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 Features Opinion Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Late Friday night, on November 13, I was headed for bed when an ominous news bulletin flashed across my computer screen – something about a shooting in Paris. It wasn’t long before the “small number” of shootings and casualties began to double and triple and quadruple. The locations of attacks seemed crazily disorganized, and the tweets and videos became more and more horrifying. It was a long night for many stunned observers. We tried to understand what was happening, and […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Theater BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    In an interview with the Israeli site nrg on Wednesday, Belgian-Jewish stage actress Noemi Schlosser recounted immigrating to Israel after her career in Europe was destroyed by BDS. Schlosser said she had enjoyed success in Belgium and international acclaim until she was targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for her pro-Israel stance during Operation Protective Edge — last summer’s war against Hamas in Gaza. She described watching the theaters where she performed go from packed to nearly empty over a short period of […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →