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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

On Being a Victim

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On Being a Victim

On August 23, 2015, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I stumbled across the following posts, written by several different people.

"Trump is definitely the next Hitler. History always repeats itself. Except he'll be putting immigrants in concentration camps instead of Jewish people. He's such a sick and twisted 'human' and I can't believe people actually support him. Makes me sick to my stomach."

"The American population is soooo stupid, really."

"There's no doubt that the hatred toward Hispanics is growing."

"My own kindergarten teacher didn't like me because I was a super smart Hispanic girl."

"This country is going to kick out all Hispanics either born here or not. And then the society will have no one to work the hard working jobs that his people are not willing to work. They'll go hungry!"

Three days later, on August 26, 2015, Vester Flanagan murdered TV reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward, his former coworkers. News accounts detail Flanagan taking offense at innocuous comments. If Parker said she would "swing" by a house, Flanagan insisted that she had made a derogatory reference to his being black. If someone said that reporters were "out in the field," Flanagan would protest that the word "field" was a reference to cotton fields. Flanagan interpreted the "strategic location" of a watermelon a manager had brought in to share with staff as an act of harassment against him. He also alleged that the 7-Eleven convenience store chain's sale of watermelon-flavored Slurpees was racist.

On August 28, 2015, near Houston, Texas, Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth was shot from behind as he pumped gas into his car. Deputy Goforth was white. Shannon J. Miles, his accused killer, is black.

A theme links these three events: the cultivation of a sense of victimization.

My Facebook friend who initiated the conversation comparing Donald Trump to Hitler is a history teacher. My friend lives in Paterson, N.J. Jose Torres is the three-term mayor. He is Puerto Rican. Official city documents are published with Spanish translations; the national holidays of Latin American nations are celebrated city-wide at taxpayer expense. New Jersey senator Robert Menendez is Hispanic, as are his colleagues, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who are polling very well in their runs for president. My friend teaches her public school students in the Spanish language. My friend is a recent college grad; according to Princeton University researchers, Hispanic college applicants are awarded 185 bonus SAT points for no other reason than their ethnicity. These facts of Hispanic cultural, economic, and political clout belie the assertion that being Hispanic in the US is comparable to being a Jew in Nazi Germany.

I challenged my friend with these facts. My friend ignored them. She spoke to me with personal animus, as if I were the very Gringo who'd put her in a concentration camp – though in the past I had been helpful to her. She did not back down from the characterization of Americans as stupid, lazy, racists who treat Hispanics similarly to how Jews were treated in Nazi Germany.

One can't help but relate Vester Flanagan's hyper-sensitivity – or perhaps we should label it "paranoia" – to the concept of "microaggression." Microaggression is a trend on university campuses. Students and professors are trained to be vigilant and to interpret stray comments as the mere visible manifestations of hidden, vast bigotry. In one campus presentation, a speaker informed his audience that a photograph of commuters climbing stairs to an elevated train platform was a microaggression against physically handicapped people.

We do not yet know the motive of the executioner of Deputy Goforth. One thing is certain. In the past year, public discourse has overflowed with demonization of police officers. Discussing the Goforth murder, Sheriff Ron Hickman mentioned "Rhetoric" that has "ramped up to the point where calculated cold-blooded assassination of police officers happens. We've heard black lives matter. … Cops' lives matter too. Why don't we drop the qualifier and say that all lives matter and take that to the bank?"

Recognizing that a cultivated sense of victimization is poisoning our society and even causing death gives me pause. I am a victim. Further, I am a member of a group that cultivates a sense of victimization. Am I any better than a Vester Flanagan?

I am deaf in one ear and I walk with a cane. My battle scars are mementoes from an ugly encounter had years ago when I was a graduate student. I was working for a professor who mistreated me. University officials, who had been looking for a way to end this professor's reign of terror, plead with me to testify against her. I did so. She was black; I am white. I was her victim. I state as much any time I have to explain to someone why I am hearing impaired.

I don't just identify as a victim on the individual level. I am a member of group that notoriously identifies as victims. My father was Polish. Once a Polish worker was resurfacing my sister's driveway. I was sent outside to offer him lunch. He brought up the 1940 Soviet massacre of 22,000 Polish army officers in the Katyn forest. This massacre had nothing to do with the sunny day we were enjoying in a peaceful and prosperous New Jersey suburb. I had just met this man. But he was Polish, and he heard my Polish-American name, and he observed the ritual: Poles remember their martyrs. It's a Polish thing.

In contemplating how awareness of victimization can mutate into rationalization of irrational hate and even violence, I thought of other Facebook friends, people who, unlike my Hispanic friend, have real family memories of what it is to be a concentration camp inmate – or what it is to be a Nazi.

Andrew, Joy, Otto and Vivian are children of survivors of history's deadliest war. Soviet communists denied Joy's mother an education because her family was aristocratic. Joy informed me that "My grandfather spent four and a half years in Auschwitz and Dachau. Later he rejoined his Polish regiment in Italy and fought the Nazis. An American military commander warned him not to return to Poland as he was on Stalin's execution list. He got his family out a year later as they were being hunted by the communists."

Andrew said that in Romania, "Before the war, my mum had fifty-three cousins, aunts, and uncles. After the war, only four remained. My father had a small family to begin with, but in his wider circle, the destruction was similar. Over the years, I found out more details, mostly through the Spielberg video of my mum." Andrew faced life-stunting, even dangerous antisemitism in Romania. He became an exile. As he put it, "I had to find places where I could say 'we' in plural first person." He must live his life in distant Australia. He must conduct his personal life in a foreign language.

Vivian reports, "My grandfather was on a work camp. All the Jewish women and children in Botoşani got to stay there to manage the town for the Nazis. The plan was to kill them at the end. My grandfather came home. It was summer. He was really tanned from the forced outdoor labor. My mother, who was five, was outside playing in the garden. He saw her and said, 'Are you my daughter?' She asked, 'Who are you?' He was crying so hard he could not answer."

Otto's grandparents were force-marched to Siberia. Otto said, "My mother turned 90 this year and still talks about having the officials and neighbors taking away what little they were attempting to save as they were marched out of town. The look in her eyes when she talks about this shows that she's been transported back to her childhood and that painful time."

It's not just that so many of my Facebook friends' family histories include genocide, exile, and loss. Often, our ancestors were victimizing each other. Some of my relatives were members of that same Communist Party that took everything from Joy's family. Her ancestors were aristocrats. I think of them as the people who owned my ancestors and called them "cattle." I mentioned this to Joy.

Joy responded, "My ancestors are held in high regard – because they did not treat people like cattle. When my grandmother fled in 1944 the palace and its contents were protected by the villagers. The Zamoyski Museum today is preserved exactly the way my grandparents left it." Joy said this to me without bitterness.

I'm Catholic. Andrew and Vivian are Jewish. I have to assume that I have some ancestors who participated in pogroms. Otto's parents were Nazis. We all get along. All four of these people have been genuinely kind and helpful to me.

Andrew, Joy, Vivian and Otto are white-collar professionals. Their Facebook posts tend to focus on their latest celebration or accomplishment or intellectual curiosity.

If being a victim and cultivating a sense of victimization is not the entire answer to how people become twisted haters, and even killers, what is the missing ingredient?

Towards the end of my year-long ordeal at Indiana University, a top administrator asked me what I would like her to do to the professor who had wronged me. My early Catholic training kicked in. I told the IU official that I wanted no revenge and I asked that none be taken on my behalf.

I was inspired by a vivid memory of my mother. The only time I can remember that tough woman crying was when she stopped cleaning house to watch TV coverage of Soviet tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia in 1968. Six years later, we visited her tiny natal village where graffiti from '68 still marked walls. We passed Russian soldiers; I stuck out my tongue. My mother told me to stop. "Be nice," she said. "They can't help it." She smiled at them. She was never more beautiful.

When I met Lech Walesa in 1998, I asked him, "You changed history peacefully. In so many other countries, that level of change could only happen violently. How did you do it?"

Walesa cited the Judeo-Christian tradition. He said that given Poland's strong Catholic faith, there was no way they would throw off genocidal powers by becoming genocidal themselves.

Not all those who have been victimized and who do not use that as carte blanche to become victimizers are guided by the Bible. Andrew is an atheist. A different spark inspires Andrew's rejection of aggrieved victim status. He is aware of the losses that others' hate has exacted from his life, but loss is not his focus, and he never speaks of revenge. He often speaks of Romania, and of Christians, with affection and respect, for example when he told me, "I sang Christmas carols in Romania in 1968. I felt honored to be invited to that clandestine event. My classmates knew I was Jewish, but the songs were an act of defiance against communism." Andrew is similarly grateful to his adopted homeland. He recently posted photos of a delicious pancake and ice cream dessert, which he savored. "In this photo, my double chin speaks of being content in Australia." Andrew said to me, "We made every effort to be more in our lives than just survivors of the Holocaust. Life and history must have more purpose than merely limping home from an extermination camp."

There is some step between acknowledging that one is a victim and deciding that since one is a victim one has license to ignore objective facts and cultivate hatred. Another step or series of moves past "I am a victim" and "I don't have to pay attention to objective facts" to "I, therefore, have reason to wallow in despair, give up on life, and kill others." Vivian, a psychiatrist, reminds me that some people are "psychotic" – too mentally ill to make sound decisions. I am not qualified to comment on that. All I can say is that I know people who have genuinely suffered, whose ancestors have suffered, and who have refused to use their suffering as carte blanche to hurt others. I wanted to salute them, as our country is wracked by news accounts of those who have used their sense of victimization as a license to lie, to hate, and even to kill.


 This essay appears at FrontPage Magazine, here

Monday, August 24, 2015

"Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works; Why It Should Terrify Us; How to Defeat It" by Tawfik Hamid. Book Review.


Here's my four-sentence review of Dr. Tawfik Hamid's new book Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works; Why It Should Terrify Us; How to Defeat It. Buy this book. Read this book. Refer to this book. Share this book.

I've read and reviewed counter-jihad classics by bestselling experts including Robert Spencer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Bernard Lewis, Andrew Bostom, Wafa Sultan, Brigitte Gabriel, Mosab Hassan Yousef, and Phyllis Chesler. I think highly of each. This is how good Inside Jihad is. If someone said to me, "I want to read just one book about jihad." I'd give that reader Dr. Hamid's book.

Inside Jihad is brief. Hamid's style is direct and fast-paced. He says what he needs to say without sensationalism, emotionality, literary ambition, or apologies. He pulls no punches.  

Tawfik Hamid was born and raised in Egypt, the most populous Middle Eastern country. He was raised Muslim. Hamid's mother was a teacher; his father, a surgeon and a private atheist who taught him to respect Christians and Jews. The family observed the Ramadan fast but had little other religious observance. Arabic is his first language and he has studied the Koran in the original Arabic. From 1979-82, he was a member of Jamaa Islamiya, a terrorist group. He met Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al-Qaeda.  

Hamid grew up under Gamal Abdel Nasser's pan-Arab socialism. Nasser wanted to modernize Egypt. He suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood, executed one of its leaders, Sayyid Qutb, and curtailed travel to and from Saudi Arabia, fearing Wahhabi influence.

The 1973 Oil Embargo sparked a revival of Islam. Muslims concluded that Allah rewarded Saudi Arabia for the Saudis' strict religious observance. Allah's reward was the Saudi ability to humble the United States.

Islamization in Egypt "started mildly enough." Hamid warns the reader to pay careful attention to slow Islamization. He says that the same methods that were used in Egypt are now being used in the West. "The more we surrender" he warns "the more Islamists will demand."

The camel's nose under the tent was something few could object to: individual prayer. Previously, if an employee interrupted his workday to perform one of Islam's mandated five daily prayers, it was perceived as bizarre. Now it was admirable.

Another straw in the wind: the hijab. In school photos taken before the 1970s, many Egyptian girls are without hijab. After America's humbling in the oil shock, more and more girls began to wear hijab. Men stopped wearing gold wedding bands; gold was deemed "un Islamic" for men. More toxic Islamizations, including Jew-hatred, followed. Imams preached that Jews are monkeys and pigs and that they poisoned Mohammed.

Islamization on campus also began in an innocuous way: Islamists used the moments before class began to talk about Islam. One day, the Christian professor of one class said that it was time for discussion of Islam to stop and the academic hour to begin. The Islamists called the professor an infidel and broke his arm. "The Christian students were terrified," Hamid reports.

"I remember the first time I looked at a Christian with disdain," Hamid reminisces. He was reading a required textbook. The book told him that Mohammed said, "I have been instructed by Allah to declare war and fight all mankind until they say 'No God except Allah and Mohammed is the prophet of Allah.'" Hamid, who had previously had Christian friends, turned to a Christian student and said, "If we applied Islam correctly, we should be doing this to you."

Jamaa Islamiya actively recruited medical students like Hamid. It took six months for Hamid to become "sufficiently indoctrinated."

Hamid details several lures that recruiters used to bring young people into their movement:

  • fear of hell,
  • a demonization of critical thinking,
  • a sense of superiority over non-Muslims,
  • suppression of any emotional life outside of Islamism,
  • suppression of sexual expression,
  • a promise of sex for jihadis,
  • and upholding of Mohammed as the perfect example, beyond criticism.

Author Don Richardson estimates that one in eight verses in the Koran mentions Hell. By contrast, the Old Testament mentions Hell once in every 774 verses, and it is never described as graphically as it is described in the Koran. Hamid quotes Islamists using many Koranic passages that vividly describe Hell to terrorize potential members: "garments of fire shall be cut out for them … burning water will be poured over their heads causing all that is within their bodies as well as the skins to melt away … they shall be held by iron grips; and every time they try in their anguish to come out of it, they shall be returned and told 'Taste suffering through fire to the full!'" Infidels in Hell will eat thorns and drink scalding water as if they were "female camels raging with thirst and disease." Their intestines will be cut to pieces.

Another method used to Islamize recruits was "al-fikr kufr" – "one becomes an infidel by thinking critically."

Recruiters flattered recruits, telling them that they were superior to non-Muslims. "Take not Jews and Christians for friends," they quoted from Koran 5:51. Jews are monkeys and pigs: Koran 5:60. Those who worship Jesus are infidels: Koran 5:17. Do not offer the greeting "As-salamu alaykum," or "peace be with you," to Christians or Jews; whenever you meet Christians or Jews in a road, force them to its narrowest alley: Sahih Muslim. Muslims who did not carry out jihad were also inferior.

Terror recruits' emotional outlets were cut off. They were forbidden from creating or consuming music, dance, or visual art. They were discouraged from having sex, but lured with promises of great sex in paradise. The houris – dark-eyed virgins – are graphically described in Muslim literature as very soft, without complaint, and easily satisfied. Houris regain their virginity immediately after sex. Men are promised organs that never go limp. Mohammed, recruits were assured, could have sex with eleven women in an hour.

Finally, the example of Mohammed himself was not to be questioned. Mohammed married a six-year-old. He raped war captives, in one case immediately after decapitating the captive's brother and father and after she had witnessed her mother being carried off also to be raped. Mohammed approved of the dismemberment of Um Kerfa, a poetess who criticized him. Mohammed is the "perfect example, worthy of emulation." Muslims today must unquestioningly approve these behaviors.

Hamid's fellow extremists were aware that Muslim countries were no longer in the cultural forefront. Islam had spread as far as Spain and India in only the first century after Mohammed's death. Terror recruits believed that early Islam's success was caused by strict adherence to Islamic doctrine. They believed that their strict observance could bring back Islam's early dominance.

Some wonder how women could be recruited into a movement that keeps them in an inferior position in relation to men. Hamid clarifies: Muslimahs were told that they would be superior – to infidel women.

Hamid expounds uncompromisingly on the power and importance of hijab. He insists that when prominent Westerners such as Nancy Pelosi and Laura Bush travel to Muslim countries and wear hijab, they are making a grave error. Hijab is not "a neutral, or merely traditional, fashion statement." Hijab's purpose "is not modesty or to encourage observers to focus on a Muslim woman's personality." Hijab exists to proclaim "deep Islamic doctrinal connections to slavery and discrimination. Western women who cover themselves are unwittingly endorsing an inhumane system." Hijab's purpose, Hamid argues persuasively, is to create a society where superior free Muslimahs are visually distinct from inferior infidel slave women.

Islamists "despise women who did not wear hijab. We considered them vain … we believed they would burn in Hell." Further, "the hijab serves to differentiate between slave girls and women who are considered free … it creates a feeling of superiority among the women who wear it." The Koran promises that women who wear hijab will not be "molested." Women without hijab are slaves and can be raped without guilt.

Australia's foremost Muslim cleric restated this Islamist position in 2006. In Sydney, fourteen Muslim men gang-raped non-Muslim women. Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilali said that it was the victims' fault. "If you take out uncovered meat" and cats eat it, the cats are not to blame. Women possess "igraa," "the weapon of enticement."

Hamid emphasizes that hijab is both vanguard and emblem of Islamic supremacy. During their 1953 meeting, the first thing Sayyid Qutb asked Nasser to do was to force women to wear hijab. A YouTube video documents this conversation. In the video, Nasser is speaking to a large assembly. When he repeats Qutb's demand, the crowd laughs. One wag shouts out, "Let him wear it!" Nasser points out that Qutb's own daughter does not wear hijab. The crowd laughs even more, and bursts into applause. This video is at least fifty years old. It is a reminder that fifty years ago, countries like Egypt and Iran were modernizing. Women, in cities at least, could be seen in public in miniskirts and without hijab.

Hamid reports that the Muslim Brotherhood does not announce its end goal openly. "They pose as peacemakers … The Muslim Brotherhood will accept circumstances that offend their beliefs – temporarily – if doing so will advance their goals." They will – temporarily – permit western dress for women and alcohol consumption. This is all part of taqiyya. The Muslim Brotherhood has a four stage plan: at first, merely preach. Then, move on to participation in public life. Next, consolidate power "while faking legitimacy." Finally, enforce sharia.

A few turning points turned Hamid away from Islamism, for example, when a fellow terror recruit described his plot to bury alive an Egyptian police officer.

Hamid had been studying the Bible so that he could better debate Christians. Jesus' words haunted him. "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" He asked himself, what profit to Islam if it subjugated the entire world but lost its soul? "Exposure to the Bible was crucial in helping me question the violent aspects of Salafist teaching."

His medical studies also gave him pause. "I wondered if the divine DNA molecule was violent. Did it attempt to conquer the rest of the cell? Did it try to force other cellular components to behave like itself? It did not. Rather, it worked harmoniously within an organism to create and sustain life."

The clincher for Hamid was "the existence of alternative forms of Islamic teaching." Hamid met Muslims called "Quranics," who reject the hadiths. The Quranics "stood against killing apostates, against stoning women for adultery, against killing gays. They viewed the Islamic Conquests as immoral and senseless." The Quranics "allowed me to think critically." "If this alternative sect had not been available, it would have been much more difficult for me to resist jihadism."

After recounting his own history, Hamid turns his attention to the international scene. Hamid makes mincemeat of a slew of Islam-apologetic arguments. He insists that it is utterly wrong-headed to blame Islamism on poverty, global warming, lack of education, discrimination, Islamophobia, dictatorial regimes, colonialism, imperialism, or the treatment of Palestinians by Israel. President Obama's statement that ISIS is "not Islamic," was the "most ill-informed utterance of all."

Hamid stresses that one must attend to what Muslims say to each other, in Arabic, about their faith, not just what propagandists in the West say in English to a media that never seems to hit Muslims with any hard questions. Hamid cites the example of prominent Saudi Sheikh Sale al-Fawzan. Al-Fawzan says that "slavery is part of Islam" and "slavery is part of jihad, and jihad will remain as long as there is Islam." Anyone who tries to extract slavery and jihad from Islam is an "infidel." Familiarity with such pronouncements would have prepared the world for ISIS' practices.

Dr. Hamid's righteous indignation – and his courage – reach heroic heights when he castigates his fellow Muslims, not just for being passive in the face of terror, but for secretly applauding it. "A large percentage of Muslims today passively approve of Islamic terror," he says. "They minimize it, shift the blame, or do nothing." They are "secretly proud." Terrorism gives them "a sense of victory and power."

Muslims often can't bring themselves to perceive terrorists as bad people. "It is widely believed that a Muslim who fulfills the Five Pillars of Islam is virtuous" – whether he's a terrorist or not. "Islamists cannot be bad Muslims because they perform the superficial rituals."

Hamid unpacks in detail several different taqiyya strategies Muslim apologists use to mislead Westerners into thinking that they oppose terrorism while in fact supporting it. Hamid lists seven questions that must be answered by any spokesperson for Islam. Every American politician should read these pages; voters should photocopy them and mail them to elected officials. Students should have them on hand before they head off to college.

"Many Muslims seem to have this tendency to point fingers at anyone but themselves," he observes. Islam fosters a "culture of deflection" that "makes it very difficult for Islam to correct itself." Many insist that Muslims did not carry out the 9-11 attacks. It was the Jews! They insist. "This denial is a form of passive terrorism." Hamid writes perceptively that "Redemption from shame is not and can never be the product of denial. It comes rather from honestly admitting fault and then confronting it openly."

I'll mention that Islam, unlike Christianity, lacks the ritual of confession. For two thousand years, Christians have been following scriptural dictates to confess their sins to others, and to atone for them. Self-examination is valued in Christian-influenced cultures – enough so that politicians caught in scandals are often advised to appear on the highest-rated talk show that will book them and to offer a "mea culpa," a phrase from Catholic confession. There is no comparable Muslim ritual.

Hamid is equally gloves-off in his criticism of the West. He reminds the reader of how gradually and innocuously Islamization had begun in Egypt. He says weak Western military response to jihad is comparable to using too few antibiotics to treat an infection. Surviving bacteria become resistant, and more virulent. He lambastes moral relativism. He utterly rejects comparisons between jihadis and fundamentalist Christians and Jews. Hamid singles out one voice – that of pseudo-scholar Karen Armstrong – for special condemnation. He accuses Armstrong and others like of her "paving the way for Islamic barbarity." Armstrong is "spectacularly representative of the multicultural revisionism and moral backsliding that are helping to cripple efforts at genuine reform of Islam."

His critique of Western liberals' enabling of jihadis is echoed in many memoirs by Islam-critical Muslims and former Muslims, including Ayaan Hirsi Ali. "It is strange how Christianity is constantly assailed by Western progressives" including the American Civil Liberties Union. "The ACLU said nothing about installing Islamic footbaths in restrooms … at a taxpayer-funded public institution in 2007." Hamid sticks his hand in a real hornet's nest: immigration. He believes America should change its policies to weed out jihadis.

Dr. Hamid remains a Muslim. He loves his religion, and he wants to save it. By writing this book and speaking out as he has, he is risking his life to do so. The final portion of the book offers his complete re-interpretation of Islam and the Koran, and his plan for defeating extremism.

Muslims like Dr. Tawfik Hamid inspire my hope and admiration. In his excellent book, one sentence struck me as most poignant and worth lengthy pondering. "I often wonder how al-Zawahiri would have turned out if his childhood religious education had promoted love instead of hate and violence." Dr. Hamid is doing his part to re-interpret his beloved natal faith, Islam, in a peaceful and loving way. One can only wish him good fortune in that herculean effort.


This review first appeared at Front Page Magazine, here

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Long Live Khaled Assad



82 Years old. "Interrogated." Probably tortured. Refused to lead ISIS to Palmyra's hidden antiquities. Decapitated in the name of Islam. Corpse desecrated publicly. Long Live Khaled Assad.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Muslim Feminist Linda Sarsour: Let's Talk about ISIS Rape Victims like Kayla Mueller


Linda Sarsour. Photo courtesy of Andrea Quinn 
Open Letter to Linda Sarsour

  • Director of the Arab American Association of New York
  • Honoree, New York City Council's Shirley Chisholm Women of Distinction Award
  • Senior Strategist for the Campaign to Take on Hate
  • 2009 Fellow with the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute, housed at the University of Southern California's Center for Religion and Civic Culture, in partnership with the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim Christian Understanding at Georgetown University
  • Obama White House honoree as a "Champion of Change"
  • Feminist: "I am a feminist and the reason I am a feminist is because I am a Muslim."

Dear Linda Sarsour,

The news broke on Friday, August 14, 2015. That day would have been Kayla Mueller's twenty-seventh birthday.

The breaking – and heartbreaking – news: Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the Islamic Studies PhD who heads ISIS, had repeatedly raped Kayla Mueller. "He owned her," news accounts report. Kayla was al-Baghdadi's "sexual slave." She was tortured. Kayla had been 24 years old when ISIS first took her captive in 2013.

Kayla Mueller was from Prescott, Arizona. She was an idealist. She had worked for many causes, including Tibetan refugees, Amnesty International, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Save Darfur Coalition. Kayla was taken captive by ISIS in 2013 while leaving a Doctors without Borders hospital in Syria. She was there helping war refugees. Kayla died in captivity in February, 2015. Kayla's fellow hostages report how kind and self-sacrificing she was.

Why did Kayla put her life at risk to help others? "Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love. I found God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is. Using my hands as tools to relive suffering," she wrote.

Linda, I did not know Kayla, but I do know her. So do you. We are all three of us women, Linda. We were all once young and naïve. We have all had those moments when we wanted to save the world, and thought we could. Linda, I've disagreed with every single thing I've ever heard you say. But I see and honor the idealist in you. I acknowledge the womanhood that you and I share. I hope you can see and respect the idealistic woman in Kayla Mueller.

I would have disagreed with Kayla about many things. She participated in anti-Israel actions. I support Israel's right to exist.

Kayla's anti-Israel actions were not the central fact of her life. They did not earn her any points with ISIS. Though she marched with Muslim Arabs protesting Israel, ISIS still raped and tortured Kayla, and they were responsible for her death.

I did a Google image search of "Kayla Mueller." I wanted to spend a minute honoring this young lady. I didn't want my only thought of her to be the foul images that intruded into my mind when I heard the news: claustrophobic, nightmare scenes of the fetid, unwashed, cannibal caliph.

On the Google page under the image search for "Kayla Mueller," beauty flooded my computer screen. Kayla is bursting with youth. She is pale and a tad plump. Her straight and shiny brunette hair is very modestly done, as is often the case with missionaries and saints. Her hair falls down her sweatered back, or it is held in a bun with cheap elastics. Her part is uneven; it's been a few hours since she has looked at herself in a mirror in any kind of self-conscious way. Kayla's focus is on serving others, not on prettifying herself for the camera. She's not wearing make-up, not even mascara, although in one shot she shows ceremonial henna designs on her arm. She's got warm brown eyes, a button nose, and even, white, and strong-looking teeth. She's hugging a dog; hugging a stuffed animal; hugging her Arab boyfriend; standing next to an American flag; seated in lotus position; in a t-shirt with a Tibetan Buddhist dorje. Her smile is as wide, wholesome and open as the Arizona skies.

Did I say that I did not know Kayla? That's not true. I know the girl in these photos would lend me her last dime, travel the extra mile, and be the kindergarteners' favorite teacher. I know that Kayla would out-hug the best hugger and cheer up the grouchiest grouch.

That beautiful young American is whom the ISIS caliph, with his PhD in Islamic studies, chose to torture and defile.

When I heard the breaking news, I thought of you, Linda. I wanted to believe, Linda, that the womanliness that you and I share with Kayla had broken down barriers. I wanted to believe that there would be eloquent words on your Facebook page addressing what happened to Kayla. I wanted to believe that you had been touched, and that you cared, in spite of any differences between you and Kayla. You harp on being all-American, Linda. I wanted to believe that the American in you stepped forward and mourned this fellow American cut down by an enemy. Linda, you publicly identify as a feminist. You claim feminism's heroes and trappings. You have received feminist awards. I wanted to see feminist solidarity in you transcend the identity politician in you.

Frankly, I'm a little bit Kayla Mueller myself. If I had just a handful fewer IQ points, I'd have a coexist bumper sticker. That part of me, Linda, wanted to share a moment with you, and felt that sharing that moment would help heal the pain I was feeling over Kayla's torture murder. I wanted to feel, across the miles and the boundary lines, you and me mourning together for our slain sister with whom we share so much in spite of all our differences.

I went to your Facebook page, Linda. What I found there shocked me. It left me reeling.

Linda, the day that the Kayla Mueller news broke, you posted a message in response to the New York Times article on ISIS' rape of little, captive Yazidi girls. Yazidi girls who cried, as little girls might, when violated, by adult male strangers. Little girls who begged their torturers to stop, and who, for their trouble, had the Koran recited to them. Verses from the Koran sanctioning these tortures of children.

Rape of captives is sanctioned in Islam. See Koran 33:50, 23:5-6, 4:24, 8:69, 24:32; see also Hadith Bukhari 62:137, 34:432, Muslim 4345. There are more. Mohammed is considered by Muslims to be the perfect human, worthy of emulation. Mohammed had sex slaves.

Your post on the day the Kayla Mueller news broke shocked me. On your page, Linda, I found denial, accusations, and victim-mongering.

Linda, the day after the New York Times story on the ISIS theologically sanctioned rape of little Yazidi girls, on the day the Kayla Mueller story broke, you posted commentary by Imam Zaid Shakir. You posted them with your approval. "The first thing we should understand about slavery is that it is not an integral part of Islam," he wrote. "For this reason every Muslim nation has legally outlawed slavery."

Linda, you and I and all educated people know that it is not true. Slavery has been part of Islam from the first. Mohammed owned and traded slaves. He encouraged his followers to rape war captives. Slaves as booty were a huge lure for jihadis in the expansion of Islam. When Tariq ibn Ziyad invaded Spain in 711, he promised his jihadis "ravishingly beautiful Greek [Christian] maidens, their graceful forms draped in sumptuous gowns on which gleam pearls, coral, and purest gold." The Muslim Slave Trade dwarfed the Atlantic Slave Trade in numbers of persons enslaved and time of duration. Murray Gordon, author of Slavery in the Arab World, wrote that Muslims were hesitant to spread Islam south of the Sahara because they wanted black Africans as non-Muslim slaves. Enslaved males were typically castrated. Enslaved females were used for sex. Circassian women were so frequently traded as sex slaves that they are famous to this day for their "beauty," a bowdlerized expression of what they were really famous for. Enslaved Slavic men were castrated; the word "Slav" appears in altered form in Arabic as "eunuch." Slave armies played a unique and historically significant role in the expansion of Islam; see Daniel Pipes, Slave Soldiers and Islam. America's first foreign war with a country other than England was with the Barbary Pirates. They enslaved Americans and used Islam and the Koran to justify that enslavement to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. When he is twelve, the son of the house "is given his first negress," wrote Pulitzer-Prize winner Edith Wharton in her 1920 book, In Morocco. Muslim majority countries were among the last in the world to abolish slavery. For example, Qatar, Yemen, Niger, the UAE, Oman, Mauritania – all Muslim majority countries – outlawed slavery between 1952 and 2007. Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and location of Mecca, outlawed slavery only in 1962. The mother of Saudi Prince Bandar, a good friend of the Bush family, was a black serving girl.

Linda, I'm Catholic. Nobody gets more grief than Catholics – not even Muslims. Some Catholics have done bad things. We have this custom called "confession." We confess our wrongs, and then work to right them. I want something you want, Linda. I want Muslims and non-Muslims to get along. That day won't be hastened by Muslim leaders like you denying the problems that need to be fixed. You quote Imam Shakir as writing that Islam "is a beautiful gift of a sophisticated civilization." Islam has produced many beautiful gifts for world civilization. We know that the Taj Mahal is a Muslim tomb. Rumi, Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan, belly dancing: all gifts of the Muslim world. We will appreciate them all the more when Muslims step up and take responsibility for, and fix, the wrongs committed in the name of Islam.

But you and Imam Shakir didn't stop at denial on the day the news broke about Kayla Mueller. You went on to victim mongering. Muslims are the real victims here, you both insisted. Imam Shakir wrote, and you approved, "the actions of ISIS are being used to fan the flames of war against Muslims." What? What? You react to the New York Times article documenting the rape of little Yazidi girls, and the news about Kayla by claiming that you, Muslims, are the real victims? No, Linda. You're not. And it's in really bad taste to insist that at this moment.

One sentence on your Facebook page chilled me more than any other. You quote Imam Shakir saying, "The first and highest objective of Islamic law is the preservation of religion itself." That line really makes Islam sound like the Borg, Linda. Please give it some thought. Surely the God in which you believe does not hold human life below preservation of a belief system. Look at photos of Kayla Mueller, Linda. See the universe in her eyes.

The book you uphold quotes God as saying to the Jews in Koran 5:32, "We ordained for the Children of Israel … if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all humanity." The Koran is correct here; God did give that command to the Jews. Neither you nor I is a Jew, Linda, but we can both access the wisdom in this quote when we look at photos of Kayla Mueller. I see the world in her face, in every human face. I see the imago dei, the tzelem Elohim, the image of God, as recorded in the book of Genesis. I think if you and I and all of us dedicated ourselves to preserving each other, we'd be doing God's will. The man I call God, and you call a prophet, said something similar: Love God with all your heart; love your neighbor as yourself. That is the law and the prophets.

Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete
 This letter first appeared in Front Page Magazine here

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Trainwreck 2015: Awkward Handling of an Unlikeable Drunk

"Trainwreck" has gotten really good reviews and I did laugh out loud while watching it but it went downhill fast and in the end I felt like I needed a shower. "Trainwreck" is about Amy (Amy Schumer), a narcissistic, abusive, alcoholic and drug addicted slut who meets nice guy Aaron (Bill Hader) who falls in love with her. They begin a relationship and Amy's life changes.

The drunken slut part of the movie offers some funny scenes, and some creepy, cringe-worthy scenes. In one unfunny and gross scene, drunken Amy attempts to have sex with a sixteen year old boy who calls her a "pathetic, childless MILF." She punches him in the face and his mother interrupts them. The scene seemed to be about the movie punishing and humiliating Amy.

I didn't much like Amy. She castigates a man for breathing on her after one encounter. She is unkind to her sister within minutes of her father being buried. She treats Aaron horribly, taking a phone call during one of the most important moments of his life.

"Trainwreck" is directed by Judd Apatow and written by Amy Schumer. They are both very funny and prolific talents but the material here is simply above their artistic maturity level. They know how to make funny scenes; they don't really know how to deal with a drunk who tries to get sober, or a malicious narcissist who tries to be nice to other people.

Aaron is a sports doctor and famous athletes are sprinkled throughout the movie. That just doesn't work. You never really believe that LeBron James hangs out with this sports doctor and has heart-to-heart talks with him about his girlfriend trouble. The famous-sports-star scenes take the viewer out of an already rocky movie and lower the verisimilitude. It's also unbelievable that a sports doctor at Aaron's level would be so desperate for a girlfriend that he would put up with Amy for more than half a date.



Man from U.N.C.L.E. 2015 -- Stylish, Witty, Retro Fun

Guy Ritchie's "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." is a fun, retro romp. It's a 1960s-style spy movie. The spies in this film are witty, smart, and impeccably dressed. Henry Cavill, as Napoleon Solo, and Armie Hammer, as Illya Kuryakin, are stunningly handsome men. I couldn’t help, while watching this film, but compare them to the kind of schlubs who populate Jud Apatow movies.

TMFU's emphasis is retro style. From tiny, miserable East German apartments that are onscreen for only seconds, to the large, chunky, sixties jewelry, everything onscreen is beautifully put together.

For a film with so much style, there's heart, too. Illya Kuryakin really moved me. He has a tragic backstory. His father was exiled to a Siberian Gulag and his mother also misbehaved. Illya is huge and strong like bull. He's a stereotype of the superhuman Soviet man Americans had to confront during Cold-War-Era Olympics. He has trouble controlling his anger and his strength. When he's about to blow, the soundtrack plays marching sounds. It's effective.

 Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo is the more cool and suave of the two. There's a breathtaking set piece where Solo confronts tragic disaster by calmly sampling, and then abandoning, a fortuitously discovered sandwich and bottle of wine.

The plot is pretty conventional. Udo, a scientist from Nazi Germany (Christian Berkel, who played the "the Good German" – an ethical doctor – in "Downfall") has been recruited to make a nuclear bomb for some Italian fascist bad guys, the Vinciguerra family. His evil brother Rudi (Sylvester Groth) has also been recruited by the bad guys. Rudi was a torturing fiend under the Nazis. There is a torture scene and the movie licks its chops building suspense, leading the viewer to believe that there is going to be a really cruel, squirm-inducing scene served up, but the film surprises you. In general the film is much smarter, and much less violent, than many films of this genre, and I liked that a lot.

The final action sequence is played to dramatic percussion. Overall the sound and music in the film are very effective.

Elizabeth Debicki is icy and evil as Victoria Vinciguerra.

I enjoyed this movie from start to finish. I liked its intelligence and style and I liked looking at two gorgeous male leads. TMFU has not done well at the box office. That's too bad. I think this movie may just be too stylish, too grown-up, for today's action audience.



Friday, August 14, 2015

Ayaan Hirsi Ali's "Heretic" -- Let's Reform How We Think and Talk about Islam



Ayaan Hirsi Ali's beauty and charisma personalize the unending atrocities against all-too-often anonymous women in the Muslim world. Hirsi Ali grew up in Somalia and Saudi Arabia. She escaped from an arranged marriage. In Holland she was elected to parliament. She is now an American citizen. In 2014, Muslims prevented Hirsi Ali from receiving an honorary degree at Brandeis. Hirsi Ali's 2006 memoir Infidel is an essential record of the life of one Muslim woman who chose, no matter the cost, to live with dignity, courage and integrity. Hirsi Ali's 2015 book, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, is less successful. Its flaws are representational of the flaws found in much counter-jihad rhetoric produced by self-identified atheists or atheists-lite including Sam Harris, Douglas Murray, and Bill Maher.

Hirsi Ali divides Muslims into three groups. She labels jihad-committed Muslims "Medina Muslims" (15)."Mecca Muslims," she says, pledge fealty to Islam but aren't actively violent (16). "Modifying Muslims" are Muslims who want to change Islam (17). These divisions are not emic – Muslims themselves do not label themselves as "Mecca Muslims" or "Medina Muslims." There is no way that non-Muslims can reliably differentiate between one and the other. Hirsi Ali, had she known him, would almost certainly categorize Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a non-violent or "Mecca" Muslim right up to April 18, 2013, the day he was identified as a suspect in the April 15 Boston Marathon Bombing. Tsarnaev's friends identified him as not one of "them. He was us. He was Cambridge." His twitter feed seemed to reflect a man "much more concerned with sport and cheeseburgers than with religion."

Hirsi Ali cites five features of Islam that must change (24). The first such feature is "unquestioning reverence" for Mohammed and the Koran. In fact Muslims cite the Koran and hadith to support capital punishment for anyone who insults Mohammed or the Koran. Mohammed ordered the deaths of those who insulted him. Muslims have repeatedly killed others for insulting Mohammed. Islam's attitude toward the Koran differentiates the Koran from the sacred scripture of any other world faith. Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists do not riot when someone burns a Bible, the Vedas or the Diamond Sutra. The Koran has near divine status: it cannot be translated from Arabic; the Koran is co-eternal with God, and uncreated; the original copy of the Koran is in Heaven and has been there eternally.

The second feature Hirsi Ali cites as needing to change is a "fatal focus" on the afterlife. She mentions Muslim parents who encourage their own children to be suicide bombers. A third feature of Islam that must change is sharia. Hirsi Ali says it "keeps Muslims stuck in the seventh century." A fourth feature of Islam that must change is hisbah, the injunction to command right and forbid wrong. The chapter devoted to this concept describes life among Muslims as comparable to life under the East German Stasi. Hirsi Ali describes Muslim family members turning on each other to keep all obedient to Islamic dictates. The often fatal fruit of such one-on-one surveillance is honor killing, in which parents, uncles, or older siblings murder Muslim females and sometimes males perceived to have strayed. The fifth feature of Islam that Hirsi Ali says must be reformed is jihad, "the call for holy war" that "is a charter for terror."

Hirsi Ali briefly recapitulates her autobiography, material that will be familiar to her loyal readers. Much of "Heretic" consists of summaries of news stories of Islam-inspired atrocities. Hirsi Ali revisits the attempted 2010 Times Square car bombing and other terrorist plots in the US, the honor killings of several Muslim women living in the US and Canada, the imprisonment of Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, a Christian woman, in Sudan, and the filmed gang rapes of Egyptian women in Tahrir Square.

In this avalanche of atrocities, of parents murdering their own children while the surviving brothers of murdered sisters applaud their infanticidal parents, Pakistanis burned alive by their neighbors, of recipients of Western welfare bombing their benefactors, one story stands out. Thirteen-year-old Somali Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was gang raped. She reported it. Sharia demands four adult male Muslim witnesses for a rape conviction. There were no witnesses. Duhulow was accused of adultery, buried up to her neck, and stoned for ten minutes. Her devout Muslim murderers dug her out, found a pulse, reburied her, and stoned her again. For those who read the news regularly, Heretic's forced march through bombings and torture murders, a march that provides no new insights or avenues for action, will merely be redundant and depressing. These accounts don't build to a larger point. Rather, they proceed episodically, like beads on a string.

One of the flaws in Hirsi Ali's book, and in atheist discourse on Islam in general, is the tacit acceptance, as an almost religious dogma, of human progress. At least since nineteenth century thinkers August Comte and Herbert Spencer, some have believed that as time moves forward, an unseen hand evolves people into a smarter, more ethical, less religious species. In this belief system, the word "modern" is virtually a synonym for "ethical," while the word "medieval" or "from the middle ages" is the ultimate insult. This worldview informs prominent atheists Michael Shermer's and Steven Pinker's recent books, The Moral Arc and The Better Angels of Our Nature. In this worldview, we don't need the Judeo-Christian tradition to inform our ethics, because human progress is making us better people every day.

In the progress worldview, Islam is a problem because its roots are in the past. Islam will inevitably improve with time as other religions have. When Islam is "modern," it will be good. "Other religions have undergone a process of reform," Hirsi Ali writes, "modifying core beliefs and adopting more tolerant and flexible attitudes compatible with modern, pluralistic societies" (25). "The Muslim world" is struggling to come to terms with "modernity" (26). Modernizing "revolutions" liberated Europeans from "priestly authority" (58). Islam is problematical because it has "frozen into place" "tribal norms" (88). The Old Testament contains harsh verses, but "no one invokes these passages in modern-day jurisprudence" (135). Westerners "have come very far from the days when public executions were the norm and religious offenses were punishable by death" (137). Sharia amputations may be seen as "antiquated practices that, like witch-burning in Massachusetts, will die out" (138-9). Sharia harms Muslim women; it is a surviving remnant of "patriarchal tribal culture" (143). Persecution in contemporary Islam is "an odd echo of the religious persecutions of the European middles ages" (148). "In the twenty-first century, I believe that all decent human beings can agree that barbarous acts should not be tolerated" (152). "The early history of New England" confirms that "some Protestant sects" policed their members. "Modern" cities and regions "allow the clock to be turned back" when they become more Islamic (163).

During the March 23, 2015 broadcast of The Daily Show, both host Jon Stewart and guest Hirsi Ali voiced the human progress worldview. Hirsi Ali, prompted by Stewart, said, "Christianity went through that process of Reformation and Enlightenment and came to a place where the mass of Christians, at least in the Western world have accepted tolerance, the secular state – separation of Church and State, respect for women, respect for gays … There were Christians, I mean, within Christianity, who came out and said hey, we need to change things, we need to reform." Islam, though, Hirsi Ali reports, is a problem, because it has not yet progressed, not yet evolved. The Koran "was written by a man a long time ago and the morality of the 7th century doesn't apply in the 21st century and they have to pick that up … the morality of God-knows-when doesn't apply now."

There are problems with the human progress worldview. The biggest problem is that not a single one of the features Hirsi Ali would like to change in Islam is representational of the seventh century.

It is open to question whether Islam's gender apartheid is a time capsule of pre-Islamic Arab culture. In 1986, in the journal Signs, Lelia Ahmed, Harvard's Victor S. Thomas Professor of Divinity, published "Women and the Advent of Islam." Ahmed argues that Arab women enjoyed more freedom and power before Islam than after, and that taking freedom and power away from women was a large part of the early mission of Islam. Ahmed cites the biography of Khadija, Mohammed's first wife. Forty-year-old Khadija, who lived most of her life before the founding of Islam, was a businesswoman who hired twenty-five-year-old Mohammed, proposed marriage to him, and enjoyed him as her sole spouse – he was allowed no other wives while married to her. Before Mohammed, Ahmed writes, Arab women "had been remarkably active and independent" in a variety of roles including as the commanders of armies. Ahmed also cites Islam's written record. "Perhaps 80 percent of Koranic rulings" Ahmed says, were "devoted to regulating marital relations and the conduct of women … the establishment of Islam was marked by the institution of new sociosexual norms." Based on available evidence, "it becomes difficult not to conclude that the absolute empowerment of men in relation to women in all matters relating to sexuality and offspring and the disempowerment of women and thus the complete transformation of [contemporaneous Arab] society's mores in the area of the relation between the sexes was itself one of Mohamad's prime objectives." Ahmed concludes with a tale from Islam's early days. Two of Mohammed's great granddaughters are chatting. One is happy; one is sad. Why? The happy girl was named after an ancestress who had lived before the founding of Islam; the sad girl had a Muslim name.

One can go farther back in time than Ahmed does. Thousands of years ago, ancient, Pagan Egypt was among the friendliest to women of all Mediterranean civilizations. Ancient Egyptian women could testify in court, own property, and initiate divorce. Recently, a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey rated today's Muslim Egypt as one of the worst countries for women.

Jihad, Islam's most problematical feature, in no way is representational of the seventh century. Jihad is articulated in this hadith, inter alia, "I have been ordered to fight with the people till they say, 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah,' and whoever says, 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah,' his life and property will be saved by me." No other religion in the seventh century followed this precept. Hinduism, sometimes considered the world's oldest religion, was then and is now largely confined to the Indian subcontinent. This geographic distribution reflects Hinduism's lack of a command to proselytize through military campaigns. Judaism, comparable in age to Hinduism, never announced itself as being under God's command to world domination by military might. Jews were less than one percent of the world's population in ancient times, and they are less than one percent of the world's population today. Jewish population numbers reflect Jews' disinterest in proselytizing by any means, including military – a disinterest that has lasted for thousands of years. Islam alone holds up the precept of jihad. Jihad is about Islam's essence, not the essence of the seventh century.

Similarly, the deification of the Koran, the protection of Mohammed from any critique, hisbah, or spying on one's intimates and policing their behavior, and the love of death, are in no way reflective of the seventh century. All these features of Islam worked with frightening efficiency in the ancient world, and they work today.

The difference between Islam and other world religions cannot best be measured with a clock or a calendar. Islam is not problematical because it was founded 1400 years ago. Islam is problematical because of its doctrines of jihad and gender apartheid. Time, in the form of a magical unseen hand called "progress" or "modernity" will not inevitably work any magic of "reform" on Islam.

It's telling that Ayaan Hirsi Ali and other atheist and atheist-lite critiques of Islam so frequently compare Islam to the Judeo-Christian tradition, and so rarely compare Islam to Hinduism or Buddhism. The latter would make more sense. More Muslims, for more time, have lived cheek-by-jowl with Hindus and Buddhists than with Christians. That Hinduism and Buddhism are so rarely invoked tells us that there is something going on here. Two things are going on here. The first is Politically Correct hostility to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Hirsi Ali is not PC, but PC is the water in which she is swimming. The second is another PC dogma: cultural relativism. It is taboo to say that Western Civilization or the Judeo-Christian tradition are in any way superior to any non-Western culture.

Jon Stewart tried to back Hirsi Ali into a corner: "People single out Islam as though there is something inherently wrong with it that is not wrong with other religions … I get the sense you think Islam is different than other religions … there is something inherently wrong with this religion that is not wrong with other religions and that's the thing I'm trying to get at." And Stewart attempted to get Hirsi Ali to sign on to the one true faith of cultural relativism: "Christianity went through the exact same process."

As hard as he tried, Stewart could not get Hirsi Ali either to say, or to refute, that there is something inherently wrong with Islam that is not wrong with Judaism or Christianity. Hirsi Ali was canny on The Daily Show. She played the Christophobia, cultural relativism, human progress cards. It is not okay to say that Christianity is different, and in respect to jihad, better than Islam. It is okay to say that Christianity is like Islam, and that time improved Christianity, and that time will similarly improve Islam. Christians do bad things, Hirsi Ali insisted. "In the name of Catholicism [they] despise and are homophobic." But progress came along and changed Christians and made them modern – that is ethical. "Christianity went through that process of Reformation and Enlightenment and came to a place where the mass of Christians, at least in the Western world have accepted tolerance, the secular state – separation of Church and State, respect for women, respect for gays."

Does Hirsi Ali make this case Heretic? No. Hirsi Ali is factually incorrect or merely misleading in many of her statements about the Judeo-Christian tradition. She misrepresents the Biblical story of Tamar (102), what Jews worship (77), Christian doctrine (84), understandings of the Bible and Abraham's aborted sacrifice of Isaac (116), Christianity and women's suffrage (151), and Pope Urban's speech calling for the First Crusade (196). All these errors echo themes found in other atheist works on Christianity: the Bible is incoherent and violent; Christianity oppresses women; the Crusades are comparable to jihad. Even so, in the context of Hirsi Ali's larger point, these half-truths are minor. What is important is this: the title and main thrust of the book is utterly off base.

I have to assume that Hirsi Ali and her publishers felt they could rely on widespread ignorance of what the Reformation actually was for the title of this book, and its main thrust, to go over with readers. Contrary to Hirsi Ali's comments on The Daily Show, the Reformation was not a "modernization" of Christianity that included "separation of church and state, respect for women, respect for gays." Hirsi Ali mentions Luther's 95 theses (57). Luther's theses addressed the Catholic Church's selling of indulgences in order to fund its building projects. Not a single one of Luther's 95 theses concerned same-sex marriage.

Jesus Christ was the son of God; he was crucified and rose from the dead; God commands us to love people regardless of their identity and to spread his word through speech and good deeds, not violence; we are to render unto Caesar what is Cesar's and unto God what is God – the concept of separation of church and state is built in: this was core Christianity two thousand years ago, it was core Christianity five hundred years ago, and it is core Christianity today. The Reformation did not budge these ideas, central to all Christians.

Further, Hirsi Ali is incorrect when she speaks of modernization as a magical hand that arises ex nihilo to improve Christianity.

One can see the superficial appeal of the human progress point of view. Fifty years ago, computers were large and slow. Today computers are slim and fast. One concludes that time improved computers. Just so, time will improve humans. Upon reflection one realizes that Aborigines lived in Australia for tens of thousands of years without producing a modern culture, and that Ancient Egypt reached great heights and lasted for three thousand years in a static form. Great ancient civilizations, India and China, did not produce modernity. Time itself doesn't always move human societies forward.

Hirsi Ali, in the same way as atheist Michael Shermer, speaks of The Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the American and French Revolutions (58), as if they were Athena springing fully formed out of Zeus' head. That is not accurate. The passage of time alone did not produce these life-improving modernizations. All these events that Atheists embrace so fervently appeared only in the West. Without the soil of Ancient Greece and the Judeo-Christian tradition, perhaps none of them would have come to be, or they would be quite different. Modernization, it has been argued, is the fruit of the Judeo-Christian tradition. See, for example, Rodney Stark's The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success.

Hirsi Ali does not discuss in any serious detail previous attempts to liberalize Islam, although she does mention in passing the Mu'tazilites (59) and liberalization followed by oppression (210-11).

Given that modernity arose in the West and not elsewhere, given that Muslims have tried to liberalize Islam and only been crushed for their efforts, one must examine whether Islam is not amenable to modernization. Indeed, given that, as Hirsi Ali acknowledges, capital punishment has been justified and applied against those who criticize Islam, Mohammed, or the Koran, one has to ask if Islam has not built-in, unique, failsafe features that defeat liberalization.

Hirsi Ali struggles to support her case by comparing Islam to Christianity. "Medina Muslims" are just like pre-Reformation Christians who were typified by their "fanaticism and violence" (14). "See," Hirsi Ali says, "just as, in the past, Christianity produced terrorists and the endless wars of jihad, and Christianity was modernized by the irresistible forces of time and progress, Islam will also be modernized." Except that Christianity didn't produce endless wars of jihad, and pre-Reformation Christians are really not comparable to terrorists.

Some readers will balk at the previous assertion. "What about the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Witch Craze?" First, historians acknowledge that the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Witch Craze have been systematically exaggerated. I begin my own class on the Witch Craze by telling my students, "Ninety percent of what you think is true about the Witch Craze is actually false." Protestants and Catholics have been rivals for half a millennium. In that rivalry, Protestants have often exaggerated wrongs committed by Catholics as part of their propaganda efforts. More recently, Christophobes have mined this rich vein and amplified it. One brief and popular yet excellent demonstration of the level of exaggeration is Dr. Bill Warner's YouTube video, Jihad v Crusades. This video graphically compares Crusader battles with jihad battles. Second, wrongs committed by Christians have never been either geographically or chronologically coterminous with Christianity; rather, they have been local and temporary responses to local and temporary stimuli.  Third, Christians have always criticized and righted wrongs committed by other Christians. Christians outside of Spain, for example, produced serious criticisms of the Spanish Inquisition. Catholic Poland sheltered Jews expelled from Spain. By comparison, Saudi Arabia is not opening its borders to Christians expelled from Iraq. Finally, Christians who murdered in the name of their faith were acting in opposition to explicit scripture forbidding such behavior and enjoining Christians to spread their faith through charity, preaching, and good works, and to allow people to reject Christianity if that was their choice (Matthew 10:14). In short, Hirsi Ali's and others' comparisons of Christians and Christianity to Muslims and Islam obscure rather than clarify.

"The internet has the opportunity to be to the Muslim Reformation what the printing press was to the Protestant Christian one" (69). Except that modernity has been exploited by jihadis. Its key ingredients jet planes, world commerce, and television, no event in history was more modern than the 9-11 terror attack. ISIS has proven itself to be a master at social media.


Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an essential heroine. Her contribution to counter-jihad is inestimable. Heretic is not her best book. No one demands that Atheist counter-jihad authors become Christians; rather, all will benefit when they more accurately compare Islam, not just with Christianity or Judaism, but with all other world faiths. There is no unseen hand called "progress" that turned Christianity from its jihad-like past, that never existed, into its warm and fuzzy present, and no unseen hand will work that magic on Islam, either. We must confront jihad for what it is: a timeless and universal threat that requires an equally timeless and universal response.

This review appears at Front Page Magazine here