I couldn’t agree more with my friend Charlie Cooke that the ineffable John Kerry’s remarks comparing January’s Charlie Hebdo massacre to the November 13 Paris terror attacks were despicable. What I don’t get is why anyone is surprised by Kerry’s sentiments. They perfectly reflect seven years of Obama-administration policy aimed at eroding the First Amendment in order to accommodate Islamic blasphemy standards.
As has been widely reported, Kerry initially said there was a “legitimacy” to the mass-murder of cartoonists and writers who satirized the prophet Mohammed. Instantly realizing he’d gone too far, Kerry watered “legitimacy” down to “a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, ‘Okay, they’re really angry because of this and that.'” By contrast, Kerry claimed, there really was no “this and that” to rationalize what happened in Paris November 13, a terrorist strike he described as “absolutely indiscriminate” and not done “to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong.”
Of course, this contention is as absurd as it is offensive. Both sets of terrorist atrocities were driven by Islamic supremacist ideology.
Kerry distorted the Charlie Hebdo episode as if it had involved only a reprisal over cartoons lampooning Islam. In fact, the jihadists shot and wounded a random jogger (consistent with the call to jihad against non-Muslims), killed a police officer (consistent with the ISIS call to assassinate Western security personnel as part of that jihad), took hostages at a kosher market, killing four of them (consistent with anti-Semitism, a core theme of Islamic supremacism), and took hostages at a printing factory (again, consistent with the call to jihad).
So looked at in its totality, the jihadist operations at and around the Charlie Hebdo attack were very similar to November 13, except in scale (17 murdered in the former; 130 in the latter). Neither atrocity was “absolutely indiscriminate,” except in the judgment of an administration willfully blind to the ideological underpinnings of jihadist terror.
As succinctly explained in Reliance of the Traveller, the authoritative 14th-century sharia manual endorsed by scholars at the ancient al-Azhar University in Cairo (among other influential Muslim academics), “Jihad means to war against non-Muslims and is etymologically derived from mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion.” The manual cites three supporting Koranic verses (among the many it could have chosen): “Fighting is prescribed for you” (2:216); “Slay them wherever you find them” (4:89); and “Fight the idolators utterly” (9:36). It further adds two authoritative hadiths (sayings and deeds of the prophet). The first quotes Muhammad instructing:
I have been commanded to fight people until they testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and perform the prayer, and pay zakat [a portion of income contributed for the fortification of the ummah, the supranational Islamic community; as I’ve previously noted, zakat is often mistranslated as “charitable giving“]. If they say it, they have saved their blood and possessions from me, except for the rights of Islam over them. And their final reckoning is with Allah.
The second also quotes Islam’s warrior prophet:
To go forth in the morning or evening to fight in the path of Allah is better than the whole world and everything in it.
The manual goes on to recount that “details concerning jihad are found in the accounts of military expeditions of the Prophet . . . including his own martial forays and those on which he dispatched others.”
Simply stated, jihadists – e.g., ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Iranian regime – consider themselves in a jihad against the West. The mass-murder attacks are not indiscriminate. They have a solid ideological basis, and the fact that they are savage does not make them irrational. Indeed, in last week’s attack in Mali, jihadists asked their hostages to recite verses from the Koran; those who could were assumed to be Muslims and released, while 27 others were killed.
Yes, many Muslims and Islamic scholars disagree with the jihadist interpretation of Islamic doctrine. This, however, does not change the stubborn reality that (a) many Islamic scholars – who know a lot more about Islam than American and European politicians do – agree with the jihadists, and (b) it is not hard to understand why that is so, since the jihadists’ literal interpretation simply teaches that the scriptures mean what they say.
So putting aside for a moment how offensive Kerry’s remarks were, they were also utterly wrong. His comments reflect the continuing disconnect between the jihadist threat as it actually exists and the threat as Washington chooses to see it – notwithstanding that you cannot effectively fight that which you refuse to understand.
Now, let’s talk about the most disgraceful aspect of what Kerry said: the suggestion that because the Charlie Hebdo attackers were reacting to speech that cast aspersions against Islam – mainly, cartoons poking fun at the belief system for belligerence, intolerance, authoritarianism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. – that attack was somehow understandable (perhaps even “legitimate”) in a way the more recent Paris killings were not.
This has prompted some commentators (including the estimable David Gelernter in a post here at National Review) to call for Kerry’s resignation. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for pressuring Kerry to step down. But I wonder: Why on earth would he do so when all he did was say what Obama policy has been for seven years? After all, carrying out Obama’s policy is Kerry’s job.
When four Americans were murdered in the Benghazi terror attack on September 11, 2012, President Obama and Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, went into overdrive to deceive Americans into thinking the attack had been a reaction to a video that rebuked Islam. In truth, the video had nothing to do with the attack, and no small amount of energy has been expended to prove the audacious Obama-Clinton fraud.
Yet, as I observed at the time, this focus on the fraud overlooks the logic of the administration’s position, which is that a video, a mere insult, can be a sensible rationale for – if not an outright legitimation of – the retaliatory commission of mass-murder.
Over and over, Obama, Clinton, and other administration officials made public statements asserting that the United States had nothing to do with the video and deplored its contents. Implicitly, these pronouncements suggested that those who speak out against Islam should expect to be attacked. The administration’s message was that Muslims should refrain from attacking our embassies around the world because the U.S. was innocent of offending Islam, not because responding violently to juvenile insults is barbaric.
In the Benghazi aftermath, Obama went so far as to declare from the United Nations podium that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” Mrs. Clinton promised Charles Woods, the father Tyrone Woods, a former Navy SEAL killed in the Benghazi attack, that the administration would prosecute the producer of the video she claimed was responsible for his son’s death.
Then, the administration followed through: trumping up a case against the video’s producer, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. The Obama Justice Department got a judge to revoke the “supervised release” (essentially, parole) that Nakoula was under based on a prior conviction; he was imprisoned for several months. The prosecution served the dual purposes of signaling to Americans that the U.S. government believed the video caused the attack, while signaling to Muslims that the U.S. government now enforces the sharia blasphemy prohibition on speech that demeans Islam.
Under sharia, it is a profound offense to subject Islam to any negative criticism, no matter how slight. Muslims often kill non-Muslims over it. And Muslims who engage in it can be killed because such criticism is deemed to be apostasy, which sharia punishes by death.
If Islam were actually as “moderate” and “peaceful” as the bipartisan Beltway clerisy insists, we would be able to reason with Muslim regimes and populations. We could persuade them that people must not be threatened or killed over mere words, no matter how insulting. Instead, it has long been a top priority of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – a bloc of 56 Muslim countries plus the Palestinian Authority – to pressure the West to outlaw anti-Muslim speech.
Obama has spent his presidency trying to accommodate the OIC, despite our Constitution’s free-speech guarantee. As I outlined after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Islam and Free Speech:
If President Obama has his way, the First Amendment will yield to sharia blasphemy standards. In conjunction with the [OIC], Obama’s then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sponsored United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18. It calls on all governments to outlaw “any advocacy of religious hatred against individuals that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.” . . .
In parsing [Resolution 16/18], note that incitement to violence is already criminalized throughout the United States, and discrimination based on race, sex, age, ethnicity, religion, and sexual preference is outlawed by numerous federal and state laws and regulations. The resolution has only one purpose: to render illegal speech that could cause Muslims to perceive hostility toward their belief system – under circumstances where even those who hold Islam in disfavor are not trying to ban it, and where mere hostility (a) may not be prohibited under our law, (b) is a prudent and natural response to many provocations, and (c) ironically, is to be subjected to an unprecedented ban for the benefit of Islam, the scriptures and laws of which are inherently hostile to non-Muslims, women, and homosexuals – to name just three.
The resolution so starkly transgresses the First Amendment that its chief proponent, Secretary Clinton, had to be armed with a Plan B – something even more breathtakingly repressive. At a meeting . . . with OIC leaders, after the customary lip-service tribute to free expression (a “universal right at the core of our democracy”), she vowed that the Obama administration would “use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming, so that people don’t feel that they have the support to do what we abhor.” Translation: government-supported extortion tactics, the Constitution be damned.
John Kerry’s argument that there was an understandable “rationale” for the Charlie Hebdo killings was indeed reprehensible. But Kerry was simply reaffirming President Obama’s policy that speech casting Islam in a negative light should be punished – and, if the First Amendment poses too much of a legal obstacle, such speech should be banned by extra-legal methods of government bullying.
We can call for Kerry to resign, but Kerry is just following orders – the same orders a President Hillary Clinton would issue.
A version of this piece previously appeared on National Review Online.