More than a decade ago, a new editor came to work alongside me on the Washington Times’ national desk. His Catholic roots were in Croatia and it wasn’t long before I learned a lot about the ills that Catholic Croats had suffered under various overlords, the latest being the Communists. The Croats were also under four centuries of the Ottoman (and Muslim) Empire; a situation that my friend never forgot.
Having one’s homeland occupied is something most Americans cannot imagine, much less having to endure it for centuries. My friend was passionate about the politics in his ancestral country to a degree that I rarely saw among other friends who had immigrated to the U.S.
The person in this Washington Post profile is similar to my friend at work: a son of Hungarian Catholics who had suffered for their faith and whose view of the world was shaped by how southern Europe was conquered first by Muslims and then by Communists. These days he's taken on another cause: That of explaining to the world that religious ideology is at the center of the jihadist threat.
To those of us who write about religion, this sounds pretty obvious. I mean: What else motivates the radical Islamist other than -- Islam? But this view is not universally accepted in our government. Read on:
On the night of President Trump’s inauguration, Sebastian Gorka attended the celebratory balls in a high-necked, black Hungarian jacket. Pinned on his chest was a Hungarian coat of arms, a tribute to his father who had been tortured by the communists, and a civilian commendation from the U.S. military.
For years, Gorka had labored on the fringes of Washington and the far edge of acceptable debate as defined by the city’s Republican and Democratic foreign policy elite. Today, the former national security editor for the conservative Breitbart News outlet occupies a senior job in the White House and his controversial ideas — especially about Islam — drive Trump’s populist approach to counterterrorism and national security.
The article then explains Gorka’s conviction that Islam is irreparably radical and that jihad for world domination is at the heart of Islamic thought, teachings and scriptures.
For him, the terror threat is rooted in Islam and “martial” parts of the Koran that he says predispose some Muslims to acts of terror.
“Anybody who downplays the role of religious ideology . . . they are deleting reality to fit their own world,” he said.
Gorka is a deputy assistant to the president. He reports to Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, and is a member of his Strategic Initiatives Group. Bannon has spoken in similarly apocalyptic terms of a “new barbarity” that threatens the Christian West.
The article then put forth quotes by academics as to how mistaken Gorka is but that Trump’s victory has rendered their opinions moot.
Gorka’s ideas about radical Islam began with his father’s fight against the communists in his native Hungary and his deep Catholic faith.
The elder Gorka and a small group of Christian students in Budapest were sending secret, coded messages to London when he was captured by the communist regime, tortured and given a life sentence. In 1956, he escaped and fled to the United Kingdom, where Gorka was born and raised…
The younger Gorka realized, the article continued that Islam, facism and Communism are all totalitarian philosophies bent on world rule.
His other insight, he said, was that the Washington foreign policy elite was too quick to discount the role of religion.
“Their worldview is fundamentally challenged by anybody who takes religion seriously, and you know what? I take religion seriously,” Gorka said. “Because when you take seven minutes on a video to decapitate another human being by manually sawing off their head, that’s the power that religion can have or a distortion of religion or whatever you want to call it. . . . My father was tortured — tortured for weeks — by the communist secret police in Hungary. I didn’t start decapitating people when I found out what happened to my father.”
The article then emphasizes Gorka’s ignorance of Arabic, his layman’s understanding of Islamic teaching and his sparse academic credentials in general. But it does credit Gorka with taking a pragmatic view of Islam that is closer to present-day realities than was former President George W. Bush when he stated that “Islam is peace” after Sept. 11.
Gorka’s former supervisors pushed him to incorporate other perspectives on Islam and publish in peer-reviewed journals where his ideas would be challenged and perhaps tempered, Bell said.
But Gorka insisted that he wasn’t interested in that kind of scholarship.
“What I care about is if somebody in the field is reading my article,” he said. “I see myself as somebody who supports the bravest of the brave — the warfighter. Publish or be damned? I’ll be damned, thank you very much.”
He’s got a point. No one in academia warned about a terror attack before September 11; a point brought up in Martin Kramer’s book “Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America.” It’s clear that not only are members of the Trump Administration brushing aside concerns voiced by media; they’re also not listening to what academics are saying and Gorka is a prime example.
The article did a great job in the first part of explaining that Gorka gets his passion against Islamic terrorism from being a Catholic, but it never takes us anywhere with this information. There’s no explanation showing how Catholicism has informed Gorka in contrast to, say, Protestantism or Orthodoxy.
What it does do is explain one man’s impatience with the system and his inner sense that all the position papers in the world aren’t dealing with the threat at the heart of Islam and its theology. Instead, journalists are fixated with Gorka's weird treatment of his critics. He just got written up by Newsweek for calling a terrorism expert (who had criticized Gorka on Twitter) and threatening the expert with a lawsuit. Listen to the tape recording of Gorka's conversation with Michael Smith.
Although I think the Post piece was quite fair with Gorka, I wish it had probed further. For instance, what parish does this man attend in Washington? Those of us who’ve covered the Archdiocese of Washington know there are certain parishes that stand for certain things and that you can tell a lot about a politician by which church he or she attends. What does the Catholic community think about this man?
Also, how radical is Gorka's thesis, really? Remember that March 2015 Atlantic magazine article "What ISIS Really Wants" that got everyone's attention because it pointed to the inherent nature of Islamic teaching as ISIS' base? Gorka is saying much the same thing. Why is he getting criticized while the magazine was praised for getting to the heart of the issue?
The Wall Street Journal's recent profile of Gorka brings up many of the same points, stressing that Gorka is being a realist in ways that academics and the Obama administration were not in terms of Islam's true nature. I'm fascinated with one man's effort to bring theology to bear on foreign policy. I'll be interested to see how far he gets with it.