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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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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):
SUICIDE BOMBING IN DEFENSE OF ISLAM Justifiable?
"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
"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:
SUICIDE BOMBING IN DEFENSE OF ISLAM Is
It Ever Justifiable?
"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
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."
"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
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
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
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
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
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
Religions and Moral Equivalence Arguments—a
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
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
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
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
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
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."