Chronicles' distinguished foreign affairs editor has a way of exciting controversy. Often the cause is his view of Islam. Despite the fact that he has declared, over and over, that he opposes the aggressive policies and measures taken by the US against Iraq and Afghanistan, his historical critique has been sufficiently on-target to create a whole host of enemies. The most recent attack comes from a surprising source, the Belgrade publication Politika, which is often said to be the Serbian (formerly Yugoslav equivalent) of the New York Times.
Here is the opening of a recent article (20 September):
"The latest tensions caused by the movie which has blasphemously presented Prophet Muhammad lead us to re-examine the position of Islamic fundamentalism as the Holy Grail of the contemporary American policy, which conceals its true intentions behind the a-political formulae such as democracy, human rights, and global security.
"Some time ago in America, a story strongly resonated about the affair involving an interest group of political analysts gathered around certain companies and foundations whose members were given jobs to lecture on global politics at American military schools. It was subsequently established that they told the students that a war of civilizations was inevitable, that Christians will have to rise against Muslims, and that in that war the rules of warfare inevitably will have to be violated, that the massacres like Hiroshima and Dresden will be necessary, and that Islam needs to be cut at the root, with the demolition of Mecca included. When certain information about these lectures reached the public, the very top of the American state structure reacted and most of these lecturers were removed from their teaching posts.
"This story has been made particularly spicy by one detail, that as a guest-lecturer working together with them was a Serb, Srdja Trifkovic, thus establishing an interesting coalition between the Serbian Right and the American neoconservatives, which – having in mind recent experiences – seems perfectly natural…"
There are several disturbing aspects to the diatribe. First-off, it is amazingly fact-free. The only name offered in evidence is Trifkovic's, and there are no details about the organizations and sponsors behind the alleged Islamophobic conspiracy. Secondly, Trifkovic is supposed to be collaborating with the imperialist neoconservatives, the very people who hate his guts and have declared war on Chronicles magazine as "unpatriotic conservatives." His alleged calls for nuclear attack are completely at odds with his often stated opposition to America's attacks on Muslim countries.
Either the writer and his editors have some very top-secret information which, when released will cost Trifkovic his job at Chronicles and wreck his career, or they have very foolishly committed libel under American as well as Serbian law. Ordinarily I should be inclined to dismiss this sort of stuff as typical East-European hysteria, but even in the bad old days of Tito and Milosevic Politika maintained a reputation for, if not quite integrity then at least for the appearance of sanity. This piece can either be backed up or it is gutter journalism of the worst type.
Dr. Trifkovic will have to go to the Serbian courts to deal with these charges. I assume that he can explode the allegations as successfully as he has always done in the past. Still, the episode will leave a bad taste in the mouth of Americans who had begun to believe that the Belgrade government might really be sincere in its protestations of democracy, freedom of speech, and the rule of law. The only way Serbia can restore its credibility is by punishing the perpetrators of this libelous prank.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.