October 23rd, 2021


Stop Channeling King in Dealing with ISIS

Nat Hentoff

By Nat Hentoff

Published March 4, 2015

For years, I haven't missed a press release from this nation's Catholic League. Late last month, Bill Donohue, the director of the civil rights organization, showed all Americans why they must confront the ever-widening horrors of ISIS.

"The Obama administration," says Donohue, "does not understand ISIS because it does not understand the mind-set of totalitarians. It thinks it is dealing with a conventional sectarian struggle, the kind of uprising that pops up now and then. It is not" ("The Totalitarian Face of ISIS," Bill Donohue,, Feb. 27).

"It is dealing with an apocalyptic movement that is fueled by a desire to own the past, the present and the future. And like communism, it is not content to lay anchor in one country."

Donohue explains further: "ISIS, following Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, wants to eradicate the collective memory of the people, which is why it goes beyond killing men, women and children: by destroying ancient works of art, and turning over graves, the totalitarians seek to erase the past, thus paving the way for the future."

Donohue refers to a series of historical incidents that many of us may not have known:

"Beginning in 1966, at the outset of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards went on a rampage destroying museums and bulldozing graves. Now ISIS is doing the same thing in Iraq.

"Sledgehammers have been used to behead statues and other artifacts at the Mosul Museum -- winged bulls dating to the seventh century B.C. have been smashed -- a winged lion has been defaced and other antiquities have been annihilated.

"Great works of art, extending to the ancient Assyrian Empire, have been ransacked. This happened just a few days after the burning of the Mosul Public Library. In addition, tombs have been destroyed."

So, as ISIS moves on, Donohue underlines:

"Totalitarians assault art and religion precisely because they bind people to their roots, thus creating an obstacle to the new social order. ISIS barbarians want to do more than kill Christian Assyrians, and those who are not just like them -- they want to kill everything that ties the present to the past."

Donohue concludes: "We need to hear from presidential hopefuls why they think the Obama vision is impaired, and what they plan to do about it."

We need to hear from many others as well. Where are the other civil rights leaders? What about civil liberties organizations? Do the leaders of any religious denominations have ideas on what must be done to end the ghastliness of ISIS?

What is also needed is for teachers to encourage class discussions and debates on "The Totalitarian Face of ISIS." Many students surely know what may be in store for them if ISIS continues to grow -- and as more young Americans and Europeans continue to want to join ISIS.

What ISIS has accomplished, for me, is to finally end my long-term, waning interest in Martin Luther King's nonviolent direct action to restore individual liberties.

I continue to greatly admire Dr. King, but nonviolent action cannot cope with the unabated ferocity of ISIS.

But what will arouse us, We The People, to demand terminal action and international alliances for the destruction of ISIS?

Gone are the street protests I remember and sometimes participated in against the war in Vietnam and other authoritarian governmental actions -- and inactions.

It's important to return to New York Judge Learned Hand's 1944 warning of how Americans' "spirit of liberty" can become so empty:

"Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it."

His words are penetratingly vital now.

I commend the Catholic League's Bill Donohue for being the Paul Revere of our time as ISIS expands its deadly affiliations and connections, particularly among new generations in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

What will awaken and strengthen the spirit of liberty among Americans? In you?

The shock and fear of 9/11 did for a time, but here we are now. Are we in the land of the free and the home of the brave ready to smite ISIS?

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Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of several books, including his current work, "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance".