Wife Rape

O  the woman God said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Genesis 3.16)

“If a husband calls his wife to his bed and she refuses and causes him to sleep in anger, the angels will curse her till morning.” (Bukhari v.4, b.54, no.460).

“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (St Paul, I Corinthians 11.3)

Marital or spousal rape is now illegal in most of the developed and much of the developing world.  But it is one of those subjects that came late in the discussion of women’s rights and criminal sexual abuse.

As the West tries to redefine “traditional” marriage in a way that respects the concept of a consensual relationship between equal partners of either sex,  it needs to acknowledge that its own view of traditional marriage has actually been an impediment to solving a problem enshrined in that understanding: the idea of contractual privilege–superiority–of the man over the woman.

Most of the confusion in law stems from unacknowledged theological beliefs that have been papered over by a slew of case law, but like mildew keeps seeping through to reveal the ancient conceptual rot underneath.

A lot of this is blamed ( maybe rightly) on Saint Paul, who commended women in Christian marriage not to refuse their husbands their conjugal “rights” (1 Corinthians 7.5; cf 1 Cor. 11.13), and a half-mad interpreter of Paul who saw pregnancy as the fast track to salvation for obedient wives (1 Timothy 2.15). Not that the church invented this model of nuptial happiness: it was already a part of the family law of ancient Rome, before the Church came along.  The paterfamilias–the pinnacle of patriarchal development in the West– had power of life and death over wife, children and slaves, with few legal constraints.  The Christian church made male authority canonical in the Church, where women were excluded from governance,  and in the family, and preserved the man-on-top philosophy for two millennia, with almost no one raising serious objections.




Christianity also went the Romans one step better: it declared that God wanted it this way.  In Book VI of his Confessions, Augustine recalls that he acquired a concubine, while waiting for his bride-in-waiting to become of marriageable age,  because “he was not a lover of marriage but a slave of lust”–a view of woman’s functionality that he scarcely budged from at any point in his career: “[O God] Thou hast granted to man that from others he should come to conclusions as to himself, and that he should believe many things concerning himself on the authority of feeble women (Conf. i)…. Woman who is simple and knoweth nothing (Conf. iii).”

Women’s consent in sexual matters was further compromised by the theological premise that they were lacking in reason, which only the male possessed in significant measure, and “nothing so casts down the manly mind from its heavenly heights as the fondling of woman and those bodily contacts which belong to the married state.” The woman is the source of pain and guilt, the incitement to lust, by God’s decree,  a permissible distraction for the eminently reasonable man who sometimes must take his fist to to the woman’s face to release his passion.

Along the way, inevitably, the theology of men on top–the male as dominant partner–seeped into the Common Law that formed the basis for the legal systems of America and the British Commonwealth. A famous 17th century treatise by Sir Matthew Hale (not published until 1736) called marital rape “an impossibility in law” because by virtue of marriage “the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract.” The chatteled staus of the woman in the partnership was simply assumed as a point that need not be argued.

A number of movements in the nineteenth century began to eat away at the logic of Hale’s commentary.  Letters and diary entries from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone and Susan B Anthony illustrate the intensity of the struggle:

Stanton: “‘Woman’s degradation is in man’s idea of his sexual rights,’ Stanton wrote to Anthony. ‘How this marriage question grows on me. It lies at the very foundation of all progress.’”

Stone: “It is clear to me, that [the marriage] question underlies, this whole movement and all our little skirmishing for better laws, and the right to vote, will yet be swallowed up, in the real question, viz, has woman, as wife, a right to herself? It is very little to me to have the right to vote, to own property &c. if I may not keep my body, and its uses, in my absolute right. Not one wife in a thousand can do that now, & so long as she suffers this bondage, all other rights will not help her to her true position.”

But after the nineteenth century there was real progress in understanding marrriage as a pact of equals–a fact not just reflected in the changing nature of marriage rituals (“love, honor and obey” becoming a rare form of the Anglican promise required of a bride after 1965) but the progressive criminalising of marital rape after 1970 and the United Nations declaration hat marital rape is a violation of human rights in 1993. In 2006, it was estimated that marital rape could be prosecuted in at least 104 countries, and since 2006 several other nations have outlawed spousal rape.  Surveys show that Islamic countries and most African countries have been the slowest to implement penalties for marital rape, and that even in those countries where the rape of a spouse has been criminalized, a category of exemptions and special considerations exists (for example, the notion that the marriage contract constitutes “implied consent”) that make prosecution of the crime a difficult matter.

HE question is at the center of the religion- and- state- issue that affects many countries around the world, but especially those trying to create a civil legal system against the backdrop of religious law and traditional attitudes about marriage.  Deference toward tradition affects not only couples living in the culture where the marriage conventions and laws were formed, but also dispersed populations, such as the Pakistani diaspora in the U.K., that embrace some but not all of the “western” values indigenous to liberal European democracies.

A recent article by Aneka Chohan highlights the problem in Islamic societies.  She puts the dilemma as starkly and forcefully as I have seen it:

When it comes to marital rape, women are often confused whether they have been raped or not. The scenario of a stranger raping a woman on the street is immediately identified as  rape, where as forceful acts by a husband upon a wife are considered acceptable. This is partly due to the cultural belief that is rooted in women’s minds that ‘submitting’ to their husband is a sign of a dutiful wife.

The West tends to feel terribly privileged and liberal in the discussion of marital rape, but the premises used by Islamic theologians and “experts” are hauntingly like the rationales used in Europe and America for centuries: it is based of a thelogy of opposites, discredited Aristotelian biology (which saw the male as “propagative” and the female as “nutritive”), and a system that was designed specifically to keep women in their place as help-meets to their masculine superiors.

Take for example the words of Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed, the president of the Islamic Sharia Council of Britain–a Muslim cleric living in England–where any report of spousal rape would be treated as a crime:

“Clearly there cannot be any rape with the marriage. Maybe aggression, maybe indecent activity…because when they got married, the understanding was that sexual intercourse was part of the marriage, so there cannot be anything against sex in marriage. Of course, if it happened without her desire, that is no good, that is not desirable….In Islamic sharia, rape is adultery by force. So long as the woman is his wife, it cannot be termed as rape. It is reprehensible, but we do not call it rape.”

There may be a superficial logic to this preposterous claim, but it has no more bearing on the nature of rape than the seventeenth century notions of Sir Matthew Hale.   Add to this the lack of consensuality that precedes the marriage contract in much of Islamic society and the rape provision becomes even more invidious: a woman who did not marry a man of her choosing can be held accountable for not giving that man his conjugal “rights.” A girl taken by force and gang raped can be judicially executed (“honor killing”) for bringing shame on her family, as in the case of seventeen year old Kainrat Soomro who was declared a kiri(blackened woman) by a council of elders for losing her virginity outside marriage.   As Habibi Nosheen says in her superb Atlantic article from September 2011, “The most recent report from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan noted that in 2009 roughly 46 percent of all female murders in Pakistan that year were in the name of ‘honor’. The report noted that a total of 647 incidences of ‘honor killings’ were reported by the Pakistani press. However, experts say that actual incidences of ‘honor killings’ in Pakistan are much higher and never get reported to the police because they are passed off by the families as suicides.”

pulitzer sep26 p.jpg

Underlying the judgments of the religious experts is more than two thousand years of male superstition, male insecurity, and male power.  Coercion and dominance within marriage is the last hurrah of a concept of marriage that keeps daddy on top and mother–as the writer of I Timothy advocates–barefoot and pregnant.

It keeps women ashamed to tell the truth about the thugs they married and daughters silent about the men who drugged them and bruised them and robbed them of the right to choose.

But it is not even that easy: Because in the first instance, spousal rape is not about choice. It is about power and the mythology that supports power.  The men who do such things are supported by a vicious theology that makes God, “the almighty father,” the “compassionate, the merciful,” the “hearer of prayers”– that God– the creator of a system that sees women as what the Catholic church used to call “occasions of sin”–visual enticements to lust and pleasure.  It’s all their fault; they earned their position by being the first to transgress God’s law, surrendering (as Augustine saw it) their natural rights to the man.

This theology has been chanted and sung and and said for two millennia by thousands of under-educated clerics in the book traditions who could not make an honest living if their lives depended on it, and hence prefer the easy road: tell people what God wants and what God the father expects of them. The God who told a virgin named Miriam not to tell anyone he’d got her pregnant.  The God who abused his only son and required him to be tortured to death. The God who teased Abraham with the promise of a son for a hundred years and drove his youngest wife into the desert. The God who told the Prophet that a nine year old wife would become the mother of believers. That God. Tell them that God wants it this way: your wives submissive and silent and your daughters obedient.  If that fails, there are always fists and knives.

Catholics and the Contraceptive Conscience

The Catholic bishops think that they have a right to an opinion about contraception and abortion.  They do.  They also think that when they speak in the name of their Church, as custodians of its moral philosophy, to people who want to listen, they have a right to be heard.  They do.

Unfortunately they think as well  that when they are heard they deserve deference and to be obeyed.  They don’t.

The right of a church (or a religion) to teach is not the same as the obligation of the people to listen, especially when listening would mean setting aside one of the core principles of a constitutional democracy: the health and welfare of its population regardless of what any individual or group, religious or secular, considers sacred truth .

In the United States, among the 43 million fertile, sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant, 89% are practicing contraception.  Whatever else the bishops might want to preach about, contraception is the least likely to result in obeisant listening: the failure of Catholics to heed the absurd teaching of Paul VI’s panicked “birth control encyclical” (Humanae Vitae, 1968) is impressively documented in every survey done since 1970.

If abortion remains a controversial topic for some ethicists, the court of public opinion gave the verdict on birth control a long time ago.

But obedience is the trademark of the Roman church, as it was originally of the Roman Empire.  When the bishops of Rome first assumed the title pontifex maximus or supreme pontiff in the late fourth century, they did so using the imperial idea that the emperor was the bridge (pontus) between the gods and mankind.  Beginning with Augustus, Roman emperors were venerated as the sons of god: it’s one of the reasons Jesus gets the title in his christological role as “king of kings,” and why in their inspired mode, ex cathedra–from the throne of Peter–popes are thought to be infallible when teaching on “matters of faith and morals”–something no protestant, never mind an agnostic or a United States congressman, is required to believe.

Welcome to America, Land of the free and home of the politically vacuous. If anyone needs to be indignant about anything in the Obama administration’s effort to secure contraceptive protection for women as part of health care coverage by employers (including corporations owned by the Catholic Church), it should be the congressional leaders who are now screaming about the government’s “intrusion” into matters of conscience.  They should be telling the Church to calm down, hush up, and learn to be American.  Congress is entrusted with the legislative function of government, yet a significant majority of American legislators, or at least those who can read, are banefully ignorant of the secular character of the document that describes their job.

Whose conscience? What teaching? By what authority? This isn’t China,  or the Europe of the Middle Ages. It’s the world’s oldest (yes oldest) continuing republic.  It is supposed to be the place where the pretensions of hierarchical religion and monarchical rule were set aside in favor of a secular constitution that guaranteed freedom of religion but not its dominance over the welfare of its citizens.  The fact that a plenum of backward politicians, if that is not a tautology, happen to find that their antediluvian religious views and political needs coincide with the teaching of Rome on this matter should have no bearing on the discussion of contraception, health care, and reproductive rights.  None.

But naturally, in  hyper-religious America, any program that seems to challenge the unwritten catechism of the Christian right is construed as an assault on the freedom to worship, on religion itself.  The Sean Hannitys and Laura Ingrahams of this old world with their rabidly anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-science agenda and traditional-Catholic fear of sexual freedom dominate the discussion with a mixture of political illiteracy, brusque stupidity and the sort of dull sophistry that we usually associate with salesmen working on commission at Radio Shack.  But they have an audience, and they have homo Americanus’ natural gift for missing the point in their favour.

If John Kennedy were a candidate for the presidency in 2012, given what likely would have been his views on contraception and abortion, he would have been trashed by the Catholic media and the bishops for being a disloyal son of the Church.  In fact, that’s just what Rick Santorum, that most mule-faced and mulishly stupid of Catholic rightists, called him.

The Church as church has every right to its doctrine and its view. But religious doctrine should not stand (in countless cases has not stood) when a religious organisation (for example) advocates child marriage, or the abuse of children in the form of corporal punishment, or life-threatening health practices that would restrict emergency treatment to minors.  The Catholic Church has lost significant moral persuasiveness in recent years by preaching on stage its gospel of life and sermonizing about the rights of the unborn, while behind the curtain abusing the born, the vulnerable and the old as “human weaknesses” that the laity should learn to comprehend and forgive.  The denial of contraceptive rights to women as a fundamental part of health care is just another example of this malignant behavior.

Deciding women's futures

Because of its antiquity, the rules and pronouncments of the Catholic church are not often compared to those of other denominations; after all, in addition to being the  world’s largest owner of private hospitals it is the world’s most ancient monarchy.  To a large extent, its theology has defined both the institution of marriage, the nature of the family, and the conflicting duties individuals face in their religious life and as citizens.

The church has argued and will continue to argue that the City of Man is the imperfect representation of the City of God–to which the church stands nearer because of its privileged position as guardian of timeless truths.  Once again, the Church is free to believe this.  It is not anyone else’s duty to accept it as true.  The Church’s position on contraception and abortion is derived from particular traditions regarded as sacred by its teachers.  By their very nature, therefore, they are not binding on the conscience of those who regard those truths as damaging, irrational or destructive.  The secular state is under no more obligation to accept the Church’s teaching on reproductive issues than it is to accept the Church’s teaching on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  If American legislators would howl at the latter example, why are they lined up behind the Church in opposing freedom of choice.  After all, the church is supposed to know more about eternal than temporal things, and nothing is more temporal then reproduction.

But the church as an owner of corporations is not acting in the same role as the Church as the avowed dispenser of God’s grace through teaching and the sacraments. Its ecclesiastical privileges cannot extend into its social involvements and projects.

What the Church claims to do for the salvation of souls is one thing: if you believe it, and it doesn’t hurt animals, by all means continue to do it.

But contaception is  matter of the flesh, for men and women who have presumably decided not to heed the jeremiads of two hundred aging celibate prelates who will never be pregnant, never suffer a miscarriage, never have to consider the risks of giving birth, or of giving birth to a child with a genetic disorder.

Most sickening of all of course is the bare teeth hypocrisy of the politicans who want to see the Obama administration’s decision about contraceptive care as a violation of the First Amendment, an infringement of the free exercise of religion.  It is the government “telling religion what to do,” they say, with the assured self-satisfaction of a high school debater who’s just scored a point against the team from the next county.

Well, exactly.  That is exactly the way our system works.  It tells religion when to climb down.  It says a Presbyterian can believe in God’s prevenient saving grace and a Catholic can believe in actual grace earned through merit and priestly offices.

It says the government couldn’t care less unless the two want to fight it out with guns (cf. Amendment II) at dawn. It says a woman can believe in a hundred gods or in no god at all and still run for elected office.  It says that a Church should not be licensed to be a hospital but might own hospitals that meet specific standards for health care. Those standards are not doctrinal but empirical, measurable, scientific.  That hospital is not required to perform abortions. It is required to provide the same standard of  care for its employees–not all of whom are Catholic–as they might expect from a hospital that was not subject to the Church’s magisterium.

If the bishops and the Christian Right and their Republican mouthpieces win this one, the Constitution loses.  But most Americans won’t know that and many won’t care.

Talking Points from Rick Santorum’s Ethics Playbook

1.  No fetus should be denied health care.

2. My mother Cathy used to say, God love her,  The best solution for unwanted pregnancy is to learn to want it.

3.  All men are created equal.  All women are created  to be mothers and teachers or nurses.

4. Life begins at conception and ends with a funeral.

5.  Marriage is between one man and one woman, Mormon losers.

6.   Abortion is a sin because the Bible says “Honour thy father and thy mother,” and how would you even be here if they had aborted you, pervert?

7.  Despite what my critics say, I do not believe everything the pope says is literally true.  For example, he might say “It look like rain” when it doesn’t.

6. Our Constitution gives people of the same sex all kinds of rights. And it gives people of different sexes different rights. Same – Different, is that too hard for you you socialist bloodsuckers.

9.  Marriage is not a right.  It is a privilege.  Except it can’t be taken away once you accept it.  It’s really complicated.

10.  Monogamous, heterosexual relationships are what make America “the shining city on a hill,” like St. Augustine John Kennedy Ronald Reagan so famously said.

11.  It hurts me to see so many Catholics turning their backs on the teaching of the bishops. I think we can all learn something important from the bishops about how to teach our children, family values, protecting the young so many things.

12.  I’m not saying I’m a perfect Catholic.  God didn’t make us perfect.  I’d only say that I am the only Catholic politican who can go to communion with a clean conscience.

13.  What a disaster John Kennedy was as the first Catholic president.  I’ll bet if abortion had been legal then he would have been for it.

14.  People ask me, “Why do you think you’ve got a direct line to the Almighty?”  I’ll tell you why, if you tell me why you’re so gay.

15. Do I believe in evolution?  Let me put it his way. I believe God has a right to change his mind.

The Conspiratoriate

On September 16, 2001 I was flying back to Beirut to begin a new academic term at the American University, located in the city’s Muslim district of  Hamra.   Logan Airport, where the two planes (American Airlines Flight 11 and United Flight 175) that plunged into the World Trade Center towers had originated, had reopened only the previous day, and the mood of all of us who were boarding international flights was, to say the least, apprehensive.  I glared at fellow passengers for any signs that they might have something to hide, and they glared at me with similar suspicion.  There were many good places to be in the days just following the attacks.  In the air was not one of them.

Back in Lebanon, out of the blue, my driver began by asking how I was, how America was (the answer: a little shaken) and then for no reason apologized to me for the actions of all Muslims, everywhere, with the caution, “This is not Islam.  These people are not Muslims.  They are madmen who defile Islam.”

It was an explanation I would get in one form or another for weeks thereafter, delivered with sincerity, often with unnecessary and misplaced contrition, from students and colleagues.

Similar platitudes about the “true nature of Islam” were emerging in a constant stream from Washington, which affected to make a clear distinction between Islam as a religion of peace and the image of people leaping from tall buildings to avoid being burned alive by the engulfing fire of a senseless and wholly evil act, done in the name of God, by partisans of a particular faith.

I discussed some of this in a 2006 book, Just War and Jihad: Positioning the Question of Religious Violence.  In doing research for my piece of the book  even I was surprised at how ritualistic the actions of Mohamed Attah, Abdulaziz al-Omari and Hani Hanjour were.  In 2012,  Attah’s name and that of his comrades in arms are all but forgotten by most Americans.  What remains are the recycled images, the date, and the sense that some sort of preternatural evil had touched Manhattan Island that day.

The very scale of the spectacle made theological explanations tempting: irresistible to Christian fundamentalists who believed the events vindicated their belief that Islam was a satanic parody of biblical faith, and also, ironically, atheists who felt that it corroborated their belief that Islam epitomized religion’s inherent destructive power over the mind.  Hollywood could leave it alone; sometimes art cannot imitate nature, and among other things September 11 was irreproducible spectacle.  Few of us in our lifetime will witness even one murder. On that day the world saw the internationally televised ritual murder of three thousand people.

But even the platitude makers in Washington were lying to themselves and then began lying to everyone else.  In the weeks and months ahead, America got used to a new vocabulary.  Homeland Security. The Patriot Act.Operation Enduring Freedom.  Rendition. Guantanamo. And a new cast of  very odd characters, talking endlessly about radical Islam and threats to the security of the American people.  Even the word “homeland” was contrived by Bush phrasemakers to evoke an image of nation and common good not evinced in words like “country” or “national security.”  Home is where you lived, what you loved, where you went to be secure; you would do anything to protect it.  What do you protect a home from? Intruders. Outsiders.  Foreigners.

Bush himself in eight years of incompetent bumbling on all fronts is famous for two magic moments:  one, when he impulsively grabbed a bullhorn at “Ground Zero” (another imbecilic phrase) and said to the crowd, “I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people —  who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”

The second is his unilateral declaration of a win in Iraq in 2003, against the background of a festoon that read “Mission Accomplished.”  Besides Bush, who before this date was just a guy who’d stolen the Florida election won by Al Gore, there were others the American people got to know from briefings, news conferences, security alerts and news updates.  Rudy Giuliani, the “tough DA” who just happened to be mayor of New York on the fatal day; Ray Kelly, the NYC police chief and tough talker; Tom Ridge, the guy appointed by Bush to be the director of new Homeland Security agency, and under whose leadership the red-green-orange alert system  (reminiscent of how you learned to cross a street in first grade), evolved.  They all seemed like emanations of Bush’s plain spoken Wanted- dead- or- alive approach in his “war” on terrorism.

Alongside them, available on call for public ceremonies, were a modest retinue of Islamic spokesmen who were used by the Bush regime as mannequins for modeling what “good Islam” looked like: Wahlid Phares, Zuhdi Jasser, Tawfik Hamid.

If you have missed these faces (I have not) they are reunited for the first time since the passing of the Bush era in a video (released in 2009, but not widely distributed), designed to warm the cockles of your heart’s worst paranoid fears.  If you do not have the stomach for the full 72 minute version (Netflix has it) of The Third Jihad, there is an equally disturbing 32 minute free version that cuts right to the most graphic images and the bottom line delusion:

There is a well developed underground jihadist movement in America.  It is in a perpetual state of struggle against American culture and American values. It wants no prisoners, only victory. Your children are not safe.  “We the people” (i.e. “real Americans”) are not safe.  Wake up and tell a neighbour.  They use our laws against us.  They will not stop before the Constitution of the United States is replaced by Sharia.  Their first real victory? The presidential election of 2008.

For those of us (barely) old enough to remember the None Dare Call It Treason scare tactics of the 1960’s that kept the Domino Theory and rumours of atheist dominion flowing like sewage through the psyche of the American right, this is the Islamaphobe X-rated version of the same lunacy.

The film  is the brainchild of  former Navy physician and “concerned” Muslim Zuhdi Jasser who is most celebrated for his testimony before Congress in connection with the June 24, 2011 hearings on HR 963–known as the “See Something, Say Something Act.” Jasser is also heavily in with the American Islamic Forum for Democracy which recently has been shouting down the New York Times’ campaign against the film, especially its use in training New York City policemen.

If anyone has any doubts about the second-rate nature of the AIFD, then the quality of its website, its projects, and literature should out all doubt to rest.  It has the smell of a hate group whose odour has been unsatisfactorily sprayed over by the use of academics like Bernard Lewis and (important) dissidents like Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  The majority of the interviewees in the film are self-styled experts with a book and a private theory to sell: Rachel Eherenfeld, Mark Steyn, and Melanie Philips fit that description; other like Giulinai and Tom Ridge are there because they bring back the fragrance of Bush era fear management.  It is not that independently these writers don’t have a piece of a thesis to argue; it is that they have been made in the film into a chorus of frogs.  Their incoherent views aren’t intended by filmmaker Raphael Shore and Wayne Kopping to lay out their worries in a coherent way but simply to bludgeon the viewer with  the director’s master-theory of radical Islam.

Confronted by the New York Times blast against The Third Jihad, Mayor Bloomberg ordered its use in training sessions discontinued immediately.  It was soon revealed that Commissioner Ray Kelly (listed in the film’s credits), after initially denying he had had any knowledge of the NYPD’s using the film, had actually cooperated in its development.  The AIFD explained the reversals this way:

The NYPD’s initial denial of having widely used the film for training purposes-and subsequent public apologies issued by Commissioner Kelly (“It shouldn’t have been shown”) and Mayor Bloomberg (“Somebody exercised some terrible judgment. I don’t know who. We’ll find out.”)–are in and of themselves deeply troubling, and say far more about the current state of American society than about The Third Jihad itself. In fact, these public denials and apologies demonstrate the remarkable success achieved by the Islamist lobby in North America, which seeks to prevent any and all public discussion of the supremacist political ideology that non-violent Islamist organizations share in common with terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. In other words, the behavior of the NYPD, in this matter, tends to confirm the film’s thesis.

Well, why not?  The best proof of anything is to say that suppressing it proves it was (dangerously) correct.  In rare cases, as with Galileo and Yu Jie, this turns out to be be right assessment.  But in most cases, there is no real suppression–just a correction of hideous error, and this film is designed to be hideous, with its visual manipulation, dark corners and spliced commentaries.  New York cops were being taught that homegrown Islamic terror cells are growing like cancer in the United States. (Remember Fort Hood? The film was begun in the year of the shootings, 2008). Now the public is meant to believe that vital information is being withheld by a government gone soft on terror because the Islamist lobby is hugely influential in media and politics.  Make you blood boil?  Oh George, Tom, Dick: where are you when the country needs your help?

The thesis is so absurd at every level that it beggars serious discussion. All the more reason that we should be indignant that officers pf the law were told to believe every word and image in it was true.

The worst part of The Third Jihad-philosophy, however, is that it is not the face of American Islam.  It is the face of fear-mongers left over from the (pardon the expression) Bush intelligentsia who are driven by their own political agendas.  Fear, after all, was good for them; it got them legally elected once and kept the country in the pocket of mean-spirited men for almost a decade–an unforeseen stroke of luck for an ignorant man and his lunatic far-right supporters.  These are the same voices who would have goaded Bush into bombing Iran if the mood had struck him, the same cohort who succeeded in pushing him to invade Iraq and stir the hornets’ nest in Pakistan.  These are people who want the Peacock throne and their villas back, but who are not so stupid as to think they can say this out loud.  It is not about Islam; it is about the private agendas of a distraught expatriate community and oil guzzling supporters who think American-style democracy would be good for the Middle East, good for the Islamic wold in general.

They’re banking on a tried and true constant in American politics:  American ignorance of the inner workings of the world beyond these shores. To do this they have to convince Americans that they are complacent while really under siege.  The message of the film is that smart (and patriotic) Americans will not be led astray by peace and tranquility.  Smart and patriotic Americans know that there is a war going on between their values and the values of foreigners.  The film argues, if that is the right word–rather impresses–that while violent jihad against the United States may be in suspension right now, cultural jihad is being waged by Islamic groups who are using the laws and rights they are given to work against society and overthrow it.  The tissue of silliness on which this master theory is based is something called the Explanatory Memorandum On the General Strategic Goal for the Group In North America.  Written by a member the Muslim brotherhood, Mohamed Akram,  in 1991,  it reeks of the overblown jihadist sentiment of that era, sentiment more eloquently purveyed in bin Laden’s fatwahs against America.

But it is all mularkey. The kind conservatives in Washington seem to get off on. –Factory-produced xenophobia repackaged as patriotism. There is no “Third Jihad.”  There is no “stealth jihad.”  And the third Jihad conspiracy-sellers can only persuade two kinds of people: people who feel more secure when they are fighting a war against some spectral enemy they are largely ignorant of, and people who stand to profit from convincing the public that they must be eternally vigilant, eternally suspicious, and as a consequence, eternally irrational.

We have a lot of people who fit that description, and a lot more who might buy  the sinister vision of an Islamic apocalypse that the film promotes.  It seems to me we have a lot more to worry about from those kinds of people.