Sins of the Assassin
by Robert Ferrigno
Scribner's, 400 pp., $24.95
With the publication of Sins of the Assassin, Robert Ferrigno is now two-thirds of the way toward completing a series of thrillers--with plenty of graphic violence, and some graphic sex--that also comprise a serious work of dystopian fiction.
The books take place in the 2040s, when most of what is now the United States has become an Islamic republic. (Most of the deeply Christian South--the Bible Belt--resists Islamic rule and secedes.) Ferrigno began his projected trilogy of popular fictional works on this theme with Prayers for the Assassin, which appeared in 2006; the concluding work is due out next year. To describe Ferrigno's brilliantly realized fictional universe, I'll draw on Prayers as well as the newly published Sins.
What led most of Ferrigno's America to Islamize? The immediate cause was the devastation wrought by suitcase nuclear bombs that destroyed New York and Washington (and, for good measure, Mecca) in 2015. These attacks were blamed on the Mossad. But the "Zionist Betrayal," as it came to be called, was not enough by itself to promote massive conversion to Islam. In the words of a historian quoted in Sins:
Western churches, rather than offering moral guidance, were weak and vacillating, unwilling to condemn even the most immoral behavior. Islam offered a bright light and a clear answer, and the faithful could not build mosques fast enough to satisfy the need. While no force of arms could defeat the armies of the West, it was their moral and spiritual void that ultimately vanquished them.
Furthermore, one of Ferrigno's characters adds the following analysis of what, for us, are current events:
The U.S. military won every battle [in Iraq], but they had no voice, no message that could be heard. [Those who monitored TV stations] never saw a hero, only the dead. A war without heroes, without victories. Only petty atrocities inflated for all the world to see, clucked over by millionaire news anchors and fatuous movie stars. [The] president himself apologized. We must show that we are more humane than the terrorists, he said. . . . Good fortune beyond the . . . wildest dreams [of America's opponents], an enemy who wanted to be loved. Be ashamed of the war and soon you will be ashamed of the warriors--the warriors got that message soon enough. . . . The Iraq debacle broke the nation's spirit, hobbled its ability to defend itself. The former regime never recovered.
This critique of moral relativism and national self-doubt is one of many aspects of the Assassin novels that testify to their--and Ferrigno's--conservatism. (To premise the novels on an Israeli attack on the United States would not, of course, be one of those aspects. But since the dust jacket for Prayers alludes to "shocking evidence that the nuclear attacks might not have been planned by Israel," I don't think I'm giving away the store by intimating that the Israelis may have been framed.)
Ferrigno has also made his conservatism clear outside of his books. He has spoken out on his web site to defend Mark Steyn against the human rights complaint launched by the Canadian Islamic Congress. In fact, Ferrigno says that he is "proud to be a footnote" to the Steyn controversy: The complaint blames Steyn, in part, for asserting that "America will be an Islamic Republic by the year 2040." This is not, however, a claim that Steyn himself has made; instead it is an accurate summation of the plot of Prayers, to be found in Steyn's review of it (and in America Alone, which includes two excerpts from Prayers).
Both Prayers and Sins tell the story of a battle between a Muslim hero and a Muslim villain. It was clever of Ferrigno to make his hero a Muslim: How can his books be deemed "Islamophobic" if they celebrate a Muslim hero? (Needless to say, some readers nevertheless find the books Islamophobic, but their complaint would surely be greater if the books pitted a Christian or Jewish hero against a Muslim villain.) The hero in question is Rakkim Epps, formerly a member of the Fedayeen, "a small, elite force of genetically enhanced holy warriors." In particular, he was a member of the still-more-elite shadow warriors (troops trained to infiltrate the Bible Belt). Shadow warriors are typically discovered and killed within two-and-a-half years of their first mission; yet so great is Rakkim's prowess that he survived six years before leaving his post.
But Rakkim is more than someone with superhuman skills in armed combat. He is appealingly cynical, something of a Bogart figure. (His interactions with his girlfriend and later wife call to mind the byplay between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in their movies.) Most significantly, Rakkim is the quintessential moderate Muslim. Whether or not massive numbers of moderate Muslims exist in real life, a truly impressive specimen inhabits the Assassin novels.
Rakkim is tolerant. His best friend is a Roman Catholic policeman. (Only 70 percent of the Islamic republic's citizens are Muslim, and the remaining 30 percent are almost entirely Catholic.) Rakkim also works closely with a family of Jewish scientific geniuses who live underground to avoid persecution. Furthermore, Rakkim is monogamous: Occasionally he tells acquaintances that he has only one wife because one is all he can handle.
Most of all, Rakkim is horrified by violence in the name of religion: "I believe we have to act as if God is watching," he says. "As if God cares. I believe we have to act as if Paradise awaits the good and the brave, and that the hottest fires of hell await those who do evil in God's name." The as-ifs may explain why Rakkim is said by the narrator to be "a Muslim in name only." On the other hand, he also says the following of himself: "I believe that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad is his messenger. That is all I am certain of. I remain a Muslim. Not a good Muslim, but a believer all the same."
By contrast, the principal villain is a Muslim who does evil in God's name: The fabulously rich Hassan Muhammad--also known as the Old One--who is "far beyond a hundred, very far, possessed of a God-given vitality enhanced by organ transplants and the best science money could buy." How old is the Old One? In the early 1970s his donations to politicians and journalists led to the massive increase of Muslim immigration to Europe: "The slow-motion conquest of Europe, the nearly bloodless transformation into an Islamic continent, had been perhaps his greatest victory."
More recently, it was "the Old One who fine-tuned bin Laden's clumsy plan" for September 11. Subsequently, it was the Old One's money, "filtered through numerous fronts, that had financed the academic think tanks and jihadi legal defense teams" that opposed the war on terror. Furthermore, the Old One worsened the carnage of Hurricane Katrina by having "a dozen small explosive charges placed under the levees of the Ninth Ward." In short, the Old One is a walking conspiracy theory. Today's left pins less blame on Halliburton than -Ferrigno assigns to the Old One.
In the Assassin novels the Old One conspires to overthrow the comparatively moderate leadership of the Islamic republic. In his self-conception
the Old One was the man come to lead the world, the Mahdi, the twelfth imam, the Islamic messiah come to guide the world away from materialism and idolatry. The man chosen by Allah to appear at the End-Time, chosen to create a one-world caliphate under sharia law, and usher in an age of peace and piety. After the nonbelievers were put to the sword.
Like any work of dystopian fiction, the Assassin novels should be judged less by their predictions than by their assessments of the weaknesses of our world. Having already shown how Ferrigno faults contemporary America, I'll conclude by briefly discussing his critique of Islamicized politics.
In Ferrigno's portrayal, Islamic rule decreases security, freedom, prosperity, and innovation. The Islamic republic is comparatively moderate, but there are limits to that moderation because moderates don't hold sway in many localities.
While Seattle [the republic's capital] and Southern California were bastions of moderation, even in the capital, the Black Robes [the religious police, resembling the Saudi Commission for the Protection of Virtue and Suppression of Vice] enforced their dictates on the fundamentalist population. A devout Muslim woman unescorted by a brother or husband could be whipped on the streets of Seattle, and adulterers and fornicators were stoned to death in the countryside. Fundamentalist redoubts like . . . Milwaukee and Chicago were worse--governed by the most extreme sharia law.
In an ironic reversal of today's culture wars, Ferrigno goes out of his way to inform us that San Francisco--now known as New Fallujah--is perhaps the worst fundamentalist hotbed: "Harlots and homosexuals, witches and Jews dangled from the high beams" of the Bridge of Skulls--formerly known as the Golden Gate.
The Islamic republic is predictably most dangerous for women and Jews. Women who attempt to flee from their fathers or husbands fall prey to bounty hunters who forcibly seek to return them to their homes. As for Jews, the moderate chief of state security insisted in the early years of the republic "that any Jews who converted to Islam must be spared. . . . [He] had been able to insure the lives of the converts, but no one had been able to insure their treatment." Jewish converts--and, for that matter, Catholics--suffer considerable discrimination.
The Islamic republic is, of course, far less free than America today. The First Amendment was "gutted, . . . and the former protection of the others [in the Bill of Rights] limited." In particular, the Second Amendment was completely eliminated: "No guns allowed, not for private citizens." Furthermore, the orderly transfer of political power that we take for granted has also disappeared. The Islamic republic witnesses frequent political assassinations.
In addition, the Islamic regime is economically and technologically backward. In the words of a minor character, "We used to lead the world in science and technology. Hard to believe, isn't it? Now, every year we have fewer graduates in engineering and mathematics. Our manufacturing plants are outdated, our farm productivity falling, and patent applications are only forty percent of what they were in the old regime."
In sum, Ferrigno's novels offer a depressing contrast between the bad old days and the bad new days. America before the Islamic takeover was a "country without shame," whereas America after the takeover is a country in which
people are scared. Afraid they're going to do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, think the wrong thing. Yes, the Americans [before the takeover] were drunk on freedom. Yes, they lacked shame, but they did glorious things too with that freedom. Breakthroughs in science and medicine. Inquiries into the mysteries of the universe. Wonderful things.
It will be interesting to see if, in the trilogy's concluding novel, a regime can be created in which Americans again feel appropriate shame but not inappropriate fear. In that context it is worth pointing to two hints dropped in Sins. Much of Sins concerns a quest for something that is hidden in the Bible Belt; at one point the search is said to be for "the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, the most sacred documents of the former regime." Furthermore, Sins implies that the final novel will explore the efforts of people in the Islamic republic and the Bible Belt to put "aside their differences for one goal. Reunification."
Will the sectarian Muslim and Christian polities reunite on some nonsectarian basis? If so, will the sacred documents of the former regime be rediscovered? Stay tuned; we should find out next year.
Joel Schwartz is an adjunct senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.