Andrew McCarthy is a senior fellow for the National Review Institute. He prosecuted 12 jihadists responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a plot to bomb New York City landmarks. McCarthy spoke at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship Wednesday, Feb. 24 in Washington, D.C.
A student in Maryland recently was forced to concede that Muslims on the whole were more religious than Christians were, and that sparked a lawsuit and lots of community concern. Is the tension between non-Muslim Americans and followers of Islam something that you’re seeing increase over the years?
Yeah. The increase in Islamic immigration into the West, is naturally going to cause a kind of tension because Islam is not a religion that’s like the religions we are more familiar with in the West. In fact, I think there’s a good argument that it is better thought of as a belief system that has some religious elements rather than strictly speaking a religion because it really doesn’t recognize a division between spiritual life and civic and political life. In Islam, it’s all combined into one. So it’s really a different way of functioning, even on its core premises. Where we believe, for example, that people have the right to make laws themselves irrespective of any religious code or any other kind of code, in Islam, they have the Sharia, which is Islamic law, and everybody is expected to follow it. And you are not at liberty to make law that is contradictory of Islamic law. So because these are two very different ways of looking at the world, different cultures almost, they won’t mesh, and you will see conflicts like this.
Do you think there’s a way to effectively assimilate Islamic culture into the U.S. system?
Well, this issue comes up with Islam in a very sharp way, but assimilation is a big problem in the United States irrespective of Islam. For example, in most colleges across the country, the notion when I was a kid was, somebody came to America to be an American and was expected to assimilate into American society. And that was a cultural reality of being an American. That was admired, and people wanted to join, and that was why people were drawn here. In the last generation plus, that idea has come under assault in the universities and throughout the culture so that people come to the United States and basically expect America to embrace their cultural diversity, and they should not be expected to enmesh themselves in American culture. With Islam, this is a particularly sharp problem because there’s an undertow under violent jihadism that is another way of Islamic supremacist infiltration of the West, and that is this idea of integrating without assimilating. So, it’s not just something that sort of spontaneously happens; there are Islamic supremacist thinkers who urge Muslims to come to the West but not assimilate. In fact, the President of Turkey — who was one of the prominent, probably most important, Islamic politician in the world — Recep Tayyip Erdogan said famously in a speech in Germany a few years back that pressuring Muslims to assimilate was a crime against humanity. So the idea — it’s not just something that sort of people come here and it just works out that way — the idea is actually to relocate into the West.
Is there something that you would say to college students as we prepare to go out into this culture where there is this battle of ideas, so to speak?
Realize how lucky you are to live in a country where we get to debate this. And fight as hard as you can fight against all of the pressures, not just with respect to Islam but with, broadly speaking, all of the pieties and all of the pressures that are now on college students to curb freedom of speech, on the idea of having safe spaces, and that you know that we have such precious, delicate ears that there are certain things that we shouldn’t hear discussed. We’re very lucky to live in a place where you’re actually allowed to discuss everything. It’s a necessity of a functioning democracy to discuss even uncomfortable topics. And it should be said, although it’s often not noted, that a lot of people died to make that possible for us. Honoring their legacy demands that we live and we honor those principles. But I think especially the principle of free expression is something that has to be defended, and it’s something that’s more under assault at the university than it is any place else in the country to the point where the university is almost an alternative universe to the rest of the country.