Mark Steyn

Ten Years Ago

Moderation and the Santa Clause

ImageAll this week we've been marking the tenth anniversary of my bestseller America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It. (Do check out the first part of the series, the second part, the third and the fourth.) In today's Toronto Sun, Andrew Lawton pays his own anniversary tribute:

I've never seen Steyn chant "I told you so." In fact, it appears to sadden him how right he was more than it brings him any sense of delight.

"America Alone" catapulted Steyn from an observer of the decline of freedom into a victim of it.

Paperback versions of the book bear a seal saying "soon to be banned in Canada."

It may seem like a distant memory now, but for years, Steyn was forced to defend himself against human rights complaints charging not only that the book was mean to Muslims, but also that such a thing was illegal in the True North Strong But Not So Free.

Steyn's refusal to go down without a fight contributed to efforts to abolish the "hate speech" section of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

While that change was necessary, it's hard to argue that we are any freer now than we were before.

That's true. However, I don't think of myself as a victim of "the decline of freedom". Au contraire, I was liberated by my battles with the Canada's "human rights" commissions: I learned what craven, cowardly, furtive rodents they were, and, rather than trying to calibrate what they'll permit you to get away with, it's much easier - and certainly psychologically healthier - to say what you want, and screw 'em all.

~This passage from the book was much quoted a decade back:

Still, as we always say, the "vast majority" of Muslims oppose "extremism". These are the so-called "moderate Muslims". One is tempted to update the old joke: A ten-dollar bill is in the center of the crossroads. To the north, there's Santa Claus. To the west, the Tooth Fairy. To the east, a radical Muslim. To the south, a moderate Muslim. Who reaches the ten-dollar bill first?

Answer: The radical Muslim. All the others are mythical creatures.

The "moderate Muslim" is not entirely fictional. But it would be more accurate to call them quiescent Muslims. In the 1930s, there were plenty of "moderate Germans", and a fat lot of good they did us or them. Today, the "moderate Muslim" is a unique contributor to cultural diversity: unlike all the visible minorities, he's a non-visible one – or, at any rate, non-audible. But that doesn't mean we can't speak up on his behalf. So, for example, EU officials have produced new "guidelines" for discussing the, ah, current unpleasantness. The phrase "Islamic terrorism" is out. Instead, the EU bureaucrats have replaced it with the expression "terrorists who abusively invoke Islam".

In the years since, one notes, the EU has advanced to demanding that news stories on terrorism cease mentioning Islam at all. Meanwhile, every junior minister and assistant deputy chief constable across the western world feels free to pontificate on what is and isn't "true" Islam; every nickel-and-dime infidel in the European political class moonlights as an Islamic scholar. As I wrote a decade back:

Who's some white-bread Belgian to say whether Johnny bin Jihad is "abusively" invoking Islam? There seem to be plenty of Muslim scholars and imams who would disagree. We know, because western politicians and religious leaders tell us so incessantly, that the "vast majority" of Muslims do not support terrorism? Yet how vast is the minority that does? One per cent? Ten per cent? Here are a couple of examples that suggest it might be rather more. Dr Mahfooz Kanwar, a sociology professor at Mount Royal College in Calgary, went along to a funeral at the city's largest mosque and was discombulated when the man who led the prayers - in Urdu – said, "Oh, God, protect us from the infidels, who pollute us with their vile ways." Dr Kanwar said, "How dare you attack my country", and pointed out to the crowd that he'd known this man for 30 years, most of which time he'd been living on welfare and thus the food on his table came courtesy of the taxes of the hard-working infidels.

As Licia Corbella wrote in The Calgary Sun:

'Guess which of the two men is no longer welcome at the Sarcee Trail mosque?'

Final score: Radical Islam 1 Moderate Muslim 0

Here's another example: Soulemein Ghali was born in Palestine and, as he put it, raised to hate "Shiites, Christians – and especially Jews". After emigrating to America, he found himself rethinking these old prejudices and in 1993 helped found a mosque in San Francisco. As Mr Ghali's website states: "Our vision is the emergence of an American Muslim identity founded on compassion, respect, dignity, and love." That's hard work, especially given the supply of imams. In 2002, Mr Ghali fired an imam who urged California Muslims to follow the sterling example of Palestinian suicide bombers. Safwat Morsy is Egyptians and speaks barely any English but he knew enough to sue Mr Ghali's mosque for wrongful dismissal and was awarded 400 grand.

So far, so typical. But the part of the story that matters is that the firebrand imams had a popular following, and Mr Morsy's firing was the final straw. Mr Ghali was forced off the board and out of any role in the mosque he founded. And, as The Wall Street Journal reported, Safwat Morsy – a man who thinks American Muslims should be waddling around in Semtex belts – is doing a roaring trade:

His mosque is looking to buy a building to accommodate the capacity crowds coming these days for Friday prayers.

That's Radical Islam 2 Moderate Muslims 0.

What proportion of mosques are "extreme"..? Twenty per cent? Two per cent? Point two per cent? Nobody knows – because we (and most western legal systems) see them as analogous to Catholic churches or Conregationalist meetinghouses.

Ten years later, we still don't know. As Douglas Murray wrote just the other day:

If there is one question that most concerns the public around the question of radical Islam it is "What is the connection between the extremists and the moderates?" Leading politicians across the Western world have not been much help in answering this question, insisting as they do, that radical Islam has nothing to do with Islam and that the extremists are as far away from the moderates as it is possible to be. Yet the public senses that this is not the case.

Douglas was discussing the case of Louis Smith, a British Olympian and "Strictly Come Dancing" winner who got rat-arsed at a wedding and was glimpsed all over YouTube mocking Islam by yelling "Allahu Akbar!", joking about the virgins he'll be getting in paradise, and pretending to pray in vaguely Muslim style. Mr Smith is now receiving the usual death threats. The ones hot to behead him are presumably the non-moderate Muslims. But Douglas was struck by the reaction of the famously moderate Mohammed Shafiq of something called the "Ramadan Foundation". Mr Shafiq said:

He should apologise immediately. Our faith is not to be mocked, our faith is to be celebrated.

Douglas comments:

Shafiq does not explain why his faith should not be mocked. Nor does he seem to know anything about the right of free people in free countries to do or say whatever we like about Islam or any other faith whenever we feel like it. There is nothing special about Islam that means it cannot be mocked. In fact, it would be a very good thing (both for Muslims and everyone else) if it were mocked rather more. But there in that sentence is the implicit threat again.

Indeed. "Our faith is not to be mocked" doesn't mean that Mr Shafiq is threatening to decapitate Louis Smith personally, but it helpfully reminds Smith and everyone else that there are a lot of chaps out there who'd be more than happy to saw through his neck. It is, therefore, fully on-message with the "extremists": The "extremist" Muslim will behead you. The "moderate" Muslim will warn you not to do anything that might provoke the "extremist" to behead you.

So we have "radical" Muslims, quiescent Muslims, and opportunists like Shafiq posing as "moderate Muslims".

~Among those who enjoyed America Alone was The Spectator's reviewer - the soon-to-be Cameron cabinet minister, doughty Brexiteer and ex-Boris buddy Michael Gove:

No writer I can think of manages to combine utter bleakness about mankind's prospects with a genius for one-liners like Steyn. More gloomily pessimistic about our civilisation's future than Peter Hitchens at a fetish night in Heaven, and yet consistently funnier than any mere humorist or jobbing stand-up, Steyn is a master of gallows humour. And in this book we Europeans are the condemned men...

Steyn succeeds in packing a series of provocative contentions into this relatively short book in a way which demonstrates a serious engagement with some of the biggest issues in geopolitics. That he does so with humour, lightness of touch and brutal clarity, only demonstrates what a talented writer he is, and takes nothing away from the seriousness of the challenges he poses. That many of Steyn's conclusions will be unpalatable to the European consensus only underlines how much a failure to face harsh truths has characterised the European response to the scale of the terrorist threat we face...

Steyn's specific contention is that the problem is not so much multiculturalism as biculturalism. The danger as he sees it is the inherent tension between an increasingly liberal and hedonistic, yet diffident and uncertain, de-Christianised civilisation and an increasingly religiously zealous and culturally assertive Islamist movement. As Steyn puts it, provocatively contrasting European fears about Iraq's future with his concerns about Europe's own stability:

'You think Kurds and Arabs, Sunni and Shia are incompatible? What do you call a jurisdiction split between post-Christian secular gay potheads and anti-whoring, anti-sodomite, anti-everything-you-dig Islamists? If Kurdistan's an awkward fit in Iraq, how well does Pornostan fit in the Islamic Republic of Holland?'

Some readers may flinch from the analysis, not because of its bleakness but at what they see as its lack of sophistication, or nuance. But Steyn is very good on the way in which European elites enjoin upon others the need to show understanding towards Islam while themselves betraying very little knowledge of it. There is a great deal of talk from governments about the need to support moderate Muslims without much official effort being extended to ensure that policy makes a proper distinction between those who are genuinely moderate and those who seek to exploit the credulity or ignorance of others.

Which brings us back to the likes of Mr Shafiq. Read the full review by Michael Gove here.

~Shortly after America Alone came out, I traveled to Washington to give a speech on the book's thesis to the Heritage Foundation. Viewers might enjoy seeing how it holds up over a decade:

The question-and-answer session at the end is worth sticking around for.

~For a musical accompaniment to our anniversary observances, don't forget to swing by our Song of the Week department.

If you haven't read America Alone during its first ten years, well, you're missing a treat. It's still in print in hardback and paperback, and personally autographed copies are exclusively available from the SteynOnline bookstore.

from America Alone: The End Of The World As We Know It, October 14, 2016


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