Military history

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Maledicta

WORDS OF HATE

THE TWO OPPOSING SIDES AT LEPANTO IN 1571 SHOUTED TO EACH other from the galley decks. We can deduce a few things about that exchange. Although the crews and soldiers might not have the language spoken by the enemy, provided they could hear the sounds of speech above the din of battle, their minds would have attempted to make what was said intelligible. Human physiology dictates that the brain cannot choose not to process what it hears as sound. David Crystal puts it, “When we hear sounds, we hear them as speech, or non speech: there seems to be no middle ground. No matter how hard we try, we cannot hear speech as a series of acoustic hisses and buzzes, but only as a sequence of speech sounds.”1

Curses, maledictions, insults, and invocations of divine aid against the hated enemy were what both Christians and Muslims would have expected in such an extreme context. But the process of understanding what was being said even in the midst of battle was little different from what happened in the mixed communities around the Mediterranean on a daily basis over many centuries. In everyday encounters, the human brain would process all speech sounds. Face-to-face, gesture and body language could be read even if the words were unintelligible. Mistakes might be made, but it was usually easy to determine from the circumstances whether the speaker’s intention was friendly or hostile. The first channel of understanding—interpreting the sounds—is involuntary; only by physically blocking off the sound can this be prevented. The second channel—attributing meaning to those sounds—is, I suggest, in part a conditioned reflex based on past experience and in part a reasoned assessment of the current situation. For example, an insult or a coarse suggestion shouted across the street is usually clear as to its intention. Such an interchange exists below the level of understanding what the words mean. The hearer does not need to master the exact meaning of the words to know that they are not compliments. In his novel Bosnian Chronicle, Ivo Andrić presented precisely such a situation. At one point in his story, set in the Bosnia of 1804, a new French consul, Jean Daville, rides with his escort through the streets of Travnik to meet its Ottoman pasha:

Then as soon as they reached the first Turkish houses, they began to hear curious sounds: people calling to one another, slamming their courtyard gates and the shutters of their windows. At the very first doorway a small girl opened one of the double gates a crack, and muttering some incomprehensible words began spitting rapidly, as though she were laying a curse upon them. One after the other, gates opened and shutters were raised to reveal for a moment faces possessed with a fanatical hatred. The women, veiled, spat or cursed, and the boys shouted abuse, accompanied by obscene gestures and unambiguous threats, clapping their buttocks or drawing their hands across their throats … Daville saw them dimly, as though through an unpleasant veil trembling in front of his eyes. No one ceased working or smoking or raised his eyes to honour the unusual figure with so much as a glance … Only Easterners can hate and despise others to such an extent and display their hatred and contempt in such a way.2

Daville knew hate when he heard and saw it. (Would he have been more, or less, affronted had he understood what the women were shouting at him? He might have been able to respond effectively in kind; but on the other hand, the insult might have been even more mordant.) The insults got through, penetrating the armor of incomprehension.

Words of hate, like words of love, have a strong sense of intention.3 The Christian and Muslim worlds have been religious, geographical, political, and economic rivals and competitors since their point of first contact, and it is no wonder that words of hate rather than words of love have predominated when one world evoked the image of the other. But thereafter, the process and consequence of evoking that image diverge. How was hostility formed out of two contrary experiences of life? The first was, and remains in some areas, that of living side by side. The second was when the object of hatred was never experienced directly, but was nonetheless terrifying. This was largely how the image of the lustful Saracen or the terrible Turk was formulated in the West by scholars who never lifted their eyes from the pages of their texts. Living in close proximity might give a human dimension to the Other. Lack of contact might allow the formation of Romantic notions, which infused many genres in literature and the visual arts. But the outcome was not necessarily predetermined by the context.

Maledicta exist everywhere. Many people use them, but normally in a private or restricted context. Their significance is defined by where and to whom they are addressed. Everyone will talk to their friends and peers in a language that they would not use publicly—to their parents, their boss, or other figures of respect. But when private speech becomes public knowledge, its significance shifts.4 The power of curses and abuse is directly related to this resonance and since the invention of print, the boundaries between the private and the public contexts have slowly diminished. There is an important distinction: words spoken inside a family, in an isolated village, are functionally (if not philosophically or theologically) different from the same words published in newspapers or broadcast worldwide on television and radio.

From reading Mikhail Bakhtin, I began to get an insight into this world without fixed meaning or solid structures. Perhaps Bakhtin’s harsh experience of life was reflected in what and how he wrote. He was born in 1895, the second son of a prosperous provincial banker. A golden early career ended when he fell foul of Stalin in 1929. For the whole of his adult life, revolution and the social transformation of Russia distorted Bakhtin’s fate. Instead of falling victim to a bullet in the neck or a one-way trip to the gulag, Bakhtin was sent into internal exile in Kazakhstan. There he taught bookkeeping by day and studied by night. By remaining silent and inconspicuous he escaped a new purge in 1937.

The war with Germany created a need for foreign-language speakers and meant that he was allowed to teach German (in which he was virtually bilingual) to high school students. But even after the war ended he was still regarded as “unreliable.” In part this was because he refused to denounce his Orthodox roots and upbringing. With his “cosmopolitan” interests and connections he was lucky to survive a third purge of intellectuals in the 1950s. It was only in the 1960s that Bakhtin was rescued from obscurity, by a group of scholars who had read his work and were amazed to find him still alive. By then he had lost a leg through osteomyelitis, and walked on crutches or unsteadily with a stick. Cheap cigarettes, smoked incessantly, gave him a permanent cough and the emphysema that eventually killed him. (In the depths of World War II, lacking paper, he had torn up the only copy of one of his manuscripts to roll his own cigarettes.)

All the work that he wrote, unobtrusively, in exile or in self-imposed isolation, was shot through with a theme of impermanence. Insecurity and change were the constants of his life and mutability was the essence of his scholarly message. It was present in his studies of Dostoyevsky, in his essays published in English as The Dialogic Imagination, and in his greatest work, on Rabelais. He saw almost every word in a language as being in a state of flux, as it interacted or was colored by the use of other words. This “intertextuality” was natural. For Bakhtin the normal, healthy state of life involved interaction with others. Whatever they did or said affected you and influenced your response. Yet this mutual relationship could never be congruent. Bakhtin told a story of two people looking at each other. Consider them as an observer looking at another observer. You are one, someone else is the other.

You can see things behind my back that I cannot see and I can see things behind your back that are denied to your vision. We are both doing essentially the same thing, but from different places: although we are in the same event, that event is different for each of us. Our places are different not only because our bodies occupy different positions in exterior, physical space, but also because we regard each other from different centres.5

Bakhtin’s work has helped me to understand the opposing poles—“Christian infidel” and “Muslim infidel”—as being conjoined, as “enemies in the mirror.”6 But over many centuries, while each might have been aware of the other, even observed the other, neither could, as Bakhtin suggests, see what the other sees. The relationship between “one” and “another” would also be constrained by their relative social, political, or military power. Ultimately they were incommensurable.7 Words of hate and images inviting disgust were a direct product of differences in position. Bakhtin described what happens when such words are uttered: “The utterance is related not only to preceding but to subsequent links in the chain … From the very beginning the speaker expects a response from them, an active responsive understanding. The entire utterance is constructed, as it were, in anticipation of encountering this response.”8 In this dialogue language is both a “weapon” and a “shield.”9 The deliberate intensity of insults, spoken or written, makes their effect unpredictable. Maledicta are the most volatile and dangerous elements in any language.

Following Bakhtin’s idea of dialogue, there are two parties to every malediction. It might seem logical that the person affected most directly is the one insulted. But I believe the reverse may be true. If you are the object of an insult, you may not know that it has happened, or understand exactly what has been said, like Ivo Andrić’s character Consul Danville. Today the most foul and gratuitous insults lurk on the Internet, but are never read by their intended victims. But those who curse certainly hear the words, resonating in their own mind. Even if you are the intended target of a curse (and both hear and understand the insult), you still have the power to deny it. Crude maledictions like “cockroaches” or “sons of monkeys and pigs” no doubt make those who say them feel good. But they rarely hit their target, for who will believe such an insult directed against them?10

This kind of abuse has a different purpose, to define communal differences, between “them” and “us.” They are portrayed as subhuman or not even human at all. We are human, with our roots in higher values. Demonized enemies—whether those of “impure blood” or “sons of monkeys and pigs”—have no part in human society: words or images are used to cut out from the codes and taboos that govern relationships between human equals. No longer human, they are not entitled to humane treatment. These ultimate words of hatred have now become enormously more effective with modern mass communication.11

A HISTORY THAT ENDS IN THE PRESENT IS NEVER COMPLETE. I rewrote this last chapter in the months after the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York, and it bears the mark of those perfervid days. The lead-up to this book’s publication in May 2003 spanned the war in Iraq; now I am rewriting it again, this time in that war’s aftermath. In a sense, the question “What went wrong,” the headline to Professor Bernard Lewis’s article in the Atlantic Monthly in January 2002, and the title of his best-selling book, has now come to epitomize an era of the immediate past. I say past because the military conquest of spring 2003 has moved us beyond Lewis’s diagnosis, and into unknown territory. Rather as the West’s involvement in the Balkans has produced a plethora of books, articles, television, and movies, so too long-term intervention in Iraq is replicating that process. The reason is obvious. Bismarck once said that Germany’s interests in the Balkans were not worth “the healthy bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier.”12 The daily sacrifice of Western soldiers transforms the nature of any distant conflict, generates a new need to understand.

Lewis’s great strength is his limpid prose and skill in simplifying complexity.13 But it works best on a topic with which a reader is unfamiliar. The more we see and know of the East, the less persuasive it becomes. What seemed clear and unambiguous when viewed from a distance, before 2003, now appears more complex and intricate close up. I have argued in this book that the Western view of the Mediterranean Muslim world was rooted in a distant past, and the consequences of that imprinting still affect Western attitudes today. But I have, correctly, been reminded that this process too alters over time. As John Adamson put it:

Since the Enlightenment … the West has challenged Islam not merely with a different theology but with a wholly different conception of the state: with the principles that the religious and the secular can (and ought to be) wholly separate spheres; that political power ascends upwards from the people rather than some potentate appointed by God; and that even Christian teaching can be countermanded by legislation when they are at variance with the popular will.

Western modernity’s intellectual challenge is therefore qualitatively different from what has gone before.14

Adamson is absolutely right. The challenge of Western modernity produced a remarkable ferment of speculation in the Islamic East, but not in a form that the West has found easy to understand. So “What went wrong” needs to be set in context. For many centuries political and philosophical thought had languished in the East, not least because the Ottoman rulers did not encourage it. As a consequence, the fruits of the European Enlightenment reached the East rather late.15 Thereafter, Easterners sought (and seek), in the eyes of many modern commentators, to acquire the superficial trappings of Western economic and material progress, without recognizing that these develop from a commitment to education, freedom of thought and enterprise, and an open, essentially secular society. Those commentators put the East’s failure to become enlightened down to stubborn obscurantism, and simple bad faith. But they expected too much. Any encounter between the revolutionary ideals of the Enlightenment and a traditional society structured around religious faith would inevitably be difficult.16

Nor has progress always had an easy passage even in Europe or the United States.17 Resistance to a godless and secular society existed in rural areas everywhere. Throughout the nineteenth century many conservative Europeans, completely unreconciled to the alien ideals of progress, abhorred every aspect of modernity.18 For the vast rural majority, especially in eastern and southeastern Europe, in France, Spain, and the mezzogiorno of Italy, these new political and social ideas had no meaning: the faithful usually believed what their priests told them.19 The resistance to change was not very different in the regions under Islamic rule.

But the challenge of new political and social ideas, new technologies, also produced a particularly ardent response among many Easterners, from rural as well as from educated urban backgrounds.20 This challenge from Western modernity stimulated an intellectual revival unparalleled for centuries. In the towns and cities of Mediterranean Islam, there was the same range of attitudes toward change and modernity as in the cities of western Europe. Some educated Muslims, local Christians, and Jews opted for a secular style of life, living with Western rather than traditional furnishings, reading books in French and English, debating and discussing ideas with all the verve of Parisians or Viennese.21 Others remained believers but engaged with the issues thrown up by contact with the West. Marshall Hodgson’s brief pen portrait of the Egyptian savant Mohammad Abduh could stand for a whole class of similar Muslim thinkers:

[He] liked to visit Europe to restore his faith in mankind. But he accepted nothing from the West unless it passed his own rigorous standards. When he rejected taqlid (adherence to established interpretation) and tradition, he rejected them not in favour of Westernisation ad libitum but of Muslim ijtijad (freedom to question and interpret ideas)… He was influenced by many modern European thinkers and by none more than Comte, whose positivism had exalted scientific objectivism … yet who called for a new religious system to meet a persisting human need, provided it could be consistent with science. But Abduh was convinced that it was Islam which could provide that religious system.22

The Islamic thinkers of the late nineteenth century were very much aware of Western modernity in its physical and political manifestations.23 Some, like Abduh, knew the European intellectual revolution from which it emerged; but their thinking developed in opposition to what they saw as the negative character of the West. This grew out of a long tradition. At Al-Azhar in Cairo, the oldest university in the world, scholars had debated the shape and structures of the faith since the late tenth century. This tradition of criticism and scholarship in Cairo outlasted its competitors in Damascus and Baghdad, and from the early nineteenth century the city became a pioneer in the printing and publication of secular, nationalist, and also religious material. In the years after World War I, as Egypt remained in thrall to Britain, much of the political debate in Cairo began to focus anew on the Holy Qur’an and the hadith for guidance. This had to be done carefully. Islam was opposed to the idea of innovation (bid’ah), which would undermine the concept of a perfect revelation of the ideal society.24 Change had to be presented, rhetorically, as “no change,” or better, as a reversion to an earlier and purer state of society. A new practice had to be embedded within an unchanging paradigm. Nevertheless there was a tradition of speculation, for unobtrusive reexamination and reinterpretation of questions that had been closed centuries before.25

In the early history of Islam there had been a tradition of ideas passed on by pupils, each of whom listened to the words of his master, and then transmitted them to his own successors. It was a chain binding each scholar irrevocably to his predecessors and to those who in turn had learned the truth from his own lips. A similar chain of connection linked the theorists and activists of the Islamic revival, each of whom added his own contribution. An intellectual movement centered upon fighting the power of the West began with a complex figure called Jamal al-Din, often known as Al-Afghani, who taught in Egypt, was exiled to Paris, and eventually died in Constantinople in 1897. He called on Muslims to resist the West, to turn the West’s own weapons and techniques against it.26

One of his most devoted supporters was Muhammad Abduh. When Al-Afghani was expelled from Egypt, Abduh followed him to Paris. There they published a short-lived journal called the Indissoluble Bond, which preached Muslim unity in the face of Western power. Abduh’s work was continued by his pupil, a Syrian called Rashid Rida. He in turn became a powerful influence on Hasan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, and on its most notable theorist, Sayyid Qutb.27

Banna created a new kind of political and religious organization that began “as a youth club with its main stress on moral and social reform through communication, information and propaganda.”28 Banna began a tradition where Islamist politics were allied to providing assistance for the poor and dispossessed. By 1940 there were more than 500 branches in Egypt, which had risen to 5,000 by 1946. Banna’s Ikhwan al-Muslimim found many adherents throughout the Middle East, where they were often ruthlessly repressed by secular authorities. King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia said he had his own ikhwan, and politely declined their offer to establish a branch in his domains.

Sayyid Qutb was both a scholar and a prolific author, who wrote his last (and arguably) his greatest work in prison in the 1960s. He became one of the leading figures of the Muslim Brotherhood. When he was hanged on the orders of the Egyptian government, he turned into a martyr in the eyes of his supporters. A younger Egyptian, Abd al-Salem Faraj, suffered the same fate as Qutb; in 1979 he had founded a group called the Society for the Holy War (Jamaat al-Jihad), usually known simply as Al-Jihad. On October 6, 1981, Al-Jihad succeeded in killing the president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, whom they had proscribed as an evil prince. As one of the assassins publicly declared, “I am [Lieutenant] Khalid Islambuli. I have killed Pharaoh and I do not fear death.”29 For Faraj, Islambuli, and their group, Sadat merited death. “We have to make the Rule of God’s Religion in our own country first, and to make the Word of God supreme … there is no doubt that the first battlefield for jihad is the extermination of these infidel leaders [“corrupt” Muslims like Sadat] and to replace them by a complete Islamic Order. From there we should start.”30

Al-Jihad believed in the near-magic potency of a dramatic revolutionary act. In their eyes, “killing Pharaoh” would ultimately usher in the restoration of a true Islamic state.31 Unlike Qutb’s profuse and articulate writings, Faraj wrote only one single work, an eighty-page pamphlet called The Neglected Duty (Al-Faridah al-Gha’iba), but its influence was out of all proportion to the number of copies printed.32 Faraj, like his predecessor, had joined the chain. He advanced the idea that in the desperate situation of his own time, the (lesser) jihad, or armed struggle, had became the individual duty of each and every true Muslim. If not exactly an innovation, this represented a complete reversal of many centuries of Muslim practice. This was in Faraj’s eyes the duty which had been “neglected.” His concept of struggle waged through a symbolic chiliastic act had a long-forgotten parallel within Western thought in the nihilism of the nineteenth-century Russian anarchist Nechaev. Political murder created a “propaganda of the deed” against the czarist autocracy. But in Russia this had proved a rootless, aberrant idea, and when it spread West, these nihilistic killings had little of the impact that Nechaev had confidently expected.

In the Islamic world, symbolic violence had a different history. Faraj linked his jihad back to the earliest days of the faith, which gave these murders a solid context and ideology that had eluded the rootless anarchist Nechaev. By stages the Islamic revivalists also abandoned any hope that virtue would ever come from the secular Muslim states. Only a godly society “rightly guided” by the Holy Qur’an would do. They refused to make any compromise or accommodation with the powers of the earth, whether these were governed by Muslim rulers or were Western mass-democratic states. They were driven by the conviction that through endless sacrifice and implacable determination their jihad would eventually triumph. For the revolutionaries, the blood and sacrifice of the martyrs would eventually restore the purity of the faith. Moreover, the destruction of every one of those who were “corrupt upon earth” would hasten that salvation. How such enemies were designated was tied only very loosely to tradition and long-established custom.33 Ancient maledictions were easily adapted to meet the needs of contemporary polities.

In the modern era a new meaning and practice of jihad has been evolving.34 This transformation has two distinct facets: its meaning within the world of Islam and its impact outside. But the two, of necessity, intersected. In 1978, the revolutionary Iranian government violated all the rules of diplomacy and seized the staff of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Some years later, on NBC television, the spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, explained himself.35 He talked of America as “the great Satan, the wounded snake.” The U.S. reaction was continuing outrage at the treatment of its citizens and contempt at being described as the devil. It was supporting Iraq in her long war with Iran.

Few noticed the “wounded snake,” the last part of Khomeini’s denunciation. It was classed as mere abuse. In fact, this was the deeper meaning underlying his verbal assault. The ayatollah was referring to an ancient tale of the imam Ali, whose father, Hussain, was martyred at Kerbala. Hussain’s cruel death was the founding moment of Shia Islam. This gave the parable a special significance in Iran. The story recounted that once Shaitan (the devil) had decided to disturb the imam’s prayers. The devil then took the form of a snake and bit the imam’s legs continuously. The imam felt the pain but he continued praying as if nothing had happened.36 What Khomeini was saying was that the devil, the United States, might wound but could not impede the devoted Muslim. A wounded snake would perhaps become more vicious but it would weaken and eventually die.37 “All-powerful” America, he believed, would ultimately give way to the God-given power of Islam.

No institution (or a recording angel) has collected many of the recent examples of public Christian maledicta against the Islamic world. However, there is an organization that has translated and then disseminated very many of Mediterranean Islam’s diatribes against the West, and Israel. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) was established in Washington, D.C., in 1998 with the aim of “bridging the language gap between the Middle East and the West.” Its political objective is “to inform the debate over U.S. policy in the Middle East”; its status is that of an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, translating and disseminating material in eight different languages.38 Despite these claims, its single-minded political commitment is overt, and in pursuing it, amid much other material, the institute has assiduously garnered Arab maledicta.

Some of the most mordant texts translated by MEMRI are the Friday sermons to the faithful in the mosques, recorded and then often spread by modern technology over the Internet. (I have also found public sermons and addresses in the West a similarly valuable source of words of hate.) In both cases a modern political message is expressed in highly traditional terms. On March 21, 2003, Palestinian TV broadcast a sermon by Sheikh Ibrahim Madeiris. He spoke in a way that would have no ambiguity for his immediate audience:

Allah drowned Pharaoh and those who were with him. Allah drowns the Pharaohs of every generation. Allah will drown the little Pharaoh, the dwarf, the Pharaoh of all times, of our time, the American President. Allah will drown America in our seas, in our skies, in our land. America will drown and all the oppressors will drown.

Oh people of Palestine, Oh people of Iraq. The crusader, Zionist America, has started an attack against our Iraq, the Iraq of Islam and Arabism, the Iraq of civilization and history. It opened a Crusader Zionist war against Iraq. If Iraq is defeated, if the nation [of Islam] is defeated in Iraq—this will be our last breath of life … It was only natural that America would invade Iraq. When Afghanistan was devoured we said that if Afghanistan would be devoured, Iraq too would be devoured and I warned that if Iraq is devoured, south Lebanon will be devoured too and Syria should also start preparing because the rest of the Arab world fell without war. This is a Zionist Crusader war. It is not I who say this, it was the little Pharaoh [Bush] who announced it when he stated that this was a Crusader attack. Hasn’t he said this?39

Faith provides the frame of reference in both Muslim and Christian maledicta. In a Saudi sermon, from which MEMRI presented selected excerpts, the preacher declared:

Today we will talk about one of the distorted religions, about a faith that deviates from the path of righteousness … about Christianity, this false faith, and about the people whom Allah described in his book as deviating from the path of righteousness. We will examine their faith, and we will review their history, full of hate, abomination, and wars against Islam and the Muslims.

In this distorted and deformed religion, to which many of the inhabitants of the earth belong, we can see how the Christians deviate greatly from the path of righteousness by talking about the concept of the Trinity. As far as they are concerned, God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three who are one …

They see Jesus, peace be upon him, as the son of Allah … It is the Christians who believe that Jesus was crucified. According to them, he was hanged on the cross with nails pounded through his hands, and he cried, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” According to them, this was so that he would atone for the sins of mankind …

Regardless of all these deviations from the path of righteousness, it is possible to see many Muslims … who know about Christianity only what the Christians claim about love, tolerance, devoting life to serving the needy, and other distorted slogans … After all this, we still find people who promote the idea of bringing our religion and theirs closer, as if the differences were minuscule and could be eliminated by arranging all those [interreligous] conferences, whose goal is political.40

However, as we shall see, zealous Christians can be just as ignorant and insulting about Muslims.41

JIHAD HAS CHANGED ITS MEANING, AND SO TOO HAS THE TERM “CRUSADE.” As we have seen in chapter 8, from the early nineteenth century the word developed two parallel meanings. One was as the technical term to describe the “historic” Crusades in the Middle East, which had previously gone under a variety of names. The other was as a synonym for “fighting fiercely in a good cause.” Thomas Jefferson’s “crusade against ignorance” was probably the first usage in this sense.42 But this style of militancy retained a strong connection with older values, although this is less widely recognized in the West than the revival of jihad. I have found little or nothing published on the new traditions of “crusade” while there is a plethora of new books on the Muslim holy war. But the evidence and the practice of crusading today is there for all to see.

“Fighting talk” is still widely used. One pastor described a successful visit to India in March 2000: “I was invited to preach a crusade in India … When we arrived, I immediately saw all the devastation and spiritual decay, and it grieved my heart. Hindu temples of every kind were at practically every corner … All glory given to God, over 420 Hindus were saved!”43 It seemed bizarre to me that he should be surprised by Hindu temples on every corner in the parts of India that he visited: what was he expecting? However, this evidence of the enemy’s powerful presence did not daunt him. Since 1976 another pastor, Dr. Davy Ray Kendrick, has delivered Kings Cross Victory Crusades all over India.44 He and his devoted staff “have a united vision of delivering One Million Bibles to the people of India who are hungering for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and have never held a Bible in their hands.”45 The language of holy war was also used by other Christian missionaries. Two, Jerris and Juanita Bullard, both working in India, were described as “worthy warriors.”

What comes to your mind when someone says war? Do you think of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, D-Day, perhaps the Korean or Viet Nam War, Desert Storm, the ongoing conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, or East Timor? As horrible as these wars can be, today, I am writing about the war of all wars and two worthy warriors. It is a war that “… is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:1–12).

It is a war to free those who have been taken captive by the devil and his followers. Who are these warriors in the Lord’s Army? They are the Christians who proclaim the freedom found in Jesus Christ.

Among the Lord’s many dedicated warriors, two Missionaries to India, Jerris and Juanita Bullard, are surely worthy of the Lord’s Distinguished Medal of Honor. They continue to attack the strong holds of Satan in India seeking to free captives.46

They were “battling on the front lines.” War in a good cause—crusade—has clearly remained a fundamental part of Christian missionary dialogue.47 This use of the word “crusade” was denied by Professor Bernard Lewis, writing on September 27, 2001:

In Western usage, this word has long lost its original meaning of “a war for the cross” and many are probably unaware that this is the derivation of the name. At present, “crusade” almost always means simply a vigorous campaign for a good cause. This cause may be political or military, though this is rare; more commonly it is social, moral or environmental. In modern Western usage it is rarely ever religious.48

This is a curious observation. “Long lost its original meaning … rarely ever religious”? Lewis’s assertion, delivered with all the weight of a renowned scholar, was confected to address the politically embarrassing “misspeaking” by the U.S. president of the word “crusade,” to which I shall come shortly. The professor was adapting a classic (if cheeky) old challenge: “Who are you gonna believe? Me, or your lyin’ ears?” In fact, the association of crusade and religion has remained omnipresent both within evangelical Christianity and outside it.49 But Lewis was not entirely adrift in his interpretation. In the United States, “crusade” also means for most Christian people “something moral and virtuous.” But by asserting only part of the story, he has spread ignorance and not enlightenment. Unfortunately the impact of the word “crusade” on the world outside the United States is analogous to the impact of the word jihad beyond the Islamic community and context.50

Both jihad and “crusade” are relics from an earlier era that have survived into present. Just as ideas of jihad have always been present within Islamic society, so too “crusade” has a long, continuous history within “Christendom.” But the new jihad and the new crusade have mutated, and in the process acquired new political and social force. They are not living fossils but rather products of the twentieth century.51

“Crusade” in its older meanings still has its public advocates.52 Dr. Robert Morey, a fervent anti-Islamist, has founded a Crusaders Club. It has three grades. A “Crusader” pays $25 a month and receives in return a free Tape of the Month and a bumper sticker. To become a “Lion Heart” requires paying $100 monthly, and for that one receives the free Tape of the Month, and the bumper sticker, but in addition a subscription to the Quarterly Journal of Biblical Apologetics, as well as a special Faith Defenders coffee travel mug. A “Knight” has to commit to $5,0 annually. But a “Knight” is given a Faith Defenders Crusader’s Sword, and special quarterly messages by Dr. Morey, as well as all the benefits that accrue to the lower grades of membership. Top of the range is membership of King Richard’s court. A “Courtier” is granted access to Dr. Bob’s personal e-mail address, a selected battle piece of armor, and a free invitation to the annual Crusaders Club banquet. However, all members subscribe to the same statement of principle:

The religion of Islam stands to be the greatest threat against humanity that the world has ever known. I therefore agree with this statement and will pledge my support. I also understand that my donation will further the efforts of Faith Defenders to reach these lost souls for the sake of Christ. I stand firm with Faith Defenders and further understand that at this time in history, we are in a crisis of epic proportions.53

It is easy to dismiss these and similar campaigns as unimportant, but modern means of communication have given both the new jihadists and new “crusaders” an extraordinary range, far greater than they ever possessed before.

MALEDICTA IS THE NAME I HAVE USED TO DESCRIBE THE TRADITIONAL and historic system within which “Christendom” relates to “Islam.” It was first assembled in the distant past, but the edifice has been rebuilt, added to, and modernized over the centuries. But like any historic structure, it is built on old foundations. Maledicta are about cursing—not so much about the everyday “bad language,” but formal and purposeful imprecations. Many cultures use curses or words of power, but in both Christendom and Islam the pronouncing of a formal malediction was a most solemn act, replete with dire consequences. To sense the power of such a curse we can read the all-encompassing malediction, the “Great Cursing,” of Archbishop Dunbar of Glasgow upon the bandits (reivers) of the Anglo-Scottish border. Originally written in Scots, it loses a little by being rendered in standard English:

I curse their head and all the hairs of their head; I curse their face, their brain, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their forehead, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their legs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without.

I curse them going and I curse them riding; I curse them standing and I curse them sitting; I curse them eating and I curse them drinking; I curse them rising, and I curse them lying; I curse them at home, I curse them far from home; I curse them within their house, I curse them outside their house; I curse their wives, their children, and their servants participating with them in their deeds. I curse their crops, their cattle, their wool, their sheep, their horses, their swine, their geese, their hens, and all their livestock. I place my curse on their halls, their chambers, their kitchens, their stanchions, their barns, their cowsheds, their barnyards, their cabbage patches, their ploughs, their harrows, and the goods and houses that are necessary for their sustenance and welfare.

May all the malevolent wishes and curses ever known, since the beginning of the world, to this hour, light on them. May the malediction of God, that fell upon Lucifer and all his fellows, that cast them from the high Heaven to the deep hell, light upon them.

He continued, ramifying and extending his imprecation, to the final and absolute anathema:

And, finally, I condemn them perpetually to the deep pit of hell, there to remain with Lucifer and all his fellows, and their bodies to the gallows … first to be hanged, then ripped and torn by dogs, swine, and other wild beasts, abominable to all the world. And their candle goes from your sight, as may their souls go from the face of God, and their good reputation from the world, until they forebear their open sins, aforesaid, and rise from this terrible cursing and make satisfaction and penance.54

This sixteenth-century anathema against the evildoers has an antique ring. But it also has more modern resonances. The Islamic religious decree, or fatwa, was virtually unknown in the West until the condemnation by Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1989 of the author Salman Rushdie for his Satanic Verses. Such was its blasphemous and evil effect, Khomeini said, that the author deserved to die. Pastors, priests, and ministers inside the Christian churches were also inveighing against evil to their congregations, but their most extreme sanction was spiritual.55 Moreover, their efforts had little impact outside the communities of Christian believers in a largely unbelieving society. Khomeini pushed the language of evil once more into the center of the political domain, an example which political figures in the West were reluctant to follow.

The classic exception was President Ronald Reagan and his famous “Evil Empire” assault on the Soviet Union. The address that President Reagan had delivered to the British House of Commons on June 8, 1982, has since become known colloquially as the Evil Empire Speech.56 But oddly, the words do not exist in the official transcript. On that occasion and before the notoriously cantankerous British parliamentarians, President Reagan had eschewed this emotive phrase. He reserved it for a very different audience.

The Reverend Richard C. Cizik, a vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, had suggested that Reagan should deliver a speech on religious freedom. On March 8, 1983, the president obliged. In the Citrus Crown Ballroom of the Sheraton Twin Towers in Orlando, Florida, Reagan spoke to the assembled evangelists. He touched on all the traditional topics that preoccupied his audience. He spoke of abortion, school prayer, of the “spiritual awakening” of America. Then he spoke of history:

But if history teaches anything, it teaches that simple-minded appeasement or wishful thinking about our adversaries is folly. It means the betrayal of our past … So, I urge you to speak out against those who would place the United States in a position of military and moral inferiority … I urge you to beware the temptation of pride—the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.57

Reagan, a skillful speaker, had selected his register to suit the audience. In London he had intended to touch different bases: freedom, democracy, a turning point in history. He declared that totalitarianism and communism were destined for the “ash can of history.” Symbolically perhaps, the disquisition on “evil” was reserved for a niche group, the congress of pastors at Orlando.58

In Europe Reagan was often condemned as a buffoon, who misspoke, said the unsayable, stepping outside the boundaries of proper political discourse.59 That was also my view until I heard him speaking directly to the nation in one of his regular “fireside chats,” modeled on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s pioneering talks in the 1930s. Every Saturday, starting in 1982, Reagan talked to Americans about the political and governmental issues of the day. The performance was flawless, convincing even to a skeptic. Every word fell into place, every intonation conjured up a man talking to you across the room, not across a continent. Thereafter I listened to his speeches wherever and whenever I could. Years later I realized that the three modern American master orators—Roosevelt, Reagan, and Clinton—could all speak to the millions and yet make it sound as though they were chatting to a friend. Sometimes their message would be homely and intimate, at other times more presidential and solemn. Their instinct was not just for the right word or the telling phrase, but for that right register, the appropriate tone for the event. They would lead the listener (or the viewer) seductively through their message, never an opportunity wasted. All three were the great persuaders of twentieth-century politics.60

But none of them, not even Reagan, was a fervent crusader, in the Christian sense.61 His campaign against communism, his conservative and Republican credos, were all acquired with his second marriage. Religious convictions played a relatively minor role in the careers of both Roosevelt and Clinton. But Clinton’s successor, George Walker Bush, the son of Reagan’s vice president, is different. He, like Reagan, is a convert, but unlike his predecessor he was been born into the Republican aristocracy. His conversion was from the myriad sins of the flesh (notably alcohol) to the rapture of being “reconfirmed” (his own word) in Jesus Christ. Some questioned his sincerity, but there is no evidence for such cynicism. George W. Bush is a true believer, like indeed the majority of his fellow Americans. He reads the Bible daily.62

FROM THE BEGINNING OF THIS BOOK I HAVE WORKED WITH THE NOW traditional historical assumption that, through the twentieth century, the West became increasingly secular while in the Eastern, Islamic world religious faith remained the more potent, both in society and politics. I am not suggesting the tired old fallacies about an unchanging East stuck in an immutable past, or as Edward Said memorably put it, “confined to the fixed status of an object frozen once and for all in time.” He added “by the gaze of western percipients,” but I think that is too simplistic. Other local agents, closer to home, were also implicated in that process. But while staring East I failed to notice what was happening to the West, an even odder omission since my main theme is the Bakhtinian reflexive and reactive nature of the relationship between the enemies in the mirror.

On Inauguration Day 2001, a reconfirmed, or born-again, Christian became the forty-third president of the United States. Contrary to the fears of many, but dictated by political prudence, this seemed at first to have had little effect. The second President Bush ran a traditional administration, despite the many passionate believers in its ranks. Until, that is, the cataclysm of September 1, 2001, called for a response off the scale of normal political responses. Now, thanks to Bob Woodward, no natural admirer of George Bush, we had within months of the events an insight into the conduct of affairs in the hundred days after the catastrophe in New York and Washington D.C. In Bush at War the author makes himself the omniscient narrator, who builds up his favorite characters, cheers for his heroes, and hisses at the villains. But despite this tiresome semifictive format, the important fact is the evidence on which his account is based. The sources are very solid. All the main actors in the drama spoke to him, at length, and often over several meetings. The president himself had two long, laid-back meetings with the journalist, and he described to him how he heard the news of the attack on New York and what dominated his response as seen on TV. “What you saw was my gut reaction coming out.”63

Gradually, George W. Bush learned more and more to trust those visceral responses. He intimated that meetings planning the war should begin with prayer; he said repeatedly that this was the moment that a new United States would be reborn in the eyes of the world: “I do believe there is the image of America out there that we are so materialistic, that we’re almost hedonistic, that we don’t have values, and that when struck, we wouldn’t fight back.”64

There were reasons for the president’s celebrated use of the word “crusade” in the aftermath of the atrocity. Faced with an apocalyptic situation, with fires still burning in New York and the smoke from the Pentagon visible in the heart of Washington, D.C., he was convinced that he had to find the right register for his first public speech after the catastrophe. He was certain beyond doubt of the dominating presence of threatening evil in the world. He had mused openly in these terms during a campaign speech at Albuquerque, New Mexico, in May 2000: “We’re certain there are madmen in this world, and there’s terror, and there’s missiles and I’m certain of this.”65 On the afternoon of Sunday, September 16, 2001, on the south lawn of the White House, he spoke to the press and the world:

We need to be alert to the fact that these evildoers still exist. We haven’t seen this kind of barbarism in a long period of time. No one could have conceivably imagined suicide bombers burrowing into our society and then emerging all in the same day to fly their aircraft—fly U.S. aircraft into buildings full of innocent people—and show no remorse. This is a new kind of—a new kind of evil. And we understand. And the American people are beginning to understand. This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.66

The president was tired and drained by the turmoil of events. The day before, he had been at Ground Zero in New York. Now he spoke from the heart, in a rambling and repetitious fashion, as he said, on the Lord’s day.67 But he made sure that he hammered home the word “evil” or “evildoers” time and again. His remark about a crusade came in an off-the-cuff response to a journalist’s question. What Bush actually said was: “This … this … this … crusade … this [pause] war on terrorism.”68 Listening to a recording again, you are struck how he struggled to find the right word, which was, for him, “crusade.”69 This was a word that came from deep inside, a gut reaction. It meant a lot to him: it signified the struggle of good with evil.

It was the right response to what was, Bush said, “a new kind of evil.” Everyone would know what he meant, deep down. For the same reason he again used the language of maledicta on a much more formal and better prepared occasion. The utterances on September 16—the repeated reiteration of “evil” and “evildoers,” the invocation of a crusade—were in an impromptu setting. But in his next State of the Union message, on January 29, 2002, he once more insisted upon the same register:

States like these [Iran, Iraq, North Korea], and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.70

Would “axis of hatred” have had the same impact as “axis of evil” in January 2002? Probably not. Some words are curiously resonant, and “evil” is one of them. So too are “crusade” and jihad. For much of the history described in this book, “infidel” was another. “Terror,” “terrorism,” and “terrorist” have acquired many of the attributes of fear and horror that once attached to Turks and Tartars. There were many such regressions to the older world of maledicta in Bush at War, but one that stands out in particular.

The president had signed a new intelligence order, the gloves were off.

“You have one mission,” Black instructed [Cofer Black was the director of the Counterterrorism Center at the Central Intelligence Agency] … “Get Bin Laden, find him. I want his head in a box.”

“You’re serious?” asked Gary [“Gary” was the senior agent on the ground in Afghanistan] … “Absolutely,” Black said. The new authority was clear. Yes, he said, he wanted Bin Laden’s head. “I want to take it down and show the President.”

“Well, that couldn’t be any clearer.” Gary replied … In Afghanistan a few days later, the agent asked Washington to fly in some heavy duty cardboard boxes and dry ice, and if possible some pikes.71

Incredible, perhaps, but Bush had been hugely impressed by Black’s go-getting attitude. In the president’s inner circle the CIA man was known as “the flies on the eyes guy,” from his earlier comment “When we’re through with them [Al Qaeda], they will have flies walking on their eyeballs.” Woodward concluded, after his lengthy interviews with Bush, that the commander in chief was “tired of rhetoric. The president wanted to kill somebody.”72

This dialogue seems more suitable to a sixteenth-century Ottoman sultan and a pasha eager to please than to a twenty-first-century United States administration. The reader’s mind races. What did Gary intend to do with the pike? Decapitate bin Laden with a government-issue machete, then parade it still dripping blood through the cheering ranks of U.S. troops, rather like the head of the Ottoman admiral at the battle of Lepanto? What this little episode suggests is that once you have entered the world of maledicta, with its accursed enemies, it is near impossible not to fall from a modern world respecting progress into the dark domain of raw faith. But just imagine if Black’s plan had been fulfilled, and he had carried the head of America’s evil enemy, in its dry ice, triumphantly into the Oval Office. How would the president have responded to this culmination of his crusade?

The exercise of realpolitik generates so many similar examples of casual but necessary brutality that this minute picking over of a few words might seem a ridiculous scholastic exercise of the “how many angels can dance on the point of a needle” variety. But watching history in the making, without the benefit of hindsight and an archive, demands that we consider these tiny physical traces like those that archaeologists use to reconstruct an image of lost worlds. The argument of this book is that words and images matter, because it is often in these casual, ephemeral productions that the uncensored truth resides. Censorship can be of two types. We all self-censor, and the presentation President Bush makes of himself after preparation is very different from the man speaking off-the-cuff or under pressure. Then there is the censorship or artful rhetoric produced by professional speechwriting. In the hundred days after the murderous attacks on New York, it was the unguarded moments that provided the greatest insights and revelations.

THERE IS NO PROBLEM IN REVERTING TO THE APOCALYPTIC REGISTER, to maledicta—if you are willing to accept the consequences. The columnist Arianna Huffington expressed the issue succinctly:

I was always troubled by the President’s repeated references to “the evil ones”—from his first press conference after the attack, when he mentioned “the evil one” and “evildoers” five times, to his recent vow that “across the world and across the years, we will fight the evil ones, and we will win.” I objected not because the terrorists aren’t evil but because, as much as we would love it to be true, such a simple demarcation of good and evil flies in the face of history, religion and human nature.

The lure of this kind of reductionist thinking is not a new one. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, himself a victim of some of the most horrific evil of the 20th century, warned against it in “The Gulag Archipelago”: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”73

It is enormously difficult to keep the language of maledicta under control, to hold it within bounds. It touches too many deep and visceral feelings, dramatizing the conflict between a good and an imperfect world.

If the “evildoers” do pose an omnipresent or mortal threat, then perhaps the only alternative is to pursue them to the last extremity. So let us consider the operational realities, as Cofer Black might put it. In the medieval or early modern total wars against evil, even the primitive methods of social control were relatively efficient. How much more, then, could be achieved with the modern systems of information and control? It would mean reverting to the inquisitorial mind-set I described earlier in this book. There is a high price in social terms for reinventing heresy. But there should also be the nagging doubts as to whether it would work. The evildoers now seem to be more powerful than ever, and like the unclean spirits in St. Mark’s gospel, their name is Legion.74 However, demonizing new enemies like Al Qaeda in crusading language is to misunderstand their power and practice. The temptation is to consider them primitives stuck in a set of seventh-century beliefs. According to traditional Western thought, these fanatics would have no truck with images, television, or the Internet. But they are not primitive in this sense. Osama bin Laden is not preoccupied with ancient prohibitions, like the public display of images. His face is everywhere.

THE EMINENT POLITICAL SCIENTIST BASSAM TIBI HAS DESCRIBED this mélange of tradition and modernity as a “half-modernity,” which he calls “a selective choice of orthodox Islam and an instrumental semi-modernity.”75 Charles Kurzman puts it into a more precise context: “Few revivalists actually desire a full fledged return to the world of 7th century Arabia. Khomeini himself was an inveterate radio listener, and used modern technologies such as telephones, audiocassettes, photocopying, and British short-wave radio broadcasts to promulgate his revivalist message. Khomeini allowed the appearance of women on radio and television, chess playing, and certain forms of music. When other religious leaders objected he responded, ‘the way you interpret traditions, the new civilization should be destroyed and the people should live in shackles or live forever in the desert.’ ”76

This hybrid is hard to understand if you believe Islamic culture has remained essentially unchanged from the seventh century. Even as shrewd an observer as Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, resorted to crude cultural stereotypes to sustain a view of changelessness. I quote his words exactly as he spoke them:

Cultures that see themselves in contest with the West, and see themselves as really great proselytizing cultures themselves, like that of Islam, find it very difficult to adapt to somebody else’s dominance, to adapt to modernity … if you look at the way men dress in the world, it’s always to me a very interesting indication. Japanese prime ministers and businessmen wear Western suits. Chinese prime ministers and businessmen now wear Western suits. In the Arab world it is essentially a mark of dishonor to wear a Western suit.77

This is plainly wrong. In Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and much of Iraq, Western clothes (shirt, trousers, or a suit) are normal business attire for urban men.78 These states are just as Arab as those of the peninsula and the Arabian Gulf, yet government officials and businessmen in the northern Arab lands do not normally wear the thobe (sometimes colloquially called the dishdash) or the abaya. As in the West, the clothes that a man wears in these countries is determined by local custom, status and wealth, age and social circumstances.

What is Zakaria suggesting? Are only those who wear traditional dress honorable Arabs? Yet even that traditional dress is in many parts of the gulf a reinvention, rather like the kilt in late-eighteenth-century Scotland.79 And many peninsular Arabs who wear national dress every day at home often don a suit when in the West. I suspect he is hinting that Arabs are fixed in the past, socially (almost genetically?) incapable of accommodating change or becoming modern. Such an observation might be understandable from some ignorant stay-at-home but not from an erudite and widely traveled scholar. So how can he mistake the evidence of his own eyes?

This is a new version of a very old story.80 For many nineteenth-century Western visitors to the East, local dress—the flowing robes, the turbans or Arab head cloths (kaffiyah)—marked them as exotic primitives. Yet the modernized dress—Western frock coat and peg-top trousers of the Ottoman—was not an indication that they had emancipated themselves, becoming “modern.” Instead it was evidence of duplicity. They might pretend to welcome the blessings of Western modernity, but they would always relapse into their cruel and atavistic ways. At best they might claim a “half modernity,” taking the technological productions but never the philosophical underpinning of Western Enlightenment. Those unvoiced fears of Eastern untrustworthiness are still with us.

I may be unfair to Zakaria, who always writes carefully and circumspectly.81 He might have “misspoken.” Yet it was said publicly and with such deliberation that perhaps it revealed what he thought but would not write. There is still an ambivalence toward the Islamic world that was magnified by the events of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent “war on terror.” Yet those events only catalyzed a fear which has older and deeper roots.

THE POLICY OF REMAKING IRAQ AFTER THE COALITION CONQUEST OF 2003 has been clouded by ambivalence. On one hand, there is the plausible vision of a society that can and might embrace liberal democracy. This is Zakaria’s perspective: “Iraq is already a nation. It is not even a failed state. It is a failed political system, which needs to be transformed. In doing so, America and others in the international community can help. But ultimately it is Iraqis who will build a new Iraq. The single most important strength a society can have is a committed, reformist elite.” What will sustain the change is never forgetting the horror of the last thirty years. “National trials, memoirs, truth and reconciliation commissions, oral histories—all will help maintain and recover that memory.”82 All of which is true, but as this book has argued, the power of collective memory is notoriously difficult to direct or contain. The underlying doubt in Washington seems to be: will modernity really take root in all its aspects?

Behind many Western approaches to a new Iraq lies a growing but unstated fear that the long period of Ba’ath rule might incongruously come to be remembered not just for its tyranny but also, nostalgically, for its bread-and-circuses lavishness. The vicious former government of modern Iraq was cruelly oppressive, but also committed to technical modernization and huge expenditures on social benefits. Spending on social reform and industrial development ended only when the cost of the Iran-Iraq war began to bite in 1982–83.83 Will the recovered memories of atrocity, even when buttressed by institutions of liberal democracy, be sufficient to prevent recidivism? Or do the leaders of the world superpower privately fear that there is in some collective Muslim Arab psyche that which tends toward secular tyranny, or, just as bad, inexorably toward an Islamic state?

In formulating their responses Western policy makers might recall the ancient game of Scissors, Paper, and Stone. The rules are simple. “Two people face each other each with one hand behind their back. On an agreed signal each draws their weapon. The weapons are stone (a clenched fist), paper (an open hand), and scissors (index and third finger extended). The rules of combat are: stone blunts scissors, paper wraps stone, scissors cut paper. Therefore, each weapon beats one of the others, and loses against the third. If two identical weapons are drawn a tie is declared.”84By analogy, the West has been trying to play a very similar game in its relations with the Islamic East, trying to find the winning strategy. Yet time and again it has made the wrong judgment as to which (ideological) weapon to use.85

Dealing with Arab “mulishness,” the choices come down to the stick and the carrot. Or there is the third alternative: the Texas mule tamer, who ends up killing the mule to get its attention.86 The policy makers’ fundamental error stems from misunderstanding the nature and capacity of their opponents. Before them the U.S. administration does not see a part reflection, an “enemy in the mirror,” but something alien, at worst a dark chimera, less than human, an evil incarnate. This distorted vision more or less guarantees political failure.

In the real world, as in the game, another approach might prove more productive. It involves making unpalatable but necessary assumptions. For example: recognize rather that these evildoers (to use President George W. Bush’s term) could be supple, resourceful, creative; assume they may be endlessly adaptive in their remorseless challenge; accept that in pursuit of their fell cause, they might possess both the intellect and confidence that make them strong where the Western world is weak. And finally, be certain that they will readily use the instruments of modernity when they choose, for they disseminate their ideological product by “viral marketing.” This viral analogy is relevant to the spread of terrorism, for infective viruses cannot be controlled by traditional antibiotic methods.87

The measures adopted by the president and most of his main advisers against the “evil enemy” have attacked only the symptoms and not the underlying condition. The Bush administration, viscerally predisposed toward a war on evil, has looked only to destroying the bodies that house the infection. But they are blind to the true nature of their opponents. The ancient language and ideology of evil has predisposed the U.S. government to see their enemy only as some crude, inflexible, quasi-medieval relic to be extirpated with fire or the sword. In their minds, he is a savage wearing a turban. Osama bin Laden aptly fulfills that stereotype, as did Saddam Hussein, in all his many costumes. Try as they might, the administration cannot escape from a gut reaction, for “turban” symbolizes all those primitive impulses described earlier in this book.88

Nevertheless, the U.S. government has always been adamant that there is no question of a religiously inspired Western attack upon the Islamic world. This is plainly right. There is no “war of the cross” with President George W. Bush caucusing like a twenty-first-century Urban II. But crusading is not so much a technical definition as an attitude of mind, and it is easy to find many examples of that way of thinking in Western nations. I shall deal with the outspoken General Boykin, who knows his own mind, in the next chapter, but he is probably not the only U.S. official who thinks the same way yet sustains the political vow of silence as necessary for the national strategy. To the degree that this kind of doublethink is widespread, it will impede any attempt to find an appropriate and effective response to an elusive enemy.

The United States confronts a remorseless opponent, like a virus endlessly changing its shape and mutating to counter the strengths and qualities of the most powerful nation on earth. But are there alternatives to attacking it in the political language of evil? Experience suggests that current quick-fix strategies will never remove this subtle and resourceful enemy. Nevertheless, the West can respond effectively, by developing a slow-acting antiviral. This would first require a shift in both attitudes and language. A starting point might be found in Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the section of the United States Declaration of Independence which contains the phrase “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” His original draft was more comprehensive, but the phrase “pursuit of happiness” survived editing and redrafting, rather as “axis of evil” survived into President Bush’s State of the Union address. The language of happiness was a common political discourse at the time that the declaration was compiled. It has been considered so inclusive as to defy precise definition.89 Such objectives were not unique to the United States but no other nation made it a founding principle of its existence. Moreover, it was clear that happiness was not an otherworldly objective, to be achieved in the hereafter, but something that related to the conduct of everyday life.

In his first inaugural address, on March 4, 1801, after a fiercely contested election, which eventually tied at thirty-seven electoral college votes with his opponent Aaron Burr, Jefferson warned of a crabbed and constricted political imagination: “And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.” The success of the young United States depended, in his view, upon a “sacred principle”: “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle … If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”90

Is this just another of the sententious platitudes that often figure in Enlightenment public rhetoric? I think not: here is a uniquely powerful, combative idea. Reason, in Jefferson’s view, is a weapon that will undermine or neutralize “error of opinion.” It is more adaptable, more resilient, and more dangerous to “error” than the blind certainties of faith. Lurking in these words, it seems to me, is the germ of the antiviral, a powerful ideology more than capable of resisting this new “viral” enemy. Maledicta or a “crusade against evildoers” is a decrepit and antiquated response to an enemy who might appear to take an ancient shape, but who is in reality infinitely adaptable, more postmodern than modern. The alternative is to follow the language and ideology implicit in Jefferson’s resonant phrases.

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