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Jan 8

Written by: Diana West
Tuesday, January 08, 2008 8:43 AM 

Steve Emerson takes a break from investigating jihadist terror networks to investigate the mindset of the cultural smart set (as represented by Time's longtime movie critic Richard Schickel) on the subject of jihadist terror networks. The occasion is a review in the LA Times of Daniel Silva's latest thriller, The Secret Servant, which Schickel uses as a springboard to pooh-pooh the existential threat posed to civilization as we used to know it by the advent of Islamic terrorism. The point of such terrorism--the advancement of Islamic rule--doesn't ever enter Schickel's mind. Naturally.

While praising the book's entertainment value, Schickel takes issue with a character known as The Sphinx, whom he describes as "a smooth-talking, impeccably dressed public intellectual who is apparently the voice of liberal-minded geopolitical reason but is, in fact, a fanatical terrorist."  Schickel sees this character as the bearer of the book's message, which the critic describes thus: "You cannot trust any Muslim, and fighting terrorism in our time requires a ruthlessness not previously required in life -- or, for that matter, in popular fiction."

I'm betting Schickel is blissfully unaware that Islam's prophet Mohammed is well known for saying, "War is deceit"--a tenet jihadis purposefully follow. Meanwhile, he seems also to have missed the headlines on all too many smooth-talking, impeccably dressed Muslim leaders who have been unmasked as jihadist fanatics.

This is the point Emerson makes, arguing  that The Sphinx, far from being a thriller-writer's unrealistic prop, finds real-life underpinnings in the notorious life and times of, for example, Abdurahman Alamoudi. Emerson reminds us Alamoudi was "once the most prominent American Muslim leader, former head of the American Muslim Council, hailed as a moderate and invited into the White House and sent around the world by the State Department as a goodwill ambassador. In 2004, Alamoudi pled guilty to illegal financial dealings with a State sponsor of terrorism and confessed to his role in a plot to assassinate the then-Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia." Like Alamoudi, Emerson continues, Silva's character is caught on tape praising Hamas and Hizbollah, and later arrested  and sentenced to prison on terrorism charges.

Emerson writes: "And yet many, including Mr. Schickel, continue to deny that there is a problem at all."

Indeed, Schickel frames the jihadist threat in terms of resignation and even ennui: "Should we worry about Islamic terrorists? Of course. Should we do what we can to thwart their anarchistic ambitions? Naturally. Should we expect them from time to time to visit limited, albeit spectacular, damage on our landmarks, institutions and populace? Yes, without question, sad and frustrating as that is to say."

It's sad, it's frustrating--and it all seems quite acceptable to Richard Schickel.

He continues: "But `The Secret Servant,' written as popular entertainment and readable enough at that level, may direct your attention elsewhere: to a growth industry at least as potent (and infinitely more profitable) than terrorism. I am speaking of counterterrorism -- all those experts prattling away on cable news channels, writing their books, occupying government offices and think-tank chairs.

Counter-terrorism is a growth industry at least as potent as terrorism? This is bizarro time. Was anti-fascism "a growth industry at least as potent" as fascism? Is cancer research at least as potent as cancer? But there's more:

"Doubtless some of their work is useful, but I think we have to acknowledge this: Like thriller writers, they have a vested interest in advancing worst-case scenarios, as many as they can dream up. Also like the fictioneers, they have no interest in amelioration. There's no drama in it, nothing to scare us witless or even sleepless; they need the combustible fantasies that keep their pots boiling. They are a new generation's Dr. Strangeloves."

Sounds as if the old movie critic has seen too many movies. Wonder what it will take to bring up the lights?




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