We received the following response from Harvard's Jessica Stern to an item last Friday:
On June 14 I gave a speech at a conference by the EastWest Institute that focused on countering violent extremism and radicalization. I spoke for 45 minutes and focused the overwhelming majority of my remarks on what we need to do to defeat al Qaeda and its followers. However, the New York Sun report focused solely around one comment I made regarding the fact that violent extremism is present throughout many religions, and that all religious leaders need to be held accountable for standing up and condemning such violence.
This has led some to conclude, wrongly, that I find the current threat to be equally present across all religions. This was not my argument. Comparing violent extremists across three faiths is not to suggest that the threats are equivalent. They are not. The problems arising from Christian or Jewish extremism are not threatening to the world in the same way as Muslim extremism. With this in mind, I would like to set the record straight and, again, present the crux of the argument that I made on June 14.
Throughout history, extremists from every religion have sought to kill innocents in the name of their God, but today--with the exception of Muslim extremists--religious radicals have been unsuccessful in mobilizing large numbers of fighters. I hypothesize, based on my interviews of terrorists around the world, that the widespread perception that Islam has fallen behind the West has created vulnerability among some Muslims to a false narrative spread by extremists.
The al Qaeda movement's story is that the West is deliberately humiliating the global Muslim community, and that the best way for radical Muslims to recover their pride and dignity is through violence against the West and against "impure Muslims." While the U.S. approach to the war on terrorism has been principally military, the enemy has been fighting a war of ideas.
To fight this scourge, I support the policy recommendations of the EastWest Institute: Our weapons in the war on terrorism must include diplomacy, intrareligious dialogue, intelligence and, when necessary, covert action.
It must also include a major effort to develop a counternarrative that makes clear that the West has no desire to humiliate or destroy the global Muslim community. That narrative must focus on our common humanity, rather than our differences.
Whatever "some" might have concluded, neither this column nor the Sun ascribed to Stern the view that "I find the current threat to be equally present across all religions." Indeed, the Sun reported that "Dr. Stern opened her remarks by saying that . . . it may be true there is presently more violence being committed in the name of Islam than in the name of other religions."
What we took her to task for was the following statement:
"I've heard a lot of bashing of Muslim clerics for not stepping up to the plate and condemning extremist violence. . . . But Catholic priests are not stepping up to condemn those who kill abortion doctors . . . [and] rabbis are not condemning the violent settlers' movement."
We faulted Stern for, in our words, "excusing decent Muslims who remain silent when others commit atrocities in the the name of Islam." We also faulted her for making statements that were false or insupportable. As the Sun reported:
When asked to cite specific examples of violence undertaken by this "violent settlers' movement," she mentioned Yigal Amir's 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, a crime that was almost universally condemned by Jewish leadership.
Furthermore, Amir acted on his own, not as part of a "movement"; and he was not a "settler" but a resident of Herzliya, a coastal city that has been part of Israel since the foundation of the modern state. We'll give Stern this: He was violent.
Meanwhile, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League rebutted the claim that Catholic leaders had failed to condemn antiabortion violence. He also noted that "there has not been a single abortionist killed in the U.S. since 1998."
In her response, Stern disputes neither the accuracy of the Sun's reporting nor any of the criticisms of her remarks that the Sun, Donohue and this column actually made. She criticizes the Sun for its news judgment--for focusing on her calumnies about Jews and Catholics at the expense of her broader argument.
As far as that argument goes, we are struck by this statement: "While the U.S. approach to the war on terrorism has been principally military, the enemy has been fighting a war of ideas."
This seems to us not only wrongheaded but jaw-droppingly so. The enemy has been wantonly murdering civilians, in New York, Baghdad, Kabul, Madrid, London, Bali and many other places, and has left nothing but carnage in its wake. The U.S. and its allies, by contrast, have undertaken two major military interventions, in Afghanistan and Iraq, in both cases toppling totalitarian regimes and replacing them with democratic ones.
Stern's characterization of America's approach as "primarily military" and the enemy's war as one "of ideas" is of a piece with her comments about Jews and Catholics. She presents the enemy in a far more favorable light, and the West in a far less favorable one, than the facts merit. This doesn't seem like a winning strategy in a war of ideas.
When Stern calls for "a counternarrative that makes clear that the West has no desire to humiliate or destroy the global Muslim community," we wonder if she has listened to President Bush's speeches. Here is what he said on Sept. 20, 2001:
The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics--a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam. . . .
I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them.
This is from Nov. 6, 2003:
It should be clear to all that Islam--the faith of one-fifth of humanity--is consistent with democratic rule. Democratic progress is found in many predominantly Muslim countries--in Turkey and Indonesia, and Senegal and Albania, Niger and Sierra Leone. Muslim men and women are good citizens of India and South Africa, of the nations of Western Europe, and of the United States of America.
More than half of all the Muslims in the world live in freedom under democratically constituted governments. They succeed in democratic societies, not in spite of their faith, but because of it. A religion that demands individual moral accountability, and encourages the encounter of the individual with God, is fully compatible with the rights and responsibilities of self-government.
And the president's Second Inaugural Address, although it did not mention Islam or Muslims specifically, certainly emphasized, in Stern's words, "our common humanity, rather than our differences":
Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty--though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.
Perhaps Stern, in her speech, gave the president credit for his counternarrative, or offered some cogent criticism of it. We don't know. We weren't there, and the text of the speech does not appear either on the EastWest Institute's Web site or on Stern's own list of publications, which was last updated nine months ago. In the interest of furthering dialogue, we invite Stern to send us a copy of her speech, which we will be happy to publish in full on this Web site.