As you would expect, it isn’t the United States that has just expelled an imam from the country for fomenting anti-Semitic hatred. A video has recently gone viral showing the imam of the Chicago Islamic Center, Sheikh Mohamed El-Imam (or Elimam), preaching anti-Semitic sermons on 18 and 25 July, complete with calls to jihad against Israel. (See below.) But the U.S. hasn’t done anything about this imam.
The nation that has taken action on an imam is Italy. On 5 August, Italy’s Ministry of the Interior issued a notice that Rauodi Albdelbar (probably a misspelling of Abdelbar) was being expelled from the country because he incited congregants at his mosque to anti-Semitic hatred. (H/t: Emet m’Tsiyon) The expulsion order reads as follows (author translation):
Alfano: “Expulsion for Rauodi Albdelbar [sic], a warning for those who preach hatred”
The minister has ordered the measure against the imam of the mosque in San Dona ‘di Piave, who has incited anti-Semitic hatred in a sermon. Justification: serious disturbance of public order, danger to national security and religiously motivated discrimination
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano has ordered the expulsion of Moroccan national Raoudi Albdelbar, imam of the mosque in San Dona ‘di Piave (Venice), for serious disturbance of public order, endangering national security, and discrimination on religious grounds.
The expulsion order was adopted after investigations carried out by the Central Counter-Terrorism Service and the Digos [a special police branch] of Venice, in conjunction with the prosecutor’s office, of an episode that took place in late July, [involving] incitement to anti-Semitic hatred during a sermon.
“It is not acceptable to deliver a speech with clear anti-Semitic content, containing explicit incitement to religious hatred and violence,” said the minister, “for this I have ordered immediate expulsion from [Italy’s] national territory. My decision serves as a warning to all those who think that in Italy you can preach hatred.”
The contrast of this action with the situation in the United States is interesting. I say “interesting” because America’s concept of free speech has always been broader and more absolute than the concept of any European nation. We don’t kick people out, or fine them or jail them, for saying extreme things. As a rule, our traditional standard for identifying “incitement” – which for us typically means speech that the authorities are empowered to suppress or regulate, rather than speech that can be punished – is a much higher bar to clear than the one Europeans use. (Or Canadians or Australians, for that matter. In this regard, America is sui generis.)
Our reason for this hasn’t changed. It’s because we agree that there’s hardly any case in which government should be given the power to decide what counts as inciting, hateful or otherwise extreme or unacceptable speech. To open that door is to confront nothing but a slippery slope on the other side of it. Open that door, and it’s only a matter of time until enough partisans are elected to make it law that the texts of your religion, or your political manifesto, or even just the musings in your diary, are inciting and hateful. This thermonuclear jackhammer must not be put in the hands of government Government is hard enough to control when it has far less power.
It’s important to establish this, because my point in this post is not that the U.S. should expel Mohamed El-Imam, or otherwise adopt a more European policy line on speech. My point is that protections for free speech are being knocked, quite predictably, into a tendentious shape under Barack Obama. And the news from the last few days sets up a very informative moment in that regard.
On one hand, there is the intensely political, extremist incitement coming from El-Imam and others like him. There is also a surge in slogan-chanting jihadi sentiment in the United States, the kind of thing most of us who don’t live in Dearborn haven’t seen very much of before now. Whether demonstrators are calling out anti-Semitic taunts, holding signs with well-worn blood-libel allegations, or physically attacking counter-demonstrators, seeing it on the streets of North America is jarring to the American soul. This isn’t America; this is the wingnuts of Europe, the streets of the Middle East and South Asia.
It makes us worry as never before about how to square free speech with genuine social tolerance and domestic peace. Islamic extremism seems to pose a conundrum: it seems to say we can’t have both.
Meanwhile, however, just under the surface, we must take note of some important facts about the instigators. In all the reporting on Mohamed El-Imam’s now-viral sermons, hardly anyone has pointed out that his Chicago Islamic Center, on West 63rd Street, was founded in the early 1990s as the Mosque of the Martyr Izzedine Al-Qassam, by associates of Sami Al-Arian, the notorious alleged fundraiser for Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Al-Arian and his associates were indicted in 2003 for ties to PIJ and financing terrorism. (A Florida jury acquitted the group in 2005 of some of the charges, and deadlocked on the others.)
We’ve known who these guys were. But the mosque was renamed “Chicago Islamic Center” in the mid-1990s, and today is embedded in Chicago’s peculiar and relentlessly “progressive”-left community-organizing network, with membership in the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), among other institutions. It has representation with community development planners, public school planners, and “immigrants’ rights” activists, along with other cross-sections of thoroughly politicized community-organizing cadre. See here for the connections of Obama and his cronies with the “immigrants’ rights” activists – just one of the networks of linkage by which a high-profile Chicago Islamic center is embedded with the established political order, regardless of how extreme its messages may be in Friday sermons.
The Chicago Islamic Center has even been a drop-off location on multiple occasions for Chicago’s handgun amnesty program (which probably gives most folks a cold-prickly vibe, in light of the tenor of the imam’s recent sermons. See here, here, and here).
Now contrast that pervasive political-ness, and the protection it seems to afford the Islamic center and the imam, with the vendetta the IRS is opening this summer against a black list of 99 Christian churches. Consider the “political speech” which the IRS will regard as in need of monitoring:
In a 2012 letter to the IRS, for example, [the Freedom From Religion Foundation] complained that Bishop Robert Morlino of the Madison, Wis., diocese, had dared send out an election-season letter stressing the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion and homosexual marriage. The letter said that “no Catholic, in good conscience,” may vote for candidates who are “pro-choice,” who support same-sex marriage, or “who would promote laws that would infringe upon our religious liberties and freedom of conscience.”
The bishop said nothing about particular candidates; he merely reminded parishioners of the church’s position on issues of conscience and personal liberty. Yet the IRS proposes to burden such clerics and churches with regulatory monitoring that holds over them the implicit threat of taxation – something few donation-based entities can afford.
Imam Mohamed El-Imam, on the other hand – also the spiritual leader of a tax-exempt entity – courts no threats from the IRS when he says this from the pulpit:
Oh, those of you who want to wage Jihad for the sake of Allah, Palestine is calling you and Gaza is crying out for your help. If you are true believers, real mujahideen, hasten to Palestine. …
This enemy [the Jews] was planted in the midst of the Arab nation – and they chose Jerusalem, Palestine, the most important area – in order to be a thorn in the side of the Arab and Islamic nations. May Allah pull this thorn out, and stick it down their [Western] throats. May they be sent back to their countries in shame and disgrace, Allah willing.
According to Joel Pollak at Breitbart, a spokesman for the Chicago Islamic Center responded to a query last week by simply denying that El-Imam had called for jihad. And El-Imam, who doesn’t have the truth on his side, does have the political get-out-of-jail-free card of connectedness, in the Chicago sense. The law that is now being weaponized against Christian churches – by stealth, through a regulatory agency, away from the courts – doesn’t apply equally to El-Imam at all.
El-Imam, and radical Islam, are merely taking advantage of the general assumption that the law applies equally. If it actually did, we would probably have little to worry about. The worrisome thing is not so much that Islamists have a pulpit in America as that the pulpits of others are being shut down. And it’s misguided Westerners who are doing the shutting.
So we should be careful what we wish for. I don’t think the answer is to expel imams, as Italy has just done. That is a short-term response whose long-term implications are intolerable.
Rather, the answer is to revive the American way of liberty – which means unabashedly that ministers of the cloth get to preach about any old thing they want, and religious speech can cover absolutely any subject in the universe, under the sun or beyond Antares, and not be subject to the sanction of state regulation or taxation. The answer is not to limit freedom, but to expand it back to where it is supposed to be, after decade upon decade of dangerous encroachment by the state.
Where speech is free, I have no fear of Islamism as an intellectual marauder. It’s our own political house we have to clean up. Liberty is the strong horse and the winning side. We just have to remember what it actually looks like.