The other day I was asked by an email correspondent to comment on a recent piece by David C. Engerman that appeared in “Foreign Policy.” Engerman’s piece is both unremarkable and remarkable at the same time. It may be called “unremarkable” though the word seems somehow churlish when used about it, because – as we shall see – the piece is also, in these great times, even more “remarkable” than it is “unremarkable.”
But we can begin by noting that, looked at in one way, it is “unremarkable” because its gist is simple and, one might think, obvious: that the American government should do today, with the threat it currently is attempting to deal with, just as it did during the Cold War. And what did Americans do in the Cold War, daddy?, you may well ask. The answer is: just about everything. But in order to have the ability, and will, to do just about everything, the American government, which had treated Soviet Russia as an ally during World War II, had to put away that temporary (and justified) alliance, and begin to get a more reasonable idea of what the Soviet Union was all about. Two decades of warnings from Russian Ã©migrÃ©s had done little. The Comintern had been most effective in blunting Western opposition, and then along came Mr. Hitler with his crazed invasion of the Soviet Union, his greatest error of tactics and timing, and the Soviet Union was, in the American view, off to the races as our ally.
But then came the peace, or the haggling over what the post-war settlement would look like. Franklin Roosevelt was not quite as suspicious as Churchill of the Soviets, and unfortunately it required acts of obvious aggression – the Red Army entering, and not leaving, the countries of Eastern and Central Europe – for the Americans to finally get the point. But once they got the point, there was no further wavering on this side of the Atlantic, among those who were in the government, being our leaders and not merely “taking a leadership role.” During the 1930s there had been a series of defectors from the Soviet Union, given little attention, but after World War II new defectors, some even from the KGB, appeared in the West, and they were joined by large numbers of people who had, in the turmoil of the war and post-war periods, managed to escape from the new satellite nations or, in some cases, from the Soviet Union itself. And some of these people had even fled Europe just before the war, one step ahead of the Nazis and, as it turned out, two steps ahead of the Communists who would follow the Nazis. Such names as Richard Pipes, Adam Ulam, Czeslaw Milosz, Leopold Labedz, come to mind.
Many of these people found work in universities, or like Labedz, went to work editing magazines devoted to the scholarly study of the Communist bloc. And the Americans already benefited from a group of diplomats – beginning but not ending with George Kennan – of those who had been posted to the Soviet Union, knew Russian and were not fooled in the least by Soviet propaganda.
Engerman knows a lot about this, for he has written a history of these people, of those who constituted that hastily-formed original cadre, and those who were added in the decades after the war, many of them refugees, who continued to stream out (more came from Hungary, after the 1956 uprising, and then from Poland, when Gomulka in 1967 began to push Jews out of their jobs, and there were always others, with their fantastic journeys westward, such as the remarkable Tibor Szamuely, who went to teach in Ghana, then headed by Kwame Nkrumah, Osagyefo, who sympathized with what he thought were the Marxist nations. And from Accra, Szamuely made his way to England where, as a teacher and writer, he did so much to keep British (and American) brains free from any illusions about Communism or the Soviet Union.
It’s quite a story, and no doubt Engerman, who has written that history of that story, was struck by the contrast between what the Americans did then, and what they are so singularly failing to do now: to make use of similar refugees from the world of Islam, including those who, while not Muslim, have a native command of the relevant languages – Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, and so on. These should be supplemented by the subsidized creation of a homegrown cadre of experts on Islam who, being well-prepared in the ideology of Islam, will be immune to personal charms radiating from individual Muslims (think of the effect of Ahmad Chalabi on various members of the Bush Administration).
Europe realized that it had to learn a good deal about Communism, and Russia, and the way the Soviet system worked. And so it did. For once the Soviet Union, and smiling Joseph Stalin, our World War II ally, had their measure taken. The government remained steadfast in its correct understanding that the Soviet Union was a mortal enemy of the West, that it would try, through every means at its disposal, to undermine the position of the West, not least through a worldwide propaganda effort, in which “Peace Festivals” and “Youth Congresses” would play their part, and Soviet agents would find many, especially in the Communist parties of the West, who would act as apologists and agents for the Soviet Union and its polices, foreign and domestic.
And thus, says Engerman, just as the history of Communism in theory and practice, and Russian history and literature and culture, and Soviet-Area studies (including all the member-republics back in the USSR), including relevant languages, were all subsidized and promoted by the American government. For all of them constituted aspects of the problem. And then there was even a reading of Kremlin-tealeaves, figuring out what the disappearance from group photos of the Politburo might mean, and who was in, and who was out, and whether Malenkov or Beria would succeed Stalin, and what Brezhnev’s health was really like – all of it subsumed under that ungainly title “Kremlinology.”
Engerman suggests that now the American government should go and do likewise, that is, imitate its former self. He suggests that this new field be called “Jihadology,” a term that I think many will find so rebarbative, and comical, that they won’t want to use it. And there really is no need to use it, for we can talk about “study of Jihad” or, if we are truly daring, create “experts on the ideology of Islam” or “experts on the doctrine of Islam” and other – or sometimes the same – “experts on the history of Islamic conquest and subjugation of non-Muslim peoples.” Might such people not be called, simply, “students of Islam”? Apparently that will not do for some. Perhaps the proffered term “Jihadology” will at least focus attention on the word – on the duty – of Jihad, and that would be a good thing.
And then there is another word, once perfectly adequate and neutral – a word deliberately subjected to attack by the sinister Edward Said. That word is “Orientalist,” and it was a good and useful term, for it covered both those who studied Islam, and those who studied the history of Islam, of Islamic conquest and would-be conquest. One wonders if, however, having been subject to such meretricious assault, the word “Orientalist,” now that it has fallen into desuetude, can be revived and brought back in to current, and unapologetic usage.
The word-wars can be fought later. But those who come to JW know just how obvious, how “unremarkable,” Engerman’s suggestion is. Think of how many dozens of times, at this website, the point has been made that unless Islam is studied, unless the texts of Islam – Qur’an, Hadith, Sira – are read and understood, unless the attitudes that arise naturally from the tenets of Islam, and the atmospherics of societies suffused with Islam analyzed, the flailing about, the endless gullibility in dealings with Muslims will continue. See those who rule Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, and how they intend to extract even more tens of billions from the Americans. We shall continue to have the squandering of men, money, materiel, and morale, that has been such a dismal feature of the response, so far, to all that has happened since the attacks of 9/11/2001, which ought to have merited a response with a lot less baby-huey tromping around, and a lot more thought and cunning, exploiting every pre-existing fissure within the Camp of Islam, and attempting to create the conditions that will force at least the most advanced Muslims to recognize all the ways in which the political, economic, social, intellectual, and moral failures of their own societies are a result of Islam itself.
Here are a few examples from JW that make, with different emphases, the same point, again and again, as does the “unremarkable-remarkable” article in Foreign Policy by David Engerman.
There is this from my tribute to Bernard Lewis, June 17, 2004:
The academic study of Soviet Russia was, at least in the United States and the United Kingdom and partly in France, in the hands of people who knew exactly what was wrong with Soviet Russia. Think of Hugh Seton-Watson, Richard Pipes, Adam Ulam, Helene Carrere-d’Encausse, Alain Besancon, Karel van het Reve and the Herzen Institute in Amsterdam, Leo Labedz, and his indispensable one-man magazine in London. Think of the emigres, including Kerensky himself, or Nabokov (who truly stood au-dessus de la melee, but inflicted great damage in all the right quarters, by himself, that “one-man multitude,” on the image of Communism among those who came to inhale his prose and took away a complete worldview). Think of the effect of the Chekhov Publishing House, of Novoye Russkoye Slovo (with educated editors, from Vishniak to Weinbaum, in the old days). Think of the mysteriously-funded French publishing house Les Ils d’Or: I have four of their books right on my desk now: “Staline au pouvoir”, by Alexandre Ouralov, A. Ciliga’s “Au Pays du Mensonge Deconcertant” and “En Siberie,” A. Krakovwiecki’s “Kolyma” (traduit du Polonais).
And when one had to study Russian, whether in college, or at Monterey, or elsewhere, one’s teachers were not sly apologists for, or agents of, Communism or Soviet Russia. They were people who hated Communism.
But with Islam, with the Jihad, everything is different. No official support or recognition is given to the ex-Muslims who have just as much to tell us about Islam as did the defectors from the K.G.B. and the refugees. There is nothing comparable to what existed to inform the West about Soviet Communism. Why is Ibn Warraq not supported? Where are the congressmen who are willing to call Ibn Warraq, Ali Sina, and others to testify, and to promote a greater understanding of what Islam is about? Are they all afraid of offending assorted Muslim leaders? Are they all mesmerized by the word “religion,” which implies something — to them — untouchable and off-limits? Can’t they use the word “belief-system,” which has been repeated, in this space, thousands of times?
And as for the grand scheme to throw tens of millions of dollars into the teaching of Arabic and other supposedly relevant languages, that is not likely to bring any greater understanding of things. What, after all, has not been translated? Expert translators at such organizations as MEMRI translate every text, every sermon in the khutbas, every column in Al Watan and Al Ahram and Al-whateveryouwant. There is not much one really a great need, though that is seen as the need, to add to the supply of Arabic speakers. It would take a fortune, and many years, to produce a cadre of Arabic-speakers who could replace those who most obviously are both available and trustworthy — those “refugees” from Islam who know that world so well, including Maronites, Copts (whose relatives are safely out of Egypt), Arabic-speaking Jews (including some from every region of the Arab world, well-versed in its dialect), and the disaffected former Muslims among the Iranian refugees.
What is needed is not linguistic training so much as the intelligent analysis of the situation and a thorough grasp not only of the tenets of Islam, but of those fissures within the world of Islam that may be exploited and how they may be exploited.
It is unfortunate that the endless naivete of the American government, including Congress and officials at every level, federal and state, is likely to result in greater sums of money being used to employ Arabic-speaking Muslims who will, in their gentle and sly ways, not only be used to first introduce innocent American students to the declensions and conjugations of Arab nouns and verbs, but who will also, along the way, with those encouraging smiles at the tentative first steps of the unaccustomed tongue, and those little asides about “life under occupation” in “Palestine,” or about the “exaggerations” in the American press, slowly but surely — and it will depend a good deal on exquisite politeness, and personal charm, and seeming sympathy (in which Arab culture specializes) — win over those students even as they are officially being prepared to learn the language which supposedly will make them better at comprehending the threat of Jihad, and in warily recognizing all the arts of taqiyya and kitman.
Americans are innocents — abroad and at home. A few of these Arabic-language students will see through the subtle propaganda of their teachers; many, however, will not. It will be nothing like the experience of those who, fifty or forty years ago, studied Russian under those who had suffered from, and hated, Communism.
And there is this from my September 2008 piece “Defamation of Islam?”:
During the Cold War, the Herzen Center (Karel van het Reve, Director) was an important ideological outpost for the right side, along with such samaritan organizations as that one-man band (and the one man was Leopold Labedz) that magazine of East European affairs, Survey. When the real history of the Cold War is written, Survey and Encounter and those Dutch such as Karel van het Reve will be given pride of place, or should be.
Where are the anti-Jihad equivalents now, in London or in Amsterdam or Paris, of those people and magazines and institutions, that received generous backing from the American government, and helped wage that famous “war of ideas” that in the end did help wear out the Soviet system, and cause even those within it to begin to question whether the whole thing made sense?
If the Western world refuses to recognize the contents of Islam, the menace of Islam, of course it will never support a new Encounter, a new Survey, a new Herzen Institute. It will never stand up for long against these spurious claims of “defamation.”
Perhaps no Western government dares to be directly involved. Okay, then, what foundations, what maecenases, are ready to step into the breach — if only in order to preserve the world more or less in acceptable form, for if it is not so preserved, all the money in the world will not be much recompense.
Okay, Mr. and Mrs. Maecenas: all the phones are open. We are ready to take your pledges. These calls may be monitored for quality control.
Or this from my article on the State Department, “Nest of Ninnies”:
As for Gehlen, he did less for Western security and the ultimate liberation of Eastern and Central Europe than did Leopold Labedz, sitting in his London flat, editing articles for Survey, or than Melvin Lasky, editing the CIA-funded magazine Encounter, the best magazine of the last century and possibly the best thing the CIA has ever done. Would that the kind of people who were behind that intelligent decision were in the CIA today. Or perhaps they are just joining up, at this very minute. But that appears doubtful.
The tutelary spirits of those in the State Department who deal with such matters, that is to say, matters connected to the Middle East and to Muslim terrorism, are two: one is that of Breckenridge Long, the Assistant Secretary of State who was so instrumental in keeping Jewish refugees from being accepted into the United States before and during World War II; the second is the late and unlamented Loy Henderson, he of the doleful countenance, who was so instrumental in moving heaven and earth in keeping the United States from recognizing the nascent state of Israel, and did what he could to help smother it in its cradle. The palpable want of sympathy of Long and Henderson continues to this day — only now it is aided and abetted by the prospect of working as hirelings of Arab governments and the fear of recognizing the true nature of the Arab opposition to Israel — which is simply a case of a classic Jihad against an Infidel sovereignty in the midst of dar al-Islam, carefully redefined as a struggle for “nationalist operations” of the recently (post-1967) invented “Palestinian people.”
One regrets that the Secretary of State appears unaware of this problem. The refusal to understand the tenets of Islam in some quarters, precisely because a true understanding would make Israel’s case stronger, and the Arab case weaker, is not surprising. In the 1930s, those with an inherited or acquired animus against “the Jews” were the last to see or admit to the threat that Hitler posed — for precisely the same kind of reasons.
That is why even those who are not outraged at the hypocrisy of the treatment of Israel had better become outraged at the larger issue: the failure to come to grips with the Jihad as a natural and logical expression of central tenets of Islam, and not, as the State Department would still have us believe, simply the beliefs of a “handful of extremists,” something that expresses a “sense of humiliation.” No, it is not “humiliation” but a feeling of being thwarted, because Islam “is to dominate and not be dominated,” as the celebrated phrase puts it. Any evidence that this is not happening goes against the natural order of the universe and is intolerable to Arab and Muslim beliefs and amour-propre.
The State Department is not, as a whole, a nest of ninnies, but in the area that is now of most concern — that of the understanding of Islam, it certainly seems to be. Of course, there are those who have a glimmering of such understanding, who are horrified by the appeasement and apologetics that have characterized so much of what has gone on among those who deal with the Middle East. These include those now retired to posh positions elsewhere, and who like to assure one and all that “everyone agrees on the final disposition of things — a two-state solution.” This is said with a tone of complacent self-assurance by the likes of Edward Djerijian and his colleagues. But the evidence that this is an absurdity, that it ignores the uncompromising division of the world between dar al-Islam and dar al-Harb and the real nature of the relentless Jihad against Israel (it is Israel in any dimensions that is the problem for the Arabs and those Muslims over whom they hold sway) is not even addressed. When people start prating about what “everyone knows to be true” or start invoking the word “solution” for something that in fact will exacerbate the problem — that idiotic “two-state solution” — then one’s mental antennae should quiver.
As for what is suggested in the pages of “Foreign Policy,” the same suggestions as have been made, at greater length and, possibly, more convincingly, at JW. They become “remarkable” for they are now presented in a forum visited by members of Official Washington, people who, while unaccustomed to making judgments on their own will, if something appears in the New York Times (say, by that Irwin-corey of journalists, comical Tom Friedman), or better still, in “Foreign Policy” or “Foreign Affairs,” they will assume that its appearance means that it must be taken seriously. It’s no different from people who think that if someone teaches, say, at Princeton, he must be taken seriously, and who don’t modify their views even when they are introduced to the works and days of Cornel West. And it also helps if someone has held high office, for then one surely could not be a fool. And so when Madeline Albright, say, contributes a piece to, say, “Foreign Affairs,” no matter how idiotic, many will wish to take it seriously, to read it, to ponder it, as the article floats into their ken on that bubble, reputation.
Why is Engerman’s plumping for the encouragement of a field he calls “Jihadology,” then, “remarkable”?
Because it is an achievement to state the obvious these days: to note that there is no discernible American effort to analyze the ideology of the enemy – an ideology which we will demurely pretend is limited to just a few, those who believe in “Jihad” and whose view of the world can, therefore, be understood by those well-versed in “Jihadology.” And it is all the more “remarkable” to do this not on the web, but in the pages of one of the mainstream foreign-policy journals. It is a sign that things are moving. The ice is melting. Those who have for so long remained impervious to the idea that they have a responsibility to study, and to encourage others to study, the ideology of Islam (for that is what “Jihadology” means, what it synecdochically stands for), are losing out. They are having to recognize, at long last, that every other explanation or excuse has been held out and found wanting — such as those various “root causes” which were initially identified with poverty or joblessness or Western foreign policy, all in order to delay the day when those who presume to protect us would have to grapple with the texts and tenets of Islam, not only a religion but a Total Belief-System, and one with a hold on the minds of its most brainwashed adherents akin to that of totalitarian political doctrines, Communism or Nazism.
The appearance of Engerman’s piece in such an establishment setting indicates that not everyone can remain impervious to the obvious forever, even among those heretofore so willfully insistent on refusing to look into the ideology of Islam. Could it be that the days of the banana-peel slip-and-sliding up and down those corridors of power at long last coming to an end?