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Joining the greatest intellectuals of our time–including constitutional law expert Sarah Palin and Camus scholar Newt Gingrich–Sam Harris courageously opposes the construction of the infamous Ground Zero Mosque.

See, Harris isn’t like those pansy moderate Muslims who fail to “condemn extremists and try to seriously reform Islam.” He calls it like it is. Say thank you Muslims, he just saved Islam. Done and done.

Harris’ argument in opposition to the mosque is a simple one: Islam, as it currently exists, is objectionable. And “freedom-loving” Muslims haven’t done enough to change it. We can’t be sure what this Islamic cultural centre represents, because, well, we can’t trust what kind of Muslims these people are. Do they like freedom or do they hate it? Who knows? How can one trust the insidious claim that this mosque “seeks to actively promote engagement through a myriad of programs, by reinforcing similarities and addressing differences?” Like, do they mean reinforcing similarities by imposing Sharia law on Americans??

So, since Muslims haven’t done enough to change their religion and to encourage peaceful co-existence, we should deny them a tolerance-promoting mosque in Manhattan. Yeah, that’s really airtight logic: stop Muslims from building institutions that encourage reform because they haven’t encouraged reform!

Next, Harris proceeds to argue that true Islam is the vision advocated by al-Qaida and their ilk, not the mushy stuff moderates espouse.

The first thing that all honest students of Islam must admit is that it is not absolutely clear where members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, al-Shabab, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hamas, and other Muslim terrorist groups have misconstrued their religious obligations. If they are “extremists” who have deformed an ancient faith into a death cult, they haven’t deformed it by much. When one reads the Koran and the hadith, and consults the opinions of Muslim jurists over the centuries, one discovers that killing apostates, treating women like livestock, and waging jihad—not merely as an inner, spiritual struggle but as holy war against infidels—are practices that are central to the faith.

This line of argument I call the Bible Test, famously discredited by Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlet on The West Wing.

Bartlet asks a Bible-thumping radio “doctor” if it’s okay to sell his daughter into slavery or to kill his Chief of Staff for working on the Sabbath, as the Bible prescribes, exposing the absurdity of taking religious texts literally. Harris is like the doctor in this case. He employs the same kind of literalism that al-Qaida does, which begs the question: is Harris a member of al-Qaida?

Harris then pulls out the big rhetorical guns and makes a last-ditch attempt to convince us to stop the mosque. He argues that “the erection of a mosque upon the ashes of this atrocity will also be viewed by many millions of Muslims as a victory—and as a sign that the liberal values of the West are synonymous with decadence and cowardice.” In other words, the terrorists win if we build the mosque!

Yes, it’s undoubtedly a sign of cowardice to allow the free exercise of a faith with which you may not agree, but allow the free practice of. And it speaks to the decadence of a society if it does not judge people on the basis of their origins or their religious faith, but on their moral character and their adherence to law and liberty.

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What are they smoking at The New Republic these days? Whatever it is, it’s potent enough to delude some of its writers to make up history.

In a blog post challenging Joe Klein’s newly professed aversion to preemptive and preventative war–that “we should never go to war unless we have been attacked or are under direct, immediate threat of attack”–Jon Chait cooks up a pretty significant fact. Chait argues that if we apply Klein’s rule to U.S. foreign policy, then the U.S. would have had to rule out humanitarian intervention in Bosnia, the Gulf War, the Korean War, and “going to war against Germany in World War II.” As in, if we applied Klein’s rule, the Nazis would win! See, isn’t that a scary thought?

Except…Nazi Germany did pose an “immediate threat of attack.” On December 11, 1941, Hitler declared war on the United States, citing the Tripartite defence treaty between Germany, Italy, and Japan. The United States only declared war after Germany’s declaration.

Now, there is a valid historical debate over whether President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration coaxed Nazi Germany into war by supporting the Allies (with programs such as the Lend-Lease Act), blatantly violating official neutrality, but there’s no question that it was Japan’s aggressions–followed by Germany’s threats–that led the United States into World War II.

In this morning’s Toronto Star, Liberal Party foreign policy critic Bob Rae has an op-ed calling for Canada’s continued engagement in Afghanistan–albeit at a political, not military, level. “Our political effort, with the needed appointment of a peace envoy to the region, should increase, and our aid should continue,” writes Rae.

Today, Dutch troops announced their formal departure after four years of combat in Afghanistan. And Canadian troops are scheduled to leave the country next year. After committing many of their young and billions in aid, NATO members are withdrawing, one country at a time. The largest troop contributor, the United States, is leaning towards the exit as well. According to the New York Times, President Obama seems committed to his “self-imposed” withdrawal deadline for July 2011.

So, it must be naturally asked, what does Canada do next in Afghanistan–the country’s largest foreign combat mission since the Korean War, and its largest recipient of bilateral foreign aid?

I admire Bob Rae greatly, both as a thinker and as a politician. And I respect him even more for broaching the morally contentious, politically divisive subject of a post-American/NATO Afghanistan. But his recommendations–that Canada appoint a peace envoy and increase aid–strike me as facile. Frankly, a post-American Afghanistan will be one of Pakistan’s making, with the Taliban back at the helm. The West’s ability to influence Afghan policies, which dwindles by the day, will be nil as soon as American troops part, leaving the free Taliban to impose their draconian laws once again.

Sending a peace envoy to a government that roundly despises you–and that will for years exploit NATO’s occupation for the purposes of propaganda–is rather naive. More naive is the suggestion that Canada not only continue giving aid to Afghanistan, but increase its aid. While humanitarian aid will always prove important in ill-governed Afghanistan, Rae imagines that our aid would “build schools to counter the madrassas, to allow women to take their place as equals.” It’s an admirable notion, but history tells us that the Taliban won’t allow these schools to stand and they won’t allow women to take their place as equals. Without a continued Western military presence–something I’m opposed to–we won’t be able to assure that any of our aid will reach the Afghan people, and we won’t be able to assure minority and women’s rights.

That sounds awfully tragic, but as Rae himself puts it, “real statecraft is understanding the limits of power and the real difficulties of exporting democracy.” Afghanistan is a crude lesson in learning that our power to control the destinies of those continents away from us, no matter how noble our intentions, are limited.

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