By Robert Spencer
David Petraeus, the former director of the CIA and former commander of CENTCOM, published a piece in the Washington Post last Friday entitled “Anti-Muslim Bigotry Aids Islamist Terrorists.”
[I am] increasingly concerned about inflammatory political discourse that has become far too common both at home and abroad against Muslims and Islam, including proposals from various quarters for blanket discrimination against people on the basis of their religion.
Petraeus’s target isn’t just Donald Trump’s proposed temporary moratorium on Muslim immigration. He is referring to all speech that some Muslims might find offensive, and this has sweeping and ominous implications.
Petraeus doesn’t just oppose what Trump now characterizes as “just a suggestion“ solely as a policy measure. Petraeus is saying that such proposals shouldn’t even be made; that just to speak them is damaging:
[T]he ramifications of such rhetoric could be very harmful -- and lasting.
He feels simply speaking such thoughts may:
… compound the already grave terrorist danger to our citizens.
How will these words do that? Well, you see:
[T]hose who flirt with hate speech against Muslims should realize they are playing directly into the hands of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The terrorists’ explicit hope has been to try to provoke a clash of civilizations -- telling Muslims that the United States is at war with them and their religion. When Western politicians propose blanket discrimination against Islam, they bolster the terrorists’ propaganda.
Petraeus doesn’t offer any alternative suggestion as to how jihad terrorists can be prevented from entering the United States. He just doesn’t like Trump’s former proposal, and what he terms “hate speech against Muslims” in general, because he says it will enrage Muslims and make more of them join the jihad against America. So the upshot of Petraeus’ argument is that we must not say things to which Muslims might object, because this will just make more of them become jihadis.
His prescription for minimizing the jihad against the West is for the West to practice self-censorship in order to avoid offending Muslims.
Petraeus has done this before. When he headed up the international coalition in Afghanistan, he said this of Florida pastor Terry Jones’ plan to burn the Qur’an:
[It] was hateful, it was intolerant and it was extremely disrespectful and again, we condemn it in the strongest manner possible.
He warned that the Qur’an-burning would endanger American troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere. He issued a statement saying that he hoped:
… the Afghan people understand that the actions of a small number of individuals, who have been extremely disrespectful to the holy Quran, are not representative of any of the countries of the international community who are in Afghanistan to help the Afghan people.
I opposed the Qur’an-burning, but not for the reasons Petraeus did.
I don’t like the burning of books. And I’d rather that the contents of the Qur’an, and the ways that jihadists use those contents to justify violence, be known.
However, Jones was free to do what he wanted to do. Petraeus would have done better to have told the Afghans that in America we have freedom of speech and expression, and that we put up with speech and expression that we dislike without trying to kill the speaker.