NIGHTMARE OF THE PROPHET: Why the next century could be our most violent yet By Paul Gray (Freedom Publishing, RRP $24.95)
Review from the book's Foreword by Yehuda Bauer, director of the Yad Vashem holocaust museum in Israel
Paul Gray's new book Nightmare of the Prophet is not a comfortable book to read. Yet, it is not a sermon promising fire and brimstone. It is a well-argued plea to readers in both the so-called West and the Islamic world to realise crucial things about the world in which they live.
It will not make either the liberals and social-democrats among us, or the conservatives and traditionalists, very happy. The reason is that Paul Gray is looking for ways to preserve decent civilisation of all kinds, Islamic 'Western', conservative, liberal, centrist or leftist, against a palpable threat, namely that of radical Islam.
Gray's analysis is, to this reader at least, persuasive, though I may not agree with every one of the many and novel thoughts expressed by him.
Gray tries to look at Islamic culture, society and politics from inside, so to speak, from the point of view of the over a billion people living in that world, but with the eyes of a Westerner who rightly feels his own society is threatened in its very foundations.
He knows how to differentiate Islam as a religion and a way of life of huge multitudes of decent human beings from the totalitarian ambitions of the growing minority of radicals who seek world control that would establish a new tyranny intending to eliminate the achievements of centuries of cultural and social endeavors.
The point is that that minority is indeed growing, and that the danger is increasing. It is not increasing just because the West is wrong or because it made mistakes. Guilt feelings about past maltreatment may be right, as may self-accusations about the lack of a more forceful response. But these are not the reasons why Islamic radicals try to conquer the world, and Gray makes it abundantly clear that the use of force alone guarantees total and disastrous failure.
Terrorism is the result of an ideology, and no amount of - in itself absolutely necessary - use of force will defeat it, as long as that ideology and the terrorism that is its outcome will be embedded in a social environment that is friendly to it.
The ideology is utopian, and Gray only occasionally uses that term. To its adherents, educated in a huge and apparently growing number of educational institutions called "madrassas" (Arabic: schools), it promises a paradise in the next world, for sure, and hopefully in this world as well. The immense force of such utopian thinking and persuasion cannot be overestimated.
What is needed, says Gray, is an ideological counter-offensive; this should be coupled with a socio-economic program to deal with the frustration and hopelessness of vast masses of humans for whom life is nothing but a bitter journey through time. Such a program may look expensive in material terms, but is ultimately much cheaper than the inevitable conflict that will result if steps to raise living standards and life expectations in the Muslim world are not taken in time.
In fact, Gray is talking about a massive threat of mass murder, genocide, and civilisational destruction, perhaps parallel to that faced by the late Roman Empire, or worse.
The first step to fight a danger is, of course, to realise it is there. Gray does that, convincingly. The second is, as he says, not to ask the question who is responsible, and how the people who are responsible act, or plan to act; we more or less know that. The real question is - why do they do it? Once we know why, we must concentrate on defusing the underlying reasons.
The problem of the West, as he shows, is that Western politicians see only the present and the immediate future, because they are elected for relatively short terms, and what comes after the immediate present is unimportant from the perspective of individuals who have to persuade voters to elect or reelect them.
In other words, they rarely see beyond their noses, or if they do, they have to place the immediate concern ahead of what some of them, sometimes, rightly see as the real issues, which they would dearly wish to address, if only they could. Real life and real problems are, for them, only those that worry their constituents.
When terrorists attack, the response that is understood by most Westerners is to increase internal security and find the perpetrators. That that approach, if it is the only response that people think about, is self-defeating, is painfully clear. The experts and "experts" on terrorism whose learned writings are presented in the media and in book stores, are exposed for their short-sightedness.
In case anyone thinks that Gray's book is a dry analysis of contemporary world political, economic or social problems, one has to stress that the sources and inspirations for his writing often come through works of fiction by well-known or perhaps sometimes less well-known, but brilliant, authors. Fascinating stories that have relevance to the author's main theme are woven into his analysis in a very unorthodox and persuasive way.
This is an important contribution to a centrally important discussion. It may be directed mainly to an Australian audience, but people everywhere may profit from Paul Gray's insights.
This review is taken from the book's Foreword, written by Yehuda Bauer, director of the Yad Vashem Museum in Israel and the world's foremost authority on the Jewish Holocaust.