Politics & Policy

Sorting Out The Real Moderates

In a rare media moment, a terror apologist meets his match.

Three cheers for Monica Crowley of MSNBC’s Connected Coast-to-Coast. Last week, she hosted a debate between Middle East expert Daniel Pipes and one Azzam Tamimi of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in Britain–an apologist for jihadists masquerading as a moderate Muslim intellectual. In a rare and refreshing media moment, this “moderate’s” inane justifications for attacks on civilians were actually challenged, causing Tamimi to storm off the set in a huff.

Tamimi is one of the many faux moderates who thrive in the West, beneficiaries of a façade of respectability which owes to our obsession not to offend the Islamic world or examine the actual beliefs of our militant enemies. This reluctance enables their pretensions toward moderation as well as the spread of their “America is the root of all evil” drivel through supposedly serious media outlets.

Tamimi, in particular, is a Palestinian extremist who not only has publicly advocated suicide bombing (“For us Moslems martyrdom is not the end of things but the beginning of the most wonderful of things”) but has also declared his personal willingness to commit a suicide bombing (“If I have the opportunity I would do it…. If I can go to Palestine and sacrifice myself I would do it. Why not?“).

He is, moreover, a rabid detractor of the United States who has publicly praised the “courageous” Taliban, observed that “[i]n the Arab and Muslim countries, everyone jumped for joy” upon seeing the Twin Towers felled by al Qaeda suicide hijackers, and labeled the U.S. the “imperialist master” of Iraq (while comparing the American military’s suppression of ruthless terrorists in Fallujah to Syrian strongman Hafez Assad’s mass murder of his own people in Hama in the 1980s and to Saddam’s atrocities against the Kurds in the 1990s). As if that were not enough, Tamimi also openly supports Hamas’s campaign to destroy Israel (“The Israelis stole our houses, which are today occupied by Jews from Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Morocco, Ethiopia, Brooklyn. They should return to their homes, and give ours back to us!… That’s non-negotiable. Therefore I support Hamas.”)

You’ll be shocked to learn that all this has resulted in … Tamimi’s being packaged by fawning academic, media, and even U.S. foreign-service circles as a respectable intellectual spokesman for Islamic causes. As the invaluable Martin Kramer has explained, Tamimi’s air of dignified scholarship is indebted to Professor John Esposito, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, who has sat on Tamimi’s board at the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London, and coedited a book with him. Naturally, Tamimi has also been feted by the State Department–invited in 2002 by the U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James to the Iftar dinner State now hosts at the conclusion of Ramadan.

With such notches on their belts, the Tamimis of the world all too often skip with impunity from soapbox to soapbox, spewing their bile while their oh-so-deferential moderators nod in studied pensiveness at the seeming profundity of it all. But not so Ms. Crowley.

On Connected, Tamimi predictably began his diatribe with a rote non-sequitur, demanding to know how Crowley could possibly “not expect people to sympathize with [Osama] bin Laden” when American-backed leaders like Musharraf of Pakistan fail to “respect human rights” or ensure the “equal distribution of resources.” He then plowed along with his stock claims that Saudi-backed madrassas do not really preach violent jihad, and that the cause of Islamist savagery is not “ideology” but a “disgruntled” political reaction to the “war on terrorism launched by George W. Bush” which is “perceived by many as a war on Islam itself.” It was there that Crowley stopped him cold.

Rather than going along for the same tired ride, she forcefully pointed out that militant Islam’s jihad against the U.S. long predated military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that Bush policies had obviously not caused the 9/11 attacks that predated them. When Tamimi preposterously responded that 9/11 was not so much jihad as an understandable response to political grievances–namely, America’s support of Israel and our government’s purported killing of “half a million children” by enforcing sanctions against Saddam–Crowley drew in Pipes to demonstrate that Tamimi, though an avowedly willing suicide jihadist, was resolutely unwilling to admit in front of an audience of non-militants that jihadists are motivated not by whatever the political grievance du jour may be but precisely by an ideology which, like that of the Nazis and Communists before them, seeks domination over non-adherents.

Later in the broadcast, Tamimi maintained that al Qaeda does not exist as an “organization” with a “central command,” and that terrorist attacks like the recent London bombings were “mushrooming in response to politics,” not because of an extremist interpretation of doctrine. He directly accused Crowley of trying “to keep the American people in the dark” about how their own government is actually responsible for the barbarities repeatedly carried out by militant Muslims. Finally, demonstrating how well he knows the U.S. press, the Islamic scholar dropped the usually reliable trump card of pining that he had not been “respected” on the program and that his American host was “not even objective” in this discussion of jihadist terrorism against America. But Crowley was not cowed. She shot back that, no, she was not objective, and that, while it was surely important to be respectful of guests, that did not mean permitting the airwaves to become a passive vehicle for Tamimi’s offensive propaganda.

The reason Tamimi and others like him get away with calling themselves “moderates” while defending mass murderers is that, too often, they are allowed to breeze through their talking points without being pushed. This time he got pushed, and we all got to see how “moderate” he really is. Authentic moderates will never succeed unless the poseurs are exposed. That means we’ll need a lot more Monica Crowleys willing to grill them. You can’t win a war about ideology without engaging the ideology.

Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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