“Counterjihadist.” If you had told me a couple of decades ago that this would be one of the many labels that would someday be attached to my name with some regularity, I would hardly have known what to say. Counter what? What jihadist?
But then these are strange times. On the evening of September 11, 2001, you might’ve expected responsible-minded, in-the-know public servants, journalists, and academic Islam experts throughout the Western world to start giving their respective publics a crash course (as it were) in Islamic jihad, so as to ensure that absolutely everybody understood exactly why those men wanted to take down those buildings. Instead, the President of the United States, the Karen Armstrongs and John Espositos, and virtually the entire Western media were quick to begin issuing fervent assurances that the terrorists were a fanatical minority who’d hijacked not only airplanes but Islam itself. Similar assurances followed hard upon every major terrorist act in the succeeding years. Those of us who knew better – who recognized that the terrorists were doing exactly what the Koran ordered them to do, and who believed that it was vitally important for everyone in the West to understand this – began to see our names yanked to a term that identified us not as people who were seeking to educate and inform but as antagonists of something to which every one of us, after all, should be opposed.
Think of it. If there was going to be such a term, every freedom-loving person in the Western world should’ve been eager to see the word “counterjihadist” appended to his or her name after 9/11. The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, after all, were jihadist acts. Ditto the later assaults on London, Madrid, Bali, Mumbai, and so on. How can you not be against all that, and proud of it? But no: the Western cultural elite managed to turn “counterjihadist” into a dirty word. One of the weirdest things of all, perhaps, is that when what is now known as the “counterjihad movement” is mentioned by those who despise it, the topic of jihad itself is usually nowhere in sight. It’s invisible. It’s irrelevant. It’s as if we critics of jihad were opposed to an entirely imaginary enemy – like mermaids or leprechauns.
Back in the day, anti-Communists had a similar problem. I’m old enough to recall the obloquy heaped upon them by bien pensant types – professors and high-toned journalists who considered active, vocal opposition to Communism the most lowbrow of pastimes. Yes, whereas today’s counter-counterjihadists act as if jihad is a figment of counterjihadists’ fevered imaginations, the anti-anti-Communists (a label they wore with pride) at least acknowledged – albeit in a bland, bored way – that Communism existed. Sometimes they even admitted that it wasn’t all that terrific. But by focusing their animus on anti-Communism, and remaining all but silent about the evils of Communism itself – indeed, by insisting that the very application of words like “evil” to Communism (à la Ronald Reagan) was infantile and hyberbolic – they drove home the idea that overt anti-Communism was worse – by which they meant less intelligent, less sophisticated, less worldly – than Communism itself. Indeed, even as self-identified Communists in America and throughout the West held positions of trust in the academy, government, the arts, and elsewhere, anti-Communists came to be viewed as fanatical, paranoid conspiracy theorists who, in the phrase of the day, saw “a Communist under every bed.” Even now, the Hollywood Ten, a group of directors and screenwriters who in 1947 were cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about their Communist Party affiliations, are considered heroes of American freedom, even though it is a matter of public record that all ten of them turned out, in fact, to be Stalinists, dedicated to destroying American freedom; meanwhile, director Elia Kazan – a former member of the Party who “named names” because he recognized Stalinism as a genuine menace to American freedom – is still remembered as a fink.
So it is today with Islam. The “counterjihadists” are the villains – the hysterics, the fools, who see a Muslim under every bed, with a bomb in his turban. Meanwhile the good guys are the counter-counterjihadists – the journalists, activists, and others who make a career of slamming Islam’s critics, whom they frequently represent (especially over here in Scandinavia) as “conspiracy theorists.” For just as the anti-Communists of yesteryear were viewed not as sober, well-informed students of life behind the Iron Curtain but as obsessive, ignorant haters, we counterjihadists are viewed not as people who’ve read the Koran and studied Islamic societies and subcultures but as semi-literate morons and bigots – and, according to one particularly noxious meme that has spread far and wide in the last couple of years, mindless disciples of what our enemies caricature as the mad ramblings of Bat Ye’or. (Never do any of these mud-slingers ever try to explain why so many writers and scholars around the world – people with a variety of professional and personal backgrounds, and with long records of thinking for themselves and of observing the world with their own eyes – all chose, apparently more or less at once, to become, supposedly, disciples of the same person.) It should be a matter of national shame for Britain that when its government banned Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller from its shores, it was doing the bidding of the counter-counterjihadists of Hope Not Hate – who, despite their manifestly Stalinist methods and sympathies, are treated by U.K. authorities as reliable ideological gatekeepers, even as the truth-telling Spencers and Gellers are tagged as anathema.
It was Susan Sontag, the doyenne of the New York leftist intelligentsia, who finally made anti-Communism acceptable among the American cultural elite. In a high-profile address at Town Hall in New York, at the very late date of 1982 – forty-five years, mind you, after Stalin’s show trials, and forty-three years after the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact – Sontag made the solemn, and much-heralded, announcement that she’d finally decided Communism wasn’t a good thing. Why did she convert? As Hilton Kramer brilliantly explained a couple of years later, it was, quite simply, a matter of style: as a result of “the collapse of the intellectual Left in France,” he wrote, anti-Communism, which had long been out of fashion among “those American intellectuals who habitually take their political cues from Paris,” was now, suddenly, chic. Still, it was crucial for the likes of Sontag to communicate to their confrères that their anti-Communism was “somehow different, more cosmopolitan perhaps, maybe even sexier, and certainly more refined,” than that of the crude mouth-breathers who’d been anti-Communists for decades and whom Sontag & co. would come to deride as (no kidding) “premature anti-Communists.”
Communism in Europe eventually fell – no thanks to Sontag and her ilk. As for the diehard anti-anti-Communists, did they show contrition? Au contraire: they got busy denying Reagan’s role in this revolution, making an icon, instead, out of Mikhail Gorbachev – even though he’d only wanted to “reform” Communism. In elite Western circles, Communism remained respectable – and anti-Communists continued, by and large, to be viewed as vulgarians.
Given this history, which tells us so much that is so depressing about the nature of modern Western man, what is the best that we counterjihadists can hope for? Could it be this: that the winds of intellectual fashion will shift someday (sooner, one hopes, rather than later) in such a way as to make it attractive for today’s opportunistic left-wing counterparts of Susan Sontag to snatch the banner from our hands and take counterjihadism mainstream – acting all the while, naturally, as if they’d invented it themselves, or rescued it from the philistines? Might such a development, moreover, actually help turn the tide in the struggle against jihadist Islam? If it did, to be sure, those of us who were here first would, unquestionably, be smeared even in the moment of victory (should it ever come) as “premature counterjihadists” – oafs and barbarians who’d held down the fort until the real heroes came along. But c’est la vie: if that’s what it would take to reverse the Islamization of the West, it would be a small price to pay.
Not that I’m holding my breath, of course.
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