Monday, September 18, 2006

Sam Harris Blasts Head-in-the-Sand Liberals,0,1897169.story?coll=la-opinion-rightrail

Head-in-the-Sand Liberals
Western civilization really is at risk from Muslim extremists.
By Sam Harris
SAM HARRIS is the author of "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason." His next book, "Letter to a Christian Nation," will be published this week by Knopf.

September 18, 2006

TWO YEARS AGO I published a book highly critical of religion, "The End of Faith." In it, I argued that the world's major religions are genuinely incompatible, inevitably cause conflict and now prevent the emergence of a viable, global civilization. In response, I have received many thousands of letters and e-mails from priests, journalists, scientists, politicians, soldiers, rabbis, actors, aid workers, students — from people young and old who occupy every point on the spectrum of belief and nonbelief.

This has offered me a special opportunity to see how people of all creeds and political persuasions react when religion is criticized. I am here to report that liberals and conservatives respond very differently to the notion that religion can be a direct cause of human conflict.

This difference does not bode well for the future of liberalism.

Perhaps I should establish my liberal bone fides at the outset. I'd like to see taxes raised on the wealthy, drugs decriminalized and homosexuals free to marry. I also think that the Bush administration deserves most of the criticism it has received in the last six years — especially with respect to its waging of the war in Iraq, its scuttling of science and its fiscal irresponsibility.

But my correspondence with liberals has convinced me that liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world — specifically with what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith.

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that "liberals are soft on terrorism." It is, and they are.

A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world — for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. The truth is that we are not fighting a "war on terror." We are fighting a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise.

This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims. But we are absolutely at war with those who believe that death in defense of the faith is the highest possible good, that cartoonists should be killed for caricaturing the prophet and that any Muslim who loses his faith should be butchered for apostasy.

Unfortunately, such religious extremism is not as fringe a phenomenon as we might hope. Numerous studies have found that the most radicalized Muslims tend to have better-than-average educations and economic opportunities.

Given the degree to which religious ideas are still sheltered from criticism in every society, it is actually possible for a person to have the economic and intellectual resources to build a nuclear bomb — and to believe that he will get 72 virgins in paradise. And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, liberals continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from economic despair, lack of education and American militarism.

At its most extreme, liberal denial has found expression in a growing subculture of conspiracy theorists who believe that the atrocities of 9/11 were orchestrated by our own government. A nationwide poll conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University found that more than a third of Americans suspect that the federal government "assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East;" 16% believe that the twin towers collapsed not because fully-fueled passenger jets smashed into them but because agents of the Bush administration had secretly rigged them to explode.

Such an astonishing eruption of masochistic unreason could well mark the decline of liberalism, if not the decline of Western civilization. There are books, films and conferences organized around this phantasmagoria, and they offer an unusually clear view of the debilitating dogma that lurks at the heart of liberalism: Western power is utterly malevolent, while the powerless people of the Earth can be counted on to embrace reason and tolerance, if only given sufficient economic opportunities.

I don't know how many more engineers and architects need to blow themselves up, fly planes into buildings or saw the heads off of journalists before this fantasy will dissipate. The truth is that there is every reason to believe that a terrifying number of the world's Muslims now view all political and moral questions in terms of their affiliation with Islam. This leads them to rally to the cause of other Muslims no matter how sociopathic their behavior. This benighted religious solidarity may be the greatest problem facing civilization and yet it is regularly misconstrued, ignored or obfuscated by liberals.

Given the mendacity and shocking incompetence of the Bush administration — especially its mishandling of the war in Iraq — liberals can find much to lament in the conservative approach to fighting the war on terror. Unfortunately, liberals hate the current administration with such fury that they regularly fail to acknowledge just how dangerous and depraved our enemies in the Muslim world are.

Recent condemnations of the Bush administration's use of the phrase "Islamic fascism" are a case in point. There is no question that the phrase is imprecise — Islamists are not technically fascists, and the term ignores a variety of schisms that exist even among Islamists — but it is by no means an example of wartime propaganda, as has been repeatedly alleged by liberals.

In their analyses of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy, liberals can be relied on to overlook the most basic moral distinctions. For instance, they ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder noncombatants, while we and the Israelis (as a rule) seek to avoid doing so. Muslims routinely use human shields, and this accounts for much of the collateral damage we and the Israelis cause; the political discourse throughout much of the Muslim world, especially with respect to Jews, is explicitly and unabashedly genocidal.

Given these distinctions, there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground in their conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah. And yet liberals in the United States and Europe often speak as though the truth were otherwise.

We are entering an age of unchecked nuclear proliferation and, it seems likely, nuclear terrorism. There is, therefore, no future in which aspiring martyrs will make good neighbors for us. Unless liberals realize that there are tens of millions of people in the Muslim world who are far scarier than Dick Cheney, they will be unable to protect civilization from its genuine enemies.

Increasingly, Americans will come to believe that the only people hard-headed enough to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world are the religious lunatics of the West. Indeed, it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right, whose infatuation with biblical prophecy is nearly as troubling as the ideology of our enemies. Religious dogmatism is now playing both sides of the board in a very dangerous game.

While liberals should be the ones pointing the way beyond this Iron Age madness, they are rendering themselves increasingly irrelevant. Being generally reasonable and tolerant of diversity, liberals should be especially sensitive to the dangers of religious literalism. But they aren't.

The same failure of liberalism is evident in Western Europe, where the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.

To say that this does not bode well for liberalism is an understatement: It does not bode well for the future of civilization.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Amazing how subsequent events have colored their view of history...

OTTAWA -- Half of Canadians blame American foreign policy for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, showing a hardening of opinions since the one-year anniversary of the disaster, when people in this country were less inclined to attribute the bombings to U.S. meddling in certain parts of the world.

A poll conducted for Canwest News Service indicates that 53 per cent of Canadians believe the attacks were "a very specific violent reaction to foreign policies of the U.S. government."

Only 36 per cent reported that the terrorist bombings signalled an attack against "all western-style, affluent democracies because they hate their ideas and values, symbolized most by the United States."

The telephone survey of 887 adults, conducted by the polling firm Ipsos-Reid on Sept. 6 and 7, is considered accurate within 3.5 percentage points, 19 times in 20.

The results show that Canadians are more firm in their blame since the first anniversary of Sept. 11, in 2002, when only 15 per cent said that U.S. foreign policy was responsible for the attacks and another 69 per cent suspected it was somewhat responsible, said John Wright, Ipsos-Reid's senior vice-president.

"People have defined their views. They've looked at not just 9/11, but what's happened since then. They're looking at Iraq. And they're saying the foreign policy of the United States has become -- or is, or was -- the root cause of this issue," Wright said.

Young Canadians under 35 were most likely to blame U.S. foreign policy (58 per cent).

The five-year anniversary poll indicates that a significant number of Canadians continue to be affected by the attacks.

More than one in four people -- 28 per cent -- reported that in comparison to everything else that has taken place in their lives, the attacks were "life-altering" and they've "never been the same since."

One in four are afraid to fly outside Canada because of fears of terrorism. One in three say they are "personally more suspicious of people who are from the Middle East or Southeast Asia."

Almost one in five people -- 17 per cent -- said they can't watch television or movie recounts of the event because "the recall has a traumatizing effect on me."

Despite the lasting effect on many, the survey also reveals that 77 per cent of Canadians have moved on since the attacks, reporting that while they were affected at the time, their "outlook and activities are now almost exactly the way they were before the attacks took place."

In a bizarre finding, the polling firm reported that 22 per cent of Canadians believe in a conspiracy theory in which the terrorist attacks were orchestrated by a "group of highly influential Americans and others" rather than by supporters of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist network.

The theory that the U.S. pulled off an inside job to ultimately justify going to war for Iraqi oil persists in Canada and in the United States, fuelled by a few books and a compelling Internet documentary called Loose Change, created by two young Americans, which has been viewed by millions and is particularly popular on university campuses and in Internet chat rooms. One of its assertions is that the Pentagon was hit by a cruise missile fired by the military as an excuse to go to war.

"It does have resonance," said Wright. "I call them neighbourhood rumours. There are a good number of people who believe it could have been perpetrated by people in the United States."

The poll shows young adults aged 18 to 34 are most likely to believe in the conspiracy theory (26 per cent).

Another key finding was that only 18 per cent of those polled believe that the Canadian government and police have gone too far in fighting terrorism at the expense of civil liberties. Another 43 per cent believe that a proper balance has been struck, while 33 per cent believe police and government should give themselves more powers.

All questions in the poll, with the exception of the one dealing with U.S. blame, were asked of 1,000 adults on Aug. 29 to 31. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2006

Webb Storms for Senate in Va

If this guy doesn't win, just throw in the towel ...

Fight to the Finish
Bring It On: Can the Dems exploit public worry about the war and retake Capitol Hill? A case study in Virginia.

By Jonathan Darman and Evan Thomas
Sept. 18, 2006 issue - Candidates for the November elections usually campaign flat-out in the week after Labor Day. Jim Webb, Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate from Virginia, took off to hang out with a bunch of 20-year-olds on a Marine base in North Carolina, to drink beer, make small talk and wait. He was not on holiday: one of the young men was Webb's son, Jimmy, 24, a lance corporal in the Marines who was about to ship out to Iraq. "I had to clear my schedule and clear my head," says Webb. "I just wanted to be with my son."

Webb is not a normal politician. He is a warrior, with the medals (a Navy Cross, a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars) and the wounds (shrapnel in his head, back, left arm, kidney and left leg) to show for it. He comes from a family that has fought in America's wars back to the Revolution. An ancestor rode with Nathan Bedford Forrest in the Civil War; Webb's father was an Air Force pilot in World War II. Webb has been preparing his own son for war since childhood. The two have walked battlefields from Antietam to Shiloh to Verdun to Webb's own "fields of fire" in Vietnam. Webb hates the Iraq war and is now running against it, but he taught his son the family code: soldiers do their duty, regardless of whether the politicians who lead them into wars are right or wrong. Jimmy understands, says Webb, "because he's part of a continuum. My family has always done this."

Webb's decision to become a politician could be an answered prayer for the Democratic Party. Ever since Vietnam, Democrats have been bedeviled by charges that they are "soft" on national security. GOP operatives now jeer at the Democrats as "Defeatocrats." And last week, as President George W. Bush delivered a flurry of speeches staking out security as the centerpiece of the fall campaign, the Republican National Committee launched a Web site called America Weakly, aimed at undermining voters' confidence in the opposition party. But with polls showing some of the highest levels of antiwar sentiment since Vietnam—with roughly three out of five Americans saying that they disapprove of President Bush's handling of the Iraq war—the Democrats have a chance to recapture Congress, if only they can overcome the perception that they are somehow weak. The war may dominate the 2008 election as well: voters overwhelmingly cite Iraq over the economy as the No. 1 priority for the next president.

John Kerry was a genuine war hero, but in 2004 he was pilloried for growing his hair long and attending peace rallies with the likes of Jane Fonda. No one is going to "Swift Boat" Jim Webb. During Vietnam, he scorned antiwar protesters with the same contempt he shows today for so-called chicken hawks, the neocons who never served in the military but were all for invading Iraq. Webb refuses to speak of sending "forces" into combat. To Webb, they are soldiers who have lives and families to live for. Webb's opponent, incumbent GOP Sen. George Allen Jr., plays the good-ole-boy superpatriot. With his cowboy boots and swagger, he is a reasonable facsimile of George W. Bush. But next to a hardened combat veteran like Webb, he can seem like a tough-guy wanna-be.

Webb's electoral chances went from long shot to medium shot a month ago after his opponent blundered by referring to one of Webb's supporters, an Indian-American college student, as a "macaca," a racially offensive term that refers to a genus of monkey. But Webb must contend with some serious liabilities. As with most other Democratic candidates, he has yet to find a way to express his opposition to the Iraq war that does not sound as if he is either (a) advocating a policy of "cut and run," or (b) complaining and criticizing but offering no clear way out. Stiffly refusing to pander on the stump, Webb tends to ramble on, describing nuances and complexities. "He's never run for office before, and you can tell," says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "He doesn't know how to give a speech. He seems incapable of comparison campaigning, much less negative campaigning." Way behind Allen in fund-raising, Webb lacks Allen's common touch. Walking around a street fair in Salem, Va., last Saturday, Webb had to be formally introduced to each voter.

In his brooding intensity, he can seem haunted. In Vietnam, 56 members of the platoon Webb commanded were killed or wounded. Webb threw himself in front of a grenade to save one soldier (his badly infected wound finally forced him to resign from the Marines). Webb seethed when he returned to civilian life, and never forgot those veterans who had turned against the war. In 1984, Webb was working with a group involved in building the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Webb met with sculptor Frederick Hart, who had been an antiwar protester. As Hart walked into what was supposed to be a friendly session, Webb sneered, "Welcome to the other side of the picket line, motherf---er." (Webb says he was joking with Hart, a close friend, about a conflict over the design of the memorial.) Webb has mellowed, sort of. He won't overtly criticize men, like Allen, who didn't serve in Vietnam. (Allen had a student deferment.)

But it was Allen's obtuseness about the Iraq war that drew Webb into politics. Webb was an early opponent of invading Iraq. He had opposed the 1991 gulf war because, he said at the time, he was worried that American troops could get bogged down in a long occupation if they pushed on to Baghdad. In a speech at a Naval Institute conference in 2002, he warned that invading Iraq would be a "strategic blunder," a distraction from the war on terror and a potential quagmire for U.S. soldiers. At about that time, Webb met with Allen to press his senator to oppose an invasion. According to Webb, Allen responded, "I feel like you're asking me to be disloyal to my president." (Allen's office confirmed the meeting but declined to comment on a private conversation.)

Webb began thinking about opposing Allen's 2006 re-election bid. At the time, he was writing a book about the warrior tradition of his kinsmen, the Scots-Irish who settled Appalachia and have been disproportionately represented in America's bloodiest battles. Their hero was Andrew Jackson, and Webb regarded Old Hickory as a soldier-statesman role model.

Webb had been a Democrat until, as he puts it, "Jimmy Carter made me a Republican" by appearing weak on foreign policy. Webb went back into government service in the Reagan administration, first as an assistant secretary of Defense for reserve affairs, then as secretary of the Navy. Among his causes was stripping away combat decorations from veterans who had not demonstrably earned them. He quit the Pentagon after two years rather than going along with a diminution in the size of the 600-ship Navy.

Webb was already a cult figure at his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy. He charged that academy officials were promoting academics over physical toughness and wrote a defiant Washingtonian magazine article, "Women Can't Fight," after the Academy went coed in the late 1970s. Friends say Webb can seem a little defensive when he launches into a long explanation of why he lost the Academy boxing championship to a fellow midshipman, a mauler named Oliver North, back in 1967.

Webb is something of a literary figure as well as a Hollywood screenwriter. His Vietnam roman ? clef, "Fields of Fire," was widely praised; among his books is a brilliant historical novel, "The Emperor's General," about Gen. Douglas MacArthur's running of postwar Japan. Now Allen is trying to portray Webb as a dilettante. "Are we going to choose someone who's spent the last 20 years in service to the state of Virginia as governor and senator? Or do we choose someone whose priority has been writing novels and hanging around Hollywood?" Allen asks.

The GOP's overall strategy to preserve its majorities in the House and Senate is to morph all Democratic candidates into the mold of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But the Democrats have had unusual success at fielding candidates like Webb who hardly fit the "San Francisco Democrat" template. Tammy Duckworth, a female helicopter pilot who lost both legs in combat in Iraq in 2004, is running a close race to win an open House seat long held by the GOP in Illinois, and Vice Adm. Joe Sestak, who oversaw combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, has a shot at unseating veteran Republican Rep. Curt Weldon in Pennsylvania. GOP candidates like Weldon are showing signs of nervousness. The No. 2 member of the House Armed Services Committee, Weldon is introducing a resolution to give ground commanders more say in deciding troop levels in Iraq. "I'm not trying to undermine the president," protests Weldon. "I am just asking for a clear plan."

A clear plan is not what voters will hear from Jim Webb, however. Webb takes his cue from another soldier-politician, Dwight Eisenhower, whose approach to the Korean stalemate in 1952 was to argue, somewhat vaguely, that America's foreign policy was in shambles and that voters needed a different set of eyes on the problem. Webb avoids any timetables for getting out of Iraq, preferring to rely on "American ingenuity."

Webb does not strongly stir voters. Last Friday night, at a rally of some 200 people in western Virginia, the ex-Marine did take a shot at Allen. He explained that he had driven that day 300 miles from Camp Lejeune, N.C. "I was thinking that if I was George Allen, I'd have been in a helicopter. But then if I was George Allen I'd have $20 to $30 million and I'd be bought and paid for." Biting words, but Webb spoke in a harsh monotone, like a drill sergeant. He seemed weary. He had arisen at 3 a.m. to see off his son, Jimmy, whose Marine battalion left for Iraq that morning at 5.

With Andrew Romano, Lee Hudson Teslik, Holly Bailey and Richard Wolffe



© 2006