EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (Including those of you stunned by the news that Charlie Sheen has a sexually transmitted disease. Not since Jim J. Bullock announced he was gay have I been more shocked),
What I find interesting is that many of the same people who clutch their pearls at the mere suggestion that Islamic terrorism has anything to do with — oh, what’s the word again? — oh right: Islam, seem to have no problem making the case that “Christian terrorism” is like a real thing. Remember how so many liberals loved — loved — Obama’s sophomoric and insidious tirade about not getting on our “high horses” about ISIS’s atrocities in the here and now because medieval Christians did bad things a thousand years ago? They never seem to think that argument through. Leaving out the ass-aching stupidity of the comparison, it actually concedes the very point Obama never wants to concede. By laying the barbaric sins of Christians a thousand years ago at the feet of Christians today, he implicitly tags Muslims with the barbarism committed in their name today.
Now, I see no need to wade too deeply into the theology here, but I think I am on very solid ground when I say that Islamic terrorism draws more easily and deeply from the Koran than Tim McVeigh drew from the Christian Bible. Of course, you’re free to disagree. In a free society, everybody has the right to be wrong in their opinions. (But don’t tell anyone at Yale that.)
Yesterday, Hillary Clinton said: “Let’s be clear, though. Islam is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.”
Now, unlike some people who e-mail me in ALL CAPS, I have no problem with politicians saying, “Islam is not our adversary.” In fact, I think it would be disastrous if our political leaders went around saying anything like “Islam is our enemy.”
It’s the second part of that Hillary quote that I have trouble with. Yes, some — most! — Muslims are peaceful. And while peacefulness and tolerance don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand (just look at opinion polls in the Muslim world on questions of sharia, homosexuality, women’s equality, free speech, and, of course, the Joooooooz), let’s stipulate that a great many Muslims are tolerant in their own fashion, too.
It is simply a lie — an obvious, glaring, indisputable, trout-in-the-milk lie — that Muslims have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.
But it is simply a lie — an obvious, glaring, indisputable, trout-in-the-milk lie — that Muslims have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.
Simply put, this is nonsense. But it’s not just nonsense. It is highly refined nonsense. If nonsense were radioactive, you could dump a barrel of it in a centrifuge, wait a few weeks, and out would come the claim that Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. Just off the top of my head is my hair. But figuratively speaking off the top of my head: The jihadists say they are motivated by Islam. They shout “Allahu akbar!” whenever they kill people. “Moderate Muslims” in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have been funding Islamic radicals around the world for nearly a century. This morning in Mali, terrorist gunmen reportedly released those hostages who could quote the Koran. The leader of ISIS has a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies and openly talks about restoring the Caliphate.
Oh, one other thing: The Islamic State is called the Islamic State. I used to eat at a restaurant called “Burrito Brothers.” Saying the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam is like telling someone eating a burrito they bought at Burrito Brothers that Burrito Brothers has “nothing whatsoever” to do with burritos.
And like many other highly enriched radioactive substances, this nonsensical notion is weaponizable. It is dangerous. I would like to think that if you had an honest conversation with Hillary Clinton away from the cameras, she would say something like, “Of course, Islamic terrorism has a lot to do with Islam. But we can’t say that publicly because we have to isolate the radicals, not radicalize the moderates.”
EDITORIAL: A Serious War Calls for a Serious Strategy
That is an entirely defensible position intellectually. But that doesn’t make the “This Isn’t Islamic” claim any less of a lie. And what makes the lie dangerous — very dangerous — is the possibility that, to borrow a phrase from Barack Obama, these people believe their own bullsh***. The danger is twofold. On the one hand, if you engage an enemy without actually understanding its motivations and ambitions, you will inevitably screw it up because you’ll be constantly surprised by the facts on the ground. As Irving Kristol once said, “When we lack the will to see things as they really are, there is nothing so mystifying as the obvious.”
On the other hand, if you are trying to rally political support for your strategy, while at the same time giving the public every reason to believe you’re operating from a home-base in fantasyland, only fellow bullsh***ers and fools will rally to your banner. And, you’ll lose the confidence and trust of those people who see through the fog of bovine excrement.
Silence, Bitter Clingers!
It’s a little like liberal media bias. It’s the refusal of so many smug and self-righteous liberals to simply admit the obvious that drives a lot of conservatives crazy. As I wrote years ago:
If they’d admit they have a problem and move on, lots of conservatives would just give up on the topic. It’s the infuriating denial that bugs many of us. It’s like the friend who swears he didn’t drink your last beer. You don’t care about the beer, but you just can’t stand him not admitting it. (You took my beer! Say it!! Say it!!!) By denying the obvious, so many pompous elite journalists drive us batty by acting as if we’re imagining things.
So there are two things at work here. The first is the lie itself, which I don’t think is worth spending a lot more time on because no remotely intelligent or informed person would deny it’s a lie. The second thing is the ideology that drives so many people to tell it.
Ideology as Comfy Slippers
After 9/11, big swaths of the Left immediately wanted to talk about censorship and the threat to Americans’ First Amendment rights. Censorship is a worthy topic, of course (on both sides of the issue). But the Left’s retreat to censorship was the intellectual equivalent of racing to a bunker, to go play Shoots and Ladders as the plaster dust falls down around you or like Hitler in his last days going over his architectural plans for the New Berlin, even as the tanks were rolling toward the old Berlin. It was an ideological “safe space.” It is a natural human tendency to want to just go and play with your toys when the world is crashing down around you. The campus Huns pillaging higher education these days only want to talk about “white privilege” — unimpeded by debate, facts, reality, or anything smacking of an opposing point of view — because it is psychologically comfortable and politically empowering. Contemplating that your problems don’t have all that much to do with systemic bigotry is discomfiting. So they want safe spaces to play with their conceptual Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys.
This is why so many liberals are far, far, far more comfortable calling tea-partiers “terrorists” than they are talking about actual, you know, terrorists. This is why in the wake of the Paris attacks we hear so much about “Christian terrorism” and why so many lefties have raced to arguments about gun control. That is why the supposedly smartest argument among the supposedly smart set these days is to build a time machine and stop Bush from invading Iraq.
I Didn’t Do It
And that is why, as I argue in my column today, Barack Obama is so eager to respond to the Paris attacks with a rhetorical fusillade against Republican bigotry. It is a ploy as brilliant as it is disgustingly cynical. Obama is a co-author of this refugee crisis. As Walter Russell Mead writes, “No one, other than the Butcher Assad and the unspeakable al-Baghdadi, is as responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria as is President Obama.” Somewhere deep inside Obama’s supposedly Niebuhrian conscience even he must suspect there is some truth to this. And even if his denial is total, he must understand that a great many historians will side with Mead in this appraisal.
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Rather than face this unthinkable truth, Obama seeks to change the story line so that he is the noble and besieged martyr fighting the forces of reaction at home, rather than the hapless and bumbling nutty professor who let the world go to Hell on his watch. “Sanctimony over refugees is Obama’s way of restoring his own moral superiority over people who’ve been complaining for years, entirely correctly, that his Syria policy is FUBAR and has contributed to the disaster,” as Allahpundit writes.
But it goes further than that. Obama never tires of telling us that he was elected to end wars, not start them (how’s that going?). His real ambition was transformation at home, and that was only possible if foreign policy stayed out of the headlines. His entire foreign policy has been geared towards that goal — not safety, and certainly not what he considered to be the risible concepts of “American leadership” and “American strength.” That’s why he announced a withdrawal date the same day he announced the Afghan surge. That’s why whenever there’s a terror attack, the White House works assiduously to deny it was a terror attack for as long as possible. That’s why were are drenched in the Orwellian sludge of terrorism euphemisms — “overseas contingency operations,” “man-caused disasters,” “workplace violence,” etc.
When Obama does talk about terrorism, he’s only comfortable when he frames the issue in a way that puts the blame on America. That’s why we are constantly hearing that ISIS is inspired by Gitmo. I wonder: Is there a jihadist anywhere in the world who will pause in his desire to behead an infidel, never mind drop his scimitar mid-swing, upon the glorious news that a prison in Cuba has been closed? When John Ashcroft warned Americans that conjuring false fears of lost liberties helped the enemy, the entire New York Times editorial board got its dress over its head. But when Obama and his fans routinely say that “Republican rhetoric” is a recruiting tool for ISIS, they all nod like a crate of bobbleheads in an earthquake.
Acknowledging that the threat is still real only empowers those bitter-clingers who don’t want to transform our country. (They don’t want to transform our country, by the way, because they actually like our country the way it is — or was. And it is now a given among most of the Left that this is a racist and bigoted desire.) Obama subscribes to the mainstream liberal view that there’s nothing wrong with America that making us more like Europe won’t fix. That’s why terror attacks in Europe are so cruelly inconvenient.I should say that I am perfectly willing to concede that Obama has some good points on his side in the debate over Syrian refugees. Tourism rules, visa waivers, and homegrown radicalism will likely deliver more terror attacks to our shores than the refugees currently in the pipeline. But that doesn’t make the concerns about refugees unserious, illegitimate, or bigoted. Obama has complete confidence in the screening procedures. Well, okay. He also had complete confidence in the IRS, the VA, and the team building Healthcare.gov. When Obama declares complete confidence in a government agency, that’s a good time to buy gold.
But his remarks this week should remove all doubt that he’s not interested in persuading anybody. He’s interested instead in propping up the walls of his comfortable ideological bunker, where he’s a hero beset by irrational, cowardly, and evil men. I for one am sick of seeing this country go down the tubes just to salve the ego of this vain and cynical man.
Various & Sundry
My apologies for the slow evolution of the G-File into one long ranting essay. This thing is supposed to be a bunch of shorter items, not the epistolary equivalent of the unending wedding scene in The Deer Hunter. The reasons for the transformation are many. I’m getting started on it later these days — in part to accommodate my kid’s transportation needs but also to attend to the extra perambulatory requirements of two canines. With less time it’s easier to drive to the end in a single gear. Also, the news these days seems to lend itself to spleneticism. No that’s not really a word but (1) it should be and (2) it’s my frick’n “news”letter. One other factor: I’m now getting into the weeds of book-writing and I am trying hard to keep a high-wall between that stuff and this. I hope you’ll appreciate the effort when the thing goes on sale. Still, I will try to get back to the bloggy style in the future.
Zoë (& Pippa) Update: Things are going all right, though Zoë’s jealousy remains undiluted. It kind of breaks my heart, because it’s clear Pippa wants to be a lapdog. When the Dingo is away, she eagerly volunteers to be a pillow holding up my laptop computer. But Zoë will have none of it if she is around. Thou Shalt Have No Cuddlers Before Me, is her first commandment.
The most exciting development of the week came on Monday. We were on a trail at the dog park, as we are every morning, but Pippa had fallen behind. She wouldn’t come when I called her. So Zoë and I backtracked to look for her. We saw sweet young Pippa bouncing in the air around a squirrel she had caught. I’m pretty sure it was a sick squirrel — it’s tail looked more like an old white hippie’s dreadlock. Just as Zoë and I came upon this scene, the leaves began to rustle, the ground shook, the clouds raced across the sky like flotsam on an angry ocean. The gathering storm was no meteorological event. It was a thousand generations of instinct crashing up from deep within my dingo, a tsunami of canine envy and white-trash pride, pouring forth from the subterranean reservoirs of her doggy soul to proclaim: “The kill must be mine!”
Now I should say, I’m a big softy when it comes to these things. I hate to watch Zoë kill anything, but I nonetheless admire the commitment and passion. She raced-in, her paws barely touching the earth. She barreled Pippa out of the way; the little spaniel bouncing off the dingo like Robert Reich in a windstorm. Zoë grabbed the “beast,” hurling it into the air and catching it again in her mouth with a skill usually associated with frat guys’ tossing chicken McNuggets into each others’ mouths. When I yelled at her to drop it, I might as well have been commanding the statue at the Lincoln Memorial to dance. My commands were drowned out by the Viking battle drums beating in her ears. My futile attempts to grab her collar only encouraged her to run away and chomp more ferociously. I wasn’t trying to save the squirrel’s life. That would be like trying to revive the Thanksgiving turkey by chanting over the leftover-sandwiches. But I didn’t like the prospect of the bowel stewing that might accompany a breakfast of raw squirrel, healthy or sick. Finally, her war dance concluded, and the awareness came that she could not bring home her trophy, never mind enlist my wife in her cause of making a necklace of squirrel skulls. She ran off and buried it. Somehow I don’t think it was respect for the dead that motivated her.
She continues to dream of even greater victories to come.
The Meaning of Life — or at least of dogs: The other day, Bob Wright asked if he could talk to me about the meaning of life for his new project Meaning of Life TV. Sadly, I was quite unprepared for the conversation, but some might find it interesting anyway. We did talk quite a bit about dogs.