Seven and a half years ago, a girls’ school in Mecca caught fire. Many of the pupils were able to escape the burning building, but unfortunately they ran straight into the hands of the mutaween, Saudi Arabia’s “religious police,” who flayed them for having fled the conflagration without first putting on their head scarves and then drove them back to die in the flames. Fifteen schoolgirls perished—for being “immodestly” dressed. Remember that story? Robert Ferrigno does:
“The upper windows of the madrassa blew out, glass shimmering as it fell through the air. Five girls clustered on the outer balcony, far above the street, raising their arms to the sky, howling, their white night clothes billowing up past their knees . . .
“Three teenagers leaped through a ground-floor window, sprawled on the ground for a moment, bleeding, then ran toward their parents. Jenkins intercepted them, whipped them back, the tips of his beard smoldering, pinpricks of red light surrounding his face as the flail rose and fell. Police joined in, pushing the girls back into the flames.”
Jenkins? That’s right: “Mullah Jenkins.” In his new novel Heart of the Assassin, Robert Ferrigno recreates the Saudi school burning in every particular except one: the madrassa is now in America.
I recall the original report very clearly. It was not long after 9/11, and it was hard not to be struck by the contrast: on the one hand, the brave men of the New York Fire Department pounding up the stairwell of the World Trade Center to save innocent victims from the inferno; on the other, the brave men of the Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice forcing innocents back into the inferno in order to protect their “honour.” The incident seemed to distill something profound about two cultures, and serve as an implicit rebuke to Edward Said’s insistence that each was too “intertwined” with the other to be able to “draw the line”: the respective authorities’ response to fire evacuation seemed a pretty clear line.
Seven years is a long time for such a vivid image to strike the fancy of a novelist. If truth is indeed stranger than fiction, nowadays that may be a conscious choice: Der Spiegel reported the other day that the Droste publishing house of Düsseldorf had cancelled a new novel about “honour killing” in Germany, pleading the now familiar “safety” concerns.
Ferrigno’s “Assassin” trilogy was his response to a simple question he posed in the early days of the post-9/11 era: “What if it’s a long war?” In a short war, bet on technology—smart bombs and unmanned drones. In a long war, bet on will—or, as the novelist put it, “it’s the spiritual strength of the combatants that matters.” We like to think that those fearless firemen are emblematic, but what if that German publisher is more typical? What then?
For Ferrigno, the answer was North America circa 2040: the United States has split into an Islamic Republic in the north and west, and in the southeast “the Belt”—a Christian Bible belt. The edges are being nibbled off everywhere: a hedonist playground in the Nevada Free State, the Mormon Territories, Nueva Florida, a mighty Mexico reborn as the Aztlán Empire and annexing turf from California to Texas, and (golly) a Dominion of Canada that’s somehow managed to seep south of the 49th parallel and grab great chunks of Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Islamic Republic is mostly “moderate”—more Morocco than Yemen—but San Francisco, formerly the land of Milk (Harvey) and Nancy (Pelosi), is paying the price for its past. Renamed New Fallujah, it’s under the control of the Black Robes, a Saudi-style mutaween. Don’t waste your time looking for your favourite gay bar. The fornicators and sodomites have scrammed. And what’s left of those who didn’t can be found on the city’s new landmark: the Bridge of Skulls, formerly the Golden Gate.
Meanwhile, the Belt is less a bastion of republican virtue than an impoverished swamp of garish sentimentality whose national shrines are Waco and Graceland.
It’s an ingenious scenario brilliantly realized, and its detail is persuasive enough to enable Ferrigno to pursue all the traditional thriller conventions, the molls and McGuffins, against a familiar yet utterly transformed landscape. If the final third of the trilogy doesn’t seem entirely to resolve the story of maverick fedayeen Rakkim Epps, perhaps that means that the author will one day return to his Islamic Republic for further dispatches. Meanwhile, there are two aspects of his Islamotopian future I came especially to appreciate as the saga progressed: his villain, a would-be Twelfth Imam known as “the Old One,” is a very literal embodiment of Islam’s pre-modernity and fecundity. The guy is a century and a half old, so he plays a long game: “The world was a vast, multilayered chessboard, and the Old One took years between moves.” His patience is aided by multitudes of children by dozens of wives, “the many seeds planted across the earth, beautiful girls raised among the kaffirs in the Belt and Russia and China, raised among the faithful in Arabia and Europe.” His daughters marry powerful men. His sons wield it for themselves: one becomes pope. The Old One is the apotheosis of Muslim demographic insinuation.
The other shrewd insight is one I was skeptical of back when the trilogy started, in Prayers for the Assassin: this Islamic Republic is the fruit not of Muslim fertility but of conversion. As the new nation’s bestselling history book explains: “Even the election in 2008 of a multiracial president named after the grandson of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) could not prevent a cruel, godless capitalism from sending jobs overseas, where labor costs were cheaper, leaving millions at home unemployed, and embittered . . . Children and adults could draw no moral sustenance from a permissive culture that celebrated immorality and materialism.”
Or as someone muses more philosophically: “It’s the modern, the man without faith or future, who’s the easiest to turn . . . Freedom is a terrible burden, much too heavy for the weak man to bear.” Recently, a British police bigwig told me that 100,000 people converted to Islam last year. The figure didn’t seem possible: Jews have been in Britain for centuries and their numbers are down below 200,000. Never mind immigration or high birth rates, Islam surely can’t be converting in the space of a single year a number equivalent to half the entire Jewish population.
But it will, one day, soon. Let’s say you work in an office in Brussels, Amsterdam, or some other city on the brink of majority Muslim status: so management installs a prayer room, and a few co-workers head off at the designated time, while the rest of you get on with what passes for work in the EU. A couple of years go by, and now a few more folks scoot off to the prayer room. And meanwhile everybody young and hip is Muslim. As Ferrigno recounts: “Shania X, the most popular country music recording star in the world, made her declaration of faith at the Grand Ole Opry. A week later, three major movie stars declared their submission . . . These high-profile conversions created a cascade effect.”
I can see that happening—not in America, perhaps, but in Britain: a former Spice Girl, three Premier League footballers, and, if not a cascade, at least trickle-down Islamics. Why not fit in? Go along to get along . . .
Finally, a point of personal privilege, as the parliamentarians say. Reviewing Heart of the Assassin in FrontPage Magazine, David Forsmark noted:
“Here is a clue as to just how great Ferrigno’s Assassin trilogy is: giving a rave review to the first book was part of the indictment against columnist Mark Steyn when he was hauled before Canada’s so-called Human Rights Commission. Recommendations don’t come any higher than that.”
Indeed. Any self-respecting author would be proud to have “As Non-Recommended By The Canadian Human Rights Commission” emblazoned across his cover. What’s sadder is that Mr. Forsmark is correct: my review of Prayers for the Assassin was Exhibit No. 3 in the Canadian Islamic Congress’s indictment of Maclean’s systemic “Islamophobia.” The plaintiffs painstakingly listed every plot twist (“1) America will be an Islamic Republic by 2040 . . . 2) There will be a break for prayers during the Super Bowl,” etc.) without betraying any understanding that Robert Ferrigno’s book is a work of fiction.
Invited to prosecute a complaint resting on the proposition that discussing the plot points of a novel constitutes a “hate crime,” any justice system worth the name would have laughed it out of court. So, needless to say, the Canadian, British Columbia and Ontario “human rights” regimes took it seriously. Which is one of the more obvious reasons why any freeborn citizen should reject their jurisdiction: these self-aggrandizing statist hacks are simply too bone-crushingly stupid to have any say over your lives.
There are enough Muslim fans of Mr. Ferrigno for his novels to have been translated into Turkish and Arabic. But here’s how nutty Canadian “human rights” are: a publisher in Egypt is free to publish the “Islamophobic” Ferrigno. But a publisher in Canada will be dragged into court in Vancouver merely for running a favourable review.
You begin to see why the Old One fancies his chances.