The Globe and Mail Book Review, December 9, 2006.
Satanic Purses, by McGill University economics professor R. T. Naylor, wins the prize as the most anti-American rant published by a government-subsidized Canadian scholarly publisher. If taken seriously, this book undermines Western governments in the war against Islamic extremists and increases our vulnerability to terrorist attacks. Good thing that it's so rambling and sarcastic that it will turn most readers off.
After acknowledging that Osama bin Laden's characterization of the United States as " 'the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind' . . . may have been slightly overstating the matter," Naylor goes on to recite many of bin Laden's misguided criticisms of the United States, adding his own supporting comments.
The main premise of Satanic Purses is that the global threat from al-Qaeda is a myth that has been disingenuously concocted by the United States out of a series of mainly unrelated local terrorist events. He says that the hidden agenda here was to invade Muslim countries to get their oil, and to adopt tough anti-terrorist measures to repress Muslims.
Naylor comes close to denying any direct al-Qaeda involvement in 9/11, which he rather callously calls a "lucky hit." To Naylor, the plot was hatched by the Hamburg group under Mohammed Atta. He dismisses the evidence of bin Laden's "direct role," including the televised confessions, as "rumour, hearsay and innuendo."
Any laws enacted after 9/11 are portrayed after the obligatory technical double-talk as unnecessary and "Islamophobic." Naylor is very critical of the prosecutions of terrorists, particularly those who get nailed on immigration offences or other minor charges before they can act. He spends much time decrying the "material support" and "financing" provisions of the U.S. Patriot Act. And he certainly doesn't credit the United States and other governments for driving Osama bin Laden underground, killing or capturing much of the rest of al-Qaeda's leadership, disrupting its communication channels and operations, and choking off its funding.
The simple truth, which eludes Naylor, is that al-Qaeda doesn't have to be organized like a Fortune 500 company. The important thing is that Osama bin Laden inspires would-be terrorists with his jihadist ideology. Terrorist activity has been going up, not down, as falsely claimed by Naylor. The war on Islamic terror is far from over.
Naylor's real concerns, perhaps dating back to his days as the Canadian director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, are that terrorists' rights might be violated and that Islamic charities are being forced to clean up their act. Don't expect to learn anything about the relationship between Islam and terrorism from Naylor. He parrots the line heard from the worried-looking Muslim spokesmen always interviewed after terrorist attacks, that Islam means "peace" and that jihad is an "effort or struggle to become a better person." Denying that Islam was spread by conquest, he claims that the "obligation [of jihad] owes more to Trotsky than Mohammed." If so, then why are Osama bin Laden and his ilk always quoting the Koran?
Always making excuses for radical Islam, Naylor contends that the excesses of the Taliban, such as the burqa and public stonings for adultery, have nothing to do with Islam, but instead reflect Pushtun customs. He is also quick to recycle any half-baked rumours that Israelis were behind terrorist attacks, including those at Luxor, Sinai, Istanbul and Bali, and is ever ready to denounce so-called "Israeli atrocities." By the same token, he states at length that it was the Israelis who really created terrorism in the first place. Yet he is as dogged as any Mafia defence lawyer in finding a long list of reasons why al-Qaeda or its affiliates are innocent in the many specific cases he discusses.
Christian-bashing is another of Naylor's favourite sports. The "Christian Right" is berated for its campaign against slavery in the Sudan. "U.S. Christian 'fundamentalists' " are fingered as providing the money for southern secessionists in Sudan. The Lord's Resistance Army, which raped, pillaged and mutilated the unfortunate people of Uganda, is dubbed a "quasi-Christian cult," although it could just as unfairly be called a "quasi-Muslim cult." A former U.S. attorney-general is usually referred to as "Bible John" Ashcroft, but bin Laden, of course, is never called "Koran Osama."
Satanic Purses drips with venom and satire. Indeed, it's hard to separate the two. The United States is accused of the "the murder of innocents." The U.S. military is called the "most awesome murder machine in history," and "Monica Lewinsky's puckered lips" are blamed for the cruise missile attacks after the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings. Even Muslims, whom he ironically calls "rag heads," don't escape his sarcastic pen.
All in all, this is a very biased and unscholarly book for the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada to be funding. What were they thinking?
Patrick Grady is an economist with global-economics.ca and the author of Royal Canadian Jihad, a novel about terrorism in Canada.