I’ve been waiting to hear some of the major figures in the conservative intelligentsia express skepticism about the Congressional hearings on homegrown Islamism convened by Peter King, just as I’ve waited for someone to stand up and say that the proposed Tennessee statute outlawing Sharia might be an ominous next step in the fight that started over the Ground Zero mosque. Finally, the National Review has posted an editorial on the hearings. It is not, as I wished, skeptical, but looking at its headline I hoped that it would at least provide a more coherent justification for the hearings than King had provided. I was open to persuasion, or at least a complication of my own position. I wanted to know: What might make these hearings necessary, or even advisable, as a matter of public policy, national security, international politics?
Alas, NR doesn’t really address that question. The effects they imagine coming from the hearings, the benefits they might have, are entirely self-referential. The editorial offers a long list of specific acts and threats arising from homegrown Islamists, and then it delivers what appears to be the overarching motivation for the hearings, or at least NR’s defense of them: “[E]xcessive concern with the pieties of multicultural relativism has prevented us from being sufficiently critical of Islamism.” It continues: “A problem cannot be dealt with that is not faced foursquarely, and…we have for too long been a nation of cowards when it comes to addressing jihadist radicalism between our shores.”
So what has been missing from our fight against homegrown Islamism is a critique of it? And this owes to an “excessive concern with the pieties of multicultural relativism”? And the true first step in addressing this problem is “fac[ing]” it with a certain resolve, a certain nonrelativist foursquareness?
I honestly thought that such a critique would be redundant by now. Who needs to be convinced, through a critique of it, that homegrown Islamism is a bad thing? Who is addressing this danger with inadequate foursquareness? The Obama administration might not have come out publicly with a critique, per se, of Islamic radicalism grounded in a foundationalist interpretation of the Judeo-Christian-Western-Enlightenment-American-Exceptionalist Tradition, but, despite this, the Justice Department has gone ahead and arrested several of the subjects NR itself lists, anyway.
The editorial is a depressing reminder that much of the mainstream conservative intelligentsia views international politics and security policy as a bothersome girth of dog to be wagged by the tail of cultural polemics. Thus, what is missing from the fight against homegrown Islamism is a certain manner of talking about it, a public insistence from the highest levels that this fight is – per the Universal Morality from which emanates the American Exception (or is it vice versa?) – a just and good fight. It is just, in itself, good, in itself. Not relatively good, not just intersubjectively good. We’re talking objectively Good. And homegrown Islamist extremism? Bad. Objectively. Come on, Barack, say it. Say it. Summon a prominent Muslim to a public setting and say it into his face. Now make him say it. Announce a War on Homegrown Islamism. Come on. Show us you’re man enough to speak categorically. Do it. Come on.
I figure the Obama Administration hasn’t taken or advised this path not because they can’t decide if homegrown Islamist terrorism is truly bad, but because they think it tactically misguided to traffic in Bush-style declamations, calls-to-arms, gauntlet-tossing, and fight-picking. They think King’s hearings could easily do more harm than good – make American Muslims feel more isolated or embattled, give ammunition to radical imams, contribute to the self-glorifying persecution narratives of young and impressionable Muslims, raise the cost of cooperation for otherwise sympathetic Muslims. And since not even NR can point to any concrete benefits the hearings were supposed to have, beyond the self-regarding pleasures of being publicly foursquare and nonrelativist, I’m inclined to side with the Administration this time. Obama seems to be the one who realizes that, in this case anyway, it’s not all about him.