic tragedy propagated by Israel and made possible by the vast, uncritical support Israel gets from the United States.A0The nature of the tragedy, its causes and history, are rarely discussed fully or truthfully in the American media. Where better to host a conference on the subject than the college campus, where free thought is promoted?

On campuses where PSM conferences are held, local Jewish organizations try to drown out the events with false charges of anti-Semitism and (of course) “terrorism.” They are willing to sacrifice freedom of speech and the integrity of the universities to ensure that the Palestinian position remains unheard.

The mainstream Jewish community, with its large network of Hillels, is well represented on American campuses. And relative to their numbers in the population, Jews are overrepresented in university faculties, student bodies, and alumni contributions. Their greater power and their vigorous attacks on the Palestinian side replicate the situation in Israel/Palestine. The conferences are necessary and important, and should be welcomed on every campus.

Miriam M. Reik

New York City


To the Editor:

As a 1969 graduate of Duke University, I thank you for Eric Adler and Jack Langer’s article.

In the fall of 2004, Duke’s president Richard Brodhead sent a four-page letter to alumni, half of which he devoted to explaining why he was allowing the Palestinian Solidarity Movement conference to be held on campus. Dated September 28, the letter was clearly an attempt at damage control after the public outcry against Duke’s hosting this disgusting group.

Brodhead’s letter contains a discourse on “free speech” sandwiched between a chatty report on the record high applicant pool, the departure of members of the “Duke team,” the generosity of the alumni, and the fortunes of the men’s soccer, women’s field hockey, women’s volleyball, and women’s cross-country teams. The transition from the trivial to the serious demonstrates Brodhead’s effort to minimize the hateful, blatantly anti-Semitic display that was coming to Duke:

My new presidency has faced a number of early challenges, from the Los Angeles Lakers’ efforts to seduce Coach K to the university’s decision to permit a Duke student group, Hiwar, to host the Fourth National Student Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement on campus on October 15-17.

After the conference I called Brodhead’s office to ask what he planned to do now that he had allowed the monster of anti-Semitism to rear its head on the campus of Duke University. My call was not returned, nor was my letter to the Board of Trustees. I am ashamed of the spinelessness of Duke’s leadership.

Edythe Goldstein Victor

Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania


To the Editor:

Eric Adler and Jack Langer are owed a huge debt of gratitude for unmasking the pseudo-academic pretenses offered by Duke administrators for allowing the Palestine Solidarity Movement’s (PSM) terror conference to be held on their campus.

The notion that Duke was trying toA0uphold the “importance of the principle of free expression” and foster “education through dialogue” is Orwellian. As Messrs. Adler and Langer point out, the conference’s organizers prohibited the presence of reporters and recording devices at their sessions. And an attempt by Jewish groups on campus to initiate a dialogue was rejected out of hand.

President Richard Brodhead and the university’s vice president for public affairs, John Burness, were undoubtedly aware of the lineup of terror apologists heading the “workshops” at the PSM conference. By allowing the conference to take place under the well-worn guise of freedom of expression, they effectively sanctioned the vilification of Jews. People of conscience should salute Messrs. Adler and Langer’s courage in exposing this sham.

Adina Kutnicki

Ridgewood, New Jersey


Eric Adler and Jack Langer write:

The typical course of a scandal is for a blunder to be followed by a cover-up. As the letter from John F. Burness attests, this certainly seems to be the case at Duke. Having provoked a hailstorm of criticism for inviting anti-Semites and advocates of terrorism to its campus, the university administration is now seeking shelter in evasions, prevarications, and worse.

Let us examine Mr. Burness’s claims. He asserts, first, that of the “five extremist supporters of the Palestinian cause” we linked to the Duke conference, four did not attend. If he had troubled to consult the PSM’s published agenda of the conference, he would have found that two of the five figures we named, Abe Greenhouse and Fadi Kiblawi, did in fact participate. That the other three did not is in any case irrelevant. Our explicitly stated point in naming them was simply to demonstrate the PSM’s well-documented history of extremism and anti-Semitism. That history is a subject that Mr. Burness, significantly, chooses not to discuss.

According to Mr. Burness, we were wrong to express “befuddlement” over the cancellation of a conference workshop by Charles Carlson. After all, he explains, the PSM disavows extremists like Carlson, and the student sponsors allegedly rejected him for that reason. If we were not befuddled before, we certainly are now. If Charles Carlson was too extreme for the conference, what does that say about participants like Kiblawi (who has expressed his desire to be a suicide bomber), or Mazin Qumsiyeh (who refers to Zionism as a “disease”), or Bob Brown (who calls the Six-Day war the “Jew war of ’67”)? Are these three, who did speak at the conference, not “too extreme”? Mr. Burness declines to say.

Did we “postulate,” as Mr. Burness charges, “that the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) . . . and the Palestine Solidarity Movement are one and the same”? We never postulated anything of the kind. What we did demonstrate—not postulate—is that the ISM, according to the words of one of its founders, openly cooperates with terrorist organizations, including Hamas. We also demonstrated that two panels at the Duke conference were led by ISM militants. One of these panels was a recruitment session aimed at inducing attendees to travel to Israel, there to court harm or even death, with attendant propaganda benefits in the service of the anti-Israel cause. The entirety of Mr. Burness’s reply to this is to deny that the panel was scheduled at the last minute. Refuting things we never said, Mr. Burness chooses to ignore the truly outrageous facts we presented. A pattern is becoming evident here.

Mr. Burness also maintains that, contrary to what we wrote, President Richard Brodhead never endorsed the PSM conference. Yet Brodhead said that the conference would bring “education through dialogue” to Duke. He also spoke and still speaks of the gathering as a “constructive” event. Mr. Burness, for his part, goes so far as to say that the PSM gathering was an “opportunity for genuine education.” In previous pronouncements he said of the conference that “it’s a good thing we did here,” and that the “overall tone of the weekend was one of discussion and learning.” Such laudatory characterizations are, in fact, endorsements, serving to drape a mantle of academic respectability over an organization riddled with anti-Semites and proponents of violence.

It is noteworthy, on this point, that the PSM does not present itself as an organization dedicated to fostering education and “dialogue.” Rather, as its own website makes plain, its primary mission is the elaboration of tactics and strategies to delegitimize the state of Israel. Bob Brown, in his presentation at the conference, sneered at the very notion of dialogue: “I wasn’t invited here to take part in a dialogue. I was invited here to help start a nationwide divestment movement, and anything else would be a waste of time.” If the PSM’s purpose is “dialogue,” some of its own members have yet to be informed.

Still another claim by Mr. Burness is that our article was “one-sided” because it failed to discuss the pro-Israel events that occurred on campus during the PSM conference; he cites the presence of Avraham Burg and Daniel Pipes and the display of a bombed-out bus. But a speech by Burg or Pipes, or a display of terrorist handiwork, in no way diminishes the magnitude of the bigotry exhibited by the PSM. Nor does it contribute to what Mr. Burness preposterously calls a “rich array of perspectives on the Middle East conflict,” as if terrorism and anti-Semitism were just “perspectives” like any others.

But this gets to the heart of the matter: what actually was said, and advocated, at the PSM conference. Ignoring the many examples of bigotry and incitement documented in our article, Mr. Burness instead points to a single workshop in which extremism and anti-Semitism were not evident. The argument that the PSM conference was constructive because one of its workshops was not anti-Semitic is so weak as to refute itself.

At one juncture, Mr. Burness reminds us that President Brodhead, an advocate of free speech, nevertheless does “not see all ideas as equal,” and believes that “the university is not obligated to be a venue for all expression.” This is a sentiment with which we certainly agree. But the statement leaves us wondering; if an organization with a documented history of anti-Semitism and incitement to violence can be granted a venue at Duke, what kinds of “expression” would be denied? Silence once again, alas.

Concluding his letter, Mr. Burness cites President Brodhead’s remarks that anti-Semitism will not be tolerated at Duke. Unfortunately, tolerating anti-Semitism is exactly what the Duke administration has already done. As we noted in our article, the real issue in this controversy is the refusal of the Duke administration to call anti-Semitism and incitement to the murder of innocents by their proper names, even when staring them in the face. That refusal continues. To the “cowardice and complicity” with which we charged the administration in our article, we can now add the charge of engaging in a cover-up, and a clumsy cover-up at that.

Declining to address any aspect of our account of the PSM conference, Mazin Qumsiyeh simply rehashes a litany of pro-Palestinian talking points. In the course of doing so, he asserts that we “dismiss” comparisons of Israel with South Africa under apartheid, as well as the notion that Israel is a “human-rights abuser.” We never dismissed either of these claims; we did not assess them at all. Such false and vicious comparisons have been effectively put to rest in numerous articles in Commentary and elsewhere.

What we did note was that at the PSM conference where Mr. Qumsiyeh was a keynote speaker, Israel was characterized, absurdly and poisonously, as the “greatest abuser of human rights” in the world. Mr. Qumsiyeh’s letter provides yet more evidence, if more were needed, that the PSM is more interested in disseminating propaganda than it is in engaging in genuine discussion.

Similarly, Miriam M. Reik takes us to task for allegedly suggesting that pro-Palestinian conferences should not be held at universities. Again, we made no such argument. What we did was to criticize Duke for hosting one particular conference—that of the Palestine Solidarity Movement—and we presented reasons why it deserves to be criticized. We would welcome any conference devoted to the Palestinian issue that did not exhibit the kind of extremism and anti-Semitism that marred the PSM gathering at Duke. As for Miriam M. Reik’s assertion that Jews are “overrepresented” in American universities, it does not leave us with much confidence in her ability to identify the kind of bigotry that we oppose.

Finally, we thank Adina Kutnicki and Edythe Goldstein Victor for their generous comments.




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