Daniel Larison

Still Doubting The Pushback

Obviously, the big political story about the midterm elections today has been the huge Republican advantage in Gallup’s generic ballot poll. If this is right and holds true come November, everything I have been saying about the midterms will have been very badly wrong. If Republicans won the midterm vote by ten points or more, they would sweep into power and have a comfortable majority in House. A wave that large could then take enough Senate seats to win the majority in the other chamber. There are just a few problems with this picture, and these are the same problems that have made such predictions of a Republican comeback so easy to mock for the last year.

First, where did this huge advantage come from all of a sudden? As Gallup’s own graph shows, the parties were tied a month ago. Unless we are to believe that this ridiculous mosque controversy has thrown the election to the Republicans, nothing has happened that explains this dramatic shift in voting preferences in the last few weeks. Second, the Republicans’ candidates currently don’t have the money they need to widen the field enough to make this happen. Even if there is a major opportunity to take power, slipshod Republican organization and fundraising have squandered much of it. Third, there aren’t really enough districts that Republicans can plausibly win to get the majority. To make up for the likely losses in Louisiana, Delaware and Illinois, they will need to win a total of 43 seats elsewhere, and it is genuinely difficult to see where these seats come from. Yes, there are 80 Democratic incumbents in House districts that voted for Bush in ’04, but the story here is that most of the voters in most of these districts learned their lesson from ’04 and stopped voting for Republicans, and not enough of them have changed their minds to undo all of the political damage Bush and his allies did to the GOP. Republican failure is too recent and too glaring, and the GOP leadership has done far too little to show that it has learned anything from that failure.

Despite high unemployment, weak growth and a fairly dismal summer, Obama’s approval according to Gallup is 45% and it is still 46% in the RCP average, and it has never gone below 45%. Finally, there is intense dissatisfaction with the administration and the Democratic majorities in the country, but I doubt that it is concentrated as much in the swing districts where control of the House will be decided. There will be many districts in which Democratic nominees get stomped by huge margins, but these are going to be districts that Republicans already held or were almost certain to get back after ’08.


Palin in Pennsylvania

My colleague Sheya, director of PalinTV, presented Mrs. Palin with the ArtScroll edition of Perek Shira, a commentary on the song of celebration sung by Jewish women during the exodus from Egypt. Mrs. Palin received the Hebrew volume with obvious delight; she has used the biblical Book of Esther as bedtime reading material for her eight-year-old daughter, Piper. She wants Willow to emulate Esther, Jewish history’s great heroine, who risked everything to save the Jewish people from Haman’s plan for genocide [bold mine-DL].

Although 65 years have passed since the Holocaust, the threat of genocide still hangs over the Jewish people — and again from Persia. Iran openly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Hamas, with its charter calling for the extermination of the Jewish State, fires rockets at Israeli schoolchildren. Syria races to build chemical and biological weapons to use against Israel. Mrs. Palin makes it clear that she recognizes these threats to America’s ally, Israel, and wants to end them. She minced no words in her remarks to the Pennsylvania Family Institute, criticizing the Obama administration for “coddling our enemies while abandoning our treasured ally, Israel.”

On her lapel, she wore a pin showing the American and Israeli flags intertwined. ~Benyamin Korn

How Willow Palin is supposed to emulate Esther under the circumstances is anyone’s guess. Is Palin proposing that her daughter be married to Khameinei in order to thwart Ahmadinejad? Then again, the entire Ahmadinejad=Haman equation is simply nonsense, not least since Ahmadinejad and the Iranian government are in no position to do anything to Israel without suffering massive retaliation. For that matter, Iran’s own Jewish population remains unharmed.

What I found interesting about Korn’s account of yet another exercise in conservative ecumenism is that Palin used the venue of this Pennsylvania Family Institute to circulate more of her tired, bellicose rhetoric and outright lies about the administration’s foreign policy record. Maybe it’s because I was just married not far from the city where this event took place, and I have a strong impression that Palin’s militarism has little or no support in that part of the state, but there is still something jarring and irritating about such an avowed militarist such as Palin engaged in her usual fearmongering in front of an audience including Mennonites and Amish. It doesn’t make sense to affirm the need for strong families and stable communities in one breath and then urge on confrontational policies that will produce family-shattering, community-destroying wars in the next, and the fact that these two diametrically opposed positions are often held by the same ostensibly conservative political leaders mostly emphasizes how much their commitment to the former is conditional and highly selective.


Beck, Christianity and Social Justice


To the extent that this theological chasm can be bridged, though, the obvious place to fling out a rope bridge is the question of America’s providential purpose, since both Mormonism and evangelicalism (especially in their more populist manifestations) often incline toward highly-theologized readings of American history, the founding fathers, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, etc.

In other words, when Mormons and evangelicals are at their worst and are indulging their least admirable tendencies to idolize the country at the expense of their religious teachings, there is a chance for them to find common ground. If you think that a serious religious revival in America might have something to do with a spirit of repentance and humility rather than with an extravaganza of validation and national self-congratulation, that is really a very damning indictment of what Beck is doing. As Joe Carter correctly says, “As Moore notes, the problem isn’t really Beck. The problem is believers trading the true faith for the syncretism of Christian-flavored civic religion.”

On a related point that Moore may or may not have had in mind when he was writing his post, Beck has previously framed his opposition to progressivism in Christianity in terms of ridiculing the idea of social justice. Certainly, some understanding of social justice isn’t the whole of Christian teaching, and social activism certainly isn’t a substitute for faith and participation in the life of God, but one would have a hard time persuading many serious and theologically conservative Catholics and Mennonites, among others, that social justice is not a major Christian priority. His total rejection of social justice doesn’t make any sense within the LDS church’s tradition or within the Christian tradition. If one insists on identifying the idea of social justice with the most political expressions of liberation theology, as Beck wants to do, a broad, rich tradition of the Church’s concern for the poor and dispossessed is simply cast aside, and so is a significant part of his own church’s social teachings. People may be buying Beck’s revivalism right now, but in the process they are selling their birthright for a mess of pottage.

On a more political note, it’s not as if conservatives cannot talk about social justice. Does Beck remember Pat Buchanan’s The Great Betrayal: How American Sovereignty and Social Justice Are Being Sacrificed to the Gods of the Global Economy? Was that just another kind of liberation theology? To put it that way is to show Beck’s conceit in this case to be empty.

P.S. After I mentioned this post to my wife, she said she thought Beck reminded her a bit of Gaius Baltar, and this comparison made some sense. Inasmuch as he is simply validating his audience’s way of life, it does seem to be very much like Baltar’s “we are all perfect just as we are,” which makes the entire exercise that much worse.


No, Really, It’s Not 1994

Convinced that his popularity was eternal, Obama responded by saying, yes, but there’s a “big difference” between 1994 and 2010, and that big difference is, “you’ve got me.”

The funny thing is, Obama might have been right. Because things might be much worse for Democrats in 2010 than they were in 1994 – and the big difference might well be Barack Obama. ~Jonah Goldberg

Pop culture references from the ’70s aside, Goldberg doesn’t do much to support this claim. For things to be worse than 1994, Democrats would have to lose 55+ seats in the House. There is no reason to believe that this will happen. Even the most relevant piece of information he cites in the column is potentially misleading. He writes:

Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Report – not exactly an RNC direct-mail operation – says Obama’s approval rating (already below 50 percent) will likely rival Clinton’s in November of 1994.

Yes, that’s very likely, because Clinton’s rating in November 1994 was 46% according to Gallup. The RCP average of Obama’s approval has him at exactly 46%. What it means for the midterms is not automatically clear. Clinton’s approval rating had dropped into the mid to low 30s during his first two years in office before recovering as the midterm elections approached. This superficially makes it seem as if Clinton’s approval rating in the mid-40s had something to do with massive Democratic losses, but it was actually those much worse approval ratings from earlier in his first term that partly explain Democrats’ ’94 woes. The reality is that Obama has never been as unpopular as Clinton was at certain points in 1993-94, and barring some major event between now and November it’s not likely that his approval rating is going to move much either way.

Invoking the weak economy isn’t that much more persuasive. The ’81-’82 recession was more severe and lasted longer than the recession from which we have been recovering, unemployment was higher in September 1982 than it is now, Reagan’s approval rating was in the low 40s for much of the year, and the presidential party still lost just 28 26 House seats. Even the incredibly unpopular George Bush in a sixth-year midterm presided over a loss of just 30 House seats when his approval rating was at least ten points lower than Obama’s is now. That doesn’t mean that Democrats should automatically expect a similar result to 1982, but at most I see them losing 30 seats in the House and maybe five in the Senate. If I had to pick an exact number, I would now make it 25.

For some more actual analysis, Reid Wilson at Hotline has an interesting post that makes the case for why Democratic losses will likely be far short of the 39 (really 40) seats that the Republicans need to take the House.


Romney’s Problem

Frum wrote a particularly unflattering defense of Romney a couple days ago (via Appel), in which he said more or less that Romney was not a very convincing liar:

This editorial in fact sums up the Romney problem in a nutshell. By any conventional measure, here is an outstandingly qualified GOP presidential candidate. He’s proved his executive skills, he has thought long and intelligently about public policy and he articulates those views forcefully and well.

Yet when he makes the kinds of compromises that politicians sometimes have to make, he attracts unique odium. Romney has had many fewer abrupt changes of mind than, say, Newt Gingrich, who (you may recall) used to be an environmentalist, among other things. Yet Newt escapes the flip-flopper charge, because whatever view he is expressing at the moment, he expresses ferociously. There’s an old Hollywood saying, “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Romney’s problem is that he cannot fake sincerity. When he panders, people always suspect he knows better – and they blame him for it.

This isn’t quite right, but the Globe editorial to which Frum is referring is even more misguided in one important respect. While Frum gets Romney’s “problem” wrong, the editorial makes the far bigger mistake of arguing that Romney had or has fixed, guiding principles that he could violate by opposing the Park51 project. Yes, Romney gave a speech praising religious tolerance in January 2008, but that was a long time ago during one of Romney’s previous incarnations. That was the pre-Iowa, “no, really, I’m a social conservative now!” Romney. This was briefly replaced by the desperate, auto industry-subsidizing Romney who would say anything to win in Michigan, and that one gave way to the rather sad CPAC Romney who announced the end of his campaign to keep Al Qaeda from winning. In the fall of ’08 and through the first months of ’09, Romney once more became a “responsible” pro-corporate Republican who was all for bailing out financial firms, but absolutely against bailing out Detroit, which he had previously promised to subsidize with around $20 billion dollars. Then being anti-bailout was all the rage, and we had Romney the fervent foe of all bailouts. Then there was the unaffordable, universal health care-enabling former governor who was firmly opposed to universal health care because it was unaffordable. Throughout all of it, there has been some continuity, and this has been his staggering ignorance when it comes to anything related to foreign policy, which he just put on display again this summer with his anti-START theatrics. He attracts special scorn because he is an outstanding example of a politician who manages to combine having no core convictions with the insufferable arrogance of someone playing at being a true believer.

Religious tolerance was useful two and a half years ago, because it gave him a chance to win over religious conservatives on the basis of “shared values,” but that was all in the service of making Christian voters accept him. There are not many Muslim primary voters in either party, but there are quite a few hawkish nationalist primary voters that Romney wants to win, and so he has staked out the now-conventional anti-mosque position that those voters apparently want. It is questionable whether Romney has had fewer abrupt changes in his views, but regardless these have not been tactical shifts or minor adjustments. Over the last few years, they have involved dramatic about-faces on a range of issues, and his attempts to reconcile the contradictions always leave him seeming less credible than he did before.

If the Globe is wrong to believe Romney had principles that he has violated, Frum is wrong when he characterizes Romney’s moves as “the kinds of compromises that politicians sometimes have to make.” Romney didn’t have to do anything in this case, but he made this “compromise” anyway. He did this not because he had to, but because he wants to build his reputation on the right. Clearly, Frum admires Romney, and he probably thinks that Romney was in earnest when he gave that speech on religion in American life, so how can he dismiss Romney’s latest as some commonplace compromise?

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Harder Questions

Ross has an interesting response to my earlier posts on Rauf and the mosque controversy. He writes:

The harder question, and the one that’s on the table in the case of Feisal Abdul Rauf, is how we should judge American Muslim leaders when they talk about regimes and movements in the Islamic world that are anti-Semitic, terrorism-sponsoring, theocratic and so on down the line. And it’s both telling and appropriate, I think, that nearly that nearly all of the criticism of Rauf that’s found traction outside of the Pamela Geller vortex (where everything the imam says is proof of a vast Islamist conspiracy) has focused on exactly these kind of issues — on his comments during Iran’s election crisis, on his non-responsive response to a question about terrorism and Hamas, and on his remarks, at different times, about America being “an accessory to 9/11? with “more Muslim blood on its hands” than al Qaeda has non-Muslim blood.

The answer to the harder question is that we should judge them fairly and not read things into Rauf’s remarks that aren’t there. For instance, when he refrained from denouncing Hamas, this is what he said:

I am a peace builder. I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy.

One could reject this and argue that building peace requires calling things what they are, which means that Rauf ought to call Hamas a terrorist organization, or one could take seriously that Rauf is more interested in not alienating persuadable Muslims than he is in passing a political litmus test. It seems to me that Rauf’s statements here could very easily be understood as his attempt to avoid appearing unduly biased.

As for his remarks on the Iranian election, I don’t see how they can be taken as an endorsement of the “premises of Iranian theocracy,” as Ross originally described them. There is call for Obama to express respect for Iranian principles of government, which seems to be little more than an extension of Obama’s rhetorical emphasis on mutual respect. In fact, as Rauf said, the presidential election was not a referendum on the “foundations of the Islamic Republic,” and he saw a chance for Obama “to show Iranians that he understands their Islamic Republic and how it developed — and to lay the groundwork for negotiations once the election dispute is resolved.” Rauf was working on the assumption that the majority of Iranians accepted the existing political system, and on this point he seems to have been right all along. Granted, this is worlds removed from the hysteria of pro-Green advocates in the West who convinced themselves that a distinct political minority represented the vast majority of Iranians and claimed that the Green movement was going to topple the current government, but then most of the pro-Green commentary in the West was ridiculous and wrong about many of the political realities in Iran. It is also important to note when Rauf wrote his column. Rauf’s column has a posting date of June 19, just one week after the presidential election and before most of the worst violence of the crackdown had occurred. Most of the outrages and crimes the regime committed came after his column appeared. That makes it a lot harder to fault him for supposedly “bending over backward to avoid saying anything negative” about the Iranian regime.

Clearly, it is the last two sets of comments that were the most provocative and they are the ones that have generated the greatest anger. This is unfortunate, because they also happen to be basically true. While I was driving during my recent move, I heard something Reza Aslan said about the “accessory” remark on the radio. Here is the NPR transcript from earlier this month:

People like Reza Aslan, a Muslim author and scholar, says Rauf’s attempts to explain terrorist actions are not the same as supporting them. Aslan says government officials do the same thing.

Mr. Reza Aslan: I know this not only because of my own personal interaction with counterterrorism officials, with military officials and with officials in the CIA and in the White House and in the State Department, I know this because I read the 9/11 report. And the “9/11 Commission Report” says the exact same thing.

Have U.S. policies resulted in the deaths of more innocent Muslim civilians? That seems the most easily confirmed claim of them all. Mind you, Rauf made a point of qualifying that statement by insisting that he was attempting to explain the sources of anti-American anger and political violence. The link Ross provides in this case does not include those qualifications, but excerpts out only the parts that the person making the compilation thought would be most inflammatory. Even as this tendentious FoxNews article tried to misrepresent his statements, it still had a more complete account of what Rauf said.

Sanctions on Iraq did terrible harm to the civilian population, resulting in the unnecessary and premature deaths of at least one hundred thousand people, and the U.S. government was the one most responsible for imposing those sanctions and keeping them in place. All of this is true. Is Rauf supposed to pretend that these things didn’t happen, or that our government is in no way responsible for them? Is he supposed to pretend that these things did not cause resentment, or that they did not become fodder for jihadist propaganda? To pretend that the U.S. government is not responsible for the consequences of its policies would not be evidence of moderation, but of self-deception. It seems that when it comes to understanding the causes of the deepest resentments of Muslims against the West and the U.S. in particular, which one might think would be at the center of any work of fostering mutual understanding, Rauf should say nothing if he doesn’t want to be vilified. Perhaps he could go on a speaking tour to tell Muslims how much gratitude they should feel because of U.S. intervention in Kosovo or Somalia.

Could Rauf have phrased some of his remarks in less provocative ways? Probably, and it might have been better if he had. At least in that case we would be spending more time discussing the substance of what he was talking about rather than fixating on how he made an offensive comparison or how he used the wrong language. Of course, he was trying to get Westerners to see things from the perspective of many Muslims. It seems to me that the inflammatory language (blood on hands) and the comparison with the number of Al Qaeda’s victims were intended to provoke some recognition that there are identifiable causes for resentment and political violence. Rauf seemed to be saying, “You are unaware that this happened, or you have rationalized it as a good or necessary thing, but I’m telling you that it is widely perceived elsewhere as deeply unjust and wrong.” Perhaps they were also intended to have his audiences imagine how they might react if a foreign government had done these things to their country or co-religionists.

Ross concludes that Rauf makes “excuses for sinister figures, and curries favor with them,” but it is genuinely difficult to find any of that in any of the statements under discussion. To explain something such as terrorism is not to excuse it, and failing to denounce official enemies on cue is very different from actively seeking their approval. Ross says that he wants a high standard for Rauf and other Muslim leaders like him, but the standard for moderation and assimilation is being set so high that quite a few non-Muslim Americans, myself included, wouldn’t even get close to meeting it.

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Forays Into Dubious Territory


But making these kind of distinctions doesn’t require us to suspend all judgment where would-be Islamic moderates are concerned. Instead, dialogue needs to coexist with pressure: Figures like Ramadan and now Rauf should be held to a high standard by their non-Muslim interlocutors, and their forays into more dubious territory should be greeted with swift pushback, rather than simply being accepted as a necessary part of the moderate Muslim package. (This is particularly true because Westerners have a long record of seeing what they want to see in self-proclaimed Islamic reformers, from the Ayatollah Khomeini down to Anwar Al Awlaki, and failing to recognize extremism when it’s staring them in the face.) And what’s troubling about some of the liberal reaction to the Cordoba Initiative controversy is that it seems to regard this kind of pressure as illegitimate and dangerous in and of itself — as though the First Amendment protects the right of Rauf and Co. to build their mosque and cultural center, but not the right of critics to scrutinize Rauf’s moderate bona fides, parse some of his more disturbing comments, and raise doubts about the benefits (to American Islam as well as to America) of having him set up shop as an arbiter of Muslim-Western dialogue in what used to be the shadow of the World Trade Center.

Of course, critics have the right to scrutinize Rauf’s qualifications as a moderate and parse any of his comments. That’s what has been happening for most of the summer. It would help matters a lot more if the scrutiny were honest and the parsing fair. The critics might be meeting with less resistance if they weren’t attempting to interpret a few of his comments in the worst possible light in order to misrepresent his overall record. There would probably be less frustration with Rauf’s critics if they didn’t impute statements to Rauf that he didn’t make. Were most opponents of Park51 merely “raising doubts” about the benefits of the project, rather than demonizing it as a monument to Islamist victory, it would be a lot easier to take them seriously.

On the one hand, Ross urges us not to believe that “all religious cultures are identical, or that the intellectual climate in contemporary Islam is no different from the intellectual climate in Judaism or Christianity,” but he wants to apply “a high standard” to high-profile moderate Muslims, which in practice means that they are supposed to act and speak as if their religious culture is no different and the intellectual culture in Islam is the same. At least, that’s what his call for “swift pushback” against “forays into dubious territory” suggests. If all religious cultures are not identical, might it be the case that what Ross judges to be a foray into “dubious territory” is actually a “necessary part of the moderate Muslim package”?

The call for pushback brings us once again to the matter of what constitutes “dubious territory” and whether or not American Muslims are going to be permitted to say politically controversial things without being absurdly vilified as fanatics. As far as I can tell, what Rauf’s critics want is not merely someone who is a moderate Muslim, which presumably means someone moderate in his interpretation of Islam as a religion. What they would apparently also like is someone who has no sympathy for the political causes or grievances of any other Muslims in the world. If moderation is defined in that unreasonable way, there probably aren’t very many moderate Muslims after all.


Berman, Buruma and Anti-Islamism

Conor Friedersdorf points to an odd passage from David Pryce-Jones:

Mark Steyn is a humorous writer, but he has a serious purpose, namely to point out that the Western world has Islamist enemies who wish it ill. We could deal with those Islamists except for one thing: A large segment of our fashionable opinion-makers, so to speak the Burumas of this world, think that Islamists aren’t as bad as all that; and if they are, then we are still worse, and what we stand for isn’t really worth defending. So the public doesn’t know what to think, and a few self-appointed custodians push them into all manner of doubt and guilt by accusing anyone who criticizes, or — horrors! — laughs at Islamists of Islamophobia, racism, fascism, etc. etc.

It should go without saying that Steyn has been treated abominably, and his case is a good example of why it is extremely dangerous to criminalize speech. Still, it is telling that Pryce-Jones feels compelled to drag Paul Berman and Ian Buruma into the discussion, since Berman and his bizarre obsession with Tariq Ramadan and Buruma are perfect examples of how overwrought, alarmist and ridiculous our would-be anti-Islamist champions tend to be. These champions give the impression that they are a tiny band of courageous souls resisting the tide of indifference and appeasement that is otherwise taking us all to oblivion, but somehow they wind up critiquing figures such as Ramadan (or Rauf) who pose no conceivable threat to them or to anyone else. The less dangerous the Muslims in question are, the more insidious and subversive they are made out to be.

Obviously, there has been no shortage of self-appointed protectors who want to warn the public about threats from Islamist groups, and for the most part mainstream media outlets have repeated these warnings or served as venues for the issuing of such warnings. The point isn’t that there aren’t threatening, hostile Islamists in the world, but that they are largely so powerless, so irrelevant, and so few in number that it makes no sense that they inspire so much panic and alarm. Scoffing at the alarmists shouldn’t blind anyone to real Islamist threats when they exist. On the contrary, criticizing the people who routinely exaggerate the power of Islamists is an important part of confronting the threats that actually exist. It is also an expression of confidence in “what we stand for” that we don’t believe our way of life can be destroyed by such relatively weak foes.


Douthat and Anti-Jihadism (II)


It’s also important to note that the ideological critique of Catholic immigration wasn’t necessarily crazy. The 19th-century Vatican really did have a very public problem with liberalism and democracy, and it wasn’t unreasonable for Protestant Americans to worry about Catholicism’s ability to conform itself to democratic pluralism. The parallel to the debate over Islam today should be obvious: It’s foolish and bigoted to suggest that Muslims can’t be good Americans, but it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that American Muslim leaders, like Catholic prelates before them, have a particular obligation to embrace the separation of church and state, to distance themselves from Islamist currents overseas — rather than, say, endorsing the basic premises of the Iranian theocracy [bold mine-DL] — and so on.

On the first point, a qualification needs to be made. The Vatican had a problem with liberalism and democracy in no small part because for most of the 19th century European liberals had an obsession with attacking the Catholic Church and trying to strip it of its influence and property. The original Kulturkampf was almost entirely an exercise in liberal and nationalist hostility to Catholic institutions and Catholicism as such. The fear of a Canossarepublik was the same fear that motivated a lot of anti-Catholic sentiment in the U.S. In other words, the fear in this country was not simply that Catholics could not be both faithful Catholics and good Americans, but that the nature of Catholicism was incompatible with Americanism (for lack of a better term here) and represented a threat to American independence. If this wasn’t exactly a crazy belief, it was unreasonable and false. Even so, it was a lot more plausible than the claims of Gingrich et al. that the Cordoba Initiative’s mosque represents a celebration of Islamic conquest and an assault on American civilization.

In Ross’ original column, he distinguishes between an America understood as a political and constitutional project and America as a distinctive culture. Obviously, I am far more sympathetic with this latter, “second America” for many reasons, but what I find remarkable about this mosque controversy is how blatantly, narrowly political the opposition to this particular construction project has been. It has been an exercise in manipulating public anger and using it for the purpose of waging an ostensibly anti-Islamist political campaign by organizing against harmless Muslims and their organizations. A distinctive American culture isn’t under threat from this mosque, the Cordoba Initiative or Imam Abdul Rauf. Rauf and those like him do represent a threat to lazy conservative anti-jihadism that treats every Muslim to “the right” of Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a potential fifth columnist and would-be enforcer of creeping shari’a.

Regarding Rauf’s comments on the Iranian election last year, Ross’ mischaracterization of them is significant. Ross claims that Rauf is endorsing the premises of Iranian theocracy, when what he was actually doing was appealing to the Obama administration to seize an opportunity for rapprochement with Iran. Agree or disagree with the proposal, the only thing Rauf seems to be endorsing in his comments is the idea of reconciliation between the United States and Iran, which appears to be broadly consistent with the goals of his organization.

This mischaracterization fits into Ross’ larger point that Muslim leaders in America must not say politically controversial things or express views outside the political mainstream. Presumably, instead of making this appeal to Obama, Rauf was supposed to jump on the bandwagon denouncing the Iranian government as illegitimate and dismiss the election result as a coup. That would have demonstrated his “moderate” status all right. Likewise, Rauf must not say that American policies were accessories to the crime on 9/11, because it is still not really appropriate for any “good American,” regardless of religion, to say that. Apparently, it doesn’t matter if the statement is true or even debatable. It isn’t enough if Muslims peacefully practice their religion, reject violence and embrace their new countries, but they must also become pro-government loyalists. Perhaps if Rauf really wanted to show how moderate he was, he would provide token support for the next U.S. attack on a Muslim country.

What we’re talking about here isn’t a question of assimilation to the norms of American culture or an acceptance of the principles of constitutional government, but a question of conforming to the limits of approved political discourse. Of course, there is no way for Rauf to satisfy his critics in a way that will not destroy his credibility with most other Muslims, which I have to assume is the point. Anti-jihadists are always lamenting that moderate Muslims are too quiescent, passive and silent, but the moment that one of them says anything that they don’t like they dismiss him entirely. Little wonder that many Muslims here and around the world find anti-jihadists’ professions of common cause with them hard to take seriously.