Silva's World and Schickel's Fantasy World
by Steven Emerson
January 2, 2008
In his review of Daniel Silva's "The Secret Servant," L.A. Times film critic Richard Schickel rightly compliments Silva's many talents, describing him as a "craftsmanlike writer of international thrillers" who masterfully entertains his readers with his suspenseful, no-nonsense style. And it is true: Silva, yet again, has written a brilliant novel, depicting an all-too-real situation, in which the protagonist, Israeli spy Gabriel Allon, chases Islamic terrorists throughout Europe in an effort to rescue the daughter of an American ambassador, kidnapped and held for ransom by followers of a radical cleric held in an American supermax prison.
However, after some perfunctory praise for Silva, and a recitation of the book's basic plot, Schickel then proceeds to tear down the foundation of the book, and attempts to boil down Silva's main theme:
Which is this: You cannot trust any Muslim, and fighting terrorism in our time requires a ruthlessness not previously required in life -- or, for that matter, in popular fiction.
Here Schickel has it exactly wrong. The message is not that you can't trust any Muslim. To the contrary, the message and story line is ripped straight from our headlines and, unfortunately, mirrors a very dangerous problem in the United States, and Europe for that matter, which Schickel would prefer we ignore.
While the great majority of Muslim Americans are law abiding citizens who want their share of the American dream, sadly, many in the organized leadership of the American Muslim community do not fit that description. Take the case of the case of Abdurahman Alamoudi, once the most prominent American Muslim leader, former head of the American Muslim Council, hailed as a moderate and invited into the White House and sent around the world by the State Department as a goodwill ambassador. In 2004, Alamoudi pled guilty to illegal financial dealings with a State sponsor of terrorism and confessed to his role in a plot to assassinate the then-Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. A 2005 U.S. Treasury Department press release stated:
[t]he September 2003 arrest of Alamoudi was a severe blow to al Qaida, as Alamoudi had a close relationship with al Qaida and had raised money for al Qaida in the United States.
Yet Schickel dismisses this scenario out of hand when discussing the villainous character in the book named, "The Sphinx." Schickel writes:
The Sphinx is a type who has turned up before in Silva's thrillers – a smooth-talking, impeccably dressed public intellectual who is apparently the voice of liberal-minded geopolitical reason but is, in fact, a fanatical terrorist.
Just like Alamoudi turned out to be, as Alamoudi was caught on tape praising Hamas and Hizballah, and later arrested on terrorism related charges and sentenced to prison. And yet many, including Mr. Schickel, continue to deny that there is a problem at all. As he continues in his criticism of Silva:
This muscular hysteria runs counter to common sense -- and to the comments of retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who observed in a recent interview that the Cold War world, in which two superpowers had thousands of missiles aimed at each other, was, realistically speaking, a much more dangerous place than the world we now inhabit. In the same interview, he noted that Al Qaeda has no more than 50,000 members. You might add twice or three times that number of freelance mass murderers and it would still constitute a deadly menace to our values of only minuscule proportions.
Tell that to the families of the nearly 3,000 victims of 9/11. Or the surviving family members from the London Underground plot on 7/7, or the Madrid train explosions on 3/11, or the countless other Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda-inspired and other Islamist terror attacks around the world.
Maybe Mr. Schickel could have done some homework to see that Mr. Clark's skewed view of Islamic extremists has colored his bizarre deprecation of Al Qaeda's threat. Mr. Clark asserts that its "50,000 members" constitute only a "miniscule threat." One doesn't need to do the SAT extrapolation: If 19 Al Qaeda members can kill 3000 people, what devastation can 2,631 teams of 19 Al Qaeda members accomplish? Besides, this is the same Wesley Clark who has vigorously argued for dialogue with an Iranian regime that proudly states it has no homosexuals since it executes them. Or Mr. Clark's strange appearances before jihadist groups like the Muslim American Society and the Islamic Circle of North America, two radical fundamentlalist groups whose leaders have endorsed violent jihad and have politically embraced murderous Islamic groups who actively pursue their ideology of killing infidels or "enemies of Islam."
Perhaps Mr. Schickel would like the family and followers of the recently assassinated former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to take comfort in his words, that Islamic extremism is no threat to anyone's values or freedoms. An Al Qaeda commander already has claimed responsibility for Bhutto's murder.
After attacking Silva's premise, Schickel turns his poison pen against those who have made an effort to cut through the politically correct propaganda and speak the truth, often in the face of death threats from Islamic extremists and vicious attacks and smears from Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups. Schickel writes:
But "The Secret Servant," written as popular entertainment and readable enough at that level, may direct your attention elsewhere: to a growth industry at least as potent (and infinitely more profitable) than terrorism. I am speaking of counterterrorism -- all those experts prattling away on cable news channels, writing their books, occupying government offices and think-tank chairs. Doubtless some of their work is useful, but I think we have to acknowledge this: Like thriller writers, they have a vested interest in advancing worst-case scenarios, as many as they can dream up. Also like the fictioneers, they have no interest in amelioration. There's no drama in it, nothing to scare us witless or even sleepless; they need the combustible fantasies that keep their pots boiling. They are a new generation's Dr. Strangeloves.
Again, tell that to the victims of Islamist terror attacks as well as their family members. In fact, Silva's book starts in Holland. Perhaps Mr. Schickel can call the family of Theo Van Gogh, murdered by an Islamic extremist, and inform them not to worry about "worst-case scenarios." Or perhaps he can call Dutch politicians Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders, both living in hiding and protected by body guards 24/7, under death fatawa, that they needn't fear a "combustible fantasy" that might end in their deaths for merely having the courage to speak out against Islamist extremism.
Mr. Schickel's world is a nice one, indeed. Unfortunately, it is not the real world. And it's a sad and scary world indeed when the fiction dreamed up by Daniel Silva is far more realistic than the "real world" imagined by Richard Schickel.