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That “Radical Muslims Will Kill Obama” NYT Op-Ed? Blame Daniel Pipes

Edward Luttwak doesn't know anything about Islamic law, but he does have an agenda to push, which is apparently enough to get him space on the New York Times op-ed page arguing that Barack Obama, being the son of an … Read More

By / May 13, 2008

Edward Luttwak doesn't know anything about Islamic law, but he does have an agenda to push, which is apparently enough to get him space on the New York Times op-ed page arguing that Barack Obama, being the son of an atheist who renounced Islam and abandoned Obama at the age of two, is considered a Muslim apostate, and thus is subject to a sentence of death. Ali Eteraz, who does know some things about Islamic law, noted in the Huffington Post that Luttwak is wrong in every single particular. Ali only obliquely addresses the larger point, which is that even if Luttwak were (stopped-clockwise) right about Islamic law, his political argument beggars parody.

Are we actually meant to believe that there is a government or organization on earth that would attempt to assassinate an American president because his grandfather was a Luo Muslim, but would leave any other American president alone? The question can't be asked with a straight face. Self-evidently, what Luttwak is trying to do is to sustain the belief that Obama is a Muslim in one form or another — and it isn't particularly difficult to figure out what the next wave of Luttwak-inspired chain-emails will look like: Even the liberal New York Times admits…. But that's all there is to the story, right, just an old smear in fancy enough dress to win an invitation to the Grey Lady's ball?

Actually, no. Luttwak's seemingly original riff on the old Obama-is-a-Muslim, alert-the-cousins-in-Boca!!11!!! chestnut is actually a retread of — wait for it — a Daniel Pipes feature from FrontPageMag. When it comes to the spread of dishonest memes designed to stoke hatred of people who pray out of the Koran or have the wrong color of skin, pre-empt Israeli governments from working on peace deals (or failing that, destabilize Israeli governments), crack down on academic freedom, tar political opponents with the career-threatening charge of antisemitism, or just scare the shit out of credulous Americans (and especially American Jews), Pipes is inevitably, indefatigably at or near the origin.

Last week in Jewcy, I noted Pipes' central role in the character assassination of Debbie Almontaser: Knowing nothing whatsoever about her life and career — and freely admitting it — Pipes nonetheless launched a campaign to destroy her project of offering Arabic-language education to New York City students because he believes that "Arabic-language instruction is inevitably laden with pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage" and "learning Arabic in of itself promotes an Islamic outlook." Having succumbed to such vile racist paranoia, it's hardly surprising that Pipes felt his end, obstructing public education in Arabic (thus hurting American national security in the process), justified his means. Namely, deliberately doctoring a quote from Almontaser to precisely reverse its meaning and depict her as a 9/11 denialist, calling her (secular) school a "madrassa," and thereby subjecting her to a deluge of slander in the months that followed.

One particularly hysterical comment raised in Pipes' defense pointed to a nice illustration of how Pipes' agitprops have become pathological, in addition to being immoral. This Weekly Standard article, offered as proof of Almontaser's sinister Islamist connections, in fact produces not a jot of original evidence against her, but merely recycles the Pipes-originated smear that she was "accused of trying to establish an 'intifada academy.'" The weaselly passive locution puts the whole sordid story in a nutshell: Yes, Almontaser has been so accused, by unscrupulous propagandists. That's how smears spread.

Likewise, all of Edward Luttwak's confusions about Islamic law find a place in Pipes' original reportage, but Pipes has even more proof that Obama is both a secret Muslim and soon to be targeted for death by Islamists for his apostasy. Did you know: Obama's middle name is "Hussein" (cognate to "Hassan" and other "H-S-N" names, Pipes reminds those of us who don't get the hint)? How else would Muslims worldwide react to a self-identified Chrisian American president with that name than to condemn him to death by beheading? (For a sane view of likely Muslim reactions to Obama's election, turn to Ali Eteraz again.) Did you know Obama once lived and went to school in Indonesia? Which is full of you-know-what?

There are at least two morals to the story, depending on whether you share Pipes' paranoia or dwell with the rest of us in the real world. For the former, start a blog if you like, but above all find a day job. Pipes has more energy than you do, more connections, and a larger and more devoted team of "researchers." Cannonball Adderley was a brilliant soloist, but he sounded too derivative of Charlie Parker to ever completely escape his shadow; similarly, it's just not possible for an emulator, no matter how talented, to top the work of the Yardbird of slander.

For the latter, the lesson is epistemic. Whenever a literally incredible McCarthyite charge that someone who most assuredly is not an Islamist harbors secret sympathy for Islamism breaks through into the mainstream media, check Daniel Pipes' archives for the past three to six months, and it's a fair bet you'll locate the original pathogen.

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