Home      About Dan      News      Books      Forum      Art      Writing Well

<back to index | previous letter | next letter
May-June 2006 Message from Dan

Greetings Readers, Friends, and Other Visitors:

It never occurred to me in my earlier creations of these freewheeling monthly or bimonthly "Messages from Dan" that I would have to write a Message about a previous Message. But it seems obvious that I must do just that. (For those visitors who may have missed the April 2006 Message, please find it in the archives linked above—or be warned that what follows here will be very cryptic, at best.)

This writing a message-about-a-message feels incestuous. But there’s nothing to be done about that except to get it done and go on to other things.

Do be warned that if you are new to my books and my writing and my web site and—perhaps most pertinently—to my monthly Messages, and if you were brought here by some blog- or web-link only to the "controversial" previous message, you will be disappointed by the following discussion. You’ll be especially disappointed if you are expecting polemics, apologetics, pure politics, or a simple reinforcement of whatever prejudice or passion you’re bringing to the proceedings.

This is a writer’s web site.

Preamble to the Ramble:

During my 36 years as both teacher and then full-time writer, there are only a handful of quotes that might be said to have served as fixed stars among the shifting constellations of my efforts. Five of those are submitted here—

"Be uncomfortable; be sand, not oil, in the machinery of the world." —Günter Eich (German poet)

"If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; but if you really make them think, they’ll hate you." —Don Marquis

"The only real education comes from what goes counter to you."—André Gide.

"Clear your mind of cant." —Dr. Johnson on explaining what we must do to become real readers.

"My trade is to say what I think." —Voltaire

April One and Category Error:

I had no illusions when I wrote the April Rorschach and hung it on the clubhouse wall that it wouldn’t cause a fuss—and possibly get propelled through the blogosphere at the idiot speed of light (well, at the idiot speed of electrons)—and generally create more ruckus and commentary than a male stripper showing up to do (and shake) his thing at one of Queen Elizabeth’s garden teas. And I was not disappointed in that regard, although the mere creation of fuss was not the reason for the message.

Nor did I not anticipate that there would be much ad hominem hatred and vitriol self-righteously launched in the name of opposing hatred and vitriol. Such are the times we live in. Such are the minds living in the times we live in.

But no politics, as such, have ever been introduced into the Messages from Dan before, just as no politics, as such, have ever been central (or unambiguous) in my novels. Why start now?

And what was that piece, anyway?

People called it a "story," but if they are readers of fiction they must know that the April Message had neither the arc nor characters nor the complexity of art that a true "story" must have to be published somewhere. The "characters" consisted only of a Time Traveler who talked a lot and a narrator "me" who obviously was not me. (It was not a matter of the "story" being miserably deficient in these areas, as some less gracious but obviously omniscient posters insisted here and blog-elsewhere; it was simply not designed for a full-fiction function.)

Which means it must be a polemic, and many took it as such and reacted accordingly. But many were wrong.

Which means it must be a parody—an April Fools Joke—with everything in it actually the ironic reverse of anything and everything it might seem to be. And many took it as such and reacted accordingly. But many were wrong.

So what was it and why was it and why was it what it was when it was?

SF and Speculative Fiction:

It is not my fault that too many of those who read the April Message—or who read at all—were weaned from, or more likely are still tugging at, the hind tit of the dead literary sow that is often called "sci-fi." (properly pronounced "skiffy," to rhyme with "iffy.")

It is not my fault that entire generations have grown up who think (if it can be called thinking) that brilliance in "SF" consists of "Star Destroyers" humming and swooshing away in the vacuum of space and light-saber battles and plots that consist of rewarmed fairy tales of brave young white knights doing battle with the villainous Dark Magician to rescue the distressed damsel from the Ogre’s Castle…er…Dark Star.

Your self-crippling is your own business just as your limitations are society’s burden, but please be informed that there is a thing called "SF"—once also called science fiction—which some of its more astute practioners in recent decades have chosen to call "speculative fiction."

Speculative fiction has an honorable and subversive history. It is not limited to Amazing Tales of technology or the adventures of supermen and its plots are not confined to the retelling of fairy tales. Speculative fiction includes, as Bernard Brandt and a few of the other posters in the past month and more have reminded us, a large subset of "if this social trend continues…" cautionary tales penned by the likes of George Orwell and H.G. Wells and Aldous Huxley and John Brunner and Fred Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth and Harlan Ellison and Kurt Vonnegut and many others.

"Sci-fi" hammers dead brain cells into deeper coma. "Speculative fiction"—even in less than its full fictional form, even as an essay borrowing a few SF tropes and protocols—disturbs. Real SF palsies the steady hand that rocks the cradle. Real SF refuses to pander to your time-bound preconceptions: social, cultural, literary, political, or otherwise. Real SF doesn’t bother with a reader’s self-willed limitations in terms of education or information or political certitude or lack of mental flexibility but rips through all that dross like a high-velocity bullet through a 20-lb. block of rancid butter. Real SF rotates false verities and smug cultural consensus and disturbing ideas and upsetting issues under the bright laser light of speculation until facets you’ve never noticed stab at your eye with the sharp blades of their reflected beams.

Those of you who’ve read any of my previous "Messages from Dan" know that somewhere in each essay, no matter what the topic of the essay might be, there was always a commentary on interesting books recently read. With the "April 2006 Message from Dan" I listed in my postscript precisely those books that were being discussed and reported on in a speculative-fiction essay/book report in the Time Traveler’s Tale—(and I quote)—

(Note: Books commented on in this essay include—The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan, The Book of War: 25 Centuries of Great War Writing edited by John Keegan, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within by Bruce Bawer, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order by Samuel P. Huntington, Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History by Lee Harris, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History by Philip Bobbit, and Replay by Ken Grimwood.)

—yet only a handful of those of you moved to post responses on this forum or elsewhere seemed to notice that it was the contents and attitudes and arguments of these books that were being condensed and discussed and presented in another form. (I had forgotten to list another book important to the April Message—Sam Harris’s The End of Faith—but luckily the resulting www.brouhahah led at least one person posting to mention that book and partially amend my omission.)


The 1999 Hungarian-British—German-Canadian—produced movie "Sunshine," directed by István Szabó and written by Szabó and Israel Horovitz, has a certain resonance to our April Time Traveler’s Tale.

In this film Ralph Fiennes plays three generations of males in the Jewish Hungarian Sonnenschein family: Ignatz, who becomes a judge during the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; Ignatz’s son Adam, a self-hating Jew who converts to Christianity and becomes a fencer for the Germans in the 1936 Nazi Olympics; and grandson Ivan who attempts to correct the mistakes of his ancestors by becoming an earnest commisar in postwar Communist Hungary.

The connection to the Time Traveler may be most visible in the early scenes of the movie where the Sonnenschein family, having endured centuries of pogroms and overt discrimination and persecution, celebrate New Year’s Eve 1900 with a strong sense of having finally emerged from the medieval darkness into the light and reason of a new century. On the surface, there is no reason for them not to celebrate.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire, although invisibly hollowed out by rot and in its final failing years, seems in 1900 to have succeeded in bringing stability and sanity to Europe. The continent is at peace, so much so and for so long (and here the parallels to early 21 st Century Europe are disturbingly clear) that the continent’s vacation from history’s shocks and responsibilities have led the Sonnenscheins (and all logical, optimistic Europeans) to believe that any dispute can be settled by dialogue, any demands from would-be tyrants appeased by reason and diplomacy, any lack of security rectified by more binding treaties and international organizations, and any remaining vestiges of social injustic or economic disparity remedied through the courts and bureaucracies. More hopeful than that in 1900 is the general acceptance of reason and tolerance as the mediating institutions of humankind, as well as the growing recognition of our common humanity. These dynamics toward ever-greater tolerance seem poised, on New Year’s Eve 1900, to govern all of the future interactions between nations and men.

The Sonnenschein family—and Jews and Europeans in general—had never had it so good. Germany, which was the closest and greatest source of their future strength and security, represented the culture of Beethoven, Bach, Goethe and Kant. More important to their future well-being, Germany was a nation of the courts, by the courts, and for the courts.

Through the course of the movie we watch the Sonnenschein family—even Adam who wore the Swastika on his team uniform before he fenced in the 1936 Olympics—ripped apart, disenfranchised, deprived of their home and belongings, arrrested, shipped to concentration camps, and then marched off to the ovens. By the time grandson Ivan begins lining up ex-Nazis and their collaborators (and then any presumed "enemies of the State") in front of government firing squads in postwar Budapest—even while eagerly doing the bidding of his homeland’s Soviet occupiers—we’ve seen the Twentieth Century for what it actually was: a swirling cesspool of endless blood and shit.

Imagine how absurd and obscene this message, (should it have been brought back by a Time Traveler—say a fourth generation member of the family), would have sounded to the healthy, wealthy, socially accepted members of the upperclass Jewish Sonnenschien family on New Year’s Eve 1900. Imagine with what fury and scorn they would have rejected the Time Traveler’s simple, sad litany of events to come.

A Germany gone insane and slaughtering millions of Jews? Unthinkable.

A Europe ravaged by not one but two World Wars consuming most of the continent’s cities and cultures and killing a hundred million people? Ridiculous.

A continent ruled by reason, science, trade and diplomacy, a continent that had been at peace for decades, suddenly transformed by a rash of fanatical transformational fantasy ideologies into a reeking graveyard of slaughtered innocents and murdered innocence? Obscene.

The Time Traveler’s message would have been heard as pure hateful vitriol.

The Enemies of Civilization:

Lee Harris (Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History) and Sam Harris (The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason) almost certainly aren’t related, but the themes of their books are.

Lee Harris does not focus on Islam as the "enemy of civilization"—he’s wise enough to know that the enemies of civilization take many forms over the centuries—but he shows us that these enemies of civilization share one overriding commonality: they are transformational faiths and ideologies which must, invariably, see other human beings as means to their ends rather than as ends in themselves.

Not enough commentaries have been written about the absolute stupidity and uselessness of the 9/11 attacks—specifically about them being absolutely stupid and useless even from a sane global jihadist’s point of view. While an attack on the Pentagon might be rationalized in military or Clausewitzean terms, the more successful attack on the World Trade Center was totally devoid of real military or strategic value. There were no follow-up attacks. The attacks were part of no greater plan. The slaughter of 3,000 American civilians did absolutely nothing to further any jihadist "goals"—whether it be the removal of American troops from "sacred Muslim soil" or the weakening of the Arab regimes that were the jihadists’ real enemies.

Since humans are always in need of a metaphor or historical correlative in which to frame surprising new events, many Americans compared 9/11 to Pearl Harbor, but even those attempting that comparison must have known it was unhelpful in guiding our thinking. The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 did follow Clausewitzean logic—wherein warfare becomes an "extension of diplomacy by other means"—and in the Japanese military’s attempt to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet at harbor and thus neutralize our warmaking ability in the entire Pacific region for just long enough to allow the Japanese Imperial forces to occupy their objectives, expand their hegemony, and then sue for a separate peace with a weakened United States—the Japanese plan, although a long shot, had both military and strategic national policy merit. The central miscalculation—on the effect such an attack would have on the previously torpid American will to engage in warfare overseas—was profound (and fatal to the future of Imperial Japan and the Southeast Asian Coprosperity Sphere), but at least the military goals and execution were consistent with Clausewitzean realities. And the Japanese military follow-ups to the neutralization of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor—coordinated attacks from Southeast Asia through the Phillippines to Wake Island to Midway and beyond—were perfectly timed and, for a while, very successful. (And might have been completely successful had the American aircraft carriers been in port at Pearl Harbor during the attack—a mistiming amounting to less than 24 hours. Upon such near misses hinge the geopolitical fate of the world.)

The viciousness and senselessness and sheer "one-offness" of the 9/11 attacks against civilians in the World Trade Center and on the hijacked aircraft themselves guaranteed only that the United States would be roused again from its torpor and would be certain to use its military—the most powerful military in the history of the planet—against something and someone. From all rational perspectives, the 9/11 attacks were stupid and useless.

Except from the truly nonrational and mystical point of view of a transformational belief totally removed from reality.

In Civilization and Its Enemies, Lee Harris looks at the rise of Italian fascism in the 1930’s and explains why Mussolini’s destruction of any belief in the efficacy of the League of Nations and of the "international community" (that oft-cited but never truly sighted phantom) all but guaranteed another World War. This failure of all rational international efforts to prevent Italy from enacting its fascist fantasy ideology through the invasion of Ethiopia, which, like the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11, had no rational Clausewitzean, foreign-policy, or military goals, but which rose instead from a collective fantasy Mussolini was sharing with the Italian people, cannot be understood through the Clausewitzean or other modes of reason in personal or international conduct, but only through acknowledging the power of transformative beliefs

"The concept of belief , as it is used in this context, must be carefully understood, in order to avoid ambiguity. For most of us, belief is a purely passive response to evidence presented to us: I form my beliefs about the world for the purpose of understanding the world as it is. This belief is radically different from what might be called transformative belief—the secret of fantasy ideology. Here the belief is not passive but intensely active, and its purpose is not to describe the world but to change it. It is, in a sense, a deliberate form of make-believe, in which the make-believe becomes real. In this sense it is akin to such innocently jejune phenomena as "the power of positive thinking," or even the little train that thought it could. To say that Mussolini, for example, believed that fascist Italy would revive the Roman Empire does not mean that he made a careful examination of the evidence and then arrived at his conclusion. Rather it means that Mussolini had the will to believe that fascist Italy would revive the Roman Empire.

One doesn’t have to read William James to understand the terrible power and ubiquity of "The Will to Believe." In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel The Sirens of Titan, the alien who is stranded on that distant moon and watching Earth through his telescopes is stranded precisely because his spaceship ran out of the most powerful fuel in the galaxy—UWTB—the Universal Will to Believe.

The transformative beliefs of the 20th Century that destroyed the Sonnenschein family’s future (and the Sonnenschein family itself)—fascism, German National Socialism, and Communism—could all be correctly described as collective fantasies that empowered millions of human beings through their collective and individual will to believe.

Lee Harris continues this discussion of groups that seem to rise "out of nowhere" (but which are actually imbedded deep in the cultural and religious and political underpinnings of the host society) and quickly, by historical standards of time, become compelling fantasy ideologies that sweep millions (or billions) into their folds and then often sweep the world into war—

"In even the most casual survey of history, one is repeatedly struck by the fact that certain groups do not seem to have the knack for realistic appraisal of themselves: they seem simply incapable of seeing themselves as others see them or of understanding why other groups react to them the way they do. A fantasy ideology is one that seizes the opportunity offered by such a lack of realism in a political group and makes the most of it. This it is able to do through symbols and rituals, all of which are designed to permit the members of the political group to indulge in a kind of fantasy role-playing. Classical examples of this are easy to find: the Jacobin fantasy of reviving the Roman Republic; Mussolini’s fantasy of reviving the Roman Empire; Hitler’s fantasy of reviving German paganism in the thousand-year Reich.

Added to that—reads the text and subtext of the books I reported on in the April Message—is the current transformative-belief fantasy-ideology of resurgent Wahaabist radical Islam with its dream of reinstating the global Caliphate and its need for martyrs and martyrdom as instruments of that magical transformative belief.

Lee Harris’s essential point—not just about the current state of Islam but about all such fantasy-ideologies past and present, (whether the fantasy arises from a religious or a political will to believe, or, as in the case of Islam, from both at once)—is that the essential and central ingredient of any transformative belief is that other people must serve as means to a greater transformative end. In this real sense, such collective fantasies as Italian fascism, Soviet Communism, German Nazism, and Wahaabist Islam are required to violate (or ignore) the greatest single advance in humanism and Western thought (including Christian Western thought)—i.e. Martin Buber’s explication of the I-Thou relationship. (Simply put, that human beings must never be used as a means to an end, but must always be treated as ends unto themselves.)

This is why, during the month the "April 2006 Message from Dan" was online, in the midst of the sentencing part of Zacarias Moussaoui’s trial—when Mayor Giuliani and survivors and family members of those who died so horribly at the World Trade Center and Pentagon were testifying to the horrors and their emotions, Moussaoui could laugh, sneer, and say—"No pain, no gain."

The innocents who must die mean nothing—literally nothing—to the 9/11 hijackers or to the suicide bombers in Palestine or in Iraq or to the Al Qaeda operatives planning the next bombing in Madrid or London or elsewhere. It is their martyrdom—their magical transformation and their immediate ascendance into paradise—that is first and last in their minds, even unto the moment of impact or detonation, and if the Caliphate just happens to be restored through the transformative magic of their martyrdom or the Cause of destroying and supplanting Israel incidentally furthered, so much the better.

As Harris says in The Enemies of Civilization—"For us, the hijackings, like the Palestinian ‘suicide’ bombings, are viewed merely as a modus operandi, a technique incidental to the larger strategic purpose. Consider the standard Arab apologist’s ‘explanation’ of such acts: They don’t have jet fighters, so what other means do they have of fighting back? But even those who are most unsympathetic to the Arab fantasy-ideology look upon the suicide of the hijackers, like that of the Palestinian terrorists, as merely a makeshift device, a low-tech stopgap, and nothing more. In our eyes, these attacks represent simply Clausewitzean war carried out by other means—in this case by suicide.

But in the fantasy ideology of radical Islam, suicide plays an absolutely indispensable role. It is not a means to an end but an end in itself. Seen through the distorting prism of of radical Islam, the act of suicide is transformed into the act of martyrdom— martyrdom in all its transcendent glory and accompanied by the panoply of magical powers that religious tradition has always assigned to it.

How hard it was after 9/11 (and 7/7 in London) for anyone in the non-Islamic West—either the decriers or the apologists for these acts of barbarism—to understand that the goal of the attacks was not the destruction of the World Trade Center towers or of the Pentagon or the London Underground, but was the transformative acts of the suicides themselves. The ensuing destruction and death—including what bin Laden later acknowledged was the surprising collapse of the Twin Towers themselves—amounted to a bonus.

Al-Qaeda did not bring down the towers. The nineteen hijackers did not bring down the towers. God brought down the towers.

Elsewhere in The Enemies of Civilization, Lee Harris suggests that the true enemies of civilization tend to be…intellectuals. Those individuals within even the most ethically advanced societies who see things in terms of black and white, those men and women who are incapable of pragmatism and compromise but who deal in absolutes. They are the men and women, so frequently the privileged elite in each era, who see the need to transform the world for the better. And the instrument of that transformation is, invariably, blood and more blood.

Why did our fictional Time Traveler return to New Year’s Eve 2005? The paradoxical answer might be that it was the last real time of peace he knew of in the 21st Century.

"Forgetfulness overcomes every successful civilization," writes Lee Harris. That forgetfulness is this: in each era, just when trade and peace and reason and moderation seem most likely to prevail, the opportunity for the zealots to succeed through ruthlessness is at its greatest.

"The result is an unsettling paradox: the more the spirit of commerce triumphs, the closer mankind comes to dispensing with war, the nearer we approach the end of history, the greater are the rewards to those who decide to return to the path of war, and the easier it will be for them to conquer. There is nothing that can be done to change this fact; it is built into the structure of our world."

All Precincts Heard From:

One of the April Message Time Traveler’s predictions came true as soon as the message was posted—

"Your enemies have gathered and struck and continue to strike and you, the innocents of 2006 and beyond, fight among yourselves, chew and rip at your own bellies, blame your brothers and yourselves and your institutions of the Enlightenment—law, tolerance, science, democracy—even while your enemies grow stronger."

Watching the attacks posted on this forum and elsewhere, on me, on the April Message, and on the evil of posting the SF-essay message in the first place, was illuminating. And mildly depressing.

I’ve never liked the expression "think outside the box" since I’ve never thought that real thinking has a box involved, but the boxes were everywhere visible in the various posts that this SF message brought down on itself.

Many of those most outraged see the world in pre-primer Marxist terms—i.e. that all human beings and societies are, at core, in the alpha and the omega of our souls, economic entities, and that we react first, last, and always to economic stimuli. By that reasoning, radical Islam—and the brutalities, murders, and even the attempts at genocide currently being carried out in its name —are nothing more than anguished cries from people who have been doomed to poverty and colonial status by the real evil loosed in the world: western capitalism.

Never mind the mountains of evidence that refute that theory (the wealth and privileged status of the Al-Qaeda leaders, including bin Laden, or the wealth and privileged student status of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers, or the fact that radical Islam throughout the Arab world finds its primary support among the educated upper-middle classes) and the almost total lack of evidence to support it (poor people throughout history have not resorted to suicide attacks against innocents), the "poverty and inequality are the reasons" advocates with their impassioned postings will never be convinced otherwise. To see the current global civilizational war as being between life-affirming Western values and the death-demanding values of radical Islam would simply destroy the entire underpinnings of such sophomoric post-Marxist thought—especially the illusion that all humans are, at heart, the same, and respond to the same prime imperatives (life, love, tolerance, a better life for their families) and therefore react reasonably to social and economic stimuli above all other factors.

Other forum-posters were incensed that I could not see the true evil stalking the world today—the United States of America, with the mendacious madman George W. Bush at the center of this expansionist evil empire, dispatching the U.S. Marine Corps to steal oil from innocent nations, subjugate them, and to slaughter babies there.

There’s nothing new in this response. It is a very small (although very common) mental box and it seems to satisfy its occupants’ needs for superiority, condescension, simplification, demonization, and conspiracy. It does interest me that the two people posting the most hyperbolic condemnations of the United States on this forum—explanations that it is actual genocide that the imperialist America and its lying, conniving, murderous president (and, by association, all other Americans) are promulgating and executing—are from Germany and Serbia. The irony here speaks for itself and will be passed by without further comment.

There were postings on both sides of the issue raised by the April Message (although, as is true of all real issues, it has far more sides than two) and while many of the postings were calm, reasoned, and buttressed by facts and references, the majority were not. The majority tended to reflect the poster’s own will to believe, frequently in terms that could be labeled denial (of the facts, if not of any particular counter-argument), but just as frequently were recapitulations of dogma from one fantasy ideology or another.

Perhaps the most intriguing trend I noticed in the forum responses to the April Message was the moral equivalence argument—i.e. yes, radical jihadist Islam was disturbing, but it was no different than all other religious belief, thought, and action. In fact, Christianity is as bad! In fact, Christianity is worse! And thence commenced rousing denunciations of everything from the 11 th Century Crusades to the 14 th Century Inquisition in Europe…never mind that the April Message was discussing 21st Century problems of violent behavior arising from radical fantasy faith-ideologies. But I will discuss this interesting trend later.

While Europe Slept…and Slept…and Slept…and Slept:

Bruce Bawer ( While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within) seems to be an unlikely candidate for the labels of "racist" and "bigot" and "fascist" that so many enjoy applying to anyone who warns of the threat of militant Islam.

Bawer is gay and the author of such books as Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity and A Place at the Table: The Gay Individual in American Society and was best known in the United States before publishing While Europe Slept for his outspoken opposition to the likes of James Dobson and his Focus on the Family evangelical political organization.

Previously a lifelong New Yorker (and happy to be so), in 1998 Bawer and his partner packed up and moved to Amsterdam. Almost everything about their adopted country appealed to the two—the human scale of the skylines, the near absence of cars, the Dutch language, the love of books and culture, the European tradition of tolerance so emphasized in the major cities such as Amsterdam, and even the Dutch devotion to gezelligheid (small, daily pleasures)—but even in tolerant Dutch society Bawer and his partner became aware of the tradition of verzuiling, "pillarization," the division of society into religious and ethnic groups, each with its own schools, unions, political parties, newspapers, and even TV channels.

Bawer also became aware of the growing tension in Amsterdam and other European cities between the many groups living comfortably there under the umbrella of tolerance and much of the Muslim immigrant community, which seemed to benefit from, but show little or none of, the tolerance of the larger society around them.

In 1999, Bawer and his Norwegian-born partner moved to Oslo where they were soon legally married. Thanks to Norway’s "family unification" laws, Bawer had a right to residency and even five free months of language lessons (he’s good at languages and feels an obligation to speak the language of whatever country he’s visiting, much less residing in.) In their years together in Europe since 1998, as the dustjacket rather breathlessly explains—

"Across the continent—in Amsterdam, Oslo, Copenhagen, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, and Stockholm—he encountered large, rapidly expanding Muslim enclaves in which women were oppressed and abused, homosexuals persecuted and killed, ‘infidels’ threatened and vilified, Jews demonized and attacked, barbaric traditions (such as honor killing and forced marriage) widely practiced, and freedom of speech and religion firmly repudiated.

"The European political and media establishment turned a blind eye to all this, selling out women, Jews, gays, and democratic principles generally—even criminalizing free speech—in order to pacify the radical Islamists and preserve the illusion of multicultural harmony. The few heroic figures who dared to criticize Muslim extremists and speak up for true liberal values were systematically slandered as fascist bigots. Witnessing the disgraceful reaction of Europe’s elites to 9/11, to the terrorist attacks on Madrid, Beslan, and London, and to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bawer concluded that Europe was heading inexorably down a path to cultural suicide."

What you may decide after reading Bawer’s book—decide about these extraordinary claims and about Bruce Bawer himself—may be quite different, but both Bawer’s personal anecdotes about gay-bashing from Muslims and his excerpts from various European media reactions and dialogues, especially those following terrorist attacks or the very public murders of Theo van Gogh, Pim Fortuyn, and others, should be of interest.

Early in the book, Bawer underlined the essential difference between the peculiar American form of fantasy-ideology religious fundamentalism he’d long fought, and the more pervasive and lethal Muslim variety he was encountering in Europe—

"The main reason I’d been glad to leave America was Protestant fundamentalism. But Europe, I eventually saw, was falling prey to an even more alarming fundamentalism whose leaders made their American Protestant counterparts look like amateurs. Falwell was an unsavory creep, but he didn’t issue fatwas. James Dobson’s parenting advice was appalling, but he wasn’t telling people to murder their daughters. American liberals had been fighting the Religious Right for decades; Western Europeans had yet to even acknowledge that they had a Religious Right. How could they ignore it? Certainly as a gay man, I couldn’t close my eyes to this grim reality. Pat Robertson just wanted to deny me marriage; the imams wanted to drop a wall on me. I wasn’t fond of the hypocritical conservative-Christian line about hating the sin and loving the sinner, but it was preferable to the forthright fundamentalist Muslim view that homosexuals merited death."

One can argue the cause and motivation for various observations in Bawer’s book, but the observations themselves can not easily be disputed—especially the fact so obvious to anyone who lives in a major European city today or who travels there, of elite, expensive central cities occupied by the natives of that country, but that city center often surrounded by rings of increasingly alien immigrant ghettos, most frequently Muslim immigrant ghettos in which neither the language of the host nation nor the laws nor the cultural mores nor the cultural traditions of that country are honored.

And anyone observing Europe’s reaction to events in the last half-decade will respond to Bawer’s itemizing of the cowardice of the governments, intellectual classes, and national media in the face of Islamic bullying and overt terrrorism.

Even the media’s reaction to terrorism in their own countries is disturbing.

"On July 7, 2005, suicide bombs in London ripped through three underground trains and a double-decker bus, killing fifty-six. Londoners handled the chaos with admirable composure, recalling the city’s legendary stoicism during the Blitz. When it turned out that the perpetrators had been born and bred in Britain, had been regarded as well integrated (one, a primary-school teaching assistant, had mentored immigrant children), and had been coverted to radicalism at a government-funded youth center in Leeds, astonishment reigned. How could British lads do this? It was as if the Madrid attacks (carried out by Spanish Muslims) and the murder of Theo van Gogh (committed by a Dutch Muslim) had never taken place.

"Watching the BBC that day, I was pleasantly surprised to notice that reporters were eschewing the usual euphemisms and actually using the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism.’ Might this signal a change in establishment attitudes? Alas, BBC news chief Helen Boaden soon put an end to this, ordering reporters to speak of ‘bombers,’ not ‘terrorists.’ Even the BBC’s 7/7 reportage, archived online, was retrospectively cleansed of the offensive words. Recalling that the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984 had been based on the BBC, Gerald Baker remarked in the Times of London that ‘I can’t think of a better example of pure Orwell than this painstaking effort at rewriting the verbal record to fit in with linguistic orthodoxy.’"

Speculative fiction, it seems, sometimes serves as memory even when civilization seeks forgetfulness.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics:

One of the most interesting threads of discussion following the April Message was the issue of whether Islam—and the Quran—actually advocate and defend violence, or whether this religion and its holy book are, like other religions, merely ambiguous on the issue and interpreted as broadly as, say, some elements of the Talmud or the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament.

Some people wanted to settle this through personal anecdote with statements such as "I’ve grown up around Muslims and none of them have tried to kill me yet."

There’s little one can reply to such argument except perhaps—"Well, good"—but a statement last year by an American commentator on the oft-repeated fact that Muslims in the United States "have done a good job getting along with others and in most cases have not enforced their beliefs on society" may apply here: "When one’s immigrant group makes up 3% or so of the society, it’s common sense, much less good policy, not to try to ‘enforce your beliefs on the larger society.’ The real test of tolerance with any group or religion is how it treats minorities in those communities, cultures, and nations where they are in the majority."

That more pertinent question also led to some fascinating discussion on this forum.

Some pointed out, correctly, that in no modern Islamist state is the old custom of "dhimmitude"—apportioning of legal status of non-Muslims according to fractional values of a Muslim’s life—being currently and officially enforced. It was well pointed out by some on the forum that not all nations in which Islam is the predominant religion enforce sharia—formal Islamic law—and there are some states such as Morocco and Kuwait where non-Muslim foreigners can abide and even quietly practice their religions without oppression or persecution.

On the other hand, some forum postings suggesting that there is a healthy pluralism in Islamic and Arab nations—or that such a pluralism is growing—appear to ignore all reality to the contrary.

Where in the 2006 Islamic sphere of influence, the Time Traveler might ask, can Christians and Jews, much less secular "infidels," practice their beliefs under the protection of laws and the culture’s pluralist tradition of tolerance? Sadly, the truth appears to be that everywhere that Islam rules, persecution and oppression of any other religious viewpoint—much less of secular tolerance—leads to either the abolition of pluralism or the de facto murder and persecution of non-Muslim minorities.

Even in the past month and under such "secular" governments as Egypt where Islamic extremism is outlawed, the persecution and physical attacks on such minorities as the Coptic Christians are widespread and in the news. If the posters who seem to believe in even the nascent pluralism in Arabic and Islamist states could give us one clear example of tolerance in an Islamic nation—a single thriving Jewish population, a single society in which Christians can worship and gather without fear, a single Islamist society in which minority secular publications are encouraged—then many of us would breathe a serious sigh of relief.

There is a reason why Islamic and Arab states don’t encourage, carry out, or allow polling of their populations: of what use would such data be to the regimes since there are no democratically elected nations among the two or three dozen Islamic states in existence today (with the recent exceptions of Afghanistan and the Palestinian Authority, where an internationally recognized Islamist terrorist group, Hamas, was democratically elected)?

But in The End of Faith , Sam Harris shares the results (and implications) of one scientific poll that was done in the minority of Arab/Islamic states that allowed polling—

"Over 38,000 people recently participated in a global survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The results constitute the first publication of its Global Attitudes Project entitled ‘What the World Thinks in 2002.’ The survey included the following questions, posed only to Muslims:

Some people think that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. Other people believe that, no matter what the reason, this kind of violence is never justified. Do you personally feel that this kind of violence is often justified to defend Islam, sometimes justified, rarely justified, or never justified?

Before we look at the results of this study, we should appreciate the significance of the juxtaposed phrases ‘suicide bombing’ and ‘civilian targets.’ We now live in a world in which Muslims have been scientifically polled (with margins of error ranging from 2 to 4 percent) as to whether they support (‘often,’ ‘sometimes,’ rarely,’ or ‘never’) the deliberate murder and maiming of noncombatant men, women, and children in defense of Islam. Here are some of the results of the Pew study (not all percentages sum to 100):


  Yes No DK/Refused
Ivory Coast
Indonesia 27 70 3

"If you do not find these numbers sufficiently disturbing, consider that places like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Iran, Sudan, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories were not included in the survey. Had they been, it is safe to say, the Lebanese would have lost their place at the top of the list several times over. Suicide bombing also entails suicide , of course, which most Muslims believe is expressly forbidden by God. Consequently, had the question been ‘Is it ever justified to target civilians in defense of Islam,’ we could expect even greater Muslim support for terrorism.

"But the Pew results are actually bleaker than the above table indicates. A closer look at the data reveals that the pollsters skewed their results by binning the responses ‘rarely justified’ and ‘never justified’ together, thus giving a false sense of Muslim pacifism. Take another look at the data from Jordan: 43 percent of Jordanians apparently favor terrorism, while 48 percent do not. The problem, however, is that 22 percent of Jordanians actually responded ‘rarely justified,’ and this accounts for nearly half of their ‘No’ responses. ‘Rarely justified’ still means that under certain circumstances, these respondents would sanction the indiscriminate murder of noncombatants (plus suicide), not as an accidental by-product of a military operation, but as its intended outcome. A more accurate picture of Muslim tolerance for terrorism emerges when we focus on the percentage of respondents who could not find it in their hearts to say ‘never justified’ (leaving aside the many people who still lurk in the shadows of ‘Don’t Know/Refused’). If we divide the data in this way, the sun of modernity sets even further over the Muslim world:


  Yes No DK/Refused
Ivory Coast
Indonesia 43 54 3

"These are hideous numbers. If all Muslims had responded as Turkey did (where a mere 4 percent think suicide bombings are ‘often’ justified, 9 percent ‘sometimes,’ and 7 percent ‘rarely’), we would still have a problem worth worrying about; we would, after all, be talking about more than 200 million avowed supporters of terrorism. But Turkey is an island of ambassadorial goodwill compared with the rest of the Muslim world.

"Let us imagine that peace one day comes to the Middle East. What will Muslims say of the suicide bombings that they so widely endorsed? Will they say, ‘We were driven mad by the Israeli occupation’? Will they say, ‘We were a generation of sociopaths’? How will they account for the celebrations that followed these ‘sacred explosions’? A young man born into relative privilege, packs his clothing with explosives and ball bearings and unmakes himself along with a score of children in a discotheque, and his mother is promptly congratulated by hundreds of her neighbors. What will the Palestinians think about such behavior once peace has been established? If they are still devout Muslims here is what they must think: ‘Our boys are in paradise, and they have prepared the way for us to follow. Hell has been prepared for the infidels.’ It seems to me to be an almost axiomatic truth of human nature that no peace, should it ever be established, will survive beliefs of this sort for very long."

Going to the Source:

It is part of our Western liberal perspective of tolerance—especially institutionalized in the liberal democracies of post-Christian Europe, but perhaps even more deeply ingrained in the still-Christian psychology of early 21st Century America—to reject such data and conclusions as listed above.

Even if it is true, as Samuel P. Huntington documented in his seminal 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations And the Remaking of World Order, that most war-level conflicts on planet Earth at the end of the 20th Century were between Muslims in their societies or between Muslim nations and their neighbors, we cannot easily accept that there is something in the religion itself that causes such violence.

That is, of course, unless one reads the Koran and the hadith (literature and oral tradition that has grown up around the Koran which recounts the sayings and actions of the Prophet.)

Most of the world, especially since 9/11, has been waiting for a rousing and unqualified renouncement of suicide bombings, jihad, persecution of infidels, fatwas, honor killings, and other Muslim atrocities from the silent majority of Muslim clerics and devout Muslims.

With very few and always heavily qualified exceptions, that "silent majority" has remained silent. Arranged marches of "moderate Muslims" to protest even the most outrageous public atrocity—such as the Nov. 2004 brutal murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a 26-yr.-old Dutch Moroccan man in retaliation for van Gogh’s film "Submission" documenting abuses of Muslim women in Europe—drew far more journalists and local Dutch marchers than Muslims.

Could it be possible that—despite constant protests to the contrary by all of our intellectuals, government leaders, and media—  the Koran and its associated religious traditions do advocate the slaughter of innocents?

"Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: an evil fate."  —(Koran 9:73)

"Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them. Know that God is with the righteous." —(Koran 9:123)

"The believers who stay at home—apart from those that suffer from a grave impediment—are not the equal of those who fight for the cause of God with their goods and their persons. God has given those that fight with their goods and their persons a higher rank than whose who stay at home. God has promised all a good reward; but far richer is the recompense of those who fight for Him…He that leaves his dwelling to fight for God and His apostle and is then overtaken by death, shall be rewarded by God…The unbelievers are your inveterate enemies." —(Koran 4:95 -101)

And while the Koran does say "Do not destroy yourselves" (4:29) the loopholes for martyrdom by suicide are many—

"Let those who would exchange the life of this world for the hereafter, fight for the cause of God; whoever fights for the cause of God, whether he dies or triumphs, We shall richly reward him…The true believers fight for the cause of God, but the infidels fight for the devil. Fight then against the friends of Satan…Say: ‘Trifling are the pleasures of this life. The hereafter is better for those who would keep from evil…‘ —(Koran 4:74-78)

In many madrassi around the globe, the traditional sayings of the hadith are taught to illiterate students (and would-be jihadists) as interchangeable with the sacred texts of the Koran itself and even Islamic scholars frequently cite sayings from the hadith as justifications of Muslim violence—

Jihad is your duty under any ruler, be he godly or wicked.

A single endeavor (of fighting) in Allah’s Cause in the forenoon or in the afternoon is better than the world and whatever is in it.

A day and a night fighting on the frontier is better than a month of fasting and prayer.

Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah (in the Hereafter) would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to the world and get killed again (in Allah’s Cause).

He who dies without having taken part in a campaign dies in a kind of unbelief.

Paradise is in the shadow of swords.

Apostasy Circa 2006:

While the April 2006 Message was posted on my web site, the world was treated to an interesting ongoing set piece showing the attitudes and power of "moderate Muslims."

In February of this year, because of a custody dispute over his daughters, the family of Afghan citizen Abdul Rahman reported him to the police. His crime? He had secretly converted to Christianity some years before. The police investigated, found that he had a Bible in his possession, and arrested him. (It is, of course, also against the law—and punishable in some cases by death—to possess a Christian or Jewish Bible in such nations as Saudi Arabia.)

What made this case unusual (and visible to the world) was the fact that Afghanistan, in its modern incarnation after the defeat of the Taliban, is the only Islamic state with a constitution that guarantees "freedom of religion" in any way.

Specifically, that constitution stipulates that Afghanistan "shall abide" by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights—which states that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief."

Except, of course, it does not. Since the constitution also defines Afghanistan as an "Islamic Republic," all crimes such as apostasy must be tried and punished under the Hanafi school of jursiprudence adhered to by the nation’s Sunni majority. Under Hanafi law, there is only one punishment for proven cases of apostasy—death.

Wikipedia reports the rest of the story—

Prosecutors asked for the death penalty for Abdul Rahman, calling him a "microbe." Prosecutor Abdul Wasi demanded his repentance and called him a traitor: "He should be cut off and removed from the rest of Muslim society and should be killed." The Afghan Attorney General was quoted as saying that Abdul Rahman should be hanged.

Abdul Rahman’s judicial proceedings, which began on March 16 and became widely known in the international press on March 19, were overseen by three judges in the public security tribunal of Kabul’s primary court. Ansarullah Mawlawizadah, the chief judge in the case, said that Abdul Rahman would be asked to reconsider his conversion: "We will invite him again because the religion of Islam is one of tolerance. We will ask him if he has changed his mind. If so we will forgive him." The judge further noted that "The Prophet Muhammad has said several times that those who convert from Islam should be killed if they refuse to come back" and that even while this is so, "Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance, kindness and integrity. That is why we have told [Abdul Rahman] if he regrets what he did, then we will forgive him." The judge added more: "If [he] does not repent, you will all be witness to the sort of punishment he will face."

When facing a possible death sentence, Abdul Rahman held firm to his convictions: "They want to sentence me to death and I accept it...I am a Christian, which means I believe in the Trinity...I believe in Jesus Christ."

After his arrest, authorities barred attempts by the Associated Press news agency to see him, and he was unable to find a lawyer in Kabul willing to represent him.

There followed an international outcry with even the Pope asking for mercy for the condemned man (condemned by Islamic religious law even before the trial began), but to no avail.

Since constitutional Afghanistan and its freely elected government under President Karzai are perhaps the only bright spots in the Bush Administration’s War on Terror, the U.S. State Department pulled every string it had available to find some compromise before Rahman was found guilty and executed. For some weeks, the most hopeful sign was that the courts would find Abdul Rahman insane—and indeed, what kind of person other than a madman would admit to his Christianity in an Islamic Republic?—and thus release him.

But the Islamic clerics of Afghanistan—including many who are repeatedly referred to in the Western press as "moderate clerics"—would have none of that.

As Wikipedia continues the story—

After Abdul Rahman’s arrest and the subsequent outrage and criticism of the Afghan government, notable Afghan clerics spoke out against his possible release. Afghan clerics have denounced what they assert is interference by other countries and by President Karzai with the autonomy of the Afghan courts. Maulavi Habibullah told more than a thousand clerics and young people gathered in Kabul that "Afghanistan does not have any obligation under international laws. The prophet says, when somebody changes religion, he must be killed."Many clerics have spoken out to the media saying that Abdul Rahman should receive the death penalty for apostasy.

Cleric Enayatullah Baligh, speaking at one of Kabul’s main mosques said, "We respect all religions but we don’t go into the British embassy or the American embassy to see what religion they are following. We won’t let anyone interfere with our religion and he should be punished."

Ahmad Shah Zai, a prominent mujahideen leader and head of the Hizb-i-Iqtadar-i-Islami Afghanistan, and former acting prime minister in the government of Burhanuddi Rabbani before the Taliban came to power in 1996, said, "Regardless of the court decision [whether or not he is hanged], there is unanimous agreement by all religious scholars from the north to the south, the east to the west of Afghanistan, that Abdul Rahman should be executed. There is widespread dissent among the masses against the activities of Christian missionaries. These missions exploit the poverty of Afghan people and they pay them to convert. These activities will only translate into fierce reaction as Afghans do not tolerate anything against their religion. Since Abdul Rahman comes from Paktia, people of the area are coming down to Kabul to show their dissent against him and demand that the court execute him."

Muslim cleric Abdul Raouf, a member of Afghanistan’s main Islamic organization, the Afghan Ulama Council, stated "Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die." Raoulf, who is described by the AP as "moderate", is quoted as saying: "Cut off his head!" and "We will call on the people to pull him into pieces so there’s nothing left." Raoulf said Abdul Rahman will only survive if he goes into exile. During his sermon at Herati Mosque on March 24, 2006, Raoulf told around 150 worshippers that Abdul Rahman deserved death since he had "committed the greatest sin. God’s way is the right way, and this man whose name is Abdul Rahman is an apostate."

Said Mirhossain Nasri, the top cleric at Hossainia Mosque, said "If he is allowed to live in the West, then others will claim to be Christian so they can too," he said. "We must set an example…He must be hanged." Nasri’s comments highlight what clerics view as another problem that could arise if Abdul Rhaman is set free, namely, the possibility that those who claim to have converted to Christianity from Islam could gain asylum in other countries.

Respected Muslim cleric Mohammed Qasim who resides in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, said: "We don’t care if the West drops its support for us. God will look after Afghanistan."

It should be noted that imam Abdul Radouf quoted above—considered the most "moderate cleric" in Afghanistan—was the one urging his followers in the central mosque of Kabul to cut off Abdul Raman’s head and then "pull him to pieces" no matter what the verdict or technical decision of the courts might be.

We all know the denouement of this little drama—the courts temporarily releasing Abdul Rahman, sans verdict, under great pressure from the United States, so the madman could be whisked away to Italy to receive asylum there.

The Time Traveler’s Tale—a C- for Reading Comprehension:

No one likes being misquoted, but especially on so short a piece as the Time Traveler’s story in the April Message that certainly could have been thoroughly attacked and/or disagreed with without it being read poorly or actively misquoted.

People wrote dismissive postings on this forum and elsewhere explaining how absurd it was that the story said that the Islamic world, armed with nothing more than terrorist tactics and C-4, could conquer and occupy the United States as per the Time Traveler’s story…but the Time Traveler never said that the U.S. had been conquered or occupied. Indeed, several times through the tale, the Time Traveler referred to the U.S. as fighting the Long War against Islam all on its own. But this is no prediction; this is precisely the fact of the global struggle now in 2006.

People sneered at the idea of Europe being "overrun" and of a "Eurabia" coming into existence there, but there was no report from the Time Traveler of a Europe that had been overrun by military forces, merely his statement—"I give you the continent of Europe cast back more than five hundred years into sad pools of warring civilizations." In other words, a Europe of divided cities and divided nations in which the one common thread is an expanding Muslim presence which refuses to abide by local and national laws. Some would say that this is almost the case in 2006.

As Bruce Bawer writes—

"In many places in Europe, agitation for the transfer of sovereignty has already begun. In France, a public official met with an imam at the edge of Roubaix’s Muslim district out of respect for his declaration of the neighborhood as Islamic territory to which she had no right of access. In Britain, imams have pressed the government to officially designate certain areas of Bradford as being under Muslim, not British, law. In Denmark, Muslim leaders have sought the same kind of control over parts of Copenhagen. And in Belgium, Muslims living in the Brussels neighborhood of Sint-Jans-Molenbeek already view it not as part of Belgium but as an area under Islamic jurisdiction in which Belgians are not welcome."

Whether this trend is a fact or a wild distortion can be debated, but even during the month the April Message was online, some Canadian visitors to the forum told of laws being introduced to both provincial and Canadian parliaments in which Muslim communities were demanding sovereignty and rule of sharia Islamic law in their neighborhoods.

Other people responding to the April Message sneered at the idea of a nuclear war with radical Islam—Islam has no atomic weapons!—despite the existence of a Pakistani nuclear arsenal and this month’s dramatic developments of an Iran rejecting all IAEA inspections and international pressure to cease its uranium enrichment as well as its public and clandestine nuclear programs. During the weeks the April Message was online, few who read or view the news could have missed the elaborate televised ceremony—complete with costumes, dances, and rampant religious symbolism—that Iran’s President Ahmadenijad led in which a few grams of "enriched uranium" were held up to the nation as if Prometheus had just brought them Holy Fire.

A very few astute readers -at least one—did notice that the list of names in the Time Traveler’s first litany are current enrichment or nuclear development sites in Iran and that the "Shehab-one, Shehab-two, Shehab-three" in the litany are the three generations of ballistic missiles—a gift from North Korea—developed to carry Iranian nuclear warheads to the list of in-range targets in the Mid East, beginning with Tel Aviv, that are mentioned next in the Time Traveler’s tale.

The Time Traveler did not specify the "Samson Option"—Israel’s very real plan to lash out with nuclear weapons against all surrounding Arab and Islamic nations should any Islamic country explode a nuclear weapon in or above its territory—but at least one knowledgeable person responding to the subtext of the Time Traveler’s tale did so.

Does anyone now doubt the seriousness of this topic?

Whatever our opinions, we all need to read better. And to repeat Dr. Samuel Johnson’s injunction on learning how to be a good reader—"First, clear your mind of cant."

Religions and Moral Equivalence Arguments—a Personal Commentary:

In The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lector tips off young FBI agent trainee Clarisse Starling (Jodie Foster) on how to find the serial killer Buffalo Bill ("he likes to skin his humps") by whispering to Starling—"What do we covet most, Agent Starling? We covet that with which we are familiar. We covet that which we see." And indeed, the murderer had lived next door to his first victim.

In our more prosaic intellectual life, we tend to hate and attack first that with which we are most familiar.

When the topic in the April Message was the great danger of the Universal Will to Believe as focused in a fantasy-ideology, a transformative belief that will—must—use other human beings as mere props in their transformative fantasies, dozens of people responded with near-rabid attacks on Christianity.

The impulse is common…but it is also puerile and calumnious.

Sam Harris’s purpose in The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason is to spare no fantasy-ideology, to excuse no faith revealed by Holy Books or revelation…he states quite baldly that the time for allowing large groups to make extraordinary claims on the nature of reality without putting forth extraordinary evidence is over, that groups’ permission to base their ideological or religious lives on fantasy and claims to divine authority can no longer be acceptable to a planet that must return to some foundation of reason if we are to surive. Such fantasy-ideology or fantasy-religion claims must not be the last word on behavior in a time of easily obtained nuclear bombs, homegrown bioweapons, and other weapons of mass destruction. Minimal planetary and species’ hygiene demands that we outgrow our primitive addiction to transformative beliefs and magic, no matter how pleasing and empowering such Universal Will to Believe has been over the course of our species’ sad history.

But to compare 21st Century Christianity around the world to the realities of radical and militant Islam, as dozens did on our forum and elsewhere, or to compare President George W. Bush to Iran’s President Ahmadenijad—to say that "Bush is worse" because of his Christian faith—is insane.

Even while saying that the time for religious fundamentalism is over everywhere, that it is a luxury we can no longer afford, Sam Harris acknowledges that Christianity has so incorporated tolerance into its faith and practice that the religion has become almost synonymous with tolerance. Perhaps more importantly, Christianity and humanist Enlightenment have been in a long, co-evolutionary spiral for so many centuries now that in most cases in Christian and post-Christian societies and in their institutions—science, free press, the courts, education systems, political systems—the secular and the religious remain essentially separate yet supportive.

Christianity remains a "transformative belief," but the transformation—as in the case of President George W. Bush, so frequently mocked by the sophisticated—is a private and internal transformation. It tends to breed more tolerance, not less. And I’ve been informed on good authority that even the strongest transformational-belief element in Christian theology required the blood of only one martyr—and that he was crucified long ago.

In America, still a "Protestant Christian nation" in a way that brings down the scorn and contempt of so many citizens of post-Christian Europe, even the most fundamentalist or evangelical Christian lives and works in a modern, scientific, secular society with little conflict. A born-again Christian not only can be a lawyer in perfectly secular courts, take his or her entertainment from secular sources, spend his workdays and social evenings comfortably with people from other (or no) faiths, and can marry outside the faith, but also can work as a NASA scientist or help others as a social worker or vote for politicians of other (or no) faiths without fear of losing his soul.

Those who equate Christian fundamentalism with Islamic fundamentalism choose to ignore that when a tsunami hits Indonesia or an earthquake ravages Muslim Pakistan, it is Christian charities that are often the first to respond. And no one need convert or submit to proselytizing to receive such help. And unlike Hamas or Hezbollah, which also include charities among their lists of organizations, Christian churches and relief agencies do not fund or carry out terrorism. Helping others, not jihad or suicide bombing, is hardwired into all modern Christian thought.

There is no reason that most of you reading this should have read my stories and novels, nor that you should know my stand on religion, but for the latter I could quote John Updike in "The Music School" when a character says—"I am neither musical nor religious. Each moment I live I must press my fingers down without confidence of hearing a chord."

To state it more simply when it comes to religion—or the belief in supernatural in any form—I agree with Groucho Marx and Woody Allen when they say, "I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member."

As for my writing, most of you reading this wouldn’t know that in my concern about UWTB fantasy-ideologies gaining temporal power, I have almost always followed the Hannibal Lector Dictum and focused on Christianity as the possible villain in my speculative fiction scenarios, ranging from such little-known short works as "Vexed to Nightmare by a Rocking Cradle" to "Vanni Fucci is Alive and Well and Living in Hell" to longer forms of exploring concerns about an institution like the Catholic Church controlling literal resurrection—and thus all of us—in my Hyperion and Endymion novels.

But for all that caution—in my fiction and in my philosophy—I know that to equate modern Christianity to the worldwide violence arising in and around modern Islam is not only unfair but pathological. It is carrying the game of "moral equivalence" to immoral lengths of absurdity.

Finally, to equate America’s President Bush to Iran’s President Ahmadenijad—an extreme Muslim fantasy-transformative Mahdi fundamentalist who, in recent months, has denied the existence of the Holocaust, called for the destruction of Israel by nuclear fire, threatened Europe and the West with annihilation, and promised to give nuclear technology to the Islamist government of Sudan (which is currently carrying out a policy of genocide against the weakest non-Muslim citizens in its country)—is simply nuts.

Omissions and Conclusions:

Two other books that should have been on the bibliography for the April 2006 Message (but which were accidentally excluded) are Robert D. Kaplan’s Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethic and Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism..

Many criticized the Time Traveler’s interpretation of Thucydides, but few took time to consider the Time Traveler’s opinion about Athens’s disaster at Syracuse or his call for more ruthlessness earlier rather than later in the Century War in light of what the man and his family had gone through.

Could it be that a lone survivor of the 20th Century’s death camps at Auschwitz or Bergen Belsen could have looked back upon the chances the allies had to squelch Hitler’s ambitions in 1935 or 1937 or 1938, before the Nazis had the strength to drag all of Europe into its nightmare darkness with them, and wished that France and England had showed more ruthlessness in the beginning, when the death toll would have been in the thousands rather than the tens of millions? Could the Time Traveler’s reading of Thucydides be based on witnessing even more pain and destruction than even our hypothetical survivor of the 20th Century’s death camps and dislocations?

In Kaplan’s Warrior Politics , it is not ruthlessness that is being sought after, but the pagan virtues of clear-seeing…of seeing that good and evil are usually false dichotomies and that continued passive tolerance of intolerance equals intolerance, if not actual self-defeat.

Central to the writings of Sun-Tzu and Thucydides, both quoted by the Time Traveler (and Kaplan), is the sad but adult recognition that war is not an aberration…it is the human condition. And it is Thucydides, observing the generational war that destroyed his world, who concluded that the actions of men and nations both are guided by phobos (fear), kerdos (self-interest), and doxa (honor.) Notice that in this pagan and pre-Christian era, tolerance is not one of the steeds pulling the chariot of self or state. Nor, if we read Sun-Tzu, Homer, Thucydides, Livy, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Winston Churchill, and others, will we find institutionalized tolerance—at the expense of seeing reality—listed as a prime virtue.

And Kaplan echoes Bawer, Lee and Sam Harris, Samuel Harrington and others here, when he says—"For what shocks us about the Nazis is that their crimes occurred in a socially advanced, industrialized society, where atavistic instincts were thought to have been vanquished. Yet is is precisely the taboos imposed by civilization that can make hatred feel at times like a ‘renewal of virility.’ Thucydides teaches us that civilization represses barbarism but can never eradicate it. Thus, the more socially and economically advanced the times, the more necessary it is for leaders to maintain a sense of their societies’ fallibility and vulnerability: that is the ultimate defense against catastrophe."

But since 9/11—and since 7/7 London and since Madrid and Beslan and the ongoing tragedy of rabid sectarianism that is Iraq—we have to ask if there is still time to avert that catastrophe or whether we are already within the belly of the beast.

In Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism, he gives a possible answer to that question—

"What have we needed for these terrorists to prosper? We have needed immense failures of political courage and imagination within the Muslim world. We have needed an almost willful lack of curiosity about those failures by people in other parts of the world—the lack of curiosity that allowed us to suppose that totalitarianism had been defeated, even as totalitarianism was reaching a new zenith. We have needed handsome doses of wishful thinking—the kind of simpleminded faith in a rational world that, in its inability to comprehend reality, sparked the totalitarian movements in the first place…We have needed a provincial ignorance about intellectual currents in other parts of the world. We have needed foolish resentments in Europe, and a foolish arrogance in America. We have needed so many things! But there has been no lack—every needed thing has been here in abundance."


^top | more News>

Home     Books     Curtis on Publishing     Previews     Bio     Bibliography     Snapshots      Reader's Forum     Art