An interview with Lela Gilbert.
For those who are frustrated by the unchecked spread of violent Islam and would like at least the vicarious satisfaction of reading about jihadists being taken down, my friend Lela Gilbert and W. Jack Buckner LTC (ret.), Special Forces, have written a very satisfying action thriller entitled The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight.
Just published by Post Hill Press, The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight is the gripping novel of an elite paramilitary unit put together by an Israeli philanthropist named David Levine to combat the global threat of jihad. Their mission in the book is to rescue a young Nigerian woman sentenced to be stoned to death, as well as a journalist and editor under assault by a mob of jihadis. Yes, it’s a fictional thriller with some edge-of-your-seat action sequences, but it’s hardly escapism, grounded as it is in the real-world persecution of Christian communities in Nigeria. The book is educational as well, and presents a confrontation of clearcut good and evil, happily devoid of the moral equivalence that spoils too much of today’s storytelling about Islamic terror (such as Showtime’s Homeland, for example).
Lela Gilbert knows this territory well. The author of Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion, and most recently Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel Through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner, Lela is a freelance writer and editor who has authored or co-authored a jaw-dropping 60+ books, and a contributor to The Jerusalem Post, The Weekly Standard, Jewish World Review, and National Review Online, among others. An adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, she lives in California and Jerusalem. I reached out to her with a few questions about the novel.
Mark Tapson: Though you’ve written novels before, you’re known primarily for your ecumenical nonfiction like Saturday People, Sunday People. Why a novel about Islamic fundamentalism in Nigeria, rather than nonfiction?
Lela Gilbert: Jack Buckner and I actually started writing Angel’s Flight before I wrote Saturday People, Sunday People and Persecuted. I was thinking of a way to tell a captivating, realistic up-to-date story that didn’t obscure the realities of life under the threat of Islamist terrorists. Nigeria has faced such dangers for more than a decade.
I also wanted to try and bring the reader into the terrible agony of a young woman sentenced to death by stoning, living out her days in a squalid prison cell with her very life dependent on the survival of her beloved but sickly baby. I wrote all this long before Meriam Ibrahim was imprisoned in Sudan; in some ways her story was eerily similar to this one as it unfolded. Meanwhile, I was longing for good-hearted heroes to enter the fray and defend the defenseless – so I invented some! Jack helped me arm them properly and prepare them for battle.
MT: One of the main characters is a young publishing editor who is largely clueless about Islam. You also mention that Islamic atrocities in the 3rd world receive very little press coverage. Do you think this ignorance – or perhaps willful blindness – is still a widespread problem in the literary world and news media, and among our “intelligentsia” as a whole?
LG: I think the events of recent days – both the horrors of ISIS in Iraq and the brutalities of Hamas – have awakened a few more journalists and “experts” to the deadly religious fanaticism of radical Islamists. But my sense is that these groups and their attacks are still viewed as isolated incidents, perpetrated by ragtag troublemakers here and there. Yes, they cause bloodshed, but the incidents are perceived as having nothing to do with each other as far as ideology and global ambition are concerned. There’s a huge disconnect between the lurid news reports and YouTube posts of beheadings, crucifixions, mass kidnappings etc. and westerners living in peace and prosperity. It’s kind of like watching reality TV – it’s “real,” but not really real.
Meanwhile, in both academic and journalistic circles, there is also a persistent prejudice against Americans and our Western allies – promoting the idea that we are really at fault for all the troubles of the world. We should call terrorists “freedom fighters” and stop criticizing their non-Western tactics – cruel though they may be. Instead we should be apologizing for our own record of crimes against humanity. We’ve learned to describe this kind of reasoning as “moral equivalency.”
MT: One of your characters is critical of human rights organizations who are naïve about the threat of jihad and who believe only in “heart-to-heart dialogue” with the enemy. Another character asserts that there is no hope for the persecuted Nigerian Christians “unless good people take matters into their own hands.” Do you think we have reached the point where military action is the only solution for Christian communities in Africa and the Middle East that are facing violent extermination?
LG: I don’t suppose there is ever a time when military action is the “only” solution. But when it comes to Islamist fanaticism, I’m skeptical about dialogue, because people who believe in coercing religious conversion through violence, or those who believe Islamists should rule over other religious minorities with an iron fist – these people are not open-minded. They claim to love death, not life, and declare that they intend to martyr themselves for the cause. They may agree to dialogue in order to divert attention from what’s happening on the ground, or to take a break in their assault long enough to rest and reload.
Meanwhile, there are two advantages to military action. One is, of course, to defeat the insurgents. The other is deterrence: massive casualties to troops and damage to infrastructure can cause terrorists to have second thoughts about their next plan of attack. “Talk softly but carry a big stick” was Teddy Roosevelt’s idea of foreign policy. America does a lot of soft talking these days – sometimes even tough talking – but the sticks all seem to be locked up in the State Department’s basement.
MT: You’ve obviously set up the novel for a sequel or a second mission for your characters, protecting Christians at the Turkish-Syrian border. Do you envision a series of books in which your special operatives take on Islamists around the world?
LG: I don’t know about a series. But there are some very dangerous places in the world that don’t get much attention in the media. It would be both informative and satisfying to focus the spotlight on a couple more of them. I hope Jack and I get a chance to do so.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.