Oliver Wendell Holmes Had Something to Say About the War on Terror

Why would an American criminal certainly go to jail for conduct we bless with a smile, a handshake, perhaps even a bow to foreign dignitaries?  What principle bids us condemn the American and make nice with a distant prince?  Is there a resolution?

Law students encounter early the Holmesian Bad Man—the reason a legal system cannot be based on the fact that most people do the right thing. A legal system must account for the Bad Man, the unusual one who will exploit the system. A legal system must therefore not simply exhort the Good Man to keep doing good, but make the Bad Man afraid to do bad. A legal system that fails to make the Bad Man afraid to do bad is doomed.

“A man who cares nothing for an ethical rule which is believed and practiced by his neighbors is likely nevertheless to care a good deal to avoid being made to pay money, and will want to keep out of jail if he can.” The Path of the Law, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 10 Harvard Law Review 457 (1897).

It is a basic axiom in law, so why not foreign policy? Why not make bad regimes afraid to do bad?

Objections multiply: foreign policy is the art of the possible; foreign policy contends with different legal systems; foreign policy has to do with making friends and jockeying for position; foreign policy has no moral compass but aims instead to maximize our influence… and so on.

To be sure, the most convincing is this: we do not control foreign governments, we have no sovereign power to put foreign bad people in jail for bad acts.  But to this, and all of the foregoing moral abdications about foreign policy, it may still be asked, is it not preferable to make the Bad Man afraid to do bad? Even granting the absence of a moral compass in foreign policy, doesn’t it still make realpolitik sense to signal to the Bad Man, there will be consequences?  Isn’t this rudimentary poker?

These questions have vital significance in the war on terror. Every rational person agrees that terror—wanton and random slaughter of innocents—is bad. The question in this country has been whether we should prosecute the war against terrorists as a military or a legal proposition.

Proposing that the war against terrorists should be legal, and not military, as John Kerry did in 2004, and Barack Obama did in 2008, supposes that a legal prosecution would have different consequences, or that it would be more civilized or humane.  It would not.  It would simply cripple the war against terrorists.

Prosecuting the war against terrorists as a legal, rather than military, proposition, assures the following signals and consequences:

  • As everyone is presumed innocent — because our legal system tolerates the guilty going free much more readily than the innocent convicted — terrorism may or may not have consequences (indeed, presumptively will not), and the multiple opportunities to obfuscate, to engender reasonable doubt, increase the likelihood that terrorism not only will have no consequence — but will have the globally significant consequence of acquittal.
  • Evidence of guilt that has perfect reliability in every respect except the manner in which it was obtained will be suppressed, again increasing the likelihood that terrorism not only will have no consequence — but will have the globally significant consequence of acquittal.
  • Bad acts will be viewed in tiresome context, and with relentless due regard to culture and history. Any instance of a bad act must be given a thorough vetting in which the bad actor’s grievance is accorded more privilege of expression than the prosecuting, or larger American, perspective.
  • Bad actors must be rounded up one by one and cumbersomely prosecuted within a resource-strained system.
  • Bad actors must be accorded a range of rights they would never grant to dissidents in the countries they celebrate — not in itself an objection, just a basis to ask any terrorist defendant, is this right a right you support for others, or only yourself?
  • Some Bad actors will get off on technicalities, as has already been the case — further emboldening Bad actors who witness the ways of exploiting our system.
  • Instead of being unceremoniously killed on the field of battle, Bad actors navigating the legal system will become heroes.  Indeed, even terrorists duly convicted in the legal system and incarcerated are likely, eventually, to be released, and return home to heroic welcome — as with the murderous mastermind of the Pan Am 103 bombing that killed 270 people.

Grant the existence of jihadists. These are people murderously committed to the cause.

The military solution, unlike the legal solution, attracts jihadists to the military field of combat. Advantageously, jihadists then do war with our soldiers, men and women trained to do battle, as opposed to men and women and children who have no idea they have been targeted for murder.

To his discredit, President Obama and his attorney general Eric Holder continue to speak of the war on terrorism, without actually using that incendiary language, as though it must be legal.  To his credit, President Obama has blessed a surge, beyond even the ambitions of the Bush years, of military options such as drone missile strikes and CIA-trained Afghan forces operating in Pakistan.  President Obama has plainly learned something in office that he’s unwilling to speak forthrightly to his base.  Would that it were otherwise and that the war on terror could again become bipartisan.

In both the legal and military paradigm for combating terrorism, theoretically, we resolve to make the Bad Man afraid to do bad. But in the military paradigm, we actually make the Bad Man afraid to do bad. In the legal paradigm, we embolden him.

Our Honorable Engagement in Afghanistan

I’m doubling back to a subject that occupied me a week ago when I was in New Orleans.  At the airport on the way, I bought three magazines.  Almost only two, because I couldn’t look at the cover of one without physical revulsion.  The purchase required an extra cognitive step – I will buy this magazine because it’s exactly the kind of journalism I most admire.

I’m speaking of the cover of Time magazine.

She is Aisha, 18 years old, and victim of relentless domestic abuse.  She ran away.  She was caught.  For fleeing, the Taliban sentenced her to having her nose and ears cut off.  Her brother-in-law held her down.  Her husband did the deed.  They left her for dead.

Aisha agreed to permit her disfigured portrait on the cover of Time, despite the danger to her from such a high profile, because “she wants the world to see the effect a Taliban resurgence would have on the women of Afghanistan.”

In the aggregate, there is more Muslim courage in this world than courage of any other type.

No other religion currently confronts a civil war for its soul.  That is one reason we fight.  The finest thing our nation can do, the thing that will make our great-great grandchildren proud of us, is to side with history, to side with Muslim courage in the teeth of tyrannical abomination.

I try very hard to see the other side, the reflexive rejection of war, of any projection of American power.  I sift through my best baby-boomer sympathies:

1. “Give peace a chance.”  Check.  Did that.  Then, 9-11, and a dozen other terrorist atrocities that slaughtered innocents, and a hundred thousand additional atrocities that cost innocents their noses, ears, limbs, and lives.  And by the way, giving peace, capitulation, and accommodation a chance got America described by an emboldened Osama bin Laden as a “paper tiger.”

2. Quaker sign near my house: “War is not the answer.”  I agree when the question is what’s a fun thing to do when you’re bored.  If the question is what are your options when an ideology of aggressive hatred inspires its adherents to kill your children, and to brutalize any people over whom they acquire power – then war may be an answer.

There will be a day when the gravest evils we have perpetrated as a species are vanquished.  We are not there.  We haven’t even managed to vanquish genocide.  What makes anyone believe our species is sufficiently civilized to take war off the table?

3. “We’re hypocrites because we permit tyranny some places but not others.”  This is the formula for Western paralysis and slow capitulation to the more determined.  It is flawed logically, morally, and strategically.

That we cannot achieve every possible good does not disqualify us from pursuit of some good.  The fact that we cannot, or choose not to, save sufferers in Syrian, North Korean, Iranian, or Somalian jails and killing fields, does not mean we cannot strive to save the next Aisha from the brutality of the Taliban in Afghanistan.  No force for good ever achieved total good.  It is sufficient that a force for good advances some good; it is sufficient that some standard-bearer for good persists in the field.

The reflexive and categorical rejection of war – or the predictable and precipitous withdrawal from its unpleasantness – is the strategic equivalent of playing poker with only your cards face up.  If enemies without our democratic transparencies can reliably predict our distaste for military confrontation, then our massive military superiority on paper is indeed no more than bin Laden’s “paper tiger.”

Essential to America’s projection of soft power is America’s capable exercise of hard power.  Sun Tzu in The Art of War: “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”  It sounds like a celebration of pacifism, but commends the opposite.  Sun Tzu further: “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”

Subduing the enemy without fighting, therefore, requires keeping deception in your arsenal – declining to play poker with only your cards face up – which means not being predictably pacifist.  Predictable pacifism emboldens enemies, who become comfortably ugly in their ambitions, and then must either be fought on the battlefield, or permitted their conquests, or most ignobly, both.  Conversely, the enemies’ perception that you might commit your blood and treasure to fighting their predatory ambition could deter them from ever pursuing their ambition.  And that is Sun Tzu’s subduing the enemy without fighting, the acme of skill – which requires our unpredictable willingness to use hard power.

Whatever else one believes about George W. Bush’s presidency, he responded with remarkable courage at a decisive moment in American political, military, and diplomatic history.  With fatalistic grumbling from virtually every institutional corner in America about the Iraq war, including the military itself, his own political party, and certainly the media, George Bush announced the opposite of prevailing conventional wisdom.  He was brilliantly unpredictable.  We would not shrink away, we would not concede that all foreign wars must end like Vietnam; instead, we would power up and commit to the victory.  It worked exactly as Sun Tzu would have predicted.  The Iraq surge is an historic contribution to American military capability and, derivatively, American diplomatic capability.

The war in Afghanistan requires just such a courageous reckoning.  What was once the bipartisan “good war” has become wearisome, a war without a steady victory trajectory (surprise) and therefore, being “a war,” something to jettison (for the sake of the troops of course).  That would be horribly mistaken.

Like most folks from states that were part of the Confederacy, I am uneasy with General William Tecumseh Sherman.  The deliberate devastation he wrought – what surely seemed at the time gratuitous destruction and mayhem, including many non-military targets – makes him, still, in some parts of the South, the most hated man ever.  Yet I am constrained to say, General Sherman did exactly what was necessary.  He resolutely crushed the enemy, and brought the Civil War to a swifter end.

Permit the enemy no illusion of residual power.  If we believe we are right vis-à-vis the Taliban – as the Union believed it was right vis-à-vis the South and the Allied powers in World War 2 believed they were right vis-à-vis the Axis powers (hence resolving to accept nothing short of unconditional surrender), then the Taliban must be crushed.  And that must be our unrelenting and righteous resolve.

To give them negotiating latitude, to dignify the thugs with ceremonial second thoughts, would guarantee a surge of unspeakable brutality against mostly women and children, and any men with the courage to protest.

Are we right vis-à-vis the Taliban?

Aisha is not an outlier exception.  The Taliban has long made a sport of torturing and killing women.  According to a United Nations report, the Taliban is currently responsible for 76% of the civilian deaths in Afghanistan – and women and children are bearing the brunt of the Taliban slaughter.  In its desperation, the Taliban recently announced open killing season on any civilians who cooperate with the Afghan government or coalition forces.

Not content merely to execute a pregnant woman recently accused of adultery, the Taliban subjected her first to brutal lashes, and then put a bullet in her head.  A medical team – eight Americans, a German, a Briton, and two Afghans –who devoted their lives to the kind of sight-saving eye-care that indigent Afghans would never otherwise receive – were slaughtered, and a Taliban spokesman proudly took credit.  “They were Christian missionaries [which was false], and we killed them all.”

We are right vis-à-vis the Taliban.  We are honorable to fight them, we are on the right side of history and Muslim courage, and we must finish the fight convincingly.

UPDATE 2-11-2011: The photo above on the cover of Time magazine won the World Press Photo award for 2010.

President Obama’s Ground Zero Game-Playing

I’ve steered clear of the “Ground Zero mosque” story because, I thought, it’s both (1) a misnomer (neither actually at “Ground Zero” nor technically a “mosque”); and (2) so much of it has been a tempestuous belaboring of the obvious.  Of course private property owners in Manhattan have a legal right, subject to zoning laws and building codes, to build whatever they wish on their property, and of course erecting a 13-story Muslim cultural center two blocks away from Ground Zero is insensitive.  Let the games conclude please.

Then President Obama finally weighed in Friday evening.  Sort of.  It got interesting.

“But let me be clear. As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”

True that, Mr. President.  I’ve seen a few rants, mostly pleas, some anger, mostly discussions of wisdom and prudence.  I haven’t seen anyone outside of actual adjudications of “local laws and ordinances” taking issue with any legal right.  To frame the issue (wrongly) as those who support Muslim rights versus those who oppose Muslim rights is quite remarkably and gratuitously divisive.

And it was bizarrely personalized.  “As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country,” declares the President with nine superfluous and self-aggrandizing opening words.  What the President meant to say, I think, and what would have been more succinctly powerful as an opening salvo, is simply, “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.”  Instead, he did two things with his personalized “I believe” introduction – (1) he located himself, with emphasis upon himself, on a moral perch, to which he implicitly beckoned his fellow Americans; and (2) he set himself and his belief system oddly, and counterfactually, apart from some imagined sea of Americans who allegedly doubt his simplistic moral proposition.

If the President wishes to speak some version of “come hither unto me,” then he should invoke a proposition less insulting than the patently obvious “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.”

And then we come to the President’s stern condemnation of Al Qaeda – all true and commendable, especially the important observation about Al Qaeda having killed more Muslims than people of any other religion.  Which brings us again to the President’s continuing war on the language of terrorism.  “So that’s who we’re fighting against,” he declares.

Well, yes and no. We’re certainly fighting against Al Qaeda – but that’s not all.  There’s the Taliban in Afghanistan for the most obvious additional example.  And there’s every splinter stripe of Islamist terrorism – by whatever name they choose – for numerous additional examples.  For the President to shrivel the definition of our enemies this way is to foment a manipulative semantic war that terrorists will win.

“Past eras,” the President says, “have seen controversies about the construction of synagogues or Catholic churches.”  Really?  The President declines to elaborate.  Please do tell.  I love history and want to know.  I’m aware of the benign Carmelite convent at Auschwitz, which the Pope at the time asked them to relocate so as not to offend Jewish sensitivities respecting a place where Jews were genocidally slaughtered (and not by Catholics).  What are the other examples?  And did any American example involve a “synagogue or Catholic Church” near a site where Jews or Catholics slaughtered thousands of innocents?  Your solicitude for Islam is commendable, Mr. President, but please do not abuse history.

The President rightly applauds “our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect towards those who are different from us.”  Amen.  That is why Muslims in America have enjoyed, and should always enjoy, a positive reception, a welcoming invitation to participate in the American enterprise, and comfortable latitude to practice their faith freely.

The many Americans who are troubled by the “Ground Zero mosque” wish most profoundly, it seems to me, to see something like “not merely tolerance, but respect” for them from the Muslim community.  That is a very tricky, but very real, cultural tension, and for the President to miss it altogether – indeed to make it a one-way street applicable only to Muslim entitlement – seems remarkably tone-deaf.

If the President were responding to chronic and widespread anti-Muslim bigotry, his protracted celebration of Islam and Muslim contribution to America might look like genuine leadership.  But no such wave of anti-Muslim bigotry has ever happened in this country, before or after 9-11.  Indeed, in 2008, the last year for which figures are available, the FBI reports that of the 1,732 victims of anti-religious hate crimes, 66.1% were Jews and 7.5% were Muslims.

And then it got really interesting.  Conservatives bristled at the President’s failure to engage them on the actual issue – not the legal right, but the appropriateness or wisdom of building the Islamic center, the issue, that is, not merely of tolerance, but respect.  Meanwhile, liberals praised the president for his courage in taking the high ground and resolutely promoting not merely the legal right but the appropriateness of the Muslim building.  Greg Sargent gushed in The Washington Post about “one of the finest moments of Obama’s Presidency”:

“Obama didn’t just stand up for the legal right of the group to build the Islamic center. He voiced powerful support for their moral right to do so as well, casting it as central to American identity. This is a critical point, and it goes to the essence of why his speech was so commendable.”

Wow.  Someone misheard the President.  Did the President actively endorse the Islamic center or merely belabor the obvious about the “legal right” to build it?  On Saturday, the day after his speech, the President threw his liberal supporters under the bus:

“I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about. And I think it’s very important as difficult as some of these issues are that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.”

So, in fact, we’re back to a lecture belaboring the obvious that virtually no one disputes – and the President “will not comment on” the actual issue that has engaged so many Americans: “the wisdom” of building the “mosque.” (Note the President’s use of “mosque” for the first time.  Okay, “mosque” it is.)

The President will engineer a high-profile diplomatic dispute over Israel building homes in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, but he won’t comment on the wisdom of building a mosque two blocks away from a place he calls “hallowed ground.”  No, this is manifestly not “one of the finest moments of Obama’s Presidency.”

I really didn’t have a horse in this race.  I figured either that the mosque was inevitable, and that very local dynamics would determine the ultimate success or failure of the venture, or that further developments – like the gay bar contemplated next door – might hurl the story into unanticipated ironies.  But after the President’s performance on Friday and Saturday, I have to say, Mr. President, a little balance please.  A little more backbone in actually addressing the concerns that animate the substantial majority of Americans who oppose the mosque, and a little less condescension toward the people who elected you, people who really just want from you “not merely tolerance, but respect.”

[Also published at The Daily Caller.]

Former Islamist Maajid Nawaz Has a Critical Message About Islamism

 The debate on both sides of the Atlantic about Islamism and terrorism is robust — but interestingly distinct.  Both debates occur within rich cultural traditions of free speech, but the way the debates are framed reveals much about the difference between Europe and America. 

Perhaps the most hilarious pseudo-sincere, rhetorical question I’ve witnessed is this from a British moderator to Anjum Choudary, a fringe British radical who refuses to condemn either 9-11 or the 7-7 attack in the UK, and who promotes a Muslim Caliphate that would include the UK.  In a January 2010 discussion, the moderator asks him casually, “and how’s the campaign to move Britain over to Sharia law coming along?”

It is not possible to conceive such a dialogue in America.  Not because Americans talk about fewer issues, but because Americans don’t generally think of certain notions as worthy of elevation to the public square — even for the purpose of ridicule.

There is a natural American filtering, a kind of seriousness and sincerity missing in the UK.  Anjum Choudary is largely a joke in the UK — but a joke trotted out repeatedly and given a broad audience — who then engenders sympathy when he is derided by all those right-thinking Brits who laugh and clap when he is attacked.

He then becomes a Muslim reviled by “the West,” and achieves precisely the victim status that feeds the radical Muslim narrative of what the West has done and continues to do to Muslims.

Choudary’s counterpart in the discussion was the very interesting Maajid Nawaz.  Nawaz is all about challenging the Muslim narrative of what the West has done and purportedly continues to do to Muslims.  And he knows whereof he speaks.  He is a British Muslim who became radicalized in his teens, joined a radical Muslim organization, and became a recruiter and evangelist.  Dispatched to Egypt for the cause, he got arrested and spent several years in an Egyptian jail, where he was tortured, and encountered other Islamist radicals — including members of the Muslim Brotherhood who had participated in the assassination of Anwar Sadat.

As it develops, many of these radicals were no longer radicals.  Nawaz’s first thought was to re-convert them.  But as he engaged them, and as he studied Islam more seriously, he came to recant his radicalism, to see “Islamism” as a political perversion of Islam.

CBS’ 60 Minutes recently aired a report about Maajid Nawaz.  It is well worth the watch.  It says much about the kind of courage and clear thinking that is urgently needed in the peace-loving Muslim community — and also about American timidity.

Nawaz’s interviewer, Lesley Stahl, comes off as rather wide-eyed and naively shocked that there would be such hateful notions — or torture in Egyptian jails!  When engaging Muslims at a seminar in Pakistan, she doesn’t contribute a single thought or profess a single defense of America — even when directly questioned by seminar participants who insist that America orchestrated 9-11 so that it could justify attacking Muslims.  She is simply there to soak up, and be stunned by, anti-Americanism.

It is possible that Stahl’s deer-in-headlights posture ironically endears her, and Americans, to Muslims, for such people as Stahl and we are surely not capable of perpetrating any conspiracy or aggression against Islam.

But her interview subject would not, I think, commend Stahl’s naiveté as a formula.  Quite the contrary, Nawaz is refreshingly forceful and forthright: Islamists are fascists, indeed, comparable to Nazis.  That is, in his view, a critical message.

These are people, he says, “who subscribe to Islamist extremism, in other words, a form of Muslim supremicism, like how Nazis used to believe that white people are superior, Aryans are superior, to all other races.  Islamism is where Muslim fascists believe that Muslims are superior to all others and must conquer others and rule over them.”

Not that Nawaz has any truck with conservative thinking in America — he’s careful to disavow that.  When his anti-extremism think tank, Quilliam, is accused of being “another neoconservative foundation,” Nawaz takes umbrage, challenges the man to identify any view he has as “neoconservative,” and generally discloses great distaste for neoconservatism — which is evidently unpopular in the UK.  The gentleman cites as evidence “condemning Hamas in Palestine — these are neoconservative, pro-Israel ideas.”

These are different political and cultural milieus, the UK and America.  But importantly, Nawaz does not hesitate to speak words like “Islamism,” “fascism,” and, comparatively, “Nazi,” in describing the threat we confront.  In fact, he considers such language essential in the battle for hearts and minds the West must wage.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration conducts a war on the language of terror by banning any use of these words, and here again is American timidity on display.  Nawaz understands from within what our president declines: frank labeling matters.  Call it what it is.  Anything short of frank labeling engenders cynicism, intellectual confusion, and perception of American weakness.

After all, sincerity is our American virtue.  We get to be ridiculed by Europeans for being so sincere and witless — but secretly admired for doing the right thing based upon that sincerity.

[Also pulished at The Daily Caller.]

Obama’s War on the Language of Terror

Charles Krauthammer has a characteristically excellent column on the weirdness — and mischief – of this Administration’s awkwardly truncated lexicon of terror — “jihadists,” “Islamism,” and “Islamic terrorism” no longer exist.  (And of course, terms such as “Islamo-fascism” are consigned to virtual profanity.)  Bizarrely, the terms are no longer permitted.

I agree with everything Krauthammer says is wrong about such semantic tip-toeing.  But he doesn’t purport to explain how it came about in the first place.  I confess to bewilderment.  I cannot see any rational foreign or domestic policy materially advanced by eliminating certain descriptive words that are commonly used — including by Muslims, and including by the very enemy we purport to be fighting.

As Krauthammer notes, when Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square attacker, pleaded guilty, he explained, “one has to understand where I’m coming from . . . I consider myself a mujahid, a Muslim soldier.”  “Mujahid” simply means “one who wages jihad, or holy war,” i.e., a jihadist.

So we’re not talking about language that has come to mean something denigrating to the referenced group — like “Negro” evolved to become an unacceptable general descriptive within the African-American community.  We’re talking about language that the referenced group itself freely embraces.

The matter is even more bewildering with respect to the relatively neutral descriptive, “Islamic terrorism.”  Granted, this Administration is allergic to calling anything “terrorism,” as opposed to some species of crime.  But terrorism clearly exists.  It is a distinct and identifiable military and cultural phenomenon.  It targets innocent civilians, typically indiscriminately (i.e., the object is simply to kill, to terrorize, regardless whether children, for example, are incidental, or even primary, victims).  It follows that terrorism can be perpetrated by different groups, and adjectives serve the useful purpose of distinguishing these different groups (lest we confuse Islamic terrorism with, say, Tibetan terrorism).

So if “terrorism” is okay — and that word has not yet been banished — what could possibly be wrong with “Islamic terrorism”?

Maybe this Administration is mindful that virtually all 21st century terrorism has been committed in the name of Allah.  Maybe this Administration understands that most Americans, based upon an indisputably rational inductive process, have come to associate “terrorism” — the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent civilians — primarily with a certain radical interpretation of Islam.  And so maybe this Administration wishes to dissociate “terrorism” and “Islam.”

I get that.  After all, terrorism could be committed by non-Islamists.  It hasn’t this century, but it could.  And in our outreach to Muslim countries, our effort to woo Muslim populations to American good will, it may not help that most Americans associate “terrorism” primarily with a certain radical interpretation of Islam.  So (I surmise) if we strive, by linguistic manipulation, to wean Americans away from the association of “terrorism” and “Islamism,” then we can make goodwill headway in Muslim countries.

Putting aside that President Obama has not in fact made goodwill headway in Muslim countries, I understand and agree with the impulse to avoid sullying Islam, painting it across the board with the brush of its radical Islamists.  But this Administration’s language game is the quintessential head in the sand.  It is as though European appeasers in the 1930s sought to avoid calling Nazis what they were, for fear of unnecessary offense to ordinary Germans (who elected Hitler).  Oh wait, that’s exactly what happened.

Our hyper-solicitude for Muslim sensitivities actually works against ordinary Muslim courage.  There is no shortage of Muslim courage — witness the uprising in Iran last year, and this Administration’s embarrassingly tepid response.  If even our leaders are unwilling to call the oppression of Islamofascism what it is, then courageous Muslims are hopeless heroes, and there will be fewer and fewer of them.  In short, we’re manifesting contempt for the best actual human beings who are Muslims in our misdirected determination to be sensitive to abstract Muslims.

Moreover, semantic manipulation typically backfires, especially in democracies, where the state does not control all, or even many, information sources.  If a government of the people refuses to call a thing by the name its people fairly use — like “Islamic terrorism” — then the people come to distrust their government.  What is the government hiding?  What is the government’s real agenda?  These questions arise only because the government in the first instance distrusts the intelligence of its own people and resolves to uplift them by stripping their language of common phrases.

This Administration’s premise — that one way to fight Islamic terrorists is to go silent on the very phrase “Islamic terrorists” lest we offend Muslims — contradicts one of the greatest principles of American constitutional jurisprudence.  In his 1927 Whitney v. California opinion, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “if there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

In other words, the remedy is not to strip our language of common phrases we use to describe our actual enemies, but to use the common phrases appropriately and to resolve to commend Muslim courage wherever it arises to resist oppression, to celebrate the many beauties of Muslim culture, and to lend American support to the peaceful aspirations of millions of Muslims.

In short, don’t enforce a shorter dictionary; use more speech to achieve our twin aims of battling Islamic terrorism and declaring our solidarity with courageous and peace-loving Muslims everywhere.

[Also posted at The Daily Caller]

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