The Threat We Face

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Jacob Laksin, the managing editor of Frontpage Magazine. As a fellow at the Phillips Foundation, he reported about the war on terrorism from East and North Africa and from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He is co-author, with David Horowitz, of One-Party Classroom: How Radical Professors at America’s Top Colleges Indoctrinate Students and Undermine Our Democracy. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Weekly Standard, City Journal, Policy Review, as well as other publications.

FP: Jacob, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

I’d like to talk to you today about your view of the terror war, how the Obama administration is handling it and how a U.S. administration should preferably and ideally be handling it.

I would like to begin this discussion by talking with you about the nature of the threat we face in general. You and I have had a few disagreements (I think) in our own private discussions about Islam and to what extent it represents the “problem” in terms of the enemy we face. Tell us a bit about your thoughts on this issue, in terms of Islam and in what way you deem it to represent, or not represent, “the threat” to us in this terror war. And share with us some of your travels to the Islamic world that have, perhaps, influenced your outlook.

Laksin: First, thank you for having me, Jamie. It’s not often I find myself on this side of an interview, let alone in this space, but the honor is doubly great since one of my favorite interviewers is conducting it.

Islam is a complicated subject but I suppose where we disagree is in our definition of the threat it poses. You believe that Islam is the problem; I think there’s a good deal to that. Robert Spencer and others have made a convincing case that Islam is foundationally less tolerant, more supremacist, and more militant than other major religions and hence presents a unique threat. I’m willing to accept that argument, though more on empirical than doctrinal grounds: Wherever terrorism takes place today, Islam is usually connected. That is surely no coincidence.

But while I agree that Islam as such is a threat, I don’t agree that it is the threat. As I see it, Islamic texts may be immutable but Islam is not monolithic; it is a reflection of the society at large. Thus, Islam in Arabia is very different than Islam in Africa, and the differences are apparent even within the same continent. I’ve drunk boukha (a kind of fig liquor) with educated Muslims in Tunisia who have read the Koran, and I’ve been accosted and forcibly converted to Islam by a Muslim gang of young and likely illiterate thugs in East Africa. (I happen to be an atheist by persuasion, but when it comes to potentially life-threatening situations, I am not a stickler for principle.)

The lesson I draw from those experiences is that culture makes the difference. If you take the hothouse culture of, say, Saudi Arabia – tribal, puritanical, violent, sectarian – you are very likely to get something that resembles Wahhabi Islam. That also means that even if Islam ceased to exist tomorrow, the threat we associate with its terrorist followers would persist. I think this is what T.E. Lawrence was getting at when he wrote so lyrically of Wahabism that:

It was a natural phenomenon, this periodic rise at intervals of little more than a century, of ascetic creeds in central Asia. Always the voteries found their neighbors beliefs cluttered with inessential things, which became impious in the hot imagination of their preachers. Again and again, they had arisen, had taken possession, soul and body, of the tribes…the new creeds flowed like the tides or the changing seasons, each movement with the seeds of early death it its excess of rightness.

I see it similarly. So, while it may sound paradoxical, I think it’s simplistic to blame Islamic texts, which many in the Muslim world have not read – even in Egypt, a relatively modern state by the Arab world’s standards, almost half the population is illiterate – for the threat posed by Islamic extremism. Meanwhile, arguably the worst “Islamic” terrorist organization of the last half century, the Palestinian PLO, was at least notionally secular.

All that said, I think the points of agreement here are more important than the differences. Whether you think that Islam is the problem, or whether you think the culture from which it emerges is the problem, the same policy implications should follow: a reduction in immigration from Muslim countries; a skepticism about the Western world’s ability to transport its values and forms of government to that part of the world; a vigilance about Muslim extremism in the U.S.; and a steadfast support for democratic countries like Israel that live surrounded by the threat. If there can be some agreement on these points, I will accept that the rest is academic. Finally, though I don’t fully agree with the thesis that Islam as a religion is the main threat, I am dismayed that this is considered a fringe view while the idea that Islam is a “religion of peace” enjoys the status of mainstream truth. In a saner, more observant world, that would be reversed.

FP: Thanks Jacob, the debate on whether “Islam is or is not the problem” continues in many places and, obviously, also here at Frontpage and at NewsReal. So, while we disagree on several realms, we aren’t going to engage in a debate on it here today — and that is also not our purpose. For those interested, Robert Spencer has recently crystallized his argument at Newreal, and my own position is pretty much synthesized in my debate with Dinesh D’Souza.

Let’s follow up on the policy implications that you mention should be put in place in countering the threat we face. You point to a reduction in immigration from Muslim countries. Why is this important in your view and how could it be administered, especially in a climate of political correctness – that appears to not only shape the boundaries of national discourse but also the policies of the country?

Laksin: Several years ago, Daniel Pipes, writing of Muslim immigrants in the U.S., posed this provocative but pertinent question:

“[W]ill they insist on adapting the United States to Islam, or will they agree to adapt Islam to the United States?”

It’s because I don’t think the answer to this is definitively clear cut that a restriction on immigration from majority Muslim countries – with exceptions made for refugees and political dissidents – is a reasonable precaution to take.

Recall that twenty years ago, an operative in the Muslim Brotherhood wrote a strategy memo advising supporters to

“understand that their work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.”

It’s tempting too dismiss this as a fringe view, but unfortunately a Muslim Brotherhood-created organization, the Muslims Students Association, is now ubiquitous on college campuses and its ideals converge frighteningly with those of its parent group (It is not surprising that the president of one college MSA chapter has been convicted of aiding terrorist groups). Meanwhile, the leading the Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American Islamic Relations, has ties to a terrorist-funding charity.

I don’t mean to suggest that all American Muslims are extremists or anything like it; no doubt many would find the anti-American agendas and stealth jihad campaigns of such groups abhorrent and some – I am thinking for instance of the indefatigable Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic forum for Democracy – have labored to distance themselves from their more fanatical coreligionists and outline a vision Islam compatible with our secular democracy. At the same time, I’m very mindful of the fact that the United States has been more successful in integrating its Muslim immigrants and has fewer problems with Muslim extremism than Europe in no small measure because it has had less immigration from Muslim countries. The intifada-style riots that swept France in 2005 is something I don’t want to see repeated in this country, and a precautionary policy of restricting immigration seems to me a defensible way to do it.

Political correctness is, alas, an omnipresent factor in contemporary policy debates but I’m not sure that its impact on this issue will be decisive. First, the United States already has one of the most selective and restrictive immigration policies in the world. Moreover, the tightening of security restrictions after September 11 has made immigration from Islamic countries even more difficult. So, I think the roots of the kind restrictions I have in mind are already partly in place.

FP: What would a legitimate and effective “vigilance about Muslim extremism in the U.S” require in your view?

Laksin: There are a number of things – from monitoring mosques with suspected terrorism ties, to closer scrutiny of Muslim advocacy groups like CAIR, to extending warrantless surveillance of terrorist communications (one of the many Bush administration counterterrorism policies whose value President Obama has come to recognize in office).  Ironically, I think government officials encourage such vigilance – if very inadvertently. Every time a high-ranking official goes on television to lecture the American people that [insert Islamic terrorist act here] has nothing at all to do with Islam, which is really a peace-seeking religion, you see, Americans grow more distrustful of the official spin. I know I do. A sure way to instill resentment of political correctness is to tell people that they don’t really see what is staring them in the face.

FP: You mention the importance of a steadfast support for democratic countries like Israel. The Obama administration is wavering from that. Your thoughts on Obama and Israel and what we are seeing happening right now? Why is the Obama administration more concerned about Israelis building apartments than about Islamic entities fanning the flames of anti-Semitism, engaging in terrorism against Israel and building bombs?

Laksin: Last week there was a “fake news” hoax involving a spoof Associated Press story reporting that in private meetings President Obama had urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to get rid of the refrain “next year in Jerusalem” for this week’s Passover holiday because it would be provocative and jeopardize peace talks. That this story sounded credible to so many people is a telling commentary on the deterioration of the U.S.-Israel relationship under Obama.

I don’t know why the Obama administration – or indeed any American administration – is so determined to forge a peace settlement where there is only one serious negotiating party. (Hint: it is not the one that has refused unequivocally to recognize the other party’s right to exist.) Perhaps its hubris on the president’s part: He really does believe the hype that he is the transformational president whose vision will win out through sheer force of charm and charisma. Or perhaps this administration, like others before it, has bought into the Arab states’ self-serving and demonstrably bogus assurances that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the heart of all instability and terrorism in the Middle East. (In truth, of course, the conflict is nothing more than a convenient pretext for corrupt and repressive Arab regimes to focus their people’s fury on something other than the fact that they are ruled by corrupt and repressive regimes. They must secretly dread the day a peace deal is reached and they have no distraction from their failures.) Whatever the explanation, the administration’s conduct toward Israel has been reprehensible, especially when one considers the more pressing issues still to be addressed. I am not generally an admirer of Mike Huckabee, but I think he put it well the other day: “Israel is building bedrooms, and Iran is building bombs. Worry about the bombs, Mr. President.”

FP: Let’s narrow in a bit on the Obama administration and how it is handling the terror war overall. Your thoughts?

Laksin: With the notable exception of Iran, I think the Obama administration has a better record in this regard than it wants its supporters to know and its critics to believe. The little-told story of this administration is that, even it has a made a show of condemning the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies, it has largely replicated them. (A report in the New York Times this week tries, and fails miserably, to show that the administration has significantly changed the Bush-era policies.)  Despite the terrible decision, since aborted in New York, to try high-profile terrorists in civilian courts, the administration has kept in place the military commissions system established under President Bush – much to the fury of the ACLU. With only the most cosmetic changes, it has continued the Bush policy of detaining terrorists without trial. It has further outraged the Left by continuing the Bush policy of rendition – that is, sending terrorist suspects to other countries for detention and interrogation – even as it pretended to wash its hands of the moral stain of harsh interrogation techniques. (The most severe of which, like waterboarding, were in any case ended five full years before Obama became president.) The administration has followed the Bush administration’s timeline for drawing down troops from Iraq and it has stepped up the military campaign in Afghanistan. Targeted assassinations of terrorists have actually increased under Obama.

All this is to the administration’s credit. Now, one could justly argue that this also makes Obama a hypocrite. For my part, I don’t really care. So long as the administration has preserved these vital counterterrorism tools in practice, it is of no concern to me that it has disavowed them in theory.

It’s in the places where the administration has tried to chart a genuinely new – as opposed to rhetorical – course that it has blundered. The now-scuttled decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York was strategically stupid and a very foreseeable a public relations disaster. The president’s order to close Guantanamo without having an alternative detention facility was ill-conceived and premature, something the administration has now discovered. (Yes, President Bush also wanted to close Gitmo, but he was wise enough to refrain from ordering it closed until a new location could be found.) Worst of all, perhaps, are the administration’s repeated threats to pursue criminal prosecutions of Bush-era CIA officers who presided over the harsh interrogations of high-value terrorist detainees. Not only was that program perfectly legitimate – it was legal, safe, effective and helped foil terrorist plots and save countless lives – but the administration’s threats will surely make an already risk-averse agency even more conservative. From a national security perspective, it all seems spectacularly self-defeating.

FP: When you say it is of “no concern” to you that the administration has disavowed the vital counter-terrorism tools in theory, are you dismissing the damage done by the verbalization of ideology by elites, no matter what is actually done? A leadership’s rhetoric, let alone any rhetoric that reaches a mass audience, has a massive impact on the psychology of a nation.

Laksin: A fair point. I suppose it’s cynicism on my part. If it comes out of the mouth of a politician, my personal policy is to regard it with suspicion, and so I tend to discount the importance of political rhetoric – too lightly, as you suggest. That admitted, though, I think you can make a good strategic case for the administration’s rhetorical approach. To the Left and our critics overseas, it offers the comforting illusion that they are being listened too. To the Right, it offers the quiet compliment of largely adopting its preferred policy agenda. In a twisted way, everyone wins.

FP: When you say how “spectacularly self-defeating” some of the Obama administration’s approaches to the terror threat are, what do you think accounts for this self-defeating approach? I stand on the ground that it is deliberate destruction and self-destruction. I have a hunch you might differ from this position. You attribute it more to naiveté? Or to what?

Laksin: Motives are notoriously difficult to gauge, but if I had to guess I would say an excess of self-righteousness. On the KSM trial, the administration seemed determined to prove that it knew better than its critics – even to the extent that it has exaggerated the civilian courts’ successes in prosecuting terrorists. Why do that, particularly when you are keeping the military commissions system anyway?

We saw something similar in the health care debate. Sure, half the country opposed the legislation, but the president just knew that he was right, and darn it if the country wasn’t going to get the bill. On some level, I think the administration has internalized the liberal intelligentsia’s critique of the Bush administration, namely that it was too impulsive and insufficiently intellectual. Where Bush went with his gut, Obama goes with his head. If nothing else, Obama’s tenure has shown us that intellectuals don’t necessarily make wiser or better leaders.

FP: Hypothetically: Obama calls you today and tells you he is rethinking his strategy in the terror war and needs to start hearing some different voices. He has heard you’re one of the main people to start listening to. He wants to know some changes he should make (and some changes he shouldn’t make) on a few realms in the short-term future. What do you tell him?

Laksin: I would respectfully submit that he fire Eric Holder. From the ill-conceived move to try KSM in New York (after he’d already offered to plead guilty in a military tribunal), to the destructive witch-hunt of CIA interrogators, to the dangerously wrongheaded decision to read underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab the Miranda rights before he had been adequately interrogated, the most serious missteps that the administration has made in the terror war can be traced directly to the attorney general’s door. This needn’t continue. As this New York Times report makes clear, there are a number of Justice Department lawyers who understand the stakes in this war and are willing to take the steps necessary to win it – and who are not going to repudiate a common sense approach to counterterrorism for narrow ideological or partisan grounds. Surely any one of them would be a suitable replacement. And if it’s advice the president wants, he could do worse than to consider what some of his critics are saying – starting, of course, with Front Page magazine! (I would apologize for the blatant self-promotion, but, perpetual campaigner that he is, I think the president would forgive it.)

FP: Jacob Laksin, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.

  • andres de alamaya

    A good interview. Am in agreement with all points except one – namely: "the most serious missteps that the administration has made in the terror war can be traced directly to the attorney general’s door." I get the sense that Holder is a puppet and Obama is the puppeteer – at best, close collaborators. The most Machiavellian president America has ever had tends to hide behind his henchmen when it comes to potentially controversial issues. I recently saw a very comical and yet very sad video by Jackie Mason made during the presidential campaign on the Rev. Wright issue. It was devastatingly accurate and if it had had sufficient circulation at the time, Obama wouldn't be anywhere near the White House today. One can still find this clip on YouTube. It's worth tracking down.

  • maryann

    A good interview, but I am confused about one thing: if Islam is a reflection of the society at large, and culture makes the difference, how is the rise of America's "home-grown" Islamist terrorists explained? Even if a Muslim or Muslim convert is spending his time on radical web sites and in radical mosques, there is still the larger American society and culture in which he was raised and continues to live to counter the influence. It doesn't seem to be doing that for some people, so it seems to me that more than culture or society is playing a role.

  • BS1977

    High time for immigration reform… the form of a MORATORIUM. Any legislation that hints at amnesty for illegal immigrant border crashers should be refused. Deportation of illegal alien criminals must be a top priority. The US cannot afford twenty million more welfare cases, gang bangers and billions of dollars more for security, court costs, jail costs, prison costs for the border crashing gangs and unemployable trouble makers. Do you realize some 10-12 US citizens are killed EVERY DAY by drunken illegals, without licenses or insurance , in drive by shootings and other crimes. It is time to end legal immigration for 5 years and all illegal immigration immediately. Deport illegals….arrest them, put them on a bus and ship em out. JUST DO IT. I know, I know, the PC liberals will say this is "racism". Whatever…..

  • Jacob Laksin

    maryann: That’s a good point. I was referring more to the culture of the Middle East, which I think explains much about how Islam has evolved. But you’re right that this would not quite explain how some jihadists in the West, outwardly integrated into the surrounding culture, are nonetheless so violently opposed to it. And yet I think there is a cultural explanation – as well as a religious and ideological one – here as well. An interesting and profoundly disturbing reality is that Muslims in the West tend to be more anti-Western than their coreligionists in majority Muslim countries like for instance Turkey. That suggests that a certain part of the Muslim diaspora is in Western countries but in any significant cultural sense of them. Why that is would be difficult to explain in a few sentences but I thought that Christopher Caldwell made a worthy attempt in his recent book and if you’re interested you can read my review of it here:

    • maryann

      Thank you. It is true that "you cannot defend what you cannot define". A problem America is increasingly experiencing. I also agree with Caldwell that if Islam is to be challenged, we must offer something that is better to replace it. America is seemingly losing her indentity and sense of purpose, much like Europe. Maybe we are all beginning to wake up and remember who we are, and that we really aren't as bad as we've been led to believe.

  • Adheeb

    I certainly represent the minority report but the conflict the Western world has with Islam is a spiritual problem. Unless this problem is addressed on a spiritual level, the game is lost.

  • Steve

    Shocking! Mr. Laksin is a convert to Islam. How can we trust anything he says or writes about the subject?

  • Alexander Gofen

    Why all that dodging and waking around? Isn't it self evident that not any "culture" of the world belongs to any place? Isn't it self evident that of all especially Islam does not belong to America – a Judeo-Christian nation? That consistent Moslems have no business here and have no other goal than to undermine the American values?!

    Rid of Islam in America, period. And be aware about the objective reality of the global conflict and the tension that builds up:

  • Turbeaux

    As a response to 9/11 had we banned and reversed Muslim immigration, with an exception made for secular, nominal, and Muslim In Name Only Muslims, like Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, while at the same time also sealing off the borders, the homeland today would be far safer than it is since no devout Muslims living in the USA equals no possibility of Islamic terrorist attacks. Not to mention, that we wouldn’t have needlessly doubled the size of the federal government and federal spending also. This is one of the most tragic failures of the Bush administration.

    I mean he could have used the tragic event of 9/11 to educate the American people about the threat emanating from Islam. Instead, he hoisted the idiotic nonsense that Islam is a Religion of Peace™ being hijacked by a tiny minority of Muslims canard upon the American people and then based all of his subsequent policies and strategies on this utterly false and very idiotic assumption.

    In case the Bush supporters haven’t figured it out yet, Bush didn’t have a conservative bone in his exceedingly liberal body. He hijacked the Republican Party and then turned it into the party of big government and big spending, destroying its credibility and reputation in the process, and today a significant amount of Republicans still can’t figure out what happened at the same time they also foolishly continue to support our incredibly fantasy based efforts in the so-called war against the tactic of terrorism, which is one form of jihad out of many forms of jihad that our enemy employs against us.

    Nation building missions in Muslim countries in order to win hearts and minds is exceedingly fantasy based since Muslims, per their religion, are obligated to hate our guts no matter what. Hence, as soon as we leave Iraq and Afghanistan, both countries will inevitably rejoin the global jihad and they will do so much faster and stronger than otherwise thanks to Bush.

    Not to mention that before Bush was elected, nation-building missions for the altruistic good of others were widely denounced by Republicans in favor of using over whelming brute force to defeat our enemies and to create deterrence. Of course, before Bush the Republican Party used to be the party of small government and fiscal conservatism as well. Bush has single handedly corrupted and polluted the Republican Party and also destroyed its credibility in the process.

    Finally, the most disheartening thing of all is that there still aren’t any prospective candidates for President on the right that remotely understands the threat emanates from Islam or even understands the enormous damage done to the country and to the Republican Party by Bush.

    • Alexander Gofen

      "Bush could have used the tragic event of 9/11 to educate the American people about the threat emanating from Islam. Instead, he hoisted the idiotic nonsense that Islam is a Religion of Peace™ "

      That is true, but that is a small part of the truth! On 9/12/2001 Bush missed the unique window of opportunity to nuke Mecca and Medina – as a first step of a counter attack against the aggression: the only step proper to the great nation (if it were really great). This alone could teach Islam (or what remains of it) a lesson, and we woudl be safe for the next thousand years.

      • WildJew

        How is this only a small part of the truth? President Bush lied about jihadist killers, calling them "good friends," and men "of vision and peace." Bush lied about virtually everything related to this war. He repeatedly lied about Islam and worse he lied about our ally Israel, condemning the Jews for illegally occupying Muslim land and for humiliating and oppressing Muslims. He pressured Israel to retreat from precious / strategic land in the face of daily terrorism and violence. Bush sued for peace in the criminal United Nations in behalf of Iran and Hezbollah (Aug. 2006) , etc. Bush was an unmitigated disaster. Yet pretty much what we read and heard from the Right, including this website, were encomiums and paeans to George W. Bush.

  • Urja

    I think Islam is not a complicated subject. It is simple and can be boiled down to : just follow Mo/allah's orders as given in Quran. Do not question them and follow blindly and do not think for yourself since Mo/allah has done all thinking for you.

    All Muslims do follow this principle and continue to wreak havoc in the world as Mo/allah desires!!!

  • USMCSniper

    The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America, or AMJA publicly states that American Muslims are banned from helping U.S. soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and other “Muslim lands,” according to a shocking fatwa, or religious decree, recently issued by American-based Islamic jurists. It is obvious that such anti-military views by Muslim scholars have already translated into homegrown violence against American soldiers.

    In a series of e-mail exchanges, Awlaki personally counseled Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the accused Fort Hood terrorist, who railed against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars during a PowerPoint presentation to Army colleagues. He also praised a deadly 2009 attack on an Army recruiting station in Arkansas by a Muslim American. Hasan in late 2008 and early 2009 had asked Awlaki “about killing American soldiers and officers and whether that was legitimate or not.” In response, Awlaki gave his blessing to such attacks. After the Fort Hood massacre, Awlaki declared Hasan a “hero” and exhorted other Muslim soldiers to “follow the footsteps of men like Nidal.” Awlaki’s sermons are recorded on CDs and sold as box sets at mosques andIslamic bookstores across America.

  • jes

    One of the reasons America does not have the large numbers of Muslim immigrants/refugees that European countries have is because of America's welfare system which is nowhere near as 'generous' as it is in a lot of European countries. England seems to be the choice destination because their welfare system is extremely generous. There is high unemployment among Muslim immigrants/refugees – and their children when they reach working age. With huge families (often multiple wives) the ones on welfare are economically better off than the indigenous working poor of England. If they have enough children they are probably better off than a lot of the middle class. The more children you have the more money you get and the bigger the house that you are entitled to.

    That large numbers of Muslims may have never read the Koran doesn't mean much. They have mosques, Imans, call to prayers 5 times a day – they are verbally indoctrinated with the central tenets of Islam from the day they are born.

    Whether Muslims are better integrated in America than elsewhere is debatable. When there are only small numbers they seem integrated but as the numbers increase so do the demands followed by the riots when those demands aren't acceded to. The lack of real integration then becomes obvious.

    • Paul

      One of the reasons America does not have the large numbers of Muslim immigrants/refugees that European countries have is because of America’s welfare system which is nowhere near as ‘generous’ as it is in a lot of European countries. England seems to be the choice destination because their welfare system is extremely generous. There is high unemployment among Muslim immigrants/refugees – and their children when they reach working age. With huge families (often multiple wives) the ones on welfare are economically better off than the indigenous working poor of England. If they have enough children they are probably better off than a lot of the middle class. The more children you have the more money you get and the bigger the house that you are entitled to.

      That large numbers of Muslims may have never read the Koran doesn’t mean much. They have mosques, Imans, call to prayers 5 times a day – they are verbally indoctrinated with the central tenets of Islam from the day they are born.

      Whether Muslims are better integrated in America than elsewhere is debatable. When there are only small numbers they seem integrated but as the numbers increase so do the demands followed by the riots when those demands aren’t acceded to. The lack of real integration then becomes obvious.

      Jes-So true and i live in Londistan!

  • Marti

    I say the Israelies should build their settlements on their own land if they choose.
    The Israelies at least are building, the Palestines do nothing but tear down anything they touch. They are a tribal people always looking for more, more, more.
    They know not how to build anything but hate.

  • Richard G

    After reading that Mr. Laskin referred to the PLO as "at least notionally secular" I stopped reading in disgust. He fails to note that the driving force behind that organization was Yasser Arafat, a member of the Muslim brotherhood and the infamous Husseini family of Palestinian religious zealots. The secular, socialist facade of the PLO was likely assumed to facilitate support from the Soviet Union.

    I think part of the problem may be that Mr. Laskin is an atheist and therefore less able to understand the dynamics of Islam than those well schooled in the Jewish or Christian traditions.