Why Trump Should Disrupt the Scandalous US-Saudi Relationship

by Elan Journo | May 21, 2017 | The Hill

On Donald Trump’s first foreign trip, he is visiting one of our putative allies in the Middle East: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For the president, who has been called the great “disruptor” of American politics, the trip is an opening to begin undoing the deplorable U.S.-Saudi relationship.

For years, the U.S. has embraced Saudi Arabia as an ally and sold it billions of dollars’ worth of military weapons. But at the deepest level, Saudi Arabia is hostile to our ideal of individual rights. While the regime is seen as standing with us against Islamic State, or ISIS, Saudi Arabia embodies and exports its own brand of Islamic totalitarianism.

The Saudi regime stands out for its exacting imposition of Islamic law, or sharia. What you think, what you say, and what you do must reflect obedience to religious authority — not your own judgment. During the month of Ramadan, for example, when Muslims fast during daylight hours, it’s forbidden in Saudi Arabia to eat, drink or smoke in public; beware, for here, as in territory controlled by Islamic State, the (literal) “morality police” might catch you. Censorship is pervasive. There are thoughts and ideas and beliefs you are forbidden to hold, forbidden to live by.

Merely bringing up the idea of peeling Islam away from state power is incendiary. Ask Raif Badawi, a blogger and activist. “Secularism respects everyone and does not offend anyone,” he wrote, noting that it “is the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world.” Badawi hoped to spur discussion of secularism, gender equality, and what he called liberalism in society (“For me, liberalism simply means, live and let live,” he wrote). But in the Saudi monarchy, as in the Islamic State, these views are unthinkable.

Badawi narrowly avoided the charge of “apostasy” — abandonment of the religion of Islam — which carries the death penalty. Instead, he was convicted of “insulting Islam through electronic channels.” The sentence: ten years in jail, a fine of more than $250,000, and — in characteristically medieval fashion — 1,000 lashes.

Saudi Arabia subjugates all of its people, but a special living hell is reserved for women. The regime utterly infantilizes them. Infamously, they are forbidden from driving a car, and they may not leave home, nor travel abroad, nor obtain a passport, nor file legal claims without the permission of a male chaperon, known as a “guardian.” The guardian is usually a relative — a husband, father, brother, even a son. What kind of a life is that?

“I got into an accident once in a taxi,” reports one Saudi woman, “and the ambulance refused to take me to the hospital until my male guardian arrived. I had lost a lot of blood. If he didn’t arrive that minute, I would’ve been dead by now.”

One 30-year-old doctor says: “I’ve had to give up on a number of educational opportunities because he (my guardian) didn’t think a doctor needed a cultural exchange program or a symposium he didn’t understand. I’ve been trying to have him let me marry the man I love for the past two years. … I’m in charge of people’s lives every day, but I can’t have my own life the way I want.” (The Saudi king has reportedly decided to adjust the guardianship system, only slightly loosening the chains that still bind Saudi women.)

Outside the home, patrols of the Saudi “morality police” have kept women in line, prowling sidewalks, parks, and shopping malls. These enforcers intimidate, fine, and beat women who improperly don their legally mandated veils.

The Saudi regime’s domination of women; the public executions of apostates; the floggings for blasphemers; the patrols of the morality police; the prohibition on buying or consuming alcohol; the subjugation of the individual under sharia law — all of that calls to mind the horror of daily life in Raqqa, a stronghold of Islamic State.

The comparison speaks to their essential similarity. Both regimes impose Islamic religious law as a total system. True, the two differ in some particulars: one is a monarchy, the other a self-styled “caliphate.” While both carry out horrific public executions, only one turns them into gruesome propaganda videos online. Saudi Arabia throws gay men in prison; the Islamic State throws them off rooftops. The Saudis spend millions on religious schools and books proselytizing its strain of Islamic totalitarianism worldwide; Islamic State spends a lot of time leveraging social media. Saudis fund the Taliban in Afghanistan; the Islamic state competes with the Taliban for control over turf. But what overwhelms these contrasts is a profound commonality: both are hostile to our ideals of reason, individualism, freedom.

For their own reasons, the Saudis hope for the defeat of Islamic State, and they oppose to the Middle East’s other Islamic totalitarian regime, Iran. But it’s perverse to ignore — and effectively whitewash — the Saudi regime’s own malignant character, though that has been U.S. policy for years. After the attacks of 9/11 (in which 15 of the hijackers were Saudis), President George W. Bush embraced the Saudi regime, even hosting a member of the ruling family at his Texas ranch. President Obama, who bowed to the Saudi king, continued to afford the regime its undeserved standing as our ally.

America’s policy toward Saudi Arabia betrays our values and enables a vicious regime. If President Trump cares about our founding ideal of individual rights, here’s a chance for him to deliver by breaking up the perverse U.S.-Saudi relationship.

About The Author

Elan Journo

Senior Fellow and Vice President of Content Products, Ayn Rand Institute

Trump Should Break the American Tradition of Ignoring Egypt’s Abuse of Its People

by Elan Journo | April 03, 2017 | The Hill

Next week, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will visit Washington to renew the longstanding U.S.-Egyptian alliance. For years, Egypt has been viewed by Democrats and Republicans as a stalwart ally and rewarded with billions of dollars in aid. But President Trump should seize this opportunity to put the relationship on an honest footing.

The Cairo regime is notorious for flouting individual rights, freedom of speech, and rule of law. If Trump takes those political ideals seriously, he should call out, rather than turn a blind eye to, Egypt’s persistent authoritarianism.

For a profoundly revealing illustration of Egypt’s political character, consider the fate of the former president, Hosni Mubarak.

Here’s the man who, until ousted during the Arab Spring, ruled Egypt for decades as a quintessential police state. During his tenure, an “Emergency Law” suspended the constitution (such as it was) and empowered the military-backed regime to do whatever it pleased. Arbitrary arrests were common. The state could decide that your crime required a secret military trial. While under detention, good luck withstanding the routine practice of torture. The secret police hounded political opponents, threatened their families, intimidated them. The state censored the media. Far from being independent, the courts did the regime’s bidding. No objective accounting and evaluation of Mubarak’s rule could end up with him being set free.

But under the Sisi regime, dense with Mubarak loyalists, there’s no rule of law. Which goes some way toward explaining why he has received little more than a slap on the wrist. Although convicted for involvement in the death of protesters in the Arab Spring and sentenced in 2012 to life in prison, Mubarak appealed, and eventually he was exonerated. He managed to dodge various corruption charges, too. These crimes, although serious, are a drop in the ocean. To hold only these crimes against him is to trivialize the enormity of his dictatorial reign. In the end, for one charge that stuck (embezzlement) Mubarak was ordered to pay back some money and given three years in jail, but let go with time served. He will now enjoy the privileges of a retired head of state.

By contrast, if you’re deemed (or actually are) a political opponent of the regime, forget about a fair hearing. One court, for example, handed down a death sentence —not simply to a single defendant found guilty of a crime based on the evidence presented in court, but summarily and en masse to 683 people. Did any of these individuals actually commit a crime? The court, evidently, cared nothing for facts or truth; what matters is hewing to the regime’s agenda.

Egypt has a long tradition of censorship, both overtly through a government organ and through intimidation. The Sisi regime has continued that practice, with vigor. Authorities have hounded and intimidated journalists. In one case, they summarily deported a British-Lebanese journalist, who hosted a TV show called “The Full Picture,” for being critical of the government’s policies: apparently, as one official put it, she had “crossed red lines.”

The Sisi regime presents itself as a bulwark against the Islamists, which it has avidly purged. Yet it has targeted minority groups — notably Shiite Muslims, Coptic Christians, and atheists – for contempt of Islam. Prosecutions for “insulting” Islam continue apace. The police have targeted the gay community, arresting hundreds in what the New York Times described as a methodical “campaign of online surveillance and entrapment.”

Egypt’s current regime, like its predecessor, negates the political ideals of individual rights, freedom of speech, rule of law — pillars of a rational society. Why then has Washington embraced it while looking the other way?

One common rationale is that we need Egypt’s help in the region, and at least its authoritarian leaders — Mubarak then, Sisi now — will deal with us, unlike the Islamists. But if it’s true that an alliance with Egypt is essential, we’d have to be honest about the regime’s authoritarian character. To view the regime as a lesser evil cannot mean brushing aside its evil.

Rather, it entails stating our moral evaluation and speaking up frankly about the regime’s violation of rights. It means more than Washington’s perfunctory bureaucratic nagging. We’d have make clear that we abhor every kind of tyranny, whether Islamist or military-led, and that we welcome a regime truly committed to freedom. Toward that end, there’s a lot we can do diplomatically and financially to press the regime to take steps toward protecting free speech and rule of law, while publicly shaming it for flouting those principles. At the same time, we should encourage those in Egypt who really want a secular government that protects freedom, a government enabling them to control and set the direction of their own lives.

It is precisely such Egyptians, however few now remain, that U.S. policy sells out and demoralizes by failing to call out the authoritarianism they live under.

When Trump sits down with Sisi, he faces a test. Will he uphold genuine American ideals — individualism, freedom of speech, rule of law – or cast them aside in seeking a morally bankrupt alliance with a dictatorial leader? It bodes ill that on the campaign trail last year Trump hailed Sisi as a “fantastic guy” and praised his leadership of Egypt.

Against this backdrop, the need to advocate for the ideals of a free society is all the more urgent.

About The Author

Elan Journo

Senior Fellow and Vice President of Content Products, Ayn Rand Institute

Why Our Campuses Are Boiling over in Left-Wing Rage Instead of Discourse

by Steve Simpson | March 13, 2017 | The Hill

For the second time in just over a month violence has broken out on a college campus in response to a controversial speaker.

The first happened at U.C. Berkley when riots caused the cancellation of a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos. The second happened about a week ago, when libertarian social scientist Charles Murray was attacked after speaking at Middlebury College in Vermont.

These are not random occurrences. Violence has been bubbling just below the surface in campus controversies for some time now. 

Many students have come to believe that offensive speech is a kind of “threat” and that force is an appropriate response. They believe this because they’ve been taught ideas that logically lead to these conclusions. If we want to understand what is going on and to combat it, we would do well to understand those ideas.

To see them in action, let’s start with what students themselves have said. After the incident at Middlebury, a group of students wrote their own account of it on a campus blog. 

The facts they recite are similar to those in other accounts (see Murray’s account here and The Boston Globe’s here): Murray’s talk was initially disrupted by protesters who drowned him out with their chanting.

When he and Professor Allison Stanger, who was to comment on his talk, moved to a room where their discussion could be livestreamed, protesters banged on the walls and pulled fire alarms. After the talk, they were met by a throng of protesters who blocked their exit from the building.

As security pushed through the crowd, Professor Stanger’s head was yanked back, injuring her neck. Once the speakers were inside the car, protesters jumped on the hood and rocked the car back and forth; at one point, someone threw a large sign in front of the car. Eventually, they were able to leave the parking lot and go to dinner.

What is interesting is the students’ interpretation of these events.

“[I]t is essential to note,” the students claim, “that protesters did not escalate violence and had no plan of violent physical confrontation.” (Emphasis mine). They then state: “In a shutdown of the lecture, hundreds of Middlebury students stood and turned their backs on Murray . . . reciting speeches and chanting in a peaceful and organized expression of their dissent.”

It’s true that the initial protest of Murray’s talk was not, strictly speaking, “violent.” But that doesn’t make it “peaceful” nor was it a mere “expression of dissent.” It was a physical disruption of an event on school property. 

Murray was invited to give the talk by an approved student group. College officials warned protesters that they were not permitted to disrupt the event and that doing so could mean expulsion from the talk and suspension from school. Claiming that protesters did not “escalate violence” and had no plan of “violent physical confrontation” is a dodge.

Clearly, they planned to disrupt the event and that is exactly what they did. This wasn’t an example of free speech in action, but an act of force designed to prevent others — the school, the student group who invited Murray, and Murray himself — from exercising their rights.

That student protesters block speakers on campus frequently today does not change the nature of their actions. As civil rights attorney Harvey A. Silverglate explained to The Boston Globe: “‘I draw a serious line between rioting and other non disruptive showing of disapproval’ he said. ‘One hiss and one boo is free speech. Twenty-five hisses and boos in a row is disruption and is illegal.’”

Note the moral inversion in the student’s attitude: if students physically disrupt an event by making it impossible for a speaker to be heard, that’s a “peaceful protest.” If they are removed by security or prevented from blocking speakers after an event, that is “violence.” It’s heads-I-win-tails-you-lose.

And what’s the justification for these actions, according to the students?

The administration’s support of a platform for white nationalist speech was an intense act of aggression towards the most marginalized members of the Middlebury community. . . . Furthermore, peaceful protest was met with escalating levels of violence by the administration and Public Safety, who continually asserted their support of dangerous racist over the well-being of students. (Emphasis mine.)

A group of alumni protested Murray’s appearance before the event, making essentially the same claims and calling Murray’s presence at Middlebury “a threat.”

Charles Murray is not a “white nationalist” or a “racist.” But even if he were, that would not make his talk an “intense act of aggression” or a “threat.” Indeed, the act of aggression at this event happened when Murray was prevented from speaking and later when he and Professor Stanger were attacked. Mislabeling one ends up validating the other.

Unfortunately, these students are not the only ones who hold this view. Not long after the riot at Berkeley, its school newspaper, The Daily Californian, published a series of articles under the general heading “Violence as self-defense.”

Like the statement by the Middlebury students, the articles blame police for escalating the violence, and they claim that the riot was a form of self-defense, necessary to protect students from Yiannopoulos.

One student claimed that “asking people to maintain peaceful dialogue with those who legitimately do not think their lives matter is a violent act.” 

Another argued that peaceful efforts to oppose Yiannopoulos’ presence on campus had failed, so violence was the only alternative: “Of all the objections and cancellation requests presented to the administration, local government and local police, the only one that was listened to was the sound of shattering glass.”

Yiannopoulos is obviously no Charles Murray. But his views, while provocative and often idiotic, are still just views. They can be listened to, debated, rebutted, or simply ignored. They are not acts of violence or threats. Speech, no matter how stupid or hateful, is still just speech.

But the view that speech is a form of threat is present in most free speech controversies today. To pick just two examples, when Yale professor Erika Christakis took issue with an email from the administration warning students not to wear “offensive” Halloween costumes, she and her husband were pilloried by students who accused them of “fostering violence” and creating an “unsafe” environment.

When writer Wendy Kaminer used the “N-word” during an academic panel on free speech while arguing that teachers should be willing to speak the word while discussing works such as Huckleberry Finn, she was accused of committing an act of “racial violence.”

Often students respond to speech they find offensive by forcibly preventing others from speaking. At U.C. Irvine, student protesters prevented the Israeli ambassador from speaking. 

At Brown University, protesters did the same thing to New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly. During the protests over racist graffiti at the University of Missouri in 2015, protesters demanded that their encampment on school property be treated as a “safe space” from which others could be excluded.

When student journalists tried to take pictures of the protesters, they were physically blocked and pushed away. When one student refused to stop, Professor Melissa Click was famously caught on video asking for “some muscle” to have him removed.

These are just a handful of examples of students who view speech as a form of force to be countered with force. Greg Lukianoff’s book Unlearning Liberty and Freedom From Speech contain many more.

Where do students get this idea?

Unfortunately, the answer is: from many sources. The modern thinker probably most responsible for legitimizing the use of force against the “wrong” ideas is Herbert Marcuse, widely considered the philosopher of the New Left during the 1960s.

In his essay “Repressive Tolerance,” Marcuse argued that modern Western societies are inherently oppressive. The main mechanism of this “oppression” is education and speech, which lulls the populace into accepting a social system that benefits the affluent at the expense of everyone else. The only way to overcome this injustice, in Marcuse’s view, is to allow those who oppose the status quo to speak, while silencing those who defend it.

These ideas have been adopted and repeated by many prominent thinkers over the years. In the mid- 1990s, professor Stanley Fish, then at Duke, challenged the very idea of free speech in his book, There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech and It’s a Good Thing Too.

Echoing postmodernists who attack the validity of reason and objectivity, Fish argued that free speech is a mere “political prize” that is used by those with political power to protect their speech and silence others. Following the same logic, feminists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin argue that sexist speech and pornography are means by which men oppress women.

In a book called Words That Wound, a group of law professors applied the same basic idea to minorities, arguing that racial epithets and other forms of “hate speech” are tantamount to “a slap in the face.”

As Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate show in The Shadow University, these arguments have become widespread throughout academia. (Another good source is Tenured Radicals, by Roger Kimball.)

Probably very few of the thinkers or scholars who share these views would advocate using force against people like Charles Murray or Milo Yiannopoulos. But if you take their ideas seriously, the actions of the students at Middlebury and Berkeley make sense.

If America really is an inherently oppressive society, if speech is the mechanism of this oppression or is tantamount to a threat or outright force, then fighting back—or at least advocating that government do that for you—is a logical response.

To paraphrase the student writers in The Daily Californian, talking about ideas you oppose is impractical. The only thing that really works is force.

To fight these ideas and the culture they’ve spawned on campus will require more than complaining about college “snowflakes” or political correctness. We need to defend the ideas on which free speech depends, most notably reason and individual rights.

The purpose of the right to free speech is to protect our right to think for ourselves and to communicate with others, which are two of the pillars of a modern, free society. True, people can and often do say absurd and horrible things. But it’s false to equate even hateful speech with use of force.

Force is qualitatively different from speech. No matter how harsh speech is, you are always free to ignore it and walk away. Not so with force. If you doubt this, ask Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Flemming Rose, or the many other individuals currently on jihadist hit lists whether they would prefer to live under the threat of death or the threat of hateful speech.

That’s not to say that speech can never be used in the commission of a crime. It is entirely proper to criminalize actual threats, incitement to violence, and the like. But that’s because what is being threatened is the use of force.

If those who use offensive or hateful speech cross the line into actual threats or incitement, then it is proper to prosecute them. But short of that, they must be free to speak.

Ayn Rand once said that “a gun is not an argument.” The reverse is also true: an argument is not a gun. If we forget the difference, we will end up with guns settling our disputes, rather than arguments.

About The Author

Steve Simpson

Former Director of Legal Studies (2013-2018), Ayn Rand Institute

At Free-Speech Event, UCLA Tried to Ban My Book

by Elan Journo | February 11, 2017

At UCLA Law School last week, a squad of student “thought police” tried to ban my book, Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism: From George W. Bush to Barack Obama and Beyond. They don’t want you to know the book even exists, let alone what’s inside it. And the UCLA administration enabled them. This ominous episode underlines how students are learning to be contemptuous of intellectual freedom. 

The story of what happened at UCLA is laced with ironies. On February 1, the UCLA chapter of the Federalist Society and the Ayn Rand Institute co-sponsored a panel discussion at UCLA Law School on the vital importance of freedom of speech and the threats to it. My book shows how certain philosophic ideas undercut America’s response to the jihadist movement, including notably its attacks on freedom of speech.

Naturally, the book was displayed and offered for sale at a reception prior to the event, which featured Dave Rubin, the contrarian YouTube host; Flemming Rose, the Danish editor who published the now-infamous Mohammad cartoons in 2005 and author of The Tyranny of Silence; and Steve Simpson, editor of Defending Free Speech (these two books were also displayed).

During the reception, however, a group of UCLA students assembled in front of the book table and objected to mine. Why? Had they read the book, weighed the evidence, and found it lacking? Had they formed a considered evaluation of the book’s argument? No: They felt the book was “offensive” and “insulting.” They had “issues” with the views that I and my co-author, Onkar Ghate, put forward. Our views, it seems, were “Islamophobic.” Based on what? Apparently, for some of them, it was the book’s title.

Yet another irony here is that in the book we disentangle the notion of “Islamophobia.” We show that it’s an illegitimate term, one that clouds thinking, because it mashes together at least two fundamentally different things. The term blends, on the one hand, serious analysis and critique of the ideas of Islamic totalitarianism, the cause animating the jihadists, which is vitally important (and the purpose of my book); and, on the other hand, racist and tribalist bigotry against people who espouse the religion of Islam. Obviously, racism and bigotry have no place in a civilized society.

Moreover, the book makes clear that while all jihadists are self-identified Muslims, it is blatantly false that all Muslims are jihadists. (It should go without saying, though sadly it must be said, that countless Muslims are law abiding, peaceful, productive Americans.) Ignorant of the book’s full scope and substance, the students felt it had no place on campus.

The students demanded that my book be removed from display. My colleagues who manned the display table declined to remove the book.

So the students enforced their own brand of thought control. They turned their backs to the table, forming a blockade around it, so no one could see or buy the books. Then they started aggressively leaning back on the table, pushing against the book displays. By blocking access to the book, they were essentially trying to ban it.

At this point, you might hope the UCLA administration would step in to re-assert the principle of intellectual freedom that is so crucial to education, a free society, and the advancement of human knowledge. Finally a rep from UCLA did step in–to abet the student protestors. My book was “inflammatory.” It had to go.

Thus: at a panel about freedom of speech and growing threats to it – not least from Islamists — UCLA students and school administrators tried to ban a book that highlights the importance of free speech, the persistent failure to confront Islamic totalitarianism, and that movement’s global assaults on free speech.

This shameful incident reflects a wider phenomenon on American campuses. At university, students should learn to think, to engage with different views, and thus to grow intellectually. But increasingly, students learn to put their feelings above facts. Some students demand to be protected from what they merely believe, without evidence, are uncongenial views. They demand that non-orthodox views be silenced. And such universities as UCLA willingly coddle and appease them.

The universities, observes Steve Simpson in Defending Free Speech, are a bellwether of the future of freedom of speech. If today’s students are increasingly hostile to intellectual freedom, can we really expect tomorrow’s voters, lawyers, judges, politicians to uphold free speech? To champion that principle, you have to value dialogue, knowledge, and, ultimately, the reasoning mind. Yet reason is precisely what those student agitators subordinated to their emotions.

About The Author

Elan Journo

Senior Fellow and Vice President of Content Products, Ayn Rand Institute

Charlie Hebdo Two Years Later: Will America Continue to Protect Free Speech?

by Steve Simpson | January 07, 2017 | The Hill

Saturday, January 7, marks the second anniversary of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, in which gunmen who identified with an Islamist terrorist group murdered 12 people at the offices of the magazine because it published controversial images of the Prophet Muhammad. It’s a good time to reflect on the often precarious state of free speech in the world today and to consider what the future holds for free speech here in America.

Start with the bad news. The attack on Charlie Hebdo was not the first of its kind or the last. We can trace attacks likes these back to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses. Western governments did almost nothing in response, and, predictably, attacks on those who allegedly offend Islam continued. In 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered for making the film Submission. His collaborator, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an outspoken critic of Islam, has lived under the threat of death ever since. In 2005, riots broke out across Europe and several cartoonists and others were threatened because the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published images of Muhammad. 

In his excellent book The Tyranny of Silence, Flemming Rose, the Jyllands-Posten editor who decided to publish the cartoons, chronicles the attitude of appeasement and victim-blaming following the crisis that has ensured attacks will continue. The Bush administration’s reaction to the Danish cartoons crisis typifies this attitude. With a perfunctory nod to the importance of free speech, Bush’s State Department condemned the publication of the cartoons as “offensive to the beliefs of Muslims” and suggested they should not have been published at all.

This “yes, but” attitude toward free speech — “yes, free speech is important, but we shouldn’t offend others” — manages to sound like it supports the right while gutting everything about it that matters. If offending others is taboo, then free speech isn’t a right, it’s a privilege exercised at the sufferance of whoever has the thinnest skin. As George Orwell once noted, if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

The “yes, but” attitude was on full display after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Pope Francis called the magazine “provocateurs” and suggested that it got what it deserved. A “reaction could have been expected,” he said, adding that “[y]ou cannot insult the faith of others.”

Cartoonist Garry Trudeau, author of the Doonesbury comic strip, chastised Charlie Hebdo for “punching downward” at a “powerless, disenfranchised minority,” and he blamed the magazine for violence that broke out across Europe.

When the literary organization PEN America announced it would give Charlie Hebdo an award for courage, more than 200 members of the group protested the award, expressing the same sentiments as Trudeau. After the attack on a Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, the New York Times led the charge, not against the attackers, but against Pamela Geller, the event’s organizer, whom it called an “Islamophobe” and a purveyor of “hate speech.” Many others joined the tirade. The message was clear: when killers lash out at their critics, the fault lies with the speakers who inflame them. Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto aptly dubbed this attitude the “assassin’s veto.

Unfortunately, there are many more examples of threats and attacks on speakers and appeasement of their attackers. In my own book, Defending Free Speech, I provide a concise summary of these incidents and the shameful reactions to them.

This attitude not only emboldens violent opponents of free speech, it lends moral force to the argument that offensive speech should be outlawed. After all, if speakers like the cartoonists and writers at Charlie Hebdo are really to blame for violent reactions to their speech, it makes perfect sense to prevent them from saying offensive things. If, as many critics charge, “words can wound,” then government has a responsibility to prosecute those who wield verbal “weapons.” We can see this attitude on college campuses and among many intellectuals today in America. For a glimpse of what it looks like when put into practice, look to European hate speech laws.

Simply put, hate speech laws ban certain types of speech that offend others. According to Paul Coleman, author of the book Censored, all European countries have some version of these laws. While there is no universal definition of hate speech, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, which advises governments on legal standards, defines it as the “denigration, hatred, or vilification of a person or group of persons” on the basis of “race, colour, language, religion or belief, nationality or national or ethnic origin . . . descent, age, disability, sex, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation.” Most European hate speech laws follow this general approach, although they differ on the subjects that are covered. Britain, for example, outlaws speech that denigrates people based on their race, national origin, and sexual orientation, but not their religion. Italy, Austria, and Greece, among a few others, include religion in the list. Germany and France have even broader laws that outlaw speech considered “insulting” to the honor or dignity of another person.

As Coleman shows, many people throughout Europe have been cited, arrested, or prosecuted for a variety of allegedly offensive statements, including criticisms of Islam, Catholicism, Scientology, homosexuality, and abortion, among many other things. Charlie Hebdo itself has been sued under France’s hate speech laws, and the actress Brigitte Bardot has been convicted and fined several times under the laws for statements about immigrants and Muslims. Late last year, the Dutch politician Geert Wilders was found guilty of “insulting a group” under the Netherland’s hate speech laws for saying he wants fewer Moroccans in the country.

The inherent vagueness of hate speech laws is reason enough to oppose them. But more fundamentally, government has no business regulating speech simply because it offends others no matter how hateful, idiotic, or bigoted it is. Government’s job is to protect our rights — which means to prevent others from using force against us — not to ensure that our feelings are preserved. Thomas Jefferson had the right idea when he said “[t]he legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

We can extend Jefferson’s statement beyond religion to any subject, and the point remains valid. For example, racist statements are vicious and false, but they do not in themselves injure anyone or violate their rights. So long as the offending person sticks to speech, no matter how harsh or stupid his views, we remain free to ignore him, to respond with our own speech, to walk away, or to shun him. It’s only when someone goes beyond speech and uses or threatens to use force that government has the proper authority — indeed, the obligation — to stop him. One can walk away from even the most offensive speech. Not so when the argument is made with a gun.

So it just isn’t true that words wound in the same way as physical force. That much is clear from the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Garland cartoon contest. If the attackers had instead hurled anti-Semitic or racist epithets at Geller or the employees of Charlie Hebdo, the impact and the consequences would have been very different. There’s no doubt that Kurt Westergaard and Lars Vilks, two of the cartoonists who drew pictures of Muhammad for Jyllands-Posten, would much prefer to live under the threat of harsh language than under the threat of death, as they now do. 

That’s not to minimize the ugliness of racist, anti-Semitic, or other forms of truly offensive speech. It’s simply to say that there is a qualitative difference between speech and force, which we ignore at our peril. Nor does protecting offensive speech mean we have to tolerate all views. We are free to criticize and shun those who say and advocate disgusting or obviously false ideas. And legally protecting offensive speech does not mean government must stand by while thugs harass and intimidate others. Again, there is a big difference between advocating horrible ideas and acting on them. It’s disgusting to promote anti-Semitism, but it is illegal to harass or threaten Jews or incite violence against them (or anyone else).

Advocates of hate speech laws think they can legislate right thinking, but it just isn’t possible. People choose to accept their ideas. If they are to change their minds, they must be convinced. Government can compel someone to shut up, but it cannot make him believe even what is true. Outlawing “homophobic” comments does not convince anyone that homosexuality is moral. It only prevents them from discussing the issue with others, and it fosters resentment and the very hatred that the laws are supposed to prevent. Hate speech laws have not eliminated racism and anti-Semitism in Europe — arguably they are on the rise — they’ve simply driven these virulent attitudes underground.

On the other hand, consider all the true ideas that could be banned under hate speech laws. The Catholic Church was deeply offended by Galileo’s view that the earth revolved around the sun, so it forced him to recant. Darwin’s theory of evolution offended Christians everywhere. The Comstock Act of 1873 banned information about contraception from the mails on the grounds that it was “obscene.” Today, Donald Trump and many other politicians want to ban flag burning because it is offensive. Consider how an articulate critic of Islam like Ayaan Hirsi Ali or an atheist like Sam Harris would fare under hate speech laws?

Banning offensive speech does not lead anyone to truth or promote social harmony. It only stifles thought. To quote Jefferson again, “Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error.” If we really want to root out bad ideas, we must protect the right to think and to communicate. That means protecting the right to free speech — even speech that we hate.

The good news, of course, is that Jefferson’s view prevailed in America, giving us the First Amendment, which prevents hate speech laws from being passed here. But the First Amendment is only a parchment barrier, to use James Madison’s expression. It works only so long as people believe in the right to free speech. The Supreme Court has radically changed its interpretation of the Constitution in the past; it can do so again. Many intellectuals and college students in this country seem to want that.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo and the general climate for free speech in Europe serve as warning of where we could be if we don’t defend free speech. Will we?

About The Author

Steve Simpson

Former Director of Legal Studies (2013-2018), Ayn Rand Institute

Three Things We Must Know in Order to Stop Jihadists

by Elan Journo | December 23, 2016 | The Hill

The truck attack at a Christmas market in Berlin has cast a lurid spotlight on German authorities. The police apparently knew the suspect, had evidence of his ties to jihadists and believed he posed a threat.

Yet twelve people are now dead. Last August, we saw a truck used as a weapon of jihad in Nice, France, so why didn’t police prevent this one?

The grim truth is that, at best, the homeland defense model is like an endless game of jihadist Whac-a-Mole. With each new kind of murderous attack, we patch one more gap, harden yet more soft targets — and sometimes we thwart a plot, sometimes not. We will improve, but this approach just cannot eliminate the jihadist threat.

Many wonder: Could we ever stop these attacks?

The answer is “yes,” but to do that is going to take a fundamental mind shift.

The place to start is by recognizing that we face not some nebulous threat from “terrorists” or “violent extremists,” but a distinct enemy: the Islamic totalitarian movement. We need to properly identify the nature of that enemy, what makes it tick and therefore how to stop it.

That’s spelled out in my book Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism, but here’s the gist: We need to take seriously three crucial truths that, since 9/11, have been obscured by layers of misunderstanding and evasion.

1. The enemy is defined, not primarily by its terrorist means, but by its ideological ends.

The jihadists fight to expunge any shred of freedom and secular government. They fight to create a society subjugated under Islamic religious law (sharia) wherever they can.

True, there are many jihadist factions, they fight amongst themselves and they differ over strategic priorities and tactics. But what unites them is their common goal. And they slaughter infidels and unbelievers in the name of realizing their vision of Islamic totalitarianism.

It’s a farfetched vision, but what matters is that the jihadists embrace it.

2. Jihadists choose to become holy warriors.

Jihadists, we’re often told, are products of socioeconomic factors outside their control.

President Obama would have us look to poverty, a lack of opportunity and political alienation. The Democrats’ 2016 nominee, Hillary Clinton, suggested that mental illness and rage are important factors.

None of that fits the data. Many jihadists are educated, middle-class and ordinary.

Present-elect Trump has floated another kind of deterministic account. In certain moods, he talks as if someone’s innate cultural background or race makes them a holy warrior (see, for example, how he hammered on the fact that the Orlando shooter’s parents were Afghans, and his calls for an immigration ban on Muslims).

That’s false, too.

It’s about choosing, and acting on, a set of ideas. Think of John Walker Lindh, who turned away from his Marin County, California, upbringing and joined the ranks of the Taliban. Or, on the flip side, consider Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who grew up in a culture saturated with Islamist ideas, but has become a valiant champion of secular values and freedom.

Let’s stop pretending that becoming a jihadist somehow happens to people. Catching the flu happens to you. Becoming a jihadist, a self-styled soldier of Allah, is something you make happen.

What these fighters choose to embrace is a (perverse) ideological vision. Until we realize that, we won’t be able to fight them effectively.

3. To defeat the enemy, focus on its crucial state-sponsors.

For decades, the jihadist cause has been inspired, nurtured and funded by patrons such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and, above all, Iran. They are the movement’s sine qua non.

The movement’s foundational group, the Muslim Brotherhood, started out in Egypt in the 1920s, but accomplished little. What supercharged the jihadist cause was the 1979 Iranian Revolution. That shockwave brought to power in Tehran an Islamic totalitarian regime committed to exporting its ideological revolution.

Iran armed, trained, and funded Lebanese Hezbollah, Palestinian Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It has backed insurgent groups in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Saudi regime has invested millions of dollars setting up religious schools, distributing books and proselytizing across the globe for its preferred strain of Islamic totalitarianism. Saudi money funds various jihadist groups, including the Taliban. And the Gulf states have bankrolled their favored jihadist factions.

Absent the inspiration and material backing of its state sponsors; the galvanizing spectacle of real-life, functioning Islamist regimes in Iran Afghanistan, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and elsewhere; the jihadist cause would have amounted to little more than a bunch of seething pamphleteers and failed revolutionaries.

Such regimes make the ideal actuating the jihadists appear righteous, potent and practical.

Confronting these state sponsors is key to defeating the jihadist cause. We need more than the Whac-a-Mole approach to the jihad; fundamentally, we must demoralize the movement.

Once we recognize that jihadists choose their ideology — that that they’re not pushed onto that path by innate or outside forces beyond their control — we can take that choice away.

To deter jihadists and would-be recruits, it’s crucial to demonstrate that their totalitarian vision is unrealizable, that their cause is doomed. An indispensable step is to focus our full diplomatic and military resources on the movement’s inspiration and patrons, including ISIS, but chiefly Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Islamic totalitarianism will wither only when our enemies are convinced the West is willing to defend itself with overwhelming force and unflagging commitment. But to do so, we must first understand the enemy.

We have not come close to doing that.

About The Author

Elan Journo

Senior Fellow and Vice President of Content Products, Ayn Rand Institute

Free Speech Is a Right, Not a Political Weapon

by Steve Simpson | December 06, 2016 | The Hill

The media have been awash lately in articles about the danger President-elect Donald Trump poses to free speech. Critics have pointed to his threat to “open up” the libel laws so he can sue the media. They’ve noted his sustained criticism of The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN for being “unfair” to him and allegedly “inciting” protests against him. They’ve mentioned his promise to pay the legal fees of those who were arrested for attacking protesters at his rallies. 

And, of course, as if to confirm that the criticisms are all well placed, Trump recently tweeted his support for criminalizing flag burning.

So, yes, Trump poses a serious threat to free speech. He clearly doesn’t view it as a right that protects speakers regardless of their views. He sees the media — part of whose job is to scrutinize politicians who wield enormous power over our lives — as an enemy to be tamed, cajoled or intimidated. He portrays almost anyone who criticizes him as a pawn of his political enemies. Whether Trump is opposing free speech outright or trying to bully speakers, he is no friend of free speech.

Unfortunately, Trump is not alone among politicians in this regard. While his contempt for free speech may be more brazen, in substance he has not said or supported anything that other politicians haven’t been advocating for years. That’s not to minimize the threat he poses, but to point out that Trump is cashing in on a pattern of contempt for free speech that has been developing for over a decade.

To see that pattern, start with Trump’s threats to silence those with whom he disagrees. That attitude is evident from his support for criminalizing flag burning. Whatever you think of burning flags, it is a form of expression that Trump and his supporters want to ban because of what it conveys: hatred for America. That’s about as clear an attack on the right to free speech as one can imagine. 

But is Trump’s urge to censor this form of speech really different from Hillary Clinton’s desire to ban the political speech at issue in Citizens United? The case, which upheld the rights of corporations to speak during elections, involved a law that prevented a nonprofit from distributing a film that criticized Clinton the last time she ran for president. During her campaign, she promised repeatedly to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn the case, calling the film it protected “a right-wing attack on me and my campaign.”

Campaign finance laws are not supposed to be used to silence speech that politicians don’t like. At least that’s the theory. In practice, though, laws are inevitably used that way, and their supporters often see that as a virtue.

During the floor debates for McCain-Feingold, the law at issue in Citizens United, many politicians, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz., included, championed the law because it would prevent groups from funding negative political ads against them. After Citizens United was decided, Congress considered the Disclose Act, which would have forced many organizations to disclose their donors. In praising the law, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that its “deterrent effect” on corporate political speech “should not be underestimated.”

Trump, it seems, is not the only one who sees an opportunity to use the power of government to intimidate and silence speakers with whom he disagrees.

Consider the criticism that Trump is trying to intimidate the media. He has not only threatened to open up the libel laws — which Trump once said he used to “make [a reporter’s] life miserable” — he’s also repeatedly attacked many media outlets as partisan hacks out to undermine his campaign and his presidency. It’s a troubling attitude for a man who will soon preside over a government armed with, among other things, the antitrust laws, broadcast licensing laws and campaign finance disclosure laws, all of which could conceivably be used against the media.

But Trump isn’t the first politician to flirt with media intimidation. Remember the Obama administration’s attacks on Fox News as “not really a news station”? Or the FCC’s investigations of news broadcasters to determine if their coverage was “biased”? It is certainly scary for Trump to attack the media as he’s done, but it is equally scary when any president or administration does so. 

If we broaden the point beyond the media, we can find many more examples of efforts by politicians to intimidate those who oppose them. Remember Harry Reid’s sustained assault on the Koch brothers, whom he called “un-American” for having the temerity to oppose his agenda? Or the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party groups, which was prompted by politicians who urged the agency to investigate the groups?

Or consider Trump’s claim that post-election protests were not “legitimate” because they were allegedly financed by his political enemies. Philip Bump of The Washington Post has rightly criticized Trump for this, citing, among other things, his lack of evidence. But this sort of thing predates Trump.

The same sorts of criticisms were lodged against those who protested ObamaCare at town hall meetings in 2009. Many on the left dismissed the protests as “astroturf lobbying” because conservative groups helped organize some of them. It’s obviously dishonest to pay random people to pretend to protest and, if true, would destroy their credibility. But there’s no question that large numbers of people opposed ObamaCare, just as large numbers of people oppose Trump’s presidency. The left’s claims that opponents of their policies are paid corporate lackeys or members of the vast right-wing conspiracy fueled the IRS’s targeting of the Tea Party and a general assault on political speech. They are just as caustic as Trump’s rants against his critics.

My purpose here is not to defend Trump or to minimize his attacks on free speech. Nor am I only focusing on the hypocrisy of many of his critics. Hypocrisy is certainly worthy of criticism, not least because it detracts from the credibility of those who are trying to stand up for free speech at a time when we need as many defenders of the right as we can get.

But my point is more fundamental. We don’t just have a Trump problem or a hypocrisy problem. We have a serious free speech problem.

Too many people — among intellectuals, politicians and the media on both left and right — either don’t understand the right to free speech or don’t care to. They treat free speech not as a principle but as a weapon to be used against their political enemies. When your enemies are in power, complain about the threats to speech you like; when you are in power, use government to intimidate and silence your critics.

But free speech is a right, not a political weapon or a privilege of those in power. It applies to everyone, no matter what their views — whether they offend you or try to convince voters to support politicians or policies you oppose. Importantly, it also protects the right to take the actions necessary to make one’s speech heard, whether that means spending money on political ads or publishing books or newspapers free of the crushing costs of frivolous libel lawsuits.

Trump poses such a threat to free speech because most politicians and intellectuals have not taken it seriously as a right for years. He is cashing in on the power he’s been given to threaten this right and on the hypocrisy with which it’s been treated and the cynicism that breeds.

We discovered on Election Day that many Americans agree with Trump on this and many other issues. Anyone who wants to protect free speech — and wants Americans to take the right seriously — must be prepared to take it seriously themselves.

About The Author

Steve Simpson

Former Director of Legal Studies (2013-2018), Ayn Rand Institute

After This Jordanian Criticized ISIS He Was Thrown In Jail Then Murdered

by Elan Journo | November 17, 2016 | The Federalist

The centrality of Islam in Middle East politics can be seen in laws and opinion polls, but that data fails to capture just how entwined Islam and state really are and the destructive effects that ensue. The persecution of a Jordanian writer who shared a cartoon on Facebook dramatizes the problem.

The story’s location is important. With the exception of Israel, the Middle East is thick with dictatorships, theocracies, and monarchies. Compared with Islamic State, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and many other Muslim regimes, Jordan is somewhat liberal and friendly (it is at least officially a U.S. ally).

By objective standards, however, the kingdom of Jordan is a paranoid authoritarian regime. The secret police, modeled after the Soviet’s KGB, are everywhere. “Insulting” the king is a serious crime (punishment: three years in jail). So is affronting Islam, the state religion.

Enter the protagonist: Nahed Hattar, a prominent Jordanian writer and political activist. Recently he posted a cartoon drawing on Facebook to satirize the barbarians of the Islamic State. The Washington Post reports that the image depicts

a bearded man, lying in bed under sheets, smoking contentedly beside two women in paradise and jabbing his finger toward God, who asks, ‘Do you need anything?’ The man replies, ‘Yes, Lord, bring me wine, cashews and an immortal servant to come clean the floor.’

In reaction was an “across-the-board” backlash as Jordanians took to Facebook and Twitter to harass him. The author’s cousin said “Many fanatics wrote on social media calling for his killing and lynching.” There were some 200 death threats.

Few listened to Hattar when he hastened to explain the cartoon’s meaning. The point was to skewer the warped beliefs of the jihadists of Islamic State. The cartoon was intended, he said, to mock “how they imagine God and heaven, and does not insult God in any way.”

Despite clarifying what the cartoon meant, Hattar decided to remove the image from Facebook, apologized for posting it, and then proceeded to shut down his Facebook account altogether. Never mind the apology, one of al-Qaeda’s leading ideologues tweeted, he’s still an infidel. The obvious implication: he should be killed for his blasphemy.

The Jordanian government came after Hattar. He was arrested and held for two weeks, then released on bail pending his trial. Almost certainly, he faced a jail sentence.

What makes the story doubly chilling is that a sizeable number of people thought even jail was not enough.

What happened at trial? The legal proceedings never got that far. When Hattar arrived at a courthouse in the capital city of Amman, someone was lying in wait for him. A bearded man — an imam — fired three shots. So, in broad daylight on the courthouse steps, a religious vigilante executed Hattar.

It’s bad enough that the Jordanian government arrested Hattar, charged him, and was about to throw the book at him for sharing a cartoon on Facebook (a cartoon, remember, that jabs the Islamic State). What makes the story doubly chilling is that a sizeable number of people thought even jail was not enough.

Many threatened Hattar’s life, and one imam murdered him, presumably because he deemed the Jordanian regime insufficiently pious to hand down a punishment fitting Hattar’s crime. Days later, an Egyptian TV commentator went on the air to declare his support — not for Hattar, but for his executioner. The blasphemer had it coming.

Consider just some of the implications here. Perhaps the TV commentator really believed Hattar deserved execution. Or perhaps he was posturing as virtuous by praising something he thinks his viewers and fans admire. Maybe his impetus was some combination of the two? None of those possibilities belong in a civilized society.

Hattar’s story provides a window into a region where Islam not only permeates cultural life, but is entwined with state power. Only when we fully grasp that reality can we begin to make sense of the region’s endemic conflicts, upheavals, and oppression.

About The Author

Elan Journo

Senior Fellow and Vice President of Content Products, Ayn Rand Institute

Inequality Doesn't Matter If We’re All Paid According to the Value We Create

by Don Watikins and Yaron Brook | October 18, 2016 | City A.M.

Log on to Netflix and you can catch old episodes of Dirty Jobs, where you can watch host Mike Rowe visit plumbers, pig farmers, and steel mill workers and try his hand at some of the less sexy but utterly fascinating jobs that help make the world around us possible.

All of these people work incredibly hard, and it might raise a question in your mind — a question that is central to today’s debate over inequality: why is it that they earn far less than chief executives, investment bankers, or A-list actors?

The answer is that, in a free market, people don’t get paid for the effort they exert but for the value that they create.

Think about author JK Rowling, who became a billionaire from her wildly popular Harry Potter series. Rowling certainly worked hard — but so do thousands of other authors who struggle to find an audience. The difference is that millions of people value Rowling’s work. They were willing to turn over £10 or £15 for each Harry Potter novel, because the pleasure they got from those books exceeded the price tag.

It was irrelevant to them whether Rowling suffered writer’s block and spent sleepless nights agonizing at her desk, or whether she effortlessly poured out a hundred pages a day of perfect prose. It was the value that mattered.

The notion that people should get paid for hard work, rather than valuable work, may sound nice to some in the abstract, but in practice it would mean that a hair stylist who struggles to line up your sideburns should get paid more than the master who can give you the best hair cut of your life without breaking a sweat. It would mean that a sleep-deprived waiter deserves a bigger tip than one who is equally competent, but who turned down the opportunity to party the night before.

To be sure, creating value does require hard work, and many of the people who earn headline-making incomes exert enormous mental effort: from the Silicon Valley entrepreneur to the superstar athlete to the award-winning heart surgeon. They may make success seem easy, but if it were easy, everyone would do it. Even so, effort alone, although deserving of our praise and admiration, doesn’t imply anything about how big a person’s paycheck should be.

Don’s wife, for instance, is a teacher — a really good one, if he may say so himself — and she probably works as hard as many FTSE 100 chief executives. But she’s providing a service to only a handful of students each year. The chief executives are creating value for millions and even billions of people. It would be absurd for her to earn anything close to what they make.

A paycheck is the result of a trade, and what we trade are the values we create. The more you have to offer, the more you can get in return.

That’s why it’s ridiculous to complain about the income inequality that emerges from free, voluntary transactions. Rowling increased inequality when she became a billionaire, but she did so by making millions of people better off — and anyone who didn’t like her books didn’t have to pay her a penny.

That’s the pattern we see all over the economy. Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg may have billions in the bank, but their fortunes didn’t come at the expense of their customers or employees or society at large. They prospered by doing something enormously valuable — by running companies that enriched the lives of everyone who chose to deal with them. It was win/win all around.

Unfortunately, today, not everyone is getting paid for the value they create. Too many are getting paid for the government favors they can extract. Widespread cronyism in the form of bailouts, subsidies, and other special privileges can increase inequality. But the problem isn’t the inequality — it’s the win/lose nature of cronyism. When people get rich through government favors, it comes at the expense of taxpayers, buyers, and competitors. The solution isn’t to fight income inequality, but to stop cronyism. We shouldn’t punish value creators for the sins of cronies.

Fighting high pay at the top has, for some, become “the defining challenge of our time,” to quote US President Barack Obama. But following that path would be a double disgrace. A just society shouldn’t punish people for prospering — and if it does, it shouldn’t be surprised if it finds that there is less prosperity.

Today America is seeing a decline in its rate of economic progress, and the same could be said of Great Britain too. It is the top value creators who drive human progress, and the real defining challenge of our time is how to liberate the pursuit of productive achievement while eliminating political influence-peddling. That’s going to require some genuinely hard work.

About The Author

Yaron Brook

Chairman of the Board, Ayn Rand Institute

15 Years After 9/11, We Still Don’t Understand The Enemy

by Elan Journo | September 11, 2016 | The Federalist

Many of us who lived through 9/11 remember one nightmare scenario: to have our daily lives clouded by the persistent threat of jihadist attacks. Fifteen years later, that’s our world: San Bernardino. Brussels. Orlando. Paris. Garland, Texas. Nice. Charlie Hebdo.

The story of how we got here is dense with tragedy, as Onkar Ghate and I discuss in our new book Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism: From George W. Bush to Barack Obama and Beyond. A crucial part of the story has been the failure — indeed, the refusal — of our political and intellectual leaders to understand the enemy.

Can you imagine America achieving victory in World War II had we viewed the enemy as “Kamikazi-ism” rather Japanese totalitarianism? Regardless, following 9/11 the nature of the enemy was widely misunderstood, and 14 years later things have gotten worse.

The problem goes way beyond ignorance. Ignorance is where everyone starts out. But the jihadists have never made their cause secret. Our enemy is defined, not primarily by their use of terrorist means, but by their ideological ends. They fight to create a society wherein Islamic religious law, or sharia, dominates every last detail of every individual’s life, a cause inspired and funded by patrons such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and above all, Iran. In our book, we call this political-ideological movement Islamic totalitarianism.

Still, many people cling to a self-induced ignorance about the nature of the enemy. Some even seek to silence any serious discussion of the problem, often by hurling about accusations of “Islamophobia.” But this just obscures the issue, fencing it off as taboo, and maligning whoever looks for answers.


It’s Not Merely a Global War on Terror

Start with 9/12: From the get-go, George W. Bush took every opportunity to evade the nature of Islamic totalitarianism. Bush insisted “the terrorists have no home in any faith.” He hammered at that theme endlessly, despite the abundant evidence they really did view themselves as emulating Mohammad in imposing Islamic law by force, everywhere.

A consequence of this evasion was the embarrassing semantic waltz over what to name the enemy: “Terrorists”? “Haters”? Simply “al-Qaeda”? The vague tag “Islamofascism” was floated, but quickly discarded because it edged too close to the truth. So we ended up waging a nebulous “Global War on Terror.” Even more telling was that Bush’s war left arch-sponsors of the jihadist cause untouched: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan (the latter two we actually call allies).

The Obama administration outdid Bush in refusing to grasp the enemy’s nature. The administration purged its lexicon of anything hinting at the jihadist ideology. It pushed inconvenient facts aside. Recall Nidal Hasan, a psychiatrist serving in the U.S. Army who self-described as a “Soldier of Allah.” When he gunned down 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, he shouted “Allahu Akbar.” Officially, the attack was played down as workplace violence.

The Obama administration bends over backward to deny any link between attacks and the jihadist ideology animating them. In 2015 it held a summit about Islamist attacks, headlined “countering violent extremism.” Even some friends of the administration blushed at this sophistry. Having cultivated this degree of self-delusion, it’s no wonder Obama blithely dismissed Islamic State as the “JV team” and spent years appeasing another standard-bearer of Islamic totalitarianism, the Iranian regime.


War By Other Means

Enabling this evasion on a culture-wide scale is a contributing factor: the “Islamophobia” smear. “Islamophobia” mashes together two fundamentally different things: serious analysis and criticism of jihadist ideas, which is essential; and bigotry and racism toward Muslims, which has no place in a civilized society. The result of the smear is to stifle serious analysis and criticism of Islamic totalitarianism by portraying any such discussion as racist.

So rampant is this evasive smear that even Michael Walzer, an influential left-leaning political theorist, is worried. Walzer admonished his brothers-in-arms who “are more concerned with avoiding accusations of Islamophobia than they are with condemning Islamist zealotry.” Consequently, many are unable to “consider the very good reasons for fearing Islamist zealots–and so they have difficulty explaining what’s going on in the world.”

What to expect from a Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton White House? Both muddy the issue further. If Trump has a view, it exhibits no substantive grasp of the ideas driving the enemy, although he does exude a tribalist, racist bigotry toward outsiders, particularly Muslims. Clinton seeks to explain away the holy warriors as basically madmen, thus trivializing the jihadist ideology. Neither perspective equips us to end the threats we face.

By now, after so many years, some wonder: Can we end the Islamist menace? Yes, we can. A necessary — and long overdue — starting point is to understand Islamic totalitarianism.

About The Author

Elan Journo

Senior Fellow and Vice President of Content Products, Ayn Rand Institute

Further Reading

Ayn Rand | 1957
For the New Intellectual

The Moral Meaning of Capitalism

An industrialist who works for nothing but his own profit guiltlessly proclaims his refusal to be sacrificed for the “public good.”
View Article
Ayn Rand | 1961
The Virtue of Selfishness

The Objectivist Ethics

What is morality? Why does man need it? — and how the answers to these questions give rise to an ethics of rational self-interest.
View Article