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'Scarlet Letters': Fanatical lunacy is overtaking America

Bestselling author Jack Cashill is back with his most timely book yet, “Scarlet Letters: The Ever-Increasing Intolerance of the Cult of Liberalism Exposed.”

Cashill, a WND columnist, addresses what he describes as the unholy rise of progressive neo-puritanism.

As in old school puritanism, worshippers achieve a sense of moral worth simply by designating themselves among “the elect” – no good works required. To validate that uncertain status, they heap abuse upon the sinner lest they be thought indifferent to the sin, he outlines.

Rather than simply cataloguing the neo-puritan assaults on reason and liberty, “Scarlet Letters” illustrates how the progressive movement has come to mimic a religion in its structure but not at all in its spirit while profiling brave individuals like Clarence Thomas, Aayan Hirsi Ali, Camille Paglia and many lesser-known truth tellers who have dared to take a stand against this inquisition.

Released by WND Books, Scarlet Letters shows in detail how an allegedly “liberal” movement has become what can only be described as bizarrely punitive and inquisitional.

Exclusively at WND.com, you can read the chapter on Islamophobia from “Scarlet Letters”:

Order your copy of “Scarlet Letters: The Ever-Increasing Intolerance of the Cult of Liberalism Exposed.”

America Culpa

By Jack Cashill

If Neo-Puritanville were to elect a town beadle, talk-show host Bill Maher would be a prime candidate. Smug, godless, and self-righteous, he has taken the whip to many a sinner, and I have, indirectly at least, felt the lash. In May 2011, on his HBO show, “Real Time,” Maher grilled the late Andrew Breitbart on my thesis that terrorist emeritus Bill Ayers had helped Obama write his memoir, “Dreams from My Father.”

“Let’s get on to the racism of today,” Maher said to Breitbart in introducing this subject. “You do not believe Obama wrote his own book.” To provoke Maher’s insinuation, Breitbart had simply tweeted that my evidence for Ayers’s involvement was “compelling.” For Maher, in 2011, that one tweet provided grist enough to pose a question with no safe answer, “Do you think you can be a racist and not know it?”

In an October 2014 edition of the same show, Maher and his guest, Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and fellow atheist, got a taste of Maher’s own venom. Harris was trying to explain how liberals abandon their principles when faced with the issue of Islamic theocracy. “We have been sold this meme of Islamophobia,” said Harris, “where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry toward Muslims as people.”Maher agreed. Fellow panelist Ben Affleck decidedly did not. The actor/director burst in rudely, “You’re saying Islamophobia is not a real thing.”

Without a trace of irony Maher reminded Affleck of the impunity the elect enjoy. “It’s not a real thing when we do it,” protested Maher. “It really isn’t.” Affleck was not convinced. He called the comments by Maher and Harris “gross,” “racist,” and “ugly.” Not to be out-offended, panelist Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times added that the criticism of Islam leveled by Maher and Harris had “the tinge, a little bit, of how white racists talk about African Americans.”

Harris tried to explain he was not attacking Muslims as people but rather their applied theology, specifically the illiberal practices of stifling speech, suppressing women, stoning homosexuals, and separating infidels from their heads. “We have to be able to criticize bad ideas,” said Harris, “and Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas.” He lamented that Affleck refused to understand the point he was making. “I don’t understand it?” shouted Affleck. “Your argument is ‘You know, black people, we know they shoot each other, they’re blacks!'”

As Harris wrote after the fact, “What did he expect me to say to this – I stand corrected?” For Harris, perhaps even for Maher, the show was a learning experience. “One of the most depressing things in the aftermath of this exchange is the way Affleck is now being lauded for having exposed my and Maher’s ‘racism,’ ‘bigotry,’ and ‘hatred of Muslims,'” wrote a dispirited Harris, already weary of the scarlet I Affleck had slapped him with. “This is yet another sign that simply accusing someone of these sins, however illogically, is sufficient to establish them as facts in the minds of many viewers.”Bingo!

The presumption that runs through Harris’s 2004 best-seller, “The End of Faith,” is that people like him can shuck the oppressive dogma of traditional religion and create “moral communities” based on logic and reason. If there were such a community on air, it had to be Maher’s “Real Time.” Yet there Harris sat, accused of freshly minted “sins” by neo-puritans purer in their faith than he. Whether Harris learned any larger lessons from his pillorying remains to be seen.

Today, every thinking person who ventures into the public square runs the risk of leaving with a scarlet letter or two on his or her letter sweater. I have been awarded a few, but only one letter surprised me. That was my scarlet I. The year was 2002. The place was the venerable Chautauqua Institution in western New York. In the way of background, a Methodist minister started a campground meeting for summer school teachers on Chautauqua Lake in 1874, and the idea proved popular enough to imitate. By century’s end, traveling “chautauquas” were educating and enlightening people all across the country, and the lakeside original grew and flourished.

The climactic scene of my one and only novel, the then-futuristic “2006: The Chautauqua Rising,” unfolded at the Institution. Set, as the reader might surmise, in 2006, this political action thriller tells the tale of a grassroots insurrection that in many ways anticipated the tea party insurgency of 2009–2010. As an aside, those thinking of writing a book should be sure to give it a title that people can pronounce. The Institution is pronounced sha-TAWK-wa.

At the time of the book’s publication, the year 2000, I was unaware of any political turmoil at Chautauqua. In the book, I described the Institution as “a perfectly preserved wish dream of late 19th century Americana.” My gripe was that it was “too quiet, too calm, too relentlessly civilized.”A casual visitor, I did not sense that Chautauqua had long been drifting leftward both politically and theologically. Nor did I know that in 1985, an informal group, now incorporated as Chautauqua Christian Fellowship (CCF), had sprung up to correct the drift. In the previous decade or two, much of the tension between progressives and conservatives at the Institution revolved around the former’s embrace of Chautauqua’s growing gay population. The neo-puritan fondness for imputing bigotry to others, however, was about to find a new focus.

The same year my novel was published, the Institution chose the former “general secretary” of the National Council of Churches, the Reverend Joan Brown Campbell, to be its director of religion, a more powerful position than its title might suggest. Four years earlier, Campbell had helped orchestrate the black church-burning hoax of 1996. The year before her appointment to Chautauqua, Campbell did her Christian best to deliver child refugee Elián González back to the godless purgatory of Communist Cuba.

A longtime apologist for Fidel Castro, Campbell hewed faithfully to the party line. Her dogmatism became frighteningly obvious to a liberal nun who worked with her on the Elián case, Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin. In meeting Elián’s visiting grandmothers, O’Laughlin saw how intimidated the women were, not just by their Cuban handlers but by their chaperone, Reverend Campbell. Shocked by what she saw, O’Laughlin had a public change of heart about Elián’s fate. Campbell was none too pleased with O’Laughlin’s apostasy. She had the NCC issue a press release condemning O’Laughlin for fueling “the fire of controversy” and promptly removed her from her role as facilitator.In the years to come, the progressives running Chautauqua would remember this power play fondly. At Campbell’s 2013 retirement roast, an admirer recounted how when attorney general Janet Reno went “looking for someone really tough” to handle the Elián affair, she turned to Campbell. “You have some sense of whom we are dealing with here,” he joked. “Don’t Mess with Joan.”

Upon her arrival at Chautauqua, Campbell embarked on two contradictory missions, one public, one private. Publicly, she championed “interfaith dialogue,” specifically, an outreach to Muslims, known as the “Abrahamic Initiative.” A gay-friendly Christian community with a bathing beach, an active theater scene, and a substantial Jewish population might not seem a natural draw for Muslims, but Brown was insistent. “We didn’t have a Muslim presence,” she told a reporter for a local newspaper, “but we knew if we wanted to talk about the Abraham link, we needed to have all three legs of the stool.” She expected resistance. “There is among the Jewish groups, and some conservative Christian groups as well, an objection to Islam,” Campbell lamented.It would, of course, take some persuasion to build a three-legged stool when two of the legs objected, but as Chautauqua was learning, “Don’t Mess with Joan.”

Privately, for all her talk of “inclusivity,” Campbell began to crack down on the CCF. The group once ran its own programs freely and without interference, but Campbell now limited the CCF to three speakers a year. She would vet the speakers in advance and monitor them as they spoke. In the summer of 2002, the CCF invited me. Since I had never spoken or written about Islam, I apparently passed muster. That same summer Campbell had invited imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to lay the groundwork for a Muslim cultural center at Chautauqua. This was the same New Jersey slumlord who called the United States “an accessory to the crime” of September 11, the same one who demanded George W. Bush give an “America Culpa” speech to apologize for the damage America had inflicted on the Islamic world, and yes, the same one who threatened to build a mosque and community center at the site of Ground Zero.

When the CCF invited me to speak, I was not aware Campbell had seized control or had started her Abrahamic stool-building. Addressing what I called the “illiberal orthodoxy” of the media, I dedicated most of my talk to the media’s crude stereotyping of the religious right. Toward the end, I pointed out the one notable exception to the media’s bias. “Islamic extremists in America,” I argued, “have proven to be exactly the bogeyman that the media have long imagined the Christian right to be – patriarchal, theocratic, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice, and openly anti-Semitic.”

I then mentioned a “particularly honorable and brave” Muslim moderate named Shaykh Muhammad Kabani. I cited his testimony that 80 percent of the mosques in America were in the hands of extremists, some of whom, I added, were not above encouraging murder. Kabani, the chairman of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, had made this claim at a State Department event in 1999. His numbers came from his own eight-year study of 114 American mosques.

Campbell had one of her minions monitor my talk and record it without my permission. She apparently did not like what she heard. Her reaction as headlined in the Chautauquan Daily – “Brown comments on Cashill statement”—was a minor masterpiece of do-gooder doubletalk.Campbell began with progressive boilerplate about the Institution’s commitment to a free exchange of ideas. She then quickly segued into the inevitable caveats. One was that speakers be “respectful of the views of all.” The second was that their information be “factual.” Campbell was to be the judge of both, and an unforgiving judge she proved to be.

“Jack Cashill stepped outside the boundaries of civil discourse,” she ruled. “Several of his comments were not only provocative, but potentially harmful.” The only evidence of potential harm Campbell mentioned was my reference to Kabani. She did not claim I had misquoted him, but rather that I had taken the quote “out of the context of Kabani’s own struggle with Saudi Arabia.” In a historically Christian summer community of ten thousand with no known Muslims in residence, Campbell censored me for failing to acknowledge the intramural nuances of Muslim politics. This was nuts. “The Kabani statement feeds fear and prejudice,” Campbell claimed. “Pandering to fear through innuendo can hardly be defined as civil discourse.” I was coming to grasp what the CCF already knew: tolerance was not exactly in the neo-puritan wheelhouse. With her editorial, Campbell planted a scarlet I on my Google feed and exiled me for the foreseeable future from the Chautauquan zone of decency. On the plus side, I escaped without a fatwa on my head. Not everyone who offended the “prophet” Muhammad has been so fortunate.

In the spring of 2015, before this book was published, the CCF invited me once more to come speak. I offered to talk about progressive neo-puritanism, but wary of the Institution’s politics, I made no reference at all to either Islamophobia or homophobia in my proposal. It did not much matter what I proposed. “The Department of Religion said that since you had previously spoken at Chautauqua, they wanted me to consider recommending a new and different speaker,” wrote my disappointed host. As we both understood, Chautauqua favorites like Karen Armstrong return to Chautauqua as faithfully as the swallows do to Capistrano. In 2014, Chautauqua proudly featured Armstrong, “the ‘runaway nun,’ the rebellious ex-Catholic with outspoken opinions about religion – comparing, for example, Pope John Paul II to a Muslim fundamentalist.” She came to speak about her twelfth book, “Islam, a Short History.” Discourse, apparently, is much more “civil” when everyone agrees with everyone else.

Order your copy of “Scarlet Letters: The Ever-Increasing Intolerance of the Cult of Liberalism Exposed.”