Politics & Policy

Hearts and Minds

We shouldn't bother trying so hard.

You probably thought Nick Berg was slaughtered by Islamic militants, didn’t you?

#ad#Just because, in an Arab country teeming with jihadists who target Americans every day, an American got butchered by hooded assassins who read a proclamation of grievances, laced with allusions to Islam, in Arabic, before hacking his head off while his shrieking agony was drowned out by that now-familiar soundtrack of atrocity, the Allahu akbar (“God is great!”) chant, you probably rushed to judgment, right? Just because the barbarians recorded their handiwork and the tape, voila, instantly ended up on a website that reliably promotes militant Islam, which bragged that the decapitation was executed by none other than Abu Musab Zarqawi–whose extensive jihadist rap sheet defies accurate accounting in our limited space–you no doubt found yourself leaping to the rash conclusion that Berg’s killing was carried out by Muslim extremists.

Fortunately, now comes al-Jazeera’s Sam Hamod to straighten you out. Hamod, a 68-year-old Lebanese American (born in Indiana), is not only an esteemed member of the American academy–a retired professor at Princeton, Iowa, Howard, and Michigan Universities, according to one of his recent screeds–but also a poet, author, former director of the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., and, according to his own assertion in several published stories, a former adviser to the United States Department of State. Never one to engage in bombast or draw extravagant conclusions on less than airtight proof, it was only about a week ago that we found Professor Hamod helpfully explaining how the Abu Ghraib prison abuse illustrated that…George W. Bush is not a real Christian. (“No matter what President Bush says about being a ‘born again Christian,’ I think he is a false witness to Christ, and that God will deal with Mr. Bush in this life and certainly in the next.” To see the rest of this scintillating essay, entitled “A Muslim Leader Speaks Out”, it is here ).

Now he is back with a new piece: the “Muslim Perspective” on the Berg homicide. And what might that perspective be? Well, that Berg almost certainly was not killed by Muslims.

Why? Because, you’ll be comforted to know, Islam has strict rules about beheading, and they don’t appear to have been followed in this case. As the professor elaborates: “When Muslims execute a person, it must be after a proper trial, with credible witnesses, and the person who does the execution must say a prayer for the person being killed and to ask forgiveness for doing the killing. None of this was done. Also, a proper way of killing in this situation is to cut the throat in one swoop, not to hack at a person’s neck.” Plainly, this slaying must have been carried out by one of those less-advanced cultures not yet evolved enough to have a codified decapitation practice. “Muslims,” the professor is quick to add, “do not often cut off the head,” but when they do you’ll be pleased to learn it is done strictly “by law.”

So at whom does the evidence convincingly point? Professor Hamod sees two possible culprits. First, of course, there are those crafty Israelis. Allah knows there are plenty of ‘em around in Iraq, advising contractors, advising the military. This murder seems to the scholar like just the kind of thing Ariel Sharon would pull. And after all, many Israelis speak excellent Arabic–an important clue because of those Allahu akbar chants. The nuanced professor has gleaned that, here, the chanting was “strained, it was not a natural voicing of that phrase, ‘God is great.’” “No Muslim,” he is certain, would rave in so “awkward” a manner in the middle of a beheading.

The second candidate? To unmask him, Hamod draws on the old intelligence maxim, “Who would most benefit from this act?” Applying this insightful algorithm, the answer obviously is George W. Bush. He, the professor figures, may well have ordered this bloody depravity “to take the heat off of America for the brutality of the torture in Iraq and Guantanamo.” Now there is some searching detective work.

Professor Hamod cannot help but put one in mind of Marwan Kreidie. He is yet another high-profile Muslim leader and sometime academic published in al-Jazeerah and elsewhere. (See.) As it should go without saying, he opposes the Patriot Act reforms that FBI regards as vital, and has publicly labeled Attorney General Ashcroft a “lunatic.” Last month, the FBI responded by…giving him a community-service award. Asked why the agency would do such a thing, a spokesperson explained that Kreidie had been “has been very helpful to the FBI office” as a leader of the Arab-American community, who had been “educating” our agents “on the mores and customs of the Arab people.” (See.) Good to know. And good to know that if our investigators need schooling in the mores and customs of beheading, there’s a source at the ready for that too (and they can evidently get his number from the State Department).

The post-9/11 world is on PC-overload. Fretting over the “Arab street,” whatever that is, drives policy and message. We fight war on “terror,” never on “militant Islam,” because God forbid anyone should ever be offended. It’s not enough to be right, we need to be loved too. But if you care too much about being loved–especially by those who despise you irredeemably–you’ve stopped caring enough about being right. And at a certain point, you have to start asking yourself, who’s showing us the love, anyway?

What are we getting for all this effort if the president of the United States is surmised a psycho-murderer and the Attorney General branded a nutcase with all the deep deliberation involved in taking the next breath. Of course we want moderate Muslims on our side, but they’ll come along because we are right and we show conviction. As for the rest, we should stop trying so hard–those hearts and minds are not worth winning.

–Andrew C. McCarthy, a former chief assistant U.S. attorney who led the 1995 terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others, is an NRO contributor.

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