Resisting the Islamist Threat
British diplomats are not accustomed to brooding over philosophical questions of life and death. Yet the report in August 2014 of Sir John Jenkins, U.K. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, to Prime Minister David Cameron suggests he might have been reading, or at least the opening passages of, Albert Camus’s book The Myth of Sisyphus.
In that book, Camus asserts that there is only one serious philosophical question, and that is suicide. Ambassador Jenkins had been asked by Cameron to provide a complete picture of the philosophy, activities, impact, and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood that has been operating in Britain since 1995. Jenkins is not, of course, on the path of committing Britain to any suicide mission, but his report that there is little evidence to show that the Brotherhood is a “terrorist organization” ignores the danger of Islamist extremism to Britain as well as to other countries.
Cameron, who has delayed publication of the report, is not the only individual startled by this conclusion. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates have banned the Brotherhood as a terrorist group. The court in Cairo has sentenced 529 members of them to death so far in 2014 and has imprisoned many others. The crown prince, Zayed al-Nahyan, of the Abu Dhabi royal family, even informed the British Foreign Office of the danger he felt in London from members of the Brotherhood.
It is difficult to reconcile the Jenkins report with the behavior of two organizations, ISIS and Hamas, associated with the Brotherhood, as well as with the actions, which include the murder of tourists on a bus in the Sinai Peninsula, of the Brotherhood itself. Along with the Muslim Brotherhood, both of these are Islamic extremist groups, violent in their ruthless pursuit of objectives – ISIS to create a caliphate empire, and Hamas to eliminate the State of Israel.
The brutality of ISIS, now transformed into an Islamic state with a caliph, is apparent after its conquest of about a third of Syria, including the oil-rich eastern part, and much of north and central Iraq. Its ruthlessness and brutality are well-documented. That ruthlessness includes making decapitation an art form, executing dozens of Iraqi security forces, and cutting heads of Syrians. It has imposed sharia law, banned music, separated boys and girls in school, and forced women to wear the niqab, or full veil.
The U.S. has finally acted as a result of the ISIS capture in August 2014 of Sinjar Province after the Kurdish forces, the armed Peshmerga fighters (those who face death), withdrew from the area. About 50,000 of the Yazidi, the Kurdish-speaking ethnic-religious group numbering about 700,000, and living in the Nineveh province, once part of ancient Assyria, were forced into the barren mountainous range, which by legend is the final resting place of Noah’s Ark.
The U.S. delivered an airlift of food and water for humanitarian reasons, and air strikes to prevent ISIS from advancing into Kurdistan. The U.S. action has also lent help to, if not made a tacit alliance with, the PKK, Kurdistan Worker’s Party, a group formerly regarded as terrorists but now valuable against the jihadist threat. Though the Obama administration has not proposed this, the present conflict provides the opportunity for the existing semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, set up in 2005, to be transformed into a Kurdish state, long overdue since promised by Britain and France in 1920.
If the Western democracies appeared for too long to be unaware of the scale of the danger of Islamist ISIS, many, especially those in the mainstream media and the churches, seem equally oblivious to the real nature and danger of Hamas. They have not accepted that the real contemporary struggle is between an extreme and regressive Islamist group, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and interested in the killing of Jews and the creation of a caliphate state, and the existence and survival of democratic Israel.
One can discount the raucous demonstrations by Palestinians and supporters in the United States and in Europe. Those demonstrations, orchestrated by Islamists shouting “Allah akbar,” are totally negative, full of hatred and anger, shaking of fists, calling for another, a third, intifada, and often obsessed with anti-Semitic remarks to kill Jews. Even the main cry, “free Gaza,” in the demonstrations is inaccurate. It should really be “free Gaza from Hamas” which occupies and controls the Gaza Strip, though the demonstrators are ignorant of this.
Two other things are important: the fear in the Western world as a result of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic violence, and the behavior of the mainstream media, of which in the U.S. the New York Times is the most important.
There is now little doubt that much of the hostility against Israel has been transformed into prejudicial anti-Semitism. The level of violence and the number of attacks on individual Jews and Jewish institutions, synagogues, school, stores, Holocaust memorials, and cultural events has made those institutions resemble armed fortresses. A crowd mentality of hatred has made decent individuals afraid to speak out.
A recent example in August 2014 of this fear is the decision of the well-known Sainsbury’s store in London to take its kosher foods (Jewish, not Israeli) off the shelves and hide them for fear of anti-Israeli protestors. This is not an anti-Semitic action, but it is a cowardly one – a refusal to challenge bigots.
What is equally troubling is the impact of the biased media reporting on Gaza on many well-meaning people, who are genuinely concerned with instances of injustice and confused about the moral difference between actions of Hamas and Israel. The Foreign Press Association, not normally friendly to Israel, has protested the blatant incessant, forceful, and unorthodox methods employed by Hamas authorities against international journalists in Gaza. Foreign correspondents have been harassed, threatened, or questioned over stories and information they have reported.
One therefore cannot trust the information from Gaza, or the unreliable list of Palestinian casualties, or the biased accounts of UNRWA officials. From the avalanche of negative reporting on Israel, one can only conclude that there is a media, as well as a military, war going on. One perceives the constant repetition of the number of Palestinian civilians, especially children, killed as a result of Israeli strikes against Hamas rocket launchers. Never shown, except by a few courageous reporters after they have left the Gaza Strip, are the videos of rockets being launched from civilian areas. Rarely reported are the accounts of the children being used as human shields and as workers in the underground tunnels, in which 160 children, between 12 and 13, died.
In forming opinions on political subjects, perception may be more important than facts. People may focus on something they perceive as injustice. It was Arthur Brisbane, the editor associated with the Hearst Empire, who said in 1911, “Use a picture; it’s worth a thousand words.”
Most influential in the media war has been the publication of photos of Palestinian problems on the front page of major papers. In this the New York Times has been the main culprit. It is ironic that Brisbane’s grandson was public editor of the New York Times for three years, 2010-2013. The newspaper outdid itself in its issue of Monday, August 18. On page 1, a photo portrays the remains of an apartment in the neighborhood of Al Shaas, with the accompanying script: “An estimated 11,000 homes were destroyed in Gaza.” No context is given, and whether the home was the site of a rocket launcher or used by terrorists is not explained.
On page 8 of the NYT there are three more photos of displaced families on the grounds of Al Shifa Hospital. What is strikingly ignored is that videos show that the site of this hospital was used to launch missiles.
Western public opinion, the media, and the academic world should recognize the existing struggle between an Islamist threat that would end the tolerance and civil liberties in the societies its forces might control, and democratic countries, with all their faults and problems, trying to resist that threat. The choice should not be difficult, even for the New York Times. It certainly should not be suicide.