The New Anti-Semitism
Recent attacks on Islam in the United States echo old slurs against Jews
Andrew C. McCarthy’s The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America is among the most recent, and likely the most comprehensive, contributions to the genre. McCarthy is, on the surface, a credible figure: A former federal prosecutor, he came to prominence by winning convictions against Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman and others linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. During the Bush years, he was a vociferous defender of the administration’s detainee policies, while Obama’s election caused him to venture into nuttier territory. (He has speculated, for instance, that Bill Ayers may have been the real author of Obama’s Dreams From My Father.) His book helps illustrate both the potency of the Muslim-conspiracy myth and the extent to which it has taken hold of mainstream right-wing discourse.
McCarthy’s thesis is simple: Muslims aiming “to supplant American constitutional democracy with sharia law” have joined forces with leftists—including Obama himself—to impose a shared “totalitarian, collectivist” vision. Which Muslims? McCarthy hints that the real problem is Islam itself but that for reasons of political correctness it is wiser to stick to the term “Islamist”—a distinction that loses some of its force given his estimation that two-thirds of Muslims are Islamists. (Indeed, he applies the term to some, like Edward Said, who were not Muslims at all.)
The bulk of the Muslim population, then, aims to impose sharia over every aspect of American life. How will they do this? Through violence, if need be—but McCarthy is keen to note that Islamists are above all master dissimulators who will seek to impose sharia through legal means if they can (“grand-jihad-by-sabotage,” he calls it). This means that even peaceful attempts to follow Islam through strictly private means (for instance, through sharia-compliant finance) are simply precursors to a takeover of the overall system. Muslims who live within religious or ethnic enclaves are not merely trying to remain within a familiar community or preserve shared values; rather, they are presented as deviously following the “voluntary apartheid” strategy of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood—the group whose “global tentacles” extend into nearly every Muslim-American civil society organization. It is too obvious to be worth belaboring that no one would dream of applying a similar logic to Orthodox Jews or evangelical Christian homeschoolers.
At times, McCarthy speaks the language of religious tolerance, arguing simply that Islam should not have a “sacrosanct status” denied to other religions. Yet it becomes increasingly clear that he is in fact arguing for special targeting and discriminatory measures against Islam, and he eventually concedes that he believes it is wrong to place Judaism and Christianity “on a par with an inherently discriminatory, supremacist doctrine.” As a result, “foreign Muslims should not be permitted to reside in America unless they can demonstrate their acceptance of American constitutional principles.” (But how, given the Muslim propensity for dissimulation, can we be sure that their professions of loyalty are genuine?)
The Islamist threat to the United States, McCarthy further argues, would not be so dire if it weren’t for their alliance with the leftists who “dominate policy circles, the academy, and the media.” The most important of these, of course, is Obama himself. Obama “publicly professes” to be a Christian, and McCarthy generously allows that there is no reason to doubt him—although he goes on to include two full chapters on Obama’s Muslim roots—before asserting that the “faith to which Obama actually clings is neocommunism.” This distinction ultimately matters little, however, for the Marxism of Obama and the rest of the American elite coalesces in key respects with the Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood and its American minions.
The overall tone and content of McCarthy’s polemic will be familiar to students of 1850s Know-Nothing anti-Catholicism or 1950s anti-Communism—or, for that matter, late-19th-century European anti-Semitism. It is tempting to dismiss him as a crackpot, and on an obvious level he is one. But his speculations and those of his fellows are far from irrelevant to the political moment. They are not being published in anonymous blog comments sections, but in widely publicized and bestselling books. More to the point, they have already made a notable impact on American political discourse.
The mosque furor is only the most recent and revealing demonstration of the anti-jihadists’ political influence; from the beginning of the controversy, McCarthy and his allies have dictated the terms of debate on the right. In his July 28 statement attacking the Islamic center, Newt Gingrich cited The Grand Jihad and framed the controversy in McCarthy’s terms of Western civilization under siege from creeping sharia. More recently, the American Family Association—a leading fundamentalist Christian group—cited the book to argue that no more mosques should be built anywhere in the United States because “each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the overthrow of the American government.” A campaign spearheaded by Pamela Geller, the right-wing blogger who was previously most notorious for publishing a lengthy piece alleging that Obama is the illegitimate child of Malcolm X, will place ads on New York City buses opposing the Islamic center. On September 11, she and Gingrich will lead a major rally against the center that will also feature Wilders, the Islamophobic Dutch politician. What was once a lunatic fringe now appears to be running the show, aided and abetted by mainstream figures like Gingrich.
It is quite possible that the next Republican president will also be a party to what can justly be called the new McCarthyism; for that reason alone, McCarthy and his allies deserve our attention. But even more important is the impact of this steady stream of anti-Muslim vitriol on the popular consciousness. Cynical politicians like Gingrich may know that all the talk of the Islamic center as a “9/11 victory monument” and of ordinary Muslims as stealth sharia operatives is mere agitprop designed to win votes in an election year, but ordinary citizens may take them at their word and act accordingly.
While activists like Pam Geller have led the anti-mosque campaign and the broader demonization of Muslims that has accompanied it, leaders like Abe Foxman have acquiesced in it. In doing so they risk providing an ugly and ironic illustration of the extent of Jewish assimilation in 21st-century America. We know that Jews can grow up to be senators and Supreme Court justices. Let’s not also discover that they can grow up to incite a pogrom.
Daniel Luban is a doctoral student in political science at the University of Chicago.
‘Sharia’ is a much more abstract concept than ideologues—whether Mideast Islamists or Newt Gingrich—suggest