By Ruth King on October 11th, 2012
The prosecutor of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing argues that Islamists use the trappings of democracy to deceive the West. Barton Swaim on Andrew McCarthy’s “Spring Fever.”
The central argument of Andrew McCarthy’s “Spring Fever” is an uncomplicated one: Mr. McCarthy, the former federal prosecutor who helped convict the plotters behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, believes that “Islamic democracy” isn’t democracy at all and that the “Arab Spring” lauded by Western elites is a dangerous hallucination. Islamic leaders in Libya, Turkey, Tunisia and elsewhere in the Muslim world, he writes, have become adept at gaining power through elections and using the language of democracy to fool the West into believing they have embraced reform when they in fact have only contempt for it. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for example, uses secularist rhetoric any time the U.S. State Department might be listening but is wholly committed to the totalitarian worldview of Islamic supremacism. “Democracy,” Erdoğan once said, “is just the train we board to reach our destination,” the destination being a nation governed by sharia law.
Mr. McCarthy has no patience for “the dubious Bushian proposition that all human beings crave freedom”; those of us who supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq because we wanted the Muslim world to experience actual democracy may find Mr. McCarthy’s book unpleasant reading. He is probably correct that Western diplomats and intellectuals who take seriously the democratic rhetoric of “moderate Islamists” such as Mr. Erdoğan or Egypt’s president, Mohammed Morsi, are fooling themselves. But ideas can have consequences, though the consequences may not be immediately apparent: Even if leaders disingenuously accept the moral validity of democratic elections, they might in the future be held to their words. Mr. McCarthy may find such a scenario unduly optimistic, but he might have acknowledged it.
By far his most strident criticisms, however, are reserved for the American left. “Progressives,” he writes, “see no problem with the notion of ‘Islamic democracy,’ including its sharia framework, because its repressive nature aligns with their own conception of democracy: messianic mission, not the preservation of liberty.” Sentences like that will bring most readers up short, and limit the book’s audience. The typical State Department liberal, it’s fair to say, isn’t comfortable with the repressive nature of sharia and doesn’t embrace a “messianic” view of democracy. The author’s lack of interest in appealing to centrists is a disappointment in an otherwise powerful book. His contentions deserve debate, particularly at a moment when the Obama administration wants badly to avoid confrontations with increasingly brutal Islamic, allegedly “democratic” regimes.
Popular Muslim uprisings in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt were supposed to herald an embrace of Western values. But with anti-American riots erupting throughout the Mideast, the “Arab Spring” has only worsened hostilities. What happened?
According to Andrew C. McCarthy’s new book — “Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy” — the notion of a new generation of Muslim Madisons holding aloft the lamp of liberty was a fable. He argues the Arab Spring actually reflects Islamic triumphalism. And the Obama administration, by promoting it, has opened Pandora’s Box.
As a former federal prosecutor, McCarthy helped put away Egyptian terrorist Omar Abdel Rahman, mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He now heads the East Coast branch of the David Horowitz Freedom Center. The author of the best-sellers “Grand Jihad” and “Willful Blindness” talked with IBD about how the Arab Spring has turned into an Islamist winter.
IBD: You argue in your book that it’s an “illusion” that Islam is compatible with Western-style democracy. Please explain, because that’s not at all what the president and the media have been telling us.
McCarthy: Western democracy is not just popular elections. It’s a culture of liberty, a way of looking at the world. Islamic society is not a liberty culture. It’s based on submission to Allah’s law, Shariah. In fact, it rejects the core conceit of Western democracy that the governed have a right to make law for themselves and chart their own destiny irrespective of Shariah or any other code or ideology. So the two are plainly incompatible.
IBD: So, most of the “Arab Spring” Muslims don’t really want “democracy” as we know it, they just want the chance, through free elections, to vote in repressive Shariah law?
McCarthy: That’s right. And it’s worth stressing that I am not so much arguing this as relating what Islam’s most significant voices themselves say.
IBD: Why are our policymakers so naive?
McCarthy: Since the early 1990s, the government has discouraged the study of Islamic supremacist ideology—the mainstream Islam of the Middle East and the belief system that inspires both jihadist terror and nonviolent methods of spreading Shariah. We are just supposed to accept as a given that Islam is a “religion of peace” that is perfectly compatible with Western democracy and U.S. constitutional principles, full stop, end of story.
IBD: President Obama is providing aid to the head of Egypt’s new regime, Mohammed Morsi, thinking this Muslim Brotherhood hard-liner is somehow going to be an enlightened reformer and human-rights defender. Yet there’s reporting that he’s already freeing dangerous terrorists locked up by his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, and may even give amnesty to exiled al-Qaida leaders who are Egyptian nationals. What are you hearing?
McCarthy: Even before Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood took over Egypt, the transitional government was freeing terrorist leaders in an effort to appease the Islamists who, as we’ve seen, make up most of Egypt’s population. The freeing of terrorist leaders has continued under Morsi, who has also made a priority of pressuring the U.S. to release Omar Abdel Rahman, the Blind Sheik, a global terrorist leader who is serving a life sentence in the U.S. after I prosecuted him in the early 1990s.
IBD: You in fact put away the Blind Sheik as a federal prosecutor in New York. Why is his release so important to al-Qaida and the Brotherhood?
McCarthy: The Blind Sheik is considered a hero to Islamists. They’ve been agitating for his release since the moment we locked him up in the summer of 1993. Various atrocities have been committed to try to coerce our government into transferring him to Egypt — the most notorious being the 1997 Luxor massacre, in which 62 tourists and police were killed. Morsi has just pardoned Mustafa Hamza, the terrorist leader who ordered the Luxor operation. That pretty much tells us everything we need to know about Morsi.
IBD: Do you suspect the attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo was related more to the Blind Sheik than to the American-made video about Muhammad? We saw posters of the sheik plastered on trees and walls and barricades all around the embassy compound. And in the middle of all the rioting, didn’t Morsi renew his demands for his release?
McCarthy: Indeed, when Morsi, after encouraging the rioting for a few days, finally cleared away the agitators under pressure from the White House, he left undisturbed the encampment the Blind Sheik’s supporters have maintained at the U.S. embassy for months. But all that said, the real reason for the anti-American marauding in Egypt and the rest of the region is Islamic supremacism — the regnant ideology which regards the U.S. and the West as its mortal enemy. Everything else — the movies, the cartoons, Gitmo, the Sheik, and whatever they’ll be rioting over tomorrow — is pretext.
IBD: Do you think a re-elected Obama or even a lame-duck Obama would actually release the Blind Sheik, possibly under the pretext of health concerns, as in the case of the Lockerbie bomber?
McCarthy: Yes, I do believe that will happen.
IBD: Why would he do such a thing?
McCarthy: It is consistent with Obama’s misguided policy, which holds that we’ll get better behavior out of Islamists if we appease them. That’s working out well, wouldn’t you say?
IBD: The siege of our Cairo embassy is bad enough. But is there a real risk that Egypt could—with billions in funding from unwitting American taxpayers — become a sanctuary and training ground for some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists?
McCarthy: The Sinai is already a terror sanctuary and training ground. So yes, Americans should be very concerned, and we should certainly stop funding Egypt.
IBD: Obama says the new Egypt isn’t quite our ally but not our enemy, either. How do you see it — ally or enemy?
McCarthy: Egypt is an enemy of the United States. That doesn’t mean we need to be in a shooting war with Egypt, but it is a hostile country and we should regard it as such.
IBD: Of course, it only became a hostile country after the ouster of steady U.S. ally Mubarak. How is the new Muslim Brotherhood regime there a direct threat to the U.S.?
McCarthy: The Muslim Brotherhood has called for the elimination of Western civilization. And allies don’t storm your embassy, replace your flag with al-Qaida’s, and start demanding that you release major terrorists with American blood on their hands.
IBD: Did the Obama administration facilitate Morsi and the Brotherhood’s rise to power?
McCarthy: Yes, Obama has facilitated the Brotherhood, domestically and overseas — especially in Egypt — since the start of his term. Of course the U.S. cannot do anything about the fact that the Middle East is teeming with Islamists and will choose Islamist governance when given the chance. But you can make a bad situation better or worse, and the Obama administration has made it decidedly worse.
IBD: What other demands might Morsi make in terms of American policy?
McCarthy: Morsi is a clever character. Egypt is a basket case, but he has used the desperate economic straits to play the Iranians against the Saudis, improving his chances to get aid from both of them. He will try to play that game with us, too — he knows Obama is looking to pour even more billions into his coffers, and I’d look for him to adopt the Palestinian tactic of being aggressive towards Israel to push the U.S. into more aid as a payoff for backing off.
IBD: What’s going on in the Sinai right now? What’s changed under the Morsi regime, and what’s Israel doing in response?
McCarthy: The Sinai has become a terrorist haven since Mubarak was toppled, and it is getting worse under Morsi. The regime has remilitarized the area in violation of Camp David. Israel is obviously beefing up its border security, though it is trying very hard to preserve the peace treaty.
IBD: How could rising military tensions there affect Americans?
McCarthy: It is a tinderbox right now, and clearly anything that provokes war — which could easily spread—could cause a spike in oil prices. That’s only one of many problems that would result.
IBD: What will the greater Middle East — including Turkey and Iran — look like in the next five years? Do you see an Islamist bloc forming that threatens both Israel and the U.S.?
McCarthy: It’s too turbulent right now to predict what the region will look like in five years. War appears to be coming — in some spots, it’s already here. It matters a lot whether Obama or Romney wins the presidential election. If Romney wins, American leadership will be much stronger and clearer — unapologetic about protecting America’s interests, pro-Israel, anti-Iranian regime, and, I hope, more adversarial with the Brotherhood, both in the U.S. and abroad — than Obama has been. It’s a difficult region, but strong U.S. leadership means less chaos. With Obama, there will continue to be chaos, and things will get worse.