According to his LinkedIn and Twitter pages—although not the White House website—Hungarian British American Sebastian Gorka holds the title Deputy Assistant to the President, an amorphous but exalted position that formally makes him the equal of the National Security Advisor. In normal times, such a White House official would scarcely be brought to public attention until at least the first major scandal or mistake. But ours are emphatically not normal times.
In a manner that defies all precedent, entire divisions of the Fake News have seemingly been detailed to encircle this man, who, aided by their guerrilla allies in the Swamp, have with varying degrees of justification probed and prodded Gorka over everything from his lack of expertise (Michael S. Smith) to the authenticity of this doctorate (Andrew Reynolds) to the mysteriousness of his British military service (Anna Merlan) to his apparent membership in an Hungarian knighthood that apparently collaborated with Hitler’s empire.
Largely absent from this barrage, however, is genuine scholarly discussion of his high-grossing Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War. With very little non-partisan discussion available in an open access format, the public is left bereft of serious engagement with his thesis. Therefore, I shall critically examine Defeating Jihad while deliberately refraining from comment on these numerous other issues.
Gorka’s main argument is that jihad, a worldwide mindset of anti-Western Islamic revolution, represents a totalitarian ideology as violently uncompromising as Soviet Communism. Therefore, the only successful policy is total and unmitigated resistance.
The global jihadist movement…be they Al Qaeda, ISIS, or Hizbollah, have a vision of the future world that is exclusive and absolutist. Either the whole planet is under their control or they have lost. There is no middle ground. No peaceful coexistence is possible. Ever. The infidel must submit or be killed. (18)
This recognition is deeply informed by the Gorka family story that comprises the prologue. Sebastian’s father, Paul Gorka, resisted Communism as a student before being betrayed by Kim Philby, sentenced to prison, liberated in the revolution of 1956, and then found his way to England and married the girl with whom he fled. Gorka, like many refugees and their descendants from behind the former Iron Curtain, describes himself as a “child of the Cold War” who “was brought up to understand one thing without question: freedom is fragile…and there will always be those who believe they have the right to take your freedom from you” (15). Eastern Europeans like the Gorkas who survived Communism and then made their way West perform a great public service through their revitalizing insistence that liberty is always in danger and that no nation may politely excuse itself from history. The book as a whole perpetuates this frequent admonition.
That said, what immediately occurs to the reader of Defeating Jihad is its extraordinary brevity and eccentric construction. No more than half of its 244 pages are even indirectly concerned with Islamist terrorism, given that Gorka reproduces both George F. Kennan’s famous “Long Telegram” (1946), the containment memo that masterfully argued that Soviet behavior could only be comprehended through a deep appreciation of Russian history, and NSC-68 (1950), which unfolds the imperative of matching the Soviets in an ongoing and multifaceted contest of strength. Yet at the risk of sounding uncharitable, both documents appear as filler, given that Gorka provides very little narrative engagement with either. “Resources and Further Reading” is similarly perplexing, as Gorka refers the reader to hardly any scholarly literature at all, prominently submitting instead several organizations controlled by him and his wife. What largely remains, therefore, are four content chapters comprising about ninety pages.
“The Story of Jihad” (ch. 2) is a sweeping account of the ancient roots and modern conceptualizations of Islamic revolution. Its first paragraph submits an admitted truth: “Before September 11, 2001, the average American knew little about Islam or Muslims… But fifteen years after 9/11, most Americans’ understanding of Islam has scarcely improved” (55). Gorka’s chapter, unfortunately, shall in my opinion do little to supply this deficiency. His analysis of jihad rests upon its “seven swords” (60), or principle objectives that longitudinally consist of empire building, suppression of and then revolution against apostates, anti-colonialism, countering pagan unbelief (jahiliyyah), guerrilla campaigns against the West, and terrorism. Yet it is unclear if this list is exclusively his own or if it represents the historiography and theory of others. Gorka also attaches prime importance to Osama bin Laden’s objective of reestablishing the Islamic caliphate “that would span the globe and last until Judgment Day” (72), even though the decisive Messages to the World (2005) of Bruce Lawrence, a complete account of Bin Laden’s public utterances, reveals scarcely any such objective at all.
Chapter three, “Annus horribilis,” correctly identifies the Iranian revolution, the siege of Mecca, and the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as galvanizing events for global jihad. The fourth chapter is more interesting and useful. In “The Enemy Masterminds: The Grand Strategists of Modern Jihad,” Gorka reviews modern Islamist theorists such as Sayyid Qutb, Ayman al Zawahiri, and General S.K. Malik that current national security professionals indeed must read, although much of the same literature is reviewed more skillfully in Michael Gove’s Celsius 7/7 (2006), another more useful text by and for the non-specialist.
The final content chapters entitled “What is to be Done?” and “Afterword” conclude with an odd assortment of lifestyle changes and policy recommendations. The individual American is encouraged to procure and to carry a firearm, and to report any suspicious activity to the police (138-39). The American federal government, meanwhile, must declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization (141), resist the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and initiate a “massive counterpropaganda campaign coordinated by the NSC across the Defense and State Departments and the intelligence community” (130), although no details are given for this vast prospective operation. The US Army, meanwhile, must for some reason jettison the current counterinsurgency manual (3-24) authored by General Petraeus in favor of something less “rehashed” from the British and French empires while at the same time embedding its soldiers within allied Arab armies (143), and on this basis strengthening the Arabs’ war upon the Islamic State. “If these or similar measures are taken soon after the next president takes office,” concludes Gorka, who would very soon thereafter join the next president in office, “we will be able to win the war against global jihadism” (144).
Defeating Jihad bears numerous signs of hasty, perhaps frenetic composition, and the occasional result is highly questionable statements of fact. Thus for example, Gorka writes, “Afghanistan was the birthplace of modern jihadism” (46). Surely that dubious honor belongs to Egypt, for it was there that the Muslim Brotherhood was formed (1928), and it was amid the teeming back alleys of Cairo that they waged the first now familiar pattern of Islamist insurgency against a corrupt, Western-supported authoritarian ruler, in that case the lecherous King Farouk. In another instance (64-65), Gorka appears to ascribe the genesis of Pakistan to Abul A’la Mawdudi as opposed to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who by all reputable accounts conceived and created it.
Yet the serious drawback to Gorka’s text is not so much what it says—the media having imputed to him all sorts of racist and fascist sympathies—but how much it does not say, given the immense variety of violent or at least anti-social Islamic transformations in the Middle East and Europe completely absent from its pages. Defeating Jihad says virtually nothing about terrorism specifically, even though Gorka is most associated with that subject matter. The conflicts between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and the very salient question of jihad in Western Europe are also completely passed over. Nor is there any discussion of questions pertaining to Islamic assimilation in the West, such as controversies over Islamic dress, female genital mutilation, press censorship in the name of religion, or forced or polygamous marriage. Jihad thus emerges from Gorka’s book as an isolated phenomenon unmoored from larger and deeper cultural context. In short, his bestselling text may be a seriously flawed volume, but upon closer inspection it is not at all anti-Semitic, “Islamaphobic,” or any other bigoted adjective that the mainstream media have been employing with such shameless abandon.
Mark R. Royce, Ph.D., teaches political science at George Mason University and NVCC Annandale and is author of the forthcoming Political Theology of European Integration: Comparing the Influence of Religious Histories on European Policies, which probes the religious ideas behind EU politics. He has written for The European Legacy, International & Comparative Law Quarterly, and the Journal of Church & State.
Photo Credit: Detail of Defeating Jihad cover.