The Book That Saw October 7 Coming From a Mile Away

‘Caliphators’ advocating for the global triumph of Islam see Western values as signs of weakness and decadence. A new book argues that too many Western thinkers, championing progressive liberalism, insist on proving them right.

When it’s all over, when Israel is gone, the Jews are gone, the world as we thought we knew it is gone, this is the book people will read in order to understand what happened. Landes is a medieval historian, an expert on millennial apocalyptic movements, which gives him a unique perspective on current affairs. This book attempts to bring you into that perspective and, to the degree that it is successful, suddenly everything might look different to you, like the gestalt switch in perceiving the ambiguous image, the beautiful young woman suddenly yielding to the crone. Once seen, however, you can’t unsee it, and you will now see so many current events through its lens, including the October 7 massacre by Hamas.


And it will terrify you.

Can the Whole World Be Wrong?


Or at least that’s its aim.


It would not be an exaggeration to say that this book saw October 7 coming from a mile away. But since it is too deep and wide-ranging to do it justice in a short review, I will just highlight a few points, noting only that Landes supports everything with extensive documentation from a wide variety of sources, including Islamic texts historical and contemporary, public media across the Islamic world including sermons, and scholarly lectures and works. In short, it aims to turn everything you think you understand about the Jews, Islam, and the West upside-down—because it exposes how “lethal [activist] journalism” inverts reality in the ways it portrays these issues and conflicts, which in turn informs the left-leaning, progressive mindset largely in charge of Western policymaking. In so doing the book argues that we have been profoundly and dangerously misled by the Western mainstream media, which turns out, in the end, to be working in service to a globalist Islamist movement that in fact seeks to destroy not only the Jews but the West, including those same media.


So, can “the whole world be wrong” about Islam and its relation to the West in general, and about the Arab-Israeli conflict in particular that is at the heart of this book (or as I prefer to call it, to highlight its complexity, the Israeli-Palestinian-Jewish-Arab-Muslim Conflict)?


Landes writes:

As a result of a confluence of intellectual trends (postmodernism, postcolonialism, anti-Orientalism …) the role of honor-shame motivations in key [Arab] decision-making in this conflict since the Oslo Accords has been systematically ignored. Indeed the entire ‘Peace Process’ was predicated on the rational, positive-sum assumption that, offered the right deal, the Palestinians will say yes. As a result, scholars and policymakers alike have ignored abundant evidence of a limbic captivity to honor concerns among Arab patriarchal elites.


So begins not merely an ordinary strategic analysis of the conflict but something more like a theoretical exegesis. Landes takes the reader through the “premodern mindset” of “zero-sum honor,” which produces a contemporary “Caliphator” apocalyptic millennial movement, one which believes that “in our day, in this generation, Islam will triumph over all other religions and establish a global Caliphate.” He contrasts that with the modern Western enlightened “positive-sum” mindset that produces the familiar liberal values of individual autonomy, freedoms, and rights, mutual toleration and respect for differences, the embrace of self-criticism, democracy, egalitarianism, pluralism, negotiation, concession, and compromise, with peace as an ultimate value. In painstaking detail he shows how Western “cognitive egocentrism” (we assume Islamist non-Westerners share our own values) and Western postmodernism (with its affiliated intellectual trends such as critical race theory) produce a literally deadly combination of “premodern sadism” (the violent hostility of the premodern mindset toward the “other”, i.e. us) and “postmodern masochism” (the Western self-critical tendency to find its own Western culture to be the most evil culture of all), in which, in effect, Western thinkers and policymakers end up allying themselves with Islamist Caliphators—against themselves. And thus when Caliphators violently attack Western democracies—Landes documents numerous attacks, large and small, in the U.S., England, France, Spain and elsewhere in the past two decades, not to mention in Israel—the dominant response of these thought leaders is to blame the democracy.


Cognitive egocentrism plays an essential role in this. We Westerners (falsely) assume Islamist non-Westerners share our generally liberal values, so if they are attacking us it must be for good reason, for reasons we can understand and empathize with, for example because we are failing to respect their rights or otherwise oppressing them. With this neat trick, Landes argues, we transform what are in fact horrific premodern attacks on those very values and on the people who hold them into admirable quests to affirm the universal application of those values. Or put differently: In the name of our liberal values we come to succor those who wish to destroy those values.


This intellectual inversion is no mere scholars’ affair—according to Landes, it may actually portend the end of Western civilization. He cites the 14th-century North African historian ibn Khaldun who argued that societies follow cycles from strength into decadence: They begin committed to group solidarity (“tribalism”) and “progress” to a point where they come to favor the “other” over the tribe itself—so within a few generations they can go from “battle-hardened men with life and death commitments to each other, who successfully invade and conquer cities, to indulgent weaklings, incapable of defending themselves from the next invading wave of hungry, privation-disciplined, desert-dwellers.” If it isn’t clear, ibn Khaldun thinks the tribalism is better. And it should be clear, Landes argues, and contemporary Caliphators agree, that the West with its progressive liberal values is fast becoming a lot like the “indulgent weaklings” the Caliphators disdain, ready to be conquered by the next invading wave of disciplined Caliphator jihadis.


With this as the framework the reader must take a fresh look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A Westerner must begin by overcoming her own cognitive egocentrism and instead attempt to understand Muslims, Arabs, and the Palestinians in their own terms, by treating them as actual agents who make their own decisions and by listening to what they actually say, primarily in Arabic away from English speakers’ ears. Here Landes makes copious use of the vast array of sources documented by sites such as the Middle East Media Research Institute and Palestinian Media Watch. These demonstrate, he argues, their dominant zero-sum-honor mindset and the traditional conception of the Jew in the Muslim Arab honor-group, as second-class dhimmis “protected” from Muslim violence by their acceptance of daily public degradation and legal inferiority. To that mindset the idea that Jews should live as equals in their midst, with sovereignty in their own ancestral homeland, contributing to everyone’s economic welfare—so congruent with the Western positive-sum mindset—is an abomination, an utter inversion of their values, and therefore a humiliation. The Western positive-sum mindset sees “land for peace” and “two states” as a rational, fair, and perfect compromise, a perfect instantiation of these Western liberal values; to the premodern zero-sum-honor mindset, it’s a massive humiliation and defeat, amounting to second-class dhimmis lording themselves over their rightful masters.


And so, Landes argues, the Arabs’ century-plus-long battle against the Jews is not best understood as “an oppressed people defensively resisting their oppressors in the name of their rights and freedoms” (as the Western egocentric mindset and anti-Zionists would have it) but in fact as “a Caliphator war of aggression against the Jews in particular and the West in general.” It is not about “the occupation” (if by that you mean the West Bank), a conflict which the Western mindset would easily resolve with “land for peace” and “two-states,” but about “the Occupation” (the entire state of Israel), complete removal of which is necessary to advance the rule of Islam over the world—which “land for peace” and “two states” would and could not resolve. In other words, the Palestinians, with the support of global Caliphators, are not actually fighting for their (liberal) human rights and freedom, but to destroy the Jews and ultimately the West, as epitomized by Israel and the United States, “the two Satans.”


And the West, Landes argues, is going right along with the Caliphator plan.


In Landes’s view, the alliance between the progressive West and the Islamist Caliphators is nearly complete: the former sees the West as guilty of the deepest sins and in need of destruction, and the latter agree. On the practical level this manifests itself in the Western inclination toward “preemptive dhimmitude,” i.e. already adopting the dhimmi status even prior to being conquered. To illustrate this point Landes imagines how the Caliphators might pray to Allah to facilitate their global domination, sketching nine “Caliphator talking points for infidels,” i.e. beliefs that infidels should adopt to make them easier to vanquish. These include the beliefs that “Islam is a religion of peace,” “Jihad is not holy war but inner struggle,” “Muslims embrace and have a right to all human rights including freedoms of speech, assembly, worship, immigration,” “One must never insult or offend Muslims,” “Palestinians want a two-state solution,” etc. That all of these are widely endorsed by Western thought leaders and policymakers seems indisputable, and so mainstream Western culture seems directly to answer that Caliphator prayer.


Yet all these directly advance the global Caliphate by affording the most radical versions of Islam access to and status and influence in Western societies. For, Landes argues, “from a Caliphator perspective, all of this is nonsense.” In their own view, he documents in detail again by examining Arabic sources, Islam is in fact a religion of war, conquest, and dominion, and “jihad” is the name of that war. Caliphators have no intention of reciprocating the rights and respect they demand, and advocating for them is only a means to facilitate their invasion. They define “being offended” not in terms of some common standard applicable to all, but in exclusivist, tribal terms. In effect, they demand that all people act as dhimmis in respecting Islam while they are free to disrespect all other religions. In their own view, again, Palestinians are not the mild innocent victims of oppression (though they will use that language in English, to seduce their Western supporters) but the first wave of Global Jihad bearing the battle standard of exterminationist Jew-hatred. The “two-state solution” in fact is the “two-stage solution,” the “peace process” a Trojan Horse operation: what they seek, what they actually say they seek, is not “land for peace” but “land for (further) war,” a war of elimination, and so on.


The Western capitulation to all this is beautifully, and painfully, epitomized in the famous 2006 remark by Berkeley scholar, progressive thought leader, queen of queer theory, Judith Butler, in which she described Hamas and Hizballah as belonging to the “global progressive Left.” In an act of cognitive egocentrism mind-bogglingly unprecedented in its scope and blindness she interpreted those groups’ antisemitic, anti-Israel terrorist activities as evidence of their standing for “resistance to oppression in the name of progressive values,” and thus of their membership in her own progressive Left. Needless to say, these are not progressive groups—but Butler (and the legion of scholars, thought leaders, policymakers and so on aligned with her) embraces them, these groups whose members realistically might murder a person such as her, with open arms.


Another beautiful, and painful, image Landes invokes comes from the film Independence Day [spoiler alert!]: the Western progressive Left dominating mainstream thought are like the kumbayastic New Agers dancing on the roof to welcome the strange spaceships hovering over world capitals—only to be stunned when the vessels open their hatches and bring not the anticipated peace, love, and understanding but death and destruction.


Is the West really in the advanced stages of decadence and decline, per ibn Khaldun, on the cusp of being conquered by a radical and militant Islam? Is it really literally destroying itself by adopting the principle, due to its cognitive egocentrism, that when jihadis attack democracies we must blame the democracy? Is the ease with which so many in the West are quick, in the name of their progressive values, to accept such inversions of reality as the idea that Israelis are Nazis and that Israel practices apartheid and genocide (when it’s the Palestinians who in their own words openly seek to continue Nazi genocidal ideology and practice) really a symptom of preemptive dhimmitude—utterly blind to the Caliphator narrative of ultimate redemption that ends in Islamic world conquest and the annihilation of every one of those sacred progressive values?


If anyone could convince you that the answer to all these is “yes,” it is Landes.


To be sure, no one is immune to cognitive biases, and Landes himself, in the grip of his own powerful interpretive lens, may in some ways fail to see the “complete” picture. In his perception the “West” seems to be uniformly identifiable with the “progressive Left,” and Islam, as terms such as “Global Caliphators” suggest, is a massive and powerful monolith. But things are surely more complex than that. The first two decades of the twenty-first century, for example, featured the Western “War on Terror,” which many Westerners saw (and justified) precisely as a battle of the West against Islam; similarly Western foreign policy has sometimes backed Islamist movements in the battle against the global Left (for example during the Cold War). Whatever one makes of the details, these facts surely complicate the identification of the West with the progressive Left as well as subvert the thesis that the “West” is entirely unaware of the alleged threat of Islam. Nor, given the energetic internal debates over these matters, could it be said that the West is itself a monolith. In fact, not even “the Left” is a monolith: Christopher Hitchens comes to mind, a man of “the Left” who was deeply critical of “Islamofascism.” That Islam has many distinct streams is indisputable, and while it’s an empirical question exactly which may be worthy of the “Global Caliphator” label, surely not all of them are and perhaps only a minority are; Landes might have done well to examine and highlight some dissenting and more moderate voices, and perhaps to have given the “Arab Spring” more than just a few passing references. Similarly, more might be done to distinguish the Islamic hostility toward Israel from that against the West in general, as Landes seems perhaps too quickly to see the former as simply an aspect of the latter; or put differently, the Western hostility to Israel might need to be distinguished from an alleged hostility toward itself. And while phenomena such as Sept. 11, the Second Intifada, and the atrocities committed by groups such as ISIS are surely despicable, reasonable readers may question Landes’s apparent conviction that the war between the West and Islam is just about over, with the latter victorious. Hamas and Hezbollah may pose serious threats to Israel, but do they really threaten Western civilization?


But then again, it’s not just Hamas and Hezbollah.


As Landes indicates in his highly varied sources, it’s ISIS, and Al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram, it’s the dozens of Islamist groups on the U. S. State Department’s list of Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, and it’s Iran, the nuclear-weapon-seeking theocracy that declares its genocidal aspirations against Israel and the West on a near daily basis and extensively funds various militant proxies to advance its international cause. And on the soft power front it’s the wealthy conservative Muslim Arab nations (Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc.) that stealthily contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to liberal American universities such as Cornell, Harvard, and Georgetown in order to subtly and gradually reshape the Western mind in their favor, and it’s Islamist Qatar funding its global Al Jazeera news network in order to infiltrate leftist progressive news channels everywhere. The apocalyptic Caliphator ideology now seeping in these ways into the West is clearly flourishing in these major streams of Islam, as Landes amply documents via figures such as David Cook, Timothy Furnish, and Jean-Pierre Filiu, all of whom have written extensively on contemporary Muslim apocalyptic literature and jihad. It’s surely flourishing in the Palestinian public sphere, as demonstrated by Landes’s material from the Middle East Media Research Institute and Palestinian Media Watch. But it’s also flourishing in Islam in general, per Landes’s extensive analysis of the foundational Islamic texts of the Qur’an and the Hadith, something one is hesitant even to mention in the current Western climate for fear of being labeled “Islamophobic”—a fear that of course reinforces Landes’s central thesis. So, while the Muslim world is too variegated to speak of someone or something being “representative” of it, and while the Caliphator ideology in its most explicit or extreme forms may in some respects represent only a minority, still, Landes argues, it is the most motivated and activist group in contemporary Islam and there are no “moderate movements” that have anything like the audience and fervor of the apocalyptic jihadis.


If anyone could convince you that there is at least a serious issue here, even with the nuances above as caveats, it is Landes. In light, further, of the reaction on many Western campuses to the October 7 Hamas massacre—which was overwhelmingly one of support for and celebration of the sadistic torture and murder of Jewish civilians—it’s hard not to think, with Landes, that the Caliphator agenda has indeed nearly completely conquered the Western intelligentsia and elite. Surely the next edition of the book will include a chapter on that.


In the end, Landes does not offer practical prescriptions as a way forward in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, instead providing a series of rhetorical questions worth quoting at length:


Would it be possible for Muslims, instead of thinking that Israel deliberately humiliated them, to consider that Israel defended itself from a Muslim triumphalism that still dominates discourse …? Would it be possible to see the arrival of the Jews as the ticket to a government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people,’ perhaps even to create an Arab form … [of] democracy? How many choices might then open up to a people whom progressives, in their cowardice and humanitarian racism, assume has no choice but to embrace a death cult of suicidal mass-murder of Jews?


What would it mean for global progressives, for the woke … to recognize that Zionist Jews in both the diaspora and in their Israeli polity are allies, members of the progressive left? And that the groups they currently embrace as allies, the Palestinian leadership, “non-violent” Caliphators, are triumphalist demopaths [those who invoke human rights in order to destroy them] who feed their worst instincts? Could those who vociferously denounce the extreme right-wing, racist, Israeli political party, Religious Zionism, pause long enough to realize that every candidate running in Palestinian elections is more racist, more fascist, more “right-wing” than anything Israeli politics can produce (including Kahane)?


These questions are perhaps hopeful, or perhaps painful, in expressing a vision of what the world might be were the modern Western liberal positive-sum mindset in fact to be as universal as the egocentrists believe, a vision of a future so different from today, a better future not only for the Jews and Israel but also for the Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims across the globe. This future seems about as far away from the present as one could imagine. Can we get there from here?


One can’t be sure, but surely one needs to understand the situation, and the conflict, properly if one ever hopes to achieve a satisfactory resolution. And that may well require a truly revolutionary overhaul in the way we approach them, one that must overcome the status quo generated by policy-makers and thought leaders, both produced and propagated by the mainstream media. Studying Landes’s book is an important step in that direction. With its crisp, penetrating prose, its mastery of original and devastatingly insightful terminology (some of which is presented above), with moments of humor sprinkled in despite its very dark and depressing topic, this book is essential reading for anyone concerned for the Jews, Israel, and the future of Western Civilization. You may well dispute some of its arguments and conclusions, but you cannot afford not to engage with them – particularly in light of October 7 and the global response, across the Islamic world and in large pockets of the West, celebrating it.

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