AFTER THE terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it became a cliche that if we didn't do X, Y, or Z -- usually some normal peacetime activity -- then "the terrorists will have won." For example, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences justified the decision to proceed with the 2001 Academy Awards by declaring that "if we give in to fear, if we aren't able to do these simple and ordinary things, the terrorists have won the war."
In truth, though, most Americans have never thought about what it would mean if the terrorists really did win -- if militant Islamists were to succeed in their quest for political control of the United States. It isn't something that elites in academia, government, or the media generally like to talk about, for fear of being branded racist or "Islamophobic." American Islamists themselves are careful not to speak too candidly about their supremacist goals.
Life in an Islamist United States would be largely unfree and intolerant, if the experience of countries where radical Muslims have achieved power -- Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, and Afghanistan -- is any guide. What would that mean in American terms? That's the question a remarkable new novel sets out to answer.
"Prayers for the Assassin," Robert Ferrigno's latest thriller, is set 35 years in the future, when the United States has been transformed into the Islamic Republic of America. It is a country in which university professors can lose their jobs for being "insufficiently Islamic," cellphone cameras are illegal, and men can only dream of "loud music, cold beer, and coed beaches." There is still a Super Bowl, but the cheerleaders are all men. Mt. Rushmore still exists, but the presidential faces on it have been blown up.
Ferrigno has said he spent two years researching Islam, and it shows in the level of detail with which the Islamic Republic has been conceived. In one scene, for example, a cabbie tunes his radio to a popular call-in show called "What Should I Do, Imam?" As Ferrigno's heroine listens from the back seat, a caller asks whether there are any kinds of music that one can listen to without running afoul of Muslim law.
"Good question, my daughter," the imam answers. "The Holy Qur'an is quite clear that music is forbidden. One of the messengers of Allah said, `There will be a nation who will make music their lot, and one day, while enjoying their music and alcohol, they will awake with their faces transformed into swine.' In fact, this messenger said he was sent to destroy all music instruments. . . . Instead of music, rather listen to the Holy Qur'an." Ferrigno invented the scene, but the severe Islamist reply has been taken almost verbatim from Ask-Imam.com, the online advice site of the South African Mufti Ebrahim Desai.
In a Muslim America, Christians are second-class citizens, barred from the best jobs and housing. Others, especially Jews and homosexuals, are not tolerated at all; many flee for their lives along a new underground railroad into Canada.
Life is especially hard for women, who may not leave their homes without written permission from a male relative, and even then risk being whipped by the Black Robes -- the Sharia-enforcing religious police -- if a lock of hair slips out from beneath their head scarves, or they neglect to keep their ankles covered. Repression is at the heart of fundamentalist Islam, and Ferrigno's portrayal of that repression in American terms is a vivid reminder of what is really at stake in the war against the jihadists.
But "Prayers for the Assassin" is no screed. If its villains are Muslims, so are its heroes; Ferrigno is quite aware that moderate and liberal Muslims have the most to fear from an Islamofascist victory.
He is also quite aware of Islam's appeal. Many converts to Islam find comfort and reassurance in its moral certainty and firm standards, and Ferrigno underscores the point. "Don't tell me about the old days, girl, I lived through them," says one character, a top government official. "Drugs sold on street corners. Guns everywhere. God driven out of the schools and courthouses. Births without marriage, rich and poor, so many bastards you wouldn't believe me. A country without shame. Alcohol sold in supermarkets. Babies killed in the womb, tens of millions of them. . . . We are not perfect, not by any measure, but I would not go back to those days for anything."
The war we are in is a spiritual no less than a military one, a point too many of us are apt to ignore. "Prayers for the Assassin" -- in addition to being a great read -- is an admonition to stop ignoring it. Unless we want the terrorists to win.