Several weeks ago, The New York Times carried a front-page story entitled, "Drawing U.S. Crowds With Anti-Islam Message." I clipped the piece and set it aside for later reading. My intention was to ridicule the focus of the article, a woman who goes by the pseudonym Brigitte Gabriel. It’s too easy to stir hatred, I thought. Let me try to bring her down a notch or two.
Then I read the story, which led me to read her latest book, They Must Be Stopped. Now I am on the cusp of checking out the organization she founded, ACT! For America. She’s no dummy, this pseudonymous Cassandra. But does she really foresee a future of conflict with Islam, or os she just a little paranoid? Or, the most disturbing possibility, is she paranoid and right?
The target of her scorn is what she calls Islamofascism, Islamic extremism bent on transforming the world into a Islamic state, subject to the will of Allah, or his Caliph. She argues that cells of extremists are now spread throughout the world, and that they all preach hatred of the West, its values and its way of life. September 11, 2001, was less the isolated act of extremists, than an opening skirmish in a war that may take decades, or even centuries, to win, but which has been declared, and is now being waged with pen, sword, and demographic pressure. Europe is well on the way to being transformed from within by its burgeoning Islamic population; so, too, is the United States. Odds are you’ll see a burka or two on your next trip to the mall. You would not have seen any a couple of decades ago.
Gabriel spends a lot of time online reading the web sites of extremist groups. And she has earned her credentials huddling in the bomb shelters of Lebanon as a teenager. She was a Christian driven from her home and to the United States by civil war and religious hatred. She marshals impressive passages from the Koran in which war against non-Moslems is celebrated and declared a religious duty. While Jesus counseled meekness in the Sermon on the Mount and was then crucified, Mohammed was leading armed men in acts of conquest he celebrated as divinely inspired. There are crucial differences between the core religious teachings of Jesus and Mohammed.
I found Gabriel most persuasive in far smaller points, however. Why, for example, does the West cower in the face of Islamic rage over such seemingly small things as the pictorial display of Mohammed? Even the Yale University Press recently opted not to publish the cartoons carried in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, in a recent book for fear the publication would offend Islamic sensibilities and inflame further acts of violence around the world. Say what? We can’t publish cartoons because it might make someone angry enough to kill? This is a stunning victory in a cultural war most of us are too busy to notice taking place all around us.
Or what about the the special accommodations made for Islamic students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor? There are special foot-washing venues for students preparing for prayer. Establishment clause, anyone? Imagine putting Touchdown Jesus on the campus of the university. Why the emerging double standard? Just how have Mohammed’s legions pulled this off?
Of course, the danger of a book such as They Must Be Stopped, is that it will foster a widespread hatred and distrust of all things Islamic. The author does not go that far, although the Times article suggests she does. (Indeed, the Times article exudes the sort of politically correct slant she warns is an emasculating feature of the West’s inability to face down the threat of extremism.) Ms. Gabriel hardly comes to this debate a neutral: she is a former anchorwoman for Pat Robertson’s Christian television network in the Middle East. Isn’t it possible to hate extremism without rejecting Islam?
There is plenty that is chilling about Ms. Gabriel’s book. She wants to empower the executive branch to fight the war on terror. She favors treating Islamic extremists as enemy combatants devoid of the right to due process in our courts. I suspect she would be comfortable suspending habeas corpus for certain classes of crimes and suspects. Her vision of the West imperiled by jihadists bent on world conquest makes the Bill of Rights look optional: In the fight for survival, who wants to be too fastidious about the rights of the accused? Indeed, she ends her book with the sort of glowing, even fawning, praise of the military that would make a general weep in gratitude.
In the end, the book almost presents the following challenge: will we rally around a Christofascism to combat the Islamofascists in our midst? From where I sit, godless mortgage-slave that I am, both camps give me the creeps. But in this brand new millennium it may perhaps be time rework Pascal’s wager: better to gamble on the fascist you know than the one bent on destroying you. That seems somehow unsatisfactory, but, I suspect, will become a whole lot more appealing the next time a terrorist strikes on U.S. soil.
I am not prepared to reject what Ms. Gabriel is saying. Yet I don’t really want to hear it either. If she is right, events will force me to listen