Did Dubya know what mental associations he conjured up when, post–9/11, he promised to launch a crusade against terror? Maybe not. But Al Qaeda got the point—and so did the rest of the Muslim world.
Which is none to the good, writes former Catholic priest and current Boston Globe columnist Carroll (Constantine’s Sword, 2001, etc.). Evoking the Crusades of yore was a mistake, he argues at the outset. “My thoughts went to the elusive Osama bin Laden, how pleased he must have been, Bush already reading from his script,” Carroll writes, provocatively. And how so? For Bush, Carroll hazards, “crusade” was a casual, offhand reference, but for Muslims it would have called to mind hundreds of years of warfare with a millennial Christianity at whose head stood a savior whose cross had been beaten into a sword. Maybe not so offhand, then, for, Carroll writes, “George W. Bush, having cheerfully accepted responsibility for the executions of 152 death row inmates in Texas, had already shown himself to be entirely at home with divinely sanctioned violence.” At once theologian, philosopher, gadfly, and policy wonk, Carroll proceeds, in this collection of Globe commentaries, to poke and probe at the assumptions of the administration, which all seem to have a strange inevitability; after all, he notes, September 11, 1991, was the date on which Dubya’s father announced that a new world order had emerged from the ashes of the Soviet empire. Carroll thoughtfully examines the buildup to the Iraq conflict in the light of Vietnam, a war in which his father prominently served, and he champions in its stead a humane internationalism: “Because a unilateral war formed the core of America’s response to 9/11, the greatest moral shift to have occurred among nations in the twentieth century—the fragile but precious idea of institutionalized international mutuality—has been undercut.”
Smart and closely argued contrarianism, worthy of a Berrigan or Niebuhr. And don’t miss the bonus track: a learned, priestly scourging of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, “a triumph of sadomasochistic exploitation.”