Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam.
Cyrus Skeen, Edward Cline’s fictional detective, has survived countless brushes with death and danger across eighteen novels, the latest of which, Exegesis, is coming out just now. Its author, a 70-year-old Air Force veteran, has lived a life that in some ways has been as difficult as that of his fictional protagonist.
But while Cyrus Skeen brushes off threats with witty quips and a keen intellect, his creator’s keen intellect and wit have come up against the harsher reality of ISIS terror and the willingness of some in our country to appease that terrorism by turning on its victims.
The Islamic State has been publishing lists of thousands of names of those it claims will be its targets. One such list included 3,600 New Yorkers. Another contained the names of 43 government employees and yet another listed 70 members of the military. But many of those on the hit lists were ordinary people, like Julie, a dogwalker living in Brooklyn. They received calls from FBI agents and then they went back to living the routine of their ordinary lives.
For the most part.
Edward Cline will not go back to his ordinary life. After he was visited by the FBI, his landlord, Lawson Enterprises, chose to kick a 70-year-old Air Force veteran threatened by ISIS into the street.
According to Cline, Lawson Enterprises informed him that he posed a “risk” to the safety of the other tenants. It is not ISIS that poses the risk, but its target and its victim, who must be put out on the street. Cline has no means of moving and nowhere to move to. After initially being ordered to leave by July 1st, he was offered a “courtesy” extension to July 19th, which was later rescinded, leaving the elderly writer with few options and less time. Cline described the experience as taking “years” off his life.
And so in its own way, ISIS may have accomplished its purpose. Not through bombs or bullets. No Jihadists rushed through the lobby of Cline’s building. ISIS took no risks at all. All it needed to do was to issue a threat and fear did its dirty work. ISIS put names on a list. Americans living right here did the rest.
We remember the firefighters and police officers who climbed up the many floors of the World Trade Center to save lives. And we wonder whether we could do even a fraction as much. But some do not wonder. They would push anyone down the stairs in the faint hope of saving their own lives.
While Lawson Enterprises refused multiple requests for comment on this story, Mr. Cline related a conversation in which he had made the mistake of honestly describing the purpose of the FBI visit even while stating that the agent had informed him that there was no imminent threat.
If the FBI did not believe there was a threat, why is Lawson Enterprises evicting Edward Cline?
There is of course no way to know how many of the thousands of people on the ISIS hit list lost their homes or their jobs over it. It may take us months to learn the full impact that this form of attack had on the lives of many Americans. But Edward Cline does more than write detective novels set in the 20s.
He also writes about Islamic terrorism.
Writing about Islamic terrorism, as Cline does on his blog, Rule of Reason, or drawing cartoons, as Bosch Fawstin did when the first ISIS attack in America took place in Garland, Texas, makes you culpable. People who warn us about Islam terrorism somehow deserve to be killed by Muslim terrorists. The working theory among some is that shooting the messenger will eliminate the need for the message.
It isn’t true, but it is a comforting notion.
And so a 70-year-old Air Force veteran and respected novelist will be homeless because his name appeared on an ISIS hit list, along with many others, and because he did something to “deserve it” by warning us about the threat of Islamic terrorism.
In Cline’s account, he was not threatened with eviction when he explained why the FBI was there. Time passed. In that time, did someone find the time to peruse his writings about Islamic terrorism and decide that he had brought it on himself? Lawson Enterprises has remained silent and so there are no answers. All we have are conjectures about the strengths and weaknesses of human nature.
Not far from where Edward Cline has made his home, men and women go through the motions of history at Colonial Williamsburg. But while it’s not too difficult to accurately recreate butter churning and hand laundering, recreating the courage and virtue of those times is a far greater challenge.
Across the centuries we have traveled in time, if not space, from an era that respected those who fought for freedom to another era entirely which views them as a “risk” to be evicted and expelled.
Edward Cline has always believed in heroism. It is the theme of both his fiction and his political writing. Heroism is not only to be found in the daring detective, but in his creator, who continues writing about Islamic terrorism even as he faces the prospect of homelessness.
In moments like these, we understand that our weaknesses in the fight against ISIS are not merely strategic, but moral. It is not our billion dollar weapons that fail, but the courage and fortitude of ordinary men and women in positions of power who hope to exchange sacrifices for security.
Sometimes these sacrifices are large ones. In the 20th century, Czechoslovakia was sacrificed to Hitler. In the 21st century, it is Israel. But there are also individual sacrifices, men and women who appear to offend the enemy too much. Who write and draw and say the wrong sorts of things.
And some imagine that casting them out will win us the mercy of a merciless enemy.
It does not matter that ISIS, if it had the power, would not spare anyone in Mr. Cline’s building, regardless of their politics. It is easier to evict a man whom ISIS has made a target and imagine that this makes us all safe. Being so terrified of a terrorist group some 6,000 miles away allows any moral outrage to be committed, including kicking an elderly writer out of his home, in the hopes that somehow the dread shadow of terror will pass them by next time. And maybe the time after that.
Edward Cline is only one man. Perhaps his friends, who have succeeded in raising some money for him on GoFundMe, may be able to help him. Or perhaps not. Lawson Enterprises, which boasts a one-star Yelp review, is likely not the most pleasant of residences. And yet there is more at stake in such a conflict than a place to live. As we anticipate decades of war, such choices will occur more often. Our moral mettle will be tested and we will either do the right thing or be found wanting.
We will not defeat ISIS by having the biggest weapons. We will either do it through moral courage or not at all. Edward Cline has shown that species of moral courage. That he is being punished for it shows us why we are losing and what it will take for us to truly defeat the Islamic State.