Muslims killed us on 9/11.

[26-10-2010 12:00 AM]

NEW YORK (YBH) – “Muslims killed us on 9/11.” Rarely has one brief sentence sparked such bitter controversy. Ever since Bill O’Reilly uttered the now-infamous claim on an episode of “The View,” sparking an on-camera walk-out by Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar, pundits on the left and right have been debating the veracity of O’Reilly’s statement.

“It’s a lie!,” shrieked’s Joan Walsh. “Bill O’Reilly is an ignorant racist,” tweeted the Huffington Post’s Andy Ostroy. And MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan called O’Reilly a “liar” and a “jackass fool.” But liberals were in no way united on the subject. On his HBO talk Real Time, Bill Maher expressed a different view:

“I just want to ask, and I hate to agree with Bill O’Reilly, but why is it an outrage to say a factually true statement. Muslims did kill us on 9/11…I don’t understand why this is a hanging offense. I really don’t.”

Maher even got the ultra-far left Markos Moulitsas (founder of the Daily Kos) to admit that it’s “demonstrably true” that “the Muslims were behind 9/11.”

It is, in fact, a simple truth: Muslims did attack us on 9/11. O’Reilly was correct. Yet to many liberals, to phrase it that way implies that one is assigning blame to every Muslim in the world. Leftists like the HuffPo’s Ostroy trotted out a familiar argument:

“Was it Jews who killed innocent New Yorkers in the Son of Sam murders in the 70′s? Was it Blacks who killed 29 Atlanta children in the early 80′s? Was it Christians who blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City in 1995?”

Of course, that’s obscenely specious reasoning. We define Islamic terrorists by their religion because they act in the name of their religion. David Berkowitz (the “Son of Sam”) was a paranoid schizophrenic psychopath; his religion was not a motivating factor in his crimes. Wayne Williams (the “Atlanta Child Murderer”) was a pedophile; his race had nothing to do with his crimes. And religion was not the motivation behind Tim McVeigh’s bombing in Oklahoma City.

The “Muslims killed us on 9/11” issue became even more divisive last week when liberal analyst Juan Williams was fired from his job at NPR for admitting, during an appearance on the O’Reilly show, to feeling “worried and nervous” when getting on a plane with people who “are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims.”

Invariably, any discussion of O’Reilly and Williams’ statements boils down to a debate over the extent to which “Muslims” can be blamed for global Islamic terror. Liberals will typically take the position that the “extremists” are “a tiny minority,” so small a minority that they are no more representative of the Muslim population than David Berkowitz was representative of Jewish people.

Conservatives, on the other hand, will usually argue that extremist views are so widespread – and entrenched – in the Muslim world, that it is justifiable to make blanket statements about “Muslims.”

To better explore this issue, let’s look at how we describe our adversaries from World War II. We have no problem saying that we fought “the Germans,” as opposed to “the Nazi government in command of the German army, many members of which were draftees, yet aided by volunteer units like the SS while acting in collaboration with local police brigades and pro-Nazi forces in neighboring countries.” If historians were required to be that specific and verbose, most history books would run over a thousand pages.

We say “the Germans” as a shorthand for the more detailed description above, just as we say “the British” evacuated at Dunkirk, and “the Russians” and “the Americans” met at the Elbe. It’s taken for granted that we’re not speaking about all British, Russians, or Americans.

For an excellent exploration of this theme, read this op-ed by veteran actor Orson Bean.

The shorthand we employ to describe our WWII foes is justified because the leaders of those nations were acting in the name of their countries (just as Islamic terror groups are acting in the name of their religion). A more complicated matter is how we describe the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Liberal media outlets, most if not all of which would, as policy, never blame “the Muslims” for global Islamic terror, have no problem blaming “the Germans” for the Holocaust.

Some notable examples:

“The Germans carried out the Holocaust.” (The New York Times, April 12, 1992)
“During World War II the Germans killed the Jews.” (The New York Review of Books, September 21, 2010)
“The Germans murdered the Jews.” (The Independent, July 14, 2000)
“The Germans methodically eliminated any trace of the victims (of the gas chambers).” (The Washington Post, January 28, 2005)
“The Germans never left a tiny village in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia without killing Jews there.” (The AP, carried by the Huffington Post, January 31, 2009)
“Those killed at the death camps were ecumenical victims….of the Germans’ ‘final solution’ to eradicate the Jews.” (The Boston Globe, January 27, 1995)
“The Germans’ brutality was at bottom no more explicable than the delicate savagery of cats toying with their prey.” (Random House High School Teachers Guide, 1994)

Of course, this is shorthand, too, We understand that the issue of assigning blame and responsibility for the Holocaust is more complex than simply saying “the Germans.” The Holocaust was conceived and overseen by the Nazi hierarchy, carried out actively by the SS (and on occasion by non-SS units of German soldiers and police brigades), and supported both actively and passively by many sectors of German society (those who profited from Jewish slave labor, those who profited from stolen Jewish goods and property, those who ran the trains to the death camps, etc.). However, the Holocaust was carried out almost entirely in territory outside of Germany proper, with the willing aid and assistance of non-Germans (for example, in the Baltic countries, the local populations proved every bit as adept as the SS at murdering Jews during the Holocaust).

If we are comfortable using the shorthand of blaming “the Germans” for the Holocaust, should we be equally comfortable blaming “Muslims” for global Islamic terror?

It might be instructive to examine some statistics.

It’s a well-known fact that the Nazis were not elected by a majority of German voters. In the 1932 German presidential election, Hitler received only 30% of the vote (von Hindenburg handily won with 49.6%). In the federal election of 1933, the Nazis won with 43.9% of the vote – not a majority (and that win must be seen in light of countless cases of voter intimidation by the Nazis, and the suppression and harassment of opposition parties).

But since we’re specifically discussing the Holocaust, it’s interesting to note that in the decade leading up to the elections of 1932 and 1933, the Nazi Party did everything it could to downplay its anti-Semitism. In an essay titled, “Where Did Nazi Anti-Semitism Disappear to?” by Hebrew University’s Oded Heilbronner (published in Yad Vashem Studies, volume XXI, 1991), the author points out that the Nazi Party soft-peddled, or in some cases completely ignored, the issue of anti-Semitism in the years leading up to the elections of ’32 and ’33.

If we can say that the Nazis were not elected by a majority of Germans, and if we can establish that anti-Semitism was not a prime factor used by the Nazis to attract votes, what can be said of the attitudes of the Nazis themselves regarding anti-Semitism and violence against Jews?

We can draw some significant data from a landmark work in Holocaust historiography, Professor Peter Merkl’s “Political Violence Under the Swastika: 581 Early Nazis” (Princeton University Press, 1975). Using contemporaneous biographical studies and personality profiles of five-hundred and eighty-one early, founding members of the Nazi party (the hard-core Nazis who shaped the party and brought it to power), Merkl provides statistical analysis of the founding Nazis’ political, societal, and religious views. Merkl’s findings are dramatic. 33.3% of these Nazi party members showed no interest in anti-Semitism. 14.3% expressed “mild verbal clichés” regarding Jews. 19.1% displayed “moderate” disdain for Jewish cultural influence in Germany. But only 12.9% advocated “violent countermeasures” against Jews.

According to Merkl’s findings, the largest plurality of Nazis, from the party’s founding up until its assumption of power, showed no interest in anti-Semitism. A mere 12.9% favored what would eventually come to pass – violent measures against Jews.

Let’s contrast those figures with what we know about attitudes in the Muslim world regarding terrorism and violence.

According to a 2007 Pew Research Center poll, 13% of U.S. Muslims believe that “violent terrorism against civilians in the defense of Islam” can be justified (26% of U.S. Muslims age 18-29 held that view). 24% of Muslims in Great Britain believe that violent terrorism in the defense of Islam can be justified, and a startling 35% of French Muslims agree (as did 25% of Spanish Muslims, and 13% of German Muslims).

In Muslim nations, support for violent terrorism against civilians in the defense of Islam breaks down thusly: In Jordan, 57% of Muslims say it can be justified. In Egypt, 53%, in Nigeria, 69%, in Indonesia, 28%, in Turkey, 26%, and in Pakistan, 22%.

In every instance, support for violent terrorism against civilians in the name of Islam is higher among average Muslims (including U.S. Muslims) than support for violence against Jews was among the founding members of the Nazi Party.

We can draw several conclusions from this study:

• Based on available sources, we see that support for violent terrorist acts against civilians is higher among everyday, ordinary Muslims than support for violence against Jews was among the original, hard-core members of the Nazi Party in the 1920s and early ‘30s. This cannot be seen as anything but highly alarming.

• Whereas during the Holocaust, the Nazis “farmed out” a great deal of their dirty work to non-German individuals, organizations, and mobs in allied and occupied nations (including the routine use of Eastern European guards at the death camps), Islamic terrorism, on the other hand, never loses its specific Muslim identity. Islamic terror groups don’t “buddy up” with Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha’i, or (of course) Jewish individuals or organizations. It is a uniquely, and exclusively, Muslim endeavor – far more uniquely and exclusively Muslim than the Holocaust was uniquely and exclusively German. Therefore, if it’s acceptable to state that “the Germans” carried out the Holocaust, it’s not unreasonable to argue that it is also acceptable to state that “Muslims killed us on 9/11” (i.e., using the term “Muslim” without the qualifier “extremists” or “radicals”).

• Finally, if we accept that most Germans did not support the Nazis in 1932 and 1933, if we accept that anti-Semitism was not a primary motivating factor for those who did vote for the Nazis in ’32 and ’33, and if we accept that even among early, hard-core Nazis, support for violent anti-Semitism was low, we are left with the troubling conclusion that the vast and horrific crimes of the Holocaust could not have been carried out without the willing participation of those who were neither Nazis nor virulent anti-Semites, but who nevertheless followed orders, did their jobs, kept the machinery of death functioning, profited from the Jews’ exploitation and murder, and turned their backs to atrocities that they may have privately objected to.

Seminal Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg referred to this class of person as the “bystander” – the person who was not a direct perpetrator of the Holocaust, yet who tacitly or passively assisted the Nazis in their murderous goals.

According the Hilberg, the Holocaust could not have happened without the “bystanders” (Hilberg’s protégé Christopher Browning would come to redefine “bystanders” as “the ordinary men”).

And that’s arguably the biggest problem in the Muslim world right now. It’s not that the majority of Muslims are committed terrorists strapping Semtex bombs to their waists; it’s that a supportive or nonchalant attitude among ordinary Muslims has allowed the cancer of Islamic terror to grow.

In other words, “ordinary Muslims” are every bit as much of the problem right now as “ordinary Germans” were during the Holocaust.

The extent to which the attitudes of “ordinary Muslims” can have an impact on the actions of a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda is demonstrated by revisiting the Pew Research Center’s study of attitudes in Muslim nations regarding terrorism. In spring 2005, the number of Jordanians who took the position that violence against civilians in the defense of Islam can never be justified was a paltry 11% – a shockingly small number.

Several months later, in November 2005, al-Qaeda launched a series of deadly suicide bombing attacks against hotels in Jordan, killing at least sixty people and injuring hundreds. Most of the dead were Jordanian Muslims. Immediately, ordinary Jordanians took to the streets to protest the carnage. By spring 2006, the number of Jordanians who took the position that violence against civilians in the defense of Islam can never be justified had jumped from 11% to 43%. This change in attitude in Jordan prompted al-Qaeda to issue an incredibly rare apology for the bombings, and since then, no large-scale terror operations have been conducted by al-Qaeda in that country.

In other words, the attitudes of ordinary Muslims matter. Granted, al-Qaeda, and similar organizations, are not beholden to Muslim public opinion. But whereas public opinion in the U.S. has absolutely no bearing on al-Qaeda’s actions, people in the Muslim world can have an impact when they actively and vocally oppose Islamic terror.

The converse is also true. The widespread acceptance of Islamic terror in the Muslim world emboldens and encourages Muslim extremists. One cannot separate the actions of the extremists from the attitudes of “ordinary Muslims.” They are inextricably connected. And to that extent, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the problem of Islamic terror is, indeed, a “Muslim problem.”

* David Stein / YBH site

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