By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Back at the Carlyle Hotel, where he was staying, LÃ©vy drank Lapsang Souchong tea, munched wafer-thin sandwiches and talked about his book. Hovering in the background, Dennis Johnson kept his eye on the clock.
“The investigation was hard work. It made me nervous sometimes! To be Jewish in Pakistan is not the most comfortable position you can have. But I did it. I was sort of possessed during those 12 months. I dreamed of Daniel Pearl, I dreamed of his murderers. I felt that the story was a huge one — politically, symbolically, as important as the collapse of the World Trade Center. For me, the 21st century begins with the [assassination] of Ahmed Shah Masoud and moderate Islam in Afghanistan on September 9, 2001; the collapse of the twin towers on September 11; and the death of Daniel Pearl [in January, 2002]. The new stakes of the century are here, in this triumvirate.”
LÃ©vy believes that Islamic fundamentalism must be fought, but his position is nuanced, complex and politically unclassifiable. Repeatedly during his trip, he emphasized that most victims of Islamic terrorism were themselves Muslim, and insisted that, contra Samuel Huntington, the real “clash of civilizations” was not between Islam and the West, but between extremist and moderate Muslims. “It is not a battle between people, it’s much more insidious than that,” he said. “The clash is inside the mind of each Muslim.” Our job, he believes, is to encourage the moderates, as he tries to do in the concluding chapter of his book, which is titled “Gentle Islam.”
How sure is LÃ©vy that the terrorist threat is real? I asked. If there are so many al Qaeda members itching to blow up our cities, why aren’t they doing so? Could the war on terrorism be a massive overreaction?
“I don’t dare think that,” LÃ©vy replied. “There will be some new acts of terrorism, maybe even worse than the collapse of the twin towers. You are right when you say that [they’re not doing anything]. In Paris, they could blow up the Eiffel Tower, and they don’t do it, so it means they are not so clever as they think. But one act of terrorism can go through, and one is enough. The intention is there.”
LÃ©vy had to leave again. On the day’s schedule he still had the last of three telephone interviews to do (he would conduct one of them, with Phil Fink of Shalom America, a radio show in Cleveland, stretched out on the hotel bed with his eyes closed), as well as an interview with Scott Simon on National Public Radio, another with a reporter from the Toronto Globe & Mail, a meeting with the editor of the New York Review of Books, and a three-hour dinner with New York Observer columnist Ron Rosenbaum, who would interview him for C-SPAN at the Overseas Press Club the following night.
Two days later he appeared on Charlie Rose, whose other guest was Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. LÃ©vy and Haass chatted about Pakistan in the green room, and when Rose asked Haass on air if he agreed with LÃ©vy’s analysis of that country, Haass replied, “Alas, I think he’s right.” Afterward, requests for more copies of the book, which had already been sent to Bush, Cheney, Powell, Wolfowitz, et al., came in from Washington, D.C. To some extent, LÃ©vy was having an effect.
At the end of the week, I caught up with LÃ©vy again at the Carlyle. Looking tired, and still in makeup from an appearance on MSNBC earlier that morning, he was sitting in the dining room drinking his usual tea. There was one more television appearance to go (on Fox, which had him on three times, more than any other channel), and then he was flying back to France.
Having recently been in Europe myself, where I’d gotten an earful about American foreign policy, been informed that 9/11 was “a tragic, but necessary corrective,” and quizzed repeatedly as to whether I’d read Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men, I asked LÃ©vy about Europe’s Bush obsession. Wasn’t going on about “Bush the Cowboy” also a way of concealing a much deeper, and mostly unspoken, fear of militant Islam, particularly as it may exist in the West? After all, Daniel Pearl’s kidnapper, Omar Sheikh, was English— born and raised in Britain, and educated at the London School of Economics (as were two other al Qaeda operatives).
“Yes, there is also cowardice,” LÃ©vy agreed. “Hoping to have peace with these sorts of people if we tell them, ‘Well, okay, we are not at war with you, our enemy is Bush,’ and so on. There is a hope to appease the monster, to appease the beast. Which is always a miscalculation. Europe did that with Hitler, Europe did that with communism, Europe does that with radical Islamism. Very few people in Europe accept to face their stake in the rise of Islamism; very few take the measure of the threat. And the people who do it, unfortunately, do it often in a stupid way. I think about Oriana Fallaci, for instance, who is a racist.” (Fallaci’s The Rage and the Pride is a ferocious attack on radical Islam, and what she sees as Italy’s capitulation to it.)