Richard Landes on Why Leftists Embrace Islamist Ideas about the West

Richard Landes, chair of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and author of Can the “Whole World” Be Wrong? Lethal Journalism, Antisemitism, and Global Jihad, was interviewed in a December 5th Middle East Forum Webinar (video) by Dexter Van Zile, editor of the Middle East Forum’s Focus on Western Islamism (FWI), regarding the left’s embrace of Islamist ideas about the West.

Landes said Edward Said’s 1978 book, Orientalism, had “pretty much taken over academia” with its premise that any criticism of Islam was a form of “Western racism.” By 2000, said Landes, Said’s ideas had “crystallized into a basic feature of the Western public sphere.” In 2001, a further significant watershed in this process was the U.N.-sponsored Durban conference, an international forum purportedly held to fight racism. At the conference, “You had the NGOs … their sacred theme was human rights … lining up with and joining forces with some of the most regressive groups on the planet. And so as a result … And the key thing in that unification was the adoption by both sides …. They had already both more or less developed this thought, but they jointly targeted Israel and the United States as, in millennial terms, the Antichrist. Or in Muslim terms, the Dajjal.”

Landes described the alliance formed at Durban, followed three days later by the jihad against America on 9/11, as a “red-green alliance” between the “progressive left and jihadis.” He referred to it as a “marriage between post-modern sadism and post-modern masochism.” The poisonous seeds of that merger account for the Islamists’ marching in lockstep with the left, targeting both Israel and the U.S.

Landes said their joint strategy to undermine the West is “demopathy,” i.e., using democracy to destroy democracy. Both groups used their platforms to channel their hostility, often publicized at anti-U.S. and anti-Israel protests in the form of symbolic imagery on placards linking swastikas with the American flag and the Jewish star. Landes noted that Islamist propagandists have grown “bolder and bolder. Initially, they didn’t think they could get away with saying the things that they say now, so they couched it in human rights terms.” He said that “what’s happened over the last 20 years is that they’ve just seen how foolish Western leaders are and that they can get away with just about anything. But I think they still, by and large, don’t openly say in English what they say in Arabic.”

Landes’ book describes a signal event in 2000 that became an accelerant for the red-green alliance — the Muhammad al-Durrah affair and its fabrications, i.e. “The story of the IDF shooting and killing a boy in his father’s arms deliberately. Twenty minutes of fire. They shot the ambulance that came to get him and so on. All concocted but picked up by the Western media so that it spread through both the progressive world and through the Muslim world with the power of … an atom bomb.”

Landes said the Palestinian propaganda campaign was so effective that “approval” for suicide bombing throughout the Muslim world and among the Palestinians soared from “25 percent to 80 percent.” Even Nihad Awad, then head of the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), praised suicide bombers as legitimate a year earlier. Yet it was Awad who stood near George W. Bush as the president gave his “therapeutic” speech after 9/11, saying, “Islam is a religion of peace, and this has nothing to do with Islam.” Landes said that while it was “appropriate” for the president to urge calm towards American Muslims, scholars are aware that “Islam … is certainly the most belligerent monotheistic religion” and that the level of violence expressed during the “lifetime of the prophet [Muhammed]” superseded the peak of violence reached under Christianity’s similar supersessionist and apocalyptic vision some three centuries later.

Landes said Western media was cowed, with many outlets “refus[ing] to use the word ‘terrorist'” in describing 9/11’s perpetrators. He said the media used the same excuses when refusing to describe as terrorists the suicide bombers who were blowing up Israeli civilians during the ’90s. Claiming it was to maintain journalistic objectivity, Landes said the dissembling was actually done out of fear for journalists’ safety. “When you look at the reasons they give for not using terror in specific incidents,” he observed, “it turns out that it’s to protect their journalists because the terrorists will use terror on them to stop them from calling them terrorists.”

He noted that when Palestinians kill each other in Israel or in the contested territories, or when there is black on black murder in the U.S., the media “isn’t interested.” Pointing out this double standard is usually met with accusations of either Islamophobia or racism.

The argument by leftists that Hamas and Hezbollah, both U.S.-designated terror organizations, are part of the progressive left movement because they are “anti-imperialist” is why Landes concludes that there is a “complete disorientation of the intellectual elite in the West.” These movements are in fact “not anti-imperialist … they’re some of the most ferocious imperialists on the planet.”

Islamists have thus been elevated to the status of an “oppressed minority,” and the al-Durrah imagery is their symbol for reframing “the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” He does not foresee the left standing up to Islamism. Of them he said, “From 2000 on, you have … betrayed the very values you claim to treasure.” Championing the Palestinian cause “is actually corrupting you right to the core of your values.”

Drawing a parallel between the global aim of the jihadists and the worldview of the left is apt in that both believe in the “shared devil” of the West as the impediment to each camp’s vision of utopia. Rather than the American public learning after 9/11 about the jihadi motivation of “Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb,” with its “imperialist vision [of] conquering [by] the realm of the sword and imposing the realm of Islam – of submission,” the opposite occurred. Landes cited the parallel between the al-Durrah propaganda and the false narrative constructed around Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. In the latter, although the lie meant to demonize the police was debunked by an FBI investigation, the truth failed to quell the rash of inner-city rioting. Landes said the Michael Brown narrative also led the left to “an alliance with the Palestinians.”

Landes contended that the Brown narrative, and its portrayal of the U.S. as evil, was used to justify the riots by saying that the “victims have a right to violence” against the police. This was much like the al-Durrah case and how it was used to justify suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. Landes further asserted that the al-Durrah case set the stage two years later for the “Jenin massacre meme,” while in the U.S., the Ferguson narrative set the stage for the reaction to George Floyd five years later. As a result, U.S. police are reacting by “backing off” rather than risking blame for doing their jobs. Landes sees this dynamic as a dangerous trend because police backing off in this way can lead “to really endemic violence at levels that a civil society can’t bear for too long.”

Internationally, parallels can be drawn between jihadis in global hotspots who sow chaos to feed off the ruin, and progressive leftist policies that “are designed to destroy [rather] than build up.” Arafat, Landes observed, recruited his fedayeen from the Palestinian youths in refugee camps, and jihadis exploit the millions displaced by the chaos they create in places like Nigeria, Sudan, or Syria to fill their ranks. Landes said there is a similarity with “woke” policies which undermine “the very fabric of a culture,” but are completely devoid of “a sane and sound” alternative.

Landes said that post-9/11, radical Islamic imams doubled down on a Danish cartoon controversy in which a caricature of Muhammed with a bomb drawn in his turban triggered global outrage against the West in Muslim locales, and accusations of blasphemy by rioters for depicting an image of their prophet. To exacerbate the reactivity and gin up anger among Muslims, imams “concocted” even more cartoons depicting Mohammed in humiliating ways and demanded that Western leaders apologize. Instead of calling out the imams as the “blasphemers” for exploiting the chaos, the world leaders indulged Islamists’ demands.

As well, the Palestinian narrative demonizing Israel as occupiers is a distortion of history. Landes characterized it as yet another manifestation of Jew-hatred accompanying the nihilism of the West’s leftists. “If anybody should be acknowledging who the indigenous population was that they displaced, it would be the Arabs acknowledging the Christians and the Jews who lived in this land long before they came. … I think we’re just prisoners of this insane notion that criticizing Islam is a form of Islamophobia, whereas in fact, not criticizing Islam is a form of cowardice.”

Van Zile concluded the interview with a quote from Landes’s book which serves as a grim reminder to Western leaders of what is at stake if they lack the courage to defend America’s liberty against the Islamists and the leftists who seek to destroy it: “Courage is the first and therefore the last freedom.”

Question for discussion:

What should be done to counter the unholy alliance between Islamists and Progressives?