Politics & Policy

Islam, Abortion & More


Mustafa Akyol’s articles (“The Prophet and Paul Johnson,” August 12, and “Al Qaeda vs. the Koran,” August 25) are a welcome condemnation of the recent beheadings by Islamic extremist groups. I commend his courage in publishing them.

At the same time, however, I feel I must correct an important inaccuracy in his second article. In that article, Akyol responded to the charge, leveled by Andrew C. McCarthy (“Abetting Beheadings,” August 13), that Muhammad had personally sanctioned massacring all adult males from the vanquished Qurayza tribe. Akyol replied, “I strongly doubt its historical accuracy. There is no reference to such a dramatic event in the Koran and it only appears in the biography of the Prophet written by Ibn Ishaq, a man who died 145 years after the event.”

This is not true. References to the event also appear in the Hadith, the collected words and deeds of Muhammad. In at least one of the collected anecdotes, Muhammad gives his approval to the massacre, calling it “the judgment of King Allah.” Although some Muslims do not consider the Hadith to be historically accurate, the vast majority considers it to be almost as sacred as the Koran itself. Moreover, the words and deeds of Muhammad found therein are considered both infallible and normative.

I wish it were as easy as Akyol implies to construct an unambiguous Islamic condemnation of the recent beheadings. Unfortunately, there’s just too much leeway in the Islamic holy books and Islamic law.

Mark Hartwig

Focus on the Family

Colorado Springs, Colo.


I appreciated Eugene Kontorovich’s article on the recent decision by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. to divest from Israel (“Presbyterian Preachiness,” September 22). As a Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) I was disappointed to hear about this move, but not surprised. Once the tenets of the Christian faith have been abandoned by a denomination, it is easy for it to be blown by the cultural winds that prevail in society. Sadly this is what has happened to the PCUSA.

Brian Esterly

Philadelphia, Pa.

Eugene Kontorovich speaks about “the Presbyterian church” when referring to the PCUSA. But there are actually several Presbyterian denominations, including the PCA, to which I belong, and which has total Sunday morning attendance of about one third of the PCUSA’s. There are also the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and others. Just because the PCUSA is the largest (on paper) does not make it “the” Presbyterian church. Would you refer to the Southern Baptist church as “the” Baptist church?

The PCA is in general a “conservative” denomination and is growing rapidly (about 2 percent per year), while the PCUSA is losing members (about 1 percent per year). One reason for that is certainly the leftist stances the PCUSA continues to take, such as those pointed out by Mr. Kontorovich.

David Snoke

Pittsburgh, Pa.


While I find Shannen W. Coffin’s arguments (“Abortion By Any Other Name…,” July 21) against selective reduction compelling, and agree that having an abortion on economic grounds is hard to justify, I take exception to his last paragraph. In this paragraph, he talks about the “pro-abortion movement.” This use of language greatly weakens his arguments because he has chosen to use the rhetoric of the “anti-abortion” movement in describing the view that every woman has a right to choose.

Many people are “pro-choice,” even as they remain “anti-abortion.” By labeling the movement “pro-abortion,” Coffin lumps everyone who believes that a woman should have the right to choose into a single homogeneous group. I can assure him that this categorization is inaccurate, and while some people may indeed be “pro-abortion” there are many of us who do not presume to make decisions for other women about how they should run their lives, even while we ourselves would never choose that route.

Lynn Hunnicutt

Tacoma, Wash.

Shannen Coffin responds: Lynn Hunnicutt’s criticism propagates a favorite myth of the abortion debate–that being “pro-choice” is not equivalent to being “pro-abortion.” No doubt, there are many men and women who strongly support Roe v. Wade and its progeny but who would not choose to exercise the right to an abortion when faced with circumstances that might–in the view of someone like Amy Richards–merit it. To you I say, “hurrah.” But I also ask you to take a second look at your position and ask this simple question: What is the “choice” you are supporting? It is not the choice between whether to have a light beer or a more full-bodied beer, between vacationing in Maui or driving the family to Wally World in the Griswold family truckster. At issue is not simply, as Ms. Hunnicutt suggests, the ability “to make decisions for other women about how they should run their lives.” For there is another factor in the calculus: the extinguishment of human life. Whether one views that as actual life–as most opponents of Roe do–or potential life–as the Supreme Court has termed the unborn child–the “choice” that self-described “middle-of-the-road pro-choicers” are supporting is the choice to end a life. It’s that simple.

I have no doubt that there are many “hard” cases of abortion. Rape and incest, life-threatening medical complications, and other circumstances can make this one of the most difficult decisions a woman (and perhaps, if included, her spouse, boyfriend, etc.) will have to make. But, given the stakes, it should be. And as some readers have pointed out, the choice of “selective reduction” often comes in the context of multiple births brought about with the assistance of modern medical technology. In those cases, some doctors advise that “reducing” is the only way to have any healthy children. There is no question in my mind that many parents who make this “choice” do so reluctantly and suffer greatly by making it. My point in criticizing the euphemism “selective reduction” is that it dehumanizes the decision and minimizes the fact that a child is lost in the process.

The pro-abortion lobby wants America to focus on the “hard” cases of abortion–rape, incest, and life-threatening medical circumstances. No doubt, those are truly difficult cases. But the exercise of “choice” in those circumstances is no less tragic–a life is still lost as a result. More important, those cases are the exception rather than the rule. In a 1988 survey by the Alan Guttmacher Institute (then associated with Planned Parenthood), 90 percent of women who had abortions responded that their primary reason for doing so was social or economic, such as concerns that having the baby would change the woman’s life, wanting to avoid single parenthood, or lack of readiness for the responsibility. Only 1 percent said the abortion decision was a result of rape, and 6 percent said it was due to health problems with the mother or the baby. (These numbers may be 16 years old–the Guttmacher Institute probably discontinued the questionnaire when it didn’t get the result it had hoped for–but there is no reason to doubt their currency.) If abortion could have been limited to those relatively rare cases, perhaps as many as 30 million lives could have been saved in the last 30 years. I’m sure many pro-life advocates would be thrilled with that result.

Still, for the sake of argument, I’d like to accept the proposition that there are many pro-choice supporters who are not pro-abortion. That does not change the conclusion I come to in my piece. In describing Richard’s account of her “selective reduction”–in which she flippantly explained her decision to abort two of her three triplets for reasons such as preventing her from having to move to Staten Island and be doomed to a life of shopping at Costco–I concluded: “But Miss Richards is unapologetic about her ’selection,’ and her account lays bare the cold utilitarianism and disquieting narcissism of the pro-abortion movement today.” Let there be no doubt that–whether or not all pro-choicers are pro-abortion–Richards is an unapologetic member of the “pro-abortion movement.” An article by Jacob Gershman in the New York Sun explains that Richards had “founded the Third Wave, a feminist organization that is geared toward younger women and funds abortions, and has co-authored two books on feminism”; she is also “a paid consultant to Gloria Steinem and serves on Planned Parenthood of New York’s Council of Advocates.” Conveniently, the New York Times first neglected to tell its readers of Richards’s affiliations; they snuck in a “correction” later in the week. And let’s not forget that Planned Parenthood runs clinics, which make oodles of money from the abortions they perform. So there is little doubt that there is a “pro-abortion movement” afoot in this country–one that tries to appeal to young girls with chocolate-candy birth-control pills, condom lollipops, and t-shirts bragging about abortions, and that has a brigade of lawyers who will attack any attempt to regulate abortion, no matter how reasonable.

I don’t accuse Ms. Hunnicutt of belonging to this group. I don’t doubt that she personally finds abortion distasteful and even, perhaps, immoral. But I do ask that she open her eyes to the “choice” she is supporting.


I enjoyed Rachel Friedman’s review of Dan Kurzman’s No Greater Glory and appreciate her informing people about the sacrifices these honorable men made (“Religious Band of Brothers,” August 17).

I would just like to register a correction to her statement that “because the chaplains did not carry firearms, they weren’t eligible for the Congressional Medal of Honor.” Chaplains, even though they do not carry firearms, are in fact eligible to receive the Medal of Honor. Several chaplains have received it, including Father (Commander) Joseph T. O’Callahan and Father (Lt.) Vincent R. Capodanno. Father O’Callahan was a Catholic priest assigned to the U.S.S. Franklin during WWII. Father Capodanno was a Catholic priest assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division (Reinforced) in Vietnam.

If memory serves there are about seven chaplains that have been awarded the Medal of Honor. The four chaplains likely were not considered eligible because their actions, while heroic, were different from those performed by others such as Father O’Callahan and Father Capodanno.

The Medal of Honor citations for Father O’Callahan, Father Capodanno, and others are available on the Army’s Center of Military History website.

Andy Fuller

Alexandria, Va.

Rachel Friedman responds: You’re right: The chaplains were deemed ineligible for the medal because they were considered not to have met the requirement for extraordinary heroism in combat.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”


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