Last week, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs convened a hearing on political Islam, also called “Islamism.” The committee invited four witnesses: Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, Asra Q. Nomani, Michael E. Leiter, former director of the United States National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), and John Lenczowski, president of the Institute of World Politics. The hearing shines a bright light on the dysfunction that attends our treatment of the topic.
In her opening remarks, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) clearly articulated the Democratic position on Islamism: “Anyone who twists or distorts religion to a place of evil is an exception to the rule…We should not focus on religion.” Unfortunately, Democrats do not have a monopoly on willful blindness when it comes to Islamism or “Sharia supremacy.”
Hirsi-Ali and Nomani, both under a death sentence from jihadis on the charge of apostasy, wrote about the hearing in the New York Times. They noted that the four Democratic female senators—McCaskill, Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.)—feminists all, who whiff the scent of sexism in every passing breeze, did not ask either of them a single question.
Ali and Nomani wrote that what transpired during the hearing
…was emblematic of a deeply troubling trend among progressives when it comes to confronting the brutal reality of Islamist extremism and what it means for women in many Muslim communities here at home and around the world. When it comes to the pay gap, abortion access and workplace discrimination, progressives have much to say. But we’re still waiting for a march against honor killings, child marriages, polygamy, sex slavery or female genital mutilation.
The whole affair reveals the contradictions of the “identity politics” that define the current Democratic Party and its manifestation in what some have called the Oppression Olympics: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall/Who is the most oppressed of all?” The current front runner seems to be political Islam, which cannot be criticized, even if it means throwing other favored groups under the bus. Islamists punish homosexuals with death, but today “Islamophobia” trumps “homophobia.”
Much of the problem in dealing with political Islam is the failure to distinguish between Islam as a religion and political Islam as a system for organizing society. This issue arose in response to the testimony of John Lenczowski, during which he raised the issue of “no-go zones”—that is, areas where non-Muslims are not permitted to go—in certain European cities. McCaskill did not ask Lenczowski to expand on his point but instead turned to Leiter, who argued that there was no such thing.
But as Andrew C. McCarthy has explained, it is not true that a no-go zone is a place that Muslims forbid non-Muslims to enter, as suggested by McCaskill’s question and Leitner’s answer. The case is more complex and gets to the heart of the distinction between Islam as a religion on the one hand and political Islam, or sharia supremacy, as a system of social and political organization.
In reality, sharia explicitly invites the presence of non-Muslims provided that they submit to the authority of Islamic rule. Indeed historically, as I related in The Grand Jihad, my book about the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist ideology, because sharia calls on these submissive non-Muslims (dhimmis) to pay a poll tax (jizya), their continued presence was of economic importance in lands conquered by Islamic rulers.
It is therefore easy for Islamists and their apologists to knock down their strawman depiction of what a no-go zone is when they leave it at that: a place where non-Muslims are “not allowed.” That is not what no-go zones are—neither as they exist in fact nor as they are contemplated by Sharia. The point of imposing Sharia—the reason it is the necessary precondition for building an Islamic society—is to make Islam the dominant social system, not the exclusive faith. The idea is that once Sharia’s systematic discrimination against non-Muslims is in place, non-Muslims will see the good sense of becoming Muslims. Over time, everyone will convert “without coercion.” The game is to set up an extortionate incentive for conversion while maintaining the smiley-face assurance that no one is being forced to convert at the point of a sword.
So radical Muslims will be welcoming to any ordinary non-Muslims who are willing to defer to their mores. What they are hostile to are officials of the host state: police, firefighters, building inspectors, emergency medical personnel, and anything associated with the armed forces. That is because the presence of those forces symbolizes the authority—the non-submission—of the state.
Notice, however, that no sensible person is saying that state authorities are prohibited from entering no-go zones as a matter of law. The point is that they are severely discouraged from entering as a matter of fact—and the degree of discouragement varies directly with the density of the Muslim population and its radical component. Ditto for non-Muslim lay people: It is not that they are notpermitted to enter these enclaves; it is that they avoid entering because doing so is dangerous if they are flaunting Western modes of dress and conduct.
As Hirsi-Ali and Nomani observed, the hearing was an example of extreme moral relativism disguised as cultural sensitivity, which leads people to make excuses for the inexcusable. “Call it identity politics, moral relativism or political correctness—it is shortsighted, dangerous and, ultimately, a betrayal of liberal values.”
But Hirsi-Ali and Nomani are too kind. To understand the roots of the pathology that the Senate hearing reveals, one must recur to certain philosophical fonts of today’s political Left, which has embraced unassimilated Muslims as the true agents of redemption in an imperialistic, colonial world. Marxists identify Muslim Islamists as the latest replacement for the proletariat, who, because of “false consciousness,” failed in its historic mission to overthrow capitalism. Those who, consciously or not, follow Rousseau, see them as a manifestation of the “noble savage” who heroically rejects the pretensions of Western civilization. For the followers of Frantz Fanon and other post-colonial theorists, they are destined to effect the final destruction the West.
This is the hard truth. We ignore it at our peril.