Liberal pundit Peter Beinart has attacked Breitbart News and the way it covers Islam and Muslims.
He singled this author out personally — the second time he has done so this month, and once again from a position of total ignorance. (At least he spelled my name correctly this time).
In an essay at the Forward, Beinart wrote:
Breitbart, whose senior-editor-at-large, Joel Pollak, may be the influential conservative Jewish journalist in America today, specializes in finding examples, now matter how obscure or thinly sourced, of Muslims behaving horribly. It then adds the most menacing headlines and photos it can find, and tells its readers, essentially, that Muslims are savages.
Note that Beinart provides no examples whatsoever to back up his claims — not even a single link. Perhaps Raheem Kassam, the Muslim editor of Breitbart London and the author of a new book about “no go zones,” might be best placed to answer Beinart’s bogus charges.
But since Beinart mentioned me specifically, I will respond. Doing so also offers an opportunity to describe the editorial approach that Breitbart News has taken to reporting on the topic.
First, as to me personally: I have a background on the topic of Islam and Muslims that Beinart evidently knows nothing about. I lived with a devout Muslim family for two years, and spent another four years living in an almost entirely Muslim neighborhood in Cape Town. During that time, I studied Arabic with a local imam; participated in the Ramadan fast; and defended a local mosque in a dispute over its submission to a city planning commission.
(Throughout that time, I remained a passionate public defender of the United States, as well as the State of Israel. I believe that true dialogue does not require self-negation, but rather demands that we present our authentic selves.)
I have written about that period for Breitbart News — not that Beinart bothered to look. I have also written articles critical of radical Islam, and those who defend it, or tolerate it, in the United States.
One piece that attracted some attention was my criticism of the local Muslim leaders who blamed U.S. foreign policy for the San Bernardino terror attack in 2015, and then offered legal assistance to the family of the terrorists. I called that a “death benefit offered to would-be terrorists,” which was, and remains, an accurate description of a deeply offensive gesture.
More recently, I wrote about an antisemitic tirade by the imam of a prominent mosque Davis, California, who cited an antisemitic text and prayed for Allah to “annihilate” the Jews. In response to a request for comment, the mosque actually defended the imam and claimed he had used the Arabic word for “destroy,” not “annihilate,” as if it made a difference.
These attitudes have an effect on the surrounding communities, including the University of California Davis, where Jewish students have been subjected to religiously-motivated antisemitic taunts by Muslim students.
Beinart is correct to criticize the attitudes of some conservatives who regard Islam itself as a problem. But his critique is incomplete without an acknowledgment that radical Islam draws on beliefs and themes that are widely shared among Muslims in general, and that are not contested vigorously enough in the mosque and the madrasah.
Indeed, one reason so many Americans struggle to differentiate between radical Islam and Islam itself is that so many of the Muslim community’s most vocal leaders seem eager to blur the distinction in their political postures.
The fact is that some of the Muslims who are migrating to the West from the Middle East are bringing with them social norms, cultural practices and political beliefs that are incompatible with our society. Some of these are not strictly Islamic, like female genital mutilation (FGM), which is only practiced in some Muslim countries. Others, such as the militant radicalism of anti-Israel “Women’s March” organizer Linda Sarsour — who recently called for “jihad” against President Trump — are more widely shared, and more difficult to absorb.
Moreover, the wave of Muslim immigration to the West is unique in that it does not feel pressure to assimilate, either from within or without. These are problems that mainstream media ignore, in deference to claims of “Islamophobia.” That is why Breitbart highlights them — while rejecting the “Muslims are savages” perspective Beinart falsely attributes to us.
Americans and Europeans wonder, rightly, whether new Muslim immigrant communities fully accept our values. For Jews, those questions are especially acute, because our own struggles for equality were so recently won, and because so many Muslim leaders are working to undo or dilute some of the factors that contributed to our wider acceptance, such as awareness of the unique horrors of the Holocaust, and respect for the State of Israel’s strength.
In 2014, I wrote about the experience of visiting my former Jewish school in suburban Chicago, which is now the site of the city’s only Muslim day school. I wondered, as I was guided around the facility by the vice principal, “whether the happy Muslim children praying in the library might one day be taught to resent the Jewish state.”
I also noted:
As I left, I pointed out to the vice principal the two trees outside that I personally witnessed being planted by Polish Christians, honored 30 years ago at the school for saving Jews in the Holocaust.
She did not know the story. There was no plaque marking the ceremony.
And, one day, no one to remind them, or us.
To raise these issues is not Islamophobic. It is the opposite — a refusal to condescend to Muslims by demanding less of them, by excusing them from the mutual civic responsibility of tolerance.
Beinart slanders his own community by claiming, falsely, that “anti-Muslim bigotry” infests “American Jewish politics,” and Republican Jewish politics in particular.
His personal smears and intellectually dishonest generalizations can only fuel prejudice on both sides.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.