Posted by lex, on September 15th, 2011
Spencer Ackerman is a bright young man, and a relentlessly driven journalist of the new media. I don’t share much of his politics, but I do admire his tenacity and the usual quality of his work. I don’t know how many times he has comforted the afflicted, but he’s done a fair bit of afflicting the comfortable: On his home blog he notes that by age 22 he had helped to get Scooter Libby indicted, and got the State Department IG to resign in disgrace.
Yesterday on Danger Room, he breathlessly wrote that the FBI is teaching its agents that the devotion of “main stream (sic) Muslims” is a predictor of terrorist sympathies:
Focusing on the religious behavior of American citizens instead of proven indicators of criminal activity like stockpiling guns or using shady financing makes it more likely that the FBI will miss the real warning signs of terrorism. And depicting Islam as inseparable from political violence is exactly the narrative al-Qaida spins — as is the related idea that America and Islam are necessarily in conflict.
For my own part, I would like to draw a necessarily blurry line between what Mr. Ackerman and the FBI call “main stream” American Muslims and the “pious and devout.” Because the possibility never occurs to the former at least that to be a pious and devout Muslim necessarily means super-ordinating the will of God, as expressed to his Prophet 14 centuries ago in an inalterable text, and that this potentially places the believer in conflict with the values of modern Western Civilization. Most will find a way to live with that conflict. A notable few, weak-minded or otherwise deficient, have spectacularly failed to do so.
Mr. Ackerman clearly sees this as a civil rights issue rather than one of understanding the threat to the Republic – and you’d have to be willfully blind to think there is no threat, regardless of how dangerously you choose to characterize it. He sees the affirmative and bountiful evidence of Muslims in America who are good citizens and looks no further. Steeped in the culture of Western liberalism, he declines to even recognize this possibility: To the degree you are a good Muslim, as defined by rigorously following and promoting the entirety of the Koran (with Islam lacking as it does any centralized institution to contextualize those 7th Century scriptures in a 21st Century world, what other definition could there be?) it becomes increasingly difficult to be a good citizen.
Because the great monotheistic faiths of the world are fundamentally different, or else Samuel Huntington never would have gotten published(you don’t have to agree with the man’s conclusions to appreciate his command of history).
(Space below is necessarily brief, and my regrets to any whose faiths cannot be fully and fairly explicated by a former naval aviator, and knuckle dragging fighter pilot.)
The Jewish tradition is steeped in the Law of the Torah and history of God’s chosen. It is at its core about justice in scalable personal relationships. The sage Hillel wrote, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”
Jesus of Nazareth took the traditions of that law and – according to his followers – became the Word of God, dying for our sins. One of his strictures was to “render unto Caesar”, thereby laying the foundations for our own separation of church and state.
The prophet Mohammed is to his faithful the perfect man and final prophet. He took earlier Abrahimic traditions and crafted out of them the perfect book, with his own life as a perfect example.
There are secular Jews, who identify with the morality of their ethnicity more than its scriptural beliefs. There are so-called “salad bar” Catholics, who pretend devotion in every other way but for whom a woman’s right to choose is inviolable – Teddy Kennedy routinely got their votes. But none among their respective faiths could call them truly pious and devoted. There are Muslims who are good citizens who point out to us the more radically dangerous among them, and those of Islamic (as opposed to Islamist) traditions who eschew the active “lesser” Jihad to await God’s inevitable ordering of the world under Sharia. But to be a truly pious and devout Muslim – of the Wahabist and Salafist sects in particular – requires the follower to accept as unquestioned the guidance and example of Mohammed, and act on them, straight down the line. It is useful to remember that “Islam” means submission to God’s will, and God wills the believer to act.
(Some well-meaning civil rights activists say that to acknowledge these inconvenient truths is render oneself an “Islamophobe”, subject to the non-rebuttable charge of racism. But Islam is not a race, it is rather a set of beliefs. These beliefs are open to scrutiny and analysis.)
This bears repeating: Jews believe that G-d laid down the law for them. Christians believe that “Christ died for us.” Muslims know that Mohammed killed for them.
In his Regensburg lecture, the man who would become Pope Benedict XVI committed an impolitic gaffe – one in the character of inadvertently blurting out the truth – when he quoted 14th Century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (thanks, Zane), “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The lecture caused quite a stir, not because it was untrue necessarily but because it was likely to make certain people deeply unhappy. And you know how they get when they’re unhappy.
Spencer Ackerman is thrilled to discover that the FBI is training its counter-terrorism force to look first at pious and devout Muslims when they are trying to protect the country from attack, but if you’re hunting bears, the best place to start is in the woods. He believes that he has scored another “gotcha” scalp, to go alongside the Scooter Libby/Cookie Krongard hides he has tacked to his wall. He asks us to look, in a country of 300 million people, for evidence of “criminal activity like stockpiling guns or using shady financing” without regard to filtering the threat by whoit is among us that might be engaging in such criminal activity and why they might be doing so. Resources are definitionally limited, and not every such criminal indicator falls within the federal purview.
This article is, he says, “the realest shit I ever wrote.”
But Spencer, what if it’s true?