The idea of separating religion from state was a major advance in political thought, yet massively undervalued. So much so that many in the West take it for granted. Two recent articles — one about Pakistan, another about France — underscore how that idea deserves greater appreciation and strengthening.
Did you catch those breaking news reports, right after the San Bernardino shooting, suggesting that the attack was work-place violence? You might chalk that up to off the cuff speculation. Yet there was a kind of desperation behind the insistence on finding some generic, non-ideological motive. Yet it turned out to be what many expected from the outset, a jihadist attack; one of the murderers had pledged allegiance to ISIS.
Why has Ashraf Fayadh, a poet and artist, been sentenced to death? A court of law found him “guilty on five charges that included spreading atheism, threatening the morals of . . . society and having illicit relations with women”: he has been branded an apostate, for which the penalty is death. Where did this happen?
From the Wall Street Journal, on the butchers who carried out last week’s attack in San Bernardino: “Agents are pursuing ‘the very real possibility’ that Ms. Malik was the catalyst for the violence, said one official. So far her husband ‘seems like someone who was searching for answers,’ the official said. . . An initial review of the couple’s online activity indicates one or both explored propaganda from al Qaeda and the Nusra Front, a terror group fighting in Syria, officials said.”
Sam Harris is one of the few intellectuals today willing to speak frankly about the Islamic totalitarian movement. I agree broadly with his account of how the movement is fundamentally animated by religious ideas (rather than primarily political or economic grievances). Moreover, Harris has been courageous and articulate in fighting the smear of “Islamophobia,” a dishonest term intended to silence debate and marginalize dissenting views.
The slaughter of Parisians on November 13 was an act of war. The coordinated attacks, for which Islamic State has claimed responsibility, refute the notion that ISIS had been “contained” — the term Barack Obama used in a TV interview, just a few hours before the bombings and shootings began. Hardly the first time our president has understated the problem. Moreover, by carrying out attacks in the heart of Europe, far from its quasi-state in the Middle East, ISIS has upended the premise that it is mainly a regional menace. But the failure to understand the group runs deeper than just its military-operational capability.
Two peoples. One piece of land. No wonder there’s a conflict, right? But what if this common perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is wrong? What if this view of the conflict obscures more than it explains? What if it distorts our understanding, rather than helps unravel the conflict?
What do Palestinians think of Israel? What do they believe about the legitimacy and efficacy of violent attacks? Daniel Polisar, a political scientist, examined more than 330 opinion surveys, carried out by reputable polling organizations, to find answers. What he pieced together is profoundly unsettling. More so than you might have supposed.
When you look around the globe, the Islamist movement is far from defeated. On the contrary. The movement is strong materially, in its ability to inflict harm, to control territory, to subjugate people. And, what’s more significant: it is strong in its morale, exhibiting an astounding confidence.
To many Americans, the spate of random stabbings and car-ramming attacks in Israel, often carried out by young Palestinians, seems unfathomable. One significant reason such attacks are hard to understand is that a lot of Americans assume that basically everyone everywhere wants the same things: a good life for themselves, a bright future for their children. But that life-affirming orientation is far from universal. Yet that assumption has shaped the common view of the Palestinian cause. The result: it subverts our ability to understand what animates that cause.