I read almost nothing this weekend – just a few chapters of Henry and Clara and a few chapters of the book named above, which I’ve been reading off and on for about a week. I don’t have much to say except that it is too bad that the narrative history in this volume is so thoroughly drowned out by its authors’ ideology.
I’ll explain. First, it doesn’t take a literary scholar to look at the cover of this book and tell that it’s no peer-reviewed history treatise. This is definitely a history book for the masses. I had only read a few pages when a little voice in the back of my head started wondering exactly who these two authors are. I don’t remember what prompted this question exactly, but certainly the authors’ determination to portray Islam as a violent religion played a role, as did the authors’ frequent willingness to slap labels like “disgraceful” and “shameful” and “intrepid” on historical personages after considering their actions for a paragraph or two. Long story short, these authors are Fox News anchors. Maybe you knew that, but I did not.
I feel a little dirty now, but I’m not going to stop reading the book. I really am enjoying the history, and I have a decent enough grasp of the events of Jefferson’s presidency to know when I’m being played. I roll my eyes at the editing errors – most of which are simple typos but a few of which are fairly hilarious, like “ceiling wax” on page 56 (How OLD are these guys? I asked, glancing at the photo on the book jacket again. They look my age or a little younger. What’s the cutoff date for knowing what sealing wax is – maybe a date of birth around 1980? 82? I don’t know). And what exactly is the correlation between ideological extremism and poor editing? Surely someone has written a dissertation or two on the subject.
What ideological extremism, you ask? The purpose of this book, however roundabout the delivery, is to make clear to readers that the first enemies of the United States – after Great Britain, that is – were Muslims. And OK, historically this is true. At first I grumbled at the word “forgotten” in the title, but then I realized that I think I did get through school thinking the War of 1812 was the United States’ first war as a sovereign nation. I’m not sure when I learned about the Barbary Wars – probably from something I read at some point between June of 1994 and a few months ago. It’s true what they say about reading: you learn stuff.
And I’m learning stuff from reading this book too. Namely, I’m learning how pervasive anti-Muslim propaganda has become in this country, even just in the last six months. How is it that American authors can write about our ancestors fighting the British in the Revolutionary War and in the War of 1812 without in any way maligning Great Britain as it exists today, but we can’t compartmentalize the Barbary pirates in the same way? We even manage to be gracious toward the Germans, whose terrible war crimes took place less than a century ago. The pirates themselves aren’t even the worst part, since the very fact that they are pirates is an indication that some of their behavior might be a bit violent and anti-social. Every single Muslim leader is depicted as a variation on Jabba the Hutt, and the Americans who served as consuls and ambassadors in these nations (today’s Morocco, Algeria, and Libya) seem to have textbook cases of Stockholm Syndrome.
I know I’ve been fairly grand and sweeping in my indictment of this book’s underlying purpose, often without providing much evidence. I will try to be a little more specific next time, with quotations and page references and outside research and also possibly an elaborate analogy involving a strip joint. I am still juggling a number of books, but I will finish this one soon, partly because I want to tell my strip joint story but mostly because it’s already a couple of days overdue at the library and this book is definitely not fineworthy. And I can’t renew it because hundreds of people have placed it on hold. Of COURSE hundreds of people have placed it on hold.
See you soon.