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Victor Davis Hanson on the Ground Zero Mosque, and the perfect storm Obama and the Democrats face this November

Monday, August 9, 2010
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HH: Joined now by Victor Davis Hanson. Always a pleasure, Professor Hanson, welcome back.

VDH: Thank you for having me.

HH: I want to start with the story about the Ground Zero Mosque. And what significance do you attach to this, Victor Davis Hanson, and what should the response of the country be to the proposal to build the mosque there?

VDH: Well, it shows you a crisis of confidence on the part of us, that we don’t have enough respect for the memory of the dead, and we don’t have a real confidence in our own culture, because there’s plenty of places to build a mosque rather than to do it 600 feet within Ground Zero. That mosque will go up before the World Trade Center complex is rebuilt. That sends a terrible message, and we know it’s all going to appear on CDs and propaganda videos all throughout the Middle East. They’ll juxtapose the mosque versus the wreckage of 9/11. And then we don’t know anything about Mr. Raif and where the funding comes from, or his own past writings and speeches are pretty disturbing. And they cloak all this in sort of a civil rights issue? It’s pretty pathetic. It really is. It’s a matter of taste and commemoration for the dead.

HH: Jeffrey Goldberg, who’s a very, very fine writer at The Atlantic, penned a piece in defense of the mosque, saying that oh, this is something that Osama bin Laden would want to blow up, as though that there dispositive. But what…you see the line of argument there, which is the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and so if Osama bin Laden would want to blow up the mosques of people who believe in coexistence and progress and Americanization, then we should be on the side of it. Your response to that?

VDH: I think there’s zero chance of that. What’s much more likely is Osama bin Laden will make a video, and they will show the commemorative wreckage of 9/11, and in the background will be the silhouette of the mosque, and it will say, to the effect, this is what Mohammed Atta did. To paraphrase Lawrence Wright, he took down one looming tower, and he built a religious icon in its place. And that’s, we know that’s going to happen. And we also know that this group that’s building the mosque is building it under the pretenses of religious ecumenicalism, and that this is supposed to be a sign of outreach. But it’s a deliberately provocative act. Any group that wants to reach across ideology or political or religious barriers wouldn’t choose such a symbolic or iconic gesture as this. It’s insulting.

HH: You know, it’s interesting, Victor Davis Hanson, I wrote a piece for the Washington Examiner today going back over all the land use controversies that have surrounded Manassas, Antietam, Gettysburg and Valley Forge.

VDH: Yes.

HH: In each instance, the proposed uses were dismissed and driven away as inappropriate for proximity to sacred space. Why is that not at work here?

VDH: I think we’re starting to learn since 9/11, if we didn’t know it already, that multiculturalism trumps almost everything. In other words, the idea that all cultures are equal, and we find a cosmic sense of morality, or we substantiate our ethical values by suggesting that everybody is the same, and we don’t judge, or we don’t use abstract, concrete criteria to judge one culture worse or better than another. And we’re seeing that everywhere, with Major Hassan, the reaction to the Major Hassan murdering, and the reaction to a lot of other things in Afghanistan. It’s a symptom of a culture that’s deeply, deeply unsure and without confidence about its values, its history, its protocols, its future.

HH: Now we saw over the weekend the slaughter of ten Western missionaries, medical missionaries.

VDH: Yes.

HH: Not proselytizing missionaries. And the reaction in the media has been very interesting to me. It’s a tragic story, they’ve reported it, but they’re really not spending much time on the nature of the ideology of those who slaughtered medical missionaries.

VDH: No, it’s almost as if they were provoked by people having an affiliation with Christianity, even though that wasn’t integral to their medial mission. As I said earlier, it’s…race, class and gender seems to trump almost every consideration. When somebody is a mass murderer in Connecticut and shoots people, what do we learn? Not about the tragic impact of that act on their families or their long, distinguished careers, but that he allegedly was a victim of racism. And I think that that’s pretty much what the media and what this administration showcase now, that everything is contextualized in terms of relative power, the perception of relative power, and one’s race, class, gender and religion. And that predicates or excuses, or it justifies particular acts.

HH: Now a dozen Minnesota Muslim groups have called on Governor Tim Pawlenty to retract a statement he made Friday slamming the proposed mosque. What do you think he ought to do?

VDH: Well, I think you have to turn the conversation back on the idea of liberality. It’s not very liberal to deliberately choose a site that will provoke a majority of people in the state of New York, and nationwide, and will offend almost all of the families of the deceased. It’s not a very liberal thing to do. All he would have to say is I support any site for a mosque, anywhere except that place, just as if we wouldn’t say to the Japanese government we don’t mind if you build a shrine to the Bushido-Zen Buddhism right next to Pearl Harbor’s Arizona monument. We just wouldn’t do that. And this idea that you’re not liberal because you have standards, or you have respect for the dead, or you have a sense of decency, is just absurd.

HH: Well, what’s interesting to me about this is it’s the 70/30 split that Arthur Brooks wrote about in his book, The Battle…

VDH: Yes.

HH: …that 70% of America says no way, and 30% of America says you 70% are bigoted, and that this one is not one on which there’s going to be a lot of ability to squeak around it, and you know, President Obama’s trying to say it’s a local land use argument. That’s the most absurd reaction, Victor Davis Hanson.

VDH: It is, but again, I don’t want to keep banging the same drum, but think about all these recent controversies. They have two or three things in common. One, a majority of the people have a particular position that’s voiced either through polls or ballots, or through their representatives, whether it’s the Arizona law, or whether it’s marriage in California, or whether it’s the mosque, or whether it’s the ethical problems of Charles Rangel. And in each case, people cannot make an argument that convinces 51% of the people, and so what they do is, they say the voters of Arizona are racists, they say the voters of California are bigoted, they say that people who are opposed to the mosque have religious prejudice, they say that those who want to see Charles Rangel face the same standards, or Maxine Waters, are racists. And that’s pretty much what we’re seeing now, that racism, bigotry, is a charge that one uses when they fail to convince 51% of the people of the validity of their argument. It’s that simple.

HH: When we come back from break, we’ll continue the conversation with Victor Davis Hanson, specifically about the article about Iran in the new New Yorker, and North Korea’s many provocations over the weekend. They are shelling an island right now, Victor Davis Hanson, as we speak that’s unoccupied. Do you think the North Korea thing is going to get hot very quickly?

VDH: I do. I think that, and again, this is, all these things can’t be seen in context, foreign or domestic. And the North Korean matter, the Iranian matter, heating up in the Middle East, the problems with Venezuela, things, I think, will heat up, unfortunately, with Russia. They’re all from a perception that this administration either secretly sympathizes with grievances of former adversaries, or in fact it will, or cannot, do anything if they act provocatively. And we saw that with Jimmy Carter, and he was a wonderful world internationalist from 1977-1978. And suddenly in 1979, Afghanistan, Chinese in Vietnam, communists in Central America, the hostage taking, the Shah problem, and it was, everybody decided to cash in their chips.

HH: It was escalation overnight.

– – – –

HH: Right now, I’m talking with Victor Davis Hanson about the article in the New Yorker, Victor Davis Hanson, this week. After The Crackdown, it’s by John Lee Anderson, who just got back from Tehran. In it, he quotes a most amazing quote from the lips of Ali Akbar Javanfekr, the Iranian president, Ahmadinejad’s senior media advisor, and the director of Iran’s official news agency. He told Anderson that, “Israel is unfortunately doomed.” Now this is not hard. This is not ambiguous, Victor Davis Hanson, and yet we treat the Iranians as though they are at all reliable.

VDH: Well, I think we understand what they’re trying to do. They’re going to get a bomb, and then they’re going to issue these proclamations about every six weeks, and the sword of Damocles is going to hang over the Israel people, only seven million Jews surrounded by Muslims, Arabs, Iranians, whatever. And then, a recent poll suggested that a quarter of the Israeli population wouldn’t want to live under those conditions. They wouldn’t want to live under the threat of a second holocaust, so they would emigrate. And that’s what we’re seeing the strategy is. Say every once in a while that you’re going to nuke or destroy, or Israel’s doomed, and then full speed ahead on nuclear proliferation. And you can pretty much scare an entire population to either acting preemptively, or getting out. And this administration had not assured anybody that they’re serious about stopping Iran. It’s a tough problem. There’s bad and worse choices. But once again, I think the outreach is not working.

HH: So what do you think the Israelis are going to do?

VDH: Well, I think they’re going to act. I think they’re going to reach a critical point of no return, and it’s probably around six months, and the end of the year, or early next winter, and they’re going to decide that they have to act, and they’re going to act with the full knowledge that it’s a bad choice, and the worst is allowing these people to intimidate them for the next fifty years.

HH: Now there have been efforts in the last three or four days to start a problem on the Lebanese border. The Lebanese army fired and killed an Israeli colonel. There have been subsequent confrontations there on the border. Do you think they’re trying, they being Hezbollah and their allies within the Lebanese army, and Syria, are trying to start a war right now?

VDH: I don’t know if they’re trying to start a war, because for all the talk that Israel lost the 2006 war, they inflicted a lot of damage on Hezbollah, about $10 billion dollars in infrastructure. But I do think that they feel that for the first time in a half century, there’s a lot of distance between the United States and Israel, and in that void, people have new opportunities that there weren’t before. And if they can get into sort of a semi-war, hot war, cold war, an international incident we saw with the Turkish flotilla, then there’s going to be a likelihood that there will be acrimony between Israel and the United States, and that gap widens further. And if you keep doing that, at some magical point, we will be neutrals, or even adversaries. And I think that’s the strategy behind it.

HH: All right, now you watch the polls as closely as anyone. What do you think is going to happen in November based upon all the data that you’ve had a chance to see?

VDH: I think the Republicans are going to take the House, and they’re going to come very close to taking the Senate. And almost, Obama’s problem right now is he’s got a perfect storm. He’s not engaged on Afghanistan, he’s got his advisors who are pretty much giving up on the stimulus/deficit plan of restoring the economy, he’s got some lunatic appointments that they’re almost like IED’s. They go off at any given time. We don’t know what the NASA guy’s going to say, we have Van Joneses sprinkled throughout the administration. That’s kind of scary. And he’s fighting right now an image of, as we see on the blogs, of Marie Antoinette with his wife, that these people either play golf or they go to Costa del Sol when they lecture the country that at some point, a person’s made enough money. This populist rhetoric does not go well with an aristocratic lifestyle, even though it’s symbolic. And so they’ve got a lot of things going on, and the result of that is he’s getting to the 40%. And as you know better than I, when he gets to 40% approval rating, a lot of Democrats simply will vote present, and they don’t want him in the district, and they’ll be running either against him, or triangulate about him.

HH: And how much, last question, Victor, how much do you think the chaos in Mexico is beginning to seep into people’s actual consciousness as to how they vote?

VDH: Well, 70%. And we see the violence, the drug violence…that’s another perfect storm. We have a recession here, people are out of work, we have, it’s getting a critical implosion with 15 million now, it’s not just 10 million, 15 million illegal aliens. We have, in a recession, people can’t get work, and we have an administration that’s stealthily trying to offer amnesty. And you put all that together, and you get a 70% approval rating nationwide for the Arizona statute.

HH: I also think you get the worry that Somalia west is opening to our southern border, and that this is, he’s not engaged. Victor Davis Hanson, always a pleasure. www.nationalreview.com has the latest from Victor Hanson on Michelle Obama’s trip.

End of interview.

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