David Calling

The Papa Doc of the Muslim World

Jay Nordlinger of this parish has been writing about Papa Doc, or Dr. François Duvalier, once upon a time the dictator of Haiti whose dealings with his unfortunate subjects made sure that they stayed poor and backward. In 1965, Graham Greene paid a short visit to Haiti, but long enough to catch the spookiness of Papa Doc’s rule. The following year, he published The Comedians, a novel that evoked the sinister atmosphere of Papa Doc’s rule.  His secret police, the Tonton Macoute, made little distinction between crime and voodoo. Greene gave his fictional characters the names Smith, Jones, and Brown, seemingly to suggest that Westerners are merely a comic touch in conditions as grim as this.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton starred in the film version of the book. A furious Papa Doc ordered his Department of Foreign Affairs to put out a riposte, a glossy hundred-page magazine in French and English with the title “Graham Greene Finally Exposed.” I have a copy of this document, in fact I have the copy that once was Greene’s, with his signature on the title page. Astonishingly primitive, the publication time and again insists that Greene is a racist, a secret agent, and a conspirator, full of “negrophobia,” an early example of the word “phobia” used to construct some fantasy. Papa Doc’s hatchet men make absurd claims for the supremacy of their ruler and go as far as they dare to threaten Greene.

Now comes Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi. In his late eighties, he is not actually a one-man ruler but the next best thing in the Muslim world, a cleric with authority to pronounce fatwas, or rulings, and a television program on Al-Jazeera that allows him to reach the masses. Originally an Egyptian, he has been a lifelong member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and now has found refuge in Qatar. By common consent, he is considered a — or more often the — leading authority of Sunni Islam. His constant and favorite enemies are the Jews whom he fantasizes as racists and “Islamophobes,” preaching that there should be no dealing with them “except with the sword.” In his latest diatribe, he exhorts Muslims to conquer Jerusalem and kill off every Israeli.

The focus of Papa Doc and Qaradawi is different but both believe that power gives them all the supremacy they require. Nobody has yet worked out how to rescue the defenseless millions from the ignorance and primitiveness of such one-dimensional brutes.  

David Pryce-Jones is a British author and commentator and a senior editor of National Review.

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