saletan

Sometimes you read stuff so bizarre that it simply takes your breath away. Slate, which set the standard of intellectual rigor with its epic expose of the cruel sport of monkeyfishing, has always been a motherlode of lackwits who can be counted upon to say the most bizarre things to boost their pageviews. One of the black holes of intelligence at Slate is a guy named William Saletan.

This weekend Saletan determined that Republican presidential candidates are indistinguishable from ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (I am deliberately not providing a link).

One of the hot issues in the 2016 presidential election is how to deal with terror and slaughter in the name of Islam. President Obama and Hillary Clinton refuse to call such violence Islamic. They insist that Muslims are victims, not allies, of ISIS and al-Qaida.

The Republican candidates for president say this reluctance to associate Islam with jihadi violence is naïve, wimpy, and dangerous. “We need a commander in chief who will once and for all call it what it is, and that is that radical Islamic terrorism is a threat to us all,” says Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Rick Santorum agrees: “Islam is an ideology.”

In a virtuoso display of middle-school logic he goes on to demonstrate that there is no difference because they all agree, agree mind you, on the nature of Islam and the nature of the war we are fighting. The main points of agreement are below.


christians libya
Saletan’s intellectual capacity, never all that impressive, doesn’t believe that this is actually the case. Al-Baghdadi can’t possibly be serious. He scoffs:

ISIS, like al-Qaida, can’t wage a global or even regional war with 30,000 fighters. To build popular support, it needs to frame the conflict in religious terms.

Yet, all the evidence points to something very different. In fact, Graeme Wood, who unlike Saletan has actually studied ISIS comes to the conclusion that they are dead serious.

Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks. Muslim “apostates” are the most common victims. Exempted from automatic execution, it appears, are Christians who do not resist their new government. Baghdadi permits them to live, as long as they pay a special tax, known as thejizya, and acknowledge their subjugation. The Koranic authority for this practice is not in dispute.

Baghdadi declares this to be a war against non-Muslims, which includes just about everyone who doesn’t accept his interpretation of Islam, not out of some clever exercise in spin but because he’s calling his followers to action.

None of the GOP presidential hopefuls said this but that doesn’t slow Saletan down. Even if they had said it, it wouldn’t be much more than a “water is wet” observation. When one looks at areas in the West with Muslim majorities, pluralities, or even large minorities you rapidly see that Islam as practiced is simply not compatible with a secular and pluralistic society. The rape clubs in Rotherham and other Britsh towns, the oppression of women via official recognition of sharia, honor killings, and on and on. No-go zones for police in France. The outlawing of free speech in our own no-go zone of Deerborn, Michigan, and the brutal and premeditated attack on a perceived slight to Islam in Garland, Texas, all speak to a culture which refuses to allow any expression or any freedom it doesn’t recognize.

Coexistence, a term which Saletan never bothered to look up in a dictionary, requires all parties to agree. If one party doesn’t agree, in this case Baghdadi and most of Islam, then you have to be a moron to say coexistence is possible. Hence Saletan’s confusion.

Again, one is sort of stunned that this is even a point of discussion. Islam divides the world into two regions: Dar as Salaam, the “house of peace” where Islam reigns, and Dar al Harb, the “house of war” which is where Islam is not in control. Here Saletan dives headlong into the cesspool of Glenn-Kessler-esque nomenclature by declaring the claim “true but false.”

The religion-of-war narrative, whatever its scholarly merits, serves political interests on both sides.

To get to this point, Saletan grabs this quote by Baghdadi:

And if the Crusaders today claim to avoid the Muslim public and to confine themselves to targeting the armed amongst them, then soon you will see them targeting every Muslim everywhere. And if the Crusaders today have begun to bother the Muslims who continue to live in the lands of the cross by monitoring them, arresting them, and questioning them, then soon they will begin to displace them and take them away either dead, imprisoned, or homeless.

Actually, Baghdadi doesn’t mention or imply civilian casualties. He also doesn’t mention “civil liberties.” He is objecting to Muslims being monitored — like ordinary Americans have been monitored and targeted for their political beliefs under Obama — and questioned. The problem in France was clearly not too much monitoring of Muslims as the slaughter of the staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo proved. The problem in America is not too much monitoring as was proven in Garland, Texas.

He sums up with this remarkably stupid paragraph:

The convergence of Republican rhetoric with jihadist propaganda isn’t new. It’s been building ever since George W. Bush left the White House. Liberated from presidential responsibility, Republicans degenerated into a party that uses Islam for domestic politics instead of thinking about how their words resonate overseas. That’s how they became backup singers for Osama Bin Laden. Now they’re working for Baghdadi. Remind me again who’s naïve.

I’m not a big believer in history repeating itself but I do believe some themes run through history that humans simply can’t learn because of our unlimited capacity for self deception. Back in 1925, an Austrian veteran of World War I and political prisoner wrote an dense and unreadable political tome called Four and a Half Years of Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice. In it he spelled out what he intended to do if he ever became Galactic Commander. The first thing he was going to do was get rid of Jews. Then he was going to start to work on Commies. When the Commies were gone, everyone else was next. No one believed it. It was a metaphor. A good editor cleaned up the book, retitled it Mein Kampf, and the rest is history. German Jews didn’t believe him. The Soviet Union continued to cooperate with him. The West acquiesced to his territorial ambitions. Because you had to be really naive to believe he’d be up to something as outlandish as he wrote.

This is here Saletan is. Not only is he demonstrably not a very bright man, he is terminally naive. Our enemies are telling us what they believe and why they believe it and where they are dominant they, surprise-surprise, do exactly what they told us they were going to do. And douchewaffles like Saletan says we can’t believe them.