Between a fundamentalist pastor’s on-again, off-again plans to barbecue the Quran and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s baffling interview on Larry King Live, it’s been an epic and instructive week in a new era of political correctness. To sum it up: Florida Pastor Terry Jones had planned to set afire scores of Qurans in a protest against Islam on the anniversary of September 11th, raising objections from nearly everyone across the political spectrum who feared that it would incite violence against Americans in the Islamic world, undercut current efforts at outreach and tarnish the principles of religious tolerance for which this country stands. He has now seemingly agreed to cancel “Burn a Quran Day” on the condition that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf find a different location for his planned Islamic outreach center. In a completely unrelated development, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf appeared on Larry King Live earlier in the week and admitted that, had he known the public response to his plans to build an Islamic center a few blocks away from Ground Zero would be so controversial he might have sought a different location. He emphasized, however, that he simply cannot cancel the plans at this stage out of concern that it would fuel radical Islamic hatred against America and put the country in danger.

It’s certainly understandable that most Americans are either scratching their heads or shrugging their shoulders in reaction not only to the sequence of events themselves, but to the competing narratives coming from politicians, the media and private interest groups, each one seemingly divining a different moral to the complicated story, for which the common thread seems to be the antagonizing of Islam. The president and General Patraeus argued that the Quran burning would incite violence against Americans and bolster al Qaeda recruiting efforts. Sarah Palin opined that Terry Jones’ plans, while perfectly legal, were in bad taste and un-American, “much like building a mosque at Ground Zero.” While the media has tried to be above the fray, a consensus does seem to have developed among the various news outlets: due to the actions of one small town, Southern fundamentalist pastor and the Islamophobic Americans who disapprove of the Ground Zero mosque, all of the hard work by presidents Bush and Obama to assure the Muslim world that the War on Terror is not a war on Islam may come to naught.

In this blogger’s opinion, the waters have become far too muddied. I opposed Pastor Jones’ plan to burn the Quran, not out of fear of a Muslim backlash, but because as a Christian and a freedom-loving American I find the image of my fellow citizens setting books on fire out of religious hatred embarrassing and difficult to stomach. Some have argued that his demonstration is aimed only at radical Islam and is therefore no different than South Park’s satirical and provocative depictions of Mohammed or the Danish cartoons. Forgive my skepticism, but a man who writes a book entitled “Islam is of the Devil,” if he takes issue only with radical Islam, either has terrible business sense or is being disingenuous. And even if Burn a Quran Day were aimed only at Islamic extremism, I find it hard to believe he could not have found a more creative and less ill-conceived means of getting his message across. While I agree he has every right to go through with this distasteful display should he so decide, I would hope that he and his congregation would find another, more enlightened way of demonstrating.

As for the Ground Zero mosque, I haven’t come down either way. I’ve been of the opinion that, while September 11th holds significance for every American, the decision should be left up to the state and city of New York and its residents. I have no issue with a mosque so close to Ground Zero, but I would have an issue with a mosque run and bankrolled by fundamentalists sympathetic to those that launched the attacks against us at such a sensitive site. Indeed, I’ve become more and more suspicious of Imam Abdul Rauf’s real intentions the longer the circus surrounding his outreach center plans went on. His
comments that America is an “accessory” to September 11th and his outrageous claims that America has the blood of many more innocent Muslims on its hands that al Qaeda are troubling for a man who has repeatedly asserted that he wishes to honor the memory of the victims of the September 11th attacks. Moreover I could not understand why a rational man who insisted his mission was sensitivity and outreach to the non-Muslim American community would prolong such a clearly painful debate in the very community to which he wished to minister. But what really turned me off about the Imam were his pretensions that he did not anticipate such an explosive response to his outreach center plans and, even more absurd, that if he were to cancel them now it would only encourage further Islamic radicalization in the Middle East and invite violence against the US. Which brings me to my main argument and what I believe to be the real lesson drawn from all this nonsense.

A lot has been said over the last nine years about how we have waged and should wage the War on Terror. Neo-conservatives have argued that Americans must give up some civil liberties for the sake of security while we take the fight to the enemy. Liberals have by and large criticized this as allowing the enemy to alter our way of life and needlessly erode our essential freedoms. Ironically, liberals now find themselves in the position of arguing the same things as neo-conservatives but with a different tone. Rather than defending us from radical Islam’s violent response to our fight against them, liberals are concerned about defending us from radical Islam’s violent response to our way of life and essential freedoms! In many ways this is far more insidious than the simpler line taken by neo-conservatives. Attempting to silence the (distasteful) exercise of one’s free speech rights out of fear of what violent Islamic extremists might do is corrosive to liberty. Just as demanding that exercising one's freedom of religion in a deliberately provacative manner should be universally approved of on the premise that it will invite violence from Islamic extremists if it is not is corrosive to liberty.

What is less often said is this: perhaps Americans shouldn’t be held responsible for the response of radical Islamic extremists, but rather radical Islamic extremists should be held responsible for their own response. Taking it a step further, those in the mainstream Muslim community who frequently argue that they condemn such violent responses might also look at the role they have to play in combating the extremist elements in their communities, just as Christians have rightly been criticized for the acts of their fundamentalist adherents, both past and present, not only in this country but across the world. If a group of people are not held to account for not only preaching but acting on their belief that anyone who disagrees with or offends their faith should be silenced or, worse yet, be killed, then this problem will never go away but merely grow larger. Our response as free citizens cannot be to change our way of life to appease those blackmailing us with violence, and any such argument (particularly when made by liberals) is entirely inappropriate. If we learn one lesson from these insane events, it’s that we ought to frame our opposition to or support of particular American experiences in American terms rather than in terms of our fears, rational or otherwise, of those who seek the ruin of freedom as we know it.




Eugene Robinson has had it with American voters who, in his words, are “acting like a bunch of spoiled brats.” In his recent piece in the Washington Post, Mr. Robinson posits that Americans may benefit from a good old-fashioned trip the political woodshed so that we may better appreciate the fact that quick-fixes to our most serious national problems are impossible. This childish mentality, he argues, is at the heart of the political whirlwind that threatens to blow scores of Democrats from Congress and replace them with a Republican majority no better equipped to handle our current state of affairs than their liberal foes. Of course Mr. Robinson insists that his assessment is non-partisan in nature and has nothing to do with his well-known liberal predilections. While I acknowledge there is some truth to Mr. Robinson’s assessment that many Americans do regularly fall for the populist “quick fix” claptrap peddled by political snake oil salesmen, I disagree that this dynamic is largely to blame for the Democrats’ imminent, Icarus-like plummet back to earth. And, also unlike Mr. Robinson, I’m willing to disclose that my political views, correct as they are, heavily inform my argument.

To say that the most visible grass-roots campaign responsible for the Democrats’ inevitable political misfortunes, the Tea Party, is driven by a desire for quick-fixes or get-rich-quick schemes is laughable in the extreme. Their platform consists almost entirely of austerity measures that promise none of the entitlement or stimulus sweeteners that the Eugene Robinsons of the world have long championed and which, often with bipartisan support, have left the country in its current state of economic and fiscal decrepitude. At best and by their own open admission, Tea Party sympathizers like Paul Ryan hope to implement policies which, if enacted today, will get the country on track for fiscal solvency by mid-century. Hardly a quick fix, but certainly better than the prospects Americans face under continued Democratic leadership.

Mr. Robinson seems unable to confront the fundamental truth underlying the current political mood: that when it comes to promises of an “easy way out” and the populist low-road, liberals are and always have been the usual suspects, and Obama is without doubt the granddaddy of the quick-fix. Unfortunately for them and contrary to Mr. Robinson’s assertion, the American people are, at least for the time being, wising up and demanding more from their government. And who can blame them? When the Obama administration pushes through a $787 billion stimulus package that it promises will hold unemployment under 8% only to see current heights of 9.6%, the expensive quick-fix is debunked. When the White House touts a delusional “Summer of Recovery” that has seen a downturn driving some economists to openly talk about a double-dip recession, the American people rightly lose confidence in their leadership. When Obama’s campaign rhetoric promised that by sheer force of his singular personality he would make America likeable again on the world-stage was followed by continued attacks on American citizens by Islamic extremists and newly-incited animosity against us by our allies, the flim-flam operation begins to fall apart.

There is a powerful, primal emotional response driving the backlash against the Democrats, but it has little to do with a search for quick-fixes and much to do with an electorate fed up with such empty promises. Those leading the movement for change this November are distinguished by the seriousness with which they intend to address our nation’s problems, rather than the politics-as-usual approach that has created them. Americans should be commended for their firm grounding this election season, not chastised by an angry pundit unable to comprehend the overwhelming failure of his own policy preferences.



To the Editor of the New York Times Editorial Page:
In Response to "What's Our Line" by Michael Kinsley.
Michael Kinsley unnecessarily complicates the issue of detention vs. constitutional protection in the realm of anti-terror policy by arguing for the US border as a line of demarcation. Furthermore, he casually glosses over the fact that the United States is in fact at war with al Qaeda and other organized non-state actors by his suggestion that treating such non-uniformed enemy combatants (acting in clear violation of the Geneva Convention) caught on American soil as prisoners of war is a "judgment call."
I'll take the opportunity to clarify the issue for Mr. Kinsley. Foreign nationals that we are fortunate enough to detain on American soil prior to carrying out acts of terror warrant detention and interrogation, not constitutional protection. Doing so is to confer upon them a frivolous privilege, not a fundamental right. Mr. Kinsley equates Timothy McVeigh and Nidal Hasan with Umar Abdulmatallab and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. This is not an apt comparison. McVeigh and Hasan were US citizens and, despite the acts they committed, were and are entitled to constitutional protections, including the right to an attorney, a civilian trial and the right to remain silent. Furthermore there is little evidence that McVeigh or Hasan were acting in concert with organized state or non-state actors or carrying out attacks as part of a larger conflict being waged against the United States. Is drawing such a line "absurd," as Mr. Kinsley suggests?
Clarity should be brought to the debate over civilian trials for captured enemy combatants as well. The concern is not chiefly that obviously guilty mass murderers will be let off on a technicality, although that is a remote but ugly possibility (particularly when suspects who had previously been held as enemy combatants are brought into civilian court), but that it misses a vital chance for intelligence gathering by allowing the suspects to hide behind the Fifth Amendment. When an opportunity to interrogate a terrorist who has either been detained prior to or, God forbid, after carrying out an attack on the United States presents itself, it should be taken. These individuals can provide some of the most crucial, usable intelligence available that will save lives.
As American citizens we must demand that our government maintain a coherent, consistent strategy to fulfill its constitutional obligation to protect us. Calling the means at hand to combat the existential threats to our liberty "absurd" is not useful, and suggests a lack of seriousness on the part of the one who does so.




Charles Krauthammer penned an op-ed on Saturday that brilliantly illustrates the ridiculous dichotomy of the current administration’s anti-terror policy. This insight gives one an impression of a tangled and inconsistent approach to combating violent extremism that warrants a dramatic overhaul.

Krauthammer points out that, under the current administration, foreign nationals detained on American soil for participating in acts of terrorism, be they preparatory (collecting bomb-making materials) or final (setting off a failed explosive device aboard an airliner), have been accorded Constitutional protections, among which are the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent, and the right to trial in a civilian court. This is illustrated by the gradual “decommissioning” of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, as well as the treatment of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be “Christmas Day Bomber” now in custody.

In stark contrast, the Obama administration has opted to continue in large part the policy of the Bush administration in its contingency operations overseas; that is, capturing or killing those involved in acts of terrorism, be they preparatory (training camps) or final (setting off bombs in crowded marketplaces) by use of military force. American predator drones routinely end the careers of up-and-coming jihadists in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and, as we now know, Yemen. Those extremists who are captured are turned over to American military or intelligence officials for exhaustive interrogation and indefinite detention, whereby they are squeezed like a proverbial lemon for every drop of usable intelligence they can provide. There are no lawyers, and there is certainly no Fifth Amendment.

So what accounts for the radically disparate treatment of extremists unfortunate enough to be operating in Pakistan and extremists lucky enough to be caught in the act on American soil? Some argue that anyone, be they American citizens or foreign nationals, is protected by our Constitution as soon as they set foot in the United States. But that is a separate debate that misses the point entirely. When talking about foreign national, violent extremists apprehended on American soil, one has to ask themselves the fundamental question of whether they believe the United States is at war with terrorism. If the answer is yes, then not only American but international legal precedent is clear: it allows for the military detention of these individuals, as they have clearly violated the terms of the Geneva Convention by targeting civilians and waging war out of uniform. If we choose to extend non-US citizens apprehended in the United States for acts of terrorism Constitutional protections, we are granting them a frivolous privilege, not a fundamental right.

The bottom line is that the administration needs to choose whether it treats terrorism as a law enforcement issue or a national security issue. It cannot, unfortunately, have it both ways. The United States must be consistent in its battle with violent extremism, not conducting military detentions overseas and civilian trials in the US. The current system is illogical and unsustainable, and it betrays President Obama’s discomfort with having to deal with the issue at all.