Right on the heels of this, Dennis Prager has something even more irresponsible to say:

This is important to note because it gives one a clearer picture of the type of the person the Islamist is. We have here a level of moral primitiveness unknown elsewhere in the human race. There are bad people in every religion, in every country, and in every group. But we do not know of any group, let alone millions of people, who believe that murder is a proper response to an affront to their religion (or to their country or to their ethnic group).

This is in the context of a column about the American Left’s tendency to see “moral equivalency”—to say, blame the satanic pastor Terry Jones for the murders he incited in Afghanistan last week—between immoral American acts and Islamist atrocities. This (predominantly) right-wing complaint has been around since the very early days after 9/11, when anyone who dared discuss the political context of the attacks might as well have pronounced themselves a Bin Laden supporter.

Jones did a despicable, damnable thing, but however wicked it may have been, it justifies neither Islamic violence nor the tossing aside of his legal rights in this country. In trying to make the point that Islamists, and not American fundamentalist Christians, are responsible for the murders committed in Afghanistan, Prager reiterates the worst bit of that deliberate post-9/11 blindness about why Islamic terrorism exists and how the West should respond to it.

The core of the conservative argument against what they call “moral equivalency” is the pathologically murderous, morally primitive Islamist, the type of person whose evil is, as Prager put is, “unknown elsewhere in the human race.” I honestly don’t know how Prager could type that clause without immediately realizing its outrageousness. On the contrary, that kind of moral primitiveness has been on display everywhere else in the human race throughout history—history is nothing if not a long parade of people who believed in killing those who affronted their identity, from Sir Thomas More to the American colonists to the CIA. To acknowledge the fact is not to defend Islamists, it’s to realize that they hardly represent an unprecedented low in human morality.

(However sickened one is by the illegal torture, renditions, killings and support for despots that have happened at the hands of Western powers, I would like to hold onto some tenuous distinction between the actions of “legitimate” state agents and straight-up mob violence. That almost no modern society has proved itself incapable of producing hateful, deadly mob violence should make plain that Islamic hardliners are no exception.)

I bring up the demonization of Islamists by people like Prager to point out, once again, the blatantly anti-theoretical bent of an American right that wants to put Islamic grievance with the United States in a “fascist” or “psychopathic” box and promptly commence blowing it up. The examples are innumerable: Victor Davis Hanson calling Islamists “fascists” and saying the only response is “military defeat”; Jonah Goldberg calling Islam a “religion of war and bigotry”; Joseph Loconte in The Weekly Standard saying “radical Islam is the philosophical cousin to European fascism,” with which it shares a “nihilist rage.” Any attempt to understand the enemy we’re confronting, which Sun Tzu might say is one of the first tasks of conflict, is greeted by these people as “appeasement,” or “Islamoschmoozing” or “American weakness.” And they call the Islamists the blinded warmongers.

The Afghan mob murders that followed Jones’ Koran-burning should be thoroughly condemned, but they did not happen in a vacuum. Prager, like many a conservative before him, wants to prove Islamists’ inhumanity so that the West can wash its hands of its responsibility for them. In fact, these horrific murders happened within a complex historical and political context, one in which the United States is deeply, profoundly culpable. Without Western meddling—which includes the deliberate, systematic creation of the militants we now call our nihilist enemies—Islamic terrorists as we know them might well not exist. Prager and others are suggesting that we declare them “moral monsters” and substitute the real political events that sparked their acts with an almost farcical denial of history. Frankly, I expect more from an ideological tradition that prides itself on its realism.

No American individual, not even Terry Jones, is personally responsible for the people who died in Afghanistan last week. But people “who believe that murder is a proper response to an affront to their religion (or to their country or to their ethnic group)”? If Prager doesn’t see that type of people anywhere outside the Muslim world, then he isn’t looking very hard.

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About The Author

David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol, and is currently a doctoral student in modern European history at Boston College. His writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

0 Responses to Dennis Prager’s Moral Monsters

  1. Chris M says:

    If the Afghan mob murders that followed Jones’Koran-burning did not happen in a vacuum, then shouldn’t the same logic apply to Prager’s response? Is the political left asking themselves what they did to create Pragers attitudes?

    I find “root causes” of a response to be a valid consideration. Unfortunately, those who use it tend to be self selective. Do democrats ask themselves why the religious right hates them so much? And if so, what are they planning to do about it? If you are unable to make ‘nice’ with religious conservatives who live in the suburbs, how do you expect to accomplish the same task with those who live in villages across the ocean?

    Just a thought. Its good to see more Patrol articles coming lately

  2. Karla Sessions says:

    While your point is philosophically correct, I think some of the rhetoric and serious concern is because of the sheer numbers of Muslims. This type of behavior has surely been seen throughout history in many groups, but maybe not in the proportions and so consistently believed throughout a people group.

  3. JMJ says:

    While prager’s rhetoric is annoying and disturbing, the point he makes is even being made by the left: specifically Bill Maher.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/bill-maher-koran-un-murders-sullivan-video-2011-4

    • I think point can be made—that radical Islam is hideous, ugly, and a very serious threat to ideals many of us believe in—without the culturally-superior self-righteousness you see on the right, and also from anti-religious people like Bill Maher or Christopher Hitchens. (Remember, those guys are religious zealots of another kind, and they’re not altogether opposed to open, even literal war with actual religion.)

      I’m not opposed to calling radical Islam what it is, but I am very much opposed to calling all Islam what radical Islam is, especially by people who have little knowledge of either. And I’m opposed to a kind of snarling cultural supremacy that wants to assert its own righteousness and deny the humanity of its enemies—enemies it, in both large and small ways, helped bring into the world.

      Now, I would suggest most Americans are not historical amnesiac warmongers; they settle instead into a kind of, “I’ll accept Muslims if they work very hard to prove to me they’re not one of the bad guys.” But even that can be pernicious if it ends up as tacit support for the warmongers. Muslims do not have to prove to you that they are “peaceful,” just as Americans don’t have an obligation to prove to al Qaeda they aren’t CIA assassins and Christian abortion opponents don’t all have to prove they aren’t Scott Roeder. You should, especially if you are a Christian, accept their humanity on its face. And you should know enough about Islam to see the pointlessness of the cultural supremacy of the Hitchens/Dawkins/Maher types, and the terrifying danger of the views of far too many people on the American right.

  4. TO says:

    David-

    I am confused about your reaction to Prager’s article. It seems you missed an important distinction of his. You write:

    “…history is nothing if not a long parade of people who believed in killing those who affronted their identity.”

    This is a sentiment with which Prager seems to earnestly agree (There are bad people in every religion, in every country, and in every group.) However, as Prager points out, “…we do not know of any group, let alone millions of people, who believe that murder is a proper response to an affront to their religion.” He also clearly defines the “Islamist” as such (distinct from the “Muslim”). I am no historian, but I am not sure the laundry list you provide (Saint Thomas More, American colonists, and the CIA) fit that definition. Certainly they do not fit it as well as radical Islam, which you describe as “hideous, ugly, and a very serious threat to ideals many of us believe in.”

    You also leave out some information supporting your claim that the American right “wants to put Islamic grievance with the United States in a “fascist” or “psychopathic” box and promptly commence blowing it up.” For example, Victor Davis Hanson does not call radical Muslims “fascists.” He contends that the spread of violence perpetrated by professed Islamic radicals shares similarities with the spread of dangerous ideology in the 1930s. He never equates the ideology of radical Muslims to that of the fascist, and he always points out the distinction between radical Muslims and “the majority of Muslims,” who he recognizes are not global terrorists. He also advocates “military defeat” of those radicals only “when it emerges to wage organized violence.”

    I agree that to “demonize” the Muslim world based on the horrific actions of radical Muslims is irresponsible. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dennis Prager feels the same way. However, I see no such irresponsibility in his article, nor do I see it in Dr. Hansen’s.

    Finally, as regards Mark Steyn’s complaint about “Islamoschmoozing,” reads more as a warning against paying lip service to a dangerous mixture of politics and religion which he claims, and I have little doubt that you would agree, “is a significant challenge to western notions of liberty and pluralism.”

  5. TO says:

    Excuse me…the first sentence in the third-to-last paragraph should read: “You also leave out some information from the articles supporting your claim…”

  6. Jim Jacobson says:

    I think Terry Jones is a dope. But so is anything that smells like a defense of radical Islam. These people murder innocents intentionally. To equate their war tactics with the American colonists and the C.I.A. is ridiculous at best.
    To imply that we somehow created these “monsters” is an outrage. They are created by blind allegiance to a false religion and an ancient jealousy.

    • David Sessions says:

      “To equate their war tactics with the American colonists and the CIA is ridiculous at best.”

      Which is why I didn’t do it. Prager wrote that we don’t know of any other group that believes killing is an appropriate response to affronts to its religion/ethnic identity. I simply compared ideologies: many American colonies believed that simply speaking blasphemy (an affront to their religion) should be punished by death. And U.S. intelligence forces have few qualms about assassinating people they believe to be a threat to the American way of life (an affront to their identity). As I clearly, explicitly said, I do not equate a political assassination with a mob murder. But I was pointing out the deep asininity of Prager’s “we’ve never heard of people this wicked!” bullshit. Of course we have.

      To imply that we somehow created these “monsters” is an outrage.

      I realize that sounds outrageous to patriotic Americans, but you cannot argue with the record. U.S. propaganda, meddling, and even violent overthrow in Islamic countries is no secret. Yes, their ancient grievances and specific teachings of their religion enabled their devolution into political killers. But to imply that we meddled constantly, pervasively, and violently in their peoples’ affairs with impunity–that we somehow didn’t create this reaction–is to display either ignorance or denial.

      • Jim Jacobson says:

        David, can you cite exactly which actions on the part of the U.S. have incited violence?

        What I see on the part of Islamists is not a quid pro quo, but unreasonable overreaction. There is no moral equivalence between burning books (any books) and murdering innocent civilians. It’s not like someone depicted Mohammed in a cartoon for crying out loud.

  7. Pat Sawyer says:

    David, two questions:

    First, echoing Jim Jacobson’s question but with a qualification, could you provide specific examples where the U.S. has initiated IMMORAL action against another country that has ostensibly created and led to a violent reaction against the U.S., a reaction that would not have otherwise taken place?

    And secondly, do you reject the notion that hundreds of millions of Muslims affirm and support the Islamic concepts of dar el harb and dar el Islam and the expansion of the dar el Islam into the dar el harb through the Islamic concept of al fatah?

    Thanks.

  8. Chuck says:

    It is not necessary to demonize radical Muslims. They do a very good job of demonizing themselves.

  9. […] tend to respond horribly to discussions of moral equivalence, and I highly doubt much sober reflection of that nature will be happening in our country in the […]

  10. haris says:

    well i just don’t know what is meant by radical islam is ugly…for heavens sake have some knowledge about this beautiful way of life called as ISLAM…
    DAVID SESSIONS i will be privileged to add to your knowledge about islam…thanks

  11. David says:

    I’m not sure why it’s become so unpopular to take a hard and fast stance on abhorrent behavior. If we are unable to callout elements of a culture that so clearly represent the bottom of the moral barrel then we will continue to go around in circles. Too many of us are apologists for radical or antisocial behavior that diminishes civilization. Your pointing to political or historical explanations as justification comes off as excuse making; Virtually every culture or society has at some point in history been oppressed, abused or in some fashion lorded over by one force or another. It is reasonable and fair to ask, why do nearly all incidents of terror come from a single culture? Many of us hear Mr. Prager as a voice of reason taking a bold stand and doing so without condemning an entire population. We admire him for making his argument clearly but without venom towards Muslims.

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