Wim Houtman, Arts and Religion Editor
Nederlands Dagblad interview 2005
1. How did 9/11 strike you, having written “September Strike” seven or eight years previously?
My son, Stephen, who lives on the East Coast, called me immediately after the first plane went into one of the Twin Towers in NYC (he had been watching one of the morning television shows; his time zone is three hours later than ours). He first thought it was simply a terrible accident. As Dixie and I turned on the television, I could see it was clear and sunny that day in New York City. Not a cloud visible in the sky. Such an “accident” seemed impossible to me. I said to him, “That has to be a terrorist.” Just then we watched the second airplane drive its way through the second Tower and, of course, the rest is part of one of the world’s tragic historical events.
2. Where did you get the idea for this co-ordinated, simultaneous terrorist action targeted against the US?
The basic plot for Without Warning was first formulated while I was in Tel Aviv. Two boatloads of terrorists landed just south of the city, intent on waging a suicide attack on a hotel similar to the one in which we were staying, killing as many tourists as possible. I began then to think about the day when (not “if”) terrorists would eventually come to America and how vulnerable we were to such attacks.
3. Had you seen 9/11 coming in any way?
Since, in my view, the terrorism we face today has a radical religious base, mixed with politics, I began to think how vulnerable the American church would be to such an attack. Without Warning was first published in 1994 under the title, September Strike. When Kregel’s staff read the book, they were struck with how the story almost prophetically paralleled the 9/11 attack and subsequent events. However, they chose not to use the same title out of respect to 9/11 and its victims.
4. In other ways your story is clearly pre-9/11: your terrorists are Palestinians, not al-Qaeda or similar groups, and they are into “old-fashion” hostage-taking, not suicide attacks. Did you consider rewriting it?
Terrorists and their methods are unfortunately everywhere and timeless. The terrorism threat is still very much alive among the radical Palestinian movements mentioned in Without Warning. In Israel and its immediate neighbors, al-Qaeda has not been as overtly influential as other groups that have operated in the region for some time. Of course, terrorism tends to be an ever-changing moving target. Hostage taking may not be as “old-fashioned” as you may think. Numerous hostage events continue to occur in Iraq, the Philippines, and elsewhere. Even airplane hostage-taking efforts have been thwarted since 9/11. Terrorists seem to have few scruples when it comes to the taking of innocent life.
5. Do I detect a hint of sympathy for Palestinians, even terrorists?
I am sympathetic regarding the Palestinian people, just as I am toward Israelies. I hope for them to have the opportunity to build a good life and live peaceably as neighbors. But, while I do see them as human beings with feelings, passions, and ideals, albeit misguided ones, I have no sympathy for terrorists or terrorism, whatever their stripe may be. However, I do respect the way love, courage, and compassion can be manifested in human beings of any ethnic or racial group, even when caught up in the surrounding madness of terrorist tyranny. Within every people group there are many loving and caring human beings who are simply trapped in the political and religious hatred smoldering around them.
6. American Evangelical Christians by and large seem very much with Bush in his “war on terror”, wondering what on earth America has done to the world and why they are so “against us”. How do you feel about that attitude?
In general, American Evangelical Christians are supportive of President Bush, though not on every issue. He is seen by most as a man whose Christian faith is much more than a religious position taken for political purposes and is viewed as one who confesses a genuine faith-based relationship with Jesus Christ. Beyond this, he firmly believes that every individual should have the freedom to choose their leaders and not live under the forced tyranny of dictatorship. My personal opinion is that the President may have underestimated the underbelly of hatred and fanaticism that feeds radical Islamists, but in retrospect, that could be said of many. It does appear that today’s “American” is yesterday”s “Jew” when it comes to the hatred barometer. I am saddened by it, but not surprised. Throughout history, freedom has come at a terrible price—to your fathers as well as ours.
7. How do you see the terrorist threat today?
While we watched with horror as the plane tore its way through the second Tower, I said to my son over the telephone, “Life has just changed. It will never be the same for us again.” Subsequent events have confirmed that initial feeling. 9/11 has become this generation’s Pearl Harbor. I believe the age of terrorism may continue indefinitely. It will be a very real part of our children’s lives and their children. It will not go away. Satan has found in religiously-based jihad a way to emphasize hatred, enmity, jealousy, anger, slander, all the things the Apostle Paul urges Christians to leave behind in their faith walk (Colossians 3).
8. I was pleased that you didn’t choose an all-out “happy ending” in that Jessica’s disappearance remained unresolved. However, I thought the hostage crisis in the church was resolved rather too neatly. Just one civilian casualty in this packed church with 700 or 800 people. Did you consider a worse ending?
Sure. There are much more horrific conclusions one might have written. One might say that I resolved the incident too neatly—or, as I like to think, the SWAT team was outstandingly effective in their work that day!
9. Do you have a special engagement with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? How do you rate the chances of peace? Isn’t it likely that whenever any peace deal might be struck, Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the like will inevitably continue and intensify their own war?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolvable. Any conflict, personal or political, is resolvable if all parties can agree to agree. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, both sides need strong leaders who are willing to negotiate the hard choices. But, as you note, various splinter groups such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are a very real presence with attitudes and actions difficult to resolve. While their most radical leaders wish to occupy all of Israel and dislocate the Jews from their homeland entirely, this will not happen. What is unfortunately lost in all of this is that I have found untold numbers of Jews and Arabs in that part of the world are content to live together in peace; to give one another a chance at a good life, if only the opportunity is afforded them.
10. You’ve written a sequel on Jessica. Are you working on other thrillers at the moment?
Vanished tells the story of the Cain’s twelve-year-old daughter, Jessica, who has been kidnapped by terrorists in the Middle East. I do have other projects I am working on and, yes, one of them is an inspirational/suspense novel.
Houtman, Nederlands Dagblad