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Vol. 6, No. 3, 2007
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David SolwayDavid Solway has recently published a new collection of poems entitled The Pallikari of Nesmine Rifat (Goose Lane Editions, 2005), and is now working on his fourth book in education and culture, entitled Reading, Riting and Rhythmitic. A collection of literary/critical essays, Director's Cut, was released by The Porcupine's Quill in Fall 2003 and a new volume of literary/scholarly essays, Peregrines, is slated for McGill-Queen's University Press. He was appointed writer-in-residence at Concordia University for 1999-2000 and is currently a contributing editor with Canadian Notes & Queries and an associate editor with Books in Canada.

This wide and universal theatre
Presents more woeful pageants than the scene
Wherein we play in.
As You Like It, II, vii

If again, it was not well cut, he disabled my judgment: this is called the Reply Churlish. If again, it was not well cut, he would
answer that I spake not true: this is called the Reproof Valiant. If again, it was not well cut, he would say I lie: this is called the
Countercheck Quarrelsome: and so to the Lie Circumstantial and the Lie Direct.

As You Like It, V, iv


The uses of adversity are not always sweet. And there are many books that might properly be tossed into the running brooks and many sermons that read as cold as stone. Nor does the stubborness of fortune readily translate into so quiet and so sweet a style as that mastered by the usurped Duke meditating in the Forest of Arden. This is especially true of scholarly discourse in its generally baneful efforts to come to terms with the menacing and intractable world outside the leafy precincts of academic thinking. For the tendency to bandy in faction and o’errun with policy is an intellectual malady that would be harmless were it quarantined in the Ivory Tower or confined to the realm of pseudo-scholarly journalism. Unfortunately, in the ardent attempt toward the pacification of reasonable and legitimate anxieties, our bien pensants are chiefly adept at carrying us from the smoke into the smother. Of course, such tranced insensibility has always been the problem with intellectual rumination which safely ignores the briars of the working-day world, but the elysian predisposition is particularly strong today in the clipped and shaded walks of learned commentary. A recent case in point:

Cass Sunstein’s review in The New Republic Online of two new books on terrorism and the “terrorism industry,” John Mueller’s Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats and Why We Believe Them and Robert E. Goodin’s What’s Wrong with Terrorism, develops a reasonably dispassionate account of the revisionist perspective on the “war against terror.” Sunstein summarizes the anti-administration arguments of these two authors with considerable sympathy (though, to his credit, not without a critical peroration that highlights some of the flaws in their constatation). At the same time, he does contrive to tilt the balance in their favour, especially with respect to Goodin’s thesis that the American—or rather, Republican—administration is prone to using scare-mongering tactics, to “play[ing] the terrorism card,” in order to obtain political advantage.

The trouble is that Mueller and Goodin are playing their own terrorism card in order to obtain polemical advantage. The statistical claims they deploy to convince us that the terrorist threat has been highly overrated, that John Kerry was probably right to describe terrorism as little more than a “nuisance,” and that the problem is really our fearful over-reaction to what amounts to a relatively insignificant casualty count, are a tissue of simple-minded inferences and deductions that rely mainly on the abstract power of comparative numbers. In thus portraying terrorism as contrastively innocuous in the context of percentages and figures, they are also playing the statistical card. But Mueller and Goodin seem completely unaware of the way in which statistics can be misused as well as faultily collated. As the old saw goes, “Do not put your faith in what statistics say until you have carefully considered what they do not say.”

Let me indulge an explanatory aside. Take those reassuring statistical comparisons which tell us that air travel is far safer than driving—Sunstein himself, in the process of elaborating the notion that terrorism is a tempest in a social and political teapot, regards it as given that “driving is more dangerous than flying” as it is ultimately more destructive than terror irruptions. But is this belief really warranted? Do we ever stop to reflect how flimsy and truncated, even misleading, such quasi-mathematical structures really are? For example, a minor mechanical malfunction in an automobile will likely lead to nothing more than stopping by the side of the road, pulling over to a garage station or simply waiting for a convenient moment to address the problem; a similar malfunction in an airplane may plausibly lead to a hecatomb. Properly speaking, the term “minor malfunction” is instrumentally inappropriate in describing the mechanics of flying. When we board an airliner, we know instinctively that nothing must go wrong, a presentiment absent from the morning commute. A sensor gives a wrong reading in a car: we’ll attend to it eventually. A sensor gives a wrong reading in an airplane: hundreds may die. How can these situational elements, the brute empirics of what is known as the “informal realm,” be calculated and integrated into a statistical equation? And how can we quantify the sense of vulnerability that modifies our affective response in evaluating the likelihood of danger? There is no viable technique which allows for the compilation of such incommensurable variables or their systematic factoring into a nomothetic transfer frame.

Further, there is the problem of adjustable distributions, that is, there is no precise way of calculating how many times a person gets into a car every day or what the distance, duration and conditions of such journeys may be—extrapolated over a year from a sizeable population the numbers would be astronomical where numbers even apply. These data are in their nature inaccessible but common sense suggests that were such a God’s-eye view possible, our statistical computations might well generate a wholly different set of conclusions from those provided by mass casualty counts and rough correlations. Airline travel is of course more easily calibrated and the relevant data are at least theoretically manageable but the same is not so with respect to vehicular traffic. Were it feasible, however, to measure reliably the number of hours we spend on average in a car or truck or taxi or municipal bus or Greyhound or motor home over a large enough temporal gradient, the nature, frequency and duration of these journeys, the various distances travelled, the actual road and weather conditions which impinge at all of these times, and the number of mechanical malfunctions that may be presently disregarded without risk, the results pertaining to the relative safety-quotients between vehicular and air travel might well be several orders of destabilizing magnitude different from the purring statistics that sedate us into a false sense of security when it comes to flying. We might well discover in the light of a complete data set that traffic fatalities are remarkably low and airline mortality is comparatively high. The current statistical distributions with respect to the comparative dangers of driving and flying depend on the available data which are crucially—and inherently—inadequate to producing accurate results and certainly incapable of supporting the wished-for consensus. Our findings are skewed by the twin constraints of data-inaccessibility and weak or imperfect distributionalism which effectively obscure the very real possibility, in line with our intuitive convictions, that flying may be enormously more perilous than driving. Reality does not always comply with our rational delusions.

The same facile assumptions dominate the revisionist discussion of terrorist casualties vis à vis domestic fatalities. The issue does not revolve, as Mueller suggests, around the 40,000 traffic deaths per annum in the U.S. as opposed to the (merely) 3000 victims of the 9/11 massacre, a number that is not only considerably smaller but is actuarially reduced with the passing of time as the traffic statistics remain constant in the absence of further terrorist attacks. In fact, the question is profoundly more complicated than such crass arithmetic implies. The statistical apparatus that is usually brought to bear upon the events in question is not only starved of sufficient data but is meant to distort our perception of the situation in which we are embroiled. It cannot accommodate, as the above heuristic should establish, the scalene and empirical properties of certain sorts of phenomena—in this instance, what we might refer to as “crisis events.”

Additionally, there is a third element which qualifies the conceptual structure we are working with, namely, the conscious feature of harmful intent, of premeditated malice. Terrorist events are informed by sentience—they are not the outcomes of chance or randomness which are variously susceptible to mathematical/statistical constructs. With the one, we have the unsettling feeling that someone is gunning for us and is prepared to wait for the opportune moment, which cannot be statistically predicted; with the other, well, that’s life, and we do not feel personally victimized by what is arbitrary or contingent. The Muellers of this world, I’m afraid, are not so much doing the math as doing the myth. Consider the following aspects and salients of terrorist operations, both statistical and practical.

1. Deaths due to terrorist attacks are additional deaths; they should not be tactically compared with other kinds of fatalities to establish relative scale but added to them, giving us even more to worry about, not less. Further, they are not, strictly speaking, statistically inevitable, as the traffic sheet is; they are supernumerary and can be conceivably avoided or significantly reduced by the adoption of stringent counter-measures, whereas the traffic toll will vary only minimally around a standard meridian.

2. The psychological effect, which owing to the “explosiveness” of terror episodes, their spectacular nature and the amount of immediate damage they can do, is far more conspicuous and, indeed, “terrifying” than what a randomly distributed traffic score can incite. (In fact, their effect is closer to that of an airline crash, absenting conscious intent.) In such cases statistics do not offer solace and they cannot, no matter how the experts pontificate, diminish the collective feeling of threat and exposure. Such estimates are only a means of bullying the inassimilable facts. “If the incident is emotionally gripping, it can lead us to forget the question of probability altogether,” says an unflappable Sunstein. But as we will see, the “question of probability” is not as simple as he assumes and an incident that is “emotionally gripping” may equally dispose us to remember the undeniable danger we are in. The psychological repercussions are not so perfunctorily logicized away.

3. As a corollary of the above, we sense that these fatalities occur all at once, i.e., massively, and also by design. In assessing a major terrorist assault such as 9/11, the gruesome details along with the anterior purpose cannot be clinically dissembled. 3000 deaths in one hour and in a single, circumscribed spot of approximately one square mile is a much different kind of event than 40,000 deaths spread out over twelve months and across fifty states, or approximately 3,537,444 square miles—which scarcely registers on the psyche and certainly not in the same way as a terrorist atrocity. Macroscopic facts of a fortuitous nature and relating to large variables are diluted over time and itemized cumulatively rather than felt on the pulses as a kind of singularity. Nor are they the product of deliberation. The human significance of the aleatory is always thin. But a carefully planned attack with the intent of inflicting maximum harm and yielding instantaneous consequences of the most frightful nature is another thing entirely. Let us consider 9/11 again since this remains the signature terrorist act. If one were inclined to play the numbers game and graph the raw data along an axial grid, the averaging out of the results would be startling: based on the expression (mile^-2 year ^-1), the WTC event would give us 26,000,000 fatalities per square mile per year; the traffic estimates would work out to 0.0113 fatalities per square mile per year. Of course, the initial numbers appear grossly inflated since the primary event is not repeated every day; it doesn’t need to be. Its effect is like that of an asteroid slamming into the earth, which doesn’t happen all that often. Once is enough. (To round off the analogy, one would have to imagine that the asteroid had consciously selected the collision course.) What may seem preposterous in projecting the bloated ciphers of disaster is only a reflection of the psychological impact experienced by those who have been scarred, personally or vicariously, by such “incidents,” or who have the imagination to internalize their import. Recalling Paul Brodeur’s dictum in Outrageous Misconduct that “Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off,” I candidly admit that this rudimentary display of concentrated devastation is a game I would rather have avoided playing. But what such a reductio ad absurdum shows, apart from a streak of the macabre, is the inapplicability of statistical instruments to cognitive incompatibles and the essential grotesquery of the procedure.

4. A second corollary entails the economic impact, which follows from the inevitable psychological effect. We saw what happened to the airline industry, the tourist trade, the Nasdaq, the export and import enterprise, the oil prices after 9/11. If the London hijackers had succeeded in their plot to bring down ten airliners over the Atlantic within minutes of one another, important sectors of the market would have imploded and the livelihoods of many people around the world would have been ruinously affected, which is manifestly not the case when we consider the accidents that happen on the nation’s highways, kitchens or hiking trails.

5. Without increased surveillance, defective and partial as it is at present, the “terror ratio” would augment dramatically, rendering the statistical matrices our revisionist thinkers like to invoke progressively irrelevant anyway. Moreover, Mueller’s confidence that terrorists may “scarcely exist in the United States” is misplaced. Clearly, he has not read Robert Spencer’s Onward Muslim Soldiers or Steven Emerson’s American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us, the publication of which forced Emerson to go into internal exile to escape the attentions of an Islamic death squad. Conversely, it has become oddly fashionable to forget that we are not dealing only with the terrorists who live among us, but with those who plot our destruction from afar. In line with the effort to extenuate the terrorist threat, many commentators routinely consider the strategy of confronting the terrorists on their home ground to be seriously mistaken. What is happening there, they argue, is not happening here, and we can only exacerbate the problem by projecting power into such distant regions. But this is a naïve and shortsighted argument. The Argentinian bombings in 1992 and 1994 carried out by Iranian agents and their Hizbullah proxies and the Alas Chiricanas bombing in Panama in 1994 demonstrate that the terrorists’ reach is global, as was that of al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts in 2001. Attacking the enemy in its bases, training camps, offices and military installations is a costly and bloody venture in the short run, but it is the price we must pay if we are not to go bankrupt in the long run. This is not a fairy tale we are living in. There are no happy endings, only, if we are lucky, less catastrophic ones. In today’s New World Ordure, pre-emption means trying to keep the home front sanitary first rather than cleaning up the mess afterward.

6. A dirty bomb and/or suitcase bomb would swell the casualty count exponentially, could well infect thousands of others with slow radiation poisoning thus striking the next generation in its very genes, and seal off portions of the target city for up to sixty years. This may be a worse-case scenario but it is also an eminently possible one. At this point the statistics relating to traffic fatalities and other quotidian visitations cease to signify altogether. The damage that can be done by one such bomb is in another category entirely and the worldwide economic collapse that might conceivably ensue boggles the mind. The same applies to chemical and biological attacks, especially if the food and water supply are contaminated. Sunstein, Mueller et al. are dead wrong to suggest that the terrorists’ “capacity to inflict harm is sharply limited.” It is not. The argument made here (and elsewhere) that WMD are difficult to manufacture is casuistical. An article in The Atlantic, “Inside al-Qaeda’s Hard Drive” (September 2004) reveals that bin Laden and his cronies are well on the way to acquiring the expertise necessary to produce a biological and chemical weapons program. In an email to an associate at that time, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri noted, “The destructive power of these weapons is no less than that of nuclear weapons.” It would also be folly to assume that a radiological is beyond al-Qaeda’s means. Paranoia may be the only sane response to the current state of affairs. Playing down Chernobyl as a merely local incident, as Sunstein does to make a point about our propensity to exaggeration, is also frivolous. Deformed children are still being born in this region even today, 20 years after the reactor meltdown. Polish agriculture has yet to recover fully from the spread of radioactive pollution.

7. Further, WMD components are procurable ready-made from the former Soviet Union’s poorly guarded storage facilities. Another article for The Atlantic, “How to Get a Nuclear Bomb” (December 2006), worries that “the use of even a single fission device could pose an existential threat to the West.” Although the acquisition and assembly of nuclear materials would not be a cakewalk, in the right set of circumstances, the article continues, “Construction of the bomb would take maybe four months.” As scientists Peter Zimmerman and Jeffrey Lewis write (National Post, December 20, 2006), it is “perhaps easier to make a gun-assembled nuclear bomb than it is to develop biological or chemical weapons…The frightening truth is that fissile material, including nuclear explosive material, is an item of commerce…” In 2005 alone, the IEAE confiscated 18 lots of stolen plutonium and enriched uranium. Even the US State Department, traditionally soft toward the Muslim world, warned in March 2007 about the “large number” of nuclear smuggling incidents, which are regarded as “substantial.” The official spokesperson mentioned in particular Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Iran, but al-Qaeda is obviously in the mix as well. Anyone who believes that al-Qaeda is not planning to acquire and use both radiological and biological dispersion weapons against major population centers is simply living in a fantasy and will eventually be forced to pay the human and economic cost of his negligence. There is also the alarming possibility that nuclear weapons may be pirated intact. What is more, North Korea is exporting both know-how and delivery hardware to the world’s most volatile regimes. Pakistan has long been in the business of disseminating nuclear technology. And should Iran be permitted to arrive at nuclear enrichment, it will have the capacity both to unleash a thermonuclear maelstrom and to distribute such weapons or weapon-components to its terrorist proxies. Then shall we be news-crammed.

Indeed, investigative reporter Paul Williams’ recently published The Day of Islam: The Annihilation of America and the Western World, paints an even more horrific picture of al-Qaeda’s nuclear plans, which date back to the early 1990s. Williams argues that it is not merely dirty bombs that we have to worry about but actual nuclear devices which, according to Williams’ sources, are primed to detonate in seven American cities simultaneously—New York, Washington, D.C., Houston, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Boston and Miami. The evidence he cites is based on contract documents and testimony from several different official informants, detailing bin Laden’s acquisition of enriched uranium from Sudan and tactical nuclear weapons purchased from the Russian Mafia. Saudi intelligence estimates that bin Laden may aleady possess a daunting number of such nuclear explosives and Russian intelligence sources speak of 12 to 15 operational nuclear devices. Some readers may suspect that Williams is pushing the sensationalism envelope, overstating his case to emphasize the terrifying possibility of a domestic Armageddon—or to profit cynically from our anxieties. This may or may not be so, but both his reasoning and his corroborative material seem sound and certainly compelling.

As for the statistics pertaining to alcohol-related deaths, traffic accidents or even being struck by lightning which are supposed to put everything in context, occurrences which are both non-purposeful and diffused over a prolonged time-period and across a vast land area, they only reinforce a kind of dream world, a species of farcical irreality. Point-device in their numerical accoutrements, the inhabitants of this parodic Arden give the distinct impression of a carefree desolation. One scarcely has the patience to engage these grown-up children manipulating their ludicrous number games intended to tranquillize our justifiable fears—a ton of sarin gas would cause only “between three thousand and eight thousand deaths,” we are told. Can these people be serious? This isn’t bingo. This is moral insanity. But if one must shuffle numbers about, how about several coordinated sarin gas attacks (or attacks using several different substances) as with the Islamist plan to bring down a fleet of airliners? The death toll might well settle somewhere in the five figure range—which from the evident point of view of our mainstream dissentients would be trivial compared, say, to the more than 60 million deaths caused by WW II. Deaths numbered in the thousands “can be readily absorbed,” declares the ever-cavalier Mueller. The logic is abominable. I don’t know whether this is infantile thinking or magical thinking, but I do know that it is both shallow and barbarous thinking—if it is thinking at all. The foul body of th’ infected world is not so easily cleansed.

Robert Goodin comes off little better with his argument that those who amplify the terrorist threat for their own purposes must also be accounted as terrorists. This may be true in itself, but the implication is disingenuous since such conjectures are only mind games acted out in an intellectual vacuum, the stuff of conspiracy theories. There is no verifiable proof that our political leaders may be involved in such nefarious practices, whether with respect to Iraq, where every intelligence agency in the world believed that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD, or Homeland Security. Reports faulting the American or British governments in their perhaps over-zealous assessments of current geopolitical realities are, in effect, expressions of the collective opinion of often partisan “experts.” The important fact is that the impulse to draw serious attention to the hypothetical possibility of malfeasance while our real enemies are busy refining their methods and perfecting their weapons constitutes a hazardous distraction, to say the least. The debate is entirely factitious and self-serving, academic makework, the verbal Hackey Sack of those who have nothing better to do with their time. This is not to say that the motives and tactics of those in power cannot be questioned, but that this is not the time to call their bona fides into procedural doubt, and the evidence for a deliberate strategy of misdirection would have to be absolutely ironclad.

Indeed, what we might call the Argument Spurious is a veritable stock in trade of such writers. For Mueller, a radiological attack is not the calamity we consider it to be for in its aftermath “medical and civil defense measures can be deployed” and antidotes administered—but the state of preparedness of our responder networks plainly indicates that unmitigated chaos would ensue. For Goodin, we should refrain from magnifying terrorist activities out of proportion, which explains why he praises the British government for its low-key response to the transport bombings. But the truth of the matter is that the British authorities, by and large, like their counterparts in Holland, France and Canada, suffered from an acute failure of nerve and shrunk from implicating the Muslim community in whose midst the homegrown jihadists “lived and recruited and plotted,” as Robert Spencer has pointed out in an article for FrontPage (August 17, 2006). Thanks to the dogma of political correctness, the M-word was generally taboo and the spotlight for the most part turned elsewhere: “criminals,” “youths,” the “excluded,” the innocently “indoctrinated,” the “socially disadvantaged” were variously responsible for the carnage, the latter as a consequence, it would appear, of a legitimate grievance. The response was not low-key, it was pusillanimous.

The old political maxim, “Where you stand depends on where you sit,” is apt. Our authors have padded their sitzfleisch in prestigious academic appointments, Mueller on the Woody Hayes Chair of National Security at Ohio State University, Goodin at the Australian National University and Sunstein at the University of Chicago. Not much in the way of rigorous, peripatetic inquiry of a classical strain here. A university Chair is a sedentary thing; and, as often as not in today’s PC climate, a tenured position is a neural carapace. We should keep in mind that far too many of our intellectual luminaries live in a beta version of reality, a sort of pastoral interlude protracted, which those whose livings are dependent on the trades and the markets should be skeptical of. The Duchy of the Actual is a non-contiguous zone, existentially remote from the land of visionary seminarians and yet ideologically porous to their species of advocacy. This it is that renders the activities of these “specialists” in international affairs suspect. For when these seignorial capacities pronounce on the incendiary issues of the day, the result is more likely to be one of noxious bathos than, as we have been trained to expect, counsels of modest good sense.

A more recent instance of this tendency is furnished by David A. Bell, a history professor at Johns Hopkins University. Writing in the Los Angeles Times Online (January 28, 2007), Bell brings up the automobile statistics again, uses the WW II Soviet casualty count of 20 million to minimize the current threat, and glibly refers to the terrorists as “criminals”—who may be “exceptionally dangerous,” he allows, but a criminal is not an apocalyptically-inspired terrorist. Bell recommends that the best response to our predicament is “coolness, resolve and stamina” and the awareness that “not every enemy is in fact a threat to our existence.” But as we have seen above, the terrorist enemy demonstrably is. The title of Bell’s article says it all: “Was 9/11 really that bad?” Yes, Dr. Bell, it really was that bad, and probably worse. Obviously, one does not have to think too hard about the real world and its woeful pageants or how to comport oneself in it when enjoying the sinecure provided by a scholarly Arden. Ensconced in safe and insular positions where words are the currency of exchange, our savants need not fret if their arguments are not well cut so long as the words—and numbers—keep flowing. This is as they like it. The burden of lean and wasteful learning sits lightly upon them. They are also liable to forget that the adversary does not quarrel only in print and by the book but by the measuring of swords. But in the fabulous domain of titled speculation, they fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world, composing in peace their sweet and quixotic rhapsodies.

Similarly, Michael Byers, professor of Political Science and Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia, has recently made a media reputation for himself by questioning Canada’s military commitment in Afghanistan. Byers agonizes over the allegedly harsh treatment of Taliban terrorists turned over by Canadian forces to the Afghan authorities and suggests that criminal proceedings might be considered against the Canadian chain of command up to the level of the Prime Minister himself. For Byers, it appears, we are little different from the terrorists. In an article for Maisonneuve magazine (Issue 23, Spring 2007), Byers argues that more money should be earmarked for civil reconstruction (but who will prevent these new structures from being blown up is an issue conveniently unaddressed), deplores the possibility of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities (despite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threat to “wipe Israel off the map” by “a single storm”), reaffirms Canada’s “traditional role in peacekeeping” (when there is no peace to keep), stresses the importance of abiding by the Geneva Conventions (when we are in the midst of a global asymmetrical war in which the enemy consistently and intentionally violates both the Fourth Geneva Convention protecting civilians and the Hague Convention regulating the conduct of battle), and highlights the American mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib as a defining event (when the perpetrators were court martialled by the American military and Abu Ghraib is infamous for Saddam’s slaughtering of its inmates). Byers is guilty not only of the usual hyperbole and of a complete misunderstanding of radical Islam, but of failing to apply a university-trained mind to examining the gap between cloistered immunities and realworld detriments. But of course, that is precisely the nature of the paradox.

To sum up. There is more than one kind of exile which the individual may experience, that which is the result of compulsion and flight and that which is generated by choice, the opting for safety and perquisites. In the latter case, the grass is not only greener but, compared with the precarious terrain outside the portals of privileged lucubration, there is usually more of it—and as the Bard says, good pasture makes fat sheep. So it goes with the obsessive yonderings of most of our university-bred virtuosos. Eschewing the real world for a benign simulacrum in which stanchless rhetoric and comparative numbers deputize for harsh truths, it is as if they have sold their own lands to see other men’s. But a happy and loquacious sojourn in the glen of otherworldliness, whatever else it may do, does not inspire the confidence of a demanding readership, who would count it but lost time to hear such foolish songs. There is, in the last analysis, something distressingly puerile about the laboured vaporizings of these pampered vedettes. Jurist Richard Posner makes no bones about the intellectual maturity of our academic political commentators; in Public Intellectuals, he dismisses them as “people who have never left school. Their milieu is post-adolescent.”

And unfortunately, nothing will convince our euphonious intellectuals of the chronic nonsense purveyed in their writing unless they or their loved ones should be incinerated in one of those terrorist attacks they habitually downplay—or, as in the hit TV series 24 dramatizing a real possibility, a rogue nuclear device assembled on site takes out a suburb of a populous city. Statistics wouldn’t matter much then and neither would consoling fictions. Let us hope it never comes to that but, in the interim, as Albert Camus ruefully stated in his Preface to Algerian Reports, “we could have used moralists less joyfully resigned to their country’s misfortune.”

David Solway is interviewed by

The Big Lie: Terror, Antsemitism, and Identity
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