Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Van Was Right, So Are We

March 25, 2013 3:22 am 1 comment

A man, believed to be Ambassdor Stevens, being carried by civilians in Libya. Photo: AFP/Getty.

My grandfather Edward Bulkeley Van Zile was a zealous anti-Communist. He couldn’t understand why anyone would downplay the threat of Communism. He experienced the efforts American church leaders to make nice with Communist leaders as a betrayal of the country he had served during World War I and which had elicited the sacrifice of his oldest son during World War II.

His anger at the people who wanted to appease – and not stand in opposition to – Communism and its supporters is evident in letters he sent to New Hampshire’s Manchester Union Leader. In one instance, he railed against clergymen who met with leaders of Communist China over the objections of the U.S. State Department.

Van, as he was called, lost his job as advertising manager at Yankee magazine in part because of his zealous anti-Communism. He had a difficult time getting along with people. Part of the problem was his anger at people who didn’t feel the threat of Communism as viscerally as he did. He was a vessel of anti-Communist outrage and he paid the price.

As a result of his cantankerous ways, Robb Sagendorf, Yankee’s publisher, fired him. The letter Sagendorf wrote to my grandfather afterwards was pretty moving. Sagendorf was distraught over having to fire his friend and employee, but there was no way he was hiring Van back, despite pleas from other employees at Yankee to do so.

He was too abrasive; too much of a curmudgeon.

Looking through the scrapbooks and correspondence that document my grandfather’s life, I see a lot of myself in him. The similarity struck pretty close to the bone a few months ago when I read through one scrapbook and saw an entry in which he jokingly asked if the Roman Catholic Church would take him if he left the Episcopal Church over its appeasing tendencies.

A few years ago I left the United Church of Christ and became a Roman Catholic in part because of the dishonest story the UCC’s leaders, peace activists and General Synod told about the Arab-Israeli conflict. These institutions, like those of other mainline denominations, had offered a distorted view of the Arab-Israeli conflict and had condoned some ugly Jew-baiting by so-called peacemakers from the Middle East.

And to add salt to the wound, the denomination did not speak up forcefully about the oppression of Christians in Muslim-majority countries. In sum, UCC peace activists and denominational officials demonized Zionism, Israel and its supporters, but remained silent about Islamism and the misdeeds of its adherents.

Like my grandfather, I took the sins of my church leaders as a personal betrayal and wrote about it. My grandfather joked about leaving his church and of becoming a Catholic. I actually did it.

The echoes are unmistakable.

Because of my familial connection to anti-Communism, I recently read a book that was published in 1998 – Not Without Honor: The History of American Anticommunism by Richard Gid Powers. This book was published 15 years ago but provides startling insight into the events of our times.

Again, the echoes are unmistakable.

First off, the two movements were (or are) right. Communism destroyed millions of peoples’ lives in Asia and Eastern Europe, just as Islamism is destroying peoples’ lives in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. People who embrace these ideologies lead the societies they control into perdition.

Both movements were (or are) opposed by people who refuse(d) to acknowledge the threat of totalitarianism. Just as significant numbers of intellectuals, journalists and clergy turned a blind eye to the destructiveness of Communism, another generation of intellectuals is unwilling to confront the destructiveness of shariah law. For the anti-anti- Communists and their ideological inheritors (the anti-anti-Islamists) those who oppose totalitarianism represent a greater threat than totalitarianism itself.

The anti-anti-Islamists promote an obsession with Israel and in some instances, traffic in classical tropes of anti-Semitism to dramatize their story.

They write books that obscure the truth about the legacy left by Islam’s founder, Mohammed.

They downplay or ignore the suffering endured by women in Muslim majority countries.

They ignore the mistreatment of religious and ethnic minorities who are suffering terrible acts of violence at the hand of Islamists who invoke the teachings and actions of Mohammed and his companions to justify their acts of violence and oppression.

To make matters worse, they portray the people who insist on talking about these things as Philistines by calling them bigots and Islamophobes.

The goal of these epithets is to stifle discussion about the most pressing question of our time: How are we going to deal with the desire of Islamists who seek to mimic Mohammed’s legacy and follow his teachings to the letter in the modern world?

The desire to ignore this question and leave it for the next generation to contend with is understandable. It’s rooted in human nature. It’s still wrong.

The similarities don’t stop there. Just as J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy undermined the credibility of anti-Communism as a movement, some anti-Islamist activists behave in ways that undermine their cause.

They badmouth and dismiss reform-minded Muslims who are struggling to confront the anti-Semitism of their co-religionists.

Sometimes they make allegations about anti-Israel activists that are not true.

And some groups use a legitimate concern over Islamism as justification for their own extremist politics. The point of fighting against Islamism is to prevent the spread of fascism, not foster it.

All these behaviors give people an excuse to ignore the threats anti-Islamists are legitimately trying to warn people about.

But as we recount the sins of some anti-Islamists, we have to admit that as a whole, the movement is right about Islamism, just as the anti-Communists in the 20th century were right about Communism and just as 19th century abolitionists were right about slavery.

Shariah is an evil system of oppression that demands outrage – just as slavery and Communist oppression demanded outrage.

The greatest danger facing afflicting anti-Islamists is the same one that afflicted my grandfather – hopelessness. He lacked faith in his fellow citizens to see the truth and act on the truth about Communism.

I wish my grandfather, that vessel of anti-Communist outrage, had somehow lived long enough to see the collapse of the Soviet Union and the destruction of the Berlin Wall. Van had his demons, but history proved him right.

One way or another, it will prove the anti-Islamists right as well.

Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). His opinions are his own.

1 Comment

  • Sonia Willats

    Dexter. You should read C S Lewis’s “The Last Battle” It gives an almost prophetic commentary on “Chrislam”.

    Unfortunately the Catholic Church has not always had a wonderful record towards Jews either; or to any who opposed it’s power, like the Albergensians. Any organisation that weilds great power and wealth should be suspect by Christians. Jeshua had to catch three fish to pay the temple tax. He did not seek power “My Kingdom is not of this world… etc.”

    But good that you seek truth, and defend Israel.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Arts and Culture Israel Jerry Seinfeld to Make Comedy Debut in Israel

    Jerry Seinfeld to Make Comedy Debut in Israel – Famed Jewish-American comedian and actor Jerry Seinfeld is slated to make his comedic debut in Israel later this year. Seinfeld, who was born in Brooklyn to Jewish parents from the Ukraine and Syria, will perform in Tel Aviv’s Mitvtachim Menorah Arena on Dec. 19 as part of a world tour. The comedian is most known for his enormously popular NBC sitcom Seinfeld, which ran from 1989-1998 and is widely considered one of the greatest TV series of all time. […]

    Read more →
  • Food Israel New Video Shows American Kids Reviewing Israeli Food After Tasting Dishes for First Time (VIDEO)

    New Video Shows American Kids Reviewing Israeli Food After Tasting Dishes for First Time (VIDEO)

    A new video circulating online shows eight American children reacting — mostly positively — to their first taste of the famed Israeli eggplant salad/dip, known in Hebrew as “salat hatzilim” and in other parts of the Levant as baba ganoush. The clip, created by, features the youngsters trying a variety of exotic dishes from other countries as well, such as Hawaiian poi, Colombian pork belly and Russian borscht. The Israeli delicacies served include schnitzel, slices of pita, hummus and the baba ganoush salad. “If someone […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Pioneers/Philanthropists ‘Start-Up Nation’ Israel to Host Forbes Magazine Young Entrepreneurs Summit

    ‘Start-Up Nation’ Israel to Host Forbes Magazine Young Entrepreneurs Summit – Forbes magazine announced Tuesday that it will host its Under 30 EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) Summit in Israel for the first time in April 2016. The conference is expected to bring together some 600 young entrepreneurs, with 200 from Europe, 200 from the U.S., and 200 from Israel. The summit has been hosted in Philadelphia for the past two years. It will include presentations, speeches, a pitch competition, and cultural immersion opportunities in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Beliefs and concepts What’s That Huge White Bridal Dress Floating Over the Tower of David?

    What’s That Huge White Bridal Dress Floating Over the Tower of David? –  “What’s that huge white bridal dress floating over the Tower of David?” That’s what visitors to Jerusalem’s Old City asked last week. The wedding gown, created by leading Israeli artist Motti Mizrachi, is part of the 2nd Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art, an event that blew into town as the Sukkot holiday got underway. Mizrachi, who lives and works in Tel Aviv, created the dress that floats majestically over the Tower of David, the main exhibition site […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion The Top 10 Places to Visit in Israel

    The Top 10 Places to Visit in Israel

    Israel is a holiday destination on many travelers’ bucket lists. No matter the style of holiday you are after, Israel has the answer. Whether you prefer to relax by the beach, hike up mountains in the desert, visit religious and historical sites, eat your way through the country or just enjoy some retail therapy, your journey through Israel will be one to remember. While there are obviously so many things to see and do, here is a list of 10 of […]

    Read more →
  • Pioneers/Philanthropists US & Canada Jewish American Fashion Mogul Ralph Lauren to Step Down as CEO

    Jewish American Fashion Mogul Ralph Lauren to Step Down as CEO – Jewish American fashion mogul Ralph Lauren announced his plan to step down as chief executive officer of the renowned fashion brand. The head of Gap Inc’s Old Navy brand will take over the position. The 75-year-old Lauren, who founded Ralph Lauren Corp. in 1967, will continue to serve as executive chairman and will continue leading the fashion house’s design team, according to a statement by the company. After the announcement, Ralph Lauren shares rose 3.79 percent while Gap shares […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Sports US & Canada Jewish Boxer Dustin ‘White Tiger’ Fleischer Scores Fourth Knockout Victory

    Jewish Boxer Dustin ‘White Tiger’ Fleischer Scores Fourth Knockout Victory

    Jewish boxer Dustin Fleischer, who said his quest is to become the first world champion descended from a Holocaust survivor, stayed unbeaten with a first-round knockout. Fleischer, nicknamed “The White Tiger,” moved to 4-0 with the defeat of Ira Frank on Saturday night in Beach Haven, New Jersey, near his home, he reported after the fight on his Facebook page. The 26-year-old welterweight has won all his bouts by knockout. Read full story at JTA.

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Pioneers/Philanthropists Meet Israel’s Santa Claus, the Trustee Tasked With Handing Out Leona Helmsley’s Billions (INTERVIEW)

    Meet Israel’s Santa Claus, the Trustee Tasked With Handing Out Leona Helmsley’s Billions (INTERVIEW)

    Renowned New York attorney Sandor (Sandy) Frankel, one of four trustees of the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, was in Israel earlier this month to look at additional philanthropic options and to observe the progress of those endeavors already funded – to the tune of multi-millions. Frankel, who recently joined the prestigious Park Avenue law firm Otterbourg P.C., met with Israeli politicians and other bigwigs to get a sense from them about which projects in the country […]

    Read more →