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.