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The Threat of Islamic Extremism

Address by Abraham H. Foxman (as prepared)
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League
To the ADL National Commission Meeting
Atlanta, GA, October 27, 2006

Posted: October 27, 2006

Last year I talked to you about the deepening threat to American society from a group we are calling Christian Supremacists. They are a well-funded, well-organized facet of the Christian right engaged in an aggressive campaign to transform America into a theocracy ruled by their warped view of biblical law.

We were attacked last year as alarmist, as people who exaggerate, as people who are not loyal to their friends.  But our warning was not alarmist, was not exaggerated, and was clearly ahead of the curve.

Since last year, more than 21 books and numerous in-depth national magazine and newspaper articles and other media reports have been published alerting Americans about this dangerous phenomenon which threatens to wear down such bedrock American principles as the separation of church and state.

For example, in her book "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism" Michelle Goldberg explains how Christian Supremacists believe they have been granted the right to take over every aspect of society because of something called "dominion theology," from the courts to the pharmacies.

John Danforth, the former three-term Republican U.S. senator from Missouri and an Episcopal priest wrote "Faith and Politics: How the Moral Values Debate Divides America," in which he critiques the religious right's conflation of their political agenda with a religious agenda. He argues that no one should presume to embody God's truth and castigates the religious right for their focus on wedge issues that drive people apart and that create "tests" for religious orthodoxy, such as abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage, the Schiavo case, and public displays of religion.

In "The Myth of a Christian Nation," Rev. Gerald Boyd argues that the American Evangelical Church has allowed itself to be co-opted by the political right (and some by the political left). Boyd exposes how this alignment undermines the church's unique calling and greatly compromises the kingdom of God, not only in America but throughout the world.

In "Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right," Reverend Mel White believes it is not a stretch to say that the true goal of today's Christian fundamentalists is to break down the wall of the separation of church and state, superimpose their moral values on the U.S. Constitution, and ultimately create a new "Christian America" in their image.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Today I want to speak about another, greater threat to us – to democracy, to America, to the State of Israel and Jewish people, indeed to the world – the threat of Islamic extremism.

History will record the 20th century as one of triumph and tragedy…of miracles and massacres…of hope to make life better through inventions and technology and mostly, of the horrors of the Holocaust that destroyed the life of 6 million Jews and a war that destroyed millions of others.

This 21st century is starting out with a clash of cultures, a clash of faiths -- Islamists against Western and Judeo-Christian values. This looms ominously as the greatest threat to the safety of the world – to the safety of world Jewry and world peace. Radical Islamists are arming their faithful with hate and rage, with a goal toward dismantling democracy and creating a world ruled by Islamic law. This threat must be confronted with the same resolve that brought triumph for democracy and freedom over fascism and Communism.

This threat is especially dangerous because its roots are in religion, thus there is no way to reason with it, as we, the Jewish people, know too well from our history.

Al Qaeda's chief in Iraq made our blood run cold when he said "killing the infidels is our religion, slaughtering them is our religion, until they convert to Islam or pay us tribute."  How do you reason with these thoughts?  How do you debate?  How do you argue?  How do you dialogue?

A video message on the Hamas Web site proclaims, "We are a nation that drinks blood and we know that there is no blood better than the blood of the Jews." But the lust to kill Jews is only part of it. Hamas, Hezbollah, Osama Bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have ambitions that threaten us all.

Khaled Meshal, Hamas' top leader, spelled them out when he said, "the nation of Islam will sit at the throne of the world…Mohammed is gaining victory in Palestine and in Iraq…the Arab and Islamic nation is rising and awakening…tomorrow we will lead the world."

Just one week ago, on October 20, Ahmadinejad, at a rally in Tehran called for "Jerusalem Day," said, "You should know the rage of people is boiling and is like an ocean welling up…Once its storm begins blowing, it will go beyond the borders of Lebanon and Palestine, and it will hurt European countries." Already on record that "Israel must be wiped off the map," he added, "Hezbollah shattered the myth that Israel is undefeatable. Now Israel has no reason to exist."

The destruction of Israel is seen as the first step in establishing Islamic states. Every day we see more and more of this campaign to turn history's clock back and make Islam the world's dominant…in fact, the world's only…religion. That means no settlement of any kind is conceivable with radicals who seek an Islamic supremacy that will totally expel the West from within the Muslim world and wrest from it the last shred of human dignity by establishing theocratic dictatorships that will impose a medieval interpretation of Islamic law.

We know that Jews and Christians lived in peace and prosperity under Islam in centuries past…but only because they agreed to live subject to the rule of Islam. It appears obvious that such a situation cannot and will not exist in our contemporary world. The key today is how the world reacts to the dangers of extremist Islam.

The West notoriously failed to take seriously Hitler at his word when very early in the 1920's and 30's he railed against Jews. It did not stop Hitler which led to the disaster of the Nazi Holocaust.

Today, so frightening and ironically, we are seeing a replay. Santayana is right – those who do not learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat them.

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propagandist, was the genius of the big lie. Today the President of Iran has inherited his mantle of conspiracy theories and classical anti-Semitism. Goebbels justified the Holocaust. Ahmadinejad claims it never happened. A man who refuses to believe historic truth is capable of anything. This is not an Arabic cable TV station or an obscure Egyptian newspaper. This is a head of government, the leader of a nation of 70 million people, a country that aspires to lead the Muslim world, a country that unabashedly claims to want to have, and claims its needs to have, nuclear capabilities.

If we came across pronouncements such as those coming out of Ahmadinejad's mouth on an Internet blog, they would be put down as the ravings of a deranged anti-Semite. But Ahmadinejad, is not deranged. He knows very well the effect of his words, and, I am certain, strongly believes them.

Today's Islamists, especially those who represent the violent Jihadist variant operate in a world without limits and without scruples. If you satirize Islam with a drawing or a novel, you can expect threats and mass outbreaks of violence.

It is unquestionably a real threat to the Jewish people, taking the ideology of hatred and adding the reality of suicide terrorism and the even more terrifying, weapons of mass destruction. The danger is not only that Jews are killed in the Middle East, in Europe and in the United States…but that, insidiously, radical Islam's hatred of Jews is becoming normalized. The result is that the world's politicians and media are talking seriously with those who don't merely want the West Bank, but who want an end to Israel and every Jew in it.

I have often said that Jews are the canary in the coal mine.  The canary has been inordinately put at risk.  In recent years, Jews were killed because they were Jews, something we have not witnessed since World War II, at the hands of jihadists.  There was the Buenos Aires bombings of the Israeli embassy and the Jewish center; there was the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl in Pakistan; there was the kidnapping and murder of Ilan Halimi in Paris; and there was the attack on the Seattle Jewish Federation.  Hamas and Hezbollah do not want to kill for land, but to eliminate Jews and a Jewish presence.

To Islamist extremists the enemy is the infidel.  The enemy is the Christian and the Jew.  So why is it that in the last 10 to 15 years in the Middle East and Europe, it is the Jews that have been targeted first.  Is it that they believe from history that if you only pick on the Jews, the rest of the infidels will remain silent, and will tolerate it?

For years, as we have said and published constantly, newspapers and broadcasters in the Arab/Muslim world have fed their audiences a diet of anti-Semitic images, libels and conspiracy theories. Nazi-style cartoons demonizing Jews, along with references to the "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion," appear every day, forming the Muslim view of Jews. Protests from Western governments and Jewish organizations are greeted with indifference, contempt or the devious response that government interference would mean restricting press freedom, even though most of these media outlets are state-owned and controlled.

Tzipi Livni, Israel's Foreign Minister, put it perfectly: "There is no greater challenge to our values than that posed by the leaders of Iran. They deny and mock the Holocaust, they speak proudly and openly of their desire to wipe Israel off the map. Now by their actions they pursue the weapons to achieve this objective…to imperil the region and to threaten the world.

"The international community is faced with no greater responsibility than to stand against this dark and growing danger – not for Israel's sake, but for its own, for the sake of the values it claims to embrace, for the sake of the world we all wish our children and grandchildren to inherit.

"What more needs to happen for the world to take this threat seriously? What more needs to happen to end the hesitation and the excuses? We know the lessons of the past. We know the consequences of appeasement and indifference."

When the Pope speaks, the world listens. When Pope Benedict XVI referred in a speech to a 14th century Byzantine emperor who said Islam imposes itself by the sword, the Muslim world reacted violently. Churches were attacked. In London, a radical Islamist told demonstrators that the Pope is now condemned to death…in Mogadishu, Somali an Islamic religious leader called on Muslims to hunt down the Pope and an Italian nun who worked in a children's hospital was murdered…an Internet posting by the Mujahedeen Shura Council called upon Muslims to slit the throats of Catholics…Muslims loudly proclaimed the Pope "a Zionist stooge" being manipulated by Jews.

We remember all to well the reaction to the publishing of cartoons in a Danish newspaper depicting Mohammed, which Muslims claimed were blasphemous. They resorted to violent rioting and intimidation. As we know, Arab media run cartoons depicting Jews and symbols of the Jewish faith with imagery indistinguishable from that used in the Third Reich. But, Jews have not threatened or taken the lives of Muslims because of it.

And we must not forget the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, cut down because he made a film critical of Muslims.

And what is the response?

Too often we find those affected cowering, intimidated into not reacting. The government of Denmark was told it must do something to appease the Muslim world. Several Dutch politicians who criticized the intolerance of some Muslims must live with police protection. In February, mobs attacked the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus and the Danish consulate in Beirut was burned to the ground. In all, some 30 people were killed answering the call to rage.

But respond and act we must.  So what is it that we need to begin to do?

Iran must be stopped from gaining nuclear weapons.

Iran is far more than a threat to Israel. If the day arrives that Iran has a bomb, the most dangerous era in modern times will have begun. The Arabs know it and make no mistake, if the Islamic extremists go nuclear, countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia will rush to do likewise. We will have nuclear proliferation throughout the unstable Middle East. A sure formula for Armageddon.

Ahmadinejad must be made a diplomatic pariah.

The international community must isolate Ahmadinejad; put him in quarantine because of his poisonous rhetoric, threats, and nuclear ambitions. Heads of States and the United Nations should not be talking to him, and tolerating the threats, unless and until he reverses course.

Islamic extremist terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as Al Qaeda and its offshoots, must be, once and for all, designated as terrorist groups and isolated.

When the UN passed a Security Council Resolution two years ago calling for the dismantling of Hezbollah but did nothing about it, this was appeasement and very well understood as that by Iran. 13,000 missiles and rockets later, it was left to Israel to do the work that was the responsibility of the world community.  And Security Council Resolution 1701 dared not mention Hezbollah by name.

European countries must come up with more sophisticated approaches to integrating their Muslim populations, while at the same time demanding responsibility from Muslim leadership to resist terror, hatred and extremist propaganda.

The West must not be defensive or condescending in dealing with Muslim extremism.

It should be concerned about Muslim sensitivities, but never give in to the hypocrisy of a supercritical Muslim world when episodes like the Danish cartoons or the Pope's speech occur. There is no excuse for the violence that took place after these incidents. There is no excuse for the over the top criticism when the anti-Semitism, denial of women's rights, anti-Christian attitudes, and general repression of freedoms are far too often characteristic of many Muslim countries today.

There must be positive initiatives where possible to turn Muslim opinion around.

Most of this must come from within the Muslim world, but the West can play a role by actively countering the conspiracy theories propagated by the extremists, by identifying and working with moderates who are courageous enough to stand up, and to work for pragmatic solutions to the many problems facing Muslim countries, for there is no magic formula.

In America, we need to continue to struggle to maintain our civil liberties, which is what we are about as a democratic society, while securing our country against those extremists who would like to go farther than 9/11.

If we don't value our civil liberties, then it is not America; but if we don't protect our country, our civil liberties will be in jeopardy in any case.

America is different because immigrant groups, including Muslims, have an opportunity to be equal citizens in a great country. That desire to become an American has always overcome separatist tendencies and we are confident that it will continue to be so.

My friends, we are engaged in a great struggle. One that we, who hold democracy, freedom and religious pluralism dear, must win.  One that the Jewish people must win.  This is a battle we cannot afford to lose, not as Jews, not as Americans, not as freedom-loving people around the world.

There is no quick answer. But too much is at stake, if not for us, for our children and grandchildren, to not try and search for a solution.

Thank you very much.

Print This Page

Dialogue with Muslims: Reality or Pipe Dream?
(op-ed in NY Jewish Week, 11/17/06)

Resolved to Defeat Islamic Extremism
(op-ed in Haaretz, 11/10/06)

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his Own Words

The Iranian Threat: Frequently Asked Questions

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