As a paleoconservative and traditional Catholic, I greatly enjoy Chronicles and look forward to every issue.  I am, however, increasingly disturbed by the consistent and growing demonization of Muslims in the magazine.  I think it is quite reasonable to accept that Islam has some extremely rough edges.  It has bloody borders, most terrorists are Muslims, Islam is only occasionally a “religion of peace,” and the expression “moderate Islamists” is pretty much an oxymoron.  In addition, the Islamic Third World is a demographic threat to our Christian culture.

But what is true of some Muslims is not true of most.  Terrorists are only a tiny percentage of Muslims, and few believe in the forcible conversion of infidels.  Also, the repeated groupthink characterization of Muslims as inimical to the values that we hold dear ignores the cultural, national, and intellectual diversity of what constitutes Islam.  The evils that Chronicles warns against are largely externalized and really amount to blaming the wrong party.  It should be acknowledged that we in the West are often the problem, because of our failure to value the Christian and Western culture that we have all but discarded.

As a former CIA operations officer who has lived and worked in both Europe and the Middle East, I have known and worked with literally hundreds of Muslims, undoubtedly including some referred to as “jihadists” by Dr. Thomas Fleming in the June issue.  My Muslim friends and associates come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  Though there are Muslims who are bad men, as in any group, I have generally found them to be compassionate, tolerant, caring, hospitable to a fault, and patriotic.  They are remarkably similar to what good Christians should be like and, but for the patriotic bit, rather unlike the narrow-minded evangelical Christians I encounter every day in suburban Virginia.  I suspect that your contributors, largely academics or intellectuals, appear to know everything about Islam and Muslims but understand little.

There are many points in the June issue that I would dispute, but for reasons of brevity I will pick on Dr. Fleming’s piece on Turkey (“The Suicide Strategy of the West,” Perspective, June).  I have lived in Turkey, speak Turkish, and visit there frequently.  No one would dispute that the ruling AK party has Islamic roots, but the roots of Kemalism are deeper still.  Turkey has a large, secular middle class and an Army General Staff committed to maintaining Turkey’s constitution.  That current prime minister Erdogan was imprisoned in 1998 for reading an Islamic poem should suggest that secularism in Turkey is far from toothless.  As for the Ottoman Empire, Dr. Fleming cites the views of numerous unnamed “political intellectuals,” whatever that means, expressing nostalgia for the glory days of the sultan and caliphate.  Curiously, I have never heard such a view expressed.  Dr. Fleming’s recount of European and Turkish history is also frequently faulty.  For example, Venice is maligned as an Ottoman poodle in spite of the fact that it fought bloody wars against the Turks in 1453, 1470, 1499, 1537, and 1570.  One might reasonably recall that Venice was a small trading republic living next to an early-modern superpower.  Dr. Fleming is also apparently unaware of the limits that the European Union has imposed on possible Turkish entry into the community—mass emigration of laborers from Anatolia will not be permitted.

I sometimes wonder what the point is of some of Dr. Trifkovic’s articulate, scholarly, and well-reasoned but ultimately empty articles on Islam.  They are overflowing with anger.  His first piece in the June issue, entitled “Aid and Comfort to the Enemy” (American Proscenium), begins reasonably by castigating the Muslim Brotherhood but then winds up predictably in the Balkans.  He follows up with “Getting Europe Straight” (Views), which seems to have no point except to restate ad nauseam the position that there are too many Muslims in Europe for the good of the continent and that the European Union is accelerating the process.  Excluding George Bush and his advisors, who understand nothing, we all agree with that.  Let’s determine what we have to do to alter that reality.

We have to learn to coexist with Islam and the world’s more than one billion Muslims, like it or not.  Clearly, it is possible selectively to revisit history and to play with historical analogies all day to come up with damning conclusions about the interplay of Islam and the West.  In the 15th century, the Ottoman Turks were both admired and reviled by Europeans, seen positively as a dynamic state that was heir to the traditions of the Byzantine Empire and negatively as the cutting edge of the sword of Islam.  Probably they were both, but the current reality is what matters.  By all means, let us seriously revisit the immigration policies both in Europe and the United States that will ultimately transform the Christian and Western culture that we rightly should be promoting.  But as we examine the very real issues in a reasonable fashion, it behooves us as good Christians to regard Muslims as moral and responsible individuals very much like ourselves, not as part of an undifferentiated gray mass that exists in our minds only as a threat.

        —Dr. Philip M. Giraldi
Purcellville, VA

Dr. Trifkovic Replies:

Dr. Giraldi’s observation that “what is true of some Muslims is not true of most” is correct but irrelevant.  Like other ideologies, Islam is pushed along by vocal minorities.  The controlling minorities in Islam do want to convert the world and readily admit to that aspiration.

His observation that terrorists are “only a tiny percentage of Muslims” is also correct but misleading.  For some years now, Muslims have provided the only variety of terrorism that threatens us, and, without them, terrorism would not be a major issue in our lives.

Dr. Giraldi reluctantly accepts the “Islamic roots” of the ruling party in Turkey but proceeds to make the remarkable assertion that “the roots of Kemalism are deeper still.”  In fact, Turkey is a polity based on an Islamic ethos, regardless of its political superstructure.  The Kemalist ideology has never penetrated beyond the military and a narrow stratum of urban elite centered in Istanbul.  The lack of cultural rootedness of Turkey’s political elites remains as serious a problem today as it was in Ataturk’s times, and, in many minds, the question about the awakening of the dormant Islamic volcano is not if but when.  The parallel with Iran is alarming.  Backed by the United States, the Turkish generals have pursued a policy of militarization as a means of solving the tension between modernization dictated from above and religiously expressed resistance from below—just as the shah did.

I am puzzled by the accusation that my “articulate, scholarly, and well-reasoned” articles on Islam are at the same time “overflowing with anger.”  Dr. Giraldi’s opinion that they are “ultimately empty” would pain me more had it come from a respectful and well-meaning source.  His caricature of my article “Getting Europe Straight” proves that he is neither.  His failure to grasp the main point of that article—that President Bush and his team share an outlook based on Jacobin universalism and propositionalism with the leaders of the European Union—may indicate that he is reading the wrong magazine.

I agree that “we have to learn to coexist with Islam and the world’s more than one billion Muslims,” but, to that end, we need a sober assessment of what we are dealing with.  While it is “possible selectively to revisit history” in order to reach preordained conclusions on Islam, most revisiting is being done by apologists for Islam, such as John Esposito and Karen Armstrong.

Dr. Giraldi’s assertion that “it behooves us as good Christians to regard Muslims as moral and responsible individuals very much like ourselves” is wrong.  Good Christians should seek to liberate Muslims from the shackles of their cult and to introduce them to Christ.

Dr. Fleming Replies:

Dr. Trifkovic has been far too kind to Dr. Giraldi, whose complaint is devoid of logic, historical evidence, and moral sanity.  To refute the massive evidence of Islamic oppression and violence, Dr. Giraldi relies on his personal experiences.  He has met many nice Muslims in Turkey.  So have I, but I have also met nice communists and nice neo-Nazis.  However, I do not suppose the presence of a nice person in the Gestapo would do much for the reputation of that agency, any more than the CIA would be redeemed by the presence of an honest man.

Dr. Giraldi says he has been reading Chronicles.  I find that difficult to believe, since he apparently does not even know what our position is.  We have always advocated justice and fair play for Islamic countries, even as we have done our best to warn Americans against the growing danger.  As a practical cloak-and-dagger man, he disdains book learning.  This may explain why, without attempting to refute my account of Venice’s contribution to the siege of Belgrade, he trots out his World Book list of Venetian conflicts with the Ottoman Empire, not noting that the most serious of these conflicts were brought on by reckless Turkish policies.  It is an undeniable fact that the Serenissima regularly and actively collaborated with the Turks, whenever it paid.  Even a popular history of Venice would reveal to Dr. Giraldi that her first response to the conquest of Constantinople was to figure out what she could get out of it.  There is a long line of Western collaborators with the Turks, from the Venetians and Genoans who helped Mehmed II, to Louis XIV, who attacked Austria just as her troops were driving the Ottomans out of Europe, to Disraeli, who threw Eastern Christians to the Turkish wolves.  In one brief letter, I cannot undertake the historical education of the CIA.  The task is too formidable, but he might begin with my Montenegro: The Divided Land, which will give him just a little part of the story of Ottoman oppression of European Christians.  If Americans want to understand how ill served they have been by our well-funded intelligence apparatus, they only have to read Dr. Giraldi’s letter.

Like many vehement critics of Israel, Dr. Giraldi has drawn the irrational conclusion that the enemy of his enemy is necessarily his friend.  I do not see why a grown man may not criticize Ariel Sharon without defending the leaders of Hamas.  But this is not, apparently, how they are taught to think in the CIA, an agency that has been systematically funding, arming, training, and justifying Islamic terrorism in Europe (to say nothing of Afghanistan).  I think if I had been a CIA “operations officer”—what a nice word—working with Muslims (he does not say doing what), I should not now have the nerve to continue to defend my peace-loving Muslim friends.

If Dr. Giraldi wants to take out his anger at Israel while apologizing for over 1,300 years of jihad against Christians, I am sure he can find more suitable publications in which to inject his disinformation.  The West is weak enough these days and does not need self-described “traditional Catholics” to pick up where Louis XIV and Benjamin Disraeli left off.