In November 2004, a 26-year old Dutch-Moroccan named Mohammed Bouyeri ambushed filmmaker Theo Van Goh as he rode his bike to work. Bouyeri shot the filmmaker eight times with a handgun, and, as he lay dying, attempted to decapitate him with a large knife. Death was the treatment Van Goh earned for directing a movie that criticized Islam’s treatment of women. In both 2005 and 2007, European newspapers that ran cartoons featuring likenesses of Mohammed were met with riots and death threats. In April 2010, Comedy Central censored images of Mohammed, bleeped out his name, and—ironically—cut a final speech about standing up to intimidation and fear from an episode of South Park, in part because of death threats against the show’s writers.
The other week, a poorly-made YouTube trailer for a movie called “The Innocence of Muslims” that distastefully portrays the prophet as a bloodthirsty pedophile hit the internet. Again, the mobs have spoken. Again, there are bodies in the street as the civilizing principles of decency and diplomatic immunity are gleefully discarded. In Libya, the United States ambassador was killed along with three American soldiers. In Egypt, Yemen, and Tunisia, crowds attacked the American embassy. In Sudan, apparently lacking either an American target or a map, a giant mob stormed the German embassy. Nineteen died in riots in Pakistan where rioters stoned a KFC and torched a church. Two American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. Even here in Australia, a mob formed in downtown Sydney, attacking police officers with thrown rocks and clenched fists, smashing windows, and chanting “Obama, Obama, we love Osama,” a chorus of support for the tragic murder of three thousand innocent American men, women, and children just over eleven years ago. In the same protest a five-year-old girl held a poster that called for the beheading of those who would offend the prophet. All over a YouTube clip.
The weird part about writing this column this fall is that I’ll never see it in print. I’m spending the semester in Australia this fall but I decided at the end of last year to continue writing this, assuming—incorrectly—that this would be an interesting election about important issues. So, welcome to election season 2012: the race to the bottom. If 2008 was a baseball game where the teams tried for home runs, this time it’s around all about clearing the benches and charging the mound.
Which is worse for America? A campaign based almost entirely upon falsehoods and platitudes, or one that focuses on the small, petty, petulant problems it has with its opponent? The latter is more depressing but as we struggle to our knees and begin to look for answers to the questions of the 21st century, both are dangerous. Together, they add up to a depressing election between two men so walled off from the world that they make Don Draper look like the Kardashian family by comparison.
Tom Clancy was the author whose work most inspired me to write. His work has spawned countless movie adaptions—the Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, the Sum of All Fears—and video games—Rainbow Six and its many sequels, Splinter Cell and its many sequels, and so on. Clancy has shown an unusual willingness to add his name to anything spy-related as long as it earns him so extra money. Most of the books that have come out bearing that name in the past few years have had a coauthor’s name in small print below, and their quality has deteriorated significantly. Even some of his later, non-coauthored books weren’t as good as readers had come to expect. The glory days of Clancy are long gone, and I haven’t yet found an author in the genre that replaces his combination of quality writing, incredible detail, and amazing action. Many of the popular writers of spy thrillers today make Dick Cheney look liberal and aren’t afraid to show it (Brad Thor), set up good characters but don’t write convincing action and fail to adequately wrap up story lines at the end of the book (Ted Bell), or write great stories but do so poorly (Dan Brown and many, many more). Although Clancy wrote more an extraordinarily large number of awesome novels, here are my five favorites (Mild spoilers follow):