Scribblers into Activists: From the Enlightenment to the New English Review

by Jerry Gordon (July 2010)

The following is an expanded version of Mr. Gordon’s speech delivered to the 2010 NER Symposium, “Decline, Fall & Islam,” on June 19, 2010.


In this article, we review important writer activists from the Age of Enlightenment to today’s era of instant communications via the Internet.

Among the historical figures who transformed the art of pamphleteering into bold initiatives are John Peter Zenger and Thomas Paine during the Age of Revolution, Emile Zola and Theodore Herzl during the Dreyfus Affair of the Third Republic in France, and Winston Churchill and George Orwell during the Pre-World War II epoch. Gordon relates his experiences as a writer activist in the era of the Anti-Jihad movement using the tools of the internet and instant communications. The review provide details of current New English Review initiatives in radio broadcasting and publishing to create alliances and broaden its reach to a wider public audience influencing developments regarding human rights, national and international security policies. 

Scribblers of Note in the Age of Revolution: Peter Zenger and Thomas Paine

The United States has the protection of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights in our written Constitution. The Bill of Rights was a testament to the revolt against British colonial overlords. Americans in our Revolutionary War against the British Crown, fought to achieve individual rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as framed in our Declaration of Independence. 

The First Amendment ‘establishment clause’ forbade the establishment of a state religion, a good thing that denies the goal of Islam and Sharia. The First Amendment also protected a free press that was motivated to be vigilant and present the facts, which all too often maybe violated in biased reporting.

This brings us to John Peter Zenger. Zenger was a German immigrant and newspaper publisher in New York City in the colonial era. Zenger in 1735 was taken to task for criticizing the Royal Governor, William Cosby, who clapped him in jail on charges of seditious libel. 

Zenger went through a trial with Philadelphia lawyer, Alan Hamilton, as counsel. Hamilton did something astonishing for that colonial era. He built a defense based on attacking colonial laws of sedition and won a juried decision that set a remarkable precedent for the drafting of our First Amendment. Zenger returned to publishing the New York Weekly Journal. His comment is timeless and apropos of the current controversy that Geert Wilders is facing in the Dutch courts. Zenger said:

“No nation, ancient or modern, ever lost the liberty of speaking freely, writing, or publishing their sentiments, but forthwith lost their liberty in general and became slaves.”

So, Peter Zenger was indeed an exemplar of the scribbler/activist, whose ringing defense of free speech has redounded through the ages and today enables us to pursue our quotidian tasks as bloggers and writers.

We can also put Thomas Paine in that category. Paine, a British immigrant to America, whose pamphlet, Common Sense, was reprinted a million fold after publication in January, 1776. If not for a chance meeting in London in 1774 with Benjamin Franklin, America and France may not have benefitted from his ideas that justified the goals of revolution against despotism. Paine was a product of a Church of England father and Quaker mother who eschewed formal religion in favor of Deism. Later as a prisoner in revolutionary France, he wrote the Age of Reason a tract against organized religion. As a tax collector in his native England he advocated before Parliament for better pay and working conditions only to be sacked. His writings improved, but his business ventures and marriage failed. For both Paine and Americans his luck turned when he met Benjamin Franklin and migrated to Philadelphia. There he edited the Pennsylvania Magazine, wrote anti-slavery tracts and pamphlets for the burgeoning American Independence movement. Because of his treatment in England, he was a confirmed anti-Monarchist. 

His series of pamphlets called The American Crisis were a significant morale booster for American revolutionaries. Some historians claim that they influenced the Declaration of Independence in July, 1776. Note George Washington and other Revolutionary leaders’

Common Sense
convinced many Americans, including George Washington to seek redress in political independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. Benjamin Rush had a great influence on this work, as well as its name. (Paine proposed the title Plain Truth). It was instrumental in bringing about the Declaration of Independence. Paine also has the distinction of being the man who proposed the name United States of America for the new nation.

During the Revolutionary War Paine published a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis that served to inspire Americans during the long struggle. The first Crisis paper, published December, 1776, began with the immortal line, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Following a series of military failures, morale was wavering among the Patriot army. The first Crisis paper was so uplifting that Washington had it read to all of his troops. 

In 1791 Paine wrote The Rights of Man a political tract in support of the French Revolution. While a supporter of the French Revolutionary cause, he distrusted Robespierre and the Jacobins and was jailed, but miraculously was spared an execution by the Guillotine. Paine was lauded by Napoleon, and his writings were said to have influenced President Lincoln. He passed away in Greenwich Village in 1809.

Scribbler Activists in the Era of the Dreyfus Affair

French Captain Alfred Dreyfus was framed by the French General staff to cover espionage by the renegade Major Ferdinand Esterhazy who had passed military secrets to the German Embassy. Dreyfus’ first trial and conviction as a traitor on trumped up espionage charges in 1896 led to his sentencing to incarceration for life on the infamous Devil’s Island in French Guiana. Revelations about the innocence of Captain Alfred Dreyfus came to light after an investigation by Col. Picquet revealed that Maj. Henry of the intelligence staff had forged documents effectively scapegoating Captain Dreyfus leading to his conviction at his first trial. Picquet then leaked these facts to liberal opponents of Premier Favre. Senator August Scheurer-Kestner raised the issue of Dreyfus’ innocence and Esterhazy’s guilt in the French Senate. The Dreyfus Affair became a cause célèbre in France pitting the liberal intelligentsia and commercial classes against the conservative Favre government, the French General Staff and the church hierarchy who poured anti-Semitic vitriol on the character of Dreyfus and fellow French Jews using false allegations of divided loyalty.

Emile Zola
a leading French writer and liberal took up the cause of Dreyfus’ innocence and with the cooperation of future French Premier, Georges Clemenceau, a publisher of the French daily newspaper, L’Aurore, published his famed open letter “J’Accuse” in January, 1898. Zola’s open letter to President Favre accused the French General staff of anti-Semitism, obstructing justice and leading to the wrongful conviction of Jewish captain Dreyfus, a gross miscarriage of justice. Zola was then tried and convicted for alleged criminal libel in February, 1898. Whereupon he fled to London to escape going to jail. He returned in 1899 as the Favre government fell. 

who returned to France in 1899, was given the choice of a pardon or a further military trial. He chose the pardon, but was fully exonerated in 1906. His rank was restored, promoted to Major, made a Knight of the Legion of Honor and retired with the rank of Lt. Colonel after serving as an Artillery Commander during the First World War. Dreyfus died in 1935.

Zola died at age 62 under mysterious circumstances in 1902. His ashes were moved to the Pantheon in 1906, a mark of honor. His famous remark about the outcome of the Dreyfus Affair was:

“The truth is on the march, and nothing shall stop it.”  

Theodore Herzl
, the father of Political Zionism was the Paris correspondent for the Austrian newspaper, Neue Freie Presse at the time of the Dreyfus affair. He was present at the ceremony stripping Dreyfus of his rank and the breaking of his sword after his fraudulent conviction, where he heard cries of “Death to the Jews.” Herzl, a Hungarian, boulevardier and secular assimilated Jew, who lived in Vienna, had a minor epiphany as a result of what he had viewed; Jews needed a state of their own and had no future in Europe. Thus began an a remarkably short career that saw the establishment of the First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland in 1897 and the quixotic journeys across Europe and to Ottoman Turkey to enlist the assistance of Sultan Abdulhamid II in granting lands for the return of the Jewish diaspora. Herzl petitioned Kaiser Wilhelm to demonstrate approval of the Zionist project including a ceremonial visit to Jerusalem in 1900. Herzl was offered land in the British colony of Uganda as a possible Jewish homeland. He offered that possibility at the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1903, only to have it rejected by Russian delegates. He authored several books about the Zionist project that included The Jewish State and NeuAltland, the first being a justification of the return to a sovereign Jewish State in the ancient Middle East homeland and the second was a novel about a hypothetical Jewish State in what is now the State of Israel. He died prematurely in July 1904 at the age of 44. His remains were moved from Austria to his final resting place on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem in 1949. Herzl wrote at the occasion of the first World Zionist Congress in 1897 in Basle:

“At Basle, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, and certainly in fifty, everyone will know it.”

Scribbler activists in the Pre-World War Two Era

Following the electoral defeat of Conservative government in 1929 Churchill lost his Cabinet position. He entered his so-called ‘wilderness years.” By necessity he returned to his journalist origins, became a columnist and wrote his wide ranging History of the English Speaking Peoples. He continued as a generally disregarded Conservative back bencher in Parliament. When the ‘Nazees’ as Churchill called them assumed power in March 1933, Churchill concluded that the Democratic West would ultimately find themselves in mortal combat with a renewed, re-invigorated, re-armed anti-Semitic Germany with lebensraum expansionist goals to reclaim lands lost as a result of the Versailles Treaty. 

Churchill was especially concerned about lagging British Aircraft production and its consequences in the face of German rearmament. As
 History net noted:

Beginning in 1934 he articulated a series of warnings that the government was missing the growing threat from German air armament. In an eloquent and, in retrospect, all too accurate speech in November 1934, he warned: ‘To urge preparation of defense is not to assert the imminence of war. On the contrary, if war were imminent, preparations for defense would be too late.’ Prime Minister Baldwin replied by assuring the House of Commons, ‘His Majesty’s Government is determined in no condition to accept any position of inferiority with regard to what air force may be raised in Germany in the future.’ In fact, the government was doing little to force the pace of RAF rearmament — all the more extraordinary in view of the fact that earlier that same year Baldwin had uttered his claim that ‘the bomber will always get through.’

Given his political connections and network of concerned officials in the British Air Ministry, the RAF and in the Foreign Office, he formed a working group involving Brendan Bracken and Professor Lindemann at Oxford to find out the particulars of German aircraft production. Churchill wrote tirelessly using information supplied by his working group about the rapid buildup of German Luftwaffe production in violation of the Versailles Treaty. This enabled Churchill to incessantly prod the resistant Baldwin and later Chamberlain governments to ultimately expand British production of tactical Spitfire defensive fighters.

After the debacle of “peace in our times” after Munich in 1938, Churchill’s stock rose with the Fleet Street press. Chamberlain was forced to invite him to join the Cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1939 following the declaration of war against Nazi Germany. Chamberlain resigned in May, 1940 when unable to form a unity government, whereupon Churchill was asked to form a wartime unity government. Churchill’s emphasis on aircraft production during his ‘wilderness years’ enabled the RAF together with the new technology of radar to win the Battle of Britain in 1940 against the Luftwaffe onslaught and bombing of London, Coventry and other major cities. Thus, we consider Churchill as an exemplar of a scribbler activist who made a difference in the war that ultimately vanquished Nazi totalitarianism.

Another British Scribbler Activist during the pre-war era was George Orwell. Orwell, educated at Eton College, served in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. During the 1930’s he became a Labor socialist, journalist and author. He served in a Trotskyite militia in the Spanish Civil War and during WWII was a BBC propagandist and commentator. Orwell succumbed to the ravages of tuberculosis in 1950. We associate Orwell with his fable of Stalinism, Animal Farm, and his dark view of totalitarianism under the Party of Big Brother in the chilling 1984. Earlier in the 1930’s his works such as Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier and Keep the Apidistra Flying depicted the ravages of poverty during the Great Depression that ravaged Britain and left the British coal miners and middle class destitute and dispirited.

Like Churchill, Orwell was a scribbler activist. However, as a Labor Socialist he was drawn into the cockpit of the war against democracy in Spain on the Republican Loyalist side. As a college undergraduate a half century ago what defined my early personal commitment against totalitarianism, whether, Fascism, Communism or fundamentalist Islam was the reading of two books; The God that Failed a series of essays by former Communists edited by British Labor MP, R.H. Crossman,  and Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia

Homage to Catalonia chronicled Orwell’s service with the Trotskyite P.O.U.M militia in Republican Catalonia fighting against the Nationalist rebels lead by diminutive Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the purported ‘hero’ of Pat Buchanan. Franco and his nationalists were determined to root out the Republicans and Socialists who were endeavoring to reform Spain’s medieval land and labor practices in a blood thirsty campaign. In a recent volume on correspondents who reported during the Spanish Civil War by British writer Paul Preston, We Saw Spain Die, the brutality of Franco’s Foreign legionnaires and Moroccan jihadi mercenaries, were graphically depicted. American Journalist Jay Allen reports of the slaughter of thousands of innocents in the bull ring at Bajadoz near the Portuguese border in 1936 and South African George Steer’s reports of the terror bombing of Guernica in April 1937 by the German Condor Legion and Italian Fascist bombers shocked the public.

What Orwell did in Homage to Catalonia was to chronicle the duplicity and suborning efforts by Stalin’s advisers and political commissars who ruthlessly rooted out, tortured and killed Trotskyites and Spanish anarchists from fighting units of the Spanish Republic. It was that exposure to the evidence of Soviet duplicity as viewed by Orwell, who was severely injured in combat in Republican Spain, that lead him to excoriate Stalinist betrayal of democracy with the publication of Homage to Catalonia. Later he would use the fable of Animal Farm with his caricatures of Stalin as the Pig Napoleon and Trotsky as the Pig Snowball to issue the ultimate commandment that “all animals are equal, except that some animals are more equal than others.” View an animated video of Animal Farm, here.

The Scribbler-Activist in the age of the Internet

We all have to thank the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that created ARPANET that morphed into the internet in the 1990’s. Don’t believe all that self promotion from former Vice President Al Gore that he invented the Internet. ARPANET was developed for defense research scientists to exchange information and data to expedite collaborative research efforts.

My involvement with the NER began in earnest in 2007 with a steady and increasing flow of articles and signature interviews of US, Israeli and Dutch politicians, print and Cable TV journalists, and, yes, even Cartoonists. In 2008, we launched what became a series of 1330AMWEBY radio roundtable discussions with experts on Middle East Affairs in Washington and Jerusalem that were transformed into NER articles.

The NER became an important platform for activism and policy development, especially in the areas of counterterrorism, anti-Sharia and Jihad efforts, and human and civil rights for former Muslims. It also illustrates the dynamism of networking.

In November, 2007, we interviewed Joseph Shahda, a Lebanese American, Arabic speaking Orthodox Christian who had pursued an active avocation of tracking terrorist websites and chat rooms. That association led to a joint effort to encourage Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s US Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee to force Google/YouTube to take down terrorist training videos lodged on the video media website. Shahda and I published a joint article drawing attention to the necessity of taking down the offending YouTube videos inciting hate and training Cyber Jihadis in military techniques used for attacking US and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Working with the Senator’s staff we were successful in getting Goggle /YouTube to ultimately take down the offending Al Qaeda websites. The entre to Senator Lieberman and his Washington staff was the result of working actively in his 2006 successful re-election campaign as an Independent Senator.

In June of 2008, we were approached by Christine Brim, of the Center for Security Policy (CSP) to coordinate efforts with Nina Shea of the Washington office of the Hudson Institute in her capacity as a Member of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. Shea and a colleague had completed a review of textbooks used by the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA), a private school backed by the Royal Saudi Embassy in Washington and based in Fairfax County, Virginia. The texts were created in part using hate-filled Islamic doctrine supplied by the Saudi Ministry of Education. We became involved with the organization of a protest mounted by the CSP, ACT!, Traditional Values Coalition and United American Committee Chapters from Northern Virginia and Maryland. We assisted the effort as the ISA protest website blog editor, posting articles daily. These were ultimately transformed into a major NER article on this episode.

During the protests, my colleagues on the scene ran into a Fairfax county police officer who was involved in a traffic incident with a Muslim doctor who was a member of the Dar al Hijrah Mosque in Falls Church, Virginia. The Mosque has been made infamous as a result of several incidents involving, Fort Hood massacre suspect, Major Nidal Hasan, and American Born Yemeni radical Iman, Sheik Anwar al –Alwaki. The doctor was caught red handed violating state medical laws by dispensing medications from his trunk. That led to a magistrate hearing and a post conviction legal assault on the arresting officer by CAIR national. CAIR demanded a round of ‘diversity training’ for the Fairfax County Policy force. That led to proposed remedial national legislation, which we titled “An Act to Protect First Responders Fighting Terrorism,” published in the July, 2008 edition of the NER. Subsequently, a version of the proposed legislation was introduced and sponsored by Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC), founder of the US House Anti- Terrorism Caucus.

The networking relationship with the CSP during the ISA protests led to another abiding relationship with Former Muslims United (FMU) launched in September, 2009 at a Capitol Hill press conference. NER colleague Ibn Warraq was one of the several co-founders and I was enlisted to join the board of FMU to function as website editor and the organization’s Treasurer. The FMU was formed to defend the human and civil rights of those who have left Islam and are threatened with extra judicial physical violence, often under death Fatwas issued by Islamic clerics in accordance with the doctrine of the four main Islamic legal schools. The NER has published interviews, articles and book reviews by FMU founders including Ibn Warraq, Mohammed Asghar, Nonie Darwish, Amil Imani, and Sam Solomon

One of the early activities of FMU was a so-called Freedom Pledge sent to more than 50 national Muslim groups requesting that their leaders sign pledges abjuring death fatwas against those who have left Islam. Only two Muslim groups have signed the FMU pledge, the American Forum for Islam and Democracy headed by self-defined ‘moderate’ M. Zhudi Jasser and another by the Washington, DC – based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia by its executive director, Dr. Ali Ayami. 

The FMU Freedom Pledge figured in another networking relationship with the Florida Security Council (FSC) headed by Tom Trento and Dr. Richard Swier. In March 2009, we were invited to speak at what became the first FSC protests against Florida Muslim Capitol Days in Tallahassee organized by a controversial former CAIR Tampa chapter director, Ahmed Bedier. Bedier had formed a new Muslim Brotherhood front group, United Voices for America. We were one of several speakers who presented at the first FSC Anti-Terror Caucus event.

On the occasion of the second Florida Muslim Capitol Day in March, 2010, an FMU panel composed of Nonie Darwish, Rabbi Jon Hausman, and Sharheryar Gill of the American Center for Law and Justice, and Ms. Noor Nishan presented a briefing on apostasy rights and threats under Sharia.  We also unveiled the results of a mail campaign involving the FMU Freedom Pledge sent to more than 47 Muslim groups including all four Florida CAIR Chapters and Bedier’s UVA front group. We noted in an FMU press release that no responses were received, evidence of no consideration for the civil and human rights of former Muslims. Besides, the FMU and FSC contingent we had undercover journalist Joe Kaufman, a prominent figure in anti-CAIR litigation. The March, 2010 protest of the Florida Muslim Capitol Day event led to a physical assault by Bassem Alhalabi, a Florida Atlantic University computer science professor, on Kaufman and videographer J. Mark Campbell in the Florida Capitol Rotunda. Alhalabi was a colleague of convicted felon Sami al Arian who had funneled funds to the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Both Kaufman and videographer, J. Mark Campbell, who filmed the attack filed battery charges against the assailant. The combined FMU, FSC, ACT and Kaufman contingent were invited to brief the Deputy Chief of Staff of Florida Attorney General, GOP gubernatorial candidate, Bill McCullom. McCullom has a track record combating stealth jihad by Muslim Brotherhood groups in Florida. AG McCullom cancelled meetings that day with Bedier and the UAV.

The FMU connections were in evidence in a recent episode that involved the controversial appointment of former CAIR national Chairman and University of North Florida finance professor, Parvez Ahmed, to a City of Jacksonville position as a member of the Human Rights Commission. An effort to expose Ahmed’s CAIR background was led by ACT Jacksonville chapter leader McDaniels. We interacted with the Jacksonville City Council convincing several of them to vote no on the Ahmed appointment, however, not enough to block the Mayoral appointment of Ahmed. The Ahmed Jacksonville episode raised the community and national visibility of the threat of stealth Jihad. 

Just prior to the Second NER Symposium, a disturbing event occurred in nearby Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Complaints raised by a single individual alleged that articles published in The Rutherford Reader constituted hate speech against Islam. That complaint resulted in withdrawal of distribution of the weekly publication from racks in retail outlets in Kroger Supermarkets, and several other retail outlets. This occurred against the backdrop of a recent Rutherford County Planning Commission approval of a project to build a 52,000 sq. foot Mosque in this Bible belt community near metro Nashville. The Imam of this controversial Murfreesboro Mosque had organized a protest in early 2009 against the Israeli incursion in Gaza and in support of Hamas. We conducted an interview with The Rutherford Reader publisher Pete Doughtie and produced a companion filmed interview with him.

International Networking

The NER was founded as an Anglo-American on-line publication. While we have had submissions from abroad, in 2010 we experienced a spurt of interest prompted by the increasing quality of published articles and the growth in readership – presently more than 3.5 million hits a month.

We have received submissions from authors based in the U.K., France, Denmark and Hungary. We have also received interest in republishing articles in other languages. We have approved two such requests from a Polish publication.

The Danish submission came to us from Dr. Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin, a psycho-analyst and counter terrorism consultant, who had approached us on a different topic earlier this year, given her experience with the Pentagon, Human Terrain System. We have subsequently published a review of her book, The Banality of Suicide Terrorism in the June NER. Dr. Kobrin in turn introduced us to Danish Psychologist, Nicolai Sennels, whose book, Among Criminal Muslims:a Psychologist’s Experiences from the Copenhagen Municipality was published in Danish by the Free Press Society. That led to publication of Sennels’, May NER article, Muslims and Westerners, The Psychological Differences”. Through Kobrin we have been introduced to Israeli Criminologist, Dr. Anat Berko, the author of a bestselling book about Islamic terrorism, The Path to Paradise: The Inner World of Suicide Bombers and Their Dispatchers. We hope to bring you an interview with Dr. Berko in a future edition of the NER.

The Lessons Learned

The historical examples and chronicle of NER activist exploits illustrates the importance of engagement in current issues of the day via writing and activism. Activism that is seeking transformation of ideas into reality and policy. The advent of the internet with near real-time impact and viral distribution has enabled quality on-line publications like the NER to reach a wide international audience. It is apparent in this new era that the dynamic of networking enhances the power of blogs and on-line publications. Networking by definition requires commitment beyond scribbling away in the comfort of one’s office or den. It means more than engaging in social networking via Facebook. It means getting out, forming alliances, involvement in initiatives, while giving voice to allies in blog posts and on–line articles, conferences and public forums. It also means educating government officials, legislators and the public about common threats to Western culture and Judeo Christian values from an unrestrained Jihadi Islam intent on defeating us in Dar Al Harb.


What to Expect in the Future From NER.

What is ahead for NER in furtherance of these implied goals and objectives? With the financial support of interested third parties the expansion of activities may go beyond on-line publishing. Among those initiatives are producing a weekly radio program discussing the issues of the day based on comments from the NER contributors and interviews with experts, investigative journalists and commentators. Another initiative is the development of a New English Review Press that would annually issue several volumes of works by contributors and others. Then there is the creation of an NER TV format based on video interviews with authors and other figures of merit, not unlike those put up on You Tube at the Second Symposium. To do that will require enhanced funding. We hope to bring you reports of progress on these initiatives in the near future.

The New English Review in the view of many readers and especially our contributors is one of the few publishing venues where substantive articles can be presented to a growing audience eagerly awaiting the next edition.

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