Wafa Sultan, Jacksonian, vs. the Boston Phoenix: feeding that ravenous crocodile
[CORRECTION: It's been pointed out by several commenters that the linked article appears to be by one Amit Ghate, not Wafa Sultan, although it appeared on the latter's blog. The link was originally sent to me and identified as being from Wafa Sultan's blog. Under the influence of mental set and expectations, I assumed that it was by Dr. Sultan herself, without thinking to check the byline. I usually try to be extraordinarily careful about such things, but I'm only human, and certainly some things can slip by me, as this one did. So, I stand corrected: it was published on Dr. Sultan's blog, but it is by Amit Ghate. And, although Dr. Sultan is still the same brave person, she didn't write the "extraordinarily hard-hitting article," although it certainly seems to be simpatico with her point of view.]
No, Wafa Sultan hasn't directly challenged the alternative newspaper known as the Boston Phoenix. But she mentions the paper in passing in this extraordinarily hard-hitting article which appeared on her website "Annaqed."
Dr. Sultan, whom I wrote about previously here, is Syrian-born. She is what Islam would consider an apostate from the faith, a psychiatrist who lives in America now. She recently achieved some notoriety through an outspoken interview she gave on Al Jazeera, praising Western Enlightenment thought and criticizing the oppression and ignorance she feels is rampant in many Moslem countries.
Her new piece is worth reading in its entirety (although I have some disagreements with her reading of ancient history--but that's another topic, perhaps for another time). It's the part of her article that deals with recent history that I find especially interesting and provocative, particularly her take on the passivity of the Western world since the Iranian kidnappings of 1979, which she feels was an act of war and should have been treated as such.
Dr. Sultan pulls no punches, to say the least; she sets up a Jacksonian challenge to Western countries to begin defending themselves and their culture with greater vigor, or to face continuing to be perceived by the Islamicist jihadis as weak and therefore relatively easy prey. Here's some of the flavor of Dr. Sultan's article:
...our government, under the pacifist Jimmy Carter, wrung its hands and negotiated with a regime which had just broken the most basic law of diplomacy. (Two half-hearted, under-manned and under-planned rescue attempts were made, but the fiascos only underscored how unwilling the government was to use its military force to remedy the problem).
This event signaled to all observers, that though the West still had abundant physical means to defend its citizens, it had lost its will to do so. In fact, not only would it not defend its citizens, it would even act against them, as did the US State Department when, after the eventual release of the hostages, it quashed their attempt to seek redress in international courts, simply to avoid “stirring up” trouble with foreign nations!
The absence of any military response and the complete abdication of the government’s responsibility to its citizens was the first sign to the Islamic world that it could act with impunity against any Western citizen -- and act it did. A series of attacks throughout the Middle East followed.
What do I mean when I refer to Dr. Sultan's position as "Jacksonian?" It's part of Walter Russell Meade's famous schema of strains in American foreign policy (and one of those many topics I'm saving for a longer post); see here for a summary, here for an article by Meade on Jacksonians, and here for his book Special Providence.
This is a summary of the Jacksonian position:
The driving belief of the Jacksonian school of thought is that the first priority of the U.S. Government in both foreign and domestic policy is the physical security and economic well-being of the American populace. Jacksonians believe that the US shouldn't seek out foreign quarrels, but if a war starts, the basic belief is "there's no substitute for victory" – and Jacksonians will do pretty much whatever is required to make that victory happen. If you wanted a Jacksonian slogan, it's "Don't Tread On Me!" Jacksonians are generally viewed by the rest of the world as having a simplistic, uncomplicated view of the world, despite quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.
If you read Dr. Sultan's piece with an eye to Meade's categories, you'll see how very Jacksonian it is. Dr. Sultan links together the last thirty-five years of terrorist acts with responses from the West that treat them, not as acts of war, but with various degrees of appeasement, capitulation, and/or ineffective responses. Towards the end of the piece, Dr. Sultan offers the following very Jacksonian declaration of intent:
...let us resurrect Dumas’ famous Musketeers’ rallying call: “One for All and All for One” emphasizing the latter phrase. For only by standing together to defend each individual can a peaceful society exist. Thus we must stand together and protect the lonely author who dares question a religion and who is sentenced to death because of it. We must stand together to defend his publishers who are firebombed for printing the book. We must stand together to defend the individual film-maker and political dissident who criticize Islam and are sentenced to death because of it. We must stand together to defend the benign cartoonist, who pens a simple cartoon, and is then forced into hiding by death threats and bounties.
To stand together means to assert our rights with our government as our agent. To those who threaten us with force, asserting our rights means responding with force, in fact, with overwhelming force. We must say to Iran (which on February 14 just reconfirmed the Rushdie fatwa) “oust and turn over the regime which sees fit to condemn a single citizen of ours to death, or face all out war.” And if they refuse, give them the war they started, but be sure to win it decisively, not protecting their mosques and infrastructure, but instead doing everything necessary to ensure they have no capacity to ever threaten us again.
The statement of an all-out no-holds-barred Jacksonian impulse is sobering, is it not? What Dr. Sultan is proposing is no less than the threat of a World War III, and a hot one at that.
I personally hope that this is not necessary, and that Dr. Sultan is wrong, although at times I fear that she is right. Because the distinguishing characteristic of this particularly enemy is its emphasis on the world to come, and its willingness to embrace the death of hordes of its own people in the cause of establishing a new Caliphate. Unfortunately, although vast numbers of "moderate Moslems" may be against this cause (and we have no way of knowing how many there are who fit that description), it may not matter, if leaders such as those in Iran are for it, and if they've shown their the willingness to sacrifice their own people to establish their version of heaven on earth, and to defeat the Great and Little Satans.
How does the Boston Phoenix enter into this? It's a tabloid freebie paper, a relic of the 60s, and one I've read off and on for all these long years. It intersperses notices and reviews of cultural events--concerts, theater, poetry readings, all that good stuff--with actual news stories from a basic leftist/liberal perspective. You know the type of thing; probably every big city has its equivalent.
In Dr. Sultan's article, she deals with the recent Mohammed cartoons issue at some length. That's the context in which she mentions that the Boston Phoenix had refused to run the cartoons.
That fact alone didn't surprise me, but their stated reason for not running them did. Here it is:
...fear of retaliation from the international brotherhood of radical and bloodthirsty Islamists … This is, frankly, our primary reason for not publishing any of the images in question … we are being terrorized, and as deeply as we believe in the principles of free speech and a free press, we could not in good conscience place the men and women who work at the Phoenix … in physical jeopardy … this may be the darkest moment in our 40-year publishing history.
I did not expect such a bold statement from the Phoenix, using phrases such as "bloodthirsty Islamists," and freely admitting their fear of retaliation was the reason they desisted. Other publications (for example, the NY Times) had emphasized their sensitivity to Moslem feeling, instead.
Interestingly, the Phoenix actually pointed out the Times's hypocrisy, here, in an article in which the Phoenix called out the Times for refusing to show similar cultural and religious sensitivity when it insisted on publishing the photo of an ultra-Orthodox Jew who had already protested the publication of said picture for religious reasons.
Columnist Jeff Jacoby at the Boston Globe, one of their few conservative writers, got into the act as well, here:
Journalists can be incredibly brave, but when it comes to covering the Arab and Muslim world, too many news organizations have knuckled under to threats. Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, a veteran foreign correspondent, admitted long ago that ''physical intimidation" by the PLO led reporters to skew their coverage of important stories or to ignore them ''out of fear." Similarly, CNN's former news executive, Jordan Eason, acknowledged after the fall of Saddam Hussein that his network had long sanitized its news from Iraq, since reporting the unvarnished truth ''would have jeopardized the lives of . . . our Baghdad staff."
Like the Nazis in the 1930s and the Soviet communists in the Cold War, the Islamofascists are emboldened by appeasement and submissiveness. Give the rampagers and book-burners a veto over artistic and editorial decisions, and you end up not with heightened sensitivity and cultural respect, but with more rampages and more books burned. You betray ideals that generations of Americans have died to defend.
Appeasement doesn't seem to work--it merely feeds the crocodile, as Churchill famously said--but I can understand why it's used so often. If I were a journalist working for the Phoenix or any other publication, would I want to lay my life on the line to publish those cartoons? I'm happy I don't have to answer the question.
And I can well understand the West's denial, for so many years during the last decades of the twentieth century, of the nature and seriousness of the enemy we face--after all, in my own small way, I was part of that denial. Some are still in denial, and this is also understandable: who among us can face the sort of destructive prospect Dr. Sultan is suggesting be unleashed? Can there not be a Wilsonian solution instead? Please? Oh, pretty please?
Because the alternative seems very grim, indeed.
I'll close with more words from Winston Churchill on a similar matter:
If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a small chance of survival. There may even be a worse case: you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.
[NOTE: You might want to take a look at this post by Vodkapundit Stephen Green, which discusses the same issue from another angle, that of a recent time-travel short story by Dan Simmons. Vodkapundit also discussed the issue yesterday, in this post about the meaning of the phrase "whatever it takes." He writes:
“Whatever it takes” is what we’re trying to avoid. Whatever we're doing might just be working.
I certainly hope so.]