Into the Times (of London) Herr Doctor-Professor Niall Campbell Elizabeth Ferguson has just slithered, bearing an essay on Salman Abedi, perpetrator of the May 22 Manchester bombing, and Donald J. Trump, failed casino developer and President, for the time being, of These United States. Abedi, by Ferg’s account, was a rather loutish young man radicalized by jihadist propaganda and a visit to Syria, where he learned to make bombs like the one he used to dispatch 22 people. A familiar story, surely, but one that must alarm all right-thinking people. Abedi, Our Niall tells us, was merely one explosive node in a network of religious evil, a web of conspiracy and terror extending from Manchester to Germany to Libya to, presumably, one of the deeper Demonweb Pits ™. Scary!
Moreover, Abedi and his cohorts didn’t merely poison themselves with a toxic political ideology. What drives the jihadis, says the Still-Sexy-Scotsman, what motivates the bombers of Boston and Manchester and Paris, is actually an “evil” religion, Islam. Oh, Mssr. Niall doesn’t say this in so many words, but one can easily deduce it from the rest of the essay. He praises DJT for denouncing “Islamic terrorism,” rather than joining the “liberal media” and the “politically correct” in calling it “Islamist terrorism.” The -ist suffix, you see, indicates that one refers to a political ideology; the -ic, a religious faith. By insisting on the latter suffix, Ferg implies that there is something specifically wrong with Islam and the Quran. Indeed, he asserts that Christians have done nothing comparable to the Islamic jihadis “since the seventeenth century.” I suspect Professor Niall has heard of Northern Ireland and the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, but his prejudices and his newfound affection for Donald Trump have obviously erased his memories of these recent and quite bloody sectarian conflicts within Christendom.
The same emotionalism causes our overwrought essayist to miss a rather important point about the Manchester bombing: Abedi’s Muslim neighbors knew he was becoming violent, and his family actually warned security officers to keep an eye on him. British officials apparently ignored the tip-off, and Ferg ignores its implications: the vast majority of Muslims, like the vast majority of humans everywhere, are peaceful and ordinary, and don’t care for the tiny minority of violent zealots their communities periodically throw up. Treat that majority with respect and consideration and you have not only a more productive and well-integrated immigrant population, you also have a powerful potential ally against terrorists.
Of course Our Boy Niall doesn’t care. What he wants is a strongman to expel the Bad People from Europe, and Hair Furor looks like the right kind of guy. Ferguson quotes approvingly from one of DJT’s speeches: “Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your Holy Land. And drive them out of this earth.” Something tells me the Trumpster doesn’t mean “Deport them to Mars.” Something tells me that neither he nor Ferguson would much mind if an extended urban hunter-killer campaign against jihadists also killed a large number of their family members and neighbors. (After all, the United States has killed thousands of innocent people during just the last few years of its War on Terror.) Something also tells me that His Scottishness would like to see such a campaign conducted in Europe. Actually, Niall explicitly says so: “This seems like advice that European leaders could also use.”
Having experienced a frisson of excitement from Trump’s fascist rhetoric, Ferg decides he must add some intellectual respectability to his new crush. He observes that everyone in the “liberal media,” everyone but Niall Himself, missed the point of Trump’s famous photo op in Riyadh, in which we saw him touching a mysterious glowing orb within a cavernous Strangelove-esque building. Well, actually, N.C.E. Ferguson informs us, the building in question was the new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, and the Orb its ceremonial “go button.” The message behind Trump’s Orb, which Trump’s Secret Kissinger is just the man to decipher, is that Saudi Arabia has decided - no doubt under DJT’s powerful intellectual influence - to stop exporting extremist ideology and start fighting it instead. The Donald will help persuade the Saudi government to redirect its energies away from proselytism, and toward partnership with Israel and the United States against Iran. Niall has been preaching a Crusade against Iran and its nuclear program for at least six years, and now its hour has come round at last!
And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything. I don’t presume to speak for the Saudi government, but I find it hard to believe that its Global Center will provide much more than lip service to the “anti-extremist” cause. Saudi Arabia has invested beaucoup bucks in the mosques, madrasas, and other institutions that help spread the Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam, not because its government wants to breed terrorists but because it considers Wahhabism a conservative faith and a prop for conservative (and pro-Saudi) Islamic states. An “anti-extremist” center, in the Saudis’ eyes, would simply advance the same policies their government thinks it’s been pursuing for decades.
Apparently, though, Niall’s infatuation with His Trumpishness has become strong enough that he will believe nearly anything. I say this because the Dimestore Kissinger believes not only that Trump has intellectual depths only he can fathom, but that DJT might be willing to listen to his own expert advice: “He needs,” writes Ferg, “to rethink his policy on Muslim immigration” if he wants to win Muslim hearts and minds. Anyone still in possession of his or her faculties could see the preposterousness of Niall’s notion. President 45 cannot “rethink” his policies toward Muslim refugees, Hispanic immigrants, and African-Americans because no real thought went into producing them. Instead these policies grow from hatreds that DJT acquired early in his life, that became foundational to his ego, and that played a huge role, I am ashamed to say, in getting him elected. Ferg’s assumption that a smart conservative (yes, I know that’s now an oxymoron) like himself could persuade our fascist president to change doesn’t just demonstrate infatuation; it displays the kind of blind king-worship that went out of fashion in most Western countries in the nineteenth century.
Ferguson, however, long ago ditched his professional training and devotion to reason in favor of sucking up to the powerful. In the 2000s he courted rich businessmen, in the 2010s he became BFFs with fellow sycophant Henry Kissinger, and now he apparently wants to squirm into the good graces of an out-and-out tyrant. This is not, alas, a unique fate for intellectuals. Or pseudo-intellectuals.
(Above photo of Donald Trump, King Salman, and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the Global Centre for Combating Extremist Ideology courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Photo of Niall Campbell (Douglas) Elizabeth Ferguson by Nik Gowing, 2010. He's much more rugged now.)