David Solway is the author of The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity. His editorials appear regularly in FRONTPAGEMAG.COM and Pajamas Media. He speaks about his latest book, Hear, O Israel! (Mantua Books), at frontpage.com.
A & O: Arts & Opinion readers and others friendly to the publication have expressed concern that you're a racist, that you hate Arabs. Since your reply must be "I'm not a racist," why do you think they have come to that conclusion?
DAVID SOLWAY: Beats me. My working motto is: "I say what I see," and if that means arriving at conclusions that I would have preferred to avoid, then so be it. But this has nothing to do with racism of any sort. What nonsense. I believe we are embroiled in a civilizational war that has been going on for 1400 years, receding at times, cresting at others. And that we are now in the process of losing this war, in large part because we are afraid, as Mary Habak writes in her book of that title, of "knowing the enemy," naming the enemy, and taking a principled stand. The jihadists appear to be right: we are weak, self-indulgent, unsinewed by political correctness, in thrall to sentimental and utopian notions, ripe for the plucking. Too many years of soft living and even softer thinking. Sometimes I imagine we actually admire the jihadists since they provide us with what we lack: strength, belief, vitality, asabiyah (group feeling). As Constantine Cavafy concludes in his great poem "Waiting for the Barbarians," "They were, those people, a kind of solution." And I remember, too, something that otherwise disreputable specimen Jean Genet, who spent some time with the Palestinians living a paramilitary romance, wrote in his Journal du voleur about this strange fascination with Islamic violence: we suffer from "la réalité du suprême bonheur dans le désespoir . . . on assiste à l'irrémédiable destruction de [notre] oeuvre et de soi-même."
A & O: For some time now, you've been practising advocacy journalism; you are a staunch Zionist and defender of Israel, you support right wing causes. After 9/11, you recognized that your allegiance to the left, to Noam Chomsky, was misinformed, misguided. Why can't you be wrong again?
DAVID SOLWAY: Of course I can be wrong again. But consider. Should I change my mind once more and revert to the assumptions and opinions and convictions that governed my thinking before 9/11, and before I wrote The Big Lie, well, I could then, let's say, after a couple of years and another 9/11, change my mind yet once again. And then again, and so on ad infinitum. Where's the advantage or consolation in morphing into a perpetual motion machine? Moreover, what would prevent the people who have asked this question and who plainly oppose my arguments 'from changing their minds?' Let's get real. I've spent the last nine years reading, studying, researching and reflecting upon the great political and ideological issues of the day. I've assembled a veritable closet-full of evidentiary material in several languages: documents, transcripts, records, memoirs, original statements, crucial texts like UN resolutions, articles from the Beirut Telegraph, the Jordanian daily Falastin, the London Daily Mail dating back to 1948 and 1949, literally hundreds and hundreds of such exemplars. As I said, I've even come to some conclusions that I was personally uncomfortable with. But even if no human being has a lien on the asymptotic truth, there is such a thing as credible verisimilitude. One tries to be honest and skeptical at the same time, but if the evidence one has amassed points in a certain direction, what can one do but travel along that road toward whatever destination it may lead? One has to settle somewhere eventually, making as sure as possible that the ground is solid. Otherwise, intellectually speaking, one skitters about like a dandelion ghost. Naturally, one may ultimately decamp to some other place, but that does not exempt one from maintaining one's intellectual residence so long as one is living there.
A & O: How is your writing helping to build bridges between the West and Islam? If not at all, do we assume you not only support the thesis that there is a clash of civilizations but that the clash is just and necessary?
DAVID SOLWAY: I'm not sure how to respond here. Maybe I can say that I'm not interested in building bridges. I am no more a peacemonger than I am a warmonger. I simply recognize, as does Samuel Huntington and many others, that we are under sustained attack and I worry about my kids and their kids. Narain Kataria, founder of the Indian Intellectuals Forum, points out that since 9/11 Muslims have carried out over 15,000 terrorist attacks and killed more than 75,000 people (Pajamas Media, May 17, 2010). Radical Islam is an existential threat for the West. Do you really believe that the defenders at the gates of Vienna in 1683 were interested in "building bridges"? I respectfully suggest to you that they were probably far more interested in surviving. Do people honestly think one could come to terms and mutual understanding with someone like the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Nazi loyalist and Jew-killer Haj Amin al-Husseini? Yasser Arafat? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Osama bin Laden? Build bridges to Hamas? To Hizballah? Some earnest cantilevering and everything will work out just dandy? What planet do these people live on? Have they read the founding charters? Have they weighed the ideas of Sayid Qutb? Have they checked out Maulana Maudoodi? Have they followed the history of Islamic conquest from 622, the date of the Medinese hegira, to the present moment? As Salim Mansur, himself a practising Muslim, writes in Islam's Predicament, in the chapter called "How the West Was Duped": "Muslims need to become free of totalitarian Islam and the least the West can do in support is not concede an inch of its own hard-won freedom in quest of a false peace with Islamists."
A & O: Why do readers accuse you of failing to distinguish between a small minority of fanatics (terrorists) and the rest of the Arab world? Do you believe that a mute but majority of Western Arabs secretly, clandestinely support terrorism and jihad – the overthrow of the West?
DAVID SOLWAY: The question you're really posing is whether what we call "moderate Islam" represents a stable and peace-loving majority among the Muslim umma, or community of believers. Maybe, maybe not. Bangladeshi author of Women in Islam and former Muslim Abul Kasem does not think so. "Is there such a thing as moderate Islam?" he asks. "For the existence of moderate Islam/Muslims, there must be a 'moderate' Qu'ran, since the life force of Islam is the Qu'ran." But the Koran advocates violence in passage after passage and cannot be safely moderated. "Introducing innovation in Islam is a serious crime. . . subject to Islamic punitive measure, which is death." For Kasem, the notion of Islamic moderation is a conceptual and terminological snare. Discounting the actual practitioners of terror, the majority of Muslims, Kasem explains, amounting to about 90% of the umma, are Muslims in name only and have little idea of the Koran, Hadith and shari'a. A smaller group consists of what he calls "pretend Muslims," and a third, even smaller number, who shrink from becoming martyrs but are sympathetic to the cause of worldwide dominion, comprises those who embrace "philosophical terrorism." Thus, "there is no such true thing as moderate Muslims." The real enemy, he concludes, "is not the terrorists. Rather, it is Islam. As long as the world does not internalize and comprehend this truth, and as long as wrong, PC policies are pursued this war will continue and the defeat of the non-believers is guaranteed." Anyway, that's his take on it.
Leslie S. Lebl of the American Center for Democracy, writing in City Journal for January 29, 2010, agrees: the basic problem is "an ideology fundamental to 'traditional" or 'moderate" Islam as much as to its 'radical variant'." Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who wishes to put an end to uncontrolled Islamic immigration into the Netherlands, agrees and disagrees. At a talk to the Hudson Institute in New York on September 25, 2008, Wilders said: "Sure, there are moderate Muslims. But there is no moderate Islam." Which is only another way of saying that our callow belief in the efficacy of "moderation" is what may eventually do us in. This is the fly in the ointment of Western assuagement and Islamic special pleading. For moderation, whether virtual or existent, is not only "moderation," a subtle code word for unacknowledged self-deception; it is also a perfect cover for immoderation as well as its fecund seedbed and its sustaining medium. What we call "moderate Islam"—assuming there is such a thing—is only the water in which the sharks swim and seek their prey. Even astute observers like Middle East specialist Daniel Pipes, who believes that if radical Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution, are whistling in the dark. His conviction that the answer to Islamic jihad lies in the social reinforcement of the moderate community, based on the conclusion of the RAND Corporation's recent publication Building Moderate Muslim Networks, is really a non-starter.
A & O: Have you ever spent time in a Muslim country? Have you ever had an Arab friend?
DAVID SOLWAY: Yes, I have visited Morocco, albeit briefly, and actually taught a makeshift class in Casablanca, in a public souk, of all places. And yes, I have Muslim friends, in particular Salim Mansur and Tarek Fatah. Wonderful guys.
A & O: How do you answer the accusation that no less than Arab extremists who want to bring down the West (through violence and/or stealth), the West would like to overwhelm Islam with its own form of stealth jihad (culture)? In terms of ambition, do you acknowledge the symmetry?
DAVID SOLWAY: Absolutely not. This is just the sort of fancy talk that we hear mainly in the now unhallowed halls of Academe. The old colonial days are long over, 'pace' the spirit of Edward Said, who advanced the meretricious neocolonial argument in his deeply flawed Orientalism. It occurs to me that your subscribers might at least want to browse Ibn Warraq's magisterial tome Defending the West, in which this question is addressed and definitively answered. It is also the best antidote I know to the myriad distortions, misconstruals and at times downright ignorance we find in Said's book. Robert Irwin's For Lust of Knowing, in which he also takes on Said and dismisses Orientalism as "a work of malignant charlatanry," is a must-read too. Irwin is among the leading Middle East scholars of our time. Nouveau philosophe Pascal Bruckner's La tentation de l'innocence and La tyrannie de la pénitence are equally de rigueur. Let's just get over this "even-handedness" and "honest broker" and "we're just as guilty" stuff, which are only euphemisms for cowardice and indolence in the face of a determined adversary. I would also suggest Jean Raspail's The Camp of the Saints which is an excellent primer for understanding the future. And while we're at it, it might serve as well to meditate on Fouad Ajami's The Dream Palace of the Arabs, Michael Oren's Power, Faith, and Fantasy, Winston Churchill's The River War, Brigitte Gabriel's Because They Hate, Serge Trifkovic's The Sword of the Prophet, Michael Capri's A Never Ending War, Salim Mansur's Islam's Predicament and Efraim Karsh's Islamic Imperialism, among others. Jean-François Revel's How Democracies Perish wouldn't hurt either. You'll find many of your answers therein.
A & O: In the madrassas (Islamic religious schools), you've expressed concern that the young are being indoctrinated to hate the West. In the West, the young learn to hate Arabs in movies that depict them as terrorists. In your view, what system is most successful in inculcating hate, winning the war of words and images?
DAVID SOLWAY: Naturally, there are crazies of all stripes out there producing a blogjam of babble and balderdash directed at everybody under the sun, but you can't be alluding to these idiots. I know of very few serious sites, venues, movies and so on that are dedicated to inculcating hatred of Islam. In The Big Lie and in some of my other writings, I offer long shopping lists of Hollywood and, yes, Israeli films that do just the opposite. And I mean long. The pro-Islamic (and pro-liberal-left) drift of the Tinseltown illusion factory is remarkable, spectacularly so, for its blatant one-sidedness. One would scarcely know that airliners have been brought down, buildings destroyed and people blown up by Muslim terrorists if one lived in a movie theater, as I suspect many do. The same is true of TV. To take only one recent example among a multitude, look at Comedy Central's South Park which will scrub an image of Mohammed dressed in a bear costume for fear of reprisals but will feature a website game called I.S.R.A.E.L. Attack with a character named Jew Producer and a robot, the Intelligent Smart Robot Animation Eraser Lady, an acrostic for Israel, who is an expert assassin. The same bad faith and abject cravenness exists in the publishing racket, Yale University Press, for example, having recently published a book about the Danish cartoon episode 'without the cartoons.' The same is true by and large of the education system, except perhaps in Quebec, thank the Lord. You've heard of UC San Diego student Jumanah Imad Albahri who, when asked by David Horowitz when he spoke there recently whether she would be for or against the liquidation of the Jews, replied "For it." She has not been reprimanded or censured. As historian Jonah Goldberg comments in the Los Angeles Times for May 18, "and there are many like her." Jew-hatred is bon ton on campus and elicits either silence or tacit approval from university administrators. Muslims almost always get a free pass. Even the American military bends over backwards not to offend Muslims. Major Hasan kills eleven soldiers and wounds another thirty at Fort Hood and General Casey worries about an anti-Muslim backlash and the damage that might be done to that sacred cow, "diversity." Unbelievable. It will be fascinating to see if the giant mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, now in the planning stage, actually gets built. But really, what are you talking about? With a few desultory exceptions here and there, pro-Islamic suasion is a booming industry in the West, just as anti-Western propaganda and hatred proliferates all over the Islamic world.
A & O: We all want peace. You want peace. Your journalism is the expression of that desire and yet you stand accused of authoring hatefests. Why aren't they getting it? Why are your critics refusing the peacemaker that you are?
DAVID SOLWAY: Maybe because I'm not a dreamy sentimentalist or a Yoomi-type poet or Babbalanja who belong in Melville's Mardi. The fact is, in many troubled and incendiary circumstances, peace now means war later, and a far more destructive war than would otherwise have been the case. Let's call it, à la Ludlum, The Chamberlain Supremacy. You know the old Latin saying of Publius Vegetius Renatus, Si vis paca, para bellum—If you want peace, prepare for war. And sometimes this means rigorous profiling and launching pre-emptive strikes, that is, if you don't want to go up with the shopping mall, if you don't want your wife in a flaming airplane or your kids reduced to body parts. Peace comes to the strong and the courageous, but it avoids the weak and the self-deluded.
A & O: In one of your editorials, you argued that the US would do well if Sarah Palin were to ascend to the Presidency. Is that a personal view or a public demonstration of your solidarity with right wing causes?
DAVID SOLWAY: Sarah is among the most interesting and galvanizing figures on the American political scene, but you'd never know it from the legacy media that have embarked upon a savage vendetta against her. With a little more prepping, she'd make a decent president. She has flaws, Lord knows, perhaps the most conspicuous of which is that she lacks a certain gravitas. But she's learning. She's honest, down to earth, and has by and large the right instincts. Many media figures and bloviating pundits castigate her for being ignorant, but she's far more knowledgeable than, say, Obama, who thinks there is such a thing as the Austrian language, counted 57 states and postulated a 58th, refers to an American corpsman as a "corpseman," and got his Islamic history wrong in his Cairo speech by a trifling matter of several hundred years, among a plethora of gaffes and embarrassments. Joe Biden thinks that FDR addressed the American people on television during the Depression. Judging by his May 6 speech to the European Parliament, Biden believes that it possesses law-making powers, which it patently does not. His howlers have become legendary. It's Obama and Biden who are the premier ignoramuses.
And, by the way, I don't wear a political badge. Whatever people might say, I never think of myself as right-wing or neocon or whatever. There are many conservative or right-wing writers and politicos I wouldn't have the time of day for, Ron Paul for example, or Charlie Crist, or Pat Buchanan. I slammed Glenn Beck for his nasty innuendos concerning Geert Wilders. Look, I come to my positions independently and if they happen to coincide with a designated movement, that's nothing more than chance or serendipity at work. People can say what they like or throw a conceptual mesh over me like awkward retiarii or type me as one thing or another, but I don't go for tats.
A & O: Respond to the accusation that advocacy journalism is infra dig, that someone of your exceptional gifts as both analyst and writer should be serving the truth, wherever it falls.
DAVID SOLWAY: I don't know about exceptional gifts and all. I'm not being falsely modest here. I just work hard, try to be scrupulous, do my homework and perform my due diligence. And as I said twice before, if I eventually come to a conclusion that appears, after assiduous research and analysis, to be valid but which I'd rather not have disinterred or stumbled upon, then I stick with it no matter how vexing it may be to me. Also, I don't see myself as engaging in advocacy journalism. I mean this sincerely. There are serious things going on in the world today that must be addressed, confronted, understood, and such a locust swarm of lies and fabrications and fables blackening the skies above us and almost choking the very air we breathe that principled resistance is utterly necessary. I truly believe that the existence of our civilization is at stake and that, mutatis mutandis, we have come to resemble the citizens of Augustine's city of Hippo whom Lewis Mumford writes about in The City in History. They were too busy attending the games in the local Forum to defend themselves against the Vandals at the walls, with the inevitable result that the city was razed and these distracted citizens put to the sword.
A & O: You are very concerned with Jew-hatred from within and without the community. Among your Arab readers, do you feel your writing is attenuating or inflaming that hatred?
DAVID SOLWAY: No idea. Don't care either, since I'm not writing to Muslims but to the legions of pusillanimous Westerners in the hope that a few of them might actually start thinking and reading for a change. The problem is, as Ralph Peters says in Endless War, that we feel threatened by history, which is why "serious historical instruction has been stripped from our schools." The predicament starts there.
A & O: The devout Arab prays five times a day, we don't pray at all, and we chalk up the difference by labeling him as a fanatic. Why should our world view prevail?
DAVID SOLWAY: Frankly, I suspect that our world view will not prevail, that the game is up, and that it's only a matter of time. Coner Cruise O'Brien in On the Eve of the Millennium gives Western Civ another 200 years. Well, as the burghers say in Browning's The Pied Piper of Hamlin, "Come, take fifty." They're referring to ducats but the phrase seems calendrically appropriate. And fifty years may be too generous an assessment. A columnist writing in the Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh takes comfort in the thought that "France won't be around much longer, since it will have a Muslim majority by 2050" (see FrontPage Magazine, July 23, 2009). The same fate awaits many other European countries. Come, take forty. Maybe thirty. I've just read a transcript of Paul Eidelberg's report, delivered under the excellent title of "Chronological Smugness" for Israel National Radio on May 17, which deals succinctly with the major dilemma of our epoch. "The secular democratic state," he says, "is where chronological smugness flourishes. Ignorant or indifferent to the great minds of the past, the leaders of the secular democratic state are retreating before barbarians who have hijacked monotheism to their cause." They pray five times a day. We genuflect ten times a day. We bow with Obama.
However one looks at the situation, whatever symbol or metaphor one uses to clarify our dilemma, one remains with a sinking feeling. The story of Noah's Ark is no longer relevant for our times except as a children's fable. For the Ark has been replaced in our consciousness, as it has in our collective destiny, by another emblematic vessel. The Titanic is foundering. Captain, crew and passengers have together conspired to set course directly for the iceberg while irrationally refusing to admit its existence. The ship of state, having been transformed into a ship of fools, may not be able to be saved, hauled into port and retrofitted. Nevertheless, our only recourse is to keep pumping in the hope of deferring the epilogue for as long as possible. Better a longer time afloat than a shorter time. As the Talmud says, "It is not upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to desist from it" (Pirkei Avot 2:21). One thinks, too, of the motto of William of Orange: "Hope is not a prerequisite in order to undertake, nor is success a prerequisite for perseverance." And that is why I keep writing, to put off the naufrage for as long as possible. Writing is bailing. But you're on the money. On the whole, we don't have the stamina, devotion, conviction, assurance, and sacrificial energy of our civilizational competitor. We are the Eloi. We are those rabbits in Watership Down being snatched one by one for the farmer's supper table and making up romantic stories to disguise the sordid truth.
A & O: If your crystal ball were to tell you that Arab culture will prevail over all other world cultures upon granting gender equality to Arab women (the effect of freeing up billions of I.Q. points), would you grant it? If not, why not?
DAVID SOLWAY: Not. Because it isn't only a matter of gender equality, but of shari'a, the summons to kill the infidel, the amputation punishments, the vast multitude of nano-laws controlling practically every aspect of ordinary behaviour, the antisemitism, the firmans dictating conversion into and out of the faith. Have you read the Koran, the Hadith, the Sunnah? If you have, you know precisely why I would not "grant" it.
A & O: In a recent column, you accuse Tariq Ramadan of being disingenuous, of disguising his fundamentalist, anti-West agenda. Couldn't Israel be accused of the same: pretending to want peace but deciding its short and long-term interests are best served by occupation -- code for unlimited, unrestricted access to Gaza that would evaporate under the 2-state solution?
DAVID SOLWAY: That sounds just like Naomi Klein. Come now, what do you mean by "occupation"? Gaza is an autonomous statelet that receives thousands of tons of supplies, materials, medicines and running electrical power from Israel, except when the crossings are closed owing to sniper and mortar fire and the Ashkelon generator is under attack. Just last week, another 14,000 tons of fuel, baby food, cooking gas, fruits, vegetables, poultry, fish, dairy products, sugar, medicines and medical equipment, clothing, shoes and even animal feed were transferred into the Strip. At the same time, 781 medical patients crossed into Israel. And there would have been no "blockade" of ports if Hamas had not excavated more smuggling tunnels to import weaponry or received boatloads of arms or started lobbing rockets into Israel almost immediately after the withdrawal from Gaza, thereby declaring a state of war. Why allow an avowed enemy to acquire the means of war or supplement his existing arsenal? Can people not see this? Are they blind? Peace is in Israel's interests and that is exactly what it was hoping for when it disengaged from Gaza and left its greenhouses intact, to assist Gaza in becoming a viable economic and self-sustaining entity. Instead, the greenhouses were demolished by Hamas and since that fateful moment thousands of rockets have exploded on Israeli soil. And why, if Israel had been rewarded with the peace it sought after disengagement, would it have needed "unlimited, unrestricted access" to Gaza? What for? And why, for that matter, was a fellow Muslim nation, Egypt, which obviously has far more in common with Gaza than does Israel, not cited by the Press and the busybody NGOs for refusing to provision the Gazans—until it saw the light and began erecting a 30-foot steel barrier at the border? As for the West Bank, according to international jurisprudence flowing from the San Remo Conference of 1920—which is still invariant law—and the unpleasant fact of Arab invasions, these territories are not "occupied" but "disputed." Moreover, Israel's presence in the West Bank amounts to 6% of the total territory, and as Abbas and his cohorts well know, should the Israelis pull out entirely, dismantle all the checkpoints and refrain from beagling for terrorists, the West Bank would fall to Hamas in short order.
A & O: Your criticism of Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein et al is that they are relentless in their negative criticism of Israel, when it's impossible for one side to be always right and the other side always wrong. As an Israel defender, couldn't you be accused of the same, of refusing to criticize Israel even when you privately believe criticism is warranted?
DAVID SOLWAY: My dear editor, I would be grateful if you would advise A & O's readers, or at least those from whom you have culled these questions, to consult some of the chapters of my recently published book, Hear, O Israel! I believe the criticisms of Israel they will find there, of many of its politicos and the policies they have adopted, as well as of the Israeli media, are pretty well as withering as it gets. And these criticisms are not private but unabashedly public, though I assume a different standpoint from the shameful prevarications of Chomsky and Klein et al, whom I have also deconstructed.
A & O: An Israeli religious organization funded and disseminated the production of "Third Jihad" in the election year of 2008, to "educate" Americans to the "secret agenda" of Islam. If a similar project were funded by a Saudi religious organization it would considered anti-Semitic hate speech. Is there a double standard?
DAVID SOLWAY: This project, intended to sabotage the West and deligitimatize Israel, is already funded, mainly by Saudi Arabian petrodollars, and it is ubiquitous. No "if" about it. It is everywhere, in the universities, the Middle East departments, the publishing trade, the mosques, the NGOs, the United Nations, the media, you name it. Why, even Fox News has partially surrendered, now that Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has bought NewsCorp stock. So let's not get heated about some puny Israeli organization with the approximate influence of a gnat.
A & O: You often quote (cherry pick) from the Koran, where it incites hatred against Jews. Since most religions are either explicitly or implicitly exclusionary, in the spirit of fairness (objective journalism), shouldn't you make mention of The Torah, where it commands its followers to commit 'genocide' on the Amalek (Arabian tribe). 1 Samuel: 15:2-2 "Thus says the Lord of hosts, I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. 3 Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey," (1 Samuel 15:2-3).
DAVID SOLWAY: The only thing I cherry-pick is cherries. Textually, I read what is there on the page, and on page after page, for that matter. But you are right to bring up Amalek. This is an issue that has troubled Jewish scholars for centuries and many have tried to reinterpret, macerate or contextualize the divine command, with what success I can't say. I regret that it forms part of the Hebrew scripture. At the same time, let me point out the following. The Amalek passage constitutes a miniscule portion of the Torah and almost nobody acts upon it, except the occasional stray madman. By contrast, the summons to violence against the kaffir in the Koran is epidemic and will be found in surah after surah after surah. The Medinese portion of the Koran prescribes rather definitively against the non-believer, the infidel and the heretic. Its proscriptions cannot easily be relaxed or rescinded, just as the history of the dromocracies of Islam cannot be scraped away and written over, a palimpsest of readerly good intentions or ostensible scholarly impartiality. Moreover, we are not dealing with a lone cretin here and there but with whole maniples of killers who emerge from the training camps scattered across the Islamic world, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, ready to brutalize and maim and murder, righteous, dedicated and self-justified by their holy texts. Neither Christianity nor Judaism, with the exception of numerically minor sectarian groupings, exacts such total adherence from its communicants. So really now, where is the comparison? People who insist upon it are like those talking heads in the American media and like Democratic party stalwarts who are convinced, or pretend to be, that the real threat to America comes not from Islamic terrorism, from those who fly planes into towers, shoot unarmed soldiers and try to detonate Times Square, but from those apparently dastardly and obviously teeming hordes of Christian fundamentalists with knives between their teeth nefariously planning to devastate and subvert the nation. The sheer bad faith and congenital imbecility here is not only unconscionable, but almost beyond conceiving. It is also profoundly disingenuous.
A & O: You loath the madrassas for inculcating hatred of Jews and Israel. Why aren't you critical of Jewish institutions that teach that Amalek is any Arab or Muslim?
DAVID SOLWAY: I am. But would you be so kind as to name all those institutions and specify their numbers? What is their proportion vis à vis the madrassas? Will you count the apples and oranges and then make a comparison? Forget the cherries, though.
A & O: Just as most of the world's Arabs are negatively disposed towards Jews, most Westerners are negatively disposed towards Arabs and Islam. Situate your journalism in this unfortunate paradigm. Would you expect a Westerner, reading you as you would like to be read, to be relieved of his prejudice as a first effect of your opinion pieces?
DAVID SOLWAY: Reflecting on this question, I confess I'm at a total loss. Most of the people I know and know of are quite favourably disposed toward Muslims. So are the mainstream Press and the TV networks. The CBC is very keen on Little Mosque. The American networks and even the White House are constantly seeing psychologically disturbed, usually white individuals planting bombs who almost always turn out in the course of time to be Muslim extremists, but one would never have imagined it, no? Muslim radicals are honoured guests in England and some are even knighted. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Ikhwan, or Muslim Brotherhood, who has approved of suicide bombing and has promulgated fatwas requiring Muslims to conquer America and Europe, has been feted in England and elsewhere. The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams accepts shari'a. Tony Blair's Britain bent over backward to gratify its Islamic community, knighting the dubious Iqbal Sacranie (who declared that death was perhaps too easy for Salman Rushdie), appointing the well-known "Islamist" Nazir Ahmed to the House of Lords and raising Manzila Uddin (who soft-pedals Islamic extremism and claims that Muslims "have been brutalised by their experiences with the police and this war on terror") to the peerage, funding Islamic schools, empowering Muslim councils and re-writing through its Foreign Office the phrase "war on terror" as "shared values" as a means to counter terrorists—probably giving Obama the idea to follow suit. The Bush administration appointed Talal Eid, an imam with close ties to the Saudi-controlled Muslim World League and a proponent of shari'a courts, to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Former President of Iran, Muhammad Khatami, known for the imprisoning and torture of those opposed to his regime, was honoured by Harvard University where he delivered a lecture on the topic of—wait for it—"Ethics of Tolerance in the Age of Violence." Iran's current President and genocidal advocate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was invited by Columbia University to grace its speaker's platform—as historian Deborah Lipstadt commented on her blog for September 21, 2007, "The people at Columbia...have minds that are so open their brains fell out." Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor and author of The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, contributes a long article to the New York Times (March 16, 2008) defending Islamism and depicting shari'a as a legal/divine instrument able to "structure a constitutional state subject to the rule of law." The Liberal party in Canada caters to Muslim voting blocs and the NDP boasts Muslim members. Muslim organizations like CAIR and the ISN are doing very well, thank you. Tariq Ramadan is a culture hero, lionized by all and sundry. And this is only the tiny little itty-bitty tip of the sand dune. The so-called backlash is more like a tender caress. So please forgive me if I say that I don't understand where this question is coming from.
A & O: Besides refusing (so far) to take out Iran's nuclear capability, what, if anything, has Israel done in the past couple of years that you would have done differently?
DAVID SOLWAY: Lots of things. Israel has failed miserably to carry out an effective hasbara program, that is, public diplomacy, the circulation of information, pro-Israel activism. It is the Palestinians that have won the day here with the clever use of what Derrida called "black mythology," in other words, disinformation, historical falsifications and outright lies, the kind you see animating those scandalous, campus-sponsored "Israel Apartheid Weeks." I would have invested enormous resources in a hasbara campaign, not only to apprise people of Israel's historical and indisputable legal claims to the Holy Land, but to ferret out the motives and biographical facts of its enemies, including Jewish antisemites and anti-Zionists. Take for instance Richard Goldstone, the author of the infamous UN report on Operation Cast Lead accusing Israel of crimes it did not commit while effectively exculpating Hamas for crimes it did. Why did it take so long to discover who Goldstone really is or was and to disseminate the facts? Why did Israeli intelligence have to wait for Alan Dershowitz and others to discover the truth about Goldstone's apartheid past as a white South African hanging judge, sentencing 28 South African blacks to death and others to various forms of torture? Why is it not being brought to the attention of the world's chanceries? Israel should put me in charge of hasbara.
Also, I would move to loosen and dilute the American connection. Israel receives approximately $3 billion in American aid annually, but most of this is funneled right back into the American defence industry in the form of purchases and contracts, helping to create American jobs while at the same time starving the potential of the Israeli defence network and drying up Israeli jobs. Israel has the technical know-how and the means to build its own fighter jets—just as Canada was able to produce the Arrow, the most sophisticated fighter plane of its time, before Diefenbaker scrapped the project. American pressure?
In addition, I would be far more agonistic. I wouldn't have waited for 5,000 rockets to target Israeli civilians in Sderot and in other Gaza belt communities over the years. I would not have opted for the practice of, let's call it, Olmerta. I would have initiated an armed response after the first rocket fell. What would you do if your city block were on the daily receiving end of mortar rounds and kassams and katyushas? Send medicines, power and food to the gunners, as the Israelis foolishly did and still do? Would you have said with Jeremiah's cynics "peace, peace, when there is no peace" or boarded Cat Stevens' peace train? Told your children not to play in the streets when they hear an incoming and then go insouciantly about your business? Or would you take the necessary action? I'd like a straightforward answer.
A & O: A nuclear bomb hasn't been used since 1945, but you're convinced Iran intends to nuke Israel, which, in your view, justifies a pre-emptive strike. Since politicians often don't mean what they say, or what is said is intended for local consumption, how can you be so certain Iran means it, knowing full well there will be deadly, regime altering, consequences? Or, why doesn't the promise of MAD (mutually assured destruction) -- which, as a deterrent, has worked until now -- apply in the case of Iran?
DAVID SOLWAY: As Thomas Sowell remarked in a recent interview, "If terrorists with nuclear weapons don't focus your mind, nothing will." We should remember that apart from North Korea, Iran is the only country in the world that has actually threatened to use nuclear weapons. It has made very clear its intention to eliminate Israel by nuclear holocaust. We should not be under any illusion regarding the sanity of the Iranian leadership, whether we are thinking of its council of infallible mullahs or its political and military commissariat.
If Ahmadinejad prevails, the Twelfth Imam, who brings a new "world order" in fire and brimstone, may not remain in occultation for much longer. According to the Iranian newspaper Kargozaran, Cabinet Secretary Majid Doostali has explained that "just as Imam Zaman's occultation had a prelude and a main period, his return too has a prelude and a main period," and that Ahmadinejad's administration "was the prelude to the return." According to Rooz Online Iran, the president of the Islamic Management Scientific Society at the Qom Seminary School, one Hojjatoleslam Sammameddin Ghavani, has even proposed the establishment of a " 'Ministry of Waiting' to facilitate the arrival of the Hidden Imam. Ahmadinejad has announced that the Imam Zaman would emerge from occultation within two years—the period of waiting."
Skeptical westerners who would pass this off as merely a quaint belief not to be taken seriously should think again. In Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics, historian Emmanuel Sivan warns of precisely this menace in his discussion of Shi'a belief and thought, its vision of an "ideal, legitimate state to be instituted by its leader," the Hidden Imam. Over the course of history, he writes, a "minority of Shi'ites, quite substantial and dangerous at times, would move from pessimistic idealism to an optimistic brand of the same approach—the imam's arrival is imminent, God's kingdom is bound to be brought upon earth by this messiah (mahdi), and one should help precipitate its descent by armed revolt." Ahmadinejad's intention appears to be to accelerate the Mahdi's arrival by initiating an act of apocalyptic violence. According to many reports, Ahmadinejad has even widened a boulevard in Tehran to welcome the Mahdi on his return (Newsweek, The Elephant Bar, InvestigateMagazine, etc.).
In a December 7, 2009 interview with Al-Arabiya TV, Ahmadinejad effectively reasserted his conviction, blaming the United States for blocking the return of the Mahdi. "We have documented proof that they believe that a descendant of the prophet of Islam will rise in these parts and he will dry the roots of all injustice in the world," he said. To blithely assume that Ahmadinejad does not intend to act on his words is sheer, self-destructive madness. As Louis René Beres, author of Force, Order and Justice and a respected consultant on nuclear terror, writes, "Tehran's new nuclear status could coincide with an unshakable leadership belief in the Shi'ite apocalypse. Here, Israel would face . . . a 'suicide state.' "
On September 12, 2008, the Daily Telegraph reported that Iran had transferred sufficient quantities of uranium from its conversion facility at Isfahan to make up to six atom bombs. As Ronen Bergman in his shocking 2008 book The Secret War with Iran makes utterly clear, quoting Pakistani nuclear scientist Iftikhar Khan Chaudry who was privy to the Pakistan-Iran nuclear partnership, "It is also apparent that Iran intends to utilize a nuclear weapon—in the future when a nuclear weapon would be operational—against the State of Israel." The discovery of the secret nuclear installation, called Fordo, excavated into a mountain near the city of Qom reinforces Bergman's revelations.
From the perspective of Frank Gaffney, former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for International Security Policy, not only Israel but all of us are at risk: the Iranian regime "is convinced, according to its theology, that bringing back the twelfth Imam, the Mahdi, the messiah figure, is their highest purpose, and in order to do that, according to their religious beliefs, something very much like the apocalypse needs to take place. It seems to me the height of folly to think you'll be able to dissuade them from pursuing that end, perhaps by starting a nuclear war." He goes on: "If we think we can deter mullahs who are committed to an apocalyptic, messianic program, we're kidding ourselves." Nor should we ignore the fact that Iran continues to advance its missile technology. According to Reza Kahlili, a former CIA agent who infiltrated the Revolutionary Guards and has just released his memoir A Time To Betray, Iran is perfecting a new delivery system, the R-27, which brings almost all of Europe and much of Asia within its range. As if this were not a sobering enough thought, a report by the U.S. Department of Defense tabled in Congress on April 19, 2010 warns that Iranian ICBMs may reach American shores by 2015.
And think about this. Iran may soon be capable of launching from a nondescript vessel in the Pacific an undetectable high-altitude EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack over American soil. Should this ever happen, the social and economic cratering would be tectonic. Indeed, the damage to the nation's electrical grid following an EMP assault would be catastrophic and the cascading effect on major infrastructures would result in the destruction or critical impairment of the financial system, the communications network, distribution of food and water, medical care, trade and production and, of course, military defence. Even Democrats, professional socialists, media appeasers and left-wing ideologues would find their pensions and investments reduced to nil, which would at least represent a form of ironic justice. William Forstchen's One Second After gives an accurate account of what the aftermath of such an attack would be like.
Of course, there are many observers and commentators who believe that Iran has a natural right to nuclear development—see, for example, Max Rodenbeck writing in The New York Review of Books, Harvard professor Patrice Higonnet's Attendant Cruelties, John Mearsheimer's and Stephen Walt's The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, Juan Cole of the University of Michigan speaking on MSNBC, Slavoj Zizek, now Director of the Birbeck Institute at the University of London, who argues in an article for the webzine In These Times, entitled "Give Iranian Nukes a Chance," that Iran has a right to nuclear defence against "the global hegemony of the United States," and innumerable others.
These pundits contend that it is time to stop hitting on Iran. They argue as well that a strike against Iran's nuclear installations would result in far more damage than allowing Iran to proceed toward nuclear capability. George Friedman, lead writer at Stratfor Global Intelligence, cautions that a military strike against Iran would be counterproductive, blocking the Strait of Hormuz and sending oil prices through the roof—in the current economic downturn, an especially unpleasant scenario. He suggests the alternative of an alliance between the U.S. and Iran to contain Sunni insurgence, along the lines of FDR's compact with Stalin to oppose Nazi Germany and Nixon's entente with China to counterbalance the Soviet Union.
What Friedman leaves out of his geopolitical equation is the manifestly irrational, theocratic nature of the Iranian regime. Nuts as Stalin and Mao may have been, they were still rational actors on the international stage; the same cannot be said for Ahmadinejad and his boss, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Reza Kahlili assures us that Khamenei "has private prayers with the Mahdi. It's all crazy talk but they take it seriously." This is why, regarding Iran, MAD is a fool's paradise. This is also why the strategy of actually containing Iran, whether through a buildup of regional alliances or the construction of a missile shield, is fundamentally unsound. It would neither mitigate the anti-Western shift in the regional balance of power nor prevent Iran from arming its proxies with nuclear devices. Besides, just how effective is a missile shield?
The inescapable fact is that if Iran gets its way, the world will be a far worse place than it is at present. Regrettably, what we have here is a lose-lose situation. But the choice that confronts us is: which option is least worst. I believe the answer is clear.
A & O: For most of your professional life (1970-2006) you were a literary critic, poet, teacher and author of some 25 books. And now (since 2006) you rather suddenly find yourself on the front lines of journalism. If each represents a way of caring for, engaging (être engagé) with the world, do you regard your literary life as a necessary preparation for the more meaningful life you are living now? Is politics, political journalism the higher calling?
David Solway: You know, I've never made preferential distinctions between the various categories of writing. I mean, even though poetry is my first and last love, I don't set it in some kind of structural hierarchy. I was always happy or at least felt I wasn't wasting my time so long as I was 'writing': poetry, prose, songs; literary criticism, educational theory, travel; essays, letters to the editor, op-eds, even fiction (for which I have little talent—I withdrew the one novel I've written, which had been accepted for publication, on the strength of my wife's generally infallible advice). I don't consider what I'm doing now "political journalism," though it obviously falls objectively into that niche. It's more like a cry in the urban wilderness and an attempt to address the most pivotal questions of the age, before which poetry, for example, is utterly helpless. Poetry has no audience, really, except other poets—most of them politically clueless and unteachable anyway—and an attendant coterie of belletrists and dilettantes. Poetry won't take me where I have to go now. I need to try and reach out to as many minds as possible since I truly believe we no longer have the leisure to preoccupy ourselves with ancillary issues. Not that we can't do or write other things, but rather it's a question of concentration and the proper use of one's intellectual resources in the midst of a world-historical conflict. I don't feel as if I have a choice in the matter. The issue is pressing, what David Horowitz calls the "unholy alliance" between the political Left and radical Islam must be fought tooth and nail. This is no joke.
The Left has always been enamoured of grand historical schemes and demagogic models of social and political salvation, making common cause first with the dictatorship of the proletariat and now, from all appearances, with the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. Evidence for this entente, this betrothal, was provided by Cairo's Al Ahram Weekly [early May, 2007] which commented approvingly on the close relations between "the anti-global left and Muslims," congratulating the Left for "finally overcoming its traditional resistance to the cultural conservatism of Islam" and concluding that "likewise Muslims are reaching out to the left." The ad-hoc collaboration between the international Left and the Islamic Right, or Islamofascism, is the Monadnock in today's political peneplain, as we witness the rise of yet another form of the politics of fascism.
There's nothing much I can do about this quandary except scribble away, for what it's worth, which means, at least for the time being, that I must abandon my first and last love. But what I do now is not really political journalism, it's cultural engagement. It's not a "higher calling." In the world as we find it today, it's simply a more necessary calling.
In conclusion, I've done my best to answer these questions as candidly as possible. But if you'll permit me to say, I sense that many of A & O's readers need to put some hard questions to themselves, and the sooner the better.