Phyllis Chesler, writing in PJ Media, has hit upon an interesting dilemma for the US, which leads to a very politically-incorrect issue that we are all going to have to face sooner or later. At issue is funding for a program that our government has to promote freedom of religion around the world and fight religious persecution. The funding for this effort is on the line.
So it seems that Dick Durbin (D-IL) is holding up funding for the USCIRF because he is demanding funding for a prison in his home state of Illinois. Is this a typical petulant move by a politician trying to finagle government spending for his constituents, or something deeper? I don't know.
As a fiscal conservative, there is something in me that says maybe we should stop spending money to promote nice things around the world because we need it at home. On the other hand, if America is to stand for something, should not a portion of our diplomatic efforts be used to promote our ideals overseas?
I do know one thing, however. When we look at religious persecution around the world, it is clear that the biggest perpetrators at this point in history are Muslims in Muslim-majority nations. Therein lies the sticking point. In terms in political correctness and geopolitics, Islam is the one religion nobody wants to offend. It matters not that the world is being racked by Islamic acts of terror. It matters not that Sunnis and Shia are killing each other in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, or that Ahmadis in Pakistan are being persecuted. It matters not how many hateful statements come out of the mouths of imams in mosques around the world-including in the West. All of our political leaders know full well that any criticism of Islam or any mention of these inconvenient facts will bring a charge of "Islamophobia". In Europe, that can bring criminal charges. It can also bring death anywhere.
Currently, the 57-nation member Organization of Islamic Cooperation is trying to get the UN to pass a resolution agasinst "Defamation of Religion" that would apply to all UN member nations. In reality, it only deals with defamation of Islam. On the surface, it sounds good. I myself don't believe in defaming someone's religion. Honest discussion, however, must be protected. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and pretend that Islamic intolerance does not exist. Nor should decent Muslims put their heads in the sand. They must confront it and find a solution.
If Chesler's article implies that our current government would just as soon not deal with religious intolerance because of who the perpetrators tend to be world-wide, let's discuss it. If we are going to continue this program, then let's be honest and put the focus squarely where it belongs. Religious intolerance in predominantly Muslim countries is unacceptable and rising. It is an issue that American Muslims also must confront. Unless they stand up for the rights of Copts in Egypt, Jews in Yemen, Baha'i in Iran or Christians in Iraq or Pakistan, they can hardly complain about Islamophobia in America (however you define the term). The fact is that Muslims in America are in no way subject to the mistreatment that the above groups suffer in Muslim countries-nor should they be.
I would like to bring this discussion to recount a couple of events that have occurred in my presence at UC Irvine-indeed involving my participation. The first occurred in January of 2009 and involved Norman Finkelstein. The second was in May of 2009 and involved George Galloway. Below is a description of the Finkelstein incident:
Q and A
Unlike the morning session, audience members had to pass their questions up front on index cards, thus there was no back and forth. I passed up the following question:
Do you condemn recent statements and chants heard at recent demonstrations in LA, Ft Lauderdale and Toronto, in which the following has been said:
“Go back to the ovens”
“You need a bigger oven”
“Long live Hitler”
‘Go Nazi Germany”
Further, do you feel that such statements hurt your cause?
My questions went to Finklestein. First, he stated that “it isn’t my cause”. He said he had never heard of it. Then he went on to state that in his view, such reports were “wildly inflated”. They were “99% per cent made up“. He also stated that they were “a pretext or excuse to change the subject”. He added that such statements were rare or chanted by Israeli provocateurs. He also added that in his experience, his Muslim audiences try to avoid such expressions. Finally, he stated that this was not the issue and referred to people asking him about pogroms in Russia, to which he replies that they should “pull themselves out of their navels”. Finklestein never condemned such statements in his answer, and for this arrogant, dismissive, and false reply, the audience applauded.
Then there was the Galloway incident in which I posed the same quotes to him and he cut me off by saying that "he thought I was a liar" as the audience of several hundred erupted in applause just as they had erupted in applause to Finkelstein's response. Yet those incidents I had quoted were well-documented on YouTube. Stand With Us, an Israel-advocacy group, put those videos together with Galloway's comment to amazing effect.
In both of those incidents, there were several hundred people present, most of whom were from the local Muslim community. Both Finkelstein and Galloway received tumultuous applause when they responded to my question about the anti-Semitic chants and statements that had been made and documented on YouTube.
UC-Irvine's Muslim Student Union has stated on numerous occasions that they are not anti-Semitic, and it would be unfair to make a blanket accusation against all of them as individuals. Yet, over the years, they have brought several speakers to UCI who have made anti-Semitic comments.
More on the international scale, the crazy fact is that the worst offenders of religious intolerance is the one group that is demanding protection from intolerance. It is turning common sense on its head, but that is what political correctness is all about. I don't want to see Muslims in this country persecuted, but American Muslims need to face the facts-not only about the terror threat this country and the world faces-but about intolerance shown to non-Muslims in predominantly Muslim countries. As for the US, we do need to speak out diplomatically-and call a spade a spade. It seems a strange time in history to cut off funding for the USCIRF