You knew – surely you knew, didn’t you? – when Allen West made those comments last week about Congressman Keith Ellison and Ellison’s Islamic faith, that there was bound to be a ruckus afterward. Well, sure enough, this week the shi’ite (or should I say the sunni?) hit the fan.
The first incident was on Monday night, when Allen West held his first town hall meeting back in his South Florida district since being sworn in as Congressman. This also happened to be one of the first congressional town halls in the country since the January 9 attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. West is nothing if not a man of his word; he pledged after his election last fall that he would come home from Washington once a month and meet with his constituents, so that’s exactly what he did. (He did mention to reporters a few weeks ago that he does hold a concealed-carry license, and that, for his own protection, he might be packing heat at his town halls!)
The meeting, held at St. Mark’s Catholic School in Boynton Beach, attracted a standing-room-only crowd.
Congressman West began the meeting with a quick PowerPoint presentation representing the financial condition of the United States, then asked for those who had not voted for him to be the first to come to the microphone to ask questions and to see how he “can better serve you.”
…The first question from the crowd was from a college age girl bringing up the reason for West’s suspension as battalion commander for the 4th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. West was suspended for using an unauthorized interrogation technique to help save the lives of his soldiers. Congressman West quickly responded that had she been one of the soldiers in his command today and the same situation arose, he would do the same thing to protect her life.
Oh, how I love the way this man refuses to backtrack, water down, dodge, sugarcoat or appease. But, wait, it gets even better.
Freshman Republican Congressman Allen West clashed with an advocate for Muslim-American civil rights at a sometimes-rowdy town hall meeting Monday night.
The tense exchange drew boos from [the] largely Republican crowd.
The confrontation came as West, an Iraq War veteran who was backed by the Tea Party in last November’s election, took questions from constituents. Nezar Hamze, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations [CAIR] in Miami, stepped to the microphone and accused West of making anti-Muslim comments in the past….
“I will always defend your right to practice a free religion under the First Amendment,” West said. “But what you must understand, if I am speaking the truth, I am not going to stop speaking the truth. The truth is not subjective,” he continued to loud applause.
West’s comments on Islam have stirred controversy in the past. He recently said Muslim Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, represents “the antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established.”
The new GOP congressman pulled no punches commenting on the political crisis in Egypt, drawing parallels between the chaos in that country and the 1979 revolution in Iran. West said the U.S. must stop the Egyptian militant group, the Muslim Brotherhood, from seizing power.
“President Carter, President Obama; Iran, Egypt; the Shah, Mubarak; the Ayatollah, the Muslim Brotherhood. It is a scary parallel. We cannot allow the Muslim Brotherhood to fill the void of leadership that can occur in Egypt,” West said.
The second incident was a letter signed by a gaggle of “national religious leaders” to Congressman West, calling on him
to apologize for saying that Muslim congressman Keith Ellison represents the ‘antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established.’
The letter — signed by the Interfaith Alliance’s Welton Gaddy, the Rabbinical Assembly’s Jack Moline, the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism’s David Saperstein and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty’s J. Brent Walker — chastises West for his comments about Ellison, and also criticizes his “tendency to offer intemperate comments about Islam….”
The Sun Sentinel reports:
In response, West said on Wednesday his comments on Ellison “are not about his Islamic faith but about [Ellison’s] continued support of CAIR….
“It is the extremist, radical element that has hijacked Islam that presents a dangerous threat to both our country and our allies throughout the world,” West said in a return letter. “This radical jihadist movement has no place in the United States of America or anywhere on earth.”
“The problem is, these fanatics are often supported by certain groups and organizations that masquerade as more peaceful moderates,” West wrote. “Organizations such as CAIR have long histories of supporting violent anti-American and anti-Israel terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood.”
West told the letter-writers he shares their goal to exercise and safeguard religious tolerance.
All the usual leftists and Muslim-appeasers are, predictably, howling about West’s response. No surprise there.
But, on the opposite end of the spectrum, some folks – including the wonderful anti-Islam stalwart Diana West (no relation), whom I regard very highly – are taking West to task for being too soft on Islam. They see his latest statements as the disappointing – in West’s case, heartbreaking – cave-in on Islam that, sadly, we have come to expect from everyone who goes to Washington. At Big Peace, she writes:
The political atmosphere is toxic. I am not talking about the “heat” of the rhetoric the media love to wring their hands over, particularly when conservatives are making winning arguments. I mean the political atmosphere is toxic to the truth. Facts. Statements of fact. Just as once upon a half-century-plus ago, you couldn’t talk about the communist conspiracy in America without a ton of media and elite bricks coming down on your head, today you can’t talk about Islam, its tenets, its historical record, stated goals and agent-organizations without a similar avalanche of criticism.
Once, communists and fellow travelers had control — in some cases literal, in others by dint of influence — of the talking space; now, the Muslim message dominates. Or, should I say, the Muslim Brotherhood message dominates. You may think the MB is that Islamic group predominantly behind the organization of the anti-Mubarak protests, but the organization is here, in the USA, too. Indeed, the leading Islamic organizations in the US are demonstrably proven to be linked to or even fronts for the Brotherhood even as they are also the very groups that the US government engages, strenuously, in that strength-sapping exercise of “Muslim outreach.” ISNA, CAIR, MSA, MAS, MPAC. NAIT …. The list of groups goes on, reflecting the massive web of Muslim Brotherhood concerns targeting our national debate, targeting our talking space — already drastically constricted due to what we short-hand as “political correctness” but which is in fact a tool of good, old-fashioned Marxist subversion. This richly interwoven web also targets individuals who stand up against the spread of Islamic law and cultural influence.
Among those so targeted by these various influences is Rep. Allen West (R-FL), who, as readers know, is a big favorite of mine. Yesterday, Congressman West issued a statement, I suppose, to make it all go away, or at least subside a little. It’s hard to operate with that ton of bricks on your head.
Diana West rightly cuts Keith Ellison, the catalyst of this latest fracas, no slack at all.
Keith Ellison… among other things, hit the Minnesota-Somali hustings (D-MI) in 2008 for Al Franken with one Abdullahi Ugas Farah, a Somali leader who… was in 2003 one of two speakers presiding over the opening of a new sharia court in Mogadishu.
She goes on to say – again, quite rightly:
The extremist, radical element — jihad — has not “hijacked” innocent passenger Islam; such radicalism steers the plane — or, more to the point, charts the flight path. Would that the Congressman’s reply have noted instead that his comments were directed at the Islamic faith in jihad, in the Islamic intolerance, indeed, negation of other faiths, and that the respective holy men ought to consider engaging in some serious study of sharia, jihad and dhimmitude and joining this most vital debate — not suppressing it.
I share Diana West’s concern about the apparent “nuancing” in Allen West’s stand vis-a-vis Islam. In these statements, he doesn’t sound like the Allen West we’ve come to know in videos of his speeches and interviews that have gone viral on YouTube.
However, partly because I like to play “devil’s advocate,” and partly because I want to make sure that we judge him fairly, I think it’s important to point out a few things.
First of all, Allen West has repeatedly pledged to represent the people of his district to the best of his ability. That is a different constituency than those of us who made those YouTube videos go viral. It is much like the way Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger modulated in some ways once he became Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict did not do that to “appease” anyone, because, first, that’s not the kind of man he is, and second, popes don’t have to appease anyone. Rather, it was because he now has a completely different role, which calls for a slightly different style of communicating. No change in the rock-core truths, mind you, but perhaps a different way of trying to get them across to people. (Please note, I am not saying I agree with everything Benedict says, nor am I comparing Allen West to the pope! I’m just drawing what I hope is a useful analogy.)
If you study Allen West’s statement to the “religious leaders” carefully, and look at this exact wording, you have to admit the possibility that his views haven’t changed at all, but that he is just being very, very clever in his word choices. Most of his comments are hard-hitting – certainly more hard-hitting than anything being said by any other person in office right now – but the main thing that I think is bothering Diana West and others, myself included, is that red-flag phrase, “hijacked Islam.”
You know, I know, and Allen West knows that Islam itself is indeed a sick ideology.
However, as long as Muslims kept to themselves – which in fact they mostly did for several centuries, after Western civilization thoroughly trounced them militarily, technologically and culturally – they were, with one exception (the Barbary pirates), not a problem to the United States. Although the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928, and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, started fomenting genocide against the Jews in Palestine in that same era, these people were not a problem to the United States until Saudi Arabia got hijacked by Wahhabism – or, more precisely, made a Faustian bargain with the Wahhabis.
I would like to refer you to a very enlightening report issued by Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom, which is one of the most energetic fighters against the religious repression in Islamic countries. Freedom House is chaired by none other than James Woolsey, who has, among other things, collaborated with heavyweights Frank Gaffney and Andrew McCarthy on the landmark report I’m continually referencing on this blog, Shariah: The Threat to America.
The Freedom House report I want to recommend to you today is Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Invade American Mosques. (Indeed, I wish I could make it required reading for everyone in Washington, since it paints a much more alarming picture of what is actually going on in American mosques than anyone in the public eye is admitting).
Woolsey’s foreword to the report includes some very interesting history. In 1979, two crucial events rocked the Islamic world: the radicals’ takeover in Iran and radical extremists’ temporary takeover of the great mosque in Mecca. This takeover of the Grand Mosque was a huge blow to the Saudi monarchy that I don’t think we Westerners can even comprehend, for that mosque, the one that contains the Ka’aba, is the “holiest site in Islam,” and it is the Saudi rulers who are charged with safeguarding it on behalf of all the planet’s Muslims.
As Woolsey explains, until those two events – the Iranian Revolution and the Grand Mosque takeover – our relations with the Saudis were generally smooth. Indeed, Woolsey talks about attending a dinner party in Saudi Arabia in 1978, a party where men and their wives – in Western dress, no less! – socialized together, alcohol was consumed, and conversation was “informed” and “sophisticated.” In short, the kind of mundane event that is altogether unimaginable in Saudi Arabia today.
1979 changed everything.
The Saudis chose after the twin shocks of that year to strike a Faustian bargain with the Wahhabi sect and not only to accommodate their views about propriety, pious behavior, and Islamic law, but effectively to turn over education in the Kingdom to them and later to fund the expansion into Pakistan and elsewhere of their extreme, hostile, anti-modern, and anti-infidel form of Islam. The other side of the bargain was that if the Wahhabis would concentrate their attacks on, essentially, the U.S. and Israel, the Saudi elite would get a more-or-less free ride from the Wahhabis and the corruption within the Kingdom would be overlooked.
As a result, this Wahhabi sect, which would have been regarded as recently as fifty years ago as an austere, fringe group by a large majority of Muslims, is now extremely powerful and influential in the Muslim world due to Saudi government support and the oil wealth of the Arabian peninsula. Former Secretary of State George Shultz, not known for either a propensity for overstatement or for hostility to the Saudis, calls this deflection of Wahhabi anger toward us “a grotesque protection racket.”
Yes, we all know that radical Muslims “are doing exactly what this book [the Quran] says,” as Allen West put it in that famous video clip. But, before 1979, the vast majority of the world’s Muslims were not doing exactly what their “holy book” says. It’s a bit like the phenomenon of Christians divorcing and remarrying despite Jesus’ clear commands to the contrary. Or like Catholics contracepting and aborting at the same rates as the rest of the population, despite 2,000 years of clear Church teaching that absolutely condemns those very things. (But that’s another story! Again, for now, I’m just trying to draw an analogy.)
My point is that people of any and every religion often find it convenient to ignore the teachings of their religion. And for a long, long time, most Muslims did. Things did happen along the way during the last 100 years that have altered the way that large numbers of the world’s Muslims think about and practice their religion.
Thus, in a certain sense, what Allen West said the other day is true. Until I have evidence to the contrary, I believe that Allen West’s views about Islam are the same as ever, and that, now that a national spotlight is being focused like a laser on him, he’s just being very, very careful and clever in his word choices.